“Why don't we have a little game? Let's pretend that we're human beings, and that we're actually alive.” These words were written by John Osborne in 'Look Back in Anger'.
It's been 60 years since those words were first written, and Osborne would be turning in his grave. In fact, not only Osborne - all of the beauty, all of the art, all of the literature that we love was written by individuals who were essentially on a voyage of discovery, one of passion, love, and pure, raw emotion (the likes of whom would be shocked by attitudes taken today). Osborne's Jimmy Porter is a prime example of this - his passion may manifest itself in a foul and debatably misogynistic way which shocks audience members to this day, but it's equally immensely moving - desperation and working-class hopelessness works itself into every one of his almost bestial, brutish tirades. Reading the best books, viewing the best paintings, listening to the best music - it all reverberates through your soul in the same way, sends shivers down your spine with the hard, consuming, almost fanatical belief in the monumental power of humankind. Picasso said Chagall had an 'angel in his head', but this is the same for everyone we can appreciate as a genius or creator of beauty - they inspire within us this deep, visceral need to love. Every word ricochets through the essence of us, rips away the hardened flesh we like to imagine ourselves encased with, gently touches the innermost layer of our being--
And then we put down the book. We turn off the music. We blink. And we go back to work, and when we get home we cook dinner for ourselves. And we're empty, so empty. It's unbearable.
All of our problems in the modern landscape are derived from this concept: we cannot feel. Somewhere along the way, we lost our ability to act upon savage, primitive, pure, innocent, clear emotion; senseless conviction; our primeval desire. And, to ironically revert to an awfully factual way of speaking, clearly this is beneficial in some ways - we have built a civilisation of which the foundation is effectively our ability to put up with one another. Yet we have lost so much along the way.
They say that literature is representative of its time, but it's also a common phrase that writers are 'before their time'. The art produced over the past century has been very much a product of its time rather than either of the aforementioned, viewing the insurgence of emotive working-class writing protesting against the apathy of society and the a monotonous lifestyle that millions are forced to lead in order to stay off the streets - yet still nobody seems to realise that this is the biggest crime of all, arguably worse than murder - in the hundreds of millions, real, beautiful human beings are denied a life out of the workplace, the passion and individuality forced out of them. We've seen Beat Generation writers like Ginsberg and Bukowski, their English counterparts, the Angry Young Men such as Amis, Obsorne, Braine etc, as well as what I'll file as the inspiring but in this scenario miscellaneous: Kafka, Nietzsche, Steinbeck, Blake-- there are too many to mention, and while many of them were born into comfortable middle class families, they share a feeling of being at odds with society, and a recognition of the mediocrity of everyday life.
Yet despite causing thought about the issues themselves, what did they actually change? You see, this is precisely the problem: without our passion, how can we protest? There are countless things to protest against, each inextricably linked with the problem itself - whether or not you believe in a capitalist free-market economy or socialist utopia, you must agree that capitalism is flawed - the top 1% of society hold such immeasurable sums of money, supposed to have a 'trickle down' effect to the less privileged in society. Yet this does not happen. Because it is held within the tarnished hands of the overpaid, the corrupt, the greedy, the privileged few who have not the compassion or human feeling to help others. Likewise, corruption is rife in the highest levels of our politics - corporations, especially the media and tabloid media, have so much influence and money that they are able to warp politicians for their own gain - notably, Ian Hislop has called for an investigation into the relationship of Michael Gove with Rupert Murdoch, yet conclusions indicating corruption would surprise nobody - so where is the protest? It seems to have been replaced by muted outrage and eventual acceptance.
But don't we protest, you may be asking? Occasionally there are sparsely distributed news articles informing us of thousands (undoubtedly very impressive numbers) of teachers, or doctors on the street. And to an extent this achieves some success - the strike of the junior doctors attracted a media frenzy of attention, much of it good (although more so in its early days). But how often do we see protest, passionate, glorious protest, changing something significant in politics? Changing the country? Changing the world? And of course it's no fault of the protestors, but the fact that we seem to have had our strength drained out of us by the monotony of everyday life - bribed by the glitz and glamour of consumerism, too exhausted to be able to work ourselves into true, beautiful fury, we stay silent. And for as long as the masses do this, we will get nowhere.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, this is the time to revolt. To take a stand. To feel undiluted, harsh human rage at oppression in any form. Because becoming in touch with the wrath inside you again is the only way for us to prompt real reform.
Let us finish with a beautifully emotionally loaded quote from Ernesto 'Che' Guevara:
“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice then you are a comrade of mine.”