Thursday, November 29, 2012


this is an article by Huw Lemmey for TNI about the IDF's instagram. typical of TNI pieces, it's good but doesn't feel to go quite far enough. but anyway, it's related to our readings for this week (particularly in the sense that the image glosses political complexities and subsumes them to a "branding" strategy), as well as what was discussed in the last half of today's section.

Affect is the Problem?

Thinking through the task of conducting some sort of slacktivism this week, I was a little chagrined to realize that I’ve been a casual slactivist since 2010. I have donated $1 monthly to Red Cross for 2 and half years: initially to assist in emergency relief for the earthquake in Haiti and then to continue to support Red Cross’s long-term aid plan there. What is striking about this is how I, in fact, forgot or to some extent was uncertain whether I was still making this monthly donation and upon checking my account activity, I noted that I am still a Red Cross donor.

This unrecognized and automated gesture of monthly support, a monetary investment and supposed indication of my continuing support, ostensibly demonstrates my “care” (for no specific issue, event, or group of people since my donation goes to Red Cross) but it functions that way without my awareness of it and without my conscious permission.

Considering this type of calendarized and self-activating philanthropy, it seems to suggest that network technologies  facilitate a type of anonymous (I don’t know exactly my $1 is aiding) and mechanized care giving, the type that Andrew pointed to in his lecture.  Slactivism operates seemingly in the moment (signing an online petition, liking a page, watching a video) but that quick, transitory action, can, through the same networked technology, be captured and extended into something that looks like sustained commitment to a cause.

The logic of humanitarianism that Fassin outlined  put so much of the course’s content in perspective. We’ve placed affects at the crux of what motivates individuals and groups (to pursue and sustain cruelly optimistic relationships, for example) and affective relations as what often constitutes those same individuals and groups. Similarly, in her first lecture Professor Chun noted the potential political potency of passion. It seems that what affect produces in regards to slactivism and networked technology is form of de-politicization. Fassin seems to indicate that affect is precisely what undermines effective humanitarianism, because instead of pursuing a political understanding of certain issues or social conflicts we engage in an emotional relationship with “victims.” Calls to act based on responses to “Misery” and “Trauma” displace attempts to solve or address the social situations that produce those conditions. How can affect be so constitutive, central, and mobilizing, but also, in this regard, fleeting?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Theoretical Apathy, Pessimism and Cynicism

Though it would be rude to simplify the general opinion of our whole class, I'm struggling to get through all of the pessimism and disapproval. 'Optimism is cruel,' 'activism is slactivism,' 'there is no hope for the world' and I have to post some blog about it to pass a class. People are starving and we're talking about how bad the people trying to help them are for not doing it perfectly. I guess sustainability is the goal...

I can understand how optimism about something that is not a solution may be cruel, and unsustainable. I can also see that in our limited time here on the planet, if we are doing one thing we aren't doing something else; therefor if online activism is less effective than some otherly greater real world activism, and is taking up the exact time and energy that would have gone to that better activism, it may also be cruel or slackful.

If the goal of activism is to get information to a maximum number of people to make change happen "for a moral cause" (which is ever so relative) perhaps against a suppressor, then I think blogging about apprehensiveness toward online activism, pessimism about power and effect, and cynicism about authenticity is slactivism. Kony2012 is not an entirely effective tool for helping end genocide in Uganda (though I'm sure it has more positive effects than we'd like to whine about), however it got a lot of attention, and proved not only that social networks can provide a soapbox for messages, but also that lame ass (yet well edited) hippie liberal one sided videos and their gatekeepers will not go unpunished (even if Facebook wants to be polite and leave out a 'dislike' button). I do not believe that people who click 'like' or sign a petition in a seemingly lazy manner do that instead of going to a more traditional sit-it (a.k.a archaic) style protest, but rather they do that instead of clicking like on that meme that says "This is a cute Puppy." The internet turns lazy unaware people into activists (if only slightly), it does not turn activists into slactivists.

I understand focusing on the flaws of a system to improve it, but calling online activism 'slactivism' because it's easier and more widespread seems envious. Without the ease of the internet's social networking, my laziness and unawareness might get balanced out by my wealth and privilege to bring me to activism without new technology, but not everyone is wealthy and privileged. To participate in more traditional activism, expenses and risks add up, and new technologies balance out those costs and risks to some degree. Would we rather these so called slackers go back to their unawareness while us college kids and other real activists like that do the job right? I think someone getting misinformed about Uganda is not the worst case scenario, because they're more likely to say something stupid and maybe actually learn the truth than if they totally didn't have words like "uganda" "genocide" "africa" etc etc

I guess what I'm bloggering on about is we should focus on causing trends rather than providing solutions. The mainstream entertainment and news media system have been brainwashing us for years, and now we see social media having their own distinct effect on what's trending. I'm just glad that things like Kony2012, SOPA/PIPA debates, Trayvon's trend, and Planed Parenthood v The Board of Susan's Foundation are considered fun to interact with in our life, even if ignorance is more trendy.

