Around this time last year I attended a lecture by Neville Brody, a design hero of mine, in a series hosted by Design London and called ‘sustainability’. Brody chose, before the summer riots I hasten to add, to talk about the sustainability of an anti status-quo public voice. He questioned why, in today’s increasingly troubled world, people, and particularly the younger generation aren’t more angry and more vocal – what happened to the youth activism of the 60s and 70s, to push for change, to galvanizing abound injustice… where is today’s protest movement, punk movement, peace movement, movement or cause of any kind?
What he had to say has been bubbling away in my mind every since, and I can’t help but feel he’s right. For a so-called ‘lost’ generation, whose employment prospects are bleak and financial and environmental future frightening, there is little shouting going on. So why not? Is it that the world in which they live today has not inspired them to care? Or instead that they are simply not being heard?
This started me thinking about, and comparing with today, the popular culture of the 60’s and 70’s, when political activism amongst young people was widespread and the call for change permeated the art, music, fashion and celebrity of the time. Think ‘ban the bomb’ symbols, flower power, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big yellow taxi’ song, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s stay in bed and grow your hair protest. There are today, and always have been, marginal groups protesting for social and environmental change, but the wider creative expression of a desire for change and discontentment with the current situation it seems, at first glance, are absent from the popular youth culture of today.
To test this theory, I set the task to my social media family of creating a more current play-list to rival the Joni Mitchells, Billy Braggs and Marvin Gays of the 60s and 70 and 80s. In a music industry that, today, appears to many to be dominated with negative messages of guns, girls and getting rich quick, would this be a tough challenge? The fruits of our search: a list of 24 songs from the last 20 years, five of which came from the last decade. A small crop compared to the plethora of antiestablishment songs created in the 60s. Here are the most current (some contain explicit lyrics!):
• A dream – Common featuring Will.I.Am (a call out to tackle injustice)
• The fear – Lily Allen (a satirical look at consumer culture)
• Where is the love – Black eyed peas (a mirror held up to a broken society)
• Waiting on the world to change – John Mayer (a challenge on inaction)
• Reduce, reuse, recycle – Jack Johnson (a simple message of recycling!)
Music, art, fashion have huge reach and influence in our society, and are at the core of youth identity. Why isn’t more music about positive change and an unacceptable status quo being created? Or, is it just that we don’t know where to look or how to listen?