Every revolutionary movement started off like a talented cover band. During the Chinese revolution the new organs of power were called Soviets and one of the political factions was dubbed the “28 Bolsheviks.” Russian and Haitian Revolutionaries were both inspired by and made repeated references to the French Jacobins. The French revolutionaries took cues from the Americans. The American Founding (slave-owning) Fathers were inspired by Ancient Greece and Republican Rome. Each considered themselves as a continuation of a previous historical revolutionary tradition.
What set these revolutions apart (and what made them successful) is that they also started playing their own music. They quickly broke with previous models, taking on only what worked, casting aside what didn’t, inventing new things based on their differing objective and subjective conditions, and filling in the gaps left from previous theory.
Importantly, each developed startlingly original aesthetic forms, symbolic languages, and artistic styles that both merged with and defined the most cutting edge cultural innovations of their times. Can we even imagine Russia in the teens and 20s without Constructivism? Or the 1960s in America without the Panther’s black berets and leather jackets or the art of Emory Douglas?
Meanwhile, the “28 Bolsheviks” were politically defeated and their name became shorthand for “dogmatism.”
All of this is my long-winded, historically grounded and ideologically justified prelude to saying: for fuck sakes if an image isn’t from this century don’t use it on your posters. An image of a soldier with a bayonet does not scream, “We have the most cutting edge understanding of modern imperialism.” It says, “We’re sort of like a historical reenactment society only with much less self awareness.” An image of Peruvian peasants doesn’t say, “We’re on the side of the people.” It says, “We don’t know or care what people here are interested in or how they communicate.” Regardless of it’s content the same message is sent by the wall of text poster that looks like it came off a mimeograph: “Care about this. We don’t care about you.”
The same goes for language as well. It’s sometimes difficult to appeal to younger people if we’re outside that demographic. It can be awkward when an older person talks like an older person to a younger person. You know what’s hella awkward? When a younger person talks like an older person from a place they’ve never been during an era before they were born. Your slogans and statements should not sound like they’re poorly translated out of Mandarin when you’re a native English speaker. “Women hold up half the sky” sounded great in China. In North America it sounds like some weird New Age hippie shit. You’re not honouring those that came before, you’re showing disdain for those you’re addressing now.
Get out of your clique. If you don’t know what’s the latest innovation in art, music, graphic design, and other forms of expression then find out. Meet some artists. Learn from the most creative. Be bold.
Maybe then you’ll get ahead of the curve.
p.s. Do kids still say hella?