We still need activists to work extra hard to get their truth to the people, but the issues of online activism  shouldn't make us shun it, but rather amplify and refine it. Instead of blogging about Ivy League media theory I should be out there making a video to raise awareness about some atrocity I miraculously am driven to solve, or at least sharing a video so someone else can miraculously become a real activist. If a slactivist posts a video in a totally superficially lazy way and that post encourages the worlds greatest realest activists to become that, does the slactivist become an activist or is that just second degree/accessory to activism?

I'm rather bad at ending my blogs and the beginnings and middles aren't much better, but feel free to text me about this if you really wanna make a difference to my misunderstandings or oversimplifications 5082872331, or make a video about how I'm wrong...but please don't do a sit it, I find them ineffective in this day and age.

Discomfort and Illiteracy + simple equations

Feeling really pleased at the way my blog posts for the past few weeks have anticipated questions to be immediately addressed by upcoming readings (really in the swing of things!). Anyway, last week I ended my post wondering about the general illiteracy in terms of scientific/technological images and diagrams. I was thinking that perhaps the ambiguity of these images--despite their coding as scientific/objective, their integration into a logic of "seeing is believing"--made them less potentially subversive because they required expert interpretation or reading in order to even have meaning. Parks' "Digging Into Google Earth" speaks directly to this in a way that challenged my original conception. In her conviction that the format and implementation of the Crisis in Darfur project codes "obvious truth" via specific images, the "personal code," while therefore glossing over the real political complexity of the situation through this apparent clarity and straightforwardness, Parks positions the creators of the project in the position I'd imagined as dangerously authoritative. But she also points to the potential of satellite images, in their precise lack of direct clarity, to open up space for a more involved interrogation. Thus, for her, illiteracy can be productive. This also reminds me of Ahmed's sense of a productive discomfort, the need to reject or withhold totalizing representations for both their implication of a singular interpretive actor/authority and, of course, their collapses and veilings. But still, in the context of humanitarianism and real situations that call upon our human empathy, situations were a sense of efficacy matters in terms of bodies and lives, I wonder exactly how productive this discomfort/illiteracy can be. It still doesn't mean a solution, just a greater understanding. 

(for my slacktivism, I signed the Brown Divest Coal campaign's online petition. In true slacktivist form, even after following them on Twitter and on Facebook, and accepting an invitation to the Bill McKibben talk this week, I have made no further effort to participate in the campaign. It's also worth noting that Bill McKibben's/'s "Do the Math" campaign ("tour") appeal to logic of obviousness similar to that of the Crisis in Darfur project--the implication is that there is a simple equation and the answer's right in front of us.)

