Interview: Betty Apple

Betty Apple is a performance artist, sound artist, and electronic music producer based in Taipei. The following interview was conducted on October 12th, 2017.


Brian Hioe:  Can you talk a bit about how you participated in social movements in the past? Because I know you worked on an anti-nuclear album before.

Betty Apple:  I probably participated more in the anti-nuclear movement. In the beginning, I attended lectures by the Green Citizen’s Action Alliance (GCAA). I attended class. [Laughs].

At the time it was with Heyling, Shih-Ting, and Soma. Shih-Ting wanted to make an anti-nuclear album, so she found  those of us who were making music. She said that the GCAA wanted to use this to raise money. So we found twelve people to work on this album. At the time, my perspective was more looking at this from the perspective of an artist. Because City may have looked at it more from the participant of a social movement participant and as a musician and Heyling was still studying literature then. When they were talking about the anti-nuclear movement.

In the past, I felt that I didn’t like violence in social movements in the past. I felt this was useless. You would look at it and just see violence, but that violence didn’t appeal to me. To put out an album which had to do with social movements, because that music didn’t have lyrics, it was more appropriate.

We didn’t want to put the words, “We oppose nuclear energy” on it. It was more to put this kind of circumstance, in which we all seem like we can all accept nuclear energy, in a satirical light. We titled it, “I Love Nuclear” as a question mark. To describe the current circumstances which exist now. Afterwards, we held a party to raise funds. That was the first album party in my life. The year after, there was the anti-nuclear demonstration, with everyone demonstrating on the streets. There were quite a lot of people, it was a good outcome. But when participating, it was the same, I believed that it’s not good to have a flag and state that you oppose nuclear energy but…

Brian Hioe:  You don’t change your own lifestyle.

Betty Apple:  Yeah. In the process of participating in the anti-nuclear movement and trying to break through this circumstance and afterwards, not being able to do this, many people gave up on the movement for many years. So I participated less afterwards in a definitive manner, unlike City who kept doing so. I focused more on my views towards art.

Brian Hioe:  What were you doing on 318?

Cover of the “I Love Nuclear 我愛核子能 !?” album

Betty Apple:  I was working on my thesis project then. My thesis project had to do with the national anthem. Working on that, I felt it was a very strange phenomenon. We have to sing the national anthem every year. But this national anthem doesn’t exist. It’s not as though we’re singing a national anthem that exists. What it discusses doesn’t exist. And we’re not actually a country. This identity doesn’t exist, but we sing it anyway.

I thought I could connect sound art with history and I wanted to discuss it from this angle. But at the time, while I was taking care of this issue, I didn’t expect that the Sunflower Movement would break out. So for me, I felt a bit conflicted. I was afraid that after investing myself in the movement, I might not be able to finish my project.

The first week, when it broke out, I didn’t participate. Many of my friends went inside and I only watched. At the time, I also wanted to go there and find people to sing the national anthem, but I didn’t want to directly participate. Afterwards, one week later, because we had friends inside—I had a friend Chen Jinyuan, who was trying portraits of everyone inside—there were a few artists inside. The mood seemed a bit low and an artist said, “It seems like a lot of people here like Fire EX’s music.” So they thought, how about finding Fire EX and working on a song together? To encourage the people on the inside.

Why did they ask me to join in again? I sort of forget why exactly they asked me to join in. I think they sort of just asked me if I wanted to do something for the movement and I said, “Okay.” So I said I would help out with contacting people and administrative work. Or to think of how we could finish recording this and to make a movie. Because they were filming inside already. We didn’t know then how long people would be there on the inside, so after every day, it seemed like a struggle to endure. So we felt that this music and this film had to come out as soon as possible.  To let people see what had taken place. What had been recorded by artists and the two documentary film directors inside.

I also went in on the first night and recorded. On the second night, I helped to bring Fire EX into the Legislative Yuan. So then, I participated in the making of “Island’s Sunrise.” Because everyone was inside, helping everyone learn how to sing this song. And making a Facebook page and sending the sheet music outside. And bringing Fire EX inside, showing everyone how to sing the song, and leading everyone singing it.

