Not faking it

Ever watched something and gotten the feeling that somebody was trying to cheat in some drama?

Trying to cover up a weak plot with gaping holes with a gratuitous ton of fight or battle scenes? Or car chases? Or sex scenes? Or explosions? Or over the top plot twists?

Desperately hoping nobody would notice just how boring the story actually was?

Ironically, watching the truly magnificent series “Breaking Bad” has gotten me thinking about this. About how much poor storytelling I have settled for as a viewer in the past, because I didn’t think I could do any better.

You know what it’s like. Things start out with so much promise.

You start watching an exciting new TV series and get thoroughly hooked. Just falling in love with it.

And then the “inevitable” decline in quality begins.

Things get stale as it wears on.

After a while you know the magic is gone, but you find it hard to let go. Hoping that things can somehow be good again.

And then the abuse starts.

The plot just becomes more and more ridiculous, overblown and insulting until you finally have no choice but to preserve your own sanity and stop watching.

I get the feeling that “Breaking Bad” is a series that will never treat its audience that way.

I’m just about to commence watching the 4th season of “Breaking Bad”. (I know – I’m way behind the rest of the planet. Story of my life. Nevermind…)

And what never ceases to amaze me if how consistently strong the writing still is.

Not only do the character and relationship arcs never lose their momentum and dramatic build, but every moment of every scene in every part of the plot is brilliantly motivated.

And the plot twists – especially the big dramatic moments – are genuinely surprising. (Understatement. I never see them coming. And I’m usually one of those unbearable people who can usually pick the big plot surprise about 3 minutes into the story. I’m loving this!)

(Sigh) If only all drama could be this good…


Breaking Bad Trailer (Season One)

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So where are the women?

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test or the Mo Movie Measure?

It originated from Allison Bechdel’s comic “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985 and is a sort of litmus test to assess the presence of women in movies.

To pass the test a movie has to get a “yes” for all three of the following three questions.

1) Are there two or more women in it who have names?
2) Do they talk to each other?
3) Do they talk to each other about something other then a man?

It’s truly amazing (and more than a little depressing) just how many films don’t pass the test.
For example

Avatar
Star Wars (Episodes 1-6)
The Lord of the Rings Triliogy
The Dark Knight
Shrek
Watchmen
Transformers
Bruno
Ghostbusters
The Big Lebowski
Wall-E
Clerks
Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2 and 3
Austin Powers 1, 2 and 3
Men in Black
Fight Club
The Fifth Element
The Princess Bride
The Wedding Singer
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
The Truman Show
From Dusk till Dawn
Trainspotting
Mission Impossible
Toy Story
Gladiator
X Men
When Harry Met Sally
Back to the Future 1, 2 and 3
Tomb Raider
Pulp Fiction
Interview with the Vampire
Home Alone
Up

There are 3378 movies in the Bechdel Test database, 1809 (53.6%) of which pass all three tests, 377 (11.2%) pass two tests, 835 (24.7%) pass one test and 357 (10.6%) pass no tests at all.

In an article that appeared in the Huffington Post (22.11.2012) “Women Are Underrepresented, Oversexualized In Top Films: Study“, Amy Lee writes

A study released by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism took a survey of the 4,342 speaking characters in the top 100 grossing films of 2009 and compared it to results from the top 100 films of 2007 and 2008. For women, nothing much has changed — in these top films, 32.8 percent of actors are female and 67.2 are male — 2.05 males to every one female. This means that less than 17 percent of films are gender balanced, even though females make up half of the ticket-buying population.

Perhaps more disturbing is the finding that women are much more frequently sexualized when they appear on screen. They’re more likely to be seen in sexy clothing (25.8 percent to men at 4.7 percent) and more likely to be partially naked (23.6 percent to 7.4 percent).

Women are also more likely to feel the effect of their age on their career. Though teen girls (12-20 year olds) are more likely than adult women, 21-39, to be shown as sexy, or partially naked — 21.5 percent to 13.8. But older women, aged 40-64, are not only less likely to be shown as attractive (3.8 percent), but less likely to be shown at all. Only 24 percent of all characters aged 40 to 64 are female.

Earlier in the year, there was an uproar over the lack of female presence of amongst directors in competition for the Palme d’Or (award) at the Cannes Film Festival.

