Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Artful Soapboxing


For the past three months I’ve wracked my brain over what to say about Rebel Diaz’s long-awaited debut album Radical Dilemma. It’s not exactly out of the ordinary among American revolutionaries to say you’re a fan of the group, and that I am. But the stakes are potentially high with an album like Radical Dilemma. After so many mixtapes that relayed a rough urgency around a host of struggles the group identify with, one would hope that a full-fledged album would deliver something on a higher level, a cohesive arc and worldview that dug down into the hip-hop imaginary of post-Great Recession America. A tall order if there ever was one.

One concern that arose in my own head prior to the album’s release is whether they would include their boom-stomp reimagining of Florence Reece’s “Which Side Are You On?” Given that it was simultaneously the track that put Rebel Diaz on many radars and yet was also somewhat played out after all these years, would there be room for it on Radical Dilemma? They deliver an impressive answer; not only is “Which Side” included on the album, but they’ve recorded a new version featuring guest appearances by dead prez and Dilated Peoples’ Rakaa Iriscience. It doesn’t disappoint.

Still, it has been difficult to pin-point exactly what makes this album stand apart. The lyrics are clever but also of a suitably blunt nature. You can definitely picture RodStarz and G1 delivering them on street-corners. And indeed, many of us have. I remember in particular during the height of Occupy Chicago, when I was first helping assemble what would become the Rebel Arts Collective, introducing Rod and G to perform a capella before we attempted to take Grant Park. Naturally, they killed it.

Remembering this is when it finally clicked. There are a great many dilemmas that the group are referring to on Radical Dilemma, but the one that sticks out is one that is perpetually hidden in plain sight: In an era when the hip-hop industry is so hegemonic, when rebellion is so easily turned into money, how do artists of any true revolutionary consciousness relate to their audience in a way that is as engaging as it is uncompromising? How does one make the aesthetic of rebellion genuinely rebellious and not just a gimmick?

These questions are partially answered by walking the walk as well as talking the talk. We take the words of Rebel Diaz or Boots Riley or Tom Morello as genuine because they have walked the picket lines and marched alongside us. But Riley and Morello have also made art that occasionally faltered in its aims; that put the politics before the art and as a result missed the mark on both. They’ve been rare instances, but they have happened.

What prevents those moments from being few and far between on Radical Dilemma is the layered connection between the lyrics and beats. DJ Illanoiz has been proven to be a crucial part of the group here. Just as the words sound like they could be soapboxed effortlessly to the listener, so does the album’s audio make it seem as if the world itself springs from the cracks in the pavement.

The first full song, “Revolution Has Come,” takes more than just its title from the Black Panthers. The track’s swaying flute and smoky guitars are accompanied by generous sampling from Bobby Seale expounding on fascism in America. Without these elements, it’s not hard to imagine Rod and G’s lyrics feeling somewhat rootless. As they stand here we’re reminded that there’s something being built upon here.

“Revolution Has Come” ends, appropriately enough, with a sample of Tupac explaining his views on violence. The Panther-hip-hop connection isn’t lost here; it’s also not lost through the short track “The Origins” two thirds of the way through the album, sampling Afrika Bambaataa expounding upon the way the Black Power movement lives on through hip-hop culture.

Describing all this in an article may appear old hat. After all, who doesn’t know at least a little bit about these lineages in this day and age? A year ago those connections bubbled to the surface once again when the Obama administration added Assata Shakur to the FBI’s Most Wanted list. That seems all the more reason to connect the dots as boldly as possible though; and even more so to present the two ends as emerging from the same urge for basic freedom.

That those connections are being actively uprooted hits home right now, particularly for Rebel Diaz themselves. Gentrification in the group’s home base of the Bronx is reaching a fever pitch right now. This past fall saw the final elimination of the graffiti mecca at 5 Pointz. Rebel Diaz’s own arts collective space was evicted and shut down just about a year ago. One wouldn’t know it from the mainstream discourses, but at the grassroots, hip-hop is under a state of siege in Obama’s America.

What Radical Dilemma affirms, however, is that those roots run deep. That even if our infrastructures of dissent are barely skeletal, what persists is the notion itself. That it can persist even when the other side has the upper hand shows how much it has soaked into the fabric of our world. Revolution, after all, isn’t just a matter of political ideas, strategies and tactics. It’s about making possible a full reimagining of everything we see around us. With our communities, resources and the planet itself being shoved to the brink, that kind of imagination is probably more important than ever.

Published at Red Wedge

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Sound of the Small C


Pete Seeger’s life and work have a strange symmetry. He lived almost a century, yet until his dying day seemed frozen in time -- not a relic, but a reminder that despite all mainstream arguments to the contrary, American culture has always had an organic and irresistible socialist streak living within.

It speaks volumes that even Fox News has heaped a kind of awkward praise on Seeger’s music and persona. But even as most outlets equivocate about his membership in the Communist Party, it’s impossible to separate Seeger the artist from Seeger the communist (with, as he was a fan of saying, a small “c”).

He lived one of those extraordinary lives which track history’s ups and down: Joining the Communist Party at the height of the working class rebellions of the 1930s, leaving after World War II as the heavy-handedness of Stalinism became clearer. Along with Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson, he was among the leftists who literally had to flee for their lives from a mob of KKK members looking to shut down a Civil Rights benefit concert in Peekskill, New York in 1949.

Those riots weren’t just an opening shot for McCarthyism. They pushed folk music off the streets and into the coffee houses on society’s margins. Seeger himself was sentenced to jail and blacklisted for giving the House Un-American Activities Committee a hard time.

During the Civil Rights and anti-war movements and their attendant folk revival, Seeger served as something of an elder statesman; he claimed it was he who changed the line “we will overcome” to “we shall overcome.” He sang for the anti-nuclear and environmental movements during the 1980s and supported Solidarność in Poland as a potential force for real socialism against its Stalinoid pretender.

Like much of the Left, he was enthusiastic about Barack Obama’s election in 2008; he and Bruce Springsteen performed “This Land Is Your Land” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the day before the inauguration. No matter how quickly the hope faded, the performance is breathtaking by any standard. But a better indicator of his legacy is the performance he gave during Occupy Wall Street, along with Guthrie’s son Arlo. He marched with Occupiers to Zuccotti aided by two canes at the age of 91.