Dramatic Title

Fung and Shkabatur’s paper does a pretty thorough analysis of the unique place viral campaigns hold in our modern world. They argue that while it does have it’s shortcomings viral campaigns result in a net good for civic understanding, however I think they do overlook one important aspect which is the main concern of Fassin’s paper: the huge work that a rhetoric of compassion does in the modern politic – and thus the power that perceived suffering holds. He notes “imitation is replaced by exclusion, domination is transformed into misfortune, injustice is articulated as suffering, and violence is expressed in terms of trauma” (Fassin, 6). This framework reflects a soft kind of compassion that may make the subject feel good; it can actually work to conceal the true causes of suffering. For example, while the Kony 2012 video used the word of the young Jacob to crystallize the face of evil, it obfuscated the systemic reinforcement for Kony’s actions – simply calling him the “bad guy”. Yes the threat he actually imposes, and the power he wields where hyperbolized, but this is not even the most caustic part of this campaign. What many viewers (and avid supporters) of this video likely do not know is the great lakes region of Africa where Joseph Kony was active has one the highest known concentrations of the world’s Coltan supply, a crucial element in the construction of smart phones and cellular computers. The ravenous desire for this element and the lack of regulation of it’s extraction (there is child slavery used to subsidize these operations) may be the true causes for the endemic problems in this region.
The other issue I take with this kind of rhetoric is that the when suffering is foregrounded, it necessarily removes the focus on the idyllic ‘pursuit of happiness’ and replaces it with a flight from sadness. Perhaps this is the reason that some “derided or waxed indignant about what theyinterpreted as a drift towards sentimentalism, suggesting that we all consider ourselves as victims” (Fassin, 7). Is it the contemporary luxuries that we are born into. In the 1940 movie The Great Dictator Charlie Chaplin laments “We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in, machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.” in a word, if technology, education, and material wealth guaranteed happiness the western world should be overjoyed. Often these things lend themselves very well to soft compassion, which can generalize happiness into a lack of sadness. Fung and Shkabatur argue that since the great equalizing power of the internet can allow any ‘ask’ to be potentially viral it can at worst raise some degree of awareness. However, since the rhetoric of suffering has already been established the ‘asks’ which are successful must be articulated in this fashion.  I ask the question is perceived suffering endemic because there is a lack of genuine joy? Imagine a viral campaign built around spreading joy – of course the problem here is that no government regulation will universally bring happiness,  this mostly stems from sincere interactions, and this quickly moves away from another criteria of the viral campaign: low investment.
Perhaps, the issues I take with slacktivism and viral campaigns are not as a disease; indeed,  it is extremely valuable to have the power to speak to a mass audience about things which are deeply concerning, and although they are low investment these campaigns can have a huge effect in that they do show the actual spread of public concern. Maybe, these campaigns trouble me as a symptom. Perhaps we are too globalized, too networked to have complete ethical agency in any of our actions.
But maybe I’m just projecting, I mean, what good did I do by writing this blog post?

Though well intentioned and analytically sound, Fung and Shkabatur seem to ask the wrong questions, making blanket statements without interrogating the hows and whys of “viral engagement”. This is not to discredit the work that is being done, only to suggest that as an “early discussion draft” the piece appears unfinished, focusing too deeply on the “ask” without also addressing the “tell”. The authors continuously refer to askers as political entrepreneurs under the frame of capitalism (marketing, democracy), which I found problematic. What I did find fascinating were the ideas about inclusion (exclusion, gatekeepers etc.) and how those might interplay with Parks’ notions of accessibility. Accessible information becomes valuable information. This isn’t really a developed blog post I realize… but hopefully this is something I’ll flesh out with my final paper.

Last Tuesday, my slacktivist activity found me. A knock at my door revealed a Brown student speaking on behalf of the Divest Coal Program Campaign. The group was apparently looking for students, professors, and alumni to sign a petition against the University’s involvement with coal mining companies in the country. After asking a few harmless questions, I agreed to fill an information form that added my name to the petition list. I received an email from the group recently about getting involved. 


Andrew posed a senario to us at the end of class which, if I remember correctly, went something like this: If humanitarianism effaces history/narrative in favor of action on the basis of compassion (the ending of suffering, the benevolence of the giver), to what extent can networked technologies restore the context and complexity of a situation and to what extent do they simply continue the current paradigm? This question seemed very similar to me to Ahmed's plea for a recognition of the scar. We neither want a fetishization of the wound (perhaps the suffering body?) nor an apology and moving on (an archive of the suffering?), as both elide the historical event.

I think one of the better, and perhaps more natural, uses for viral political awareness/action that we have come across in class was in the case of the SOPA/PIPA legislation, as Fung and Shkabatur discussed. Because of the very nature of the legislation, which would determine how content was used on the internet, the internet seemed like the perfect place to protest. While many of the campaigns were undoubtably sensationalized, black sensored bars is a dramatic way to display the idea of censorship, they allowed people to understand the context of the legislation. Instead of presenting you with a self-encapsulated video, the banners or blackouts made me curious, made me want to find out more rather than just accept it as fact. I found at the time that campaigns against SOPA/PIPA did a good job at directing you towards information about the laws as well, providing links and asking you to do the research. In that sense, it seemed as though they managed to connect the real life impact of the legislation with the virtual call for action by showing the context.

