Blog Post: Week 8 – Bodies in Civic and Public Spaces

When reflecting on the questions posed in this week’s blog prompt, I immediately thought about the difference in consequences between something like the Ferguson protests (or even the 1992 riots over the Rodney King verdict) and the riots that routinely follow sports victories. Often, these consequences involve a racial component, with white people suffering fewer or lesser consequences than people of color. In an article written for Mic, Derrick Clifton notes that mainstream news media routinely refer to sports rioters as “‘revelers,’ ‘celebrants’ and ‘fans'” while calling black protestors “‘criminals,’ ‘thugs,’ ‘pigs’ or even ‘violent.'” Similarly, Chantal Da Silva of Newsweek compares the consequences suffered by Black Lives Matter protestors to those that affected people who participated in the Philadelphia Super Bowl riots, and observes that “officials appeared slow to condemn the destruction caused by [sports] rioters.” She spoke to Black Lives Matter New York President Hawk Newsome, who states, “Somehow, it seems there’s a line drawn in the sand where destruction of property because of a sports victory is OK and acceptable in America. However, if you have people who are fighting for their most basic human right, the right to live, they will be condemned,”  told Newsweek.”

I believe that these ideas all tie into the questions about whose bodies are allowed in public and civic spaces, as well as which actions are seen as appropriate. It also relates to Aimé Césaire’s “Discourse on Colonialism,” specifically the idea that “Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses” (6). Thad Morgan provides a prime example of this notion with his discussion of how the National Rifle Association supported gun control as a way to limit African American access to gun, as this idea reveals how the white majority demonizes the black minority as a way to maintain their oppression. Indeed, just in the last few years, white men regularly stroll the streets while armed with automatic rifles with no consequences, yet young black men are gunned down in the street for merely wearing hoodies or selling cigarettes. This illustrates Césaire’s assertion that colonization leaves “societies drained of their essence, cultures trampled underfoot, institutions undermined, lands confiscated, religions smashed, magnificent artistic creations destroyed, extraordinary possibilities wiped out” (6). It also reveals the racial divide that determines who gets to speak in public and which actions are accepted and which condemned.

Jim Cooley openly carries an automatic rifle through Chicago’s O’Hare airport in June 2015. He suffered no consequences beyond being questioned by police.
Image credit: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-law-allows-man-to-carry-loaded-assault-rifle-through-atlanta-airport-im-not-scaring-anybody-20150604-story.html

To tie this into my own work, I turn to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, which frequently presented “images of African-American men” that were rooted in a fantasy of liberation and Black Power rhetoric” (Bausch 258). Indeed, films like Shaft, Black Caesar, and Superfly all drew on Black Nationalist and Black Power imagery and ideologies to craft a new portrayal of black manhood and masculinity that involved empowerment and emancipation. At the same time, though, many of these Blaxploitation films were written and directed by white men, and they often played into white anxieties and fears regarding African American enfranchisement. Indeed, as Katherine Bausch notes, “black men have always been a site for anxiety and imagination,” and Blaxploitation films, while offering empowering images to black audiences, also stoked both fear and fascination among white audiences. This tension has seemingly always impacted the relations between white people and people of color (but specifically African Americans), and in many ways it fuels ideas about who gets to protest, which bodies get to act in public spaces, and which ideas are acceptable.

Movies like Black Gestapo (Lee Frost, 1975) empowered black audiences while also fueling white anxieties.

Ultimately, ideas about who gets to speak and who does not involve more than just race; indeed, class, gender, sex, age, and several other factors determine whose bodies are allowed, whose bodies are seen, who is enabled to bear witness, and what actions and behaviors are appropriate, acceptable, effective. Today, despite an increased awareness of identify politics combined with marginalized groups and individuals gaining more of a voice thanks to new distribution platforms (such as social media), white, straight, upper-class male voices still tend to dominate the conversation. The political climate of the early part of the 21st century has only made the gulf between those who get to speak/act and those who do not even more evident. One need only look at the different reactions that greet Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem and Representative Joe Wilson’s outburst of “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address. For many people (particularly those on the right), Kaepernick’s actions were disgraceful while Wilson’s were merely speaking truth to power. This gulf reveals the continued need for protest, but also for us as a society to engage in some thoughtful reflection on who we allow to speak and act, and why we frame things the way we do.