Melanie Goodfellow wrote in article for screendaily.com called “Cannes sexism debate explodes on eve of festival” (14/5/2012)

A fierce debate over whether the Cannes Film Festival is sexist or not has exploded on the eve of its opening this Wednesday, following a high-profile opinion piece in the Le Monde accusing the event of sexism.

The article published on Saturday and signed by Baise Moi director Virginie Despentes, filmmaker Coline Serreau and actress Fanny Cottonçon attacked the festival over the lack of women in competition this year.

Feminist group La Barbe (the beard), which was behind the initiative, simultaneously launched an online petition. By Monday morning, more than 1,000 people, mainly women involved in the French film world, had signed up.

“The directors of the 22 films in competition this year are all, by happy coincidence, men. For the 63rd time in its existence, the festival will crown one of its own, defending without fail the virile values which are the nobility of the seventh art.” Despentes, Serreau and Cottonçon wrote.

“Once in 1993, the Golden Palm was awarded to a female director, Jane Campion. And in 2011, probably due to a lack of vigilance, four women featured among the 20 nominees in competition,” it continued.

“This year, gentlemen you’ve come to your senses and we are overjoyed. The Cannes Film Festival will allow Wes, Jacques, Leos, David, Lee, Andrew, Matteo, Michael, John, Hong, Im, Abbas, Ken, Sergei, Cristian, Yousry, Jeff, Alain, Carlos, Walter, Ulrich and Thomas to show one more time that “men like depth in women, but only in their cleavage.”

And in a article called “Where are the women in film?” for The Guardian (18/5/2012) Amelia Hill interviewed Producer Trudie Styler and director Lucy Walker

Each of them had the following things to say

Lucy Walker : There is a remarkable problem. In Hollywood last year, just 5% of the 250 biggest films were directed by women. That’s down from 9% a few years ago. What’s going on? It’s not that women don’t want to do it: in film school, 50% of students are women. There is something going on between women wanting to do it, and getting to do it. It’s absolutely remarkable.

…When a man directs a turkey, he’ll typically be hired much quicker again than a woman who has had a film bomb. But what’s most heartbreaking as a director are the success stories; the films directed by women that do fantastically well. Look at what happens to those women. Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight film – a hit that came out of nowhere – was not hired to make the next one, but was described as too difficult to work with. Her next film had a budget twice as big as Twilight, but she couldn’t get the same fee. In Hollywood, when a guy directs a hit, his fee goes up, no questions asked. She was very upset about that.

Amelia Hill: Why is the film business allowed – and why does it feel it’s OK – to openly treat women so differently?

Trudie Styler: We let it go on and on, and none of us have answers. It just is. That’s not acceptable. There’s a very powerful woman in Sony [Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures], but look at her slate: she’s obviously being dictated to by a strong pool because she’s producing bad boy, action movies. Everyone is concerned in these lean times to show a profit, but while only 7% of directors in Hollywood are women, 23% of producers are women. It behoves those to be inviting women directors to step up and say: “We’ll develop your product. Bring it to us.”

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Well, two weeks after My Homework ate my blog… I still haven’t written another one. So, I was sort of faced with three choices this week :

1) Do nothing
2) Write another poem about why I have no blog this week (and slowly start turning it into a blog of poems about not blogging)
3) Post what I have been working on, which is a puppet show for the Teddy Bears’ Picnic my daughter’s school is having on Sunday. (I had to write the ten minute script for them, make the puppets and props and rehearse everybody – hence no blog).

So I’ve chosen option 3 and posted the script for an enthralling tale entitled “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” below. (Well, with any luck it might be enthralling for 3-7 year olds. I guess I’ll find out on Sunday…)

‘THE TEDDY BEARS PICNIC’
by Michelle Mead

ROLES:

DAISY (PUPPET)
DOLLY (PUPPET)
CHARLIE (PUPPET)
CHIP (PUPPET)
TIGER (PUPPET)
NARRATOR (VOICE/PERSON)

PROPS :

PICNIC BASKET
PICNIC RUG
BALL
4 CUPCAKES
FLOWERS

DAISY, DOLLY, CHARLIE and CHIP appear onstage with a PICNIC BASKET.

