“There’s always a danger that sharing beautifully designed posts on Instagram somehow makes you feel like you’re having an effect in the real world (spoiler: probably not)”
Where are the origins of Good Trouble?
Good Trouble emerged at the dog-end of 2016, the year of Brexit and the Trump election, and was in part inspired by the energy and creativity of the protests and actions that followed. It began online and mutated via a sequence of events into an annual broadsheet publication in the summer of 2017. Its aims were, and are, to ‘celebrate the culture of resistance’ and look at the world of protest and activism through the lens of arts and culture – by talking to and looking at the work of activists and artists today, but also past movements.
Your own background is as a former editor with Dazed & Confused. Does exploring arts activism seem like a natural progression away from the more disposable elements of pop culture and fashion?
I was Editor from 2005 to 2012, which was when we were still doing 12 issues a year along with the website, which launched in 2006. Social issues, particularly those that affect young people, has been a core part of Dazed’s remit since its founding in the early 90s, alongside fashion, film, art, music and so on, and still is. While I was there, we did special issues and features related to the ongoing financial crisis, the student protests, climate change and so on. The intersection of arts and culture with politics and protest was a key interest of mine before Dazed and it continues to be, and my first experiences of protest and civil disobedience were with the anti-Criminal Justice Bill and Reclaim The Streets actions in the early ‘90s. I guess the main difference is that Good Trouble is now focused on this area exclusively. I still enjoy pop culture, of course.
You have Richard Turley (Bloomberg Business Week, MTV, Widen+Kennedy) on board as designer for your print edition. How did that come about and how have you found the print transition? Are there plans for future issues?
He’s a pal and we both live in New York. Good Trouble existed digitally and then the opportunity to do a physical publication came up and we wanted to do something together, so it seemed like a good fit. He’s obviously a supremely talented designer, so it was a pleasure to be able to work with him on it. I don’t think too much about print and digital and all that stuff, I try to be platform-agnostic. And yes, I hope there will be a third issue but I’m going to take a couple of weeks off for the end of the year, and then see what happens in January. Issue 21. Onwards!
People are often skeptical about the impact design and art can make on pressing political and global issues. What do you say to the naysayers?
Are they? If anything, I think people can claim too much for it. I think it can be an important tool when allied with real movements, but art and design on its own probably doesn’t change all that much, and there’s always a danger that sharing beautifully designed posts on Instagram somehow makes you feel like you’re having an effect in the real world (spoiler: probably not). But I think protest and activism is becoming increasingly creative in its methods, perhaps because of the nature of digital culture. I guess I’m interested in this interaction between real-world action and creative culture, and where that is most effective and what it all means.
Activism and resistance have traditionally been associated with the left. However, it’s been illustrated of late that right-wing forces have been adept at it too, using vehicles such as lobbying and social media rather than the street. Have you observed where the lines are drawn?
Social media is a toxic swamp. Much was made in 2016 that the ‘alt right’ were now super-adept at digital culture, but it ultimately just seemed to be shit memes and conspiracy theories. I guess it works, especially when you have mainstream platforms like Fox News pumping out the same messages. In the US, far-right extremism is a serious problem, manifested in violence and murder. Meanwhile, the establishment separates families, puts kids in desert detention camps, and throws asylum seekers into windowless cells. The lines are clear.
What does winning an accolade like Stack Magazine‘s ‘Magazine of the Year’ for 2018 mean to you?
It’s great, we’re happy. It’s a celebration of independent publishing, so we’re pleased to be recognized in that regard, and hope to be able to live up to it in 2019.
Now, more than ever, there appears to be a need for a strong culture of resistance. What do you perceive as the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead in 2019?
I think the climate breakdown is hopefully finally emerging as a key issue. There seems to be some new energy in that regard with Extinction Rebellion, Sunrise Movement and the talk of a Green New Deal…
Comic strip artist Barney Farmer likens Brexit, in your current issue, to a Britain which has “gone past the Imperial hangover, woken up…started drinking again…pissed again.” How do you see it?
It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? It’s like half the country is in the grip of a midlife crisis. It’s the clip-on ponytail and motorbike stage. I’ve got no idea what will happen, or what even should happen, at this stage. Maybe it’s some weird phase we will eventually get through, until we can move on, chastened, wiser to our limitations, the Ducati wrapped round a lamppost and our clip-on ponytail caught on a hedge, flapping sadly in the breeze…
Words: Michael McDermott