In Trump’s alternative-facts-post-truth era, it seems, even the millions-strong protest marches that took place across the US and around the world this week are unlikely to make any difference. So now what? Violent resistance? More Xanax? Hole up in your living room for the next four years?
Alternative facts call for alternative protests, which can take many forms: Some opt for music, others for comedy. But to overcome the media noise and stand out, it has to be both. Music and comedy combined are the best antidote to narcissistic autocracy. And if not, it's a sure way to make an impact.
John Oliver did it with his song about the US prison system, as did Jon Stewart with his masterpiece Go F**k Yourself and Amy Schumer with her Don’t wear Make Up song. But You don’t have to be a prime-time TV star. Sometimes it’s enough to be an individual with the right tune.
The one for the history books is definitely Dave Carroll, who in 2009 inflicted a millions-worth loss on United Airlines.
Carroll, a professional musician, wrote a song about the agony of dealing with the company’s bureaucracy, after it refused to compensate him for breaking his guitar during one of their flights. His gem United Breaks Guitars received more than 16 million views on YouTube and sent the airline’s stock value on a downward spiral. After having exhausted all the alternatives, United did the right thing and invested millions in overhauling their customer service.
And you don’t even have to write your own song. Sometimes, it’s enough to take a well-known tune and turn it on its head, like this typically British initiative, in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s death in 2013, to get the classic tune ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” to the top of the charts. If successful, it would have made the BBC, the public TV channel, play it in full length on prime time.
Even though the initiative ultimately failed, the joke got lots of press coverage that dampened the earnest memorial services and embarrassed then Prime Minister David Cameron, Thatcher’s biggest fan and devout disciple.
The most juicy example, perhaps, is courtesy of the brilliant Aussie comedian Tim Minchin, who is likely to prevail over known singers at the Australian Performing Right Association awards, with his entry being an exceptionally vicious musical gag called Come Home Cardinal Pell. Calling on the Vatican to extradite a prominent Australian priest accused of serial paedophelia, the song was so controversial that every radio station down under that dared play it was immediately slapped with a letter from the Holy See’s lawyers, threatening a libel suit.
Conscious of the controversy his song was likely to unleash, Minchin ended it on a whimsical note:
“Oh well / Cardinal Pell
If you don't feel compelled
To come home by a sense
Of moral duty
Perhaps you will come home and frickin' sue me”
With one song, Minchin promoted a progressive cause in a way a million campaigns wouldn’t. Following its great success, more cases of sexual abuse have come to light and, most important, the church has gone on the defensive.
So here’s your activism 2.0, fully adapted to 2017. Be like Carroll or Minchin - and sing the change that you wish to see in the world.