Works cited

Bausch, Katherine. “Superflies into Superkillers: Black Masculinity in Film from Blaxploitation to New Black Realism.” The Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 257-76

Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. Translated by Joan Pinkham, Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Clifton, Derrick. “11 Stunning Images Highlight the Double Standard of Reactions to Riots like Baltimore.” Mic.com. Mic Network Inc., April 27, 2015. Web. March 16, 2019.

Da Silva, Chantal. “Black Lives Matter: Philadelphia Super Bowl Riots Reaction ‘Glaring Example of White Privilege.'” Newsweek, February 5, 2018. Web. March 16, 2019.

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Blog Post: Week 6 – Media, Games, and Spaces

When discussing media interventions such as those described by Rita Raley in Tactical Media, I think it is important to consider things like the distribution of power, the consolidation of media outlets, and the rise of ideological tribalism in the 21st century. I believe that these three conditions greatly impact the efficacy of media interventions in the modern era; indeed, even when successful, such interventions often occur within a context that sometimes limits their reach beyond those inclined to agree with the philosophical message of the intervention. In other words, it seems to me that, given the rise of so-called walled gardens and filter bubbles brought about by the corporate algorithms designed to maximize views and clicks, 21st-century media frequently “preach to the choir” rather than actually change minds. Furthermore, given the corporatization of media (but particularly the news media), the handful of massive multinational conglomerates that control different media outlets can frequently restrict a message and thereby lessen its impact. This is not to say that media interventions or tactical media fail to make any sort of impact, but rather that the message can sometimes become absorbed into the noise of today’s ultra-mediated world, which has given rise to a spectacle grown so large that it threatens to overwhelm the average citizen. Thus, it becomes important to consider how media interventions operate within the media ecology of the 21st century, and whether they remain effective in the face of near-constant technological stimulation and ready access to all sorts of information.

A handful of corporate entities control the majority of the media, meaning they can also exert more control the flow of information.

As I discussed in a previous blog post, groups like The Billboard Liberation Front, the Yes Men, Guerrilla Girls, monochrom, and others all engage in a playful (and altogether necessary) disruption of the spectacle through their pranks and interventions. They reveal the impersonal and all-too-often harmful effects of capitalist enterprise and neoliberal ideologies. However, I am often struck by the fact that the people who praise such endeavors are those who are most prone to agree with their messaging, while those opposed tend to condemn their efforts. Moreover, such ideological positioning appears to be increasing thanks to massive media conglomerates such as News Corp or NBCUniversal creating news organizations seemingly designed to advance one position over the other. In addition, as media conglomerates continue to merge and absorb other outlets, they gain disproportionate power over information, especially as government oversight weakens and corporate entities continue to gain more influence over lawmakers. One need only look at Disney’s efforts to sue small party entertainment companies over likeness rights to see that corporations wield great power and seek to exert strict control over their intellectual properties. They even go so far as to change copyright laws to maintain a vice-like grip over their franchises. All of this places the power of the flow of information into the hands of the wealthy and powerful and subsequently make it more difficult for those without the power to fight back and thereby disrupt the spectacle.

Media consolidation allows corporate entities to exert more control over the flow of information.
Image credit: https://niemanreports.org/wp-content/uploads/pod-assets/Image/Nieman%20Reports/Images%20by%20Issue/summer2000/Solomon_1.jpg

