Friday, August 27, 2010

Bumper sticker politics

There are few better ways in which to explain the limitations we place upon our forms of expression than the humble bumper sticker. I saw one on the way in to work today, which screamed out in uniform block letters, support for a political party. The gleaming sedan, with fat tyres and music blaring screamed around the corner ahead of me, and as I followed in my small blue car (so small, you could just about put it in your pocket), it made me wonder about how we rebel.

I'm not sure why it bothered me so much. Perhaps it was the fact that the driver was happy to allow his defiance to be ordered and shaped, delivered in expected format, designed to be easily consumed. Our choices, or rebellions are often made in this way.

I could take my considerations further, wondering about what he thought his car, the loud music and the fat tyres told others, what those elements expressed about his state of rebellion. For me, they seemed to scream a rebelion within safe boundaries. A smaller, more uniform rebellion, without teeth or real conviction.

When we shelter what we consider to be unorthodox views in unwritten guidelines of expectation, we remain safe. And safe is good, meeting expectations is not so bad. It's good to be part of something, healthy to be part of community (usually). Stickerbook rebellion has little to do with real rebellion, and more to do with us stepping out and seeking out a smaller uniform minority to stand with.

So what does this have to do with creativity? Often our acts of rebellion are creative, they help to define us and shape who we become. We rebel in all manner of ways, against the expectations as we grow up of our guardians, against our peers and society as we seek to find our place in it. And sometimes our acts of rebellion forge new paths, cast new light for the rest of our community.

But when we become used to a softer guided rebellion, perhaps we lose a little of this new light, this spark of defiance. When we purchase the bumper sticker instead of standing up for real beliefs amongst friends, when we show our appreciation with a facebook thumbs up rather than giving up our time to passionately support a cause .. we lose a little of ourselves I feel.

It's not that rebellion has died with so much of our time now being spent online, it's the potential for it to be harnessed and shaped as we spend more and more of our time there that concerns me. The internet is still a lively place, full of life and innovation, but the social media conglomerates appear to be taking over. They aren't shifting slowly, this isn't a glacial change, it's rapid and in some ways, too quick to reflect upon properly.

When we live much of our lives online, our creativity and rebellion are shaped by the environment we explore and the tools we use, what we produce is inevitably influenced.