Thursday, 23 December 2010
I am writing this blog from the bedroom of my recently acquired apartment in New York. Why is that relevant? Well it's only 2 months ago that I came to New York and left behind London, and from what I have seen and heard from the news- and friends- a lot has happened in that short space of time. I've seen the riots on the news, I've seen the backlash of Vince Cable "declaring war", and I have seen the uproar the Deputy Prime minister has caused from his ability to easily change from left wing idealist to modern conservative sympathiser. As I said, a lot of change.
Generally it is fair to say that people do not like change, especially change that is going to make things a lot harder. So it is understandable that in times when the state is making continual changes that affect both the present and the future we can't help but feel angry, lost, or disappointed. I hear a lot about how students will no longer go on to university and fulfill their dream of getting the perfect job. I can sympathise whole heartily, it's a scary thing to have that option taken away because of the crippling debt associated with such a dream. At 27 I am mostly an education product of new labour and I still pay off my student debts and will do so for many years. If the cost were higher than they were back when I went then I may never have gone.
It's a tough time and a time of hard choices. Does a student take on work before he or she goes on to education, or do they suck up the debt and go straight into it. I know that I am not qualified to answer that, and realistically why should a blog about creativity pose such a question. Well I think the reason I bring all of this up is that when I think of the youths that rioted around the country my mind wandered to some of the great creative pieces that have come out of protest and cultural response.
Music, Art, Theatre, Film, Photography. There is no cultural or creative form that has not been touched by protest. It is fair to say that many artists, musicians, photographers, playwrights and alike have been sparked into creativity because of their simple need to protest. A need that's been living since the dawn of art. When there is something worth speaking up against then there is something worth creating.
Since Ancient Greece to modern day there are records of the creative forms being used to protest, stand out, or tell a story. It has sung the song of the underdog, shown the complications of both sides, asked others to find their cause. Although art wont win a war or change an election it can create an understanding which in turn changes opinion. That is the power of art in times of conflict. Governments have known this for a long time and there is no clearer example of the power of art in war than looking at the propaganda of the Nazi's or the opposing British during the second World War.
The thing about a riot that's exciting is that it last only a short time but feels as though you're in a moment that's going to be remembered and last forever. Some of the students that have protested recently will no doubt feel that the riots that took place will eventually serve a purpose of being a lasting moment of protest that showed their frustration. I agree, but it is not the riot itself that is most effective but the voice of the creatives who are inspired by such actions that are most powerful. These creative minds can shift a popular thought far more than a single riot. The most obvious of this is Marvin Gaye's song "What's going on?"
"What's going on?" is written by Marvin Gaye, Renaldo 'Obie' Benson (Four tops), and Al Cleveland. The song was inspired when Benson saw a group of anti vietnam war protestors being arrested and pushed around by the police in San Francisco. Shortly after seeing the incident he headed home and began penning the song. The song still unfinished he turned to Cleveland for help on finishing. The song was never finished by the pair and it was only after a meeting among friends that Marvin Gaye took the song and began working on it with Benson and Cleveland. Gaye took the unfinished song about political protest and added his own lyrics based on the stories his brother, an American soldier, had told him about Vietnam. That song went on to top the charts in countries around the world, opening eyes to the feelings of a disenfranchised few.
There are countless examples of other creative persons putting pen to hand or brush to canvass. My favourite is White Riot by the Clash, a song inspired by the Nottinghill carnival riots in the 70's. Then there's the protest music of the Specials from the 80s, or George Orwell's dark tale of the future, "1984", or Lennon's "Imagine".
There's something timeless about putting your creativity to a cause worth fighting for. With all that is happening in the UK at the moment I hope that many young persons that are either involved in or watching the riots will pick up pens and/or paints and use their creativity to add longevity to their thoughts. After all that happens it is through our culture that we will be remembered.