Ever since Obama became the 44th President of the US and the first person of colour to be their Chief Commanding Officer, politics and race became the new pop culture. Forget the Kardashians, “Keeping Up with the Politicians”, mate!
For people of colour, it was an unlikely reality to believe but welcomed. So, we watched on intensely with all our body’s extremities crossed and looped, praying for Obama’s survival.
To keep up, those who were of the “I don’t much care for politics.” bracket of society had to adapt their ears to the political vernacular of the times and become more acquainted with words that often ended with “ism” and often implied a whole other pre-set of meanings. News reporters familiarized us with words like, for example;
“Fake news”, “Populism”, “Post-racism”, “Neo-liberalism”, “Sensationalism”, “Radicalism”, “Neo-fascism”… “You-better-get-to-knowism!”.
What all these isms really meant, who really knew? What was certain – as time passed – was that, though on one hand the president remained alive, on the other hand we could clearly see his accomplishments didn’t resolve all the inequalities various fractions of his nation were still facing or that had gotten worse in some cases.
These “fixable” inequalities expected were not just the undoing of all systemic racism on behalf of black folk (a real expectation from some hopeful few), but also addressing the economic gaps between classes.
The discontent of the nation and other global threat factors would eventually lead to people seeking alternative politics and land us in what the media would call a “white-lash”; White nationalist ideologies began generating empathy from those of the nation who felt forgotten. A high percentage of these were “White Working Class”. Together they summarized some of the most obvious candidate to blame for economic, social conditions and all the other things they felt weren’t making them feel great about their country or about themselves. This provided a sharp contrast where those who remained optimistic we confronted overtly by those who were pessimistic about the way the world was turning.
Clearly, in the wider context of the globe, all these “isms” which represented a minefield of ideologies wasn’t working. They were all ideas of what one group or another thought might be ideal (for them).
By the Brexit referendum results and the transition of the 2016 presidential campaign, as we followed closely, those who were thinking that the world was stepping forward, began to figure that, on both sides of the ocean, the political and commercial spin of multiculturalism had worn thin and the base of society had dipped to a new low.
To some, it was all just a trope of social pacification, a Trojan horse that made way for a new wave of greedy capitalists. Where would gentrification be with out it? Though some had caught on, it would of had a much harder time without trying to divert peoples attention. Actually, it provided the conditions for more cultural divisiveness.
As a born Brit, I could travel down to Shoreditch or Dalston and feel the allure of multiculturalism but, I knew it was a privilege that was conditional and limited. I knew this wasn’t afforded to everyone.
In a 2017 interview by Jon Snow, when asked about his legacy, former president Bill Clinton said;
“… Did I abolish inequality? No. And, you can’t in a market society.”
Many things we had hoped were progressing one way ended up going another.
We spent so long trying to recover from the shock of 9/11, 2001, which gave birth to G.W.Bush’s “War on Terror”, that it brought a level of fear and social anxiety we were unable to process in time for progress. We tried to suppress it but the climate was thickening in the approaching background. As we buried our heads in other pop-culture the tensions were magnified by the rhetoric of tabloid and social media. There was literally no escape. Trying to navigate between the lines of “real” and “fake news” added to our need for resolve and answers. We had to make decisions as to where we stood with what little we understood.
Then came the killing of black bodies by white police officers caught on camera. Then more terrorist attacks in the UK and US, Ferguson and so on and so on. During this time Islamophobia and immigration had been a constant front runner of social tensions. With all the other issues added, on a global level, society began to look like a bonfire ready to ignite.
This kept the belly of the tabloids full. Hysteria ensued as social media fed the people extreme left and right wing narratives. In the mean time, politicians were preparing to use this for the next election. They watched the wreckage and pile up, picked their playing cards and then decided their angle for the coming election.
Bill Clinton – He won because he got what politics was about; Candidates, Conditions and Culture, not just what position you’re taking on the issue.
Clinton was speaking about G.W.Bush but the formula seems recognisable, right? And, the player who speaks the minds of the silent majority wins the ultimate prize – power over the whole.