Seeger did not actually write many of the songs he became known for. They were old folk standards that had been updated by him or his collaborators. The folk music milieu of the 1930s was a profoundly communal atmosphere, with musicians frequently borrowing from each other at will. And yet, even performing others’ work, Seeger’s arrangements and sensitivity, his depth of musicianship, made him compelling. There was a certain amount of understated theatricality when he sang -- an element that seems overlooked today by many when they think of folk music.

His version of “Jarama Valley” with the Almanac Singers, dedicated to Spanish Republicans slaughtered by Franco’s fascists, sounds as if it’s sung by ghosts, right down to the gentle whistling in the background. There is an appropriate menacing satisfaction in “Buffalo Skinners” when he describes leaving an unscrupulous boss dead on the plains, “his bones bleaching in the sun.”

But he also had a true talent for humor. His lilting tenor had a versatility to it that made him capable of the sly shifts in tone necessary for communicating sarcasm and wit. A 1963 live performance of Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes” truly brings the impish absurdity of the song to the forefront. Listening to it now we can hear why an audience eager to be rid of stultifying McCarthyism would laugh at the notion of bland suburbanites being “made out of ticky-tacky” and getting “put in boxes.” And of course, every labor song he performed had the rousing collective heartbeat of an anthem.

Not that he was a lightweight in songwriting. A key instance of his sophisticated capabilities with words is found in the original version of “Union Maid.” Though the words telling the story of the woman union activist “who never was afraid” are well-known, the original lyrics are far more dramatic, even grotesque. Co-written with Woody Guthrie during a trip to Oklahoma, they describe the real-life torture of Anna Mae Merriweather, a black organizer with the Sharecroppers Union in Alabama. It’s a harrowing tale, mixed with a righteous wrath straight out of the Old Testament.

There are hundreds of others. “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “Turn, Turn, Turn” — these are some of the most recognized songs in popular music. It seems appropriate that just as Seeger popularized songs written by others, so were these songs transplanted into the ether of the 1960s by the likes of the Byrds, Joan Baez, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

All of this makes for an impressive obituary. But appreciating Seeger’s importance requires a much deeper understanding both of the state of popular music in the 1930s and its interaction with the class struggles that characterized that decade.

Seeger, raised in a family of highly-trained classical musicians and musicologists, became attracted to folk music when he was sixteen. At that time, the very notion of “popular music” was still very novel.

The industrial revolution brought the production of sheet music and later recorded sound, making it possible for songs to travel quickly and thus gain a following from workers across disparate areas. Come the stock market crash of 1929, it wasn’t just the phonograph but radio that made this possible. Folk genres like the blues, jazz, hillbilly, and cowboy music had been hitherto a marginal force, provincialized and isolated, rarely taken seriously. Now they were able to travel, crossbreed, and influence listeners from hundreds of miles away.

Yet the Communist Party that Seeger joined in the mid-1930s seemed itself rather stuck, even snobbishly dismissive of the potential that existed in the popularization of folk culture. He was, as Joe Klein describes,
something of a renegade member of the Pierre Degeyter Club, a society of American Communist musicians … Just as Communist labor organizers were attempting to form their own separate trade unions in the early 1930s, Communist musicians wanted to develop a new, distinct “proletarian” music — music the victorious workers would enjoy after the revolution. To the Degeyter group, this seemed to mean the ponderous, hortatory choral tradition of the German Communist Hanns Eisler. Their idea of proletarian music was a “workers’ chorus” singing clangorous, oddly formal compositions like “The Scottsboro Boys Must Not Die” or “The Comintern.” When Seeger brought Aunt Molly Jackson, fresh from the Harlan County coal wars, to the Degeyter Club and had her sing “I Am a Union Woman,” the reaction was “That’s very nice, but what does it have to do with proletarian music?”
Though Klein’s characterization is mostly spot-on, he mistakenly positions Seeger’s outlook as opposed to that of Eisler. In fact, as Mat Callahan argues in The Trouble With Music, Seeger saw his work with folk music as complementary to radical cultural theorists and composers such as Eisler, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer. But while these thinkers had at best a complicated relationship with the new popular music, Seeger threw himself headlong into it, arguing that there was something in such music that workers not only identified with but that might set their own natural creativity ablaze.

Some of it sprung from Seeger’s own almost primitivistic sense of simplicity. He often spoke in glowing terms about the communism in pre-class societies. He was also, however, quoted as saying, “If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.”

This was romantic anti-capitalism personified, fighting “against the tide of modernity” as Michael Lowy would say, against the robbing and regimentation of time that was sapping workers’ lives away. But there was also something profoundly modernist about it -- not coincidentally, popular culture and modernism both hit a turning point in the 1930s.

This was not the overwhelming of the sophisticated by the crude, of “serious music” by the “lowbrow,” as many have argued. It was a conscious political and cultural outlook for which the tasks of lifting up forms of art forged in the subaltern and pushing against the formalities of bourgeois culture could be one and the same. Though Seeger was key in pushing the argument within the Communist Party, he represented many others in the progressive and radical ranks of artistic expressives.

His father Charles was classically trained, but he also served as an administrator in the Federal Music Project of the WPA, and was known to occasionally help his friend Alan Lomax in cataloging folk songs that otherwise may have been lost to the lawnmower of industrial capitalism. The younger Seeger’s stepmother is herself to this day regarded as one of the most important modernist composers of her time, but was also fascinated with folk music and contributed arrangements to Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag. The Greenwich Village where Seeger spent his teenage years was awash with avant-garde artists looking to redefine Americana.

This was a reinvention right at the intersection of artistic bohemianism and political upheaval, both balanced upon a tipping point in the history of recorded sound. As ideas of socialism became nearly hegemonic among ordinary people, the idea floated within popular culture that they could reshape the arts just as they could the world at large. The very term “popular culture,” still so new at that point, practically begged its audience to take ownership of it.

It was here that Seeger’s own artistry, his skill at reinterpreting and dramatizing songs, updating their subjects, was so crucial. These performances, with the Almanacs, the Weavers, or by himself, gave voice not to some abstract world later to be won, exciting though that can be. Their lyrics consciously voiced that microcosmic feeling of triumph when workers are able to steal back time and reassert their own control -- be it on the picket line, the union hall, or even enjoying a day off.