I also invited my professor, the well-known video artist, Yuan Goang-Ming (袁廣鳴), to film the last moments of the occupation. Apart from collectively helping to create the international edition of “Island’s Sunrise”, I also hoped that through artists documenting the movement, we could record what was outside only incidents reported on by the media. I also helped Yuan Goang-Ming film his video artwork, “The 561st Hour of the Occupation.”

Stuff like that. It’s kind of humorous. Because I was working on my art piece about the national anthem. And working on this to near the end. Many people left because of conflicts. Or it became that people went outside, like with the Big Bowel Blossom Forums. I was still inside then. There were some small troubles, but I was there until people said goodbye and left.

Brian Hioe:  What are your feelings regarding the process of the movement?

Betty Apple:  I felt very dissatisfied.

Fire EX performing in Tainan shortly after the end of the Sunflower Movement. Photo credit: Fire EX/Facebook

Brian Hioe:  How?

Betty Apple:  I sometimes felt very dissatisfied that I was so enthusiastic about it. Because it seemed like in those circumstance, everyone felt that they should do what they were doing. Or that after everyone saw this, or seeing the strength of the Internet, you would feel very happy? But after the end of this, you felt that this enthusiasm wasn’t so different from capitalism or political parties. That the end was like before. That it was like a momentary flaring up, not an explosion. That it didn’t overturn what you wanted to change.

For what took place after, such as we have Ko Wen-Je as a mayor, it had influence. But it defied what I expected. Working on my project about the national anthem, I felt that us Taiwanese people had become too obedient after being politically controlled during the White Terror. Even singing the National Anthem is something where whatever they say, you do. This is what I also saw during the movement. Everyone singing this song near the end felt as though it wasn’t very concrete. Near the end, commercial companies wanted to use this. When you downloaded this song, they charged money. It’s a small thing, but I felt somewhat hurt.

Brian Hioe:  That you felt used?

Betty Apple:  I didn’t feel used. More like, that this was being cheap towards other people’s passion. For me, it’s not a big difference. I think that I could do this today. I know my values. But I don’t want to turn my values into money. For those us who have these ideas, we don’t want this. But some people wanted money.

In the beginning, this song was an emblem. But for it to become a tool to make money, it became sort of strange. It was a strange situation, that I could see this song being sung at a KTV. I felt dissatisfied, because it wasn’t something made to be a promotion for something. This song wasn’t made for this.

In the end, it was like that. We felt a bit hurt, those of us who were promoting the song. We hoped that this music could very quickly spread and allow the circumstances of this social movement to spread to more people through music. We wanted to make it into an English song then, but we were unable to do so. We wanted it to be free and for there to be free downloads of it.

It felt like it was co-opted later. Near the end, I wasn’t sure why I did this. Did it motivate people? I think it did and I think this was great. But personally, I delayed graduating for a year because of this. And because my family opposed this greatly, they don’t know that I participated in this movement. I feel very conflicted inside.

Brian Hioe:  What are your views towards the decision-making body that made decisions during the movement? Regarding big events, such as 324 or the decision to withdraw from the Legislative Yuan.

Betty Apple:  Fundamentally, I think that there shouldn’t have been a decision-making body. Because they weren’t decided by the people. They didn’t have authority to discuss who should withdraw. In the end, I was not too happy with this. And in the end, everyone politicized the event too much. In the Legislative Yuan, I heard people nearby commenting, “Everything inside is being recorded. Don’t you feel this is like a film studio?”

I feel that there shouldn’t have been a decision-making body. Those that made decisions, maybe some of them were researching this issue and working on this for a long time, but I felt that if they could represent all of the people—well, I also think this was created by the media. I think their decisions eventually led a lot of the people who cared about the issue to eventually not care. For those who joined later because they started to care about the issue…I think it became that everyone was acting. Their decisions didn’t seem too positive to me. Maybe just like this song.

Photo credit: Felix the Bear/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that your participation in this movement had to do with a sense of Taiwanese identity? You mentioned that your parents opposed this movement. Or with regards to the people around you?

Betty Apple:  I think participating in this movement has to do with Taiwanese identification, but I don’t like the nationalistic view that we must all be Taiwanese. What I hope is that we aren’t forced to endure oppression within this system again. Or that, as we discussed regarding the decision making body—that people that make political decisions believe that we’re threatened, so we have to sign this agreement. This kind of situation is a question of how you treat other people.