Besides all this though, I have an issue. Andrew posed what seems like a great question, one I am drawn to besides for the fact that it was the central theme of the lecture. But, I don't feel as though I have any way to answer it. So often new technology is heralded as the end of culture as we know it, the doomsday that awaits us if we become absorbed into it, whether it be the combustion engine, the telephone, the television, the computer... and so far, we're okay, aren't we? Sometimes I just want to ask "What's all the fuss?" but that's rather simplistic I suppose. There are of course myriad reasons behind resistance to technology, whether for economic stability of the old tradition, the fear of an invasion of the unknown, the loss of an established rhythm, etc, etc. However, I do still wonder whether it isn't a little too early to fret about the effects of technologically networked and viral political action, whether online or through cell phones. I understand that this contradicts our motives in the class - we are attempting to analyze and I am asking us not to - but clearly we can see both the "good" and the "bad" within these political and humanitarian campaigns, just as we can see the progress and the stagnation within television or any other medium. As a result, I'm just not sure how to gage or evaluate the effectiveness or the progress of these actions, especially with such little distance from them. In class Tuesday, the idea that we cannot separate ourselves from the system came up. How can we map ourselves (as an individual node and/or as a part of the larger crowd) while we are in fact living this. We come back to the age old question, can you ever "get out of" the system you are a part of in order to judge it... or is it just turtles all the way down? Is it possible to "zoom in" and "zoom out" on our own lives as they are unfolding? What, if any, sort of temporal distance is needed to engage critically with "slacktivism?" This is where we run into the problem of assessing emerging technologies as the ways we use them are still unfolding. While it becomes difficult to process the long-term effects, the positive nature of attempting to analyze at this point is that you still have the option to steer the medium... but will we be able to understand our own context?

P.S. As my "slacktivist" initiative, I signed a petition electronically on against the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. I have done this sort of thing before, and have always afterwards felt an overwhelming sense of "that's it?" It was no different this time, except perhaps now with a new background on the issue of slacktivism, I felt less of a sense of fulfillment at my action.

Justice Deferred

The logic of humanitarianism as described by Fassin has the unique characteristic of being both bringing closer and pushing away the subjects at which it is directed and does so along a parallel track to Berlant's notions of cruel optimism. Where humanitarianism brings affectively strong images of suffering into our homes every night at 6:30 for our daily dose of empathy, it also at the same time always highlights the alterity of the people in those images. Our role as passive observer is highlighted not just by our relationship to the people in the images but also by the medium of television. We are always viewing through a filter.

Part of the work of this filter is to maintain the distance between us, the viewer of videos such as Kony 2012, and the people represented in them in order to obfuscate no just our complicity in producing the conditions represented in the videos, but in fact our investment in and desire for their continuation. In this sense it is cruel optimism reversed. We are not willing participating in a system that prevents our social mobility, but instead a system that preserves our social position precisely because it prevents the social mobility of others by continually reenacting historical colonial domination in new ways. If we are to take Fassin's position, When we participate in any form of activism, we are not just desiring to do good, or right some injustice, we are also desiring that injustice's continuation. Without it's continuation we would not be in the position to be "activists" and their would not be the potential for us to feel good about our actions. A more concrete example is provided by Slavoj Zizek in his book Organs without Bodies.

[In] Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, the distopia about the "Republic of Gilead," a new state on the East Coast of the US which emerged when the Moral Majority took over. The ambiguity of the novel is radical: its "official" aim is, of course, to present as actually realized the darkest conservative tendencies in order to warn us about the threats of Christian fundamentalism - the evoked vision is expected to give rise to horror in us. However, what strikes the eye is the utter fascination with this imagined universe and its invented rules. Fertile woman are allocated to those privileged members of the new nomenklatura whose wives cannot bear children - forbidden to read, deprived of their names (they are called after the man to whom they belong: the heroine is Offred - "of Fred"), they serve as receptacles of insemination. The more we read the novel, the more it becomes clear that the fantasy we are reading is not that of the Moral Majority, but that of feminist liberalism itself: an exact mirror-image of the fantasies about the sexual degeneration in our megalopolises which haunts members of the Moral Majority. So, what the novel displays is desire - not of the Moral Majority, but the hidden desire of feminist liberalism itself.
The feminist liberal position, as Zizek notes, has the greatest raison d'etre and is at its most effectual at the apex of its opposition's power and it desires to reach this point. Our desire as "activists" is directed oppositely, in the direction of maintaining power, with our hidden desire being that we remain powerless to effect any real change.

This hidden desire is most evident in the rhetoric of the "asks" of activist organizations. In asking that you take some time today to help, they highlight both their nature as a middleman and the deferred manner in which help, justice, or whatever other promised good will be provided. Your donation today may feed a child tomorrow. The innovation of slactivism, and perhaps one of the reasons for the viral nature of its campaign's propagation, is that it attempts to eliminate the middleman role and produce the illusion of direct action. To recast Andrew's final statement from Tuesday from the perspective of the "slactivist," rather than the awaiting of an infinite justice, isn't the hope of this meeting of technology and mass protest precisely the hope of a heretofore deferred solidarity, and one that is achieved in the here and now? The messiah has come and we are him, but we are busy right now, ask us again tomorrow.