Such ideas were rife within the culture that emerged from the era in music, film, theater, art, literature. The Communist Party would end up embracing folk music as a tactic of its Popular Front phase. And though most of the aesthetics that rose from the Popular Front years hewed closer to the realist than the experimental, very few of them would survive the hammer of McCarthyism. Folk, on the other hand, would endure well beyond the decline of the American CP.

When folk resurfaced as a significant cultural force during the struggles of the 1960s, entirely different progressive and militant organizations were leading the way. Seeger made it a point to be there. He may have allegedly wanted to take a hatchet to Bob Dylan’s PA at the Newport Folk Festival, but folk-rock’s mixture of jangly amplification with honest storytelling was in keeping with the spirit of reinterpretation that Seeger’s generation had introduced to music. By then the notion that Seeger had pushed -- that if something has become stale and used, it should be scrapped or remade -- was embedded in popular culture.

Folk itself has gone through countless more iterations, swerving into and crossing over with many other genres, always somehow finding its way back to the rallies and grassroots actions. Some things just never change. And some on the Right are still shrieking about communists plotting to infiltrate popular culture. Maybe they’re onto something. It’s not hard to imagine Pete Seeger laughing at them, even now.

Published at Jacobin

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What the Fuck You On About?


The arrival of a new M.I.A. album is always a thing to behold. Music critics are sure to be polarized, as are the usually ham-handed attempts to better categorize her work to make it less controversial than it is. Snide remarks about Matangi, however, have been relatively muted in the two months since its release.

Maybe that's because we’ve had at least an inkling of what the album has in store for some time now. “Bad Girls,” one of Matangi’s lead singles, first saw the light of day on the Vicki Leekx mixtape two years ago. And much like that mixtape, Matangi plays as one long track, displaying a certain bravado that feels very comfortable; M.I.A. knows how to own the space. It’s a reminder that at its best her music can feel like an event, a movement almost. That’s a frustratingly rare phenomenon. And in the title track she’s happy to remind us: “If you’re gonna be me you need a manifesto / If you ain’t got one you better get one presto.”
This, of course, is trademark M.I.A. As are the lyrics to “Boom Skit”; the track -- about a minute and fifteen seconds long -- essentially serves as something of a moral lynchpin for the album:
Brown girl, brown girl
Turn your shit down
You know America don't wanna hear your sound
Boom boom jungle music
Go back to India
With your crazy shit, you're bombing up the area
Looking through your Instagram
Looking for a pentagram
All I see is poor people, they should be on ghetto-gram
You don't get our underground
Brofest or overground eat ham
Fist pump, even throw your dick around
Yeah you try to stick around
Do you do you bikram?
Let you into Super Bowl, you tried to steal Madonna's crown
What the fuck you on about?
Think about goin’ to France, quelle heure est-il
This ain't time for your terror dance
Eat, pray, love
Spend time in the Ashram
Or I'll drone you
Kony 2012
Now scram!
It’s all here: the weird provocative wordplay and stutter-step delivery, the invocations of globalization’s refugees, the spiky rebukes to her establishment haters and their ingrained sense of Kipling-esque privilege. Not to mention the opportunity she takes to flash that famous middle finger yet again at the prudish reactions to her Super Bowl halftime show.

This is one of the characteristics that used to be far more common in music but has been sidelined over the past few decades: the idea that songs are part of a conversation, with all the specificity that comes with such sharp exchanges of ideas. When Greenwald and Snowden revealed to the world that the NSA has been spying on literally all of us literally all the time, M.I.A. was rightfully quick to savor an “I told you so” moment at the expense of those critics who called her a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Word is she even got Julian Assange to help out with one of the songs on Matangi.

The NSA revelations, the Arab revolts, Occupy, the massive protests from Turkey to Brazil; all have bolstered and sharpened the basic awareness that there’s an us and a them, and the two are inexorably opposed. If the return of a musical conversation is in the offing, then that conversation is unified by ideas of a very real and never-ending crisis.

These events haven’t proven the tipping point they first seemed, however. Far from it, they’ve left much of the world asking “what’s next?” So it is with an artist like M.I.A. Radical musicians have long and famously employed non-Western sounds as means to "decolonizing music," and she’s done it in a singularly fascinating way. But what does this mean nowadays, when living standards in "First World" countries like Greece and Spain are circling the drain and those closest to redefining their own destinies are found in "developing" nations? What does it mean that even while the music business persists with the hackneyed, Orientalist concept of “world music,” an artist like M.I.A. can gain wide praise and acclaim?

M.I.A. hasn’t been asking herself these questions per se, but she has been asking existentially-tinged queries related to her own work. In interviews she’s mentioned amount of reflection she’s done over the past few years, asking where she and her music fit into this chaotic and often dismal existence.

This push to flip the doom on its head, to create some sense of a future for both herself and her audience, is evident throughout Matangi. The name of the album itself comes not just from M.I.A.’s namesake -- Mathangi Arulpragasam -- but from the green-skinned Hindu goddess of music and arts. It’s certainly evident in opening track “Karmageddon.” “Y.A.L.A.", an open rejection Drake’s viral “You Only Live Once” refrain, essentially revolves around the idea that such notions of the future are inescapably real.
YOLO? I don’t even know anymore, what that even mean thoughIf you only live once why we keep doing the same shitBack home where I come from we keep being born again and again and againThat’s why they invented karma
It may be hard for Western listeners to hear this without New Age condescension springing to mind, but key in this passage is the notion that karma is invented; humans made their circumstances and can unmake them too. This kind of exploration makes for an album that may not be M.I.A.’s most successful, but is certainly her most self-aware and mature to date. The sampling of bhangra, reggae and Middle Eastern rhythms; again, all the markers are here.

Sonically it’s all been stripped down to an inch of its life. It’s also used in a notably more restrained way than we’ve previously seen. While previous records have shown M.I.A. to be a specialist in the art of pastiche, there is more of a center on Matangi. A sense that even at those moments when an outlier soundwave is thrown in there it knows exactly where it’s landing. On top of this, she’s frequently happy to have a song be little more than a simple beat and her rhymes. Several songs are just this, particularly for the first several tracks. In fact if one is only planning to listen to it in passing, or merely as a way to “fill the space,” they’ll discover that this album simply won’t do.

