We live in the post-factual era in which it is acceptable to debate issues based on opinions and feelings instead of facts. If this idea is left unchecked, people will soon be using quotes like “I feel like Nickelback is a good band.” or “I believe that Ted Nugent isn’t a racist.” We have had facts since… well always. You can feel a certain way about god, or what your favorite Indian restaurant is, but it is impossible to ‘feel’ any particular way about a fact.
I came to this realization on election night, since then I have been foggy and filled with anxiety. At its core, I fear the unknown and am unwilling to accept rhetoric that disparages seemingly everyone who isn’t a white American. Instead of dumping this puppet of a leader, and pushing his sexist opinions off the same cliff we pushed Bob Dole off of, we have given inaccurate thoughts meaning and a chance to fester by electing him our next president. Luckily I came to another realization that night as far as what lies ahead, and it has taken me until now to articulate it.
If only there was a way to critique the seemingly oppressive social ideologies and propagate these critiques while bypassing the media… oh wait.
It’s going to be a hell of a time for Subversive Art
When a small group of us were watching the election unfold this exact phrase was uttered jokingly. However, over the course of the past few days, it has begun to ring true numerous times. Think about this for a moment, where would the Punk scene in England be today without Margaret Thatcher? Would Crosby Stills Nash & Young and Dylan still have become prominent voices of 1970’s without Tricky Dick Nixon? Where would N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police” be without Reagan’s targeted discrimination against African Americans during the 1980’s? These deep periods of expression in the face of oppression were driven by restrictive governments and the hatred they provoked.
Now, I am not welcoming of any form of oppression. And by NO means am I even implying that the next four years will be “ok” . I am more interested in the artists born out of the era of Trump. What will they create out of the various degrees of suffering they will have to endure? What statements will they make in the face of blatant racism and corruption in our own government? The tension amongst the millennial generation is in the air, Donny is going to be our president, and the game is on. Who will step up to the microphone, and fill the void?
Dada! :The Root Of It All
If you want to get to the root of subversive art, look no further than the Dada movement. The grandfather of the absurd, Dada critiqued every facet of culture. From spoken word to performance art, Dada at some point had every institution in its crosshairs.
One of the fathers of Dada was Tristan Tzara, who after focusing on Dada Poetry turned his gaze to mass communications. Tzara noticed early on that the number of magazines was on the rise, and the amount of valid and valuable information was beginning to shrink. In response, he drafted a fake press release to be sent stating that he was involved in a duel in the town center of Zurich. The press took the bait and published the story, papers all across Zurich had fallen into his trap. This stunt showcased that the media will print anything that you feed it. And specifically that the facts are only as good as the source from which they come, which in this case was a complete fabrication.
Eerily similar times we live in just a hundred short years later. If you turn a gaze to the outlets that are peddling click bait to the angry masses on both side of the political spectrum, it is hard not to compare it to early last century Europe. We have gained so many new publications since the inception of the internet and as of recently, we receive (fake) “news” from within our bubble on social media exclusively. I will be the first to understand that it is a full-time job to stay informed, as Americans however, I know we can do better. We need to fight for more transparency and easier ways to make valuable factual information available again. One of the more modern movements poised to jump on this opportunity has been lurking since the 1970’s. Look no further than Punk for your salvation.
“Make America Factual Again”
Punk Music : The Obvious Choice
Punk music is one of the most obvious contenders for knocking the establishment. I’m convinced that right now someone is sitting in a basement in America writing the next politically charged anthem about the election results. One of the most likely places for this crashing wave of punk to originate is in the Nation’s Capital . With a relatively long 30+ year tradition of Punk music in Washington D.C., I suspect there is no better place in the world to criticize the government than from its own backyard. In 2015 we saw a new surge of D.C. punk bands hailing themselves as the “New Wave Of D.C. Hardcore”, revitalizing the scene and showing promise in the face of what may be dark times ahead for America’s arts and culture.
Over the next four years and beyond, subversive art forms like Punk and its various bastard children of genres will be cutting through the haze of mass media. In the last two years alone, the political material leading up to the election has been plentiful. Now that Donny has been elected and the illusion of security has been ripped from the left, Punk is the likely gateway drug for many into a world of nihilism and deeper grovelings. However, there is another movement, that might hold the key to unleashing the floodgates nationally. A genre so prevalent and established it can tear down the division from inside the institutions themselves.
Hip Hop : When Subversion Was Sold
Hip Hop is one of the most recent incarnations of a rebellious desire for truth and knowledge to be ubiquitous. However, many are most likely unfamiliar with its exact origins, and the subsequent co-opting of the genre by the white corporate label establishment.
Born out of pure need to shed light on an economic and racial disparity in the 70’s and 80’s, early hip hop provided many young Black and Latino listeners with hours of politically charged and culturally enriching progressive thought. This was true power and the ‘golden age’ of the genre. Before the age of the internet, it was the easiest way to give a voice to those who were ignored by the white dominated media of the time. Hip Hop was the social, news and educational medium. In a classroom setting filled with biased and factually inaccurate propaganda, hip hop music filled the gaps and exposed the greater truth. This genre was the most powerful subversive art movement in recent history, bypassing the established curriculums and oppressive thought to spread knowledge and understanding to as many people as quickly as possible.
That was until the major record labels realized the potential impact and profits to be gained from monetizing their own “truth” in this medium. When these labels began buying smaller hip hop labels, we saw the diversity sucked out of hip hop. They monopolized the market and bullied any artist challenging the script out of the way. The new norm became a version of black culture that white people were most comfortable with. The messages of speaking truth to power and economic prosperity began to disappear and were replaced with fantasies of materialism and aggression. This is what it looks like when a powerful subversive movement is bought out and sold for some of its less threatening individual qualities.
In recent years this 1990’s pattern of appropriation and adjustment of the truth has ceased with the advent of artists like Killer Mike and his work with Run The Jewels. Killer Mike is directly in keeping with the old ways of disseminating facts and a greater truth through his music. The valuable cultural knowledge that otherwise would be lost, preserved in Hip Hop. Linked below is “Reagan” the Killer Mike track that digs deep at the Reagan administration and the flawed war on drugs.
Personally, I can imagine a future where specifically in Hip Hop, Run the Jewels will be remembered as defining artists of the next decade. The level of craftsmanship and talent when producing these tracks is astounding. Commenting on a range of social and political issues, Run The Jewels will be elevating the game when it comes to conscious Hip Hop and subversive art in this country.
Don’t Normalize, Mobilize
The post-factual era will present its own unique set of challenges. Partially, because there is no quick fix. This collective failure was a result of 30 years of mistakes made by numerous political and social institutions. And it will take the efforts of just as many to prevent a tectonic shift backward in our culture. We need to arm ourselves with factual data, creating art that lives beyond the echo chambers designed to keep us subdued. Art that can spread these facts to as many willing to listen regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.
In this historic age, we are entering, we still have a choice on how this world moves forward. No matter how much people want to, we can not ignore the other side. We are all living in the same nation and if we are going to prevent a humanitarian crisis, it needs to be a joint effort and not a screaming contest. At the end of a ‘think piece’ like this, I know I should be wrapping up the loose ends and providing some kind of quotable material for people to copy into their facebook status when they share the article. Truthfully, I don’t have those answers yet. The energy on both sides of the spectrum is wild and unpredictable. The next artists of the age are being born into a time of turmoil and instability. In a time where facts are up for debate, I believe we need artists more than ever because I feel they are our last hope to preserve the cultural wealth of this country.