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.
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.
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.