Friday, September 25, 2009
The Shrinking Event; The Impossible Border
I'm guessing this video was seen by every single person at the Center for American Progress by its second day online. It ended up in my mailbox then, although the Econ-interns had tipped me off the day before. We all thought it was pretty funny. As Matt Yglesias pointed out on his blog (which, of course, disseminated into the web and back into the "intern storage room" on the first floor), the whole conceit was pretty stupid. These bloggers run a vast conspiracy. By posting stuff on the internet. Right.
More awkward was the "George Soros" connection. Over the weekend (over alcohol, in true D.C. fashion), we rather awkwardly tried to deal with the shaky nature of our shared response (our common sense):
"But seriously guys, George Soros only funds 13% of our budget."
It's a strange problem, resting in the space between being and non-being; George Soros AND others equally contribute to our think-tank (and measly stipends, the subject of much complaint). But neither statistics nor internship-slavery are the topics of this blog post.
Perhaps another example drawn from my summer spent interning in Washington D.C. at the Center for American Progress might help in establishing the limits of this blog post's subject:
Remember Mark Sanford? That one dude who disappeared for a week while hiking the Appalachian Trail and suddenly reappeared in Argentina, having an affair?
The news he had disappeared hit D.C. immediately, and betting pools were established (I know of at least one). The high odds were on extra-martial affair, with bonus points if gay. The after-math was, again, weird; interns and staff alike debated if an extramartial affair was really reason to destroy a man's (assumed male, of course, because stats tend to skew on that side of things) political career… but of course, he did disappear from all American contact, leaving his State unattended, so it's totally fine to laugh at another Republican burning in the dust.
There are a couple of problems here: first of all, the bizarre interplay of "event" and "news." The "Mark Sanford" affair could perhaps be collapse into a single event, a single story, and yet newspapers, attempting to cover every possible angle of a "hot story," leave behind a flood of "stories" all breaking down the events (note: I am aware of my use of the plural), focusing in on characters, searching out people fleetingly related to the 'event' and interviewing them on their thoughts, while bloggers simultaneously link together these stories and provide interpretation (all interpretation except the interpretation of their own interpretation, which is the role I'm playing right now as you read this) and argue, usually turning into Jonah Goldberg leaping into action to slander someone (without linking to them, as is the conservative-blogosphere policy) causing the left to get upset over 'ignorance of logic,' which kind of just dodges a 'true' critical dialog.
Which is where the second problem emerges (the one I'm using as an excuse to post the video America-needs-to-see): all these people call themselves "Americans" rather easily, but may can and have killed one another over political differences. And it's the media that's enabling this. Remember the Anti-Federalist Papers? Remember that letter whose publishing lead to the death of Alexander Hamilton? There are plenty more examples, radio in Rwanda being one of them.
Which (which which which) leads us to perhaps (provisionally) conclude that Anderson is wrong. The media drives apart nations as much as it constructs them, revealing the arbitrary nature of the imagined community through their desperate drive to create "stories" and "narratives" out of pure (?- for more explanation of why I'm including this question mark here, read "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America") events, stories that… um.
Stories that require groups in opposition. The Democrats and Republicans, the right and left, farmers and lawyers, context. Which are, of course, mere imagined communities: has every 'farmer' (all farmers, of course, being included by the indirect referentiality of the term) met every other 'farmer'? What do Republicans really have in common (a problem becoming more and more evident as a bizarre array of racists, libertarians (which can be broken down into anarchic Nozikians, Ron Paul-ites, and LaRouchers), old people, lame conspiracy theorists (really birthers? A missing birth certificate is the best conspiracy you can come up with?), Glenn Beck, 9/12ers, nostalgic Bostonians, timecubers, drug addicts, anti-communist/fascist/dictatorship protestors (because really, they're all the same thing), and angry white people of all shapes and sizes gather to teabag the White House lawn)? Are all lawyers really evil?
One of the problems we encountered in Tuesday's section was distinguishing between religion and nationalism. Some were baffled when Anderson, seemingly contradicting himself, identified elements of nationalism that directly paralleled religion. Even though religion is dead and was replaced by nationalism. This approach, however, ignores the functions of time at play within this shift: the set of structures comprising nationalism arose out of the set of structures comprising religion, synthesizing and deconstructing to create itself. This approach is built off a different conception of time than either the messianic time or empty homogeneous time mentioned by Anderson. Namely, discrete time; time as existing of identifiable and discrete/essential objects, whose all operate discretely and independent of one another. Nationalism (as an object) arose after religion died, replacing it.
Already the paradoxes manifest themselves. Replace it? That suggests Nationalism (despite being discrete) is filling a similar role in the lives of men. It carries out similar functions through similar methods.
I think the point I've been dancing around all post long is rather clear by now. But, I'll provide one last example. When protests first "broke out" in Iran in the aftermath of a probably-fraudulent election, Nico Pitney (the Iranian-American news editor of the Huffington Post) began working connections and sifting through the masses of videos, blogs, and tweets being generated out of the chaos. His blog posts, which consisted of time-stamped lists, became well known across the net for their comprehensiveness (issues of reliability, of course, being acknowledged in the blog itself), and soon Iranians began sending emails directly to him, hoping to use the broad reach of Pitney to appeal to other Iranians and organize. When HuffPo decided to send him off to a White House presser, he sent an email to his Iranian contacts, asking for possible questions to ask Obama. The White House, receiving word of this, directly asked Pitney to make sure he had a question, as they may ask him for it. Pitney, at this point, posts a request on his blog. The next day, Obama throws him the first question, stating "…I understand Nico Pitney has a question from an Iranian for me…" (don't quote me on that, that's written purely from memory). The 'media' proceeds to erupt in an orgasm of superiority, declaring the White House to be "in cahoots" with HuffPo, in very much the same relation that Bush and Fox News had. All you need to know is that the whole thing ended in Dana Milbank calling Nico Pitney a "dick" on Fox News.