Jackson Browne straggled into Freedom Plaza recently to show his support for Occupy D.C., one of the last major redoubts of Occupy Wall Street, the nationwide anti-corporate movement now running on empty.
In a “surprise” celebrity visit plugged in advance to the press in an email from PR firm JP Cutler Media, Mr. Browne strummed his way through a short set of protest music, including a militant new song inspired by Occupy. While few would doubt the sincerity of the longtime left-wing activist’s show of solidarity with the thinning ranks of Occupiers, it’s hard to ignore a side benefit for the troubadour, whose career peaked during the Carter administration: hawking his brand to a new generation, scoring some headlines, boosting in the process his album and concert-ticket sales.
Mr. Browne is hardly alone in seizing the Opportunity that lies in Occupation. The Occupy Wall Street movement, a font of outrage and resistance against big business, commercialism and the wealthy, has nearly from the beginning managed to attract elements of all those things.
Occupy encampments across the country are packed with college students and others in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic. Their politics might skew left, but as with most that age, their dollars flow right into the pockets of companies looking to do the very thing these outposts of hard-partying college students and iPod-sporting Marxists have declared to be the ultimate evil: profit.
Auction sites and online retailers are filled with Occupy merchandise.
On eBay, one can bid — starting at the modest price of $19.50 — on a coffee mug advertising both Occupy Wall Street and “Free Palestine.” CafePress is selling T-shirts with progressive slogans ranging from the prosaic (“End income inequality”) to the chiming (“Don’t Feed the Greed”).
Whereas the tea party movement has had virtually no celebrity backing, the rich and famous have turned out in droves to express their support for Occupy Wall Street. Wealthy stars such as Roseanne Barr, Mark Ruffalo, Russell Simmons, Susan Sarandon and Kanye West all checked in at the movement’s ur-site in New York’s Zucotti Park. Mr. West, a business partner of Universal Music Group, the corporate colossus that now commands 40 percent of the American music market since snarfing down EMI last month, was clad in a working-class, scoop-necked white T-shirt — the better to set off the dazzling gold chains draped around his neck. Maybe he bought the bling at a small mom-and-pop jeweler’s of the type approved by the anti-“big box” Occupiers.
Alec Baldwin also visited, but the usually pugnacious liberal (and airline passenger) may have disappointed many among his hosts by declaring, “I think capitalism is worthwhile.”
Multimillionaire Michael Moore has appeared at sites ranging from New York to San Francisco, bullhorn characteristically at the ready, decrying capitalism on one hand while uncomfortably denying his own fabulous wealth on the other. “I want taxes raised on people who do well, including mine,” he told CBS-4 Denver reporter Evrod Cassimy in a testy exchange after being asked how he uses his fortune to help others.
While the Occupy Wall Street movement had spread throughout the nation at its peak, celebrity sightings were largely confined to sites in media capitals like New York, Los Angeles and the District. A few small-town Occupy encampments made do without major media coverage, celebrity cameos or impromptu concerts by name acts, settling instead for less direct methods — like MP3 players and laptop DVD drives — of communing with their favorite artists.
The pop tart and bong-rocker Miley Cyrus recently released a video of her song “Liberty Walk,” which features the track set to images of Occupy protests, dedicated to those “who are standing up for what they believe in.” Perhaps Miss Cyrus hopes that some of them will come to believe in attending her concerts, as she herself has yet to pay the Occupiers a visit.
Rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z didn’t hesitate before angling to identify himself with Occupy Wall Street. His clothing brand Rocawear released a T-shirt in support — though not as convincingly in support as it could have been, as not a penny was set to be shared with the actual Occupy movement. The shirt was quickly pulled after recriminations from the Occupy crowd, angry that the anti-capitalist movement wasn´t going to get its “fair share” of the profits.
Priscilla Grim, co-editor of the movement’s unofficial newspaper “The Occupied Wall Street Journal,” remarked that Jay-Z “has the political sensibility of a hood rat,” though few would criticize his business instincts.
Mr. Browne, along with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Third Eye Blind, among other musicians, will have tracks on the upcoming compilation “Occupy This Album,” all proceeds from which are supposed to go directly to Occupy Wall Street and related causes, although the project is officially independent of the movement.
On Tuesday, Workhouse PR gleefully announced that it had been chosen to handle media relations for this anthology of “Music By, For and Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement and the 99%.” Under a clenched (and possibly radioactive?) blue fist logo and the almost-scanning slogan “Reignite the spark that began in the park,” the publicists explained they’d been hired “to execute a comprehensive public relations plan for international publicity, concerts and special events” associated with the benefit album, which promises “a hit list of new anthems for the generations.”
While the sympathetic musicians involved may have donated their time and talents to the cause, they are also reaping invaluable free publicity. No, “Occupy This Album” is not likely to reignite the careers of Mr. Crosby and Mr. Nash in the way the Woodstock concert albums originally thrust them into the rock elite as part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Still, at their age, the septuagenarians are likely grateful for even the gentlest of career lifts.
The message is clear: Make your voice heard, fight the power, and while you´re at it, buy our albums, concert tickets and T-shirts, the proceeds of which will remodel our kitchens. Occupy Wall Street might result in good business, though probably not of the sort the faithful intended.
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