Thursday 25 March 2010

RATM, or how a band accidentally changed a landscape

This is going to be a complicated post for me because I must not be emotive. That's hard because I passionately believe in democracy for all, in engagement, and in influence and shaping the future to be what we want it to be instead of sitting on our asses and letting someone else do all the debating.

Firstly, I need to own up to something. Shyness is not the only reason this blog never existed before. Confidence factored in, but also apathy. What was the point, I thought, in being one voice among many, invisible, tipping empty irrelevant thoughts into the black hole of cyber space. What difference can I make, what contribution do I have? I didn't think I had an opinion at all, never mind that expressing it might be a positive thing.

Then something odd happened. I loved Rage Against the Machine when I was younger. I was a shy little geek and Killing in the name of allowed me to scream rebellion in an acceptable form. It was cathartic, a way of getting rid of all the worries and stress of my teens. I didn't know they were a 'political band', I just knew the words resonated on a very deep level. And what do you know, but a large number of years later, it seems those words resonated with a whole new generation. Against all the odds, despite all the naysayers, Killing in the name of was the British Xmas number 1. Perhaps less of a deal than it used to be in this digital age, but still, actually, a really rather big deal. And not because it had the F word in it.

You see, in 10 years time, and with no disrespect to a band I now understand better and admire, no one will care who the band was and what the song was about, because it will be largely lost in the much bigger picture. One framed in the word Facebook, but containing a picture of the faces of over 1/2 million people who wanted to see if they could.

The picture is this, as I see it. At the end of last year some people in their teens and early 20's decided to see if they could do something, just for a laugh. I don't think they expected to succeed, that's certainly the feeling I got at the start of the group. They genuinely had a manifesto - to make a point to the country that they were sick of X Factor produced yawn inducing pop - but they also had timing on their side. Facebook is familiar now, a thing which even the people who have never used it are aware of, in much the same way that a few years ago people understood Googling something was to do with computers, even if they didn't own one. At the end of last year, a recession year, a year of doom, gloom, awful weather and an absence of political inspiration, bad music seems to have been the rallying call. Maybe it's what a zeitgeist is, something which cannot be quantified, just something which occurs as a result of someone catching a mood, a feeling, a discontent.

Whatever, as a result we ended up with the Xmas no 1 that 1/2 million people had actively chosen, downloaded, listened to and believed in. But that 1/2 million were not mums, dads, aunts and uncles buying presents for stocking fillers. They were a certain age, a generation. In an age of political apathy, where a certain age bracket engage not at all with the political and democratic process, suddenly there was hard cold proof of something tangible. If you stand up and state your case, your claim or your opinion, be it downloading something to ensure something else does not attain no 1 status, or be it putting a tick in a box, you can change history. Yes, it's music, yes it's a no 1, yes it's no big deal. And yet. Imagine being a teenager and being utterly disenchanted with anyone caring about your voice or opinion, and suddenly realising that you can change something real. No one can argue with the change this 1/2 million made. No can take it away from them or belittle it and no one should. The value of a lesson learnt in this day and age is plastered through old and new media alike and that lesson is indelible. If you decide that you want to make a change somewhere, no matter how big or small, if you can speak to the masses and motivate them, then you can win.

@marcshmid asked this morning what people thought of the Facebook General Election page, and I must confess that question is the reason for this post. My response was that I thought that RATM may have taught people that there is a point, that apathy may have been eliminated.

I stand by that comment, because I do believe this. I believe that this year, people who have never ever bothered putting a tick in a box (and I am one of them, oh yes I am) will get up a little earlier, and slightly self consciously fumble around trying to locate their nearest polling station. There will be people who wont know where to put the tick, whether we should take our own pencils, whether we will be looked at strangely. There will be those of us who wont do our research too much but will vote on gut instinct, those of us who will do our research and press extra hard on that pencil when we make our mark.

But our marks will be left, and I believe there will be more of them, because I believe 1/2 million people learnt a lesson for life in December 2009. I was one of them. I learnt that there is no excuse for sitting on my ass shouting at the television. I learnt that it's possible to change something that looked inevitable and divert the future onto a different course. Such a small thing, downloading a music track, and yet, from such small acorns......

On June 12th 2010 I will scream the lyrics of Killing in the name of into a storm of lights and sound with 110,000 other people. I will scream them oh so very loudly. It will be a thank you for a catalystic wake up call to an apathetic unengaged ignorant woman who should have known better. I wont be the only one, and ultimately, that's the lesson of the Xmas no 1. You're not the only one.

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