There was a 19-year-old girl I worked with at a local grocery store chain in the late 1990s who loved Marilyn Manson. I didn’t give two shits about him; I thought he was a poseur, just trying to be shocking for the sake of being shocking. Yawn. She also worshiped Ozzy, something I could understand a bit more, though at the time I didn’t know too much of Ozzy’s solo stuff and only had a passing interest in Black Sabbath.
Even though I really only cared about Oasis as far as contemporary bands went in 1997, I still watched the MTV Music Video Awards every year because I liked keeping up with pop culture. I very clearly remember watching Marilyn Manson close out the show that year with “The Beautiful People,” a performance that prompted host Chris Rock to urge the audience to “Run to church right now! Get your asses to church, or you’re going to hell!”
The song itself really is very good lyrically, a striking critique of phony fucks who put themselves above those they deem unattractive for whatever reason. It’s also pretty brilliant musically, and the vocals—well, shit, I have to say that Mr. Brian Warner is pretty good on the mike. Still, I was never shocked by anything he did or said because I looked at all of it as just an act.
Being 19, however, my coworker was very impressed with all of his crazy shit. I never made fun of her for it because she was a pretty cool chick, and if it made her feel connected to something then that’s all that should matter.
We’re all freaks to somebody. Some of us embrace it, some are trapped by it. But there’s freedom in that feeling of Otherness. You can be 100% yourself. We should all live authentically every single day, but that’s not realistic, unfortunately. Beauty and perfection are social constructs like gender and race. Who gets to decide for everyone what they should be? Why is that bullshit so ingrained in our heads?
Hey, you, what do you see?
Something beautiful, something free?
Hey, you, are you trying to be mean?
You live with apes, man, it’s hard to be clean
The above lyrics remind me of the scene in Easy Rider when Jack Nicholson’s character is talking to Dennis Hopper’s character about why people are afraid of dirty hippies. It’s not because they need a haircut, but because they represent freedom. “Talkin’ about it and bein’ it, that’s two different things,” he explains. “They see a free individual, it’s gonna scare ‘em.” I think that’s why a lot of people are repelled by characters like Marilyn Manson, but it is also what attracts people to those who just do not give a fuck. Even if somebody like me thinks they’re a full of shit poseur, they keep doing what they want to do. There is value in what artists like this provide to audiences and to our culture as a whole. There’s a reason they attract so much attention. And there’s a reason that we eventually become jaded by the supposedly shocking nature of it all.
The beautiful people, the beautiful people
it’s all relative to the size of your steeple
You can’t see the forest for the trees
and you can’t smell your own shit
on your knees