Artwork is used to express humanity’s values, habits, thoughts, and morals. Protest art, on the other hand, refers to any artistic work that is motivated by a desire for social change (Groys 2). Writers and artists use protest art to challenge the current state of affairs, typically in contrast to a societal practice. Protest can be seen in a variety of forms of media, from visual and audio arts like comics to music and stand-up comedy; it can also be seen in literature like novels. The bold and aware message that protest arts present unites them through genres (Groys 8). Protest art attempts to challenge the traditional boundaries that have been set; as such, most contemporary works of art protest are against violence, injustice oppression and inequality which are prevalent in the modern world. In this paper, we analyze the song 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton an actual work of art, which protests against the practice of squandering one’s life in an office setting to make the superiors richer while one gets poorer.
The song “9 to 5” was initially a song based on a movie film Nine to Five which was produced in 1980. The country music diva Dolly Parton featured in this movie. The award-winning song was released in November 1980 as a single. The song won her two awards for the best country vocal performance female and the best country song in the same year. In 2004, the song was ranked number 78 in the 100 years 100 songs on American film institute. The song continues to be used an anthem for the disgruntled office workers globally.
“9 to 5” as a Protest Art
Dolly Parton though famously apolitical in her music career used the song 9 to 5 brings out the concealed overworked lifestyle of office workers (“A Marxist Reading Of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 To 5′”). The famous anti-work anthem is a work of protest art in that it presents the Marxist economic theory propaganda more than it represents the day to day struggles of the office workers. The lyrics of the song demonstrate the plight of the working class Americans. To gain an understanding as to why such an apolitical song by a feminist is used in proselytizing leftist politics, it is necessary to have some background knowledge on both Dolly Parton and Karl Marx and the similar ideas they present. Karl Marx is famous for his philosophical and scientific contribution to the working class community in a world of capitalism. His thoughts are often used as the foundation for the rights of the oppressed working class who continuously seek to survive by being enslaved in employment (Tepper 4).
From the lyrics, Dolly Parton starts off by describing the busy and recurring schedule of office workers from their house, through traffic to the office and how such a lifestyle is capable of driving one crazy. We can conclude that these lines source their inspiration and are similar to the economic and philosophic manuscripts by Karl Marx in 1844 (Marx and Friedrich 36). Capitalism is based on a mode of production where the working class is viewed as a commodity that is used to produce more goods and services for the superior. From Dolly Patron’s point of view, she openly shares her sentiments on the political economy in America that struggles to hide the estrangement of labor.
Karl Marx may not have been as influential as dolly patron, but her lyrics voice the Marxism ideas that we cannot ignore. In her work of art, we can see the protest lines which not only inspire and empower, they also cause sadness and unsettlement to the listeners. She goes on to describe how the 9 to 5 lifestyle is full of devoted workers who always deserve big promotions but are ignored by their bosses. She explains how these workers believe in their dreams and how they ever want to move ahead in life but their bosses will not just let them. The deeper meaning of her lyrics seeks to explain how bosses who are capitalists are on the move to compete with other producers and thus directly estranges the proletariat. Capitalism causes conflict with ownership of property, wealth and enslavement and thus directly interferes with the political and legal superstructure (Marx 91).
Dolly Parton indirectly mentions the harmful effects of wage labor which is essentially slave labor, a belief that emerged in the 1800s. Firm owners and employers use employees as a ladder to climb to their success; therefore, workers are for the gains of the successful. In such a way, the richer become richer and the poor continue wallowing in poverty. She presents a mind opening philosophy of how capitalism widens the gap between the poor and the wealthy claiming that the destiny of office workers is dependent on their employers. In essence, Dolly Parton shares the same sentiments with Karl Max as she leads the proletariats who are stuck in capitalism to their freedom; she inspires employees to strive and achieve equality in the means of production.
The song is a form of protest art from a different perspective in that it represents the feminist movement in the early eighties. In the 1970s, women were slowly climbing the ladder to the administrative jobs. A higher percentage of women had begun working as CEOs in work settings that were often male-dominated, and they continued to grab such opportunities. However, egotistic and sexists were also on the rise, and therefore the situation inspired the movie and the song. Dolly Parton’s history also speaks for itself in this protest song as she uses her life story to solidify her point on how wage labor leads to poverty. Having been born in a poor home, she struggled to the top in the 1980s as a successful businesswoman who had been initially held up in the 9 to 5 kind of lifestyle. In essence, protest art is used as a cry for change in the society to legally, economically and politically empower the society.
In conclusion, the song 9 to 5 is a form of protest art in that it aims at forming a social ideology that directly addresses the existing power structures that are often oppressing. It is also a protest art in that it empowers communities and individuals not only in the workplace but also as a statement of feminism. However, as a work of art, 9 to 5 represents the capitalist and communist manifesto than it does for the feminist manifesto. Anthems of workers continue to be produced, but the song 9 to 5 continues to be an outstanding anti-work anthem which inspires employees to avoid relying on their bosses for financial success. Overall, the song as a protest art can be interpreted politically, economically and legally because it presents the problems of capitalism and challenges the audience to change the status quo.
“A Marxist Reading Of Dolly Parton’s ‘9 To 5’.” The Cavalier Daily, 2017, http://www.cavalierdaily.com/article/2017/03/a-marxist-reading-dolly-parton.
Groys, Boris. “On art activism.” e-flux journal 56 (2014): 1-14.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844 and the Communist Manifesto. Prometheus Books, 2009.
Marx, Karl. “A contribution to the critique of political economy.” Marx Today. Palgrave Macmillan US, 2010. 91-94.
Tepper, Steven J. Not Here, Not Now, Not That!: Protest Over Art and Culture in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2011. Print.