“Buy for charity, shop from our website and ensure that a part of the profits go for the education of the street children.” While most would find nothing unusual about this advertisement, there is in fact a very insidious agenda hidden underneath it; Imagine a scene, a family is sitting inside a plush up-market restaurant feasting, through the tinted glass they can see a group of street urchins begging on the pavement, as the children begin to feel aggrieved the father reassures them “do not worry children, a part of the what we pay here would go to the beggars.” Even though this family was eating-out extravagantly, while the majority of their fellow countrymen struggle for two square meals, they need not feel guilty, or may be this family feels that it should eat lavish meals at that particular expensive restaurant as frequently as possible, so that they can help the poor! Then there is the restaurant owner, who does not mind that people feel guilty, because it is good for business, guilt is business.
Late capitalism has achieved the impossible; not only has it managed to significantly blunt resistance against itself, but, it has also learnt to earn profits out of it. Since the culture industry charity became a business strategy for corporations. Now we do not just buy a product for its use value, but we also buy it for the experience that it gives us of being sensitive, humane individuals. Rebellion/resistance to the capitalist/bourgeois state too became a money minting enterprise. Now for the first time in the human history we have lifestyle rebels, youth asserting their resistance to the existing power set up through the way they dress themselves, the way they carry themselves, protesting the oppressive social structure through the music they listen to and through the way they talk. There is a query on answers.yahoo.com “How do I dress like a rebel?” best reply: “Wear lots of black leather and steel chain accessories”. “Go against the norm” is the norm of dressing like a rebel. So there has emerged a huge industrial set up, catering to the rebel fashion, rebel music and the rebel lifestyle; it is a multi billion dollars industry now.
At some point of time in the late twentieth century, the meaning of being a rebel changed. Rebels do not hide from the state anymore, nor do they roam the jungles, guns slinging over their shoulders. Now they are to be found ramp walking, up-scale pubs, high end malls, asserting their rebellion through a hundred different outrageous (read non-conformist) fashion statements they can make. One cannot be sure when it all began; probably one of the starting points is the making of Che Guevara cult. Some smart businessman decided that the Che Guevara could help rake in millions, and so we have Che Guevara T-shirts, caps, posters etc. This is probably the worst revenge that capitalism could have taken against the man who spent his entire life and died waging a war against it.
While some express their rebellion through the clothes, there are others who scoff at this “fakeness”. They rebel through their attitude, the ‘rebel attitude.’ But acquiring the right attitude is not easy, it is acquired through a deal of difficulty by observing closely those who have mastered it: so watch MTV roadies, anchor Raghu Ram, the participants, watching the auditions too is a deeply educative experience; meanwhile the dedicated channels churn money. People want the rebel attitude, so there is a market for it.
“Sadda Haq, etthe rakh” why not? There is a world to win, err.. through rock and punk. The rebel rock star, who sings for a cause; do not mistake him for an ordinary artist; he is an artist with a cause, a man on a mission, to liberate the human kind from oppression and injustice. It is merely incidental that the rebel tag helps pull in the ‘rebels with attitude’ (refer to the last paragraph) to his concerts, people who rock their heads off for a cause, and to let the world know that ‘they ain’t take no shit no more’, as they say.
I had a very illuminating experience myself at a rebels’ rock concert: It was supposed to be a protest demonstration against the state to demand the repeal of an oppressive law. The protest was completely hijacked by a Delhi based organization that specializes in devising state of the art methods of high impact protests. We were informed that our old ways of protesting through dharna pradarshan, sloganeering etc were too outdated and ineffective; the new high impact mode of protest is through a rock concert. And Social networking is the new revolutionary mode of mobilization, our older method of holding street corner meetings and distributing leaflets in the bastis too is old and ineffective. The protest rock show was, we were assured by them, going to be a roaring success, well known rock bands known to play rebel music at Delhi pubs had signed up to help the movement and as many as 900 people had said on the face book that they were going to come. Much intimidated, we proceeded to the rock concert protest on the designated day to find that some 10 people had turned up. The rebel rock stars were up in arms “We were promised an audience of at least 700, this is an insult.”
“Rebel rock star” is a brand that helps in selling music, who does not like a tinge of radicalism with their whiskey at the pub. But this was a dusty hot public area, without the air-conditioning, soft seats and a few drinks to wash it down rebellion did not taste the same. And the people who said on Facebook that they were coming? On social networking you promote a cause through the click of button, join radical anti-state events by pressing the join tab; you are connected to the people’s struggle. But actually going out for a protest? Too tiring, isn’t it? So here we had aspiring artists, building a rebel brand for themselves to sell their music and armchair revolutionaries feeling connected to the mass movement through push button activism while facebook rakes in millions by catering to their revolutionary urges.
Two observations from the revolutionary camp:
A) Karl Marx wrote in a letter to Ruge in 1843 that shame is a revolutionary sentiment, a kind of an anger turned inward. Do you feel ashamed of your life conditions? And does your shame impel you to change things? If your answer is yes then you are a comrade of ours. Compared to shame, we have a very poor view of guilt. Guilt is a false emotion, meant to clear one’s conscience, to convince oneself that one is a sensitive individual. “So what if I have to grind to dust my neighbours to succeed in life, I am good human being because I always buy that brand that donates a part of the proceeds to the homeless.” Guilt is meant to justify our crimes, I steal during the day and donate to the poor in the evening to feel that I am still human; my heart goes out to the oppressed, provided that they are not the same ones that I exploit. I can shout at my household help and my driver but still feel that I am a good human being because I always buy the shampoo brand that helps street children go to school. You are no comrade of ours.
B) Rebellion is not a lifestyle choice, it is not a brand that you wear or an attitude that you profess to claim that you are different. Rebellion stems from the real experiences of oppression and exploitation or it is nothing. Rebellion for the sake of it, or to make a statement about how different one is from the rest of the “herd” plays into the hands of the culture industry that is forever encouraging new rebel attitudes, lifestyles to make profits.
Let revolutionary urge emanate from the concrete objective conditions of your life, find people who feel the same, make a common cause with them and then wage a relentless struggle to eradicate the exploitation, and I will call you a comrade of mine.
Image Source: Wikipedia Public Domain