By Adam J. Pearson
An Introduction to Modern Failures: Social Policy and The 1975’s“Love It If We Made it”
The perennial role of the artist is to reach deeply into the ethos of a culture or the zeitgeist of an age and manifest its core essence in creative form. In their 2018 single “Love It If We made it,” British independent rock band The 1975 has managed to do precisely this. Their pulsating sophisti-pop track blends infectious melodies with forceful lyrics in which resonant profanity and biting social critique collide. This essay will attempt to tease apart three interwoven strands of contemporary trends with policy implications that figure strongly in the song, namely, the prison-industrial complex, refugee policy, and the nexus of environmental devastation and human self-centeredness. Finally, it will close with a brief consideration of three obstacles to policy change in the contemporary social climate that The 1975 identify as perpetuating the failures of modernity despite the band’s enduring optimism for change.
“Selling Melanin:” Colin Kaepernick and the Prison-Industrial Complex
In the first thread of their sharp social criticism, The 1975 join with Colin Kaepernick to protest police treatment of black males and the prison-industrial complex. As Rorke and Copeland (2017) note, Kaepernick’s nonviolent kneeling during the national anthem represented a protest against the epidemic of unjustified white-on-black police shootings and the disproportionate incarcerations of black males in American prisons. In “Love It If We Made It,” The 1975 juxtapose the grace of Kaepernick’s bold gesture—alluded to by the lyric “kneeling on a pitch”—with the crass misogyny of President Donald J. Trump saying “I moved on her like a bitch!” (Healy et al., 2018). In this way, the band emphasizes the contrast between this powerful social action and the ineptness of a President who has not only denied the issue and repeatedly spouted overt misogyny, but also consistently opposed Kaepernick’s cause (Marston, 2016).
Moreover, The 1975 further align themselves with Kaepernick’s message by underscoring the troubling ulterior economic motives that drive American prisons which“[Sell] melanin and then suffocate the black men, / Start with misdemeanours and … make a business out of them” (Healy et al., 2018). As Sudbury (2014) explains, American private prisons financially profit off of the incarceration of disproportionately poor, black, uneducated males from disadvantaged communities on whom they rely to secure their income, a phenomenon termed the prison-industrial complex.
Indeed, as the social work profession has long known, the key factors that influence the disproportionate imprisonment of underprivileged black youth are not moral failings, but social determinants of health that range from poor housing to low income, impoverished educational funding, and low food security in communities of colour, which are further compounded by systemic racism and the private profit motive (Stevenson, 2018).
Further, as Westhues and Wharf (2013) suggest, rectifying these issues requires policy changes, in this case, made to policies that govern budget allocation, organizational guidelines, constraints on the practices of private prisons, and the training of police officers to name but a few possible directions for macro-work. The role of the artist is not to propose solutions, but to draw attention to the need for them, and the 1975 do precisely this in “Love It If We Made It.”
“A Beach of Drowning Three Year-Olds:” The 1975 and the Effects of Refugee Policy
Second, in their lyrically dense social anthem, The 1975 proceed to shift their focus to another issue that disproportionately affects disadvantaged people of colour, namely, strict refugee policy. With their haunting line describing “a beach of drowning three year-olds,” the band references the shocking image of the face-down Alan Kurdî, a Syrian refugee who drowned on a beach after fleeing his war-torn country with his family in 2015 (Healy et al., 2018).
The image took the world by storm and inspired many to wonder “how could this have happened?” As the song unfolds, the band point to part of an explanation for this tragedy when they sing “immigration, liberal kitsch,” suggesting that the “kitsch” performative spectacles of alleged sympathy displayed by liberal politicians are partly to blame, especially when not backed by concrete action for change (Healy et al., 2018).
For example, such displays of “liberal kitsch” were noted in the Canadian context when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cried what critics called “crocodile tears” for injustices perpetrated against Indigenous Peoples while supporting those same injustices through pipelines built on their territories and inaction to ensure clean drinking water on reservations (Exner-Pirot, 2018). Indeed, in “Love It If We Made It,” The 1975 reveal that this same sort of “liberal kitsch” coupled with right-wing opposition to immigration contributed to the drowning of Alan Kurdî. Had European policies constraining refugee asylum not been so severe, the band suggests, Kurdî’s family would not have had to seek freedom through the dangerous sea journey that cost the innocent child his life (Healy et al, 2018). As this tragic example shows, policy holds great power, both to solve problems and create them.
