“You wouldn’t be able to get your message out there without us.” — Griff Jenkins, Fox News producer
“If you put every single left-wing cause into a blender, this is the sludge you’d get.” — Sean Hannity Show, Fox
“Here we don’t think of prohibition. Because the ruling system has even suppressed our capacity to dream. Look at the movies that we see all the time. It’s easy to imagine the end of the world. An asteroid destroying all life and so on. But you cannot imagine the end of capitalism.” — Slavoj Zizek, address October 9, 2011 to Occupy Wall Street protesters
The Occupy Wall Street protest which began in New York City September 17th and has spread to other cities did not get televised or make the back pages of The New York Times until October. If you’re protesting the control of the media by Big Money you should expect that you will not get any coverage until your presence, like a war, just doesn’t go away, or, until somebody make a buck on it.
No one understands the notion that reality is what the media says it is better than the media. This is actually a “back in the day” postmodern revelation — that reality is what we picture it to be. Prior to this you might say the “news” grounded itself in fact derived from objective reportage and investigative journalism. Opinion was to be found on the Editorial and Op-ed pages. Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV “postmodernized” the news by narrating all of it within a chosen plot and adopting an MTV jump cut narrating style in order to hold an increasing attention challenged audience. We waited to see if this steady, unrelenting “conservatizing” of the “news” would be exposed as not fact and reality but misrepresentation, truth tampering, manipulative propaganda.
We are still waiting. The critical response was itself challenged as a biased response of a “liberal media,” and that so-called liberal media in turn outed a right wing media which in turn once again outed a left wing media. Truth was out on the right as they saw it while an opposite truth was out on the left as they saw it. No outside arbiter speaking with the authority of Solomon came forward to conclusively point to who was the true conveyer of The Truth. The results of all this was that the Liberals and the Left attended their media while the Republican and the Right attended their media and everyone else indicted all of the media as either worthless or the prime mover in all our problems. The attitude here was that there would be no wars, protests, poverty, gays, abortions, unemployment, illness, crime, stupidity, Obamacare, global warming, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, The Donald, a moon landing, an underwear bomber and so on if the media hadn’t “played it up,” or even perhaps, invented it.
All this by way of “background.” So the media has the picturing power and that power is in the hands of the powerful “capitalists” whom the Occupy Wall Street protesters are protesting. The media has a Constitutional duty to perform in a democracy but because our capitalism rules our democracy, the duty to maximize profits to shareholders has precedence. The revolution will not be televised then because it’s not in the interests of maximizing those profits to do so. Think of Muammur Gaddifi giving media coverage to the birthing of a Libyan revolt. It’s not done. Capitalism however pursues threats to itself differently than does zany dictatorship. Capitalism will turn even a threat to itself into profit and therefore you should expect that the Occupy Wall Street protest will draw advertisers because its persistence will draw attention. And persistence here is not a product of offline media attention but online communication and mobilizing. The Occupy Wall Street protest has gone on for weeks because it has its own lines of communication.
But what is the content to be communicated? FOX reporters on the protest scene have already co-opted the content here describing it as the sludge you get if you put every left wing cause into a blender and hit the power button. Surely, if you can create a growing narrative of what you are about and have the means to transmit that, you can achieve solidarity that does not melt into air. You can achieve something as the Arab Spring revolutions have made clear. But the transparent simplicities of those revolts – dictatorship vs. struggling masses – are replaced in the U.S. with a confounding cross-wiring of comprehension, of imaginings, of allegiances, not the least being an ultra-right wing “populist” Tea Party and the indictment of President Obama as a “socialist.”
Let’s try to picture the entangled mess here: a protest so far narrated by slogans on signs and banners which mix rejection with hope, fueled by inchoate anger, frustration, defiance and rebellious exuberance, and fully capable of firing itself up with minute by minute Tweets, texts, You Tube videos, blogs, and quick APPs must either storm the Bastille and thus forgo developing a platform, forming political party connections, sponsoring candidates and achieving democratic representation in Congress or the White House, or, it must do all that on a national stage set up to accept conservative ideas and disdain leftist ideas. And the media has set that stage, itself a product of conservative think tanks created in the `70s to subdue the countercultural radicalism, the `60’s version of “Occupy Wall Street.” These think tanks are themselves the product of the “efficient market” Chicago School of Economics that supplied the narrative for an unbridled globalized techno-capitalism that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are protesting.
If the Occupy Wall Street protesters move on to the next step beyond the streets and barricades and tussles with the police, they will have to sort through the contradictions and confusions of their present self-representation and settle somewhere ideologically. It will be necessary at some point to answer the question that a Fox reporter in a mocking coverage of the protest asked repeatedly; “What’s your alternative to capitalism?”
