Do You Hear the People Sing?
February 10, 2017 1:36 PM   Subscribe

As artists, we can no more claim to be above politics then claim we are avoiding air. Politics is killing us. It’s the fish denying the existence of water. How to get people on our side with an idea of a compassionate social order? How do we get people riled up for justice and equality? How do we, as artists and designers and writers, go about spreading our message? Learning How To Scream Again: Promoting Leftism for Artists and Writers [via mefi projects]
posted by Artw (24 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
It does make me decidedly melancholy that these days 'No fingers in hamburger meat!' is decidedly leftist on the US political spectrum.
posted by mrdaneri at 2:04 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


The Whelk is wonderful for many reasons, but for this reason in particular: the line "I want this as subtle as Snowpiercer."
posted by shmegegge at 2:13 PM on February 10 [7 favorites]


As an artist it's easy to fall into hopelessness in these dark times, easy to start questioning "why bother?" I agree we need better art, but I share the author's problem: I don’t know what a new Leftist art looks like. I also don't know what effective art would look like here - simply painting a picture of a happier tomorrow without any kind of plan for how to get there from here seems utopian and pollyanna-ish. Focusing on overtly political messaging risks the viewer tuning out, since we have so much of this content already, and editorial cartoons aren't going anywhere.

A lot of the narratives of modern media center on the gritty lone hero, through personal strength and sacrifice, saving the day. Sharing, consent, coming together to make something beautiful, aren't as glamorous of concepts, and are frequently mocked in our culture ("Let's get together and sing Kumbaya while we're at it?"). How do we combat this and make cooperation cool again?
posted by Feyala at 2:25 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I can't help but feel that the most effective thing artists and other creative types could do is to just move to swing states.
posted by spudsilo at 2:39 PM on February 10 [5 favorites]


I thought that the Year Zero ARG that was associated with the Nine Inch Nails album of the same name was a VERY effective example of the Left screaming about things. To the point where the fictional Art Is Resistance campaign actually got several player-designed politically-pointed ads placed in newspapers during the run of the game. I think part of the problem is that the ads were a one-time thing, rather than something happening regularly, repeatedly.

Honestly, I think Year Zero and the associated ARG material may be exactly what we need right now.
posted by hippybear at 3:16 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Appropriate.
posted by grobstein at 3:23 PM on February 10


I can't help but feel that the most effective thing artists and other creative types could do is to just move to swing states.

cool i gotcha what's step two
posted by Greg Nog at 3:33 PM on February 10 [8 favorites]


(If you're not familiar, NIN's Year Zero conceit is that in the year 2022, a harsh Dominionist regime has taken over the US and declared a reset point of Year Zero for the "new" country. Conditions are so terrible (escalating war in the Middle East, population being given drugs in the water to ensure pliancy, massive pollution ruining the landscape while those who toe the Party line live in preserved enclaves, lots of other shit going on) that a group of scientists working at CERN or some such use their powerful electronics to somehow send bits and slices of their present back to the past (2007) in order to try to keep that version of the world from happening.)
posted by hippybear at 3:35 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Ah, found it! (It's hard to find things from 2007 on the web sometimes.) Here's a page of the artwork that really appeared in newspapers during the Year Zero ARG. It was pretty amazing back then. We need Art to be Resistance, have needed it all along.
posted by hippybear at 3:41 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


cool i gotcha what's step two

Throw parties, get drunk, make poor life choices.
posted by spudsilo at 3:48 PM on February 10


In the meanwhile, QTPOC and feminist communities have been busy making healing, empowering art with our representation and doing art activism. This article confuses me.
posted by yueliang at 4:00 PM on February 10 [9 favorites]


cool i gotcha what's step two

Throw parties, get drunk, make poor life choices.


Yes, but make the kind of poor life choices lefties make, because that way you can teach those around you.
posted by hippybear at 4:17 PM on February 10


As an artist it's easy to fall into hopelessness in these dark times, easy to start questioning "why bother?" I agree we need better art, but I share the author's problem: I don’t know what a new Leftist art looks like. I also don't know what effective art would look like here - simply painting a picture of a happier tomorrow without any kind of plan for how to get there from here seems utopian and pollyanna-ish. Focusing on overtly political messaging risks the viewer tuning out, since we have so much of this content already, and editorial cartoons aren't going anywhere.

