Keep Them Dumb, Or At Least Busy

In regards to the recent OccupyWallSt protests, New York City’s mayor had a very dismissive comments to make:

You have a lot of kids graduating college who can’t find jobs. That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kind of riots here,” Bloomberg said.

Compare that what Terry Eagleton wrote in 2003:

…middle-class society had been reckless enough to set up institutions in which young, clever, morally conscientious people had nothing to do for three or four years but read books and kick ideas around; and the result of this ludicrous indulgence on society’s part was wholesale student revolt. – After Theory

Certainly it is necessary for aware and morally conscientious people to act, at least in some fashion that responds to the situations they see need addressing. While it is doubtful that the protesters will accomplish much without better organization and more clearly defined aims and strategies, the authenticity of their actions is commendable, regardless of what Mayor Bloomberg thinks. However, it seems apparent from the opinions of those involved that media coverage is a much desired result of those actions.

As another blogger put it, “There is perhaps a misguided belief that coverage in this way somehow legitimizes the protest and would causes politicians, corporate executives or the general public at large, to take more notice.” In this instance, the demonstrators and organizers have forgotten (or never learned) the lessons Todd Gitlin pointed out in The Whole World Is Watching – that media frames and organizes demonstrations in a way which never is satisfactory to the aims of the protestors. But we’re still caught up in this idea that what we do is only real if it’s associated with some sort of media. In the words of Brad Holland:

In Modernism, reality used to validate media. In Postmodernism, the media validate reality. If you don’t believe this, just think how many times you’ve described some real event as being ‘just like a movie.

I’m not sure that I agree with all of Mr. Holland’s opinions, but it is a misconception to think that things are somehow less real simply because CNN didn’t carry the story. After all, we’re not all plugged into that great vortex of attention that is the mass media. However, there is the opinion of Baudrillard, who would see things in light of the simulacrum we live in where all messages are meaningless and no longer have any relationship to reality. Real meaning disappears as experiences “are shaped or ‘simulated’ by the images and signs of mass media.” Media validated reality in the earliest stage of historical stage, but now it has no bearing whatsoever. Baudrillard says we’re defenseless against this. I’m not sure that I’m personally that pessimistic about our case, but it is fair to suggest that if the protesters are trying to be authentic and true to themselves, then they don’t need the media to do it. However if they’re trying to accomplish some sort of change, it’s worth asking what are the effective methods of instigating social reform in a society where protest has lost it’s physical meaningfulness and the worth of that operation of human embodiment.

Terry Eagleton, “The Rise and Fall of Theory” and “The Path to Postmodernism,” in After Theory, New York: Basic Books, 2003: 23-73.
Kevin Williams, “Introduction: Unraveling Media Theory” and “Section 1: Developing the Field: A History of Media Theory,” in Understanding Media Theory, London: Arnold, 2003: 62-64.

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