When Pop Culture Becomes Protest Culture

From the Joker to handmaids, protest movements around the world are pulling from pop culture.

Converting criticism into political action

The importance of pop culture and the way it can influence wider discussions about critical issues ranging from race, class, and sexuality to the military’s use of torture and mental health. Here are 4 times social movements were inspired by pop culture:

Joker - Amid Lebanon’s 2019 protests, demonstrators demanding government accountability for the economy have dressed as the Joker. A central theme of 2019’s Joker is class warfare with the elite branding protestors as clowns.

The Handmaid's Tale - The iconic Handmaid’s uniform has emerged as a symbol of protest for women’s rights around the world. In the novel and TV show, handmaid’s must wear the red cloak and white cap to strip them of their individuality and voice — which feminists are subverting. The outfit has been seen at the Women March in the U.S., abortion rights campaigns in Argentina, and pro-choice protests in Northern Ireland.

Les Miserables - Pro-democracy protests against Beijing’s influence have spread across Hong Kong since the start of the 21st century. Beginning in 2014, Hong Kong pro-democracy protestors have taken to singing “Do You Hear The People Sing?” from the musical Les Miserables. With the play set during the economic turmoil of post-revolutionary France, the song is a call to arms for revolution.

Guy Fawkes - Since the release of the 2005 film V for Vendetta, Guy Fawkes masks have appeared at protests around the world. A stylized depiction of Fawkes, the British revolutionary who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605, the mask has come to represent anti-government, anti-authority and anti-establishment sentiment. Anonymous, Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring activists — and even anti-vaccine protestors — have all donned the mask.

Cultural criticism can be an avenue for change in the face of these hurdles, critiques of media, music, and movies circulate that recirculate online, while a wave of new voters continue to consolidate their power in real life.