At the same time, media interventions continue to take place but they sometimes take the form of trolling, such as when a well-known self-described Internet troll posed as a member of antifa to prank both CNN and Fox News. Rather than try to disrupt the spectacle through his actions, the troll (identified only as “Kevin”) sought to sow “utter freaking chaos” and to discredit the antifa movement, which seeks to combat anti-fascist ideologies such as those often associated with capitalism and neoliberalism. Here, Kevin used chaos not to disrupt the spectacle, but to maintain it by undermining the efforts of a movement that actively seeks to disrupt the spectacle perpetuated by capitalist, neoliberal media conglomerates. When activists do attempt to disrupt the spectacle, such as the Occupy Movement did in the wake of the the global financial crisis, their efforts are weakened by a corporate news media that is beholden to advertisers and subject the ideological positioning of the audience. Depending on a viewer’s preferred network, the Occupy Movement was either a violent leftist anti-capitalist organization or a heroic response to “America’s myriad grievances with Washington, D.C.” Overall, media interventions are more important than ever in the 21st century, as people become increasingly inundated by media, but given the rapidity and scope of media conglomeration as well as the consolidation of information, I question the efficacy of such interventions. I want to believe they still serve to disrupt the spectacle, but my cynicism frequently undermines that hope, especially when confronted with the realities of the modern media landscape.

Blog Post: Week 5 – Disrupt the Spectacle

While reading both Wark and Raley, I found myself thinking quite a bit about the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF), which is one of the first acts of détournement I can recall encountering. I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, but the BLF seem to epitomize the core aspect of détournement, which Douglas B. Holt describes as “turning expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself” (252). By defacing or replacing billboards, which remain omnipresent in American society and, in the words of comedian Bill Hicks, help to “turn everything into a dollar sign,” the BLF hijacks the public face of the capitalist machine and thereby challenges the consumerist ideologies that serve to perpetuate economic inequality, climate change, and more. The group is giving a proverbial thumb to the eye of corporate America and critiquing the profit-driven motives that disregard ecological sustainability and human health in favor of a never-ending quest for more money.

Bill Hicks shares his thoughts on advertising.

The BLF demonstrate the sort of playfulness advocated by the Situationists and Letterists, conceptualizing their activities as pranks (in fact, in a 2003 article appearing in SF Gate, Sam McManis referred to the group as “merry pranksters”). Much like the film They Live (John Carpenter, 1988), which Bijan mentioned in class recently, the BLF alter (or, in their terms, “improve”) existing billboards to reveal the sinister motives that lie behind seemingly innocuous capitalist institutions such as technology, fast food, theme parks, and more.

John Nada (Roddy Piper) uncovers evidence of an alien invasion in They Live.

Now more than ever it seems as though we are living in Marshall McLuhan’s “Age of Anxiety,” especially given that media has become more pervasive than ever before. As McLuhan writes in The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences, they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered” (26). This quote becomes particularly relevant when looking at the early years of the 21st century, a time when social media bombards users with political messages of all stripes, 24 hour news networks conflate facts with opinion with alarming regularity, and billboards (which are increasingly becoming digitized) dot the landscape to an unprecedented degree. This constant mediation has left people feeling ever more anxious and depressed, especially as elected leaders appear to ignore the will of the people and instead opt to advance corporate interests, even in the face of encroaching ecological disaster.

Members of the Sunrise Movement confront Senator Dianne Feinstein over her refusal to back the Green New Deal.

Ultimately, this modern moment demonstrates the need for the playful revolt practiced by radical art groups like the BLF, Guerilla Girls, and monochrom. Their actions highlight the exploitative nature of capitalist enterprises while revealing the destructive implications of consumerist ideologies. At the same time, however, their revolutionary tactics appear to have been appropriated by conservative activists such as James O’Keefe and Alex Jones, both of whom have engaged in performative actions meant to advance ultra-Right-Wing philosophies (such as O’Keefe’s efforts to defund the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now or Jones’ entire Infowars persona). Such actions only serve to advance capitalistic tendencies and contribute to the environmental degradation and human suffering wrought by consumerism. Yet, given the current widespread support for progressive causes such as reversing climate change, implementing stricter gun laws, and protecting reproductive rights, it seems that the messaging of the BLF and similar groups is winning out. Nevertheless, leaders seem more reluctant than ever to take radical action on issues like impending ecological collapse and the widening inequality gap, suggesting that urban guerrilla groups like the BLF have a lot more work to do and need to continue their playful yet vital actions.