All of this makes Matangi a challenging album to get hooked on; as a collection of songs it demands active engagement over passive consumption. By the time the gaps start to fill in, if we’ve willingly taken the role of active listener, we’re more involved, almost as if we’ve been allowed to insert ourselves into the empty spaces that populate the first few tracks.

Ultimately Matangi comes off not just as a negation but a valiant attempt to provide an answer in the affirmative. Not just a rejection of the "world music" bullshit (which has always been part of M.I.A.’s oeuvre) but an insistence that the myriad genres and styles have lives and paths of their own that bob and weave, intersect and diverge of their own accord. Certainly M.I.A. isn't the only artist who has made this insistence, but with the album’s bar raised by the participation it demands, we’re left with the sense that perhaps we actually have a role in reshaping these sounds and senses. It’s a potent mixture, and one that seems worth deepening.
Published at Red Wedge.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Yeah Right, Like I'm Afraid

By now, the broader cause of the thousands flooding the streets of Greece in recent days must be well known: Six years of full-blown economic depression. An austerity regime crammed down the nation's throat by international finance that has sent wages plummeting and left 65 percent of all youth unemployed and a social safety net buckling under the pressure. This is to say nothing of the unchecked rise in anti-immigrant scapegoating and racist violence. Or the fact that no fewer than 18 admirers of Hitler now sit in Greek parliament.

But the most direct and immediate cause of this latest unrest -- the push toward a potential tipping point -- can be traced to the violent death of a left-wing rapper.

In the early morning hours of September 18, not long after midnight, 34-year-old Pavlos Fyssas was walking with a group of friends on the streets of Piraeus. According to friends and eyewitnesses, Fyssas and his companions were leaving a cafe when a group of around 20 thugs wearing black T-shirts and military apparel -- identified as members of the far-right Golden Dawn party -- accosted them, threatened them and got violent.

Fyssas' crew tried to escape, but after turning down a one-way street, they were confronted by another group of fascists. A car pulled up, blocking the exit, after which the driver got out and stabbed Fyssas; once in the stomach, twice in the heart.

It took 20 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. During that time, Fyssas slowly bled out, but managed to identify the man who stabbed him: 45-year-old Giorgos Roupakias, a supporter and likely member of Golden Dawn with ties to the nearby Nikaia branch of the party. Not long after reaching the hospital, Fyssas died from his wounds.

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Fyssas wasn't an "unknown." He wasn't an immigrant whose death or assault the government was able to shrug its shoulders at. Golden Dawn has already been implicated in plenty of those cases, and more often than not, its members have walked away scot-free. Fyssas, however, was native-born, a dedicated and respected member of the left and the anti-fascist movement to boot. Shameful as it is that it took the death of a "true Greek" to get the government's attention, that appears to be the case.

As Spyros, a 25-year-old member of the radical left party SYRIZA told Vice magazine, "First, they were allowed to beat up immigrants, and now they've started freely attacking anyone with views opposing theirs."

What's more, Fyssas had a high profile. His hip-hop persona, Killah P, is described by the Guardian's Athens correspondent Helena Smith as one of Greece's best-known rappers.

Initial reports painted the attack on Fyssas and his friends as fairly random, originating back at the cafe when one of his friends made a remark against Golden Dawn. This wouldn't be surprising; fascists aren't exactly known for taking criticism well. But as more details have become known, as the nature of the attack has unfolded, it seems more and more likely that he was targeted.

One anonymous former member of Golden Dawn, when asked about Fyssas, admitted that he was well known in the organization, and "was in the crosshairs, because he had anti-fascist songs. There were verses which offended Golden Dawn...He was anti-fascist and sang about it, and they knew it." On top of that, sources have recently revealed that Roupakias received several phone calls from the party's office in the hour leading up to the attack. This was no random scuffle, it seems; this was a planned ambush.

Making matters worse are reports that though police were nearby, even witnessing what was happening, they did nothing. Again, not a first for the Greek police, around 50 percent of whom voted for Golden Dawn in the last election.

That a gang of Nazis attacked and killed a left-wing, anti-fascist hip-hop artist while police looked on is so bitterly predictable that it almost seems strange to try and unpack it. Golden Dawn have gone out of their way to terrorize artists deemed unacceptable before. Last fall, a run of Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi, which portrays Jesus Christ as gay, was forced to shut down after attendees and actors were assaulted several nights in a row by members of the group--including at least one member of parliament.

Clearly, the party has only gotten bolder since then; Fyssas' murder came only days after 50 fascists attacked a group of Greek Communist Party members and put nine of them in the hospital with serious injuries.

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All of this carries obvious echoes of Italy and Germany, the squadristi and brownshirts storming through towns and targeting anyone and everyone outside their approval. Socialists, trade unionists, Jews, gays and disabled persons driven underground. Surrealism and jazz declared "degenerate," a whole generation of musicians, artists and composers whose futures disappeared in the horrors of Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz. And just as the avant-garde of the '20s and '30s represented all that was impure and threatening to Mussolini and Hitler, hip-hop's history as a style and sound originating in poor communities of color naturally puts it on modern fascism's hit list.

For its own part, Killah P's music seems to have been an exploration of the link between the personal and political--that place where one's alienation leads them to reach defiant, radical conclusions. The day after Fyssas' death, a video of his song "Siga Mi Klapso, Siga Mi Fovitho," or "I Won't Cry, I Won't Be Afraid," including an English translation of the lyrics, was posted online. At the time of writing it's gotten over 200,000 views.

Musically, the song takes a cue from Greece's experimental music scene. Sampling Giannis Aggelakas' folk-rock-poetry collision "There's No Way I'd Cry," the song's jaunty arrangement is sped up and tightened into a tense, almost manic beat.

Lyrically, it's not hard to see how so many young, futureless, radicalizing kids would want to identify with what Killah P is saying:
And to those that threatened me with burning chains,I want them to know that I will not bother with fear.Let them come and find me at the mountaintop,I'm waiting for them and I will not bother with fear.
Appropriately enough, Fyssas' refrain in the song -- that he "won't be afraid" -- itself carries a political importance. Part of that importance is in the twists of translation. According to Greek-American socialist Stavroula Harissis, "The phrase usually gets translated as 'I will not fear' though it's actually much more linguistically rich and complex. Personally, I think a better translation is something like 'Yeah right, like I'm afraid.'"

