In a fitting end to Simon Cowell’s four year dominance of the Xmas number ones, this year’s festive pop pick is an expletive-filled polemic against the American military-industrial complex “Killing in the Name”. A man who has always stood with admirable consistency on the law of pop – that sales mean what the public want, and the public knows better than the critics – was last night skewered on his own petard, significantly outsold by a campaign which in a few weeks gathered almost a million followers.
And what do we learn from this?
One: Social media can do extraordinary things. To get a number one hit after appearing on national television every Saturday for three months is really not hard. Yet that old media juggernaut careering down on us was stopped a Facebook campaign started by a couple from Essex and a single live performance on Radio 5.
Two: Ultimately we British are best motivated against things, rather than forthings. The best way to increase democratic participation in the UK would be to ask people to vote against candidates, rather than for them. Can you imagine it? There would be queues around the block, come polling day. (Of course there’s the small problem that the political landscape would be poisoned forever, but you would have participation.)
This, of course, provides tricky lesson for those of us interested in the enviroment – and those of us here at the RSA who prefer an optimistic, positive approach.
But it does go some way explain why it is so hard to motivate people to action when it comes to issues like climate. Which particular machine are we supposed to be raging against? Try as we might to divide society into the environmentally good and bad, there is no covenient Cowell figure to blame everything on. As Paul Kingsnorth suggests in a comment on a blog post earlier, there is no clear enemy other than ourselves. Though we can rage against our leaders for failing at Copenhagen – and the scale of the failure was immense – few leaders wanted to stick their neck out without a clear mandate from their people – and let’s face it – that clear mandate just isn’t there yet.
Point one though provides at least one clue to how to change that. Social media is not the answer to everything. Maybe the gains it can make in terms of the environmental agenda are only small ones, but if social media campaigns are witty, smart and well-directed they can still do remarkable things.
Thanks to Anne Helmond for the RATM photo.