Climate Change and the Absurdity of Human Narcissism in “Love It If We Made It”
Third, as their sweeping overview of contemporary policy problems continues, The 1975 turn their lyrical lens to the troubling connection between environmental degradation and human self-centeredness. In the song’s striking bridge, the band’s frontman Matthew Healy (2018) bemoans the tragicomic irony of “Consultation degradation / Fossil fuelling masturbation.” These five concise words are shot through with multilayered meaning.
Firstly, continuous “consultation” about climate change has stalled action and led to “degradation,” not only of the policy-making process itself, but also of the environment as climate change continues to worsen (van der Hel et al., 2018).
Secondly, “fossil-fuelling masturbation” conceals a tragicomic double-entendre in which “masturbation” is both literal and figurative. On the one hand, pardon the pun, and as Healy (2018) himself notes in an interview, “fossil-fueling masturbation is in reference to the fact that we are doing all these things to generate electricity, and the main use of the internet is pornography.” On the other hand, however, “masturbation” operates more broadly here as a metaphor for human self-centeredness. As The 1975 suggest, and as relevant research reveals, global environmental degradation has primarily been driven by humanity’s self-absorbed focus on capitalistic expansion, personal and collective pleasure-seeking through consumeristic exploitation of natural resources, and the pollutant by-products of the endless stream of consumer goods we unrelentingly produce (Seinfeld & Pandis, 2016).
Moreover, the bellicose impact of our collective human onslaught against the Earth is further reinforced by Healy et al. (2018) when they sing “the war has been incited / And guess what, you’re all invited.” The “war” in question is at once an apocalyptic prophecy of an upcoming World War III, a collective symbol of all of the wars humans have waged in the course of our conflicted history, and a metaphor for our collective inadvertent war against the living planet itself. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the Earth is presently experiencing the first anthropogenic (human-caused) Global Mass Extinction Event (GMEE) in the history of the planet, which is projected to result in massive decreases in global biodiversity (Ceballos et al., 2015).
Individual human decisions have thus far failed to produce the magnitude of change necessary to avert the worst catastrophes posed by anthropogenic climate change and human overpopulation. As a result, bold policy changes will need to be made to sustainably constrain human behaviour on the societal, international, and global scales if the coming crises of “modernity,” which The 1975 insists “has failed us” are to be attenuated (Healy et al., 2018).
Obstacles to Policy Change: Polarization, Echo-Chambers, and Numbing Disengagement
Finally, while “Love It If We Made It” scathingly castigates our collective social failings, it also identifies three key obstacles to changing the policies that reinforced our present plight. First, as Healy (2018) sings, although “we can find out the information” we are also addicted to accessing “applications / That are hardening positions based on miscommunication.” In the 2016 American Election, Facebook algorithms produced an ‘echo-chambering effect,’ by which people were repeatedly only shown articles which were in line with their political preferences, a situation which inhibited political discussion and decreased bipartisan collaboration (Alcott & Gentzkow, 2017). The result was increased social polarization and exclusionary tribalism, two factors which pose serious obstacles to effective collective action for policy change.
Second, in the same election, truth itself was reduced to subjective opinion as “alternative facts” and “fake news” obfuscated the issues at hand. As The 1975 sing, from this counterproductive perspective, “truth is only hearsay” (Healy et al., 2018). Moreover, the band’s lyrics quote a Trump t-shirt from the election which featured the slogan “fuck your feelings;” in a climate of decreased empathy and heightened inter-group hostility, policy change initiatives can dwindle as the status quo is maintained (Healy et al., 2018). Third, widespread social alienation has led many to tune out of political engagement altogether in favour of destructive self-medication and cynically hedonistic self-numbing; indeed, to quote The 1975, instead of taking action for policy change, we’re “fucking in a car, shooting heroin” (Healy et al., 2018).
Encouragingly, and in conclusion, however, The 1975 are not pessimistic in their final analysis. Instead, the band suggest that there are means to overcome these three obstacles to powerful policy change, namely, their inverses: clear inter-group communication, clarity about the facts, journalistic integrity, individual responsibility, and collective empowerment to promote political engagement and solidarity. Indeed, no matter how desperate things may seem, policy change and direct action remain possible and as the song’s chorus hopefully and generously sings, Healy, like the rest of us, would “love it if we made it.”
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