This sarcastic rebuke -- a bold thumbing of the nose when directed at violent thugs like Golden Dawn -- has by now become a common slogan in the Greek antifascist movement. It can be heard in chants on demonstrations, and seen on stickers plastering over racist graffiti.

More than a political turn of phrase, it's become a visceral declaration of dignity in the face of circumstances that are increasingly and undeniably inhuman.

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Clearly, a segment of the Greek population have again taken this message and run with it. Even before Killah P's death, public sector unions had declared a 48-hour strike against government-mandated firings on the 18th. But as the news of his murder quickly spread, anti-fascist demonstrations were also called in over 20 major cities.

In Piraeus, the anti-austerity demonstration of 5,000 quickly gave way to clashes between anti-fascists and police. In many other cities -- Athens, Thessaloniki, Larisa, Trikala -- anti-fascists joined demonstrations of teachers and hospital workers.

Some have called these demonstrations the biggest in recent years; from the looks of it they certainly seem to be the most violent. In Athens, police fired tear-gas cannisters directly at people's heads, resulting in one protester losing an eye. In the western city of Patras, demonstrators hurled molotovs and bricks at Golden Dawn's offices. Similar scenes played out in Chania, on the island of Crete.

Meanwhile, Golden Dawn have been somewhat put on the defensive. Spokespeople denied any involvement with Fyssas' death. Nonetheless, a speech by party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos scheduled for the next day in Nikaia -- where Roupakias has attended branch meetings -- was abruptly canceled. There is now open talk among politicians of declaring Golden Dawn an illegal party. Several anti-fascist marchers and protesters -- particularly young people -- have declared Fyssas' death the beginning of the end for Golden Dawn.

All of this was set in motion mere days before representatives of the notorious "troika" -- the European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank -- visited with conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras on Sunday, September 22, to discuss the terms of Greece's financial future. Samaras has spent his past several speeches insisting that the worst is behind them, even going so far as to label his reforms a "success story."

Vasiliki Angelakou, a striking teacher in Athens, had a simple reply to this: "Where is the success story when our kids are going abroad because there are no jobs?"

More civil service strikes have been called in the coming week, and teachers have announced that they'll be staying out at least through Monday and Tuesday.

The scale of protest, as well as the connections being drawn between the struggles against fascism and austerity, have some wondering whether Greece is entering a new phase of resistance. Writing in the newspaper Ekathimerini, journalist Nikos Xydakis has speculated whether Greece has crossed a "red line" of sorts.

If it has, then the divisions are stark. Golden Dawn has a clear view of the world it wishes to build; one in which expression, diversity, creativity and ultimately all that makes us human is summarily banished. Just as clear is how the government's vicious austerity members have left the door open for fascists and racists to exploit people's fears. The choice between a more just, democratic world and abject barbarism has seldom been clearer.

Whether the radical and revolutionary left -- along with the masses of workers -- are able to not just counter this horrifying vision but present a tangible alternative to it is certainly the most urgent challenge ahead. There's much more at stake here than the memory of one emcee. But if Greek workers are, as Fyssas declared, truly losing their fear, then there may yet be hope on the horizon.

First appeared at SocialistWorker.org

Friday, September 13, 2013

Love and Robots

There’s no denying that Janelle Monáe is one of the most original voices out there. There are plenty of indicators in her music and creativity that we see elsewhere -- a renewed interest in Afrofuturism, the willingness to bend genres with ease, a signature visual style, and what Colorlines’ Jamilah King describes as “her unapologetic embrace of blackness and womanhood.” It’s not impossible to find these elsewhere, but they’re arranged in such a way as to make Monáe very hard to peg.

Her new album, The Electric Lady, presents a similar challenge. What, exactly, do you make of the skits that appear on the album, emulating a radio show hosted by soul-loving cyborgs, big-upping everyone’s favorite android fugitive Cindi Mayweather, and fielding callers who think “robot love is queer?” These sketches appear three times on the album by the way.

It would be admittedly harder to nail down if Monáe were only just introducing all this to us. But this is her third release, and all of them have represented another chapter or two in the saga of Mayweather, a robot on the run for falling in love with a human and struggling to save all of android kind from time-travelling exploiters.

We also know by now the archetype that Mayweather is supposed to represent. In Monáe’s own words: "The Archandroid, Cindi, is the mediator, between the mind and the hand. She's the mediator between the haves and the have-nots, the oppressed and the oppressor. She's like the Archangel in the Bible, and what Neo represents to the Matrix." So yes, it’s easier to encapsulate all this. But not by much.

Musically, what we’re given here is a complex and varied opus. It’s redundant at times and could easily be 25 percent shorter. As with previous album The ArchAndroid we’re not sure whether it’s neo-soul or psychedelia, R&B, jazz or hip-hop; maybe it’s all or these or none, but it’s impressively cohesive and has an arc. Most importantly it’s a work that in the midst of shrugging cynicism and soundbite hits, dares you to give yourself over to it, listen to the whole thing all the way through, and take the story seriously. If you can do that then you can probably understand what makes Monáe one of the most important artists to burst into music in recent years.

By now we’ve had four months to really absorb the feel of lead single “Q.U.E.E.N.” Its stripped-down funk guitar and keys, its provocative themes of queerdom and defiance -- not to mention Eykah Badu’s notable guest turn -- are a fair encapsulation of the album’s mode. But hearing it after the album’s epic opening credits overture and the swagger of “Give ‘Em What They Love” (in which you will squeal at the mere presence of Prince), “Q.U.E.E.N.” comes off as even more of an “us against the world” tale than even this bold rap might suggest:

I asked a question like this
Are we a lost generation of our people?
Add us to equations but they'll never make us equal.
She who writes the movie owns the script and the sequel.
So why ain't the stealing of my rights made illegal?
They keep us underground working hard for the greedy,
But when it's time pay they turn around and call us needy.
My crown too heavy like the Queen Nefertiti
Gimme back my pyramid, I'm trying to free Kansas City.
Mixing masterminds like your name Bernie Grundman.
Well I'm gonna keep leading like a young Harriet Tubman.
Bookended further through the album is “Ghetto Woman,” a glittering, polyrhythmic celebration of female strength, clearly springing from Monáe’s own working class upbringing in Kansas City: “When people put you down, yeah way down and you feel / Like you’re alone / Let love be your guide / You were built to last through any weather / Oh Ghetto Woman hold on to your dreams / And all your great philosophies / You’re the reason I believe in me, for real.”

