I’ll save you the effort of stating the obvious: no, of course they’ve no responsibility to highlight what’s happening to thousands of people in a country divided, thousands of miles away from the comfort of number one singles and fanbase adoration. But overnight I’ve been struggling with the realisation that, seemingly, not one of the UK’s most prominent pop stars has tweeted a word about the increasingly tragic Gaza conflict. Nothing.
Which, again, is fine and fair – nobody is saying that you have to be a husk of a human to not be stirred, deeply affected, by some of the footage that’s come out of the area – by the film Jon Snow shared online a few days ago, which has been viewed over half a million times, or by the disturbing imagery posted by the BBC, reporting the shelling of a Gaza school. Sometimes, just to keep it together and function through another working day, the best advice is to turn two blind eyes, to bury your head in the sands of entertainment – to put on a favourite song and forget the darkness tearing at the seams of an already fractured society.
But, equally, awareness is the only way that change can possibly begin to happen. And awareness amongst those yet to reach voting age, the time where they can make their opinions count, is vital. For a long time now there’s been a strange apathy amongst this country’s first-time voter pool – general elections aside, turnout at the polls for by-elections and the like is rarely high.
In 2012, the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in the UK attracted 15% of the available vote. Two years earlier, The X Factor pulled in a greater percentage of its eligible voters – just over 23%. The last general election, of 2010, saw 65% of possible voters make the effort. In 2005’s general, the turnout amongst 18-to-24-years-olds was a depressing 37%, up to only 44% in 2010.
So: pop has an attraction that politics alone can rarely reach, evidenced by that X Factor figure – not to mention the social media follower figures for prominent artists compared to party leaders. David Cameron, 736,000; Cheryl Cole, number one in the singles chart at the time of writing, 4.67 million.
Earlier in 2014, a local elections turnout of just 37% had some commentators arguing for compulsory online voting, which while sounding dramatic is something enforced elsewhere in Europe to the tune of great success. Perhaps it needs to happen here. Something does, to get the young engaged with their futures, actively arguing their cases against a Britain seemingly content to let once-fringe political ideals become front-and-centre agendas.
But that’s beside the point of the immediate action necessary, which is to stop the killing. Isn’t it? I’m not about to patronise any readers by posting some sort of layman’s terms account of why these two sides are warring in the Middle East, and nor am I positioning Clash as taking one side over the other. It’s not about that – the wounds are too deep, the divisions too wide, for any such rhetoric to resonate even the slightest. And it’s not like we’re the BBC, or the Guardian, or CNN or Al Jazeera – our reach is minimal, whatever we publish easily lost in the cacophonous chorus of the internet’s every-day schedule of blog entries, micro-missives and selfie snaps tuned out by the majority, those searching for cat gifs and whatever the next festival-headdress fashion statement is.
What we – what I – can certainly say, though, is that the loss of life in the Gaza conflict is simply too great to be ignored, and that those best connected with the young and impressionable, those who will become our future leaders charged with making decisions of global ramifications, could be acting as messengers right now. I don’t know if I feel more strongly about what’s happening now than I have before, when the same border conflict has flared into violent life in the past, because I’m settled nowadays in my dad role. Perhaps it’s a factor – I know that seeing reports like this, examining the impact of the Gaza and Syrian situations on children, just tears my passion for music right out and replaces it with the very real acknowledgement that the arts, while an effective mirror for the world’s greatest turmoil, is rarely a powerful tool for widespread action.
Couldn’t it be, though? Ed Sheeran is number one in the UK’s album chart with ‘X’, an album so obviously awful that nobody in the PR world thought to send a copy to Clash. He’s been there for five weeks, though, which proves that he is liked. Indeed, he’s more than liked – he’s the most powerful figure in British urban music. He’s also someone who, to his credit, has used his music to increase awareness of ills affecting our society – his breakthrough hit, ‘The A Team’, might be a mawkish monster, but at its heart lies a very worthy message of helping the homeless, the addicted, the helpless. He’s performed to raise money for charity, but he’s kept his political persuasion in check, publically. Tory, Labour, something else – who cares, I guess. But it’s obvious that Ed has been touched by sadness around him in the past.
