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Update: I urge you to also read some excellent and lengthy comments at the end of the post.
Since the post-sars underground scene started to take off and gain international notice, there have been several articles written in the English language press asking the question Why aren't Chinese rockers political?
There's an easy answer to that, they are political. Just like other music scenes. Just like people in a society.
But today, via China Music Radar
, I read the next generation of article which appears to up the bar by modifying the question to Why aren't Chinese rockers political enough?
It seems to me that by adding more depth to the previous articles, they have simply increased the amount of biased writing and skewed premises. But, before I get into that you should read the article yourself, in full. You may like it, who knows?
Where can you start? The article itself it fully loaded with blanket statements and contradictory ideas. It starts by declaring that they aren't 'political' and then continues to give examples of how they are, but not enough. Look at the title. If people are pampered they won't complain about politics? That's ludicrous and untrue. Sorry folks, Ayn Rand was full of shit. What are it's premises? For a start, that Chinese rockers are all pampered. And to such a degree that they forget about societies ills. Utterly ridiculous. I'm loath to take apart all the classic fallacies as it would be ultimately pointless. What is political apathy? Someone once said, "withdrawing in disgust is not apathy."
I have to stop there, the problem is with the writers of these articles and their lack of awareness. Through a set of dodgy premises they then extrapolate out to an article full of nonsense. So I think the best way to illustrate my own point of view is to do just that - illustrate my own point of view.
Here are some questions and statements of intent:
* We are one human race.
* We have one human culture with variations. Similarities that bind us, not differences that are irreconcilable.
* What does 'political' mean?
* Who can comment on 'politics' and what is enough or too much?
* Can culture be apolitcal or neutral?
* How is our world defined?
* What does pampered mean? What is the true state of money and class in the world today?
* How 'political enough' are bands in our own countries?
I think it's best to start with a clear picture of the world we live in and how it has 'developed' in the post WW2 period. Click on the picture above. Those are the figures provided by the World Bank's development indicators. They were completed in 2008 and they reflect the year 2005, before
a crash widened the gaps further. It's adjusted for purchasing power too. Click here for all kinds of stats
So 80% of the world, or 5.15 billion people, live on less than $300 US dollars a month and that's the top percentile of that group. Most of my readers are based in China. That's less than 2000 RMB a month for ALL needs and that usually covers the whole family. The remaining 20% are what we think of as the 'middle classes' and the tiny super-rich.
Look again, 3.14 billion people, or half the world's population, live on less than $2.50 a day ... or 500 RMB a month over here. Half. China's most recently touted statistic was 300 million internet users. Hey, that's only a billion without and it brings them in line with the global averages of 20% - just like the wealth distribution pictured above.
Did you notice something? I make way above the poverty lines but ..somehow ... i'm drawing attention to the plight of others and getting all 'political' ... something does not compute in the world of mainstream discourse.
It's important to note that this has actually
been a time of unparalleled poverty and no-peace for the vast majority of young people in the world and apathy doesn't come into it for them. Take the conflict centred around the Congo
, if that was happening in Europe on that scale it'd be called World War Three.
So what is politics? Are you ready?
* We live in a society, as long as you interact with anyone except yourself, you're in one and compromises take place.
* Those interactions and compromises manifest as relationships.
* The managing of those relationships, at any level, is ... 'politics'.
* Don't confuse power and politics. Although they rarely come apart except at the abstract level.
We are all political and everything we do or say has some impact on society. No matter how big or small, or what the perception of it is.
Who can comment on or affect 'politics'? All of us. We just do. Think about freedom of speech or thought. They just are. It's what we naturally do. When people talk about human rights what they actually mean is human un-rights or supression.
So what is happening when anyone suggests that some people can or can't talk about politics? That's power.
Also remember, people use words for all kinds of their own meanings. The most common use of the word 'politics' is to describe the business of our leaders. The most common use of the world Political, in English, seems to be a negative slur that suggests the receiver mind their own business about things that are above them. There are many many others.
What kind of relationships do we have in society? Well, as I said before, we have a single culture with variations. Global society is ordered by the idea of nation-states
. The world is fully carved up into territories with closed borders. You need a passport to leave, Your life and identity is governed by this arrangement. They claim to be a natural manifestation of the people, they are both state
, despite clearly being an abstract that came into being across colonialism
. This is a recent part of history and not fixed in any way.
Importantly, across this one system, the spread of development and wealth mirrors that of the World Bank stats with people in the upper 20% enjoying the most freedoms. After the financial crash of 2008, even the most disinterested punter is now aware that apparent wider mobility of lower classes in developed countries is falsely propped up on debt and loans.
Before we get back to being 'political enough', lets throw in one more thing, the environment. What the use of being a millionaire in Shanghai if all it gets you is a 150 sq metre concrete box among the smog and light industrial sprawl? And, what's it like living on 2.50 a day if you also have no land to grow things on or any clean natural water source? Hello, half the world.
So I want to ask a question. What does it mean to be 'political enough'? It doesn't make sense. It's a none concept.
These writers never ask this question of their own scenes. They see China's situation as unique and yet at the same time hold them to a standard based in their own country. The only references appear to be to bands that are 'political enough', as examples. But that's few and far between. Also, My experience is that mainstream writers in the UK and USA tend to sneer at anything 'political' in art and write it off as preachy or heavy handed. They lack a coherent set of values and they lack a coherent worldview. They see parts of the world as relative or uniquely separate as it suits them, to justify illogical and undeveloped threads. In the article, the word political means about ten different things at different times.
So, really, what does Alice Liu think is 'political enough'? I think in this case she, and the other writers, are substituting 'political' for passionately campaigning for the overthrow of the current power.
And here's the rub, by saying China and by saying rock she is implying a standard that exists outside of China. That rock musicians have a special place in society for overthrowing governments and that they have fulfilled that previously. Obviously that's balls. Rock has many bands and genres, most of which do not engage in social criticism or direct action. Where's the post-war authoritarian society that was toppled by the people with the help of rock music? And what is enough? Because the article thinks that saying it is not enough. And why choose Carsick Cars and not someone actually political like The Subs? And be careful here, I myself do believe in direct action and activism but I'm not talking about if it's possible or desirable - I'm talking about the implications of the article and their relationship to reality.
But as I said, this is all obvious nonsense because ask a stupid question and you'll get a ... you know the rest. Lets conclude with a conclusion.
In the article Alice says:
On his blog, Shouwang wrote about a dawn trip by him and a friend to the square, where they milled around for a while. The police noticed them, saw them as suspicious-looking characters and placed them in the back of a police van, from where Shouwang looked miserably at the square in the rising morning light. The result was one of the most popular songs on their debut album, in which he sings: "This is a square without hope."
... and then ...
One of the things that Shouwang reacts against is Internet censorship. On Carsick Cars' second album, there is a instrumental song with the classic title of "The Firewall Killed My Cat." Without lyrics or any particular sentiment, the song may be beautiful, but it is hardly talkin' about Shouwang's generation.
Well he kind of is
. In fact, he did.
Endnote: if anyone would like to know my own personal idea of music and 'politics' they can go here