In the late 1990’s, it appeared as if there was a bit of a trend among some artists to protest the machine aspects of modern rock & roll music by making music videos that pointed to the assembly line process of so much of what is considered prefabricated pop. The Goo Goo Dolls, in their music video to the song “Broadway,” showed a group of young and energetic artists going into the machine and a lot of weary and beaten older men coming out of the same process, a grim fate that resembles that of many artists who make a hit album or two and then are chewed up and spit out with nothing but scars to show for it. The same fate nearly awaited the Goo Goo Dolls themselves, who found themselves in debt millions of dollars to their record company after having a multi-platinum album. At around the same time, the rap band Cypress Hill recorded the song “(Rock) Superstar” with the same motif of an assembly line of musicians to show that no artist was an irreplaceable cog in the music industry machine.
Though I remember hearing where this particular visual came from, it was still arresting to watch the beginning of the classic movie Metropolis today and see the same image in that 1927 silent film classic with the beaten down masses going into the factory all energetic and coming out all beaten. It was also striking to see the contrast between the dark-haired underclass and the light-skinned and blond-haired (Aryan) upper class with a much more privileged life, decadent fashion and mincing, cultured ways. It struck me that the subtle (?) comment being made about class in the music videos was the same point about the Nazi and social darwinistic worldview being portrayed in the movies. It is a bit ironic that successful hit-making musicians saw themselves as cogs in the machine, as part of an underclass, when most people would look at their lives and see them as immensely privileged.
I was struck by the same irony today while watching the videos for a free online course on the social history of China, as the Hong King-based professor, as this particular professor was trying to point out some of the advantages of the Chinese tradition of egalitarian landownership (where a majority of people under 35 own a home, something unheard of in Western economies), by pointing out that in China, one may lose a job and go home to one’s family, while in the United States, one can lose a job and end up homeless, or nearly so. It would appear that in China, there is a social contract that implies a certain social net being preserved through relatively egalitarian property ownership (given a strong tradition of state-owned property) that is not the case in more libertarian traditions. As someone who is intrigued by freedoms, I must admit that to a certain (and large) group of people, the freedom to starve or go hungry is not much of a freedom at all. A certain freedom from want and privation tends to make other more esoteric freedoms more precious. Those who desire to protect intellectual liberty ought to think very hard about the need to provide enough opportunity and make sure institutions are strong enough to provide a basic and acceptable livelihood for all, or those freedoms will easily be traded for food and shelter and the illusion of security, as we see around us.
The idea of a sharp divide and inequality between the have-very-muches and the have-nots is not original either to “new” social historians or rock & roll musicians or classic film auteurs. One of the most powerful images of this phenomenon, and one of the earlier ones in human history, comes from the prophet Amos. Witness this diatribe against the social injustice of the elites of ancient Israel in Amos 3:12-4:3: “Thus says the Eternal: “As a shepherd takes from the mouth of a lion two legs or a piece of an ear, so shall the children of Israel be taken out who dwell in Samaria–in the corner of a bed and on the edge of a couch! Hear and testify against the house of Jacob,” says the Lord God, the God of hosts, “that in the day I punish Israel for their transgressions, I will also visit destruction on the altars of Bethel; and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground. I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house; the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end,” says the Eternal. Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink.” The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: “Behold the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,” says the Eternal.”
Let us ask ourselves why this harsh judgment came upon the elites of Israel? Amos himself had given part of the answer earlier in Amos 2:6-8: “Thus says the Eternal: “For three transgressions of Israel and for four , I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals. They pant after the dust of the earth which is on the head of the poor, and pervert the way of the humble. A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy name. They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge, and drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.” Hosea had similar comments about the oppression of the poor and the decadent life of the wealthy in Hosea 7:8-10: “Ephraim has mixed himself among the peoples ; Ephraim is a cake unturned. Aliens have devoured his strength, but he does not know it; yes, gray hairs are here and there on him, yet he does not know it. And the pride of Israel testifies to his face, but they do not return to the Eternal their God, nor seek Him for all this.” This is the picture of Metropolis and the music videos discussed earlier, in the period of about 760-750 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II of Israel, the end of the guilded age of the divided kingdoms before the fall to Assyria.
When we are reflecting about the similarities in social view between rock musicians, the filmmakers of Metropolis, and the prophets Amos and Hosea, we ought to reflect that conditions on this earth as they are now are not by any means new. To portray such conditions or the inevitable judgment that comes for social injustice is not an original matter. Let us also remember, though, that the moral worldview of God, a worldview that abhors personal immorality as well as social injustice, has not changed either since the days of Amos and Hosea some 2750 years ago. We can either take comfort in that fact, or we can seek to turn away from our sin and our injustice while there remains time to do so, before we are held accountable for our acts of injustice and violence and oppression towards our fellow man. For just as Nazi Germany paid the price for the wickedness of the social darwinism it adopted, and just as ancient Israel was punished with captivity for its immorality and social injustice, so too we are in the dock for our own similar sins. Let us heed the example of history, however much it may lack originality, lest we share the same fate.
 We should note that it was not mixed ethnicity that was a problem, but rather the fact that Israrel had adopted the ways of the heathen, and involved itself in a syncretistic “multicutural” religion rather than remaining true to God’s ways.