The Non Sequitur is supposed to be a blog about political media, I know. But I can't let this pass. I was converting some old CD's to MP3 format this evening, and I set about to listening to an old Tool album, Aenima. I'd forgotten how brooding they were and that the lyrics were intermittently profound and stupid. And then I came to "Hooker with a Penis." Here are the lyrics, if you need to read along, but here is the core of the song: it's an argument that you can't blame Tool for being sellouts. The background story is that Maynard, the lead singer, is approached by some kid who accuses him of being a sellout with the latest album, and that the earlier stuff is more authentic:
And in between sips of Coke
He told me that he thought
We were sellin' out
To the man.
Maynard responds with two separate arguments. The first is simple garbage talk: that he, Maynard, is actually THE MAN. So he can't sell out to the man, because he's already the man. And furthermore, since that's the case, our accuser is ALSO the man.
Before you point your finger
You should know that
I'm the man
If I'm the man,
Then you're the man
And He's the man as well
So you can
Point that fuckin' finger up your ass.
I suppose that this is a fine argument for people who are heavy-duty Tool-heads, since a good deal of Tool stuff is mystical mumbo-jumbo. But, for sure, by this sort of reasoning, then Maynard is the accuser, too. And then, consequently, he ends up telling HIMSELF to point that finger up his OWN ass. (Logic hint: identity is a transitive relation.) Not much of a defense, in the end. The lesson of the first argument: mystical nonsense may be really impressive to badly dressed kids in soda shops, but it makes for crazily bad arguments.
The second argument is a little more interesting, and given our recent spate of discussions about tu quoque arguments, it caught my eye. The argument has two prongs. The first is basically that Tool had already sold out before their first record, and so the accuser has no legitimate basis to say that the later album is a sellout compared to the first album. The first album was a sellout album, too! The second line of argument is that the accuser, regardless of the accusations, nevertheless BOUGHT THE RECORDS!
All you know about me is what I've sold you,
I sold out long before you ever even heard my name.
I sold my soul to make a record,
And then you bought one.
I see both lines of the second argument out to show that the accuser, regardless of the issue of whether Tool have sold out, actually likes sellout music. The first line is that since Tool sold out before the first record, and the accuser likes the first record, the accuser likes sellout music. The second line is that since the accuser BUYS records he admittedly sees as sellout music, he must thereby like sellout music. Therefore, he has no standing to accuse Tool of being sellouts.
Again, I'm sympathetic with many tu quoque arguments, as I think they can show double standards, dishonesty in criticism, and even sometimes actually show that some cases are likely true. But I'm not sympathetic here. The first problem is that even if Tool sold out before the first album, that doesn't mean that their second (or later) albums are of the same quality. Here might be a reasonable response from the accuser: Sure, you may have sold out before the first record, but it didn't start really showing until the second. I thought you had some shred of dignity and integrity, but I suppose I was wrong about that. Thanks for setting me straight about the fact that you've always been a sellout.
The second problem with the line of argument is the fact that the accuser bought the album hardly means that he has no standing to complain about its quality. I have many, many CD's collecting dust in the basement that stink. The only way to find out if they stink, back then, was to buy them and listen to them. It was $15 to find out that, for example, Queensryche peaked with Operation Mindcrime. Or consider any other commodity — if I say that the Big Mac is a terrible hamburger, I'd have had to have tried it. Which means I'd have had to have bought one. Would my standing to criticize a Big Mac be undermined by the fact that I bought one? What would be the only way to sample them, then, without this charge? Steal them?
The third problem with the argument is that even if Maynard has shown the accuser to like sellout music, and even if Maynard has shown that the accuser, THE MAN, and Maynard are all the same, it has not yet mounted much of a defense for sellout music. If there's something wrong with "sucking up to THE MAN," then showing that we're all THE MAN or that some people like sucking up to the man doesn't do much in the way of defense.
Toolheads, I remember, took this song pretty seriously. They still do, if you peruse the comments under the YouTube videos for the song. They thought that it showed Maynard at his best, defending himself and his music. It may show Maynard at his best, but it's hardly a defense. You know, when you shout a bad argument, even with distorted guitars and heavy base in the background, it doesn't get any better.