NARRATOR
Once upon a time four little teddy bears decided to go on a picnic together. Their names were Daisy…

DAISY
Hi!

NARRATOR
Dolly…

DOLLY
Hello!

NARRATOR
Charlie…

CHARLIE
Nice to meet you!

NARRATOR
And Chip.

Chip says nothing.

NARRATOR
Say “hello”, Chip.

CHIP
No.

NARRATOR
Why not? Don’t you to be polite?

CHIP
Not really.

NARRATOR
Well, that’s not very nice.

CHIP
I don’t care.

NARRATOR
Hmmm. (SIGHS) Well, let’s just get on with the story.

DOLLY, DAISY and CHARLIE carry the picnic basket a little way across the stage while Chip walks in a daydream behind them.

NARRATOR
They took a great big picnic basket full of food with them to the park. It was so full of food that they all needed to help carry it.

DOLLY
Did you hear that, Chip? We all needed to help carry the basket.

Chip hums to himself, looking around at the sky instead, pretending he does not hear.

DOLLY
Chip, we know you heard.

CHIP
No, I didn’t.

CHARLIE
You have to help us carry the basket.

CHIP
But I don’t want to.

CHARLIE
Well, it’s not fair if you don’t.

CHIP
I don’t care.

CHARLIE, DAISY and DOLLY
Hmmpff!

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE walk off a little further across the stage with the PICNIC BASKET. CHIP follows.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE put down the PICNIC BASKET and lay out a PICNIC RUG.

NARRATOR
They found a lovely spot for their picnic, then put down a blanket and the basket, and started to set things up.

While DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE busily set up the picnic, CHIP kicks a ball back and forth across the stage without helping.

NARRATOR
They all pitched in to help.

Chip continues to kick the ball around, not helping.

NARRATOR
Didn’t they, Chip?

CHIP
Sure.

CHIP kicks his ball through the middle of the picnic setup.

CHARLIE, DAISY and DOLLY
Chip!

CHARLIE picks up the BALL.

CHARLIE
I’m holding onto this now, Chip.

CHIP
I don’t care.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE all shake their heads. CHARLIE put the BALL away (offstage).

NARRATOR
The four of them decided to go and pick some flowers to put in the centre of their picnic rug.

CHIP
What?! I didn’t decide that!

NARRATOR
Well, that’s what they did anyway.

CHIP
No, it isn’t.

NARRATOR
Yes, it is.

CHIP
I’m not doing that. It’s dumb.

NARRATOR
You know this is getting very tiresome, Chip.

CHIP
I don’t care.

NARRATOR
Well… the co-operative members of the cast went off to pick flowers.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE exit side stage.

CHIP sits down on the PICNIC RUG and starts looking through the basket of food.

CHIP
(TO AUDIENCE)
Hey, look what I just found!

He holds up a CUPCAKE (PROP).

CHIP
We have cupcakes! My favourite! Do you think I should eat one now?

CHIP waits for a response from the audience.

CHIP
Well, I’m going to!

CHIP devours the CUPCAKE Cookie Monster style.

CHIP
Yum! That was so good I think I need to have another one!

CHIP devours yet another CUPCAKE.

CHIP
Yum, yum! And another one!

NARRATOR
I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Chip. The others will be very upset if you eat all the cupcakes.

CHIP
I don’t care.

CHIP eats the last two CUPCAKES at once.

DAISY, DOLLY, and CHARLIE return from side stage with FLOWERS.

DAISY
What are you doing, Chip?!

DOLLY
Oh, my goodness! You’ve eaten all the cupcakes!!

CHIP
(LOOKING AROUND)
Woops!

CHARLIE
That wasn’t nice, Chip!

CHIP
It was, you know, Charlie. They were the loveliest cupcakes!

CHARLIE
Well, it isn’t fair that you ate them all!

DAISY
Yeah, Chip. Stop doing naughty things! You’re ruining our picnic.

CHIP
I don’t care. I’m bored with this picnic anyway.

DOLLY
(SHOCKED)
Chip!

CHIP
I think I’d have more fun on my own. I’ll go into the forest to play by myself.

CHIP starts to head to towards his side stage exit.

NARRATOR
But you can’t do that, Chip!

CHIP
(STOPPING)
Why not?