So what’s he been tweeting about Gaza? Not a lot, unless that’s also the name of a club in Madrid, where he was yesterday for promo work. Again, I’m not saying that he must mention Gaza, of course not. But he’s a young and affluent musician with a massive fanbase, a Twitter following of 10 million. He’s somebody that people respect more than they do the politicians playing for future-polls points on the topic. “I want more people to be involved in politics,” tweeted Labour leader Ed Miliband on July 27th, earning just under 200 retweets. On July 26th, Sheeran tweeted that he’d “had a lovely night in Derry” with some lad from Snow Patrol – an update retweeted 2,941 times.
There’s a clear message here: pop stars reach people, who don’t simply read their words but share them with their own followers, their own friends and family. How does thought become effect? Through people power, and our biggest pop stars have loyal audiences of millions. Cheryl Cole and Adele are big-selling British artists with a combined Twitter following of 25 million people. The latter is a mother who, surely, can’t see things like this and not feel a deep ache. Does she need to express something – sympathy alone, or maybe a link to any number of emergency appeals to help the civilians, the children, caught up in the crossfire? She doesn’t have to. But what a difference she could make if she did.
The same can be said of One Direction (19.9 million Twitter followers), of Jessie J (6.65 million), of Coldplay (12.8 million), of Gary Barlow (3.57 million). I’m not after these celebrities to make a stand for either side of the Gaza conflict – but what a thrill it would be to see someone with a huge social media reach offer something in the way of support, something that might ultimately help to save lives. I don’t know. Perhaps it’d change nothing if One Direction tweeted links to Christian Aid, to Save The Children, to the Red Cross, Oxfam or Muslim Aid. Perhaps the reaction would be a stream of “OMG I LOVE ZAYN”, or something like that.
Or maybe they’d get burned by ridiculous death threats, as said Muslim-raised member of the group did when personally tweeting nothing more than “#freepalestine”. Perhaps they’d have to do what Rihanna did, and delete the exact same tweet as the One Direction singer after eight minutes after receiving a barrage of abuse. These type of messages imply a side taken, so inevitably there will be repercussions.
But, maybe, with their messages articulated the right way, the balanced way, these people really would help get the innocent out of a war that’s too entrenched in the region’s recent history to stop in a heartbeat, on the say-so of a pop star so removed from the realities of the conflict that they might as well be a wizard from the moon. There are children quite clearly in need here, and that’s always been a cause that’s drawn the pop fraternity out in great numbers. So why not now?
It’s time for someone amongst pop’s biggest to stand up to the faceless, nameless stick they might get for encouraging necessary change. Or was Simon Cowell’s $150,000 donation to the Israeli Defense Forces last year enough to prevent any individual thoughts amongst his pop progeny? Sample tweet to his 10 million followers, posted July 18th: “I think Best In Show is the funniest film ever made.” Two thousand favourites.
Jon Snow, tweeting on the same day: “Awful danger that the shooting down of flight MH17 will provide cover for an intensification of Israel’s ground war in Gaza.” Seven hundred and sixty-one favourites. Something is wrong. But pop can help to make it right, regardless of any professional duty or label liabilities. It can reach the young and empower them to speak up against atrocities, to share their concerns with friends, to progress understanding and use that to affect future political policies. Nothing is achieved with silence. Televised news cannot impress as it once could, that much is clear. So, who is going to step up?
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This article is the opinion of the author only and does not reflect any wider Clash position on Gaza or the effort to help relive the suffering felt by civilians in the area. However, if you wanted to donate to the campaigns helping to prevent more innocent lives being lost, just Google “Gaza Conflict Charities” and take your pick. This is not about sides. It is about stopping the needless deaths. And if pop can make a difference, it should.