These of course aren’t so much the fictional stories of Cindi Mayweather’s life as Monáe’s own. And yet they’re also Mayweather’s, and Monáe’s as Mayweather’s and vice versa. Add in the skits and we’re presented with a concept work that shifts back and forth between autobiography and fantasy with such ease that the two really become one and the same.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious, there’s a rather clear parallel here between Mayweather’s story and the story of Monáe’s life over the past several years. She comes onto the scene, people have no clue what to make of her but they know they dig her effortlessly righteous vibe; now everyone seems to know her and is talking about her, even though they still aren’t quite sure what it is she represents. The inkling, however, is that she’s facing down some very real limits with which any oppressed person is well acquainted. (And it’s worth noting the easiness that Monáe has when speaking of oppression; not as if it’s an academic concept she’s trying to force into reality, but as just a hard, honest fact of life.)

Will she succeed? That depends. Cindi Mayweather has about as much a chance of taking down her enemies, the forces keeping her from her love and all android-kind down, as Harry Potter did in taking down Voldemort. Which is to say it’s up to the author. Monáe herself is certainly aware that a work of art won’t break down the boundaries in any real way. Queer-bashers, misogynists and bigots will certainly get their hackles up at Monáe’s existence, but they won’t be shut up just by her music. Whether the music itself is successful is a different question.

At her concerts, Monáe is known to hand out copies of her “Ten Droid Commandments,” which encourage the readers to embrace their individuality. The trope of a mass-produced robot grappling with identity is practically as old as sci-fi itself, and is put to a fairly contrived use here. But given the overall thrust of Mayweather’s story and Monáe’s music, it’s not hard to see what message she is trying to send to her young audience. Which, demographically, is the most multi-racial and sexually tolerant generation in recent history, and is probably also the most neglected in several decades.

That’s what makes The Electric Lady work. It’s a composition of fantasy that is simultaneously grounded not just in one specific moment in time, but several. It’s clearly planting its flag in a moment begging for people to assert a radically intersectional identity. And yet the album’s subtle nods to the experiments and explosions in soul, funk and R&B of the 1970’s (explosions largely driven by the upsurge in Black Power and the general flourishing of movements in that decade) also root it in an oppositional stance. It’s something Lady Gaga, with her Little Monsters and burqas, tries and largely fails to do, if only because she ends up placing more emphasis on herself than the tribulations of her audience.

In the end, the harkening of Afrofuturism, the comparisons to George Clinton and Sun Ra, aren’t for nothing. Perhaps the most significant and uplifting thing about Janelle Monáe, Cindi Mayweather and The Electric Lady is that they confide to us that there is a future for the freaks. It may be a future of struggle, hard scrabble and staring down a faceless, all-knowing opponent, but at least we can face it in style.

First published at Red Wedge magazine.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sex, Race, Class and Spectacle

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They don’t say what a gif is worth, but as if for good measure, we’ve gotten both out of last week’s performance by Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke at MTV’s Video Music Awards. Within minutes of the twerking, a clip of Rihanna’s unamused reaction to Cyrus’ performance hit the web and went viral. Same for the shot of Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith, sitting with their kids Willow and Jaden, staring up at the stage with a look on their face that cried out “what the hell are we watching?” Only later did we find out that they were reacting to Lady Gaga’s performance.

Apparently countless other people had the exact same reaction to Cyrus, however, and most of them had a keyboard or smartphone handy. Twitter and the rest of the social networks were overflowing with 140 character shock at the duet.

Much of it has been straight up puritanical in nature, such as the Tweet sent out by country artist Josh Gracin: "Thanks Miley Cyrus. Now I have to explain to my 11 yr old daughter why she no longer can follow your career,” as if sexual objectification isn’t the norm in just about every career and walk of life for women today.

Then there was Mika Brzezinski, who had a whole segment on Morning Joe the day after the VMAs in which she absolutely laid into Cyrus:
I think that was really, really disturbing. That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably eating disorder and I don’t think anybody should have put her on stage. That was disgusting and embarrassing… That was not attractive. That was not fun… The whole thing was cringe worthy but I feel bad for her. She is a mess. Someone needs to take care of her. Someone needs not to put her on stage and make a complete fool of herself.
Mean-spirited pop psychology masquerading as compassion. Is there anything more indicative of neoliberal cultural logic than that?

To be sure, the performance -- a medley of “We Can’t Stop,” “Blurred Lines” and “Give it 2 U” -- was vile stuff. It wasn’t, contrary to much of the shrill outcry, that she was wearing “next to nothing.” It wasn't even how she was dancing (what she was dancing is a different matter).

Rather, it was the plasticity of the whole thing, the contrived and tired white male narrative that put Black women on the bottom, Cyrus a little above, and then finally transformed her into a set piece for the suppsedly well-dressed dude-bro who more or less just stood there singing "Blurred Lines." No mistake, the fantasy being performed was his. And given what we know about Robin Thicke’s fantasy, that’s a grim prospect.

On that subject, one wonders why Thicke has been let off the hook in all this manufactured outrage. After all, he was there too. He and his Beetlejuice suit were equally important to the routine, but he apparently shares none of the blame that has been hurled at Cyrus. Everyone seems to be asking what happened to Hannah Montana, but nobody’s saying Thicke needs to act more like his gut-wrenchingly wholesome father on Growing Pains.

Putting the heaps of hypocrisy aside (and those are admittedly some big heaps) the controversy over the VMAs performance has brought into relief some real tensions that the music industry just can’t seem to bridge. “We Can’t Stop” and “Blurred Lines” were easily among this summer’s most controversial singles; that they appeared in the same duet was perhaps telling.

