This song is great. That Thrift Shop was recently voted number 1 on Triple J’s Hottest 100 shows how it has tapped into a collective mood. It taps into a space that a lot of people in Australia share. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have created a pretty accurate snapshot of a generation coming into a world with no security, an unsettled future and a lot of debt. With only $20 in your pocket and an uncertain tomorrow what else are you going to do but find some kick arse clothes from the op shop and party? Revel tonight because the present is all we have. When a new day is due to bring pain, it might as well be self-inflicted.
Thrift Shop is no one hit wonder. The full album, The Heist, deserves a listen – it’s a heady mix of good time beats, self-aware humour, a seething anger at injustice and a determination to create. Same Love is probably the most obvious song but it comes from a deeply personal space with Macklemore prepared to be honest and backing his values. The Heist as a title seems to refer to the under-30s’ complex relationship with corporate and elite America. On one level it’s as victims, as Sitting Bull said of elite America, “These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule”. On another though, it’s as celebratory agents of change who will take back the future. In this vein, it is Jimmy Iovine as a song that reveals most both about Macklemore’s personal project and the overall message of the album. So there is the experience of being pushed into debt just to be able to have an opportunity to make an uncertain living:
We’ll give you a hundred thousand dollars
After your album comes out we’ll need back that money that you borrowed
So it’s really like a loan, a loan?
But then there’s resistance, which comes from an explicit rejection of the status quo:
I replied I appreciate the offer, thought that this is what I wanted
Rather be a starting artist than succeed at getting fucked
This is no mere passive selection of one choice among two. It is instead a declaration of a determination to take control of the future:
They ain’t given it, I’m takin’ it.
And that’s what Macklemore has done, being the first independent artist to hit #1 on the US charts since Lisa Loeb. And what we’re seeing across the developed world generally is a refusal of capital to invest in the future. The present system is not providing enough opportunities, and letting too many lives go to waste. No longer can we trust big corporate institutions or government to provide a steady flow of decent jobs as a foundation for people to have a quality lives. Investment is flowing from research, development and production towards speculation in land, commodities and arcane financial products. The basis on which people can make a living is being weakened as the prices for housing, energy and food staples are being artificially inflated.
In this vein, today Fairfax is reporting new research released by Graduate Careers Australia, which shows that students completing double degrees are only marginally (4.4 per cent) more likely to find a job that those students completing single degrees. The reason? According to Bruce Guthrie, Graduate Careers Australia research manager, it’s because the “employment market for new graduates is historically low”. They ain’t given it, so either we stay idle or we take back the future.
That’s why the next election isn’t about Gillard v Abbott. It’s an opportunity to build the power of people acting together to take back our means of making a living, to take back our future. Never forget that. Of course I think that Gillard is a much better choice as PM than Abbott. The point though, is to go beyond either making a passive choice or uncritically defending either option in total. Whoever wins, the broad Left in Australia will still need to tackle this economic trend which is rendering more and more of our fellow citizens as either redundant, temporary or part of the ‘natural rate of unemployment’. If we don’t our values will become irrelevant.
To do this we must push a common program: doing everything we can for people to have real control over their own lives, their communities and their future. Taking power so that others may be empowered. And we have the agents of change for we are busily creating the most educated and underutilised generation in history. Things are going to get interesting. And that’s why Thrift Shop and the results of Triple J’s Hottest 100 says more than anything I’ve seen in the media about #ausvotes. This is fuckin’ awesome.