By Cameron Coyle, F/G Scholar
Karl Reuber is one of the few Americans remembered for his protest poetry during the middle and late19th century, using the lines of his stanzas to air his grievances with what he found to be an immoral and unbalanced capitalistic supremacy from the country’s elite. Reuber’s anti-business beliefs (as well as his contemporaries’) were anchored in spirituality. The notion Jesus would also be pro-labor fueled the movement, and subscribers to this philosophy protested peacefully by having their poems published in newspapers and journals. This strategy may not have yielded massive results, but it did help lay the foundation for works of protest art made by modern entertainers.
A number of protest songs revered by Americans today, especially ones involving monetary issues, are not written or performed by Americans themselves. In 2013 Lorde, a New Zealand-born singer/songwriter, wrote her breakout hit “Roylas” at the age of 16, and experienced massive success in both the United States and England. The song details the amount of wealth most music stars flaunt in an arrogant fashion. In an interview with The Guardian in 2013, Lorde was quoted saying a lot of modern music is “ridiculous, unrelatable, [and has an] unattainable opulence that runs throughout [it],” (Hoby).
Perhaps the most famous example of this is the 1971 song “Imagine” by John Lennon. In the song, the late British rockstar ponders about a world that is completely different from the one the status quo that was set up. Lennon asks his audience to imagine a world where there is no greed or selfish divide between the people, an idea shared by many pro-labor poets. However, Lennon differs from Reuber in his contempt for organized religion, but still shares the common dream of decentralizing the gigantic amount of wealth from big businesses.
Reuber’s form of peaceful protest can also be seen in multiple Hollywood films in a slightly different way. New York director Martin Scorsese has tackled the issue of greed in America in multiple movies, and has been influenced by his background in Catholicism when doing it. The most prevalent example of this in his work is 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street, a true-crime cautionary tale about a swindling stockbroker, Jordan Belfort, who illegally acquires his wealth until his luck eventually runs out. Scorsese lets viewers see Belfort’s rise and the amount of excess he obtains, only to later show his miserable, self-imposed downfall. The goal was to show the audience this type of outlandish life is not worth trading in one’s morals for, but it has missed the mark with some fans who look at Belfort as a hard-working capitalist icon.
Themes of capitalistic greed were also explored in 1999’s Fight Club. Toward the end of the film, Brad Pitt’s character decides bombing buildings containing citizens’ credit scores will reset the social order and give everyone a new life. While the film doesn’t encourage this, director David Fincher uses corporate greed to motivate characters, which in turn is his jumping-off platform to further explore themes of toxic masculinity and mob-mentalities. The idea of citizens being betrayed by a system that encourages greed is one Reuber shares, and while Fincher’s art depicts grotesque violence and mentally unstable characters, both artists harmed the same amount of people in making their social statements. Karl Reuber may not be thrilled with the spirit of this style of political dissent in entertainment, but it is difficult to think he would not be pleased to see the fight is still being continued.
Hoby, Hermione. “One to watch: Lorde.” The Guardian, 29 June 2013, https:// http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/30/lorde-interview-royals-one-watch. Accessed 22 Oct. 2018.