Tuesday, November 27, 2012

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. 

No comments: