Today, I’m going to finish talking about Zao by looking at their song “Xenophobe,” but before I do that, I want to take a moment and detail what I’ve learned over the course of working on these posts. I’ve started delving more into the topic, finding songs and bands that I totally missed during the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m also starting to think about the confluence of the rise of “Christian” heavy music during that period, specifically with Tooth and Nail and evangelical conservatism. As Jeff Bettger, the lead singer of Ninety Pound Wuss (one of my favorite Tooth and Nail bands) put it, “We wouldn’t have had the opportunities that we did to tour or put out records . . . But we weren’t aware that, essentially, in my opinion, now, Christian rock is literally a marketing gimmick to exploit one person’s faith in order to sell albums to people who identify with that faith.”

While this was happening, bands like Crashdog, who as Daniel Gilbert pointed out to me on Twitter, had an album entitled Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus which included the song “G.O.P,” a song that directly confronts the moral majority and the intermingling of religion and politics. Along with this, I had discussions with people about bands such as The Blamed, who I recently discovered released an album entitled The Church is Hurting People in 2019. That led me to revisit their 1995 Frail which has a song called “Guy in a Suit and the Pope.” That song is a cover from The Crucified, the band that Mark Salomon fronted before he fronted Stavesacre. The song, like “G.O.P.”, focuses on the moral majority and the ways that individuals exploit others under the guise of Christianity. I say all of this to point out that, as I knew but never really dove into, the thread of politics and social commentary run deep in the “Christian” music underground.

Zao “Xenophobe” (2016)

“Xenophobe” appears on the same album as the song I discussed in the last post, “A Well-Intentioned Virus,” and in many ways, it continues the same thread. Speaking about “Xenophobe,” Daniel Weyandt said that it addresses “[t]he influence of media and social media on our current political ideals. Misinformation, manipulation and the spread/affect[sic] of fear. Social regression and racial superstitions.” This is the virus: the spreading tendrils that see fear where nothing exists; the positioning of oneself as being oppressed when you’re actually the oppressor; the belief that yo have the cure when in fact you’re carrying the virus.

From the outset, Weyandt attacks the steady stream of misinformation that bombards us everyday. This stream inhibits actual thought, presenting things in a diametrically opposed, devoid of any nuance for thoughtful discussion. As Weyandt screams, “Evoked by hollow, rabid speeches,” these moments, rather they come from public officials or the media, fall to pieces pretty easily; however, even though they are flimsy, they solidify, pooling together and becoming “birds that spread diseases.” In this manner, they travel the globe, flying from one place to another without interference.

This imagery reminds me of one of my favorite comic panels from The Avengers #73 where Monica Lynne appears on a talk show and Dunn, the white host, claims that those who attacked Monica were not racially motivated even though we know that they were. Around the image, which mirrors a television camera, we see numerous people looking on, as the narration reads, “And soon, silence settles over countless American living rooms. . . as the biggest audience since the moon landing hears an exchange of even more importance to the home of the brave . . .!” Even though Dunn’s statement crumbles, thanks to Hale’s comment, the crumbling pieces travel the airwaves, coalescing in the psyches of some of those watching, forming birds that will fly all over.

In the second verse, Weyandt lays out what this misinformation does to individuals. He sings,

It turns to chemical meditation

It turns to paranoia and frustration

It turns to gray, rotting teeth

It turns to entitled hateful beliefs

Here, we see how the dissemination of hate, under the guise of news, leads to fear and a feeling of superiority in one’s beliefs. A lot of things come to mind when I hear this verse, namely Lillian Smith’s discussion of the Devil stoking false hopes and false fears within individuals, thus leading them, and the nation, to destruction. I think about demagogues knowing what buttons to push, whether or not they agree, and using those buttons to gain, maintain, and coalesce power. Along with all of this, my thoughts go to social media.

A few weeks back, on the local Facebook group, someone posted a story about an “obnoxious” passenger on a flight. The story went as follows. A Muslim man on a flight refused to sit next to an older white woman who had a Bible on her lap. He told the flight attendant he needed another seat because he could not sit next to an “infidel.” The attendant checked with the capatain, and they found a seat in first class. She told the man “that it would be some sort of scandal to force a person to sit next to an unpleasant person, the captain agreed to make the switch to first class.” Before the man could speak, she motioned to the older white woman and told her she was getting upgraded because “the captain doesn’t want you,” as the attendant said, “to sit next to an unpleasant person.” Passengers then erupted in cheers, and some gave standing ovations.

The majority of comments on this post (it got taken down so I cannot find it again) simply read, “Amen,” agreeing with the premise of the story. Others were more blatant in their Islamophobia. At the core of these individuals’ responses was the volumes of misinformation they received, most notably following 9/11, about Islam, Muslims, and even Arabs. (This is something I will talk about more when I look at Mansoor Adayfi’s Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo.) The truth is, though, that this event never occurred. The story has appeared in various iterations, always to demean on group of individuals and prop up another. Snopes has debunked it, but that did not stop people commenting from agreeing with the story. Instead of learning about Muslims or Arabs, they took everything as an us versus them premise, and anything that fits into that construction becomes “truth,” supporting their views of the world. The “entitled hateful beliefs” do not crumble when faced with truth; instead, they solidify.

This constant deluge waters the seeds, and as Weyandt screams, it “groom[s] xenophobic, racist steeds.” The seeds grow into beasts that trample anything in their path that does not adhere to their way of thinking, and as they do this, they shout, “Stop evolving über alles.” The double meaning of this line stands out. In the context of Weyandt’s lyrics, the “racist steeds” shout this, telling those who disagree with them to “above all else, stop evolving.” The other side, though, is the use of “über alles” in connecting with Nazi Germany and white supremacist rhetoric. This double meaning shows that the steeds are worried about the exposure of truth and the crumbling of their beliefs while at the same time they adhere to white supremacist positions.

Ultimately, this all leads to the deterioration of logic as the brain separates itself into, as Smith puts it, “logic tight compartments.” Weyandt intones, “Logic and compassion regress to selfish superstitions.” Rather than thinking for oneself, the superstations take hold, growing deep into the psyche and refusing to release their grip. This regression does harm not only to the oppressed but also to the oppressor, something I’ve written about countless times on this blog. Weyandt notes this as well, as he growls at the end of the song of sludging guitars, “It must be hell to live in fear.” This line sums up the ways that misinformation and the unwillingness to educate oneself causes individuals to constantly live in fear and anger, thus destroying themselves as they try to maintain their way of life.

What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.

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