Writing by Zoe Milton. Artwork by Yury Aleksanyan
When one thinks of revolting, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it some grand historical event, like the Russian Revolution? Marie Antoinette and the guillotine? Perhaps an image of the Suffragettes? Whatever thought is conjured up, I would argue that it is normally one of violence; a classical depiction of revolution complete with pitchforks, flamethrowers, and a dominant leading figure.Yet, in an era that values non-violent activism, and in which protest is inextricably linked with media, this definition no longer suffices. Our view of revolt has clearly altered and widened, with even the smallest action being seen as one step against ‘The Man.’ Whilst this is a positive development that allows consciousness and activism to reach a broader audience, our culture’s definition of revolt could be seen as weaker, being reduced to small changes rather than the wide-scale upheaval which may be necessary for political advancement.
One can see this change just by looking at the recent media uproar over the ‘Just Stop Oil’ campaigners who threw soup over Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in protest of the cost-of-living crisis. These protesters, partaking in an act of non-violent rebellion, were subject to huge backlash, showing the public’s general alienation from direct action. This demonstration is arguably a great contemporary act of revolt at a time where any form of protest outside of our normative view of activism (which exists solely online) stirs up media controversy.
Ironically, it appears that the media storm that so often results from these acts of protest is the most important element in today’s form of revolt; one cannot deny the force of the internet protest. A video posted on The Guardian of the ‘Just Stop Oil’ protest accrued around 50 million views, broadcasting it to an unfathomably large audience in a way that, until now, was impossible for direct action to do in isolation. The use of social media has also been vital in accelerating the cause of activists in Iran protesting the death of Mahsa Amini, who died after being imprisoned by morality police for defying the republic’s dress code. In combination with protests at universities in Iran, media attention has acted as a huge mobilising force for the cause, broadcasting it to those outside of the country. While in this case the use of media itself may not be considered the main form of protest, it clearly has a huge role in enhancing all forms of revolt.
Considering its importance in enhancing the power of direct action, it is truly media censorship, and not the change in a cultural perception of revolting, that threatens the strength of activism. Strict media censorship in Iran threatens action taken by protestors and, in many ways, makes their resistance even stronger, as restrictions must be fought against to broadcast their actions. Poignantly, the republic’s desire to regulate media shows just how strong of a force it could be in destabilising governmental control. While this problem appears far away from our position in the Global North, censorship at all levels is an issue that threatens everyone. Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a student at The University of Edinburgh was arrested for holding a sign in protest of the monarchy at the proclamation ceremony of King Charles III, showing the dangerous impact of censorship, both online and physical, on our democracy.
Ultimately, while our view of revolt may have changed to encompass smaller, and sometimes less direct actions, one cannot deny the undeniably positive role of media in both mobilising and broadcasting acts of protest to a wider (and oftentimes younger) audience. In spite of a recent increase in censorship and our cultural perceptions altering with time, revolt in any form will always persist.