Nothing Wrong with Having Fun

Joanna Biggs

It seems as if the student occupations and protests of last year have already passed into legend. There have been documentaries, books, e-pamphlets, anthologies, songs and now TV dramatisations. In last night’s episode of Fresh Meat, Channel 4’s new (and increasingly funny) comedy about being a first year at university, the Manchester housemates took a coach to a London march. The screen split in two, and as the fictional students on the top of the screen pulled moonies and discussed which target they would throw their pigs' blood at, the real students marched on Parliament Square below.

When the fictional students finally got to London, the sweet, floppy-haired boy stuck in a kettle with the vixenish drama student asked the Met officers if he could be transferred to an adjoining one, where he could be with his sweet, shiny-haired housemate; the posh boy who’d only caught the coach to watch the rugby in Fulham stripped off and threw bottles at the police after they shoved a girl in a wheelchair; the floppy-haired boy used the megaphone to announce he was no longer a virgin, to everyone’s cheers.

It made protesting look like fun, which it often is. It also looks that way to the Daily Mail, which has had quite a bit of fun pointing out the expensive brands of jeans, the visits from celebrities like Kanye West and Susan Sarandon, the holding of hands, the naked body-painting of young people at the Occupy Wall Street protest – as if their having too good a time could somehow nullify the protesters' political point. But because it's fun, it’ll keep going: the Occupy London movement, with their human mic and Guy Fawkes masks, will find somewhere else if the Dean of St Paul’s no longer wants them; the placards on 9 November will be even wittier than last year’s.


  • 28 October 2011 at 3:12pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    The problem isn't protestors having fun, but the images of that fun that leap immediately into the public domain through newspaper photos, TV, and internet postings. You're not going to convince a young person that there's anything wrong with this (and, in fact, there isn't), but you're also not going to convince them that the collective joyful solipsism of youth itself is politically counterproductive – it turns off their elders who tend to be in agreement with the purpose and objectives of the Occupy Wall Street movement but who find aspects of the occupations ridiculous. The average laid-off man or woman in his or her 40s or 50s will not be smitten by the sentimentality of hand-holding, chanting simplistic slogans, sing-songing, or the cuteness of body-painting (nor, with flabby guts and wobbly haunches would they be caught dead in these amusing, but basically clueless acts of exhibitionism). They have real problems that won't be solved by symbolic acts – the symbolism has to be somehow turned into serious politics that brings pressure to bear on our slack, self-indulgent legislators. (Celebrity endorsements go to the same negative point – why would you grant any credence to folks who are top-earners and constant implicit or explicit shills for the entertainment industry, a business run by conglomerates, news-tainters, and tax-dodgers? Why do you need every aspect of life accompanied by generational theme music?)

    The squat-ins produce makeshift communities whose communal spirit does not survive their dissolution for long (and if and when it does, the participants often become the drones of charismatic leaders who have their own peculiar notions of how to reorganize the world). I can't think of a "joyful revolution" (or a major protest movement that went through a "fun in the streets" phase) that actually achieved any serious political aims. Can you? The protests against the absurd war the U.S. waged in Vietnam were only effective in the long run due to the continued presence of stodgy middle-agers who were worried that their sons would be conscripted a few weeks after they graduated from college – it was this component that was likely to vote that scared politicians into winding down the war (and they took their time about it too, fearing the prospective vengeance of the Right and the always-popular chauvinists). The serious structural problems with our corporate and finance-industry top-heavy economies (and with their dire social consequences) have to be examined in the light of just how electoral politics can be brought to bear in order to effect the necessary reforms. It's a long, slow slog, and while colorful protests may help motivate some people, they are a minor distraction.