Nathan Le Master
January 23, 2017
In ancient Athens, it was the during the tyrannical Rule of Thirty after the Peloponnesian War, from which came the cultural critic, Socrates. In China, it was against the backdrop of The Warring States Period, where civil collapse goaded thinkers into formulating different ways to structure our lives, of which Confucianism, Legalism, and Taoism, were three amongst many. And more recently, it was the Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War that triggered a flowering of creative energy that helped energize the civil rights movement. Creativity and chaos go hand in hand.
On January 20th, the man who Milo Yiannopoulos labeled the vehicle of chaos, Donald John Trump, became the 45th president of the United States. While Trump, as well as the news cycle will no doubt inculcate political fatigue for many, the impressive global turnout of the Woman’s March on January 21st proves that he also has the ability to push ordinary people out of the critic’s armchair, and into the world of political resistance and civil disobedience. Everything is now charged with new meaning. And what this promises is that art will no longer just about aesthetics, not that it ever purely was. Art in 2017 and beyond will be politicized.
One of the first instances of this comes from Gorillaz’s first release in years, the single Hallelujah Money, released the day before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Sung by Benjamin Clementine, the mood is dark and apocalyptic. Adopting the role of some Satanic pastor, and accompanied by an orchestral echo, Benjamin unblinkingly preaches an inverted gospel, one extolling money and the virtue of power. The background shows unsettling scenes borrowed from macabre cinema, dancing geishas, animated rainbows, illuminati symbols, patriotic colors, and an appropriated Clint Eastwood.
Accompanied by a minimalist beat, the lyrics open with a symbol of a tree of which “scarecrows from the far east” come to consume. This comes from the belief that China reaps the harvest of American prosperity. Trump’s Wall also features in the lyrics, as “a way to protect our tree.” The President’s America First policy has emphatically promised to close trade doors with other countries to insure money and jobs don’t get exported abroad. But the popularity behind this policy isn’t motivated simply by business pragmatism. It’s also fear.
The first sprout of power originates in fear, power as a way to alleviate fear. Similar to Brexit, Trump’s Make America Great Again comes from the fear of otherness, a fear that our shortcomings or faults are a result of the outsider’s corruption or polluting influence. And why is there such a strong appeal for this argument? Because it’s natural. Hence why Benjamin sings that love is the root of all evil. Empathy is difficult, because it involves overcoming our lizard brain instincts, crossing cultural divides in an attempt to understanding others, while fear is native and primal. As Benjamin states, fear is “legal tender.”
The song’s refrain sings hallelujahs to money, followed by Damon Albarn’s dreamy voice asking “How will we know, when the morning comes, we are still human? How will we dream? How will we love? How will we know?” With the marriage of Donald’s ruthless, capitalist business ethos to the most powerful executive position on the planet, supported by a $4.5 billion dollar cabinet, Albarn seems to be asking if America will even resemble itself after a Trump presidency. This is the apocalyptical vision that Benjamin portends, where the gospel of America’s open, compassionate arms is supplanted by one monomaniacally obsessed with power. Will post-Trump America even be recognizable in 2020?
Mark Twain said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. And given the rhyming pattern throughout history of a creative renaissance during times of political collapse, I guarantee we’re about to experience a revival in the arts as it evolves into a tool of resistance. Gorillaz announced the release of their new album for later this year, and there’s no doubt it’ll contain more political tracks. In Trump’s America, let’s see what else art will produce.