It’s not just an issue of Taiwanese identification. I think Taiwanese identification was sort of created. Like ROC identification, or Japanese identification, or Chinese identification. Taiwanese identification is in some sense opposed to China. Sort of like anti-Communism.

So some people participated in the movement less because of Taiwanese identification, but because this treaty crossed the line, and shouldn’t have been taken care of in this way. Or that it shouldn’t treat people who should all be equal as idiots.

Brian Hioe:  Why do you think the majority of people participated in this movement? Because of opposition to the black box? Or to the KMT? China? Free trade?

Betty Apple:  Of course, some people directly opposed China. But I think some people opposed the black box, which was more opposing the KMT, the ruling party attempting to treat the people this way. But some people opposed free trade as a form of oppression which exists across the world. In the beginning, I think it was opposition to the black box, but near the end, there were some differences that emerged. I think it’s the people on the outside, such as my parents, who feel that the movement was opposed to the KMT.

Brian Hioe:  What about yourself and your own motivations for participating?

Betty Apple:  Me? I think I opposed the trade agreement and the way it was decided.

Brian Hioe:  It feels that young people have risen up in the past few years. What are the kind of politics you think that they represent?

Betty Apple:  I don’t think that I understand young people very well, actually. I think that part of it has to do with the rise of the Internet. And Taipei is more open. What everyone considers is more individualistic, so you will less be influenced politically by others, and consider things from the perspective of your personal future. It’s more individualistic.

In graduate school, before I started participating in the anti-nuclear movement, I felt a bit disappointed. Such as why my classmates didn’t have any views about political events, or regarding the environment. But I don’t know if it’s because people began becoming concerned with political issues around the same time. Gradually in the second or third year of graduate school, I found that people working on electronic music who didn’t feel that they would discuss politics, would participate in the anti-nuclear movement.

Poster for a performance of Betty Apple’s in Mexico. Photo credit: Betty Apple/Facebook

By the time of the Sunflower Movement, more people expressed their views, including our teachers, who might not have discussed politics in the past but later expressed during the movement that they felt moved that this could take place. At the time, I felt that I hoped I could do more, including addressing of issues regarding unification and independence—although less out of a sense of Taiwanese identification.

It links to issues such as why we would have this trade deal. Because we have no way to have a certain place in the international world. Who are we, then? Are we a group of people that can use votes to decide things? That’s an independent polity to begin with.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think that the movement has influenced in terms of Taiwanese politics, three years later?

Betty Apple:  I think it has influenced things. For example, elections. Such as the Taipei mayoral elections. The Taipei mayoral elections may have been earlier, but for all of Taiwan to have some shared ideals is a sign of change.

But this also reflects the divide between cities and the countryside, as something created by the divide between urban areas and rural areas. For example, my parents have no way to understand why the Sunflower Movement would exist or that this was politically instigated.

Sometimes I would wonder if I was pulled into something instigated. Because I don’t feel like I obtained any change in myself afterwards and even felt that it was like something like a bad dream. Or that at the time, I finished these things and that I may have changed a lot, but afterwards I felt tired and didn’t want to change. I felt a lot of strange circumstances like that.

Brian Hioe:  What do you think young people who participated then are doing now? Some people may have run in elections and entered politics. What are other people doing

Betty Apple:  Doing what they were doing before. On Instagram, I saw someone from National Taiwan University or somewhere, who helped me a lot back then in reaching out to journalists and writing press releases. Recently, he’s practicing writing and getting ready to graduate. he’s written a lot of interesting essays, regarding what he’s doing now.

And the directors that were filming to document back then, some have taken cases from Ko Wen-Je or others. They took a lot of cases afterwards. They started film companies or things like that, they went back to what they were originally doing. Those who participated fervently back then haven’t especially done more, sometimes.

But I also keep in mind another one of the charged in first with us, who was reported in the news as drinking beer in the Legislative Yuan. Looking back on the movement, they might feel that because “Fuck! We’re punk, we charged into the Legislative Yuan, what do you mean we can’t drink?”

The photos of drinking in the Legislative Yuan which were widely circulated. Photo credit: PTT

You’d feel that view was very twisted and that if you don’t listen to what they say and stand or sit where they tell you to, for example, the emergence of those managing traffic within the Legislative Yuan—this is what I was most dissatisfied with, I felt so pissed with them—but I can understand two things after going to Mexico. There’s no police and without control of authority, people become very disorderly. Nobody can help you go down that road.

