Commercial Protest or Protest Consumed
Politics need to be discussed from a branding perspective. That is, politics as box logo t-shirt, greeting at your doorstep, photo opportunity, and commercial. Everything we associate as political rebellion against an institution has been commercialized and branded— so is protest even protest anymore? Is visually portraying your political rebellion still rebellious if it is sold at The Gap? There are many art festivals and experiences that have been commercially celebrated, which have unified people over ideas of shared suffering, yet miss a call to action.
In the past, people organized in protest and were visually unified in protest to disrupt governments. Today protest has a different relation to government. Now, it looks more like a convention show where people go to exchange goods, listen to speeches by celebrities and take photographs to show others that you were present, too.
My question is: if protest is commercialized and therefore expected, what is the new form of protest that actually gains results?
Politics could not have turned more commercial, that is, until a reality television billionaire became president of the United States of America. I believe it is unanimous through the popular vote against him, which makes it absurd that the behavior and credentials of this man to become president is based on our long history of dignity and tradition we’ve come to expect from the “leader” of our country.
In the lens of political campaigns, there has been a history of political ephemera including campaign buttons, lawn flyers and posters. I found the decision to create a text on an adjustable baseball cap interesting, in branding not only the text, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”, but also the red baseball cap now being related to Donald Trump, without his name anywhere on the cap.
This branding tactic is present in the language of streetwear and music. Due to the popular hatred of Donald Trump and his political decisions, many people have bought into the ephemera that expresses this hatred. I question how much money through song and merchandise was made via this hatred of Donald Trump, and who are those funds actually supporting?
Politics in music and its youth movements go hand in hand. The idea of streetwear can be defined as the visual looks of the youth of various generations and their adoption of clothing identities. In the past, the commercial world would separate the language of the youth from the mainstream. In today’s time, the commercial world is chasing fresh youth, whose demand is inevitable as evidenced by social media. The look of rebellion will always be determined by the youth, and is today at an all time high.
The commercial world has given value to the youth— what, then, happens to the idea of rebellion? What happens when the opposition markets merchandise for the youth to consume? If punk rock is sold at Hot Topic, the person in a punk rock show wearing a three-piece suit is probably the most punk rock. Punk rock’s appearance was a form of protest, of going against the expectation of visual acceptance. If punk rock becomes the status quo, how do youths redefine the look of rebellion, and is it even possible when social media is injected into our DNA as one’s credentials?
Protest once held a connotation of courage and boldness. Nowadays, it is essential to everyone’s brand. It is now rooted in selfishness for influencers and aspiring influencers whose brands display a “conscious” heart. By staging selfie photo opportunities at peaceful protests or exclusive events that celebrate a popular political topic. As I have said, protest has become a trendy box logo t-shirt.
In 29Rooms, every installation was a creative experience that celebrated women in an interactive way. A lot of weight was put into the political climate of the media’s attention on women’s suffering and the abuse of men in power. All installations were supported by a corporation. For some people, this was validation. I saw it as a turn-off and a way to disguise the truth. I felt protest was in the form of photo backdrops sponsored by these large corporations, which is hardly a protest — this was more like brands capitalizing on people’s true insecurities. I question how dedicated these large corporate brands are to the cause, especially within the history of their companies. Just like influencers’ awareness of people’s consumption to a conscious cause, brands are aware of the possible consumption of their goods in relation to a conscious cause. This art experience was rooted in celebrated protest, but has no actual results, and, thus, it is not protest.
After you experience this celebration and you have taken photos with other women, what happens next? You feel satisfied by debuting to social media that you attend a conscious exclusive event most people aren’t privileged to attend. I would think action would be taken for all women to be celebrated and not have to put on exclusive events to talk about issues. As long as there are issues, there is money to be made off of the conversation of the issues on multiple levels from merchandise to inclusive events and exclusive events.
How do you get people to move into action? Is the answer to have panel discussions, artwork and merchandise? I do know that people love attention, especially now. Everyone wants to feel included within an community and wants their issues addressed. I know there are plenty of issues that feel like they affect specific groups of people, based on decisions by the government. Is an art show the answer?
As an artist, I sincerely believe in the power of art and change. There is impact from a powerful mural or a moving performance art piece to change perspective and move people into action, but I don’t know if a salon-style curated exhibition is the answer. I appreciate the attempt of co-curating local artists with well-known established artists’ artwork rooted in politics. Art that is documented in art history and archived in art museums are those that show a representation of what life is today. It is inevitable that artwork will have a political undertone, representational or abstract.
Before entering the room of artwork at Into Action, I expected to see artwork that allowed you to feel uncomfortable and a visual experience that was as uncomfortable as the identity issues were being portrayed. I couldn’t tell if it was the artwork or the curation making the experience feeling more decorative than moving. The close proximity of work and salon-style curation gave the show an undertone of digestible sorrows. The decisions of the artworks chosen were 2-dimensional artworks that lived on the walls, with some works sprinkled in that had a 3-dimensional optical illusion effect.
While viewing the artwork at the opening night of the event, I saw Suzanne Lacy viewing the artwork. I was so curious of what her perspective of this artwork that had a relationship with political issues, but did not have a public interaction aspect as she is known for in her own practice. Suzanne Lacy is known for having a public practice approach to making work in the form of performance art, installations and video work that demanded the interaction of the viewer. For a show like Into Action— I would’ve rather seen the Suzanne Lacy public practice approach of work rather than the salon- style work that questioned identity and political issues.
One piece of artwork I appreciated that I wasn’t able to experience was the sound of something breaking. The sound of something breaking in an art environment is the most spine-tingling experience because you can’t fathom the time it takes an artist to make something and thought of a careless person breaking it. Every five minutes, you would hear the break and you could imagine how many things could be carelessly broken. After the fourth time, you cancel out the sound of breaking. The idea of that was the most interesting thing in the whole show, similar to how the media deals with issues. We hear a “break” and it’s the hottest news, because we can’t fathom a politician wanting to exclude a group of people. Then a pattern happens and we go out of our way to investigate where the issue is coming from. There is a long line of people that is just as curious as you are. Then after awhile, you tune out the issue, and it becomes a tune you get used to. When I found out that the experience was for people to write down a problem on a ceramic plate and throw it against a wall for it to break, I was disappointed. I could imagine it is a level satisfying for a problem to break, but then after the plate breaks, the problem still exists. I would hope it moved people into action to solve the problem and not just be satisfied with throwing a plate. Furthermore, the pieces of shattered ceramic were just left there for someone else to clean up, only for more plates to be shattered again.
The panel discussions at Into Action felt similar to ComplexCon, allowing a panel of professionals discuss a topic about a political issue. The problem I have with discussions in general is that you get upset about the issue and there is no scheduling or tactics to be done to try to move to a solution, instead it just ends and that is it. After it ends, you exit through the gift shop with merchandise, where you feel guilty if you don’t purchase anything because after all, you have to support the cause, right?
Through the opportunity of social media, people feel they are much closer to attention and value for their ideas. Corporations understand this as well, and are constantly collaborating with ideas and people that are valued by the number of followers. People are more reluctant to follow people that are associated with conscious thought on the daily. Protest is a universal action of demonstrating your awareness of an issue. The problem is that it is used to also have a connotation that you are willing to go against the grain for the issue that you are aware of. Today, protest is consumable and expected. The look of protest is determined by the youth, and if the look of protest is commercial, and if protest experiences are sponsored by large corporations, “protest” must be dead.
How do we develop a new look and new communal experience of protest that is unexpected and gains results? Media is a key component to protest, but how can it be consumed without being commercialized?