(a)i will spark dialogue.

so ai decided to take action #my2k

the rosey/annie/(+) dialogue, to develop over the course of the evening **@#stay tuned


Tweets I couldn't find screenshots for/featured in Never Sorry documentary:
  -There is no outdoor sports as graceful as throwing stones at a dictatorship
  -What can they do to me? None other than deportation, kidnapping and imprisonment or make me completely vanish

A Sea of Pink & The Breast Cancer-Industrial Complex

This week I choose to engage in pink-ribbon slacktivism. I first explored BMW’s controversial “The Ultimate Drive” campaign, which promises to donate a dollar to breast cancer research for every mile that you test-drive a BMW. This campaign became a controversy in 2006 when the media scrutinized BMW for selling a product (in this case a car) that knowingly pumps carcinogens into the environment, while appealing to consumers as a company that cares about breast cancer. In this case, it is hard to ignore that BMW has lobbied hard in the past to allow the use of several known carcinogens in gas and car manufacturing. So—here we have a company that allegedly contributes to the environmental risks of developing cancer, while simultaneously promoting a feel-good campaign that aims to stop cancer in its tracks. This inverted logic makes it hard to untangle the motives behind the breast cancer-corporate care nexus, and reminds me of Beck’s discussion on the production of invisible risks in a risk society and how networks can both reveal and obscure the connections between production, consumption, and social change (in “The Logic of Wealth Distribution and Risk Distribution”).  It also reminds me of Berlant’s notion of “slow death” and how we try to ameliorate a situation without changing the underlying problems, i.e. mitigating the proliferation of carcinogens in the environment by changing the way we use cars.

But I do not mean to critique BMW for participating in a campaign that certainly raises awareness and money for an important cause. On a side note, it astounding to consider how much money campaigns like “The Ultimate Drive” collects each year ($800 million in total), and how nearly impossible it is to figure out where this money actually goes. Nevertheless, what I do mean to critique is how BMW’s advertising makes you feel like the cure is right down the road. That is, it is in the way companies like BMW market breast cancer awareness through the use of marketing collateral decked out with pink ribbons, pink balloons, pink roses, pink everything. Not only does this lead to the hypervisibility of cancer, but also a political and social aesthetic that conveys a very rosy situation. Known as “Pinkwashing”, the use of pink by industries to build good will, sell their product, and cover up their own complicity in the problem ultimately obscures the complexity of the social cause, while capitalizing on hope and obfuscating the connection between cancer and profit. Furthermore, Pinkwashing renders invisible certain forms of suffering, death, grieving and pain in breast cancer’s national, illness narrative in exchange for transferring affect to a feeling about a business.

The pink-ribbon movement shares similarities with the Kony 2012 movement in the way that they both mobilize a civic-minded, but ultimately passive ideal of empathy and collective action. While it is certainly a nice gesture to display a pink-ribbon on your car, it is unclear whether such an act is actually helpful or harmful to the broader social goal. In other words, is it ethical to support a political aesthetic that bathes us in positive energies, that has been appropriated by arguably manipulative corporations, that blurs the line between collective passivity and collective passion, that prefers pink femininity over the tough warrior narrative, and that avoids talking about the frustrating and terrifying nature of cancer and cancer research? What does the pink ribbon represent, if not an impasse that makes impossible a more elegiac politics, or a space for grieving and pain in the way we respond to breast cancer as a national wound? The pink ribbon movement also reminds me of Kony 2012 in the way that it is incredibly difficult to totalize complex, political situations and explain issues like breast cancer to the lay public without oversimplifying the problem. Instead, it seems much easier to build an aesthetic movement that is consumer-friendly, smartly branded, and affectively contagious with the potential to go viral. Lastly, the pink ribbon movement also reminds me of TextMob and how “success” can be thought of not in terms of outcomes, but in terms of the communities the movements create. From the sea of pink has emerged a robust and ubiquitous global support community for breast cancer sufferers. From cancer walk-a-thons like Relay for Life to CSR initiatives like “The Ultimate Drive”, the support is overwhelming. And it is easy to become a community member. For example, October is national breast cancer awareness month, and this year, the “I like it on the…” campaign went viral on Facebook as people posted provocative statuses to raise awareness about breast cancer. But what does this accomplish in terms of outcomes, besides creating a diffused, low-stakes and potentially receding community of slactivists?

