by Chris Jarvis
Culture and politics are inseparable. Culture is more than mere entertainment, more than escapism. Culture is central to how we understand the world, build our value sets and perceive our fellow people. It stirs human emotion in unique ways, pulling different levers in the brain. Sometimes overtly, sometimes with subtlety, the dominant cultural practices, institutions, icons and outputs are used to reinforce the dominant political system and defend the status quo. Establishment weaponise culture as a means of influence.
But this isn’t the sole preserve of the political right.
Looking through history, many of the most important moments of popular revolt have an accompanying soundtrack. The resistance to the Vietnam War had the protest folk singers. Rage Against the Machine were agitators of the US anti-globalisation movement. Riot Grrrl acts built feminist infrastructure, led pro-choice campaigns and brought ‘the personal is political’ sentiments to the fore of a cultural phenomenon. And so on, and so on.
This isn’t coincidental.
Culture feeds and reflects political realities of a time. The alternative comedians of Britain that emerged in the 1980s did so precisely because they were a necessary response to Thatcherism. John Steinbeck wrote and Woody Guthrie sung the sorrows of the Great Depression. Pioneers who stirred a sea change and innovators who rode the wave helped built a counter narrative and supported their peers in spheres of politics and social movements.
Not for a generation have we seen such an effective marrying of the cultural and political worlds near to the mainstream of public awareness.
This is, for me, one of the most exciting things about Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Not for a generation have we seen such an effective marrying of the cultural and political worlds near to the mainstream of public awareness. Sure, musicians, comics, artists, writers, film makers, poets, novelists, and playwrights have continued to condemn society’s ills and diagnosing solutions in their art as ever before. Many of them have been activists alongside their roles as creators. The difference now is that those same creators, and may new ones besides, have been directly marrying their cultural creations with a long-term political project.
Grime for Corbyn. Front page endorsements from NME and Kerrang! Magazine. Support from Joey Barton, Noel Fielding, Lily Allen, Ellie Rowsell, Maxine Peake, Kate Nash and Jason Manford to name but a few – remarkable in and of itself, but made all the more important not just by the existence of the backing, but by the enthusiasm with which it was pursued. Rather than simply responding ‘Labour’ to questions in media interviews asking who they might be voting for or putting out a virtue-signalling tweet, many of these people, publications, and, in the case of Grime for Corbyn, movements, were active mobilisers and advocates for the Labour campaign, seeking to utilise their cultural influence and fan followings to support the overall effort. In doing so, they have ushered in a new wave of political art where the left is supported by a growing number of cultural figures and movements.
The key to unlocking this potential is for this to continue in earnest long beyond the election, and to expand further than the fortunes of the Labour Party
The key to unlocking this potential is for this to continue in earnest long beyond the election, and to expand further than the fortunes of the Labour Party. We could be on the cusp of something special. In order for it to be fully realised, participants in the current of culture that helped Jeremy Corbyn achieve one of the most unexpected election results in contemporary history, will need to be seen embedding their political outlook into their creations, will need to weave their ideology throughout their art. It is through that when we could see those self-same people cause paradigmatic shifts in public consciousness and impact more than just the crossing of a ballot paper. Perhaps then we’ll be marching to the beat of an alternative and better future.
Featured image via gal-dem / i-D
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