February 6, 2008

Unsung Sentiments: The Politics of Ani

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Despite the constant coverage of the minute differences between the two sides (Democran/Republicrat) of the same electoral coin, Ani DiFranco was notably silent about these matters at her concert this past Saturday at the State Theatre. When one enthusiastic supporter shouted the obligatory “Ani for President!” the singer-songwriter simply looked down at her feet. She also came out on stage without introduction, differing greatly from her previous election-time tour where often she was introduced by Dennis Kucinich (the guy demonized as being “too left” by many — see his internet page under “issues” where “End to Proverty” is listed next to “Saving Capitalism”).
Commendably, DiFranco did engage politics outside of electoral concerns, perhaps signifying her own disillusion and alienation with the kind of democracy that only comes around once every four years and doesn’t seem to change much. The main issue she took up was patriarchy and its detrimental effects on culture and everyday life. She invited the audience to imagine a world free of this kind of social organization and then went on to re-write the creation myth of Christianity via the lyrical content of an unreleased song. Instead of Eve originating from the rib of Adam, “Atom” was the start of it all — male, female and otherwise.
Regrettably, she bordered on the Luddite when she dismissed both nuclear weapons and electrical power as blasphemous, opining that both forms of energy altered “Atom.” DiFranco missed an important opportunity to note the paradoxical nature of all technological development — that technology has the potential to strengthen servitude or to eliminate it, depending entirely on who influences its development (that is, the haves or the have-nots). In addressing one important question about origin, she failed to address another: What is the origin of patriarchy? Where does it come from? It seems that DiFranco falls into the postmodern trap of recognizing particular struggles without acknowledging the structural principle behind all particular struggles — that is, class antagonism.
With more rigorous logic than DiFranco can muster, Slavoj Zizek argues that in the series “class-gender-race,” class is both a particular struggle in the series and the structuring principle of the entire series. While an identification of the various problems is an important first step, there can only be real change by identifying the Problem.
Shifting from considerations of the mixed content of DiFranco’s political message to considerations of form, it should be noted that DiFranco was clearly uncomfortable that night with the aura that surrounds her as Artist. She tried to subvert this status by attempting dialogue with the audience, noting the gifted talents of her band mates, ending the official concert with a request and enticing the audience to sing along during the last song of her encore.
Interestingly, the most effective de-centering of the Artist was independent of any specific action by DiFranco — it happened spontaneously among the crowd. I’m specifically referring to the audience members who took it upon themselves to go into the aisles and become dancers, asserting that they would participate as well in this cultural phenomenon called the concert.
Perhaps this move from passive spectator to active participator, best exemplified currently by the rave, can serve as a model for true democracy. Thus, the first step in effective change and real representation is the moment when the passive audience collectively rises to their feet and throws their hands in the air … along with their voting cards.