Music and politics might seem like a messy combination, but music’s inherent power makes it a perfect platform to call out politicians and their harmful policies. Musical groups have used musical activism as an effective way to express the injustices different people face when it comes to their race, gender identity and other parts of themselves.
Four Geneseo professors— Sasha Allgayer, Lee Pierce, Alla Myzelev and Jovana Boboviç— shared their thoughts and insights regarding music in politics in a panel, narrowing in on the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot.
Allgayer started the panel off by sharing a music video from a group in Puerto Rico with a powerful message. The lyrics expressed dissatisfaction with people in power that think they can take anything they want from other countries, but the musicians made it clear: no one can take away the wind, sun and warmth from them. These are things countries can’t buy or steal from one another, these are resources that America can’t exploit and profit for their personal gain.
Groups that choose to write songs about politics examine the environment around them. The poverty, inequality in education and healthcare and the police corruption all inspire these songs to be born, and screamed, to the masses. In 2012, Pussy Riot performed their song “Punk Prayer” in a cathedral and a few days later, they were sentenced to jail time under “hooliganism” in Russia. The law itself is very vague and almost childish, but Russian standards are different.
After the performance, Russian citizens were offended. “Everyone felt that [Pussy Riot] crossed a line,” Myzelev said. “Except that no one could define what line had been crossed.”
People were outraged and angry, but there was no consensus on what about the performance offended them so deeply. Myzelev included some of the comments she found online in her slideshow; those who felt negatively about the young women viewed them as little girls and felt like they deserved a fatherly spanking for their actions.
While Pussy Riot bothered them, critics still didn’t take them seriously, as evidenced by the group’s condescending perception. Pussy Riot saw problems in their political atmosphere and realized they weren’t powerful enough to make change by being quiet, so they caused a scene and were loud; people did get the message.
“Boundary transgression comes with privilege,” Pierce said. “For the boundary to transgress, there have to be social norms to be transgressed.”
The members of Pussy Riot saw the boundaries that stand between them and men in power and decided to go past those boundaries. Pierce acknowledged that some boundaries are good and meant to be in place, but other boundaries that oppress people and keep them down are meant to be destroyed.
Pussy Riot embodies many things: an activist group that protests men like Putin and Trump, radical feminists, silly little girls and powerful women who want change. They are loud, they are crude and they are proud. Men in power are allowed to be loud and crude, so why can’t these women?
The group is aware of the political climate they live in but are also aware of what other people around the world are facing. These issues involve powerful men controlling women’s reproductive rights, who they can and can’t love and other things that are personal choices that don’t affect other people. It is comforting to know that Geneseo is so open to allowing students to participate in these discussions on campus.
Our professors can share heavier subjects like these with the student body, and express opinions that may stray from the norm without the government silencing them. These topics are important to talk about because sometimes topics like this are hush-hush and if it doesn’t happen in America, we don’t want to hear about it. Pussy Riot paved the way for many young activists and will surely be paving the way further in future.