“We Can’t Stop” was almost immediately criticized for the video’s appropriation of dance and imagery -- twerking, “ratchet” culture -- more genuinely associated with working-class African Americans. As Dodai Stewart wrote on Jezebel this past June:
Let's not get it twisted: The exchange and flow of ideas between cultures can be a beautiful thing. I believe in cross-pollination and being inspired by those whose experience is not like your own. If Miley is inspired by gold teeth and bounce music and has friends who are rappers, that's not a problem. But when she uses these things to re-style her own image, she veers into dangerous territory… Miley and her ilk need to be reminded that the stuff they think is cool, the accoutrements they're borrowing, have been birthed in an environment where people are underprivileged, undereducated, oppressed, underrepresented, disenfranchised, systemically discriminated against and struggling in a system set up to insure that they fail.
The VMAs performance of the song displayed a similarly willful ignorance; throughout the “We Can’t Stop” segment, Cyrus treated her Black backup dancers more or less as props, much how they do in the video. An insult added to injury at an awards show where not one Black artist took home an award. Already a flood of articles and blog posts are thankfully asking why so much energy is being expended on slut-shaming Cyrus, but not saying a peep about the very real racism underlying the Hottentot Venus minstrelsy of her performance.

As for “Blurred Lines,” the song has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s still completely copacetic to release outward, even proud misogyny through the mainstream music business. The song’s lyrics can probably be most delicately described as creepy, but more accurately described as rapey. As for the video, it takes female objectification to an absurd and deliberate extreme. In interviews Thicke has reassured us that the objectification is the point: "People say, 'Hey, do you think this is degrading to women?' I'm like, 'Of course it is. What a pleasure it is to degrade a woman. I've never gotten to do that before. I've always respected women.'"

Elizabeth Plank at PolicyMic provided a good response to this kind of dodge behind the ironic:
Sexism can't be ironic because we're not over it. It's still massively prevalent. Men still benefit from it, women are still hindered by it. Most women in music videos are required to wear next to nothing, while men have the privilege of keeping their clothes on and earning the same degree of attention, or more. It's not ironic to put women naked in a music video because it's an extension of the crap that already floods our screens. It's not anything new, it's just more of the same old sexist garbage.
That Miley Cyrus has received the brunt of the finger-wagging since last week while Thicke has strutted away scot-free for even daring to perform the song in public again highlights the double standard at play here. But that double standard is the making of neither Thicke nor Cyrus. For all the moral panic foisted at her, the crocodile tears shed over the supposed depravity of youth culture, few are willing to ask any questions about the morality of the music business. After all, some of these labels made their first millions by paying jazz and blues musicians in heroin instead of real money. It’s they who pull the strings behind the award shows, that decide which artists are signed and promoted. Are we surprised that class divisions, sexuality and the realities of American racism are so callously manipulated?

The impulse to take genuinely lived lives and human experiences and turn them into something coarse and profane isn’t just an added bonus for the culture industry; it’s essential to how the whole thing functions in the first place. This is an industry specializing in creating spectacles that relay the faultlines of society back to us in a way that’s easy to sell but sapped of all substance. It’s how they’re able to stay relevant in a harshly unequal society without letting on that their kind are the ones responsible for inequality in the first place. And it’s one of the many ways that the system is able to call itself as post-racial while trading in base racism, post-feminist while engaging in willful degradation of women.

Perhaps that’s why the most poignant and yet ominous reaction to the performance at the VMAs wasn’t the Tweet, but the shrug. When misogyny and bigotry are so commonplace that the supposed shock of it all becomes mundane, you know your culture is long overdue for a soul transplant.

First published at Red Wedge magazine

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Merchandise Keeps Us In Line

There was a time when Ian MacKaye wouldn’t go near the idea of his band being on a t-shirt. His admirable adherence to a stripped down, almost evangelical sense of DIY once prevented him from even making Fugazi t-shirts himself. The refusal led to probably one of the best pre-meme memes in the history of punk rock: the proliferation of “this is not a Fugazi t-shirt” t-shirt.

Now, twenty years later, his approval for Urban Outfitters to sell Minor Threat t-shirts for $28 bucks a pop has punks young and old either scratching their heads or sharpening their claws. Comments on the PunkNews.org site capture much of the teapot tempest:
Fucking sad and gross. Fuck this and guess what Ian, I dont give a fuck about you or your music anymore. I guess every punk has his price.
April fools? please...PLEASE? 

I see it as blatant hypocrisy from a person I looked up to for a long time. You're right though, it won't affect me and this is hardly the first time I've watched the punk cat lose one of its lives. Maybe I can get that Nation of Ulysses muscle tee I've always wanted for a cool $50 now 
a major disappointment. That is all. 
So Ian gets hysterical when a venue tries to charge more than $10 or whatever to see a show, but charging $28 for a T-shirt is NBD?
There are plenty of other comments that try to give MacKaye the benefit of the doubt, but it is worth stepping back and reflecting a bit on how much energy is being spent on commodities like t-shirts. A hundred and fifty years ago a certain philosopher and economist warned us about the consequences of inanimate objects appear taking on life. Perhaps he was onto something.

To the outsider -- or even to the jaded insider sick of all the punkier than thou moralizing -- the reasonable reaction seems to be to ask why the hell we should care. It’s a t-shirt after all. In the end, however, we should care. But not for the reasons one might think.

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Blanket condemnations aimed at MacKaye for “selling out” tend to overlook the details in this case. MacKaye has stated that he and Dischord Records actually do direct business in licensing their shirts through California-based Tsurt, who in turn license Minor Threat’s images to Urban Outfitters among others. According to MacKaye it was either this or let others make money off the useage of Minor Threat artwork on bootleg t-shirts. The key issue hasn’t necessarily been one of money but of control.

His own frank response also says quite a bit about the realities of merchandising that musicians and artists -- even relatively successful ones -- come up against: "Motherfuckers pay $28, that's what they wanna pay for their shirts” (a quip we should take with more than a few grains of sale on both sides).

This doesn’t put Ian above calling Tsurt on the phone and saying a simple “don’t sell to Urban Outfitters,” but the details matter because the question isn’t purely one of agency or choice here. Those who seem to think that MacKaye has sullied something pure may want to ask: where exactly does this fabled “indie culture” exist in such a pure state? Where can one actually find a scene completely untainted by the cutthroat-isms of the market, where some kind of money doesn’t have to change hands?

Here’s the horrifying fact of the matter: capitalism is everywhere. Not only is it the dominant economic system on the planet, but it has seeped into every nook, crack, cranny and crevice that it can find.

If there is somewhere that hasn’t been reached, then you can guarantee that on the strength of nothing but the profit motive, capitalism will swoop in and find a market for it. And eventually, it makes hypocrites of us all. Or as the Situationists who so indelibly influenced punk would say, we’re all cultural prostitutes. Either you participate or you go live in the woods by yourself. A valid existence, but not one very conducive to recording and releasing music.

