What is an Authentic Voice? The Key Question for 2017

Pritpal S Tamber

January 1, 2017

How Dylan was the voice of his generation, how the Left have stopped listening, and how populist politicians will always win if we don't re-learn how to listen

I’m reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography right now. It, together with some other sparks collected in recent weeks, has made me ask where today’s authentic voices are, and whether they’ll surface and/or be heard in 2017?

The Deaf Left?

I’m asking this partly because it seems clear to me that established political systems  (at least in high-income countries) have lost touch with the so-called “common man”. The traditional Left has clearly lost touch with those it traditionally represented, as seemingly evidenced by Brexit, Trump, Podemos, the Five Star Movement, and countless echoes of the same thing throughout Europe. So the traditional Left is either not a reflective voice or not listening to the voices out there (perhaps, as many have hypothesised, because they were hoodwinked by – or complicit with – unfettered neoliberalism).

Kicking Down the Door

In his emergence, Bob Dylan was the voice of his generation. I understand that people – the “common adolescent”, if you will – felt pop music had stopped representing them, rendered anaemic by the demands of commercialisation. Dylan was saying things that people felt but popular culture was not reflecting.

One person feeling such things was clearly Springsteen. He describes the snare drum at the start of Like a Rolling Stone akin to someone kicking down the door to your mind. That’s a powerful analogy.

Who’s kicking down those doors now?

I could ask that question differently: who’s seeing what the “common man” is experiencing and who is describing it in a way that engages said “man” in a manner that brings people together?

The Alternative to Populism

Populist politicians seem to be doing it. Whatever you think of how they channel the feelings they’ve tapped in to, they’ve been adept at understanding the disconnect out there and then describing it in a manner that has supported their agenda. It’s a shame that, according to most commentators, their agenda is not necessarily in the best interests of the “common man”. But if that’s so my question is where are the people who can represent the best interests of the “common man” without subverting it to their own ends?

Im not sure that such people exist right now, or, if they do, they’re struggling to be heard. And this, it seems to me, is THE challenge of 2017.

Divided and Conquered?

The Internet is, to some extent, to “blame” for this potential absence. While the likes of Facebook may say they want to connect the world, all they’ve really been able to do is divide it further by playing into our biases. This is a well-trodden argument but it sharpened for me off the back of a comment made by Noel Gallagher of Oasis towards the end of the documentary about the band, Supersonic. He notes that their huge concerts at Knebworth, the ones that crowned them as the rock/pop heroes of their generation, were perhaps the last truly communal experience in the UK. After that the Internet and social media came along and divided us into hyper-specialised groups, a marketer’s wet dream but poison to the idea of common experience and mutual empathy.

But this hyper-stratification of society isn’t anything new. In a recent interview (presumably to help push sales of his autobiography given how private he usually tends to be), Springsteen noted that when Elvis died a music journalist said that from then on there would not be one rock ‘n’ roll. There’d be yours and there’d be mine. There’d be the Beatles, The Animals, The Rolling Stones; a pluralistic and nuanced version of what Elvis created. It seems we’ve been on a journey of division for a while now.

Authenticity in the divided now

So if division is the new norm, what is an authentic voice for the “common man”? Is it even possible to have one voice in a hyper-divided world? That, for me, is part of the challenge. Gone are the days of a single cultural icon that brings the world together. Elvis is dead – but even if he was alive, the world is so different to how it was back then he likely wouldn’t make half the dent he did in his time.

So, what exactly is an authentic voice these days, how might it surface or be heard, and how will it handle the divisions we have craved into normality? I don’t know. But we have to find out.

That, to me, is what 2017 needs to be all about. Happy new year.

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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