Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The revolution will, like, be totally televised

Two recent events interested me. The first was the revolution that occurred on 19 June. You noticed, right? No, it was not that revolution, that old thing where the proletariat overthrow the ruling classes who are then strung up by the thumbs next to the creators of the Game of Life. This was a po-mo version where individuals acting only on their own behalf used social media to gather in a creative fashion, to shout out in many different ways. This is nuts for the traditional media. A good example comes from the big London demos in March this year, where Lucy Annson of the UK Uncut group protesting about government cuts made the great statement to a journalist:

'We are a network of people who self-organise. We don't have a position on things. It's about empowering the individual to go out there and be creative'. She then said 'I am a spokesperson for myself'.*

Take the Square is a Twitter-based network inspired by the Arab Spring. They have been involved in the big protests in Madrid and Greece. Their idea is that a protest can start small, as it did in Egypt, but by the time it becomes so big it swamps a public space it is unassailable. (Not sure if these guys have heard of Tianamen Square). They planned a a world wide take-the-square revolution on 19 June. Hard to find out what happened. Here in Christchurch if you tried to Take the Square you would have to bust through the cordon, piss off the army and risk having earthquake debris fall on you. Big public spaces are a bit rare here.

Thing is, if we act for ourselves and speak for ourselves in protest, we can do lots of things. We can be flexible, creative, and inclusive. We can even have fun. Take the Critical Mass cycling jams for example. But can we change the world? Can we handle power? Would be becme victims of success if the system actually changed and some of us gained a seat at the table?

The other recent event that names this post is the death of the gorgeous Gil Scott-Heron. He was the father of rap among other things, a bluesman and a poet. He died in May. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is his most famous piece of spoken jazz. The revolution will not kill the germs that cause bad breath. CBS will not predict the results at 8.32. The revolution will not go better with Coke. It's all edge, all hope and despair, back in the early 1970's. Love it. Mean it.

Thing is, even back then i thought he was wrong. Back then i thought that for a start there was no point in having a revolution if it wasn't televised, you wave your placard for the cameras after all. i also thought, rather dimly in my youth, that the media already had it all sussed, and i was right. Consumerism is endlessly adaptive. The language of revolution and anarchy has been appropriated by hundreds of commerical images, from the poster of Omar Sharif as Che on the wall of the student flat, to the poster ad for the clothing shop that has women wearing the shop's clothes, posing para-military style in a jungle and Spanish viva! slogans in the background. The revolution meme is televised all the time.

My daughter once asked me if i was one of the first feminists. i laughed and said no, i was one of the last. What has happened to feminism? It is not finished, it has been hijacked. We feel like we've won when we can drink alcohol like men and fight like men and even have our own porn. When pop culture disses men as being childlike and impractical we can feel superior. But that's just the market, just how they want to sell shit to us, not how reality is for women or men, and not how women become themselves.

Of course everything is being televised all the time anyway, so the revolution is bound to be televised by default. Someone will catch even the tiniest revolution on CCTV or a cell camera. It is interesting that revolutionaries try so hard to be anonymous; a guide to living through the revolution has a large section on how to disguise yourself, especially online. Think of the Anonymous group. It's as if we think we are real people and not just faces on Zuckerberg's book. Somehow there is a need to be famous and private at the same time.

Gil Scott-Heron talks about the song, and i realise i am taking him too literally. He has had many years to think about it. He thinks that 'not be televised' means getting our heads right first, adjusting our attitudes, learning for ourselves. Yeah, can't argue with that.

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