As some of Ian’s defenders have pointed out, Minor Threat’s CD’s are available in some of the most mainstream of mainstream outlets: Best Buy, HMV in the UK, and Virgin Megastores the world over. Many have similarly shady histories of price-gouging. Most of us would probably be horrified if we went to our favorite indie record store and looked at a list of the companies it does business with: the soap in the bathroom, carpeting on the floor or even just something as obvious as where the albums are shipped from make the most seemingly noble mom and pop shop ultimately complicit as any of us.

It’s a contradiction that runs deep through the system’s core: for as alienating as we may see our consumer-driven society, we can’t escape it. In fact, the special ire reserved for Urban Outfitters sheds some light on this. The chain’s pretensions toward being cool, hip and indie-chic are precisely what makes it the antithesis of all of these in the eyes of so many. The drive behind most of those labeled indie is an attempt to keep the gimmick-izing of everything at bay; Urban’s exorbitant prices not only normalize these everyday acts of individual rebellion but commodify them to the extent that they’re out of reach for many of us. Simply stated, “indie” and “mid-to-upscale chain store” don’t mix.

This, however, is nothing new. Read Max Horkheimer. Sixty years ago, when consumer capitalism appeared to be reaching a previously unheard of and seemingly absurd height, Horkheimer wrote about how individualism was being warped in the process. Attempts to become an individual in the truest Enlightenment sense of the word, to forge an identity apart from that which alienates us the most, is impossible.British Marxist and cultural theorist Esther Leslie, in an explication of Horkheimer’s Critique of Instrumental Reason, puts it this way:
People who come [to a particular shop] think that they are expressing themselves in their uniqueness. And they buy from an array of stores endless outfits that might express a particular niche that they’re slotting themselves into. They’re not considering the identical conditions of manufacture that is usually the case when purchasing this or that leather jacket, this or that t-shirt. It’s a place in which one might pick one’s deviancy off the peg, which is perhaps as pseudo-individualistic a gesture as one could make.
And this, despite all the endless prattle about communism being the system that crushes individuality. Insert quip about Che Guevara t-shirts here.

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It’s the consideration of these “identical conditions of manufacture” -- pulling back the curtain that obscures the actual material interests of Urban Outfitters’ shareholders and the very real processes that make it what it is -- that is precisely missing from this. If they’re actually considered, then we might actually find more reason to criticize MacKaye.

Right in the offing, we may want to take pause and remember that the use of Minor Threat’s imagery is the least of the chain’s appropriation. Though it received much less press in the music rags, the United Farm Workers union succeeded in getting Urban to pull a shirt in its “Navajo” line. The offending item used the UFW’s logo.

This act of racist appropriation isn’t the first on the company’s watch. Some may remember the outcry in 2005 around the store’s “New Mexico: cleaner than regular Mexico” t-shirt. Or its willingness to first sell kuffiyehs without any acknowledgement of their Arab origins (they were marked as “anti-war scarves”) and then pull them when chest-thumping racists accused them of selling “terrorist fashion.”

By now it’s something of an open and loudly-spoken-secret that Urban Outfitters CEO Richard Hayne -- even while catering to a supposedly liberal demographic -- is himself a political conservative. He and his wife were financial supporters of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick “Smeary Brown Stuff” Santorum up until he lost reelection in 2006. This at least partially explains the racism. It also explains how he can be so cavalier with a subculture that ostensibly treasures independence from the most exploitative vicissitudes of the market.

Of course, Hayne is rich enough that he can always buy himself out of any controversy. In 2008 he forced the company to nix a t-shirt supporting same-sex marriage in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 in California. The uproar from an ascendant LGBTQ movement in turn forced the company to team up with the National Center for Lesbian Rights to release another t-shirt along the same lines. Despite this, Hayne has never publicly come out in favor of LGBTQ rights.

This is to say nothing of the fact that Urban has been caught using sweatshop labor in the past. Which, of course, we must.

It’s entirely likely that these reasons and others are behind the punky outrage now finding its way onto the comment threads. There have been no shortage of Latino and queer punks over the years (despite their being ignored for decades in most discourses) not to mention a great many who have sought to simply build solidarity with those struggles. Alas, none of the comments this writer has seen have explicitly offered up these reasons for their umbrage.

The natural rejoinder then would be, again, why single out Urban Outfitters when so many companies engage in similar racism, similar queerphobia and misogyny as well as base cultural appropriation? One answer is that you have to start somewhere. And since so many of today’s indie adherents are finding themselves being twisted into a new lost generation, Urban seems a good place to start.

That may be especially true now that retail workers at Urban Outfitters are themselves openly fighting their employers. A $28 price tag seems even more absurd when their workers barely make eight dollars an hour, no?

In late July, workers at Urban were among the hundreds of low wage fast food and retail workers that walked off the job demanding more pay, a union, and better working conditions. They were -- and are -- part of the growing Fight for Fifteen campaign. As has been indicated many times over, the low wage sector is disproportionately non-straight and of color. In other words, a victory for them would be a defeat for the same people looking to make a buck off cultural appropriation. It would also help tear the mask yet further off the real and ugly machinations that go into the manufacture of “cool.”

Maybe this is where the idea of Ian MacKaye boycotting Urban might have more traction. There’s a long and brilliant history of artistic boycotts in support of labor and social justice struggles. And in fact there have already been inklings in this direction, particularly from LGBTQ groups.

Reshaping culture means reshaping the conditions that created it in the first place. What’s more, if we are actually to have genuine alternative spaces, where new ideas and expressions can be forged and motivated by solidarity and independence rather than the market, then those spaces will have to be fought for.

It’s this lack of a broader fight for the past thirty years that has contributed to the hothouse atmosphere one finds in many a subculture. But now the lines in the sand are being drawn sharper than they’ve been in almost two generations. Artistic expression is necessary of course, but it’s a lousy substitute for actual struggle. We have yet to see the kinds of art that can be unleashed when it’s allied with a broad picket line for economic, racial and sexual justice in our time. Those institutions that were able to get away with ripping us off in all senses of the term may not be able to much longer. When that time comes, when a broad boycott is called, one would hope that Ian would pick up the phone.

First published at Red Wedge magazine.