Power to the People

George Stroumboulopoulos on punk, politics, and people

By Breanna Mroczek

If you’ve consumed any Canadian media over the past twenty years, then George Stroumboulopoulos is a familiar name and voice. Currently the host of the The Strombo Show on CBC Radio, Stroumboulopoulos spins “algorithm-free” tunes on Sunday evenings, many by artists that Stroumboulopoulos would refer to as “punk:” artists with a story, a message, a cause.

No matter what images, sounds, and lifestyles “punk,” conjures up for you, by its very essence punk cannot be easily defined. For Stroumboulopoulos, punk is an attitude. In some ways, punk is disruption. It’s challenging “what’s always been done” and “what should be done.”

In an interview with Disruption, Stroumboulopolous explores how a punk attitude can be used to approach politics, people, and social media in the digital age.

Where do pop culture and politics intersect?

“To me, politics and music are completely connected. I became interested in politics in part because of punk rock and early hip hop. And, if you think about it, with some of the larger injustices that have happened in the world, attention is raised when people on the ground floor, the grassroots people, the artists, try to amplify those messages. So, to me, [politics and pop culture] are actually synonymous in that I don’t experience politics or music or art independent of each other.”

What does it mean for a person or an organization to be punk in 2019?

“I learned a long time ago that there is no one definition of punk. I think that punk is about being yourself, representing yourself, and fighting a system that is unjust.

Music and politics and punk rock come together at a center point, which is that you have to fight against injustice. And that has always been the definition [of punk] by which I have applied myself. But again, true punk is doing whatever the hell you want, you know? But not doing whatever the hell you want the way the man does, because the man does whatever the hell they want and they’re the people that we fight against. It’s a very complicated history of that word, but that’s always been my use of ‘punk.’

When I was a kid listening to music, I never once in a million years thought the government was on our side or that the media was on our side. I’m not saying that they’re all bad, I’m not cynical about it, but they’re not on our side.”

What do you think voters should keep in mind during election season?

“I think the greatest challenge for voters today is to listen to things, listen to ideas that aren’t their own. Right now, everybody exists in an echo chamber where their opinions are just validated, so they’re not actually learning, they’re not actually growing. Everybody has become so myopic.

For me as a voter, I have my preconceived notions and I have my values, and I challenge both of them all the time. My core values, hopefully, don’t change. And most voters don’t do that. People vote along party lines, which to me is one of the great failures of our democracy, is people who are still partisan.

Challenge your values and challenge your relationship with your party. Look at the candidates of course, but don’t just vote along party lines.

Listen to other people’s points of view, even if you don’t agree with them. You have to understand who the other voter is. Unless we just dig ourselves trenches and war it out until the end of time politically, then we have to actually find ways to have common ground. Otherwise, nothing’s really going to get done.”

How can people consume media smartly, especially regarding political coverage?

“To educate yourself, you actually have to do the work. For me, I can’t just read one newspaper all the time or watch one channel, because that’s not enough work. It’s not the media’s responsibility really to inform in the modern world, because most media is corporate media. So it’s your responsibility as a citizen to know what the hell is going on, or to put some effort into it. Because otherwise we’re just handing over our opinions and our ideas to corporations. Or to governments. And I’m not doing that. This is a punk thing.

[Corporations and governments] want to do well for us, but they have other goals that are ahead of doing well for us. The only people that are going to care the most about us are us. So we have to be there for each other, constantly challenging each other, constantly pushing the conversation forward. You can’t rely on the government, and you cannot rely on the opposition. You cannot rely on media. You hope you can get good things from them, but you can’t rely on them.”

What are some trends that you’re seeing in global politics and media coverage?

“Climate change. Ten years ago it wasn’t in the news the same way. I’ve been covering climate change in my career for almost twenty years, but now it’s sort of the conversation. It used to be that everybody in the campaigns said that the only thing people care about is the economy and healthcare. Politicians are talking about climate change incessantly.”

How can social media be used effectively for protest or awareness?

“With the protests in Iran and Tunisia, it was through social media where we were able to get real time information and we weren’t relying on traditional news sources. We were able to hear from the people who were actually there. I think that’s been the biggest thing. That’s been so fantastic.

If people have a voice, they’re heard, and you’re going to hear all sides of the equation. We used to just watch the news and then you would have this conversation with your people, your family, at your table.

Now the fact that we don’t have to wait to hear from reporters, that we can go right to the source, that’s interesting to me, and that’s been the biggest positive with social media.

But the challenges with that are challenge with people in general. All of challenges and concerns that have come about with technology were never intended, but people will do what people will do. Uber started as an idea to give people rides more efficiently, and it’s evolved into something else that people have concerns with.

So [with social media and technology] the people will show you who they are. Good and bad.”

What does disruption mean to you?

“Well here’s the thing, the word disruption has been co-opted by corporate culture. Punk was disruption. We want that [disruptive] culture and the Uber culture and Postmates culture, all that stuff. This is technology that we all basically live by. But disruptors decided to completely blow up the system. How long did it take for [our reaction to] Uber to go from, ‘Oh my God, this is the best thing ever,’ to ‘Uber is the enemy.’ How long did it take for everybody to go, ‘Holy cow, Amazon’s amazing’ and now those same people are complaining about it. I don’t have a problem with corporate culture, I think these organizations are doing exactly what they’re allowed to do in this culture. I’m not criticizing their existence, but it’s just fucked.

I don’t think they really know what they’re talking about to be honest. They’re not really interested in change. What they’re interested in is finding new ways to make money. That’s what those people really do. A lot of the stuff that had been called ‘disruption’ in business has been about ways to make things more convenient for the individual, but it’s costing jobs. So they’re not really disrupting, all they’re doing is just fucking with the technology a little bit or finding new ways to deliver products. But they’re still delivering products. The people that change the game ended up becoming the game.

“[With social media and technology,] people are just showing us who they are. Good and bad.”

“I think that punk is about being yourself, representing yourself and fighting a system that is unjust.”

“I don’t experience politics or music or art independent of each other.”

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