Protesting the lack of protest songs A Fictional Functional Family
Protesting over the lack of protest songs
Where have all the protest songs gone - killed by radio every single one. The revised standard version of the demise of the protest song is that profit driven corporates stifle anything that might possibly alienate consumers. Exhibit A: In 2003 the Dixie Chicks made an on stage remark about the George W Bush. Their albums become fuel for ritual burnings and record companies the world over shuddered. Music was meant to be harmless happiness in a can - not tainted by politics as this might offend consumers. Now with the plush pile profit rug pulled from under them by access to free downloading, the music industry has collapsed into a morose mess, sulking in the corner of contemporary culture.
The internet has certainly changed the world for musicians. It has made it increasingly difficult to get a fair return on creativity. Spending months writing, recording and getting profile for original work - only to have it 'stolen' through downloading makes it hard to make a living from your talent. If those illegally downloading music were told that someone had stolen their wages while they were at work I am sure they would be very upset but the same people seem to have no problem with doing essentially this to hardworking musicians.
The other part of this story is that as the corporates lose their grip on the money making handles, there have been positive gains in freedom for musicians to make music without barriers or borders. If you want to put out a song on the internet criticising government policy there is no music company or radio station executive trying to stop you. Unless, of course, you are a punk band called Pussy Riot. In Russia and many other non-democratic countries musical activism is dangerous and you can be imprisoned for singing anti-government ditties. This seems astonishing to us in NZ but it is important to note that there are no political songs being played here either. Where are the biting lyrics in the Key of John? Have you heard anyone singing in English about Bill English?
Parallel to this runs a failure to have any current political satire in the mainstream NZ media. In the US and UK there are shows with an edge so sharp it can cut an inflated political statement to shreds without even blinking. In the USA the Daily Show takes a swipe at politicians of all stripes. They make fun of both President Obama and Republican opponent Mitt Romney. They expose the 'miss-speaking' that is the first signs of serious foot in mouth disease. The machinations and false promises of US politicians are all tested for humorous content. At the shallow end of the thinking pool there is always a few struggling to stay afloat. They splash about, their self-preservation devices deflated by repeated over use, as the satirists stand at the side holding their towels.
Here in New Zealanders we do not have this perspective even though we have much to protest about. The citizens of Christchurch are way out-front. They recognise bombast when they see it and have been taking to the streets. Our Public Service is being eaten away from the inside as morale and layoffs take big bites out of the workforce. We have a laughably incompetent spy agency that we could not rely on to watch a cake rising. The growing gap between those that have much and those that have little is now so wide that many politicians can no longer see the other side.
Where are the protest songs? Where are the musicians that can harness melody to lyric and inspire us to sing out?
Terry Sarten is a writer, musician, social worker and plain clothes member of the satirist movement. Feedback email: firstname.lastname@example.org