Collective Action & Viral Engagement

Political theorist Hannah Arendt's definition of power is a surprising one. Contrary to previous definitions of power, she posits that 'power' does not necessarily need violence, or force, or even authority. Instead, Arendt argues that power is created through collective action. Granted, Arendt developed her theory on power in the aftermath of the student uprisings in Western Europe and North America, but in light of recent political events her thoughts have regained prominence.

In reading Didier Fassin's account of how 'suffering' became social fact in France, I immediately recalled Arendt's definition of power. Fassin claims that the vocabulary and discourse of 'suffering', while largely individualized, gradually developed into "a collective focus" (26). The way news was consumed, and portrayed, was deeply mediated by the idea of 'suffering'. Fassin's text points out elements of 'Oh Dearism', or a way of framing subjects in categorical themes for mass consumption. In light of the readings these past couple of weeks, including Rafael and Thrift, the question I have formulated and in turn have tried to answer is why. What are we hoping to achieve in imagining our shared narratives through networks; imagined, electronic, physical, or emotional? I believe Arendt's concept of power provides the answer.

Part of what Fassin is trying to unpack is the creation of social facts, and our reliance on them in social, political, and even economic spheres. Arendt would argue that we depend on these social facts because we are always clamoring for collective action. As we learned from studying Thrift's analysis of the way political performance and presence can change and occupy the affect of a space alongside the experience of navigating both the web and the political sphere as a purely anonymous entity, the ability to be apart of something, or to lose oneself in it, is a desirable one. Rafael's explanation of the joy felt when joining in the protests is telling - because of our desire for collective action, or to feel powerful by ridding oneself of the vulnerability of being a singular actor, there is an inherent demand for the potential of collective action.

Technological means like Txtmob, and eventually Twitter, enable these desires. They enable the creation of imitations of collective action, like flashmobs, to be able to recreate the experience of power.  What complicates this argument, however, is Professor Muhanna's lecture and the idea of overcoding, or an overload of information. Does the recreation, piecing together, and evolution of truth in media simply an obstacle to collective action, or does it somehow enable it?

The Facebook Politicians

In the first week after Israel assassinated a top military commander in Gaza my Facebook news feed started to transform itself from an unfortunate series of inner streams of consciousness to an even more unfortunate amalgamation of dead babies, “the real truth”, fictitious notions of Israel as the underdog in a sea of crazy Arabs, and links to YouTube videos re-tweets giving the real story or just a shameless pornography of death and blood to right my “apathetic moral compass” into action. No longer was I reading statuses about boyfriends, sleep, homework, the weather, and any other mundane activities that, for whatever reason, are made public. Instead, I was a privy to a shouting match every time I logged into Facebook.

 Apparently I have a very diverse friend group when it comes to the Palestine/Israel issue because just as many statuses were about the integrity of the IDF and the right for Israel to exist (which to my knowledge, Palestine has acknowledged at least twice, Camp David being one of them), as there were about Gaza as a victim of a disproportionate battle in the name of Israeli imperialism. So, for about a week, I was confronted with some kind of identity crisis logging into Facebook. Between my friends from home studying in the UK and else where banding together and documenting their political activism in cute outfits utilizing the Kafiya and Palestinian flag, to friends from university re-tweeting the bizarre IDF twitter feed (posting video’s of their military campaign) I was constantly being told, “here look at this link, if you do nothing, you must be inhuman…You are less of an Arab, you are less of a human, you are an Islamist, you are an imperialist, you are ill informed…etc…” However, “doing something”, seemed more like just clicking and watching YouTube videos that were involved in having parallel narratives of extremes rather than a conversation.

Something that is pointedly different from this Israeli excursion than the one that happened four years ago in 2009, other than the shift of power in the Middle East, namely the ouster of Mubarak a US pawn and thus by default an “ally” of Israel, is the role of social networking in constructing the narrative of this assault on humanity. The mainstream media largely manipulated the 2008-09 conflict, Operation Cast Lead, and the blockade on Gaza prevented reporters from getting in on the ground and so on. In 2012, social networking sites have allowed Gazzans to construct their own narrative and ensure an authentic reportage of their plight. 

I want to argue that social networking and the “click for compassion” ethos of 21st century activism is a double-edged sword. While social networking has been integral to the ability of Gazzan’s to propagate the truth that they, unfortunately, cannot rely on mainstream media to relay, abroad, social networking seems to polarize the conflict and the discourse that surrounds it.

