On Tubthumping, Populism and Michael Moore
Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Garforth Arts Festival for the first time, thoroughly enjoying the line-up of acts they had acquired, including the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who had me in stitches. It also featured a long standing band that many see as a one-hit wonder: Chumbawumber, of Tubthumping fame.
Chumbas, as they’re affectionately known, have reinvented themselves for their middle-ages as more of a folk outfit. Think Billy Bragg with 5 times more anarchy and an accordion. That didn’t stop them doing the odd song from their heavier going past, but they certainly wouldn’t play the old party anthem that everyone remembers, even if only drunkenly. I certainly have fond memories of dancing round like a prat to it on a Friday night whilst at Uni.
Gone also is there stardom, which I’m sure in a way they’re quite thankful for. They were, for anarchists, embarrassingly well-known, and had become a social faux-pas incarnate. What they had essentially done was taken an oftentimes inaccessible theory, that of workers ability to withstand their bosses and peasants ability to withstand their masters ability, and packaged it in a way that was accessible. Your average person down the pub is going to look at you strange if you start talking about Marx, Mao and Bakunin. Sing Tubthumping, and they know exactly what you’re on about; they’ve all experienced it to one extent or another. And the song itself is inherently uplifting, which is a big bonus given the typically quite critical, and often cynical, attitudes of many a radical in this day and age.
I know quite a few people who dismiss Tubthumping as a silly bit of fun that a lot of people indulged in without really understanding what it was about. I find this rather patronising; who’s to say people didn’t identify with it? If anything, its pretty clear that they did, as its stuck around for some time as the kind of song people want to dance around to after a long week. Why do we assume (academic) understanding to be more important than (day to day) identification? One can understand with detachment, and thus do nothing about that which they understand, but one can act decisively with mere identification and little understanding. In a world with so many problems, I’d rather see people in the latter category than the former.
It was recently announced that Michael Moore has a new film in production. We can already safely say that Socialist Worker and most Anarchists will dismiss this as useless, populist crap. There will be groans that Moore is doing it all wrong, after all, his academic credentials are non-existent and his films are too popular to be worthwhile. And after all, he’s in the entertainment business.
What I happen to like about Michael Moore is that he takes a left wing documentary idea and carries it straight into the mainstream, conveying his message in a way that eventually results in it being seen by millions. The man singlehandedly made the category of “Blockbuster Documentary” with recent films, and I can only say I hope people stop and reflect on why they feel a need to be so patronising to the many who want to go and see this film. Given a widespread lack of ability to engage with the wider public, I certainly feel radical activists need more entries into the film and music charts, not less.