Yesterday I went with my wife and son to visit the Victoria & Albert’s Museum exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970. The aim of the exhibition was quite clear:
How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today and think about the future?
I was very much looking forward to visiting the exhibition. It is SO timely, and SO needed, I thought.
After visiting it, I left enraged. Why? After all, it was very well “put together”, full of artifacts and information, with a fancy sound system, and beautifully arranged and orchestrated.
More importantly, it was not a nostalgic attempt at regurgitating old revolutionary slogans.
What enraged me is how co-opted the whole collection felt. How all those efforts and sacrifices, how all that energy and suffering from past revolutionaries, has been assimilated by the system.
From the ® Registered slogans to the “no photographs” signs at the entrance (to which I, OF COURSE, paid no attention to whatsoever):
To the texts denouncing powerful corporations and states controlling Western media making it difficult to broadcast alternative opinions. You don’t say??!! How about adding “even museums”?
Of course, the whole thing had a watered down flavor, “ready for the masses to consume it” (at over£17 or over $20 per ticket). Not just because of the large dedicated-store (“Exit through the gift store” as Banksy brilliantly highlighted), where many appealing objects were for sale for nostalgics and revolutionary wannabes.
But also for the paternalistic tone of the whole exhibition, surgically isolating issues (identity, sexuality, peace, music, fashion…), even (correctly) including the new contemporary totemic theological substitute: technology.
I was very happy and proud to tell my son that his grandmother was in Paris throwing cobblestones to the police in the student revolts of 1969; that his grandfather took me, when I was a little kid, to see a forbidden theater play during Spain’s democratic transition, fearing the secret police repression; that I participated as a kid in discussions with adults about anarchism and communism, when both were outlawed in Spain; and that I have participated in some of the revolutions and protests that came in the decades after that.
I’m not angry because they took “my” revolutions and repackaged them for easy digestion by accommodating masses. That was foreseeable, and an obvious result of the reigning empire of consumerist capitalism.
I’m not even nostalgically refusing to accept that times have changed.
What really annoyed me and made me angry was the lack of reference to a combative present, to the continuation of the struggle.
The fact that they showed, at the end of the exhibition “How have the finished and unfinished revolutions of the late 1960s changed the way we live today” but completely left out “and think about the future” is what enraged me. Particularly as Trump is president in the USA, May PM in GB, the PP rule Spain, the far right advances in France…
We need to remember that the fight is not over, that fascism is not only back, but stronger and more powerful than ever. We, all of us, and the institutions that serve us, including museums, have a duty to promote thoughtful debate around ethics and values, and fiercely protest and fight through self-organisation, unity, and collaboration. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to those who fought for us in the past, we owe it to those who will come after us.
If the urban bourgeoisie wants to be the first to fall under the boot of the oppressors again, so be it. If proto and pseudo-intellectuals endlessly self-delude themselves into thinking that our democracies and institutions will save us from authoritarian demagogues, fascist megalomaniacs, and our own blind pursuit of endless consumerism, so be it. In the meantime, I will be teaching my children about the struggle and participating in the smartest and most effective way I can.