Interpretation of “The Mechanism” by Nikolas Asimos
Nikolas Asimos was an exceptionally talented song-maker and an unapologetic contrarian. He expressed himself with honesty, resisted indoctrination, and ultimately suffered in the margins of society until he committed suicide.
For this entry, I have picked The Mechanism: a critique of the contemporary music industry (and industrialisation at-large): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRhN9n-4XCw.
Below are the original lyrics, followed by my translation and commentary.
Ο Μηχανισμός Με πείσανε να γίνω ρεβιζιονιστής και να γυρίσω δίσκο Θα ρθει όμως καιρός που κι εσύ θε να πειστείς πως έτσι δεν τη βρίσκω Τι να κάνω, ήτανε γραφτό Θέλω δεν το θέλω, ότι τραγουδώ να το πουλώ να ζήσω Όταν πάω στον παραγωγό πρέπει να βολέψω έτσι το γραφτό Να του γυαλίσει, για να το πουλήσει Να'χει σαλέπι, για να σας αρέσει Να έχει θέμα με έρωτα και αίμα Να είναι λόγια, λόγια κομπολόγια Να σας καλοκαρδίσω για να σας γαλουχήσω Κι από χρέος συναδελφικό να χαμογελάω στο κοινό Να του σαλεύω για να το μερεύω Να του σφυρίζω να το νανουρίζω Να το φουντώνω να το ξεφουσκώνω Και στην κομμούνα να είμαι οπορτούνα για να σας εκτονώνω με πλαίσιο το νόμο Δουλειά σου είναι μού'πανε να κρύβεις τα τρωτά των καθιερωμένων Για να διατηρήσουμε τα οικονομικά των ευαρεστημένων Σιγουριά και δόξα τω θεώ Τα καλά στον καπιταλισμό είναι πως έχει βίδα Άμα πιάσεις το μηχανισμό από τ'αυτιά τον πιάνεις το λαγό Τον Πελοπίδα τρως με μια τσιμπίδα Στην Παρθενόπη χαρίζεις ένα τόπι Και με τα χρόνια γυρνάς ες τα σαλόνια Ξεχνάς ποια μάνα σε γένναε στο κλάμα Και του εργάτη καβάλλησες την πλάτη Μα θε να πει αμάν πια Και πας ες τα κομμάτια Και άει στα κομμάτια Με πείσανε να γίνω ρεβιζιονιστής και να γυρίσω δίσκο Θα ρθει όμως καιρός που κι εσύ θε να πειστείς πως έτσι δεν τη βρίσκω
The Mechanism They convinced me to become a revisionist and to record a disc Yet there will be a time where you will be convinced that this is not what I like What can I do, it was destined Like it or not, whatever I sing to sell in order to live When I go to the producer I must so accommodate the text To shine to him, for him to sell it To have softener, for you to like it To have a topic with love and blood To have words; pointless words To make you feel well so as to indoctrinate you And out of comrade duty To smile to the crowd To wave at it to tame it To whistle at it to lull it To inflate it and deflate it And in the commune to be an opportunist to relieve you with the law as framework They told me your job is to hide the weaknesses of the establishment To preserve the economics of the well-off Certainty and "God bless" The good with capitalism is that it has a way If you understand the mechanism you hold the hare from the ears [you are in control] You eat Pelopidas with tweezers To Parthenopi you offer a ball And through the years you wonder the palaces You forget which mother birthed you crying And you ride the worker's back But he will say "enough" And you sod off And sod off They convinced me to become a revisionist and record a disc Yet there will be a time where you will be convinced that this is not what I like
The lyrics of Nikolas remind me of the dissonance we witness in the behavioural patterns of the ultra-rich and their assignees in government. People are reeling from years of grinding precarity, while the establishment blithely wastes oodles of money in whatever vanity project. The facade of prosperity presented by pompous ceremonies contrasts starkly with the repulsive face of injustice in the neighbourhoods. Public services are understaffed and are suffering from underinvestment, but thank God the overlords are going from strength to strength!
We are told that we have the freedom to choose. You don’t like your job? Acquire new skills and get another one. Sure! And who pays for that? Not enough opportunities in your country? No problem! Migrate to some country whose tongue you do not speak and live in precarity there. The notion that we have freedom because we can choose between a rock and a hard place is a twisted interpretation of the ideals of liberty. To live in freedom, one must be empowered to make choices that do not compromise their dignity at the outset.
In yester years oppression was personified and thus identifiable. One could, for example, name the monarch as the kingdom’s tyrant, blame the clergy for its rampant corruption, and, generally, challenge someone for the prevailing conditions. The current order is much more subtle in this regard. There is no apparent despot, no storm troopers shooting people on the streets, nothing that reeks of totalitarianism. Yet the institutions embed values and rules which themselves pamper and proliferate injustice in readily recognisable ways.
Consider this much-touted freedom of choice. The gist of the American Dream is that you work hard and get rich. Ergo, the ultra-rich are hard workers. Ergo, you are a lazy piece of shit. In this narrative, there is no state intervention in favour of the status quo. No. Whenever the state is mentioned, it is playing the role of the boogie that tries to take money away from honourable billionaires. The other story, which is consistent with the history of capitalism as state intervention in favour of capital owners, is not discussed. It is too inconvenient to admit that platformarchs are in control of the economy’s platforms because of the relevant legal-institutional arrangements, not despite them.
Of course, you do have the freedom to voice your opposition. Which you will do via social media that are controlled by a handful of individuals. Or you can go for this sorry excuse of media pluralism where news outlets are but front offices of a larger portfolio that—you guessed it—belongs to a tiny minority. Same for your political freedom to run for office, which apart from public exposure (see above) also requires lots of funding that comes from yet more cartels (e.g. banks).
What the present order has achieved is to obfuscate sovereignty by making it impossible to answer in unequivocal terms “who governs?” and “where is the locus of power?” Power is diffused. Those who exert control are aloof from the quotidian realities of politics.
The institutionalisation of oppression is not limited to a power play of the elites against the rest. The familiar workplace norms underpin society and, as such, are shared by employers of all sorts. In my recent job search, I conducted several interviews with what I would consider “small fish” in the grand scheme of things. The question all prospective employers asked me is “why are you passionate to join us?”. Passionate, huh? Your boss does not want you to simply get the job done. You need to develop a sense of patriotic duty towards your employer, to evangelise them wherever you stand, and to not betray their “values”, of which they always have plenty. Your boss will seek to befriend you, yet the iron fist remains in place.
Companies these days do this gimmick of assuming a humane and approachable face. This is epitomised in the lie—blatant lie, yes—of the contradiction in terms known as “flat hierarchy.” They tell you that they have a flat hierarchy and everybody is equal there. Somewhere between the lines, they will admit that there is one person who is in charge of this, another who handles that, a third who approves of everything, and so on. Those wield more power than their colleagues. In other words, there is a clearly defined hierarchy, only it is commented away as its opposite.
If you buy in to the narrative, you develop a sense of pride in what you do. Sure, you work long hours and are drained of your vitality, but you resist connecting the dots. You internalise the idea that you are with the good guys.
Nations are no different. The Western world consoles itself with the deception that it is the bastion of righteousness on this planet. The average fellow will think they are doing great compared to “underdeveloped” countries and will thus refrain from demanding thoroughgoing reforms.
Against this backdrop, the tutelary figure must put on a nice show that will allow lots of meaningless words to be uttered. Such is the mechanism. Your choice, as a creative person, is to either conform with what is happening or subsist in poverty.
“Why are you passionate to join us?” I keep contemplating these words while struggling to build a hut in the wilderness… No, I have no such passion mate.