Occupy the media

One of the many things that made being at Occupy Wall St. such a completely fascinating experience was the opportunity to directly observe the process through which actual events are transformed and shaped into media events. Watching TV, or watching clips of TV on the internet for that matter, you get the feeling that the media personalities and their behind-the-scenes facilitators (e.g., cameramen, producers, etc.) don’t actually exist–or, if they do exist, then their existence is of a decidedly spectral and simulated nature. In any event, it is hard to conceive that media people are real, living, breathing human beings who take up space in the physical world. We might say that part of the nature of media is the alienation that it inserts between acts of production and consumption. This is surely one of the oppositions that media mediates between. After all, a medium is literally a middle ground between two contraries which takes part in both sides and yet is reducible to neither individually nor both collectively.

This alienation of production from consumption in turn creates the experience among media consumers that the object of their consumption is purely an effect of consciousness rather than one of material reality. In properly Cartesian terms, the media event presents itself on the level of res cogitans rather than res extensa. The way to short-circuit the illusory spectrality of media events–i.e., the way to return media events to their physical reality–is by using them as the raw material for subsequent acts of production.

Media’s desire is to have its products devoured in an act of pure consumption, which leaves behind no leftovers, remainders, waste products, or physical matter whatsoever. The act of destruction is just as theological as the act of creation. By contrast to the deus ex machina strategies of theology, naturalism is the view that creation and destruction are always and necessarily co-occurring, that to do one is always and at once to do the other, and that the products of spiritual space are always and necessarily embodied in physical space.

What we need now more than ever is a naturalistic approach to mediated phenomena; in more catchy terms: media naturalism. Media naturalism works by occupying the media–i.e., by taking back and taking over the middle ground between contraries (e.g., production and consumption, announcer and audience, transmission and reception, off and on, spectral and physical, etc.). How do we do this? What does media naturalism look like in practice?

The human mic. When we use the human mic, speaking becomes listening and listening becomes speaking, audience becomes announcer and announcer becomes audience, echoes become phenomenal and phenomena become echoed. The human mic takes the center away from speech, it lets speech radiate rhizomatically in connection with the asymmetrical patterns of physical association among human bodies.

Perhaps just as important as the actual technique of the human mic is the robustness of the human mic as a metaphor. We need to rethink ALL of our media practices in light of the human mic. Rule 1: No consumption without production. Being a mediated creature in a mediated society means taking whatever is in front of you (whether helicopters, hamburgers, Geraldo, gold, rubber bullets, paper clips, oil or human refuse) and using it as a means for making something else. Rule 2: Don’t just repeat. Enhance, embellish, accentuate, edit. Understand the message, understand its context, understand its concerns, understand its specificity, understand the position of speakers and listeners alike. Respect any given formulation but deify no single formulation and always be on the look out for better possible formulations which can go further in linking together all relevant parties and concerns. Above all, remember: This thing has no center. Wherever you are is the center.

As general and theoretical as these remarks have been, it was indeed a specific experience which got me thinking about all these things. While I was occupying Wall St., Geraldo Rivera came down to do a story on the occupation for Fox News. The spot Geraldo happened to pick in order to do his live feed happened to be only a few feet from where I had been sitting, passing out flyers, and talking with passersby that afternoon. For good reason, many of my fellow occupados felt a great deal of hostility toward the presence of Fox News. Shortly, the word was passed around that we would all shout “Fox News Lies!!” repeatedly at the top of our lungs as soon as Geraldo went live. I had my doubts as to whether this was really an effective action, but a consensus arose and I choose to go along with it. More than just shouting at Geraldo and crew, I also choose to film the event and thereby cover the coverage.

I believe that a great deal can be learned about the nature of media events and how they are created by comparing a selection of some of the different recordings of this single event. The first video is my own footage of Geraldo’s visit to OWS. Notice the sheer disappointment on his face in the last few seconds of the video after he was unable to continue the live shot due to the sheer volume level of those of us around him. The second video shows the actual segment that Fox broadcasted using this coverage. There’s a couple of things to notice here: 1, Geraldo was actually trying to do a positive story and 2, the production does a very good job at making it seem as if there was no disruption at all. Finally, the last video, taken by RT USA, captures the event from a third vantage point, showing the collective nature of the disruption.

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About 11again

Used to be an academic... now I'm a washed up academic. I like cooking, blues music, black writers, and morally compromised people of all persuasions.
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