If you asked me in tenth grade what Queensryche album I’d be listening to in 2013, I’d have told you Operation: Mindcrime.
And why not? Operation: Mindcrime is probably the album for which Queensryche is best known. It wasn’t their commercial peak--that went to Empire. It hasn’t held nearly as well over time, especially compared to the Rage for Order’s icy dystopia or Promised Land, which even nearly twenty years after its release, draws me in a little deeper each time I listen to it. Musically and lyrically Operation: Mindcrime is a unmistakeably a product of the Reagan eighties, but you can say one thing for it--of all the Queensryche albums out there, Operation: Mindcrime is without a doubt the Queensryche-iest.
Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album about a drug-addicted young political revolutionary named Nikki, an idealist trying to take down the corrupt system by killing the fuck out of the middle-aged sons of bitches in it. Things didn’t work out so well for Nikki. He was betrayed by middle-aged handler/drug supplier/puppet master Dr. X, and was framed for the murder of his--Paging Dr. MadonnaWhore-- prostitute-turned-nun lover Mary.
To my sixteen year old mind, this was the greatest thing ever because THAT’S HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS, MAN. We’re being manipulated by the system. Religion sucks. Politics sucks. Kill the old guys. Nunsluts rule because they’re pure enough to soothe your guilt over multiple murder, but also dirty so you can you fuck them in a church beside a gunshot victim.
For some reason, this makes me think about Men’s Rights Activists. To me, they are the Nikkis of the internet.
It’s hard to take MRAs seriously, even though they deserve the same respect as anyone. They pay lip service to a number of issues that affect men, but the causes that really bring them out of the woodwork seem to be women’s sexual choices and not wanting to pay child support. As a consequence, they tend to come off us profoundly unlikeable, and as Jules says in Pulp Fiction, “Personality goes a long way.”
Not only that, with their emphasis on sexual and financial success as the pinnacle of masculinity, MRAs tend to undermine themselves. By complaining they don’t get enough of it, MRAs highlight the fact that by their own standards, MRAs are hopeless failures. It’s hard to imagine people lining up in droves to join Team Scarcity; “We’re broke and get no pussy” isn’t a rallying cry that brings the masses flocking to your banner.
Like Nikki, they think they’re the good guys. Also like Nikki, most of the rest of the world thinks they’re lunatics.
Don’t get me wrong. Their pain is real pain. Their frustrations and resentments and disappointments are real. But instead of looking at the pain as coming from within themselves, they pin it on an external source. They see themselves as victims of some grand conspiracy, and ironically, that belief that everyone is a manipulator makes them incredibly easy to manipulate.
MRAs aren’t the only people who do this on the internet--they’re just the easiest ones to make fun of. But the way Nikki thinks of himself as a liberator and a hero of the people in “Speak" reminds me of the way a lot of angry men think of themselves as nice guys when their words and actions show otherwise.
Nikki’s thinking is distorted by the effects of drugs. Many only MRAs thinking are distorted by the power of the internet. They think there are more of them than their actually are. They feed each other’s rage and self-righteousness, just as Dr. X uses Nikki’s rage and drug hunger against him.
I’m not the first to compare the internet to a drug. But most people I’ve seen who make the comparison are talking about its addictive power. Few talk about the way it distorts reality.
We forget sometimes, I think, that the internet is not real. It’s such a useful tool, that we forget it is a step removed from reality. We trust it to tell us the truth when it is really reflecting back only what we tell it to show us.
We are not interacting with other people, but with their ideas, words on a screen, pixels on glass. We’re interacting with the words they’ve written, the screen name they’ve chosen, the persona they’ve created, and a thumbnail sized avatar. We don’t notice ourselves filling in the blanks in what they show us with the ideas in our own mind. We idealize our idols, and then turn on them when we discover them to be as human and fallible as the rest of us. We use our allies to reinforce our ideals until we start to believe that our ideas are more important than reality. We demonize our enemies, turning them into nightmare monsters of our own creation. Like Nikki who sees the political and religious figures he murders not as people but as representations of the abstact ideas he believes are killing the world, we lose sight of the human-ness of those we oppose. Being right becomes more important than being compassionate.
And this isn’t just a thing MRAs do. It’s a thing feminists do. Atheists. Republicans and Democrats. We think we are different, but in truthy, we are united by our very desire to pull apart, to be the good guys, to be better than ‘those people.’
As a result, it is possible for us to create a lot of suffering. For ourselves, and for others.
In 2006 Queensryche released Operation: Mindcrime 2. Nikki is released from prison. He hunts down and kills Dr. X. Plotwise, that pretty much covers it. The majority of the album is Nikki coming to terms with the things he’s done.
Compared to the original, Operation: Mindcrime 2 is not a very good album. But for me, who has lived and breathed the story of Operation: Mindcrime since I first heard it in 1988, there’s something special about hearing Nikki realize and accept his own responsibility for the past while making peace with it. Maybe it’s because it parallels my own evolution as a teenager who thought he was too good, too smart, and too talented for the world around him to a 39-year old who realizes the world around him is the only place he has to put talent, brains, and skill to use, that tearing down is not the same thing as cleaning up, and that nothing we do outside ourselves will take away the pain, frustration, resentement and sadness. We need the mirror for that.
In Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche tells us "The Needle Lies". But later, on the song "Eyes of a Stranger", they remind us that the mirror never does.
And best album or not, in that moment, they are absolutely right.