Rage Against the Government

The debut album cover for Rage Against the Machine is not what I had expected it to be.

Initially, I thought it was just an edited picture. It is obvious there is a man on fire sitting down, with a car in the background. But, interpretations depend on previous knowledge, shared connotations and your ideological position. Semiotics explore this further. (S Turnbull, 2018)

As the bands name is “Rage Against the Machine” I automatically assumed this was a photo depicting just that. I decoded the image as the flames resembling the anger within the person, explaining the ‘rage’, with the car in the background conveying the ‘machine’.

Moreover, the back of the cover  has a petrol can behind the list of songs. I thought this displayed the songs as ‘fuel’ behind their rage.

(RATG Back of Album Cover)

In terms of the photo being the sign, all these elements are signifier’s.

The ideology behind this image in this day may be similar to my initial interpretation, due to the way we imagine the world to be.

Moreover, the band was creating these songs in 1992, before I was born. Without the exposure to riots, protests and war, these connotations are not present. Therefore, the image signified to me that it had been created to fit the bands name.

After further research, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The photo, taken by Malcolm Browne, is of Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc. In 1963, he set himself alight as a protest against the governments discrimination towards the Buddhist community. (Stafford 2015)

The burning monk, 1963 (4)-2
(Malcom Browne 1963)

Though 90% of the population were buddhist, they were banned from flying their traditional flag. Within a protest, 9 people were killed, including 2 children. The Buddhists then created 5 demands in pursuit for religious equality. Thich Quand Duc’s self-immolation was yet again a demand for peace and equality. (Sanburn 2011)

This act ultimately led to U.S President John F. Kennedy to stop supporting the Ngo Dinh Diem government. The Vietnamese were helped by the U.S to assassinate Diem.

During Thich’s self immolation, he never made a sound. Thich simply stayed still and peaceful until he was devoured by flames.  He didn’t show suffering or distraught, but

“you could see from his expression that he was exposed to intense agony, and that he was dying on the spot” (Malcolm Browne).

This knowledge further decodes the image for the audience and myself, as it changes our ideological position. The bands album cover encoded this image, to depict the bands wild demeanour. The political content within their songs were striking and somewhat ‘unacceptable’ to talk of.

Everything ‘Rage Against the Machine’ stands for, can be drawn out from the image. Compassion, dedication, defiance, equality,





Reference list

Barnes, T 2015, Rage Against The Machine Is Still the Protest Band Our Generation Needs, Mic Network, weblog post, 2 April, viewed 20 March 2018, <https://mic.com/articles/114316/15-years-later-rage-against-the-machine-is-still-the-protest-band-our-generation-needs#.g5WA34hWP>

The Burning Monk 1963, image, photographed by Browne, M, viewed 20 March, <https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/the-burning-monk-1963/>

Newton, M 2011, In Terrifying Colour: Vietnamese Buddhist Monk’s 1963 Self Immolation, Thought Catalog, weblog post, 10 January, viewed 21 March 2018, <https://thoughtcatalog.com/matthew-newton/2011/01/in-terrifying-color-vietnamese-buddhist-monks-1963-self-immolation/>

Oliver, M 2017, Thich Quand Duc: The Burning Monk Who Changed The World, All Things Interesting, weblog post, 20 December, viewed 20 March 2018, <http://allthatsinteresting.com/thich-quang-duc-burning-monk>

Sanburn, J 2011, A Brief History of Self-Immolation, TIME, weblog post, 20 January, viewed 21 March 2018, <http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2043123,00.html>

Stafford, J 2015, Cover Stories: Rage Against the Machine’s Self-Titles Debut, Diffuser fm, weblog post, 8 September, viewed 21 March 2018, <http://diffuser.fm/cover-stories-rage-against-the-machines-self-titled-debut/>

Turnbull, S 2018, ‘Representation and Interpretation’, Lecture, BCM110, University Of Wollongong, delivered 13 March



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