first_imgCara Bleiman examines the relationship between music and politics.To ask whether music has the potential to be political is completely old hat, well old hat pins actually. The story of Stravinsky’s 1913 “Rite of Spring” premiere and the ensuing street-riot (where the pins made a violent cameo) is well-known, as are Shostakovich’s muffled and now considered rather ambiguous musical protests against the Soviet regime. However, it was with pacifist works such as Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” of 1961 that classical music’s monopoly on the ‘political’ ended. From the Vietnam War to the fall of the Berlin wall, the new voices of revolt were all singing Rock. Last year, Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘N’ Roll captured this era, focusing on the lead up to the overthrow of the socialist government in the then Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Mirroring the experiences of communist party member and Cambridge academic, Max, with his Czech ex-student Jan, Stoppard gave the foreground to a soundtrack of  Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and Czech band “The Plastic People of the Universe” – who were ultimately the political heroes of the play. And the real-life story of the Plastics really lives up to their heroic portrayal; touring secretly under the auspices of lecturing on art they would sneak in tracks as supposed aural illustrations. Their songs weren’t overtly anti-communist but in their refusal to compromise on anything – from hair length to English lyrics – they made disengagement into dissidence with their front-man, Ivan Jirous, being sent to jail four consecutive times during those years.Fast forward to today and it’s the turn of pop musicians to hurl a few insults establishment’s way with the Iraq war and Poverty at the top of the agenda. With the rise of the commercialised music industry and the cult of celebrity the potential power of pop musicians appears limitless. The attempts of various music celebs, who get those itsy bitsy twangs of social conscience to change the world, have arguably left the world unimpressed. Such attempts at politically inspiring pop raise one question in particular – can you be successfully political if your means of expression are not earnest?The success of Red Nose Day proved that serious charitable aims could be furthered by comedy and set the mark for the do-gooding responsibilities of the new celeb class, but what seems to confuse our new generation of budding pop philanthropists is that charity is not the same as politics. Charity, is almost more of a religious ideal – a Christian virtue, in fact. Advocating love, kindness, food and water for all is certainly worthy but it isn’t all that contentious. It isn’t that surprising though that these advocates should produce average, accessible and uncontroversial sentiments when it is these exact characteristics in their music which have secured their existence as pop stars.Charity fundraising isn’t really the problem here though – because they are damn good at fundraising. It’s when pop stars make that leap to try and overtly inspire political action that things start to go wrong. Shakira’s song ‘East Timor’ is a fantastic example of political pop failure at it’s very worst. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an alright track if you ignore it’s political intentions – and by no means does music have to be serious and weighty to be valued – but to string together cliched critiques of the judiciary system, mass media, democracy and the west’s failure to provide adequate humanitarian support to East Timor with a neo-disco chorus of “East Timor/ Timor, Timor/ Ooh/ Ah, ah, ah, ah/ Ah, ah, ah, ah”, is utterly crass.MIA on the other hand, has enough of a revolutionary whiff about her to get taken seriously by both broadsheets and discerning ‘pop’ critics alike. With her father an activist in Sri-lankan guerilla group, the Tamil Tigers, and an eventful upbringing as a refugee in London, her credentials for producing ‘authentic’ political/musical statements are promising. Her most recent album Kala (released this August), is a multicontinental mashup resulting from an impromptu world tour due to VISA trouble and a blockade on her Brooklyn apartment (or so the story goes) and succeeds on two counts of Authenticity and Originality which would usually qualify her for Rock Heroism. But her collaborations with Timbaland and being just on the cusp of Nelly Furtado–like status mean we can’t really disqualify her from Popdom. MIA may be one of the first, then, of a promising new breed but although her work has a genuine political content it doesn’t mean that her listeners are actually inspired to act on it. This may have something to do with the more subliminal politics of sampling. Since Paul Simon made Graceland with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir he has been accused of taking credit and exploiting the music of a culture which wasn’t his own. Similarly, tracks like the Chemical Brothers ‘Galvanise’ use sampling almost in the same way as colonial folk-song collectors – absorbing up ‘exotic’ samples and translating them for western audiences. Part of MIA’s appeal to the broadsheet reader is this exotic otherness (dubbed ‘worldbeat’), but once placed in this box, her political views are to be admired from afar rather than engaged with and it’s with her own ironic manipulation of these expectations that she makes her best political statement.Music is at it’s most powerful when we let our guard down to it’s visceral sensations, which is when it’s politically dangerous as a vehicle to propaganda – but however overtly political a pop song may aim to be, this will always jar with our aural association, with it’s function as dance music, background music or entertainment and bar us from considering it as anything else.The political power and scope of music will be discussed at the Battle of Ideas, a two-day festival organised by the Institute of Ideas on the 27-28th October at the Royal College of Art Cartoon by Sofia Kaba-Ferreirolast_img read more

first_imgFor this year’s prize several names are buzzing in academic circles and the media.American Claudia Goldin, whose research has focused on inequality and the female labour force, is one of the favourites to become the third woman to receive the prize.Another likely contender is her compatriot Anne Krueger, formerly the number two, and briefly the managing director, at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who has studied rent-seeking and is a free trade activist.If a woman were to win on Monday, 2020 would equal the 2009 record of five female Nobel winners in one year. Work on inequality, economic psychology, auctions, health economics and labour markets are some of the favourites as Monday’s economics prize closes an unusual Nobel season nearing the record of women laureates in one year.This year’s final prize, officially the Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, will be announced at 11:45 am (0945 GMT) on Monday.Last year the honour went to French-American Esther Duflo, Indian-born Abhijit Banerjee of the US, and American Michael Kremer for their experimental work on alleviating poverty. While the number of female winners has risen sharply since the turn of the century, they still represent only about one out of every 20 Nobel medals since 1901.Health economics Economics remains a Nobel discipline with a clear profile for winners, an American man over the age of 55, with three quarters of the laureates over the last 20 years matching this description.The average age for recipients is over 65, the highest among the six Nobel awards.American Paul Milgrom, 72, together with compatriot Robert Wilson, 83, are once again predicted as favourites for their work on commercial auctions.Israeli-American Joshua Angrist, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, has also been proposed for research into the impact of factors such as class size and study length on academic success and the labour market.Other pioneers of “natural experiments”, such as the Canadian David Card, could be given the nod together with him.Israeli economist Elhanan Helpman and American Gene Grossman, specialists in international trade, are also often mentioned as favourites.Given that this year’s prizes are handed out in the midst of a pandemic, there is a good chance the Royal Swedish Academy of Science could choose to honour an economist focusing on health.”This year with the intertwining pandemic and economic crisis, it seems more relevant than ever,” Micael Dahlen, a professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, told AFP.For Dahlen, that would make Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, a strong candidate for “his work on how we (do and in various ways could) value human lives and risk.”Other contenders among pioneers who have brought psychology into economic research include Americans Matthew Rabin and Colin Camerer and Swiss-Austrian Ernst Fehr.French economists Thomas Piketty, who rose to prominence with his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” and Olivier Blanchard, former chief economist at the IMF, have also been speculated on.Controversial discipline Even if it might be the most prestigious prize an economist can hope to receive, the economics prize has not reached the same status as those originally chosen by Alfred Nobel in his will founding the prizes, which included medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace.It was instead created through a donation from the Swedish central bank and detractors have thus dubbed it “a false Nobel.”The prize will close the 2020 Nobel season which so far has seen the peace prize awarded to the UN’s World Food Programme.Women have been more prevalent than usual this year, with American poet Louise Gluck winning the literature prize.And Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna became the first all-female duo to win a scientific Nobel on Wednesday, clinching the chemistry award for their discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA snipping “scissors.”The prize comes with 10 million Swedish kronor (about $1.1 million, 950,000 euros) and a medal.Winners would normally receive their Nobel from King Carl XVI Gustaf at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, but the pandemic means it has been replaced by a televised ceremony showing the laureates receiving their awards in their home countries.Topics :last_img read more