The notion of solidarity is central to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Facebook is the perfect platform for solidarity without commitment. You can post a status get some “likes”, maybe have an online argument with some hothead from the opposing view, your friends will see it and rally to your defense, and voila you feel like you are raising awareness and part of a larger community of your same viewpoint. But get this, you didn’t even have to leave your room or stop whatever it was you were already doing to do it! Chances are that in another tab you are on tumbler, checking email, buying some shoes, and watching some more posts and links by your political milieu. Facebook makes solidarity a “reality” through numbers and online interactions; it bypasses issues of social hierarchies that come with physical gatherings of people, because the “space” where people converge is ephemeral and not grounded in physicality. The pleasure derived from advertising your solidarity through pictures of you at a protest prohibits any real efforts to ending the conflict. This is because, in this gyre of precarious existence, something like the Palestine/Israel conflict is the perfect framework to restore a sense of purpose and passion, even if it is designed to be virtually experienced and re-experienced. I suspect most people take a camera to a protest to take pictures of themselves to post on Facebook more than to document the event itself, it is about locating one in the world rather than the world itself.  If the Palestine/Israel conflict ended, where would all this energy go? What would unite Arabs in a “turbulent” Middle East, what unite Jews and Israeli’s all over the world?

 Activism has become a politics of voyeurism, vicariously living through the plight of others through the satisfaction of having an affective response to the “right side”. The avid Facebook politician engages in Fassin’s observation of humanitarianism as a fantasy of global morality and a constant. I observed that none of those who were viciously updating their statuses were linking me to articles they had written, anything longer than a run on sentence and, god forbid, an ounce of nuanced original thought seemed like a distant pipedream for those impassioned souls. (Maybe I am friends with the wrong people, or not looking hard enough)

Other than the issues of “slacktivism” in class, I want to add one more consequence of new media’s affect on activism. In some of the commercials we watched in class the language of disposability, waste, and guilt was painfully clear. Similarly, in the Israel/Palestine Facebook exchanges the rhetoric of just click and see, click and support, click for awareness evoked this notion of “non-commitment”. What this does is it equates the issue with time, money, and actions you as an activist can “dispose” of. Suddenly it trivializes the issues by putting them on the same line as things you as a citizen do without thinking, or don’t care enough to commit to, furthermore it makes that “ok”, it actually gives you a moral pat on the back. In addition, the discourse of “it will only take a moment of your time”, “just one click can help” etc… also implies that the solution of the problem or issue can be solved with enough people doing the bare minimum and not committing. It one-dimensionalizes the conflict to a simple matter of awareness and misinformation instead of illustrating that it is specifically the absence of commitment of the same people exhausting them selves on Facebook that allows conflicts to become a pissing contest between the powers that be.

The cycle of immediate gratification that social networking and click activism propagates is also a cycle of exhaustion and so, funny enough, it is a week later, a ceasefire has been reached in Gaza and slowly boyfriends, weather, lack of sleep, and food have been rotating back into their lost homes of “top news” in my Facebook newsfeed. It seems that after a week of furiously clicking and typing away the Facebook politicians got distracted, either by finals, or had their compassion activist global citizen fix for the year taken care of, or maybe the absence of dead babies at the hands of unmanned drones warrants a break from engaging with the conflict. Suddenly the weight of history and time makes clear that activism is commitment and being in a position outside the physical realm on the conflict requires more commitment than just re-posting.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

chutes and ladders is boring

If an area is blacked out on google earth I ask for a second why? and then move my cursor compass somewhere else.

Google Earth shows us a layered archive of spatial depths and empirical evidence of places. I think that in this mediation our emotional engagement is even further mediated by this register of empirical evidence. In this process of addition, things add up already, and the seeming ease of this legibility ends up detracting from pur personal investment in the thing, because the visual capital is in global hands and not our own. Even though the interface seems interactive, the interaction is cursory and boring. It's no fun if we can see everything. It feels like the worst type of flying videogame, where all the levels have been beaten. Our agency is played out, our objectives obscure, anachronistic.Touring Google Earth sucks.  When we click from place to place we distance ourselves further from an imagining of the spatial reality because we see that spatial (virtual) reality in front of us.  So much has already been done for us by technophiles who rule the skies and take spectacular photographs on the fly that the impetus is for us to recline and watch rather than to act. The interface is interactive, but our action is not. It's a programmatic bore that's far away, our impact will make little difference.  I don't buy it.

A temporal logic is revoked, and so too is our recognition of (crisis) time sensitivity and causal relations. The interface, itself a spectacular amnesiac time suck perpetuates this repudiation. Because The layers between we fly can quickly and easily be rescaled, diverted and I can see my house from here. You are already there so you might as well X it out. This relational logic is inebriating, it feels like your favorite flight simulator slowly sinking into the Atlantic with you in it. The panoptic spectacle of the interface is a roaring centrifuge that has already been seen and so we move in its great wake. Or we can't see it but know that it's there.

