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Entertainment and distraction as weapons against revolutions

Most revolutions are instigated by the youth. It is them who are most likely to be discontent with the current socio-political system and they are also the ones most probable to get mobilized and express their dissatisfaction. Across cultures and societies, their revolutionist abilities are, among others, strengthened by:
–          a fresh perspective on their environment which takes less rules as given and critically questions existing laws.
–          good physical conditions which enable active forms of protest or even fight.
–          a higher level of independence, as they are less likely to have responsibilities over family members.
All these factors help in attempting to overthrow a violent dictatorship, change an exploitative economic system or fight a suppressing religious authority. [1] However, history has also shown that the above mentioned characteristics can also turn into crucial weaknesses, if the ruling regime acts in a dextrous, cold blooded way.

The recent revolutions in the Arab Spring has seen dictators like Libya’s Gaddafi, Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak get killed, imprisoned or fleeing the country; despite decades of experience in oppressing their people and the application of brute force. Of course, rulers of countries which did not have the additional enemies of western media or NATO operations (Libya), like Bahrain, applied brutality with “success”. Yet, reacting with violence alone has often not been the smartest way for past regimes.

I. The German revolution of 1918

In November 1918, German marines started a revolution which brought down the monarchy, ended World War I and enabled the social democratic party to take over power. However, in the place were it all started, the naval port of Kiel [2], many sailors wanted to go further and erect a communist society. You might ask: What did the new government then do to protect itself? I’ll tell you: they sent their guy for the dirty jobs, Gustav “Bloodhound” Noske. Now you might guess that the “Bloodhound” ordered everything to be shot to pieces – but he didn’t. Instead, he ordered every bar and dance club to be open 24/7 and even commanded to open new ones. True, the young soldiers wanted to change the society, but they also had not danced with a girl and had fun for years [3]. The effect of this measure is impossible to quantify, but it certainly helped in ending the communist momentum.

II. Iranian election protests 2009-10

The German example undoubtedly is a success story, but entertainment as a weapon against revolution can also be a bit more tricky. An example might be the protest in Iran against former President Ahmadinejad five years ago. As dance clubs were not an option here for the anti-alcohol, anti-fun, anti-unmarriedmenandwomendoinganythingtogether government, they chose something else. The government-owned TV stations broadcasted fantasy films all day and night, most notably Lord of the Rings. Now, some say that many young Iranian nerds stayed at home rather than protesting, others insist that Frodo and Gandalf were an inspiration to protesters. Either way, entertainment and distraction was a factor which had to be taken into account be the leaders of the protests.

Initially, I wanted to sum up this article, but I’d rather watch the Battle of Pelennor Fields.

 

[1] There are of course also uprisings against democracies, laicist states and economic systems which promote equality. However, in the German language, the term revolution has a strong positive connotation. Protest against something which contradict such positive forms of government or society are thus called “counter-revolutions”, “terrorism” or the like.

[2] Kiel is my home town actually. I could tell you more about it if you like… You don’t? Pah (strong German sound of discontent).

[3] Quite frankly, although the “Bloodhound” most certainly wasn’t a nice guy, the lame night scene of today’s Kiel could profit from some serious “top-down partying”.

Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Eug%C3%A8ne_Delacroix_-_La_libert%C3%A9_guidant_le_peuple.jpg

Gunnar Take

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