Wherein I went on a protest and then a boat ride down the Thames. Rainy fascist island, indeed. Photos are here.
Another article about the lack of overt political messages, or even a political context, in today’s popular music (this time from an American perspective). Yesterday I mentioned Marilyn Manson’s statement that he ‘preferred’ Republican Presidents as people raged against them and aspects of that sentiment are echoed here by Dorian Lynskey. I wasn’t referring to music when I mentioned it but rather the protest that has been, if not exactly sweeping, then massively increasing across the UK in the past year. It’s difficult not to wonder if it would be happening if Labour had regained power and implemented a cuts programme – not because the action is unjustified but because a right-wing ‘centre-left’ party can get away with things that their explicitly right-wing counterparts would find much more difficult (the introduction of tuition fees and the increasing marketisation of the NHS being perfect examples.) So yes, it would make sense that Obama being in the White House would stifle the tendency of musicians to speak out. That doesn’t explain the equal lack of activity in the UK, where we have an aggressively right-wing government facing a weak opposition party.
The effects of the media and technology could be investigated and debated for years to come (I’ve long said that we will have no idea how much technology is changing us in very fundamental ways until long after it has already happened, if we realise at all) but it does sadly seem to have become a truism that a ‘political’ musician is an absurd notion worthy of ridicule. It’s as if our collective judgement of popular music has regressed to the days before anyone took it seriously as an artform and now all people want from it is dancing and synthetic, obstentatious emotion. This has gone hand in hand with the acceleration of the ‘Idol’-isation of music. On these ‘reality’ shows you progress if you fit into an easily digested box, don’t stray from it, keep smiling and do what you’re told. If you can have a ‘journey’ which involves you having trite realisations about your self-worth and crying, all the better. If you actually love music, have a firm idea of what you want to be and are not afraid to speak about it, you’re doomed. Our celebration of blankess and conformity reaches ever more perverse heights and where does an opinionated, politically aware pop star fit into that? They’d do better to shut up and sing another song about clubbing.
Today’s unfolding events in London have been truly remarkable to watch – both exciting and disheartening. Exciting because, like no other time that I can recall in my life, there is a tangible feeling that this is a once-in-a-lifetime moment where things could change for the better. Change in a way that could almost deserve the description ‘revolutionary’. I think a lot of the protesters feel that way, and want to grab this chance with a ferocious eagerness and desperation. I say desperation because the politicians want to tinker with the current system and ‘get it back on track’. Back to serving the interests of the rich and keeping the poor aspiring to little more than to be in debt for the rest of their lives. A gross simplification I know, but not a completely unfair one. The lack of vision in our politicians today is depressing. Even now, there is little really separating the major parties in Britain and America when it comes to economics. They are micro-managers arguing over how best to ‘repair’ the system. No major politican has stood up and said, ‘You know what – perhaps there was something fundamentally wrong with the system in the first place’. Instead the arguments occur on social issues and are completely blown out of proportion in order to present the illusion of huge differences and, most importantly, fundamental choices for the electorate. An electorate which is treated like a focus group made up of pre-schoolers.
Which brings me to the disheartening aspect of today. In the days leading up to this the foundation was laid for the ‘violent protests’. The media fixated on it. There was endless talk of the preparation being made by the police and the measures being taken to protect the G20 leaders. The impression given was that the G20 leaders were reasonable people who were meeting to try and ‘save the world’ while the protesters were extreme lunatics who wanted nothing more than to cause carnage. And so it was with depressing inevitablity that today’s news focused overwhelmingly on the tiny minority of protesters who were violent. They of course do themselves no favour by fitting so easily into the roles which have been defined for them, but the scene was set long ago and the media has been complicit in enabling the politicians to disregard opinion that is outside of the (economically) centre-right consensus. It’s a familiar story, really. One that is drilled into us throughout our life – that this is the way the world is and how it has developed, and anyone who believes it could be radically different is horribly naive/dangerously extreme. The little coverage which has been given to the political beliefs of the protestors has been very much of the soundbite variety, with some protester’s brief fury/optimism contrasted with a ‘city worker”s stoic ‘realism’. The latter has been very much of the ‘I just want to go out and work and make a living for myself and my kids’ variety. The implication being that people who don’t have responsibilities, who don’t have children, who haven’t ‘grown-up’ – these are the people who can afford to indulge in beliefs. Everyone else is too busy just trying to keep their head above water.
Of course, it’s almost impossible to reduce the protesters to one political mindset. I disagree with some of them and disagree with how some have taken action. But Christ, I want to thank them for actually doing something while the rest of us just sit and carp and feel superior and more educated and moan about them disrupting our day and go and take photos of them because it gives a little vicarious thrill to our lives and indulge in the stultifying cynicism which makes our generation so easy to push around.