Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Sign of the Times: The Semantic Terrorist

Naturally, one can't help but make comparisons with controversial performers. Neither Madonna nor Sinead O'Connor, for instance, are strangers to provocation. However, they were already global superstars when their offending actions threatened to derail their careers.  In contrast, Pussy Riot's illegal in-church protest was actually the thing that transformed this theretofore little known arts collective into a worldwide punk rock phenomenon.

Similarly, the Sex Pistols railed against 'the Queen and her fascist regime,' as well as their record label, EMI, but the motivation behind those efforts is debatable given the band’s parallel efforts to sell records and gain celebrity.

Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and many others, too, pen songs of protest, but like the Sex Pistols, their tunes are as much sentiments of social consciousness as they are product.

Interestingly, it may also be that not since Kabuki styled, fire breathing, glam band Kiss launched their act in the mid seventies, that any single rock group has achieved such wide interest largely based on signification codes, i.e. Pussy Riot's 'look' is as much vehicle for  their ideas as the lyric to their punk prayer. As a result, the band's semiotic strategy actually makes the music irrelevant to one's appreciation of the group. As it should be: for commercial groups all activities are meant to create a funnel towards product; but in the case of Pussy Riot, the music is a  conduit for regime change.

In this regard, the women of Pussy Riot appear to be first to concept with a new breed of 21st Century performer and change agent: The Semantic Terrorist; that is, an agitprop art bomber with the marketing acumen of a brand strategist but who doesn't give a sh*t about selling you anything.  

Indeed, it's likely that we'll see and hear from other Semantic Terrorists as others rise and join in the chorus of the Great Connected Global Disruption that defines our era.

But what exactly do we find so captivating about the Semantic Terrorist?

In a world where advertisers are increasingly replacing record labels as ministers of culture; when economies are crumbling under the weight of outdated precepts; when politicians think it more expedient to silence the voices of the weak, and protect the interests of the powerful;  the women of Pussy Riot serve to remind us that free of corporate sponsorship, blind nationalism or overfatigued groupthink, a dissident artist can get on with the business of attempting to topple a government, jail time and trendy miniskirts, not withstanding.

In a way, it's absolutely refreshing.

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