Like a military instruction taken from the book “The Art of War”, feed them hope and the fear of chaos, and they shall hand you their bounty. Such is the never ending loop of a social system that turns strategy into power for those who know how. Eternal damned servitude awaits those who do not know how the system so insidiously works.
Even though few are aware, 99% of us are not only tied to this complex system of divisive propaganda and power manipulation but, subconsciously we are active as a consenting part of it like an involuntary muscle wrapped around an internal organ.
We have been blinded to its workings. Even when the components are in front of our eyes, even in our own hands, we often don’t know how to use them, how they work. We are as pawns, gullible to misdirection, given a false sense of power and periodically fed new ideologies of progress when there is only but one supreme ideology protected by the vanguards of wealth – political and economic power. And, why would they give that up when they need you to be where you are in order for their wealth to have value.
Psychologically, the view is that humanity innately allows itself to be dis-empowered in willing exchange that someone should instruct them of what they should think and do. In this we find comfort, a displacement of the responsibilities (fear) of freedom in exchange for civil liberties, entitlements and security. Some may relate this to what is called existentialism. And, to this allegiance of programming, we conform.
Mark Twain – It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many people can resist. What is its seat? The inborn requirement of self-approval.
“I am good, right?” like a child to their significant parent, seeking approval and favour. We play this task out in the majority of our achievements in life. We seek approval from our family, partners, friends and society. This is how we find our agreeable identity. More than we seek our own definition, we listen externally for the social cues and act in accordance of what we ought to be in relation to our identified group.
Anthony Storr, Solitude: A Return To Self – … creators are able to define identity and achieve self-realization by self reference, that is, by interacting with their work rather than by interacting with other people.
Consider a crazy but, I think, fair alternative; there are many ways that the creator mindset can be used to better personal conditions and the overall health of society especially when used to produce the arts and engage others with it.
There are many artists skilled enough to deliver (with the right support) a wide variety of engagements that nurture divided social lines and evoke the questions we could alternatively be asking ourselves in the context of the wider society. Art empowers people and the people are genuinely dis-empowered.
We are so subdued in politics and issues of national economics in almost every aspect of our normal lives, we over look the importance of the arts in these areas and how these areas potentially limit and disempower the arts.
Being an artist myself and coming up around a large and diverse community of other artists, I’ve witnessed so much constructive creative and cultural potential result to nothing because the resources and support were not available to those who were unable, by their reach, to secure the sytems connections. But this is nothing new, a collection of micro incidences in the macro of progressive potential in society cut by the lack of resource, knowledge and power, made redundant before employment by political and economic agendas on a systemic scale.
Only by being considered a “national treasure” by the keepers of our national interest, do we see those who eventually become recognised muster the possible chance of making a difference. The question is, whilst we waiting, cuing and hoping, is this enough, when we know there is so much more to be had from the untapped wealth with the culture and community of artists? The question must also be then, whose responsibility is it if change is needed?
As artists we pay little attention to the context of our contemporary history within this arena.
As FBO work towards it’s Political Bodies double bill dance theatre presentation on the 13th October at Canada Water Theatre, I invite you to join me in these next few editions to look at how politics and national economics has shaped the conditions of our artistic cultural development through history up until present day.
For this purpose, I will consider mostly, but not exclusively, the journey of hip hop and street dance, from their socio-political beginnings, the jagged relationship with the commercial industries, economic rises and falls and the steps towards the status of becoming a national treasure. I ask the art makers, those that are the narrators of the human story, should we become more politically minded as artists and creators in order not to become the manipulated subjects of capitalism? Or, are we already there?
Let me know what you think / comment.
13th October 2017
Sean Graham’s Foreign Bodies Orchestra presents –
Political Bodies (double bill)
From the Windrush to Brexit, this double bill explores the traumatisation of identity, nationalism and culture caused by fear based propaganda.
Venue: Canada Water Theatre.
Ticket: £12 / £9 concs. Age 16+