A lot of the narratives of modern media center on the gritty lone hero, through personal strength and sacrifice, saving the day. Sharing, consent, coming together to make something beautiful, aren't as glamorous of concepts, and are frequently mocked in our culture ("Let's get together and sing Kumbaya while we're at it?"). How do we combat this and make cooperation cool again?


Oh my gosh, so many examples from just US history even! Much of the art sponsored by the WPA during the Great Depression explicitly promoted themes of community, cooperation, tolerance, valorizing everyday life. That was a trend in theatre for a bit, with living newspapers and ... not my area of expertise so I'm forgetting the name of the movement/style that it is an example of, but plays like Our Town.

I haven't read it yet, but on my to-read pile is a book called "Against Self-Reliance: The arts of dependence in the Early United States". The description from the front flap is:
Individualism is arguably the most vital tenet of American national identity: American cultural heroes tend to be mavericks and nonconformists, and independence is the fulcrum of the American origin story. But in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a number of American actors, writers, and educational philosophers cast imitation and emulation as central to the linked projects of imagining the self and consolidating the nation. Tracing continuities between literature, material culture, and pedagogical theory, William Huntting Howell uncovers an America that celebrated the virtues of humility, contingency, and connection to a complex whole over ambition and distinction.
Although the valorization of lone heroes is a common thread in US culture, and I think that selfishness has become increasingly not just tolerated but venerated as capitalism advances and the values of capitalism seep into the rest of our culture, there is also a strong thread of valuing and desiring community. Eg., I think that a component of Trump's appeal to some voters (beyond the racism and xenophobia), and one that we could actually work with, was that the call back to a purported previous era of greatness tied in to a nostalgic vision of a Norman Rockwell-esque America where people knew their neighbors and felt like they were part of a community. That was the "populist" part of his message, inasmuch as his message was actually populist in any authentic sense. We're social animals, and people do want to be part of a community. White racists want that. White people who try not to be racists want that. Black people want that. People of all other colors and ethnicities and religions and nationalities want that. Some groups have held on to a sense of community a little bit better than others - partly due to political necessity, partly due to differential effects of the economic pressures toward atomization. For example, in my local area, activists from the Black and Mi'kmaq communities talk about growing up with activism, and about how that work is part of their community. It's white activists (especially from more middle or upper-middle class backgrounds) who are just re-discovering the need for communities of solidarity in sustaining movements.

I think we need to provide better visions for how to create or re-gain community for white people, that don't involve closing ranks against a perceived enemy. That means telling stories of struggle that involve solidarity. If a human antagonist is needed for the story, make it an elite capitalist. But even better would probably be stories of people working together to overcome obstacles that aren't enemies. Hidden Figures does okay at this. Stories of fire jumper crews are pretty thrilling and often involve working together. Or stories of people working together to survive other sorts of environmental dangers, storms, disasters, epidemics, etc. But I think there is an audience for such stories. I think that's also the zeitgeist that Obama's first election campaign tapped into with the "Hope" messaging, that was quite successful.

I think we also need to talk about how selfishness used to be considered a baser character trait (the original idea of capitalism was that the invisible hand of the free market would be able to tame these dark and harmful elements of human nature and direct them toward a useful and productive purpose - but in that narrative, selfishness is still considered a bad thing), and how the rewarding of selfish behavior in our economic system has shifted cultural values around selfishness. We need to talk about values. Maybe period dramas set near the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, or in the early days of the United States, would be a useful conduit for such ideas? I think part of making cooperation cool again will be actively pushing back on the acceptance of selfishness as a positive trait.