NARRATOR
Because… a big bad tiger lives in the forest. Remember? I wouldn’t go in there by yourself, if I were you.

CHIP
A big bad tiger in the forest? There is not.

NARRATOR
Yes, there is. He’s mean and terrifying. And you just shouldn’t go in there. You should stay here, so we can all get on with the story we’re supposed to tell.

CHIP
I don’t believe you. I’m going anyway.

NARRATOR
Well, I think you’ll end up being very sorry about that.

CHIP
I don’t care.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE shake their heads as CHIP heads off stage.

NARRATOR
(ANNOYED)
So, Chip went off into the forest, I guess. And apparently the script just went out the window. (CALLING AFTER CHIP) I wonder if Big Ted from Playschool is this difficult to work with?

CHIP
(OFFSTAGE)
I don’t care.

NARRATOR
Goodness me!

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE and all the other picnic props disappear from the stage.

CHIP returns to centre stage from one side.

CHIP
Hey! Isn’t this great? I’ve got the whole forest to myself now. I can run…

CHIP ‘runs’ back and forth across the stage.

CHIP
…and jump…

CHIP ‘jumps’ up and down.

CHIP
… and SHOUT! We know there’s not really any tiger out here, don’t we?

The TIGER starts to sneak up on CHIP (hopefully prompting a reaction from the kids. Or a PLANTED adult in the audience might help prompt one).

CHIP
What? What’s wrong?

CHIP waits for an audience response to his question, with the TIGER still sneaking up and preparing to pounce.

CHIP
The tiger?! Where?

As soon as CHIP looks around for the TIGER, the TIGER ducks down (BELOW STAGE) and hides.

CHIP
(TURNING BACK TO THE AUDIENCE)
What tiger? There’s no tiger. You’re seeing things.

The TIGER starts to sneak up on CHIP again (hopefully) prompting an audience reaction to let CHIP know about the TIGER again.

CHIP
Really? There is a tiger?!

The TIGER is almost right beside CHIP when CHIP finally looks around the stage, and narrowly misses seeing the TIGER, who ducks below stage.

CHIP turns back to the audience.

CHIP
Are you trying to trick me? Because I don’t see any tiger.

The TIGER starts to creep up on CHIP once more, prompting more appeals to CHIP to look out for him from the audience.

CHIP
No, I’m not going to look this time. You can’t fool me again.

The TIGER is getting closer and bearing down on CHIP, almost right beside him.

CHIP
Okay! This is the very last time I look.

CHIP briefly glances at the TIGER beside him and then back the audience, before he suddenly jolts in realisation, and turns back towards back towards the TIGER shaking.

TIGER
GRRRrrrrrr!!

CHIP
Aaarrrgh!

CHIP ‘runs’ across the stage and off sidestage with the TIGER chasing behind him (and also following offstage).

CHIP ‘runs’ back onstage (from the same side of stage he just exited) and across to the opposite side, with the TIGER still chasing along behind. They both run off sidestage.

CHIP and the TIGER make one more pass across the stage (entering from the side they just exited and running off side stage on the opposite side).

CHIP ‘runs’ back on from side stage and the TIGER ‘runs’ on stage towards him from the opposite side of the stage. They bump into each other in the middle of the stage.

CHIP
Aaarrrgh!

TIGER
GRRrrrr!!

CHIP
Please, don’t hurt me, Mr Tiger!

TIGER
I’m not going to hurt you.

CHIP
Phew! What a relief.

TIGER
I’m just going to eat you.

CHIP
No! No, you can’t eat me!

TIGER
I most certainly can. I’m a tiger and you’re in my forest. I can do whatever I like. And besides it’s lunchtime.

CHIP
(WAILS)
But that’s not fair!

TIGER
Fair?! I don’t care. Now stand still so I can take a nice juicy bite out of you.

CHIP
Noooooooo!

CHARLIE
(FROM OFFSTAGE)
Wait just a minute, Mr Tiger.

DAISY, DOLLY and CHARLIE come onstage from one side carrying the PICNIC BASKET.

DAISY
If you’re hungry we have a lovely picnic basket of food you might prefer.

TIGER
Hmmm. What have you got in there?

The TIGER looks inside the PICNIC BASKET.

