Pop Culture in Contemporary Non-Violence Movements

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Media has become strong platform for society to express their ideas. Some are manifested into films, fashion, music, literature, social medias, as well as general visual and audio aesthetics or artworks, leading to the emergence of pop culture among media consumers. Having the power to influence through ideas, this essay would like to discuss the roles and impacts of pop culture in the practice of contemporary non-violent movements.

The philosophy of non-violence was promoted by MK Gandhi, exposing the idea of resonating resistance without the presence of harm and injury. The three core principles Gandhi promoted were ahimsa, satyagraha, and tapasya. Ahimsa directly means “non-injury”, while satyagraha implies the non-violent movement itself as well as “strive for absolute truth”, and tapasya signifies the act of self-suffering which is often practiced in non-violent movements (Mayton, 2009).

Derived from Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, the idea emerged in the study of political science as Gene Sharp popularized the 189 Methods of Non-Violence through his writing of “The Politics of Non-Violent Action” in 1973. Sharp agreed on the principle of ahimsa or non-injury, however he emphasized that it does not mean non-violent actions are “inactive” or a form of “inaction”—it is an action that involves no harm to the counterpart (p. 64). Most of the methods involve the act of non-cooperation, interventions, and statements in variety of forms—however, the essay will focus on the actions under the methods of Communication with Wider Audience with further explanation below.

Popular culture—shortened as pop culture—has been recognized as an essential part of modern society (Kos-Lajtman & Slunjski, 2017). It is shaped by the society and consumed by the society themselves, forming trends and relevancy of concepts through opinions and new ideas. It also has been understood as an “advancement of ideas” manifested into different beings through media—which causes its heavy dependency to media platforms and providers (Twombly, 2018). The impact of pop culture varies, one of the major ones is that it becomes a cohesive substance for communities and becoming the basis of building relationships (Adorno, 1991). Pop culture also allows access to rally mass opinions by representing unexposed ideas and challenging contemporary issues (McAdams, 2014). Representation becomes one of the major roles of pop culture as it reflects the current trend of fashion, music, film, and general audio-visual aesthetics for society through media.

Activism can be traced within numerous contemporary artworks today. One of the most significant examples is the issue of racial inequality in the United States, represented through movies and music produced by African-American artists following the Black Lives Matter movement. Black Panther (2018) movie by Marvel Studios majorly casted black people which is groundbreaking in a white-dominated film industry especially in the U.S. Critics found the film represents the meaning of being black in both the U.S and Africa, depicting the reality of racial-based inequality in contemporary social settings (Abad-Santos, 2018) (Smith, 2019).

The film celebrates black culture through the wardrobe worn by the casts, afro-centric hairstyles, and a soundtrack consisted of African-American musicians—which were rarely exposed in Hollywood (Johnson, 2018) (Rosen, 2018). In the same year, Spike Lee directed BlackKklansman (2018), a film projecting the condition of the U.S during the rise of a Ku Klux Klan through the perspective of a black police officer. The film reflects on the current political turmoil in the U.S, which is distressing yet “brilliant”, leading to Lee’s Academy Award for Best Director that year (Brody et al., 2018).

Both films are followed with the trending hashtags of #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe and the re-emergence of #OscarsSoWhite, unfolding the sociopolitical circumstances the marginalized groups are dealing with on a daily basis and in American film industry through Twitter (Reign, 2018) (Schulman, 2018). Other than racial discrimination, environmentalism and feminism are also prominent topics of within pop culture. Spotify—the largest digital music platform today—released a playlist titled “Hazed and Confused” in response to the forest burning crisis in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore (Navlakha, 2019). While Libra—Australia’s top menstrual product brand—promoted the normalization of period blood in their latest TV commercial by showing the ways women experience menstruation and expose period blood which provoked 600+ complaints, yet dismissed by the Ad Standards (Lloyd, 2019).

In the practice of political activism, pop culture has played a role as a platform to expose ideas and criticize the preexisting ones. Its existence in mass media—be it publication agencies, radio stations, film studios, social media and music platforms—makes it consumable by a large amount of people, conforming to Sharp’s method of Communicating with Wider Audience. The absence of physical coercion in pop culture makes it a strategic platform to conduct non-violent movements by promoting and challenging sociopolitical grievances in accordance with Gandhi’s principle of ahimsa. Raising awareness is the core significance of political activism through pop culture, as it has the capability to shape or shift one’s understanding—for instance, exposing period blood which was previously considered taboo by societal norms to normalize such exposure through TV advertisement as what Libra had done.

Although the use of pop culture may not result direct political impact and changes, it serves a platform to resist without violence through shifts of ideas. Especially with the intensity of digital media usage, shedding a light on underexposed issues have been easier using the significant role of pop culture among modern society, allowing wider audiences to be influenced. Today, Sharp’s and Gandhi’s concepts of non-violence are still practiced in contemporary non-violence movements—uniquely, through the entertainment industry and popular culture.

Cite this paper

Pop Culture in Contemporary Non-Violence Movements. (2021, Jan 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/pop-culture-in-contemporary-non-violence-movements/

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