Opinion: Occupy Pop Culture

Monday, December 26, 2011 - 10:56 AM

"There's a storm coming… You will wonder how you thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

That ominous prediction isn't a speech aimed at the Goldman Sachs office tower by an Occupy Wall Street speaker via the human microphone, nor was it a prophetic letter to the editor or protest sign held up by Zuccotti Park. It's the whispered threat Selina Kyle shares with Bruce Wayne in the newly-released trailer to the upcoming conclusion of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

Is Ms. Kyle - who Caped Crusader fans know without hesitation is the alter-ego for Catwoman - warning us as well that the language and themes of Occupy Wall Street are about to occupy our pop culture?

The Occupations themselves have had some ambivalence toward Big Entertainment. Although Catwoman herself has joined the protests - Anne Hathaway has been seen marching in solidarity - many OWS sympathizers criticized Mayor Bloomberg for arresting 700 protesters for crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, when the city willingly closed down the 59th Street Bridge for "The Dark Knight Rises" shoot days later. And when Law & Order created their own "Mockupy" set, real life Occupiers, well, occupied it

However much Occupy Wall Street doesn't want to be co-opted - by pop culture, commercialism or even other progressive institutions - it isn't stopping the culture-at-large from embracing the images and spirit of the movement. Part of it is the word itself: NPR chose "Occupy as its word of the year. The "Occupy X" meme has leapt beyond politics and protest - and everyone can now "occupy" something. (This year's annual SantaCon of mass hordes of drunken Santas in the streets of New York was affectionately and unsurprisingly dubbed "Occupy Santa.")

Part of it is the setting. There's something exciting about encampments - it's why OWS captured national attention to begin with. And it's probably why MTV has been rumored to consider a "Real World" series set in a camp.

But part of it is the message itself. When TIME named "The Protester" its person of the year, it was a reflection of an increasingly felt and expressed frustration with the separation between elites and regular folks, the uber-rich and the struggling, working family, the cronies and the commons. Call it inequality. Call it injustice. It's certainly, at long last, in vogue.

And while Occupy Wall Street may never lend its name to a mainstream movie or commercial ad campaign -- and some protesters may even resent such use -- it is a sign of success. A movement grows bigger than its organizers; it infects language and infuses the broader society. And when NPR, MTV, Santa Clause and Selina Kyle are all pulling from the same script, it means your message is getting heard.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


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Comments [8]

Nate Chura from Brooklyn

The Republican ticket simply doesn't get it. In a way they are sort of history dummies.

DEBT is what built this country. Carrying debt is how people who come from nothing rise to the top. The founders understood this.

Our first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton understood that the only way to build a strong economy was through a National Bank, which was funded almost entirely on debt. The history of our nation is that of taking on debt and, in many cases, holding on to that debt for a long time in order to grow. Based up Hamilton's debt structure – which, today, would send Romney and Ryan to the hospital – our national bank grew into the powerhouse it is today. It revolutionized the world. It was common sense.

Poor people (students, small businesses, immigrants, etc.) need to borrow money to make money. Still in recovery from the 2008 recession – caused by Republican policies – our country needs to borrow money to make money. This is not unsound fiscal policy. Quite the contrary.

Decades after Hamilton founded the First National Bank, President Andrew Jackson became obsessed with the national debt – much like Romney and Ryan. Jackson actually paid it off, in full – the first and only time the U.S. has ever taken such a drastic measure – and he plunged country into the worst depression since its founding.

This is not to say we should completely disregard our debt, only that modern economics – which we to a large extent created – is more sophisticated than the plan Romney and Ryan are proposing. They should brush up on their Hamilton.

Sep. 05 2012 11:53 AM
Smorrebrod from Nueva York

Listener who commented at 6:50PM on 26 December 11, Has your employer asked you if you've been arrested on your application of employment? If so, you should report that, because it's illegal to ask if one's been arrested on a job application.

Dec. 28 2011 07:05 AM

It seems some are starting to believe their own BS.
As always follow the money behind the protests and what part of the 99 percent get the proceeds from the "Occupy" t-shirts while college students contemplate looking for a job with an arrest record from the protests to carry with them like a pointless millstone to their precious few job interviews.
Batman is fantasy but the aftermath of Occupy is reality.

Dec. 26 2011 10:33 PM
Tim from New York

As a senior I can tell you that this is an age old fight. They shot kids at kent state when their message got to much attention. I don't know how you expect the people in charge to stop the businesses that put them in charge from robbing the people. We give big business tax credits to create jobs and they sell the tax credits and get rich. Back in the old days they taxes the other countries goods as the greedy of that time were a least Patriotic. Now their is loyalty to nothing but the dollar. Of course I don't know why we tax business anyway...we all pay for it. Personally I think it would solve a lot of problems to tax people on personal gains only. Imagine that everyone paying an equal percentage of what they earn!

Dec. 26 2011 06:50 PM

"There's a storm coming… You will wonder how you thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

For a moment I thought that this was in regards to how the United States has sucked up so many resources while people in other countries are scrambling to survive.

Dec. 26 2011 05:57 PM
Sherman from Manhattan

The trouble with this -- which is typical of latte-liberal thinking, which is apolitical -- is that it mistakes "exposure" or "branding" for actual power. Yes, OWS is "getting its message out" (and I agree with the message), creating memes, creating a "brand," etc., etc., but how does that change anything?

Dec. 26 2011 05:37 PM
@backstreetpoet from Zephyrhills, Florida

The pop culture will take care of itself as far as recognizing what is pop culture. Pop culture will reach the young and many middle aged people. This is a giant step in getting our message out. IMO the hardest nut to crack is penetrating the senior culture. When seniors know what OWS stands for and what "Occupy" means it will be a giant step in the evolution of the movement. I.m waiting for the day a senior stands in a clubhouse metng and utters those now pop culture words "Mic Check"....bsp

Dec. 26 2011 04:02 PM
Vas from DC


Dec. 26 2011 11:43 AM

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