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One to Another: the Occupy movement challenges the media

The Occupy movement challenges the deflection tactics of current media circumambulations: social media and sheer numbers will eventually triumph over the current status quo.
John Wilson
23 January 2012

The Occupy Movement confronts essentially two organizational problems: firstly, the inadequacy of one-to-another as a principal means of communication; secondly, the deflection tactics of a mass media that does not represent current concerns.

The corporate media people are so comfortable, and so ensconced in their position, they do not believe there is any significant dissent; the situation is ingrained, routine and habitual. Fox News did not cover Occupy Wall Street for September 2011 and still displays the calm self-assuredness of an unchallengeable oligarchy. CNN and the New York Times did not fare much better – until numbers grew and the movement spread to other cities. The fact is they don’t want to know our news. To be well informed, viewers must still go to YouTube for good coverage and sites like this one. Until now it was only a perceived lunatic fringe that became obstreperous about the media. Apart from a handful of intellectual dissidents, there has rarely been an articulate force to roundly challenge the dominance of corporate TV and the newspapers. But this phase is coming to an end.

On the internet we read “the revolution will not be televised.” Of course not. The only way effective dissent can be heard would be through an outlet that seeks to discredit the monopoly that fashions the manufactured consent that prevents it. And the media magnates, although aloof and one-dimensional in their thinking, are smart enough to pre-empt any thoroughgoing critique of their own dominion, especially on their own patch.

However, the sheer size of the current Occupy assemblies cannot be ignored. Just those numbers testify to something happening on a one-to-another level—those kitchen-table dialogues that never get on TV—that will spark off enquiry by the under-informed and the waverers. Marginalization, by stonewalling coherent critical voices, will not work forever.

Since the media favors selective depersonalized voices that relay, second hand, the tacit perspectives of the governing board, the technology of the media, as ones-to-many most often excludes the possibility of a manifold dissent—that is, until the advent of social media. The technology of traditional broadcasting is such that a variegated reciprocity has been stymied since the corporations realized the constant repetition of one-dimensional thought can contain true democracy. By means of the physical facts of broadcasting and publishing technology (the transmitter and its receivers, the printing press and its distribution methods), the audience is at once a victim of objectification and excluded from reciprocity in communications. Any later responses (as letters or comment blogs) are softened by a ‘telegraphese’ version and its concomitant low-visibility diffusion.

Although a member of an indirect gathering (the individuals in the audience, the readers, who are communicated to but cannot effectively communicate back or with each other) the serial critic has no possibility of convincing that audience, as an indirect gathering, one-by-one, that there are alternative perspectives. Any opposition to the broadcast can only be imagined as serial—isolated instances of one-to-one discussion with one’s peers, or fuming letters, or blog contributions to others with whom one has no personal acquaintance. This seriality of communication demonstrates a fundamental impotence we have endured for long and is maintained through the practico-inert (the manmade, material technology) and its utilization by covert hegemonies.

In a similar vein, the corporation newscaster/journalist can never speak for herself. As a management-selected, lion-haired media diva, she has been chosen to extend the image of well-dressed common sense. Her accent, replete with a customized conformity and ‘you know’ chuckles, is a motorized voice, one that serves only to harbor and contain. Having long been habituated to blasé generalization, her thinking is automatic and ping-pong perfunctory on the screen. Yet with her “style choices and fun interviews” she is, after all, another corporate wage slave like the rest of us—though one that has exchanged her identity for a high media profile.

Yet, even though the newscaster’s voice is depersonalized and generic, there can be no doubt that it is addressed on a personal level to the audience. The viewer is expected to take the programme content as a personal message aimed at their subjectivity.

Watching this nightly spectacle, the critical thinker can only fume in isolation. Our ironical laughs, splutters of indignation, can only be, via a technology-imposed passive observation—understood as a form of impotence. Critical viewers may express indignation through localized dissent, but that indignation cannot simultaneously be expressed as one human being to another through the conventional media technology as it stands. The only contemporaneous relation we have to other TV viewers is one of absence. There is no colloquium, no inter-communality. And if we switch off the TV, we have merely run into the ineffective isolation of a disdainful private life. Whatever happens, the individual is the loser.

For decades, this has been the lot of the 99% and the ever-influenceable, forever-lauded, ‘silent majority’, as victims of the vertiginous influence of corporate media culture. However, much of that ‘de-opinionated’ majority is now waking up to the idea that they have been delicately bamboozled through the communication methods of a self-serving elite that eschews one-to-another mutuality and cares little whether we all have jobs or an acceptable quality of life. The spontaneous gatherings of the Occupy Movement, provoked by these newly perceived exigencies, lack the sophisticated technology of the prevailing media but, ingeniously, devise methods of competing with the proficiency of that hegemony: social media, the ‘people’s mike’, Twitter, a multiplicity of websites and Facebook groups, create an archipelago of interconnectivity that actually nurtures reciprocity and the possibility of a new emerging consensus with a ‘reflexive self-consciousness’.

Bimbo screen faces on the US corporate media – finally shoved into admitting something is going on – deride the disorganization of the protestors and disparage their seeming ineptitude when it comes to making specific demands. Therein there is much fear that social media may be the medium of anarchic dissent. But this is to misunderstand the impetus of the movement. The current demands are so general and so sweeping that one cannot specify. What is desired is not so much the realization of a specific set of demands as a change in attitudes and values coursing among human beings, one-to-another, plus a level of concern we have never seen diffused in the ordinary mass media. Hence, the resonance felt between protestors from different nations with seemingly different agendas; hence, the general feeling of awakening to concerns that have hitherto been marginalized by high-handed governance and a self-censoring corporate media. With the Occupy Movement we may be discovering a totally new significance for the word ‘globalization’—and specific demands will coagulate as the exigencies become clearer.

The Occupy Movement correctly perceives that democracy has been replaced by a semi-invisiblised financial plutocracy. Representation is no longer representative. With a past unrelenting pressure from this soon-to-be-discredited money-making oligarchy (the Hursts of the past, the Murdochs of the present), the management of government no longer reflects the concerns of individuals—who, unsurprisingly, now take to the streets. This should be no shock to those of us who have witnessed this gap between government and governed widening over a few decades.

And the social media, though haphazard, and non-hierarchical, is developing a new form of reciprocity that transcends the old technology of ones-to-many. With declining living standards, and a governance that does not accurately represent our individual desires for change, people are busy talking—one to another—and social media is now the force that will shape things to come.

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