TIGER
Let’s see… Some cheese and ham and tomato rolls, and grapes and popcorn and (GASPS) chocolate cake! My favourite! I have to admit that sounds a whole lot yummier than raw teddy bear. I’ll have this instead.

The TIGER carries the PICNIC BASKET off side stage.

NARRATOR
And so Daisy, Dolly and Charlie saved their friend Chip from the tiger. And Chip said thank you to them. Didn’t you, Chip?

CHIP
Yes, I really did – do. Thank you! Thank you so much for saving me. I’m very grateful to you all.

NARRATOR
And, so…

CHIP
And I’m so sorry for being naughty and unfair before. And for ruining the picnic.

NARRATOR
So, the…

CHIP
So the thing I’ve decided to do, is to make us all some more food for another picnic tomorrow. (BOWING HIS HEAD, ASHAMED) If you would all like to come along, that is.

DAISY
I’d love to.

DOLLY
Me, too.

CHARLIE
We’ll all come along, Chip. What a nice idea.

NARRATOR
And that…was the end of the story. And a very nice ending to the story it is, too, Chip.

CHIP
Thanks, but I’m sorry I messed up the script for you.

NARRATOR
That’s okay, Chip. Just this once, I suppose I don’t care.

THE END

My homework has eaten my blog

My homework has eaten my blog,
This week life got in the way,
I’ve been flying along by the seat of my pants,
And now I have nothing to say.

Sorry.
And, unfortunately, next week’s looking stupidly busy as well, so I’m going to say back in two weeks to be on the safe side.
Best wishes and hope life is kind in the meantime.

Prophets of Science Fiction

The science fiction genre in storytelling provides an excellent vehicle for social philosophy and social commentary, often taking an aspect of contemporary society and projecting it into an extreme vision of the future to make a point about it.

The world in which it is set, or its “social stage”, is therefore one of the most important features of science fiction. And the technology within that world is equally important, as science fiction is often, fundamentally, a comment on technology.

Prophets of Science Fiction” is a documentary television series produced and hosted by Ridley Scott for the Science channel.

SBS aired the series earlier this year and their overview of the series states

“Each episode of this series examines and celebrates the life, ideas, convictions, philosophies and genius of eight legends of the science fiction realm. These are pillars of the genre, representing the most ground-breaking conceptual viewpoints of their eras. Notable for some of today’s greatest sci-fi concepts, these writers and their works continue to inspire the minds of young and old around the world.”

(I thought that was a really excellent description of it, so I lazily stole it instead of working on one of my own!)

The eight chosen visionaries the series examines and celebrates are

Mary Shelley who started writing “Frankenstein” as a teenager, in 1816.

Philip K. Dick who was both a literary genius and a paranoid outcast. His work inspired the films “BladeRunner“, “Total Recall” and “Minority Report“.

H.G. Wells who wrote stories like “The Time Machine“, and “War of the Worlds“, and famously wrote his own epitaph – “I told you so…”

Arthur C. Clarke who co-wrote the script for the “2001” with Stanley Kubrick, the pair having based it on a short story by Clarke called “The Sentinal” (although he was quoted as saying that comparing “The Sentinal” with “2001” was like comparing “an acorn to the resulting oak-tree”).

Isaac Asimov who wrote “I, Robot“, and hoped for a better future where we had nothing to fear from technology.

Jules Verne who pioneered the science fiction genre, writing about space, air, and underwater travels before practical means of had been devised. He is best known for “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea“, “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” and “Around the World in Eighty Days“.

Robert Heinlein who is “a walking contradiction. His stories address themes of patriotism and duty, while stressing the importance of personal freedom and expression”. The theme “What is freedom?” permeates his work, which includes “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Starship Troopers“.

George Lucas who gave us the epic space mythology of Star Wars and the concept of “the used future”, and changed the way movies are made altogether.

Critics of the series have deemed it to be “light on the substance and heavy on the exaggeration“. And, at times, I agree with that statement. (Especially with respect to the final episode, number 8 on George Lucas).

That said, it is still a fascinating, thought provoking and very worthwhile series to take a look at in my humble opinion.

Respecting the Tone

How often do you see this pattern emerge in some kind of online discussion?