References

Holt, Douglas B. Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands.Oxford University Press, 2010.

McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Gingko Press, 1967.

McManis, Sam. “Massaging the Message: Using urban guerrilla tactics, Billboard Liberation Front ‘adjusts’ ads.” SF Gate. August 24, 2003. Web. February 23, 2019.

Blog Post: Week 4 – Situationist International

Based on McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street, it appears as though the legacy of the Situationist movement has permeated various aspects of mainstream society and popular culture. For instance, Wark explains that the ideas of dérive and détournement either influenced or can be seen in everything from urban planning (specifically through architecture that recalls Constant Nieuwenhuys’ plans for New Babylon) to literature, and from cinema to the Internet itself (which Wark argues resembles Nieuwenhuys’ plans for a decentralized communication network). Indeed, much of 21st century society revolves around a philosophy of play, with corporate overlords introducing ludic elements into the workplace as a way of increasing productivity (one only need look at Google’s or Facebook’s corporate headquarters to see that they resemble a McDonald’s play land rather than a traditional office setting).

In many ways, as with so many fringe movements or protest groups, their tactics have become assimilated into mainstream culture while their central message has been somewhat forgotten. For instance, in the final chapter of his book, Wark describes René Viénet’s 1972 film Can Dialectics Break Bricks?, which uses détournement to transform a kung fu film into a “pointed allegory for the co-option of radical desires by the supposedly leftist wing of spectacular power” (153). Here, Viénet reorders scenes and alters the dialogue to expound on radical French philosophy and to offer up “a critique of class conflicts, bureaucratic socialism, the failures of the French Communist Party, Maoism, cultural hegemony, sexual equality and the way movies prop up Capitalist ideology” (Metzger). Yet, in many ways, his film recalls Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966), which engages in a similar act of détournement by re-purposing a Japanese spy film and turning into a tale of one man’s futile search for the perfect egg salad sandwich. Rather than commenting on existing power structures, Allen instead employed these tactics solely in the name of comedy. In the process, the Situationist’s tactics become sanitized for mainstream consumption.

Such co-option of radical ideologies seems to be de rigueur, especially in capitalist nations that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo while quelling any sort of rebellion that might interrupt the flow of capital. Indeed, one only need look at the assimilation of punk, grunge, and hip hop cultures, all of which revolve around a ludic sense of play that is directed at mainstream institutions and longstanding power dynamics. Punk, which evinced an anarchic ideology that advocated for tearing down existing institutions and replacing them with something new or different, was quickly gobbled up by the mainstream to the point that it eventually lost all meaning and became little more than an expensive fashion statement as malls around the country stocked overpriced pre-ripped jeans. Meanwhile, socially conscious hip-hop and political rap, which originally served as a means to draw attention to black culture and the issues surrounding it, soon transformed into little more than music used to sell everything from breakfast cereals to used cars.

More recently, the image of Guy Fawkes featured in Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel V for Vendetta and its subsequent film adaptation (directed by James McTiegue and written by Lana and Lily Wachowski) became a prominent symbol of rebellion, specifically among members of the international hacktivist group Anonymous. Since 2005, the year the movie was released, members of the group have showed up at numerous rallies and produce numerous videos sporting the distinctive mask. Yet, Warner Media owns the copyright to this image and receives a licensing fee every time someone purchases one. Thus, the corporation has found a way to monetize revolution, much like Hot Topic has turned the punk attitude into a mainstream cottage industry.

The Situationists imagined a world that revolved around ludic pursuits, with play serving as life’s guiding philosophy. That world has come to pass, but like so many other things in the capitalist sphere, it has been co-opted and monetized for maximum profits. As Wark notes, this idea aligns with Marx’s assertion that everything becomes ground up in the capitalist mill, even crime itself: “Marx goes on to show how the criminal produces the police, the judiciary, a whole division of labor, ‘creating new needs and new ways of satisfying them'” (154). Indeed, why should anarchy, rebellion, and play be exempt from this sort of co-option. It all just becomes another brand, another style that people can adopt to announce that they are different just like everyone else. More importantly, thought, capitalist structures absorb these rebellious ideologies as a way to perpetuate the tenets of free enterprise and thereby maintain a status quo that reinforces class boundaries and economic realities (while placating the masses with the false promise of a revolution that never comes). From the examples described above to Dodge remixing the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to sell trucks, massive multinational corporate entities appear capable of transforming any sort of uprising into an advertising slogan. Thus, I wonder once again whether the tactics of those like the Situationists can have any real lasting effect beyond become just another catchy jingle.