Regarding what I said about decision making, when people organize too fast and it becomes like an army, with all these orders, because we’re trained to do this in elementary and middle school, regular schools generally train you like in an army. You have to take orders. So everyone suddenly became very obedient to rules.

I felt it was a bit twisted. Everyone was very obedient. But we had charged into the Legislative Yuan. And everyone said, “We are not rioters.” You know what I mean? And it was like we were acting—not acting, I was also inside—but like we were in a tragic play. It seemed like only students could do this. For those who weren’t students, they weren’t as naive.

I remember the person who was reported as drinking beer inside the Legislative Yuan said, “I’m not a student, but I’m unhappy with this, which is why I went inside the Legislative Yuan.” And in newspapers, they grabbed onto this and reported it crazily, with people saying that “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch,” and completely misunderstanding why people charged into the Legislative Yuan, thinking that this was just a bunch of bad kids.

This was what I disliked the most, because I felt that how our people looked at this was very narrow. It was too politically correct and not very individualistic, without personal freedoms. It was like, “How could you sell me out with this trade deal, without my permission? To sell off my future?” It was just like that. And for them to be treated as a rioter and eventually kicked out and then for there to eventually be a decision making body, that’s something which made me feel very sick. But I also continued to work on the inside, although in the middle I felt quite dissatisfied.

It’s very easy to make a piece of propaganda music. Afterwards, I felt that Island’s Sunrise was a piece of propaganda music. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, because popular culture, whether good or bad, has an element of needing propaganda, or publicity. But I could understand much more so how this process of transmission could lead everyone being able to sing this song in one or two days, and take action because of this song, for these values. 

Brian Hioe:  Do you have any views regarding how China looks at Taiwan’s political circumstances after the Sunflower Movement?

Betty Apple:  I think they don’t care whether Taiwan lives or dies. The only thing they are afraid of is if Taiwan expresses freedom and that freedom is one they believe is threatening to them. If so, they will label us as living according to what America has defined. They oppose America, so they oppose us.

And for China, we’re just one thorn in their side. They don’t fear us. They can use many ways to eliminate us. But on this point, they feel that this is very provoking, sort of like two different fathers with children and the child of one of them is like, “But the other kid can still go out and play with friends at 7 PM!” When they see the same thing, they want it. If we can find our own way to live, because like Chinese, we speak Mandarin, we can be a counter-example to them.

Why they’re not afraid of it now is because their people have money now. When they don’t have money, it’s harder to survive. But I think there’s some difference and they still want to make us admit that we’re part of them.

Photo credit: Abby Chen/Flickr/CC

Brian Hioe:  Lastly, do you think that there could be another social movement in Taiwan like the Sunflower Movement? And do you think that the Sunflower Movement could influence international civil society?

Betty Apple:  I think there’s only some influence internationally, although of course it’s influenced Hong Kong. So this is what China is frightened of. They think we are political instigators. That they fear Shanghai will want to become a country and wherever else, that if we don’t listen to them, this notion will spread and it will become very hard to control the country.

The Japanese art collective Chim↑Pom wanted to ask me about this. They’re also very interested in these issues, because they say that the tide of the student movement in Japan is quite low. That even though the government has done something you feel like, “How could you do this?”, that nobody wants to stand up and oppose this. So they want to know why this was successful in Taiwan. For them, they feel it’s a success.

However, I feel that it just happened to take place in the Internet age and that this generation has grown up, that we can decide for ourselves and aren’t kids anymore. I feel that in this respect, those up until 40 even are less able to controlled by the media, and that with the Internet, ideas can spread. But definitely, many people deleted friends on Facebook then, and there were a large group of people who felt that this movement was the result of political manipulation.

Brian Hioe:  Do you think that something like the movement could take place again in Taiwan?

Betty Apple:  I think that if we’re poorer and have worse circumstances, it may happen again. But if it happens, it won’t be like before.

If people remember the Sunflower Movement, they may wonder if doing something like this has any use. It doesn’t seem useful. So it requires us to be poorer, have worse circumstances, and to be more exploited, and to confront more difficulties.