Somebody offers up a topic.
People respond.
At first there’s a little bit of respectful disagreement back and forth.
Then somebody weighs in with a more heated comment on a certain point of the discussion.
And somebody else perceives disrespect and takes them to task for it.
And then a fight breaks out.
And the whole dialogue descends into a nasty little fight fraught with name calling and accusations and copious use of the word “troll” on both sides.

Perhaps these kinds of communications might be less problematic if they were held face to face. If each participant could see a person in front of them instead of words on a screen. Able to read the body language and expression involved in delivery of the message, not just the text.

Words are the tip of the iceberg in the ways human beings communicate with each other. Big chunks of the message can get lost (or misinterpreted) without all other aspects of our communication. Like, for instance, our tone.

Tone can make a lot of difference to the way people engage with one another, regardless of what they are discussing.

My brother works for Centrelink (which handles social security payments in Australia). He isn’t anymore, but he used to be on their phone line. People would ring in with their concerns and problems relating to their social security payments and allowances, and he would be the first port of call to help them sort it out.

He told me that a lot of people would ring up swearing and ranting and sounding very aggressive. And Centrelink has a policy that allows their staff to hang up on callers who swear and abuse them. So many of his colleagues did this when confronted with abusive callers. My brother had a lot of the most “difficult” calls/callers redirected to him because he didn’t hang up on them.

He said that even though it could be pretty confronting to have somebody ranting and swearing in his ear, he learned to tune it out. Because he could still hear the distress beneath it. And that he knew what they were really saying to him was “Help me! I have a big scary problem that’s stressing me out! I don’t know what to do about it and I feel like nobody’s listening to me!!!”

So he would simply try and get the facts from them. And get to the bottom of the situation, to figure out what was needed to resolve the problem. Ignoring all the rest.

He said as soon as they had a sense that he was listening to them they would immediately calm down. And their tone would change, and they would usually be very apologetic about the way they had initially behaved towards him. All they wanted was to be heard.

I really admire my brother for being able to do that, and wish I was a lot better at doing the same thing sometimes. I mean to be, but it can be very hard.

We can probably all find ourselves carrying around our share of stuff about the way the world has treated us at times. And nobody should really have permission to be abusive towards us, not even because they have been abused themselves.

But on the other hand, there are times when people really do just need our compassion and understanding.

It’s a tough one.

Because when someone is fighting to be heard, and has the baggage of a long history of what they feel are attempts to silence their voice, their voice can tend to have a lot of fight in it. It can sound hostile and aggressive and angry.

But that can also be understandably hard for people to engage with. Somebody may well know they have every right to be angry about what they’re talking about, but it’s just a fact of life that using an angry tone may well alienate the person they’re trying to talk to. And be counterproductive to their effort to get them to listen.

Respectful communication is paramount to that. Because if either party feels disrespected by the other, the most likely outcome is that they will shut down communication, stop listening and disengage from the the conversation altogether. Which gets nobody anywhere.

A conversation is a two-way dialogue. It you want to talk and be heard in any meaningful way, and engage in productive discussion, you have to put every bit as much energy into listening as talking. Even if you don’t always like what you end up hearing.

I guess finding your voice can often be about finding a balance between communicating respectfully with your audience and yet adopting a tone that is strong enough to make yourself heard.

And I think that’s really the same challenge whether we’re talking about writing a song, a novel, a film, a blog, or even a message or comment as part of a discussion on a forum of some kind, or Facebook or Twitter.

Our tone is a big factor for people in deciding whether or not they will listen to us, and engage on any level with what we have to say.

So, if that’s what we really want from them, it requires our most careful consideration.

Something to sing about

Song lyrics matter to me. I can really like a song purely for the way it sounds before I know what the lyrics are, but will be turned right off it upon discovery that its lyrics are “rubbish”.

My husband, who is far less “fussy” about a song’s lyrics, finds that a bit bizarre. He often seems to be far more hooked by the way the song sounds than what it has to say.

Music can sometimes elicit very powerful emotional responses from us.

Karen Schrock wrote in her article “Why Music Moves US” in Scientific American (July 15, 2009)

“Some scientists conclude that music’s influence over us may be a chance event, arising from its ability to hijack brain systems built for other purposes such as language, emotion and movement”.