"...This testimony is geo-referenced so that the user understands where it came from. The capacity to situate testimony and evidence within geographic space is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Google Earth. That is, the archive represents the potential to articulate testimony not only within a temporal logic of the historic, but in relation to the spatial logic of the geopolitical as well."

The potential to reproduce and transfer the signal, but what happens when that signal becomes noise trapped inside the archive like a paranoid soundtrack bouncing off of the walls. And information's the air itself we're flying through.  What part of that signal is absorbed? How do these interfaces discourage absorption? How does google earth suspend conditions?  i.e. "a historical logic that presumes there are never changes to conditions there."

When I see a map of Africa on google Earth I don't say, "Wow! This could happen to me at home because it isn't and it couldn't  because I see it all and we have the satellites and the computers and the presidents. But it's more than that.  There is a feeling of empathy, however deferred or discouraged it may be by the more encumbering task of technological manipulation.  Isn't it wild what we can do on our computers I mean wrap your head around that and then the clicking to donate stuff makes a lot more sense. People helping people.

The abstraction of the interface's complicated modelling depends on a rhetorical defense relay.  In explaining its programmatics the interface is reified and its dedicated logic reproduced. There is a consistent process of translation from real time monitoring to the real life on the ground unfolding of circumstances. This is affecting people's everyday lives. This is what we should be seeing this rupture/ disconnect, the mediation itself.  The danger lies in the smoothness of the translation and the effacement of translation and signal flow.  And we see the personality of the thing mapped directly and verified by a click which is easy and reminds us that some time has passed. 

Noisy apologies

I see acts of slacktivism and other methods of spreading awareness about humanitarian issues as one manifestation of Ahmed's notion of shame. Often, it is not a national shame that is at stake, but a human shame. The same limitation of claiming shame as a marker of identity, shame without apology, can be seen in joining a viral engagement. Ahmed argues that “The expression of shame is a political action, which is not yet finished, as it depends on how it gets ‘taken up’. Shame, in other words, does not require responsible action, but it also does not prevent it.” (Ahmed 120) Is it enough to press the “like” button to protest the actions of Joseph Kony? If I sign an online petition, am I doing my part to save free speech? I sent a message to the President of Uganda through the KONY 2012 website, thanking him for sending a representative to the last mass action and urging him to do more. I almost felt shame after having sent it, because while I was touched by the story and am in agreement that such crimes should be stopped, the action felt superficial, disingenuous, and I should have done more.
            But perhaps this act of shame, however superficial, is enough in itself because it raises the issues, increases public participation, is good for democracy, as Fung and Shkabatur argue.  With the spread of this information, however, comes static background noise, that which “threatens to corrupt and distort it [the information].” (Terranova 12) Does the relative ease of viral engagement mean an increase in noise? If there are so many campaigns against injustice all the time all over the world, will we eventually be able to gradually lessen this injustice—with increased awareness, atrocities would be stopped—, or will there just be too many that people are rendered ineffective? If you want to address all of the problems spread virally that concern you, then all you have time for is a like. Parks assumes that the number of crises that have continued despite wide media campaigns, even industries, surrounding them proves that increased awareness does not necessarily mean an end to crimes. The problem lies in how this awareness is “taken up.” The concerns about gatekeepers and mainstream outlets that are ultimately responsible for the wide spread of viral movements are echoed by Terranova, who wonders if “the scene of communication, the cultural politics of information as such, is exclusively a theatre of manipulation favouring the expertise and concentrated knowledge of a new breed of communication managers?” (12) In the case of viral engagement, it seems that if anyone can enter this scene of communication, such as Trayvon Martin’s parents launching a campaign at little to no cost, and so manipulation gives way to inclusive discourse. While anyone can participate, the depth of the discourse is severely limited. The longform discussions will only come from the established media outlets and organizations, who already have voice. The pressing of a like button or sending of a prewritten message does not allow for a great deal of consideration or voicing of individual opinion, but rather millions jumping on to the only opinion presented to them. Fung and Shkabatur argue that this does not necessarily take away political equality, which is compromised only when “people can be manipulated through these asks into acting against their own beliefs or interests.” (15) While they are maybe not acting against their own beliefs and interests, for who is against saving a child, but there is certainly some manipulation involved. Fassin and Parks both address a prioritization of space over time, biological life over biographical life. If we lose sight of where a crisis falls temporally, in a broader history, if everything is about now and here and not about how, then the information starts to get muddled with the noise.