Foucault's Surveillance Theory and Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me": An Essay Coming Never to Neomarxisme


Thanks to the red Columbia portable turntable that everyone owned around 1999 after vinyl became a luxurious and conspicuous waste far more classy than listening to 1s and 0s from smaller silicon discs with higher fidelity, my apartment has been mysteriously treated to the repeated playing of Rockwell‘s “Somebody’s Watching Me.” (I am pretty sure we got the LP for cheap at the same Karuizawa record store where I found The Monkees’ Golden Story featuring Tanaami Keiichi’s art, although it’s one of those albums anybody on Earth could just have “around the house.”)

With such a pop gem on my mind, I could not resist the inclination to write a bogus pretentious essay on the theme of the Rockwell song and Michel Foucault‘s Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison — tying together the works under the grand metaphor that society operates much like a panopticon with good behavior and compliance as a result of constant possibilities of authoritative supervision. This was going to teach you people how to laugh out-loud. You see — it is hilarious to analyze a “low culture” item (like Rockwell) within a framework of “high culture” (like Foucault).

These guys are also giants in their own right: Imagine the boos, hisses, rescindment of invitations upon spouting out Veblen, Weber, or Schumpeter with a fast, slick crowd. But drop some hints at rockstar Foucault and you are golden for a lifetime. This guy put academics on the map in the same way Rockwell established that African-Americans could do pop music.


But I surveyed the Internet to make sure this grand Foucault-Rockwell idea had not been previously executed. Lo and behold, fright and discontent — someone already thought of this parallel and to make matters worse, the writer is also named Marx — a Professor of Sociology at some local technical school in Boston called M.I.T. (And I bet this guy wins extra points that his ancestors were actually named Marx instead of taking the name on accidentally at Castle Garden Immigration Depot because the young immigrant misunderstood the question, answering his first name “Max” with a heavy accent — and “Poznyak” sounded “too Polish” anyway.)

So, no Foucault-Rockwell essay for any of you. Thanks, Prof. Marx.

While we are still on the subject of Rockwell, before never ever thinking about him again for the rest of our adult lives, I want to point out that the seeds of his doom were planted in the track listing of his debut album. Song #3: a cover of “Taxman” by the Beatles. Universally speaking, “Taxman” is a terrible song for anyone to remake, especially if you are trying to escape the fact that you are a rich, spoiled son of the music mogul who runs the label releasing your first album. “Taxman” is the kind of song that makes “hip” Republicans and conservatives swoon and was only marginally cool because the Beatles were cultural heroes, who happened to make a lot of money, and 95% of that money was being taken by “the Man” which happened to be a strongly-Socialist UK government. Doing “Taxman” as a virgin artist in the middle of the Reagan Era is decidedly less adventurous.

The “coolest” thing I have ever heard about taxes is a quote from my great-grandfather (the aforementioned fake Marx) who quipped, “All you have to do is pay 20% of your income and the government doesn’t send in pogroms to burn your house down and rape your women?” He did not end that with “Whatta country!” but he would in the film remake.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
September 5, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

10 Responses

  1. michael from hayward, ca Says:

    Tru with Master P did a version of this song on album ‘Tru 2 da Game(1997)’. The instrumentals in the backround sound similar to the original, the chours reads “I always feel like, somebody’s watchin me””I’m paranoid I can’t sleep I’m in the dope game,I think these hoes and these niggaz out to get me mayn”. I don’t care for it but thought it was funny they bit off an older pop song.
    – Michael, Hayward, CA

  2. marxy Says:

    Hip hop – who will they plunder next?

  3. Momus Says:

    Puznac, eh? Not bad for a DJ name; backwards it spells Canz Up, and DJ Puznac would have to have his cans up to “survey” da music and “punish” da house.

    “Dippy Dave Puznac’s thoughts on Contemporary Japan” would be quite another blog, wouldn’t it? Something a bit more like Masamania, methinks. (Wait, checking the URL, Masamania seems to have disappeared. Did he cross the yakuza? Surely something we should be reading about on a thrusting young investigative site?)

  4. marxy Says:

    Actually, we have no idea what the formal spelling is – only a verbal handdown – no actual documents. I did some light research one day and Puznac/Puznac seems to be closest. I think it’s a Polish name meaning “one who is late” – although a Jews may have taken it on in Minsk as a way to skip out of conscription. Today it is both an Ashkenazi Jewish hame and a gentile Polish name.

    Marx is German Jewish, if I am not mistaken.

    I am glad you immediately look for backwards spelling – a very Dippy Dave thing to do.

  5. Ryan Cousineau Says:

    Marxy: 20%? I want in on that bargain!

    However, I must admit the comfy post-whateverist democracy I live in VERY doesn’t burn and rape, so maybe that’s worth 10 or 20 extra points. Plus sales taxes.

  6. Rory P. Wakeboard Says:

    I sang Rockwell at Karaoke last night!

  7. Chris_B Says:

    OK none of that made any sense to me at all.

    I still have two things to say though:

    1) I hate links that resize a browser window

    2) the Columbia’s nerd coolness is blown away by the Numark PT01 wannabe DJ coolness and costs ¥5,000 less at Yodoba.

  8. Erik Says:

    “…listening to 1s and 0s from smaller silicon discs with higher fidelity,..”

    Actually CDs are comprised of mostly polycarbonate plastic. No silicon involved, unless you count the chips used to decode the data…

    But I’m sure it was just a silly mistake.


  9. marxy Says:

    I may change that. I like “polycarbonate plastic.”

  10. rootlesscosmo Says:

    One of the lines on “Taxman” is “Taxman, Mr. Wilson; taxman, Mr. Heath,” asserting that when it came to fiscal policy there was little (for a nouveau-wealthy pop star) to choose between Labour and the Tories. I was offended by it at the time and still am.