References

Metzger, Richard. “Cinema subverted in ‘Can Dialectics Break Bricks?’ (1972).” Dangerous Minds. February 21, 2012. Web. February 16, 2018.

Wark, McKenzie. The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International. Verso, 2011.

Blog Post: Week 3 – Legislative action

After reading chapters 1 – 7 in McKenzie Wark’s The Beach Beneath the Street, I think I find the concept of détournement most interesting. Wark describes this idea as both “the opposite of quotation” and “a challenge to private property” because it “attacks a kind of fetishism, where the products of collective human labor in the cultural realm can become a mere individual’s property” (40). He also describes how it functions as more than just a remix such as those described by Henry Jenkins, but rather as something that highlights the idea that knowledge belongs to no one person but to society itself. For me, this idea calls to mind both the cut-up technique developed by the Dadaists (though popularized by William S. Burroughs) and the work of street artist Banksy. With cut-up, poets sought to rearrange existing texts into entirely new works, often by literally cutting up a finished text and then rearranging the pieces into a different order to create something entirely new. Such actions seem to attack the fetishism of the written word and therefore represent a kind of challenge to or rebellion against linearity that has been established by literature and its critics. Thus, cut-up, like détournement, appears to function as a challenge to existing elitist power structures as well as an attempt to shift power imbalances in favor of those excluded from so-called “high-minded” pursuits (especially since the Dadaists intended cut-up as another of their surrealist games, thereby demonstrating a ludic aspect to the technique).

Meanwhile, Banksy often repurposes prevailing cultural images (such as corporate logos or well-known pop cultural characters like Mickey Mouse, himself a sort of corporate logo) into subversive new formats that send up corporate culture and reveal the darkness that lies at the heart of capitalism. Significantly, Banksy displays his art publicly on walls or in the form of self-built physical prop pieces often erected on the sidewalk or other high-traffic areas. By placing his artwork out in the open, Banksy demolishes the idea of the art museum, which is sometimes conceptualized as an elitist institution accessible only to a wealthy few or to those with cultured and refined tastes. Therefore, like the Dadaists and other cut-up artists, Banksy appears to create art that also functions as a rebellion against the art world (both as an idea and an institution) and a subversion of the notion that art occupies an exclusive and sophisticated realm. More importantly, by making his artwork freely visible to the public, he is enlisting the populace at large in his rebellion as well.

This then brings me to Wark’s discussion of Jean-Paul Sartre’s desire to walk the streets of Paris during curfew. Wark writes that by walking the streets at this time, Sartre engages in an act of rebellion because his nighttime stroll becomes a situation rather than a mere act of contemplation. As Wark explains, “The situation is the common product of its own unknowable facticity and of Sartre’s freedom” (57). In other words, without the curfew, Sartre is free to walk the streets whenever he wants, but with the restriction in place Sartre is actively exercising his freedom to walk whenever and wherever he wants in a blatant act of defiance. This idea puts me in mind of Michel de Certeau’s “walking rhetoric,” which states that pedestrians actively create a city’s meaning by walking through it as individual subjects capable of ignoring the city planners’ intended regulations of movement (i.e. bus routes, crosswalks, parking spaces, etc.). For de Certeau, the act of walking through a city imbues these different urban spaces with new meanings that sometimes contradict their intended purposes. This suggests that any pedestrian can “rewrite” the conventions and institutions of society simply by choosing to walk a specific route through a city. This idea in turn puts me in mind of the “Standing Man in Gezi Park” video we watched in class, as he was performing an everyday act (i.e. standing still) but in such a way that it becomes a revolutionary act. Ultimately, it seems that the act of placing something into a new context, whether it be literature, art, or simply walking, can reveal that act as a symbolic challenge to legislative or institutionalized power.

