Pigtails & Pearls

source: PA

Glastonbury is one of the world’s most exciting and prestigious festivals ever since it started in 1970. Everyone of any importance in pop and rock music left its mark there and a place in the line-up is a milestone in itself for any musician’s career. This year, those who are lucky to get their hands on a ticket, will be enjoying acts like Paul McCartney, Noel Gallagher, Diana Ross, the Pet Shop Boys etc. Billie Eilish is the youngest headliner in the history of the festival, showing its openness to young musicians and a good sense for high-profile acts. In my part of Europe, large festivals like this started appearing after the conflict in former Yugoslavia ended in 1990s, so the region has been catching up since, especially with successful international projects like InMusic in Zagreb, Ultra in Split and Exit in Novi Sad, which started in 2000. Many superstar acts discovered the region as a new stage. However, ever since the beginning, all of these were concentrated primarily-and usually only-to music. It means that Adriatic coast cities like Split were littered with foreign hipsters living it up and later drowning in cheap booze all over the Old Town and the seafront. Every host city made huge profits, and websites like Booking increased their local offers up to 100% more than usual. There was rarely any political dimension to it, and it all came down to booze, drugs and promiscuity. The time of political statements was left behind, in 1990s with songs like “Stop the War in Croatia”, a rip-off of “We Are the World”. Nowadays that heritage is regarded with a nostalgic ridicule, compared to the music that developed ever since in a very different direction. Some of it retained the preference for a social statement, but much more subtly, encased in a musical pill that was easier to swallow. Judging by the current events, especially by Glastonbury 2022, pills like these are much harder to get, since politics is pushed so far up your nose that it feels like a sinus infection, and your brain turns numb, until Paul McCartney finally grabs his guitar, or Harry Styles his pearls. This means that we might as well treat Greta Thunberg’s yet another eco-friendly speech as the youngest headlining act in the history of the project, since she’s actually younger than Billie Eilish. Of course, she showed up in person, instead of on a screen to deliver her usual premonitions. It’s puzzling why she’s hypocritically wasting so many natural resources to do it live instead of climate-friendly zooming in, but that’s fine, I guess.

And then of course, as the cherry on top of the political cake, we get Volodymyr Zelensky zooming in to deliver an another plea for solidarity and support in defending his country against the Russian invasion. But hey, that works-Zelensky is a cool guy, handsome, with a proudly squeezed fist in front of the camera telling you “I’ve got this!”. Vladimir Putin’s nuclear arsenal can’t possibly match the strength of Zelensky’s charisma and underdog appeal. The man even went so far to succeed in securing Ukraine’s EU candidate status and making traditionally neutral Switzerland taking his side. His already legendary answer to Biden’s offer for escape is now on t-shirts and memes everywhere. Eventually it will end up in history books, right up there next to Winston Churchill’s quips. With the difference that Churchill couldn’t play a piano with his dick even if his life depended on it. But Zelensky is already skilled in this, a true gift for humor and stage presence as seen in his work as a comedian before he ever got into office. He slowly developed into a sort of anti-Trump figure, an outsider in the political arena, as story that was simply too cool to be true. But unlike Trump, he won international acclaim and support that exploded even more when the first Russian shelling hit Ukraine that fateful day in February. While Putin released photos of meetings with foreign dignitaries sitting across him at a table seemingly longer than Rome’s Circus Maximus, Zelensky is using every social media platform for videos and photos boosting the morale of Ukrainians and the global public that’s lapping up his carefully curated heroism as a thirsty dog on a hot summer’s day. He’s given countless video speeches to foreign governments, the UN, EU etc, underlining the fact that it’s the delivery of the message that makes all the difference to it. And it worked, since he managed to turn Ursula von der Leyen almost into his lap dog. On the other hand, Thunberg is equally successfully pushing her own agenda. Both of are prime examples of the importance of image when it comes to politics or activism (politics being the activism on the highest social level after all): Thunberg with her pigtails and Zelensky with his pecs hidden underneath a green military shirt, a real life action man. Of course, his own agenda is partly compromised by the avalanche of young activists, left-wing hipsters and armchair ideologues reading all kinds of semantics into him, diluting the seriousness and gravity of the situation in Ukraine to the level of a yet another clickbait for likes and shares. Zelensky himself is probably aware that being a victim is like getting those proverbial 15 minutes of fame: he knows sooner or later there’ll be an another serious conflict elsewhere so he better seize the moment to win as much attention as possible to help solve the problem at hand and hopefully in the future as well. This in itself is nothing new: all the issues with foreign immigrants suddenly fell into the background once it became politically opportune to focus on the epidemic and the toll it took globally. Nowadays, the immigrants are suddenly welcome everywhere in Europe, since they are from a culturally eligible country, to put in simple terms. A similar thing happened in the 1990s with refugees from former Yugoslavia which did actually face a bit of an unpleasant welcome in Europe.

You could hardly compare Glastonbury 2022 to Live Aid since it wasn’t explicitly utilitarian as the event in 1987 on Wembley Stadium with nowadays famous performances like the Queen, that was even included in the namesake movie as a faithful recreation: from Rami Malek’s white tank top to the plastic cups on the piano. Yet, it’s getting increasingly difficult to enjoy events like this worldwide since you’re always on the watch that some other activist might come up and ruin the fun while you’re still dancing to “Watermelon Sugar”. A bit like the nightmare that Youtube turned into since it allowed ads in the videos, chopping them up into several parts. We live in a political world, and it’s an awareness no one can truly escape from, especially since the media started putting Putin’s “special military operation” into the headlines. But one should at least be able to have a retreat, a distraction from the whole chaos we are exposed to in places like Glastonbury and similar venues. If you need various illegal substances and alcohol to lose yourself in the abundance of amazing music in the line-up without choking up on “ads” like eco-activists and explicit political propaganda, we might have a serious problem. There also lies the root of the problem with right-wing populism and patriarchal political agenda that recently overturned the abortion law in the USA. People are simply fed up with the left wing doctrine that’s all about identity issues and school toilets instead of things equally affecting average people from both sides of the isle. It started with Trump’s shenanigans, Biden turned the White House into a Democratic retirement home, and it’s bound to continue further to the right. The abortion ban is the tip of the iceberg. Hippies didn’t end the Vietnam war, a few of them made a career on the tidal wave od the movement, like Charles Manson. The new wave of energy and enthusiasm we’re riding now might also crash on the rocks of reality, if we don’t pay enough attention to the fine print in the social contract. Now we have to fight to turn it around. Otherwise, we’ll be complacent in something we never thought could happen again. And right now, it’s just around the corner. So better leave Glastonbury to music, there’s an another established arena for politics already: in Davos. I’m sure both Thunberg and Zelensky will find a more suitable audience over there.

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Mirko Božić

Mirko Božić

Author, literary critic and founder of the Poligon Literary Festival. Author of poetry, prose, and the moograph Mostar Behind the Scenes.