Patti Smith, Katniss Everdeen, & Kenneth Cole: where is our counter culture revolution today?


I was lucky enough to catch Patti Smith at Massey Hall in Toronto last night & it was a fantastic two hour-ish show – Lenny Kaye on guitar & Patti with a voice I swear hasn’t aged. She opened with Dancing Barefoot, ad libbed a, hysterically funny spoken word piece on Nicole Kidman, TIFF, & Kidman’s gorgeous gown & red hair, dedicated This is the Girl to Amy Winehouse & connected that dedication back to Maria Callas singing on the same Massey Hall stage.  She did a beautiful version of Lennon’s Beautiful Boy, changing the last line to ‘Beautiful John…’, sang a kicking Horses into Gloria, and had the audience up, dancing & singing throughout.

At points in the show, politics were front & center with Patti weaving in protests on the handling of Snowden & Syria. What she ended with pulled me up short as after pulling out the strings on her guitar, she held it up and said: ‘Like Katniss Everdeen, I raise my bow, & send an arrow to you’ & then left the stage.

If you know the trilogy, you know that’s a call for a revolution against a corrupt & oppressive regime, in Collins’ The Hunger Games, the Capitol city of Panem. For Patti, clearly the current regime in Washington.

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Contrast Patti’s integration of punk’s counter-culture stance with Collins’ critique with Kenneth Cole’s crassly commercial tweet referencing Syria, which he has defended as an edgy engagement with issues: “I’ve always used my platform to provoke dialogue about important issues, including HIV AIDS, war and homelessness.”

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Reading further on Cole’s past forays into provocation, I was most struck by how Cole’s phrasing & tone are a dead ringer for the messaging Lionsgate is using in its promotion of the Capitol as the society to role play in through its marketing campaigns for The Hunger Games & now Catching Fire. Here from the Capitol Couture Tumblr page

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Surely, Lionsgate will recognize at some point how problematic it is to promote The Hunger Games brand asking fans to side with those who revel in the deaths of the Tributes. Fans are being quite vocal in how uncomfortable & misplaced this marketing is. On the Mockingjay.net, one blogger recently wrote:

‘In 2011 and 2012, I’m sure a lot of you can remember fawning all over every new image or piece of marketing. Capitol Couture was wicked cool and the .PN domains were amazing. The nail polish was an awkward topic, but lots of us still wanted them. Effie’s butterfly eyelashes were amazing and we all hurried to get our Panem ID cards where we were placed into one of the 12 districts.

But somehow this time around, things are different. I know I’m not alone. And maybe it’s because deep down, the real Hunger Games fan in me still lives. And that part of me–the part that was drawn to a girl’s will to protect her family from government oppression at all costs–just doesn’t care about Capitol fashions that are sort of just weird and too Capitol for my liking. It annoys me that Lionsgate feels the need to use the hashtag #UrAHungerGamesFan, leaving me mildly insulted that a series with such a serious message is being dumbed down so much in official marketing…’

Another fan here:

‘So they’re marketing THG by missing the entire point about the vileness of the Capital in THG. Coo, coo.’

And another exchange here opened up how to shift the marketing to the real themes of the series:

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Firmly committed however, Lionsgate most recently blithley announced the launch of a fashion line on NET-A-PORTER.com.

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Sigh… but then really, what am I thinking? that a major studio would advocate for the 99%? This is just a movie after all and it’s likely that co-opting fan empathy for Collins’ vision of the beginnings of a revolution in Catching Fire & the desire for societal change for a marketing campaign would be just as bad.

So it was fantastic to see Patti Smith, grey haired mother of two, still rocking, still punk, closing her show with this reference to Katniss’ disruptive power.  Her closing line, unlike Lionsgate’s messaging, was right on target, connecting her life, experience, and political views with a younger generation’s passion for something more than just fashion, consumerism & nail polish.

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