The Popular Front: An “Alternative Year in Review” of 2014 Pop Culture
Photo by TampAGS
Most “Year in Review” lists of popular culture are pretty predictable. Such lists are jam-packed with consensus contenders for big industry awards such as the Oscars and Grammys and they tend to be reflections of what is “popular” as defined by sales. Indeed, the typical “Year in Review” list highlights profitable popular culture. As the pop culture columnist for Canadian Dimension Magazine, I have assembled an alternative “Year in Review” list showcasing elements of progressive popular culture from 2014.
I have created the following list by polling CD collective members as well as readers on social media to see what they were watching, reading, and listening to in 2014. I have also added my own recommendations. This list is by no means exhaustive. Please contribute to the conversation by adding your own suggestions in the comments section and on twitter @CDN_Dimension.
There were many excellent dramas in 2014. Pride was the consensus pick; however, I think Rhymes for Young Ghouls is a more significant and challenging film for Canadians.
Documentary filmmaking remains a key tool for agitation and education. Both Concerning Violence, which recounts the events of African liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s, and Alanis Obomsawin’s new film Trick or Treaty, about the significance of Treaty 9, are great docs about the enduring legacies of colonialism.
It is commonly believed that the small screen is overtaking the big screen in terms of quality filmmaking, and 2014 saw a number of hard-hitting historical dramas dealing with somewhat progressive themes.
- The Knick
- Peaky Blinders
- The Black Mirror
- Olive Kitteridge
- True Detective
- Strange Empire
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
2014 was an extraordinary year for politically-charged music. Tania Tagaq’s album Animism topped many CD members’ and readers’ suggestions.
- *Animism* by Tania Tagaq
- Last Run by The Rebel Spell
- Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels
- Piñata by Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
- More Than Any Other Day by Ought
- “Flawless” by Beyonce
- “Sisters” by A Tribe Called Red
- Honour the Treaties Tour by Neil Young
In The Back of the Turtle, Thomas King proves why he is one of Canada’s most important writers.
- The Back of the Turtle (HarperCollins) by Thomas King
- The Bone Clocks (Random House) by David Mitchell
- The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus) by Neel Mukherjee
There were simply too many superb non-fiction books published in 2014 to mention. Here is a (necessarily incomplete) list of noteworthy titles.
- This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (Knopf Canada) by Naomi Klein
- Undoing Border Imperialism (AK Press) by Harsha Walia
- Capitalism a Ghost Story (Haymarket Books) by Arundhati Roy
- About Canada: Poverty (Fernwood) by Jim Silver
- Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (University of Minnesota Press) by Glen Sean Coulthard
- Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Teamsters’ Strikes of 1934 (Haymarket Books) by Bryan D. Palmer
- Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (University of Regina Press) by James Daschuk
- Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Duke University Press) by Audra Simpson
- Revolutionizing Retail: Workers, Political Action, and Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan) by Kendra Coulter
Comics continue to be a growing medium of critical popular culture. Check out the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of Canadian Dimension for an interview with Jeff Lemire about Justice League United and the new Cree Superheroine, Equinox.
- Bohemians: A Graphic History (Verso) by David Berger and Paul Buhle
- Justice League United (DC) by Jeff Lemire
- The Days of Action: The Character of Class Struggle in 1990s Ontario by Doug Nesbitt, Sean Carleton, and Orion Keresztesi
Video games are also developing more progressive political content and allowing gamers to challenge the status quo through play.
Twitter remains, despite its obvious limitations, a powerful source of information. Here are some of the major political hashtags of 2014.
- #Changethename / #Notyourmascot
There were many profoundly political art installations in 2014. Walking with Our Sisters, in particular, is worthy of mention.
Sean Carleton is a member of the CD collective and writes The Popular Front column on pop culture.
I would like to thank the following CD collective members, subscribers, readers, and followers for contributing suggestions: Adam Baker, Karen Dean, Judy Deutsch, Cy Gonick, Henry Heller, David Hugill, Edwin Janzen, Krishna Lalbiharie, Andrea Levy, Jonathan Lockyer, Chris Parsons, James Paterson, Mick Sweetman, and Christopher Webb.