So a song that has something to say can be a powerful tool of protest.

Because while a song – or a poem, or a book, or a film – can not change the world in and of itself, it can certainly help stir up strong feelings inside some of us. And help motivate us to put in some effort towards creating the changes we want to see. Or it can even become some kind of anthem to promote a bit of unity amongst the people who decide to dedicate themselves to such a task.

Here just a few iconic songs by artists who have helped to stir things up, and what motivated them to write them.

“Redemption Song” by Bob Marley (6/2/1945 – 11/5/1981)

“Redemption Song” is the final track on Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ninth album, “Uprising”. Some of the song’s key lyrics were derived from a speech given by the Pan-Africanist orator Marcus Garvey in 1937

“We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind. Mind is your only ruler, sovereign. The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind”

Bob Marley had been diagnosed with the cancer (in his toe) which later ended his life when he wrote the song in 1979. His widow Rita Marley has said “he was already secretly in a lot of pain and dealt with his own mortality, a feature that is clearly apparent in the album, particularly in this song”.

The song is considered one of Marley’s seminal works, with Rolling Stone having listed it as number 66 among The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and Bob Marley remains the most widely known and revered performer of reggae music, credited with helping to spread both Jamaican music and the Rastafari movement to a worldwide audience.

“The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan told Cameron Crowe in 1985 that he recalled writing “The Times They Are a-Changin'” as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change. “This was definitely a song with a purpose. It was influenced of course by the Irish and Scottish ballads …’Come All Ye Bold Highway Men’, ‘Come All Ye Tender Hearted Maidens’. I wanted to write a big song, with short concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. The civil rights movement and the folk music movement were pretty close for a while and allied together at that time”

Less than a month after Dylan recorded the song, President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. The following night, Dylan opened a concert with the song. He later told biographer Anthony Scaduto: “I thought, ‘Wow, how can I open with that song? I’ll get rocks thrown at me.’ But I had to sing it, my whole concert takes off from there. I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding the song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping, or why I wrote the song. I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”

“Imagine” by John Lennon (9/10/ 1940 – 8/12/1980)

“Imagine” was a single released from John Lennon’s album of the same name in 1971.

He claimed that the song’s lyrics were inspired by “Cloud Piece”, a three-line instructional poem from Yoko Ono’s 1964 book Grapefruit.

Imagine the clouds dripping.
Dig a hole in your garden to
put them in.

1963 Spring

Lennon commented on the song’s message in an interview with David Sheff for Playboy magazine in the year he died, 1980

“It’s not a new message: “Give Peace a Chance” — we’re not being unreasonable. Just saying “give it a chance.” With “Imagine” we’re asking, “can you imagine a world without countries or religions?” It’s the same message over and over. And it’s positive.”

The song was ranked the 3rd greatest song of all time by Rolling Stone in its “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

“People Have the Power” by Patti Smith

“People Have the Power” is a rock song written by Patti Smith along with her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, and released as a lead single from her 1988 album “Dream of Life”.

The song has been used in various political campaigns and rallies in the US and Patti Smith performed the song at several of Ralph Nader’s rallies and “Democracy Rising” events, as she is a supporter of the Green Party.

Patti Smith is a legendary musician who helped to carve out a place for female involvement in the US Punk Rock Movement. Her music is very much tied to her political activism, and she has been actively involved in both (music and political activism) throughout her four decade career.

“To the Teeth” by Ani DiFranco

“To the Teeth” was Ani DiFranco’s response to the Columbine High School massacre.

Kim Ruehl wrote for the About.com Guide “Ani DiFranco has long been an advocate of gun control, and this is undeniably her finest song on the matter. Inspired by a rash of school violence and the questions it raised in the media about who’s at fault when children lash out, this title track to her album To the Teeth spares no explanation and pulls no punches. It’s one of the boldest topical songs of her entire career”.

“What Have They Done to the Rain” performed by Joan Baez

“What Have They Done to the Rain” was written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962 and was originally called”Rain Song”. It was written as part of a campaign to stop nuclear testing in the atmosphere, which was producing fall-out. It has been performed by many different artists, most notably by highly renowned American folk singer, songwriter and musician Joan Baez, who has also long been a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace, and environmental justice.