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Occupy Wall St.

Did pop culture embrace Occupy Wall Street?

Dan Bobkoff Sep 14, 2012
Occupy Wall St.

Did pop culture embrace Occupy Wall Street?

Dan Bobkoff Sep 14, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: Jay-Z, the musician turned mogul, was talking about Occupy Wall Street in the New York Times the other day. He said he doesn’t know “what the fight is all about.” That from a guy who jumped from the 99 percent to the top of the 1 percent himself. And who, by the way, made some money recently selling T-shirts that said Occupy All Streets.

Monday, as it happens, is the first anniversary of the Occupy movement. And Dan Bobkoff reports that for now, at least, its legacy is more commercial than cultural.

Dan Bobkoff: It wasn’t hard to find references to the Occupy movement and the closest thing it ever got to a slogan: that being the wealth gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else. It wasn’t long ago that I saw tongue-in-cheek ads around New York inviting 99 percenters to…occupy a self-storage company.  

Or, there was this invitation from an online brokerage: 

 Ad: Interactive brokers: Join the One Percent!

Of which the Jack Donaghy character on NBC’s “30 Rock” is a member. Earlier this year, Donaghy got mugged by a guy wearing Dockers and saw the larger meaning. 

Jack Donaghy in “30 Rock”: This is a sign. The lower classes are getting cranky about the rich earning all their money away from them. Can’t they see this is in their best interest? How could we pay their salaries without using their money? We’re on the verge of a class war.

And, Occupy hasn’t made much of a dent in popular music. There is this song from Third Eye Blind, a band that was big in the ’90s.   

Third Eye Blind: Come on meet me down at Zuccotti Park.

It’s not exactly Woodie Guthrie.

And, whether you agree with Occupy or not, it was pretty clear that it never occupied pop culture like past protests. 

Natasha Lennard: There wasn’t one message. There wasn’t one movement.

Natasha Lennard covers Occupy for Salon.com and has been involved in some Occupy actions herself. I met her in Zuccotti Park this week because she’s written about the movement in pop culture. The tents and sleeping bags are long gone now, though we did find a small group planning something for Monday’s anniversary. 

Lennard says Occupy was many people protesting many things. It was experimental and new and isn’t easily summed up in the kinds of messages that become songs, movies, or TV scripts.  

Lennard: The thing that resonated about Occupy was that it was genuinely confusing and very much related to how it felt to be those taking those moments, seizing those streets. And it was not just a protest with a message or a petition.

Plus, Occupy’s moment was fleeting. 

Paul Levinson is the author of “The New New Media.”

Paul Levinson: Occupy Wall Street rose to prominence much faster than the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movements in the 1960s. And, it was over, so it seems, much faster.

Too fast to end up in, say, movies, while the protest was still going on. 

Levinson: It was not around on the front page or as the lead story on television long enough for the impact to spread into popular culture.

In spite of that, some started seeing Occupy everywhere, like in this ad for Maybelline full of beautiful protesters: That became a debate over whether Maybelline was co-opting Occupy.

Some saw the movement in the new Batman movie. It seems Occupy is now in the eye of the beholder. Or, at least, it’s on “30 Rock,” which ended that episode about class war with its own Batman parody: 

Jenna Maroney in “30 Rock”: Villains and heroes. The 1 percent and the 99…

In New York, I’m Dan Bobkoff for Marketplace.

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