In order to get to that point I’ll have to present to you a stilted history of the music industry and popular culture that is encapsulated by a single song that I somehow remember my mum singing to me. Although I have no images or other associations attached to that memory, so it may have never happened and is actually screen memory created for some strange unconscious purpose. That song was this song, “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds:
Reynolds was part of the 1960s folk revival that, through the likes of Bob Dylan, ended up introducing adult material into pop/rock music which had previously been made up of songs aimed at young teenagers. Before all that, however, it was part of a larger movement associated with equal rights, pacifism, and left-oriented ideas that was ostensibly about revolting against America’s morally bankrupt contemporary ideals but, except for some notable exceptions, was more rightly about a sense of individualist authenticity being preferable to conformism. Notably, the song rose to popular fame after this happened:
Pete Seeger represents the ultimate in liberal-socialism: big hearted and concerned for his fellow man (and occasionally women, why not?) whose enemies are things like big business and pollution. Seeger smiles at you from your TV and has a little joke at the expense of those other people. It’s never you. I mean you don’t live in a ticky-tacky house do you? No, I didn’t think so. Thanks to Peter Seeger, we could all agree that we were individuals and, after all, isn’t that what really matters? Of course, once we’ve established that we’re all individuals then those bourgeois individuals who own the music industry can begin pumping out cheaper, more appealing renditions of that message on records that, thanks to the individuals whose labour they purchase for a few dollars an hours, can turn them a healthy profit:
So eventually the demand for this particular brand of sanctimony is met and the world moved on. The bourgeois individuals come to win their hard fight to “be themselves” and accumulate wealth, becoming the dominant social class whose notions of individualism now form neoliberalism. These individuals now be themselves by cutting back the government that wastes their hard-earned taxes on keeping the working class in those much-maligned ticky-tacky boxes who – thanks to the insight that Pete Seeger gave us – can only possibly be living those lives because they refuse to be individuals. They must be stupid or lazy or hate freedom or something.
Of course, some of these individuals now start to realise that the people in the ticky-tacky boxes are having a hard time of it, so they decide to make a sitcom that can help attract advertisers to recommend these people things to buy. Maybe that’ll help them to be less conformist, I don’t know… So they make the TV show Weeds about a mom who is forced into growing dope because only being a radical dope-peddling individual will save her from the poverty that conformism inevitably leads to. To drive home this point, a number of radical new bands - all carefully branded in order to represent a certain facet of the “selves” which their consumers are “being” – come along to cover a song from back in the day when people were probably more authentic or something for some reason nostalgia… the most hilarious of which is this ditty from the impeccably named “Rise Against”:
Perhaps inspired by this particular little “meme” (not to undermine their obvious creativity which is, after all, what individuals specialise in) a group called “Walk off the Earth” that specialise in being individuals online devise a video abounding in the symbolism of the individual. Cardboard – not like the nasty cardboard that they have in warehouses and things, the nice cardboard from playgroup – is rolled and cut and sticky-taped and glued into a twee approximation of what a ticky-tacky house might look like if people were only as imaginative and individual as this band. They wear coloured T-shirts that show they’re different… but all the same really! (which is deep) And they play instruments that are made out of boxes which manage, like themselves, to be superficially original whilst fulfilling all the qualities that constitute what everything has been all along. Plus, if you like this kind of thing you might enjoy 02 products, because it was their idea all along:
So, eventually we reach the point that those revolutionaries dreamed about so long, long ago… where we can all sit back in our NON ticky-tacky houses and watch our NON ticky-tacky televisions where we can see the best NON ticky-tacky corporation to purchase mobile phones from in order to call all our NON ticky-tacky friends and do stuff that free, creative individuals do in a world without conformity, because conformity was something that happened in the long, long ago… like poor people.
And finally, in this apotheosis of mediums – the Youtube Ad – we can finally hear the last verse of this song that has brought us all the way to this point:
Then we thought more,
And we did more,
And we took away the complexity,
And we all smile together
As things began to change.
Then the tide turned and the rules changed
And out came the possibilities,
And we all lived much better,
And we’d never be the same,
Money, Tickets, Shopping,
Things are Changing.
Dare to be an individual, just like everybody else, because money is basically butterflies.