References

de Certeau, Michel. “Chapter VII: Walking in the City.” In The Practices of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall, University of California Press, 1984.

Wark, McKenzie. The Beach Beneath the Street. Verso, 2011.

Blog Post: Week 2 – Tactical Performance

Up front, I should state that this post is going to be a little light on theory but heavy on self-reflection and application (it might also ramble a bit because I have a lot of thoughts on this week’s topic). I find the concepts of tactical performance and electoral guerrilla theater (EGT) fascinating, because I feel like both have sort of diffused into popular culture and the mainstream consciousness in various ways, especially since the rise of the Internet throughout the late-20th and early-21st centuries. While I was unfamiliar with the case studies presented in L.M Bogad’s book Electoral Guerrilla Theater, I was somewhat familiar with the tactics he described throughout because of how they have become appropriated by popular culture. For instance, in my younger years, I often played the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game published by Chaosium, Inc., who, in 1996, launched the “Cthulhu for President” campaign. Their slogan: “Why settle for the lesser evil?” As a radical progressive Generation X-er somewhat disillusioned by a political process that often seemed little more than a choice between two undesirable people, this message resonated deeply with me.

Image credit: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/517RwXXQkXL.SX258_BO1,204,203,200.jpg

Similarly, I can recall when, in 1984 and then again in 1988, Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed embarked on a long-running story in which Bill the Cat won the National Radical Meadow Party’s nomination to run for President of the United States alongside his running mate, Opus the Penguin. Though this story line occurred in a daily newspaper comic strip, it eventually had real world implications, with people wearing tee-shirts that announced “Don’t blame me…I voted for Bill ‘n’ Opus.”

And while I was too young to experience it first hand, I am aware that in 1976 the Marvel Comics character Howard the Duck (created by writer Steve Gerber) ran for president. Like Bill the Cat’s presidential aspirations, this mock candidacy evolved out of story published in the Howard the Duck comics, but then Marvel announced that the character was indeed running for president. However, his candidacy was more of a joke and a way for the company to sell more merchandise than an actual attempt to win high office. Nevertheless, Marvel impresario Stan Lee claimed that “Howard’s in-comic and real world campaigning earned him thousands of real-world write-in votes,” though there is no proof of that actually happening.

While these campaigns are not exactly the same as those discussed by Bogad or the performance tactics practiced by Augosto Boal in his “Theatre of the Oppressed,” they nevertheless utilize similar strategies that help reveal the silliness and exclusionary nature of the actual electoral process. The operate in a similar way to “corrode and rejuvenate different elements of the civic body” (Bogad 17) while also highlighting the fact that elections often denies entry to marginalized or disenfranchised groups via rhetoric that emphasizes dignity and elitism. The mock campaigns listed above similarly aim to destabilize and reveal the performative aspects of actual electoral campaigns, in much the same way that the films of John Waters sought to destabilize the norms of conventional heterosexual society and decency (NOTE: as a film scholar, I often relate things through the lens of cinema). With films like Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974), Waters aimed to “to challenge mainstream sensibilities and push the boundaries of tastefulness” (Olson 166) while also helping to usher queer culture into the mainstream.

As much as I hate to repeat myself, I feel like this week’s topic once again relates to Foucault’s ideas regarding the diffusion of power within society. In the cast of EGT, the electoral guerrilla performers are actively attempting to shift the balance of electoral power in favor of marginalized groups, particularly in the case of queer performers like Joan JettBlakk (who sought to destabilize the electoral ritual while also highlighting the plight of queer people and people of color) and Paula Pantsdown (who acted on behalf of Australia’s marginalized Asian community). Such acts of defiance demonstrate how power resides in the hands of a wealthy elite, but that power can suddenly diffuse into the hands of disenfranchised individuals through rebellious performative acts.

