Tuesday, July 29, 2008
On Friday, July 25th, Culture Shock-LA put on an impressive theatrical show called "A Beautiful Struggle: Every Revolution Must Have Its MARTyrs" at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood, CA. The program was filled with an extravagant number of dancers, some as young as 6 or 7. The Future Shock kids--the younger cohort of Culture Shock students--put on a great show that was definitely inspiring to young people in the crowd.
Read a great review of "A Beautiful Struggle" in Asiance Magazine here.
The basic premise of the show is a militant advocacy for the arts amidst a futuristic world that seeks to censure art's freedom of expression. In the year 2020, the U.S. government passes the National Creative Control Act (NCCA), a law that jails and punishes anyone who expresses themselves artistically. Of course, the young artists (more specifically hip hop dancers) triumph in the end with their passion for the arts (more specifically hip hop). The actors claim "hip hop saved my life" in a gloomy and dangerous world. The show appropriately ends with a Janet Jackson "Rhythm Nation" dance set (see 1:25 of the clip above).
The gem of the show is the dance talent. The story, however, had a political-tinge that is quite palatable, especially for younger audience members. Indeed, the theater was packed with a whole new generation of hip hop enthusiasts, who hopefully internalized the message regarding hip hop's cultural power.
But, as a critical audience member, you were left to ask a few questions. For example:
"What real-life connections can we make with the NCCA?"
Are there certain initiatives today that are not too far from the goals of the NCCA? Some examples: the de-funding of the state arts programs, slashing of arts classes in schools, and even the outlawing of Ethnic Studies (which has a central humanities focus).
"Is the jailing of artists really about martyrdom?"
What kind of connections/disconnections does this story have in reference to the real killing and disappearance of activists in some countries? In other words, in the year 2020, where does the "struggle continue" in regards to neocolonized, genocide-surviving nations? Has the revolution of power occurred by this time? Basically, I would like to know how the writers would connect the actual martyrdom and disappearance of activists today with this futuristic interpretation of state censorship.
I wonder if this show was not G-rated, if the writers would actually have these artists killed instead of jailed and put on trial, given that the killing of artists actually happens TODAY, and not in some abstract 2020 future.
"Is there a way that the state and corporations today are successfully controlling and censuring artists, even without passing censorship law?"
This thought came up because hip hop today is not as subversive and politically-charged as it used to be. At least not the stuff on radio and TV. You have to dig for good hip hop these days. Read this very recent article about media consolidation and the disappearing power of independent radio, and you'll understand how hip hop is no longer subversive in the mainstream.
So it seems that in the year 2008, the state is winning a year 2020 futuristic battle: even without passing censorship laws, politically-tinged artists no longer have access to mass-impacting and subversive cultural power as they used to. Hip hop especially is more like Disney entertainment than a cultural movement. (This comes to the point in which heads who are politically-saavy hip hop cultural activists are deemed "elitist.")
But groups like Culture Shock-LA and other hip hop cultural organizations are "fighting the power" of mind-numbing radio and TV hip hop by organizing young folks in positive cultural spaces, where they are encouraged to find their self-worth and cultivate respect for all people.
Big ups to the sista Michelle Castelo (Executive Director of Culture Shock-LA) for helping produce this amazing showcase! Peep this nice interview with Michelle, Culture Shock-LA President and Kaba Modern founder Arnel Calvario, and other good folk.