The power of social media and music in times of trouble

Friday 13 November 2015 will forever be a date scarred into the memory of countless people worldwide due to the traumatic events that took place in Paris. This unquantifiable number will largely represent an interactive multi-national community affected by information they have drawn from various second-hand sources. These second- hand sources will include certified international news agencies, but also numerous social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. However, while being demonised for being used as platforms for many to voice controversial opinions and unsubstantiated news stories, both aforementioned social media platforms also became the centred location for many to share important views and visual anecdotes. Many of these visual anecdotes were viral videos displaying some of the immensely positive roles that a combination of social media and music can accomplish.

Two notable viral videos came from almost polar opposite situations in Paris, subsequently presenting two very different ways that the world has reacted to the events.

The first example is a video shared shortly after football fans were evacuated from Le Stade De France, which had been hosting the International Friendly between France and Germany before large explosions were heard from outside the stadium. While scenes of great fear played out on the pitch, as fans gathered to stay as far away from the site of the blasts as possible, one video helped to partially change the atmosphere surrounding the situation. Posted by a fan on Youtube (now with over one million views), the video shows thousands of fans leaving the stadium through tunnels, combining their voices for a triumphant rendition of ‘La Marseillaise’. The video being posted so soon after the news had broken of the bombings showed that, although damaged, the city of Paris and its citizens would not be left broken and would stand defiant against the atrocities it had faced. The use of the country’s proud national anthem helped spark a wave of international solidarity, represented in one way on social media through millions changing their profile pictures on Facebook to feature a Tricolore filter.

The second example is a two- minute video, shared by the Youtube channel ‘prayforparis’ (now closing in on 2,500,000 views). It shows a pianist pulling a large portable piano sporting the CND symbol on his bike before halting outside the Bataclan, the venue hit the hardest by the terrorist attacks with 89 killed, interrupting an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the famous theatre. The pianist, after calming himself, launches into a powerful solo performance of John Lennon’s anthem for peace ‘Imagine’ to a silent audience of photographers and passers-by. In two minutes of footage, the Bouelvard Voltaire was taken briefly away from being purely a scene of mourning to a street that could be reminded of its history as a creative landmark of Paris. The pianist had managed to capture a fragment of the grand scale of emotions felt by many Parisians waking up on Saturday morning trying to look hopefully towards the future.

Music as an art form has an incredible way of representing larger issues in mostly simple and functional ways. While not everyone may back the same political opinion, many can all appreciate a more simple and direct opinion driven by the deceased John Lennon imagining “all the people (of the world) living life in peace”. By the same token, while national anthems are specific to individual nations, the history of certain anthems – especially ‘La Marseillaise’ as synonymous with France’s revolutionary past, can be used to symbolise collective strength and international solidarity.

Similar to the poetically intangible nature of music being able to drive people, it is also incredibly difficult to fully determine the exact effect social media can have on political events. That said it would be equally as hard to argue against the role both have played in events following the attacks, shown in possibly the most poignant way by 71,223 football fans (including 1,700 French fans) putting rivalry aside and gathering at Wembley Stadium mere days after the terrorist attack to sing ‘La Marseillaise’ at the International Friendly between England and France last Tuesday.

Both viral videos and the events at Wembley have shown over the past week how social media and music can be effectively used in tandem as vessels to carry the passions of the people. Many will argue that social media does more harm than good and that national anthems will always say enough on their own merit regardless of international events. However, this week ‘Le Marseillaise’ specifically has been used to describe some of humanity’s greatest qualities: resourcefulness, creativity, collective strength, belief, and – while small groups may protest through disgusting acts of terrorism – a longing for peace.

By Lucas Galley-Greenwood  – @GalleyGreenwood

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