Fugazi – Argument

The Argument
Year :
The Evens / Titus Andronicus / Drive Like Jehu

Well, here we are—10 full days into the government shutdown. I tried to resist saying anything about it for this long simply because I did not believe that it could possibly last more than a day or two, at most. Too much was at stake and a failure on a level such as that would be too embarrassing for even the most boneheaded legislator to stomach. Clearly, I cannot be trusted on these matters. I resisted for another reason, too. Over the years, life has worn my interest in politics down to a point of almost pure apathy. Before you go dismissing me as just another lazy non-voter with no right to an opinion, know this:

A. I still vote (though I’m less clear on why with each passing election).

B. I served my time in the government workforce (more than three years). I know what failure looks like firsthand. I earned my apathy.

That apathy, now, generally manifests in me paying as little attention to news out of Washington as possible. Not gonna lie—this has generally worked out pretty well for me. I no longer get upset about things that I have no control over (at least as far as politics go). But, it comes with the cost of not being able to converse on these topics the way I once did. In other words, if you were to ask me about the facts of the government shutdown I’d sound pretty stupid. This is, obviously, embarrassing. I was reminded of this yesterday afternoon when the topic came up somewhat unexpectedly with an acquaintance. I had only the most general information to draw from in trying to carry on an intelligent conversation. I crashed. I burned.

Mulling the conversation over later, my powers of apathy began to fail me. I dusted off my once trusty source for projecting meaning into politics via music, Fugazi. Frontman MacKaye has always been associated with a particular sort of political outrage, but Fugazi always channeled that energy in a vaguely topical way (as opposed to a band like Rage Against the Machine, who had very specific things to say about specific issues). The Argument, Fugazi’s final album, in particular, brings a broad, if weary, sensibility to the table. At its core, the album is about the collapse of what political scientists refer to as “civil society”—the government and non-government structures that we’ve constructed for ourselves that define who we are and shape our everyday life. “Cashout”, the album’s opener paints a picture of neighborhood residents being literally displaced in the name of urban development. It sets the tone for an album that returns time and again to themes of disagreement and our collective failures to compromise and find solutions.

The themes of the album are neatly summed up in its brilliant artwork. Though I can’t identify the original source of the photo, it calls to mind the sort of monuments and epic-scale relief works that you might find around the band’s hometown, Washington D.C.


One assumes that the original subject of the photo depicts one hand passing the torch to the other, suggesting not only the continuation of legacy, but the concepts of shared values and teamwork. In Fugazi’s version, the image is split and rearranged, depicting the hands moving in opposite directions. It wholly subverts the image in both visuals and meaning. It’s one of the all-time great album covers.

“Argument” is the song that closes the album, putting a fine point on the extended mediation. When MacKaye sings “I’m on a mission to never agree” it’s almost impossible for me to not think about the current state of affairs. The fact that “Argument” was recorded more than a decade ago is a harsh reminder that the roots of our current collective failure to make government work run extremely deep. We want to believe that the shutdown has something vaguely to do with Obamacare. It does not. The reality is far worse. This shutdown is the full manifestation of decades of finger pointing and heavy handed assertions that “my side is right.” In hindsight, MacKaye seems almost prophetic, although we’d all be better off had he been incorrect.

There actually isn’t all that much to say about the shutdown after all. At least not specifically. It’s not a new problem and not one that a simple “return to work” is even going to approach solving. I don’t know what will. Apathy might not be the answer (maybe I’m shaking it off), but clinging to inflexible beliefs about how things should be is definitely not. Until we bury the ideological hatchet that we all seem to be carrying around these days, The Argument cannot end. For our own sake, it has to.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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