A thoughtful piece on the Occupy Wall Street website –“The goal is the same as it always was. We forgot the goal” — calls for an amalgam of capitalist free enterprise and socialist intervention, what Europeans call social democracy, or, in its more socialist guise, democratic socialism. The comments to these remarks indicate a serious infusion of Ron Paul inspired Libertarian notions, a confusion as to whether Wall Street and the market is our hero and the Federal government our villain or whether the latter is already controlled by the former, what Gore Vidal referred to as The United Corporation of America. A dispute arises in this Comments section, the kind of dispute that SNL parodied recently, regarding who is the demon we are after. Capitalism is exonerated and Corporatism takes the rap. Until this sharp comment: “Capitalism or Corporatism, it’s the same monkey behind the curtain. Personally I think we have the means now to live in a society that’s not market driven, but one in which everyone shares his or her talents. It’s just that we are so brainwashed into thinking in a market driven society, since that’s all we ever grew up in. Thinking outside the box is hard to do.”
Unfortunately, the box in which many grew up was inaugurated by Reagan and turned out to be a box in which a few became enormously wealthy and the rest existed in a steady state of yearning. You might say that by September 17th, 2011, it became clear that that yearning would not be fulfilled, that a money/power elite had become entrenched and dedicated to the preservation of their elite status at the expense of planet and people and in the name of profit. What globalized capitalism had promised every generation – a chance to enter the game, compete and possibly win – is now seen as a promise unfulfilled because a rapacious and precipitous globalization of capitalism has meant profit to transnationals while curtailing greatly economic and therefore social mobility here at home.
“Would you accept a job on Wall Street?” is a cynical and mocking question asked by Fox, assuming that everyone of the protesters wants really to occupy Wall Street not as a protester but as a “player” making as, Gordon Gekko tells us in the film Wall Street, real money, a hundred million at least. Reared one’s whole life in a market driven society in which one yearns not for social justice or economic equality but for an expensive car, ten thousand square feet of home, a forty foot yacht, a beach house, a Park Avenue apartment and on and on, the question of how one becomes something else, how one in effect protests one’s own yearning, is not only a question that needs to be answered but one that can be answered if we piece by piece alter the mental furniture, expand the box of the mind.
You occupy the manic mind of Wall Street, the box of Dow Jones risings and fallings, of bulls and bears, and change it forever by, for example, displacing competitiveness with mutual aid, by tempering self-interest with social interest and thus continuing the struggle from barbarism to civilization, by locating “moral hazard” in the operations of capitalism itself and not in the possible actions of the poor, by demanding that the media contest truth stories by pointing out contradictions and suppressions and give up what Paul Krugman calls “the cult of balance” whereby journalistic objectivity requires that “both sides are at fault” and therefore must be given equal rational consideration.
This last needs to be first because it is the media’s creation of a hyperreal, of winning hearts and minds in the rhetorical battle for truth and reality, that is the battlefield we are on. The protesters are in Zuccotti Park for sure but it will be the media that will create the simulacra of time and place, protesters and protested that will reach the Heartland. There are all kinds of dangers now in stepping into this rhetorical battlefield.
There’s rhetorical quicksand beyond the “No More Corruption” and “Unfuck the World” (there’s my title) for these protesters because, as Michael Tomasky, expresses it in his New York Review of Books piece”Republican Days of Wrath” the “conservative rhetoric factory has persuaded millions of Americans that Democrats and liberals are evil, that the poor are lazy, that government is incapable of any good, and that the press, television, and Internet are in the conspiracy to make sure they all triumph at the expense of everyone else.”(September 29, 2011) Ignoring the presence of the protest has moved on to slamming the protesters themselves. Fox’s Sean Hannity’s emissaries to the protest came back to report that the protesters were “people with absolutely no purpose or focus in life” reeking of “equal parts patchouli, body odor, and urine.”
It will not be an easy road to transform and re-route the on-going Republican wrath against a Federal government that wants to shut down your “personal freedom,” against that government’s attempt to re-distribute through taxing the winnings of the Winners, against an “Obamacare” health law that replaces competition and freedom to choose with governmental mandate, against illegal aliens taking American jobs, against gun control laws, against gay marriage and gays in the military, against the Winners bailing out “underwater” foreclosures by the government, against Roe vs. Wade, against Affirmative Action, against welfare and all governmental actions which encourage “moral hazard,” against impeding employment and profits for debatable environmental reasons — in short, against whatever works toward the public or common good rather than the good of winners in the competitive free market arena.
At the very least, this protest can add a backbone to the Democrats by muscling their way into a liberal politics on the run from Republicans who are themselves adopting a bullying and brazen posture urged on them by the Tea Party. We can hope that the Occupy Wall Street protesters have at least as much success as the Tea Partiers in shaping politics, a success that should re-attach the label “populist” to the left. It seems more sensible to expect that any “radical fringe” movement that pushes for remedies in a society in which some 80% are in some disastrous state of collapse will eventually be more appealing than a continuation of our zero sum game that has benefited a tiny elite. And the very best we can hope is that we will win the struggle between occupying ourselves with what matters beyond profit, and our own minds and lives being occupied by the unrelenting mania of the capitalist bull. We can recoup reality from the picture that has been drawn for us and within which we have beggared ourselves and learned to assume is how living on this planet is to go on. I think this is what it means to “Unfuck the World.”