Of course, it must be noted that conservatives and those in power can also utilize these same tactics to shore up their own power. For instance, Right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe of Project Veritas utilized tactical performance to successfully (though only temporarily) defund the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Other conservative figures such as Christopher Cantwell, Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro, and Richard Spencer all use performative tactics to spread conservative and ultra-right-wing ideologies. Even President Donald Trump utilizes such tactics through his rallies and his Twitter feed. Ultimately, tactical performance can help reveal the struggles faced by marginalized groups or individuals, but it can also be used to maintain existing power structures. This idea takes on even more resonance in the hypermediated 21st century, when any act of performance holds the potential to go viral and radically alter a political narrative.

Works cited

Bogad, L.M. Electoral Guerrilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements. Routledge, 2005.

Olson, Christopher J. 100 Greatest Cult Films. Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.

Blog Post: Week 1 – Narrative and resistance culture

As politics and culture both become more polarized, it becomes increasingly important to control the narrative. More and more, politicians, content creators, and other public figures have stressed the importance of optics, a pervasive buzzword that refers to how the public perceives of an event or course of action. This idea reveals the importance of narrative, specifically those who control the narrative. As Bijan pointed out in class on Tuesday, the incident between the Covington Catholic students, the Black Israelites, and Native American veteran Nathan Phillips reveals the importance of controlling the narrative. The initial narrative, most notably among members of the progressive Left, was that the boys from Covington Catholic, mainly Nick Sandmann, were mocking Phillips while wearing MAGA hats and therefore were the clear villains in the situation. However, the narrative then shifted when conservative commentators took umbrage with this narrative and revealed footage that showed the boys were responding to taunting from a small group of Black Israelites, which they claimed complicated the initial narrative. This racially-charged incident soon became a rallying point for both the right and the left, with some supporting the students and condemning Philips and others taking the opposite position. At the same time, centrists chastised both sides for taking these extreme positions, noting that the narrative was ultimately complicated and that only those directly involved would ever know the true story.

Currently, members of the GOP are struggling to take control of the narrative surrounding the government shutdown that lasted 35 days and only recently ended, as in this tweet from Senator Ted Cruz:

Meanwhile, Democrat messaging has consistently laid the blame for the shutdown at the feet of President Donald Trump, who back in December of 2018 stated that he would be proud to shutdown the government over funding for his proposed border wall. Both Republicans and Democrats are attempting to take control of the narrative surrounding the shutdown, an incident that results from actions that could be considered a form of protest; Democrats are protesting Trump’s wall and Republicans are protesting what they perceive as the unchecked migration of undocumented immigrants (or, in their terms, illegal aliens, another case of trying to take control of the narrative). Ultimately, both factions are attempting to control the optics of the situation and make themselves look good in the eyes of their base.

In terms of protest movements, the need to control the narrative becomes most prominent in the tension between the Occupy Movement, which sought to raise issues surrounding income inequality, and the so-called One Percent, the wealthy few who want to maintain the existing status quo. Mainstream news media (which is overwhelmingly controlled by the corporate entities owned by the One Percent) often dismissed the Occupy Movement by framing them as having no clear objective, ignoring the messaging about advancing social and economic justice and new forms of democracy. In this way, the One Percent were able to take control of the narrative surrounding the issue of income inequality. Yet the ideas espoused by the Occupy Movement took root among voters who increasingly called on their elected officials to not just address income inequality but do something about it as well. This then forced the news media to address the issue as well, demonstrating both the importance of controlling the narrative and just how quickly that control can change hands (thus highlighting Michel Foucault’s ideas regarding how power is diffused and embodied in things like discourse and knowledge).

Ultimately, narrativizing political views and cultural ideologies helps to embed them in the popular consciousness, but those who control the narrative can influence how those ideas manifest. Issues such as income inequality, gender identity, racial relationships, queerness, and more all benefit from being narrativized, as this allows them to be understood by people who do not belong to the groups impacted by these issues. At the same time, though, these narratives can be co-opted by people who wish to suppress or oppress marginalized groups (as seen in the rhetoric used by Donald Trump during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election). Thus, those who control the narrative can impact society in various ways, but that control can (and frequently does) shift and change hands often.

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