Putting the 'mock' in democracy

A dreadlocked Christina Marrs sang but played no instruments when she met musician Guy Forsyth at a coffee shop in Austin. In 1994, the pair met Wammo (one name), and a raucous hootenanny on the banks of the Llano birthed the Asylum Street Spankers.

Marrs, “the soul of the band,” executive producer, musical director, and web mistress, now plays five instruments and is working on a musical. The Spankers play Sam’s Burger Joint on Saturday. The Current caught up with her by phone as she spent time with family in Austin.

From “Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV”

“Oh, stick magnetic ribbons on your SUV,
Keep your apathy and get off scot free.
If I don’t see a ribbon on that SUV,
I’ll call you a red,
Wish you were dead,
And put the blame on weed,
If I don’t see a ribbon on that S - U - V.

Please don’t send me to Iran
And I sure don’t wanna see Afghanistan.
Any day now I could be another grunt sporting a stump,
So buy another ribbon while you’re paying at the pump.”

From “Winning the War on Drugs”

“In my Lazy Boy, just watchin’ my TV
There’s something that the news man can’t explain to me
Maybe I’m being paranoid as I set my reefer down,
If there’s a ‘War on Drugs’ goin’ on, how come they’re all around?
But we’re winning the war on drugs, we’re winning the war on drugs,
Praise the Lord and pass the bong,  we’re winning the war on drugs.

Some of your most enduring songs seem to be the ones that have, I guess you might say, subversive lyrics.

Obviously there are a handful of tunes that kind of stand out, that people … might feel cheated if they came to a Spankers show and didn’t get to hear, you know? Yeah, some of the bawdier songs are favorites, and the marijuana tunes ... those seem to have a broad appeal (laughs).

So the songs with a pro-peace or pro-hemp message go over pretty well, right?

I think so, and I think especially in regards to any kind of politically slanted song, which really, we haven’t done that many of … it’s just that the Spankers, we always approach those types of songs with humor. I don’t think we could ever really do a political piece that wasn’t funny or satirical or a parody … because with our audiences, we’d really be preaching to the choir. Approaching those subjects with humor is, I think, what makes them really acceptable to people.

Like that saying, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh.” Have you seen an upsurge in satire in culture or music since you started?

I really don’t know … that’s an interesting question — if I had a time machine and I could go back … Satire is all around us, it’s everywhere. The Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Bill Maher’s opening monologue … it’s not something we invented, and it’s certainly not going to go away anytime soon, thank God.

One of the Spankers is a Navy veteran. Is it hard for some crowds to understand how you could want to support peace and support the troops at the same time?

You always have people who really don’t get it. We did this song, “Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV,” which is probably, for us, the pinnacle of political satire — and it was hugely popular. The negative feedback that we got back `was isolated` … you can’t have a battle of wits with these people because they’re seriously unarmed, and they just don’t get it. I think that some people just do not have a sense of irony, and really have never been able to make the connection between huge, gas-guzzling vehicles and pre-emptive invasions of oil-rich nations (laughs) … I will add that a lot of the people who commented on our YouTube “SUV” video or on our guestbook at our website, `were` people in the Guard or who had served in Iraq who really appreciated the song. And I can’t think of one single example of `a servicemember` who wrote a nasty comment about it. l


Hoax and Hope: More on Satire and Activism

Mike Bonanno (aka Igor Vamos) and Andy Bichlbaum (aka Jacques Servin), better known as The Yes Men, operate on the assumption that actions speak only slightly louder than words, so they use both. Since starting the satirical web domains Gatt.org and Gwbush.com, they’ve impersonated Dubya supporters, representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, the World Trade Organization, Dow, Halliburton, and McDonald’s. Why?

They refer to the practice as “Identity Correction,” whereby “Honest people impersonate big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.” One such prank is shown in the Yes Men’s eponymous 2003 documentary, in which Bichlbaum as “Kinnithrung Spratt” describes to economics students how the WTO can capitalize on recycling human waste into “re-burgers” for third-world consumers, made funnier because they brought the entire college lecture hall Micky-D’s, and students ate — or gaped — while watching an animated presentation featuring a McToilet to capture said waste.

In August 2006, Bichlbaum posed as HUD representative “Rene Oswin” and spoke at an Equity International event that included Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. In addition to admitting HUD’s failure in NOLA, Oswin cited pledges from Wal-Mart to stop preying on the poor, and from Exxon and Shell to restore coastal wetlands. After the “hoax” was revealed, some maligned Bichlbaum for building false hope among Katrina survivors; like it or not, people got the message.

When CNN questioned, Bichlbaum explained: “Fortunately, the law protects freedom of speech,” he said. “What we’re doing is not actually lying. It’s actually exposing the lies. There’s nothing morally wrong with what we’re doing.”

Stay tuned — we haven’t heard the last from the Yes Men (Theyesmen.org), or other “culture jamming” activists who use media and satire to create cognitive dissonance and laughter, like Patriots for Corporate Rights (Corporaterights.org) and the Oil Enforcement Agency (Oilenforcementagency.com), all of whom you can peep on YouTube.

—Chuck Robinson

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