And I think we need to promote the narrative that our community, each other, are our safety net - not our bank accounts. In my experience, that's very much a working class value rather than an upper middle class value, so won't resonate with everyone. But I think it will resonate with enough people to make a difference, if such stories are getting told. Also, explicitly talking about it as a working class or middle class value would probably be productive. Think of stories where the local kid makes it big, but then brings his or her community up with him or her. Many such stories have the community as an antagonist that the hero has to overcome and then leave behind, but the other version of the story certainly does exist as well - the dramatic heartstring-tugging version where parents make sacrifices so that their kid can have the ___ lessons, but it all works out in the end. Or the quirky and comedic but endearing version where other folks in the community start off indifferent or opposed to the young protagonists' vision (or the old retired widow or widower who finally gets around to following their dream), but eventually get curious about and engaged in whatever the vision is, and then the whole town ends up helping out in bringing the protagonist's vision to life.

(I have fewer ideas about the purely visual arts; sorry.)

Obviously we don't have government funding and infrastructure this time around. But if they could manage during the Great Depression, we could probably figure some sort of organizational and funding scheme out for current circumstances?
posted by eviemath at 9:05 PM on February 10 [12 favorites]


I can't help but feel that the most effective thing artists and other creative types could do is to just move to swing states.

Or actually just get involved in a party and work to promote and support better candidates. Direct, effective, and productive.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


In the meanwhile, QTPOC and feminist communities have been busy making healing, empowering art with our representation and doing art activism.

And usually are underpaid (if at all paid) for it and yelled at for being "divisive" or "reverse racist/sexist" or something.
posted by divabat at 9:22 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Sharing, consent, coming together to make something beautiful, aren't as glamorous of concepts, and are frequently mocked in our culture ("Let's get together and sing Kumbaya while we're at it?")

Ha ha, a pal *just this week* proposed a regular music night focused *specifically* on Movement Songs, Freedom Songs, the gospel and field songs that were sung and rewritten and sung by Freedom Riders and allies in the South in the 1960s. The plan was to learn and practice these simple, effective, moving songs that have powerful heritage in order to be able to deploy them in the context of what looks like a decade or more of marches and demonstrations. What a great idea!

Except then I started looking at the words of the songs, which are, understandably, heavily derivative of church songs, of hymn, and which invoke God a great deal. I was like, what the fuck? I can't sing these songs.

Anyway we awkwardly struggled through some, including, no kiddin', Kumbaya, which was recast as "Come By Here" for the original Freedom Rider context and remains worth checking out.

We didn't end up in a long-ass discussion of why these songs, worthy of veneration and literally meant to be learned and sung in seconds by crowds with their minds set on righteousness, might be tricky to redeploy today, but there's a clue up-comment.
posted by mwhybark at 1:13 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


cool i gotcha what's step two

real estate.
posted by mwhybark at 1:16 AM on February 11


May I commend to you Beautiful Trouble....

Gather, artist friends, friends of artists, scientists, mothers & fathers, lovers of Justice. Together we can protect Facts, illustrate the Good, h.old thieves and thugs accountable.

Inspirational video here. Pass it on.
posted by 6thsense at 6:47 AM on February 11


cool i gotcha what's step two?

?

Step three: Profit!
posted by IndigoJones at 6:54 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Step four: Six seasons and a movie!
posted by Chitownfats at 7:06 AM on February 11


What's the modern-day equivalent of Superman telling you that all Americans are valued? Maybe this real-life battle between Captain America and the Red Skull.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:59 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


If you're interested in promoting "leftism" and appealing to workers and need a compelling and simple narrative, I have an old document that might interest you...
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:14 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I have a few thoughts: 1) can art really influence anyone over 12? Maybe we should focus our efforts on the babies. Teaching them community is important. The common good must always be balanced against personal gain, selfishness is not admirable. We need Sesame Street on steroids. 2) We need some one with Thornton Wilder's intelligence, ingenuity and humanity to start writing/producing video games and graphic novels. 3) I want to learn how to bang on a can at rallies and make some noise and stomp and shout and let the rage out with a clever, syncopated, rhyme. Regarding my #2, we might be ok, we do have Lin-Manuel Miranda...
posted by pjsky at 7:46 AM on February 12


simply painting a picture of a happier tomorrow without any kind of plan for how to get there from here seems utopian and pollyanna-ish.


"There will be great storages of force for every city, and for every house if required, and this force man will convert into heat, light, or motion, according to his needs. Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias."- Oscar Wilde , The Soul Of Man Under Socialism
posted by The Whelk at 12:09 AM on February 16


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