The Challenges of an Activist Aesthetic

The Challenges of an Activist Aesthetic

Above is a photo of some punks taken in Britain in the 1980s. The beauty of the Punk subgenre is that it is based so much in nonconformity that the aesthetic seemed utterly unfamiliar to most with its black leather, metal studs and pink mohicans. However, this was one of the most accessible movements of all time. Aesthetic was important to this movement because it characterised everything they did, the punks were the situationists, the surrealists and the suffragettes but you didn’t need to afford nice clothes, education or music to be part of this movement, you just had to be angry because of the issues that matter. It was a group of people who aimed to be exactly who they wanted to be, free of the corruptive nature of social conformity and to do this they made things themselves, their own way.


Over the years, however, this unique aesthetic became diluted with the styles becoming more easily digestible for a wider audience who were less conscious of the choices they make day to day and less caring about the messages behind the movement. This is dangerous because people being purveyed as a force for good can, in actual fact, be a force of disgraceful mediocrity. The rise of the public speaker in the charity sector is a real example of this. People spread ideas constantly, which is great in moderation because ideas are the trigger for change but what’s the point in having bags of seeds if you’re not going to grow any plants? There are plenty of people recycling ideas in this field and unfortunately, this seems to be the only thing they’re recycling. The people purveying themselves as activists often struggle to make a difference because they’re too tied down with keeping up with the image they have created to live by their own lessons.


It seems counterproductive but I enjoy people questioning World Merit’s intentions as an organisation because questioning everything and holding people accountable is an essential part of improving the world. I feel extremely proud when I see the community fighting to establish World Merit and counter a cynic’s argument with their own views and knowledge of our community and what we do, and I’m excited to bring together real, working, grassroots movements so they can take the ideas that work in practice and continue to build on them figuratively and literally. Our aesthetic is deep rooted in a ‘do good, feel good’ attitude, this image of a happy go-lucky youth movement is present in a lot of our output but never forget that we were founded on a necessity created by anger. Anger that those with the power to make the changes needed to ensure the survival of the Earth and everything living on it are not. Being an activist is only really 10% aesthetic, the rest is tireless, practical work but that 10% is important because it makes you accessible, it keeps you on track, and most of all, it is your connection to the world. If that small subgenre that started in the 70s and 80s has taught us anything it’s to stop sitting around having a polite chat and go out and make it happen yourself.

Written By Henry Ward