Mongolian Heavy Metal & Globalization

Like any cultural interaction, globalization isn't painless.

5 months ago

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The cheap price of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Karl Marx astutely recognized the powerful heavy artillery-like force of capital and the capitalist mode of production, and he predicted, somewhat, the era of globalization we are now familiar with. What Marx didn’t recognize, and failed to articulate in his philosophical, political, and economic writers, was the enticing nature of capitalism, both in good times and bad. Moreover, he never foresaw the Leninist bastardization of Marxist thought that would come with Lenin in Russia and would be adopted throughout the developing world by Leninist parties like the Chinese Communist Party. He would never see the poverty of the so-called socialist/communist world. He would never know the brutal crackdowns, the gulags, the massive famines, and he would never see the brutal corruption that created a stench of decay in the Soviet Union and other socialist/communist nation-states and power blocs.

The winds of change, particularly in the communist/socialist world, came in the mid- to late-70s, with a contraction of the Soviet Union’s efforts on the African continent and the U.S.S.R.’s brutal war in Afghanistan. China would see the death of Mao and the arrest and trial of the Gang of Four. Deng Xiaoping, a conundrum in communist China, declared, “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice.” The late-80s and early-90s brought serious questions concerning the communist/socialist order. Cracks began appearing, and the façade was beginning to crumble under its own weight.

The era of the hypermobile global economy was the byproduct of rather fringe economists, who would be propped up by conservative politicians across the globe, particularly in the United States. After the 1970s stagnation and energy crises, the United States managed to oversee one of the largest transfers of wealth in history, with billions of petrodollars sitting in American banks. Milton Friedman, the Chicago School, Friedrich Hayek, and trickle-down economics were etched into the collective imagination. The hypermobile economy espoused the free market, open borders, unregulated trade, and transfers of wealth once unimaginable in the postwar (i.e., post-World War II) era.

Heavy metal is, originally, seen as a sort of American or at least a Western invention. However, as the global economy spread its tendrils across the planet, so did the cultural artifacts of the Western world. Rap, hip-hop, rock, and even metal began to saturate those societies once closed off to Western or American influences. Like any form of cultural intercourse, there was give and take. The seeds of hip-hop, rap, techno, rock, and metal formed into new varieties, sharing lineage with Western varieties but also a unique blend of indigenous sounds, languages, instruments, and concerns.

One of my first forays into non-Western metal came with a group named the Hu, a Mongolian metal/folk band, who were a huge hit on YouTube, just before releasing their album, The Gereg. (For those looking to get a taste of this band’s work, I have included a video of their song “The Great Chinggis Khan.”) The Hu were a quick realization of Marx’s observations concerning the power of capital and the capitalist mode of production. Mongolia, a little-known place in the world, aside from Chinggis Kahn and his Mongolian armies, too has succumbed to the power of capital in the twenty-first-century. Although wealth and comfort are now staples of some who live in Mongolia, the new Mongolia is a product of the times. Mining in Mongolia has brought unparalleled prosperity, growth, and development. It has brought Western ideas and culture to Mongolia, which, in turn, has influenced the creation of a rather unique brand of Mongolian metal.

As a student of history and political science, I find this fascinating. However, I cannot imagine what has been lost for the Mongolian people. What has history given them? What has been forever lost? What contradictions exist in this society that is both old and respected and reformed by the changes of the last thirty or so years?

What Marx got right is a bit harder to nail down here. Marx, in his ever-nuanced way, showed the power of capital, yes, but he also managed to explain that the spread of capital and the capitalist mode of production is not necessarily a peaceful or painless process. The contradictions and the nostalgia explored in the Hu’s lyrics are indicators that globalization and the hypermobile global economy aren’t as painless and benign as many of us have been led to believe.

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G. Michael Rapp

Published 5 months ago


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