The Revolution is Not Being Televised

During the Egyptian in­sur­rec­tion, the Mubarak re­gime tried to counter the mul­ti­tudes on Tahrir Square by avoiding men­tioning them on the state-​run TV. The so-​called lib­eral media in the United States high­lighted that this au­thor­it­arian media blackout brought to light the freedom of ex­pres­sion we enjoy in “the West.” This is why the US media si­len­cing of over a week of protests on Wall Street re­minds us that New York City and Cairo, des­pite the dif­ferent scale and tone of the un­rest, are not that dif­ferent from each other after all. Further, the power of the media in the United States to si­lence polit­ical events that may dis­rupt the status quo is com­par­at­ively vaster and prob­ably more wide­spread and ef­fective. And in the na­tion that defines it­self as the land of the free, media black­outs are cre­ated not by the state but by that pe­cu­liar branch of cor­porate America that, with the full sup­port of the state, profits from the cre­ation of what qual­i­fies as news.

For the past eight days, a re­mark­able grass­roots move­ment against the cap­it­alist looting of the com­mons in­spired by sim­ilar protests in Spain, Greece, and Egypt has dis­rupted Wall Street, the spa­tial core of the global fin­an­cial system. A crowd has camped out in public spaces, sta­ging protests, and or­gan­izing as­sem­blies to de­bate the so­cial dev­ast­a­tion cre­ated by the bankers based in the sur­rounding build­ings. From day one, the blackout of the protests in the US media was eerie. Whereas a handful of wacky Tea Party act­iv­ists al­ways re­ceives wide­spread cov­erage, “oc­cupy Wall Street” was treated by all major cor­porate media out­lets as a non-​event (with a few ex­cep­tions that high­lighted the media blackout, like Keith Olbermann). On Friday, September 23, as the protests entered their first week, The New York Times con­firmed where its pri­or­ities are in the pro­duc­tion of what is (and what is not) news­worthy by run­ning on its front page an art­icle about the wor­ri­some rise in the theft of pigs in rural Illinois.

On Saturday, September 24, The New York Time was fi­nally forced to partly lift its Pravda-​esque si­lence. But this only happened be­cause pro­testers be­came dan­ger­ously mo­bile and began marching up­town spreading their noisy anti-​capitalist mes­sage and were ar­rested by the dozens for no other reason than protesting. The art­icle trivi­al­izes the protest as a quasi-​hippie gath­ering led by “noble” but con­fused and mis­in­formed youths who “say” that the fin­an­cial system “fa­vors the rich and powerful over or­dinary cit­izens.” The ab­rupt and un­am­bigu­ously hos­tile cov­erage re­flects the shift from what Michel-​Ralph Trouillot called a for­mula of erasure to a for­mula of banal­iz­a­tion, which are both op­er­a­tions of si­len­cing. The si­len­cing is the man­date by cor­porate America to treat po­ten­tially threat­ening polit­ical move­ments as non-​events.

In other entries, I ana­lyzed how the spa­tial spread of the in­sur­rec­tions of North Africa and the Middle fol­lowed a pro­cess of res­on­ance ex­pan­sion, through which thou­sands of people coming to­gether on the streets cre­ated polit­ic­ally af­fective mes­sages that res­on­ated with count­less other bodies else­where, often through al­tern­ative media that evaded state cen­sor­ship. This is why counter-​revolutionary ef­forts in those coun­tries sought to con­tain the ex­pan­sion of those in­sur­gent res­on­ances by all pos­sible means, in­cluding vi­ol­ence, cen­sor­ship, and the trans­form­a­tion of the of­fi­cial media into a ma­chinery set out to pre­vent the spa­tial ex­pan­sion of those res­on­ances. In the United States today, more so than in any other country on the planet, the polit­ical ma­chineries that work tire­lessly to pre­vent anti-​corporate res­on­ances from ex­panding are owned by the same cor­porate forces that profit from the dev­ast­a­tion that is wreaking North America and Europe. As Michael Parenti force­fully put in the film The Panama Deception, “The media is not as­so­ci­ated with or al­lied with cor­porate America. The media is cor­porate America.”

As in Egypt or Tunisia, the protests in New York are spreading and growing through al­tern­ative media and the in­ternet. But this ex­pan­sion has so far been largely con­tained by the media blackout. Maybe it is time for the pro­testers in NY to follow the lead of pro­testers else­where in the world and chal­lenge the blackout not only by calling and emailing news sta­tions (as many are doing) but also by protesting at the gates of those station’s build­ings. In Egypt, the mul­ti­tudes in Cairo eroded the cen­sor­ship of the state-​run TV by simply sur­rounding its main building and de­manding to be heard. Hours be­fore Mubarak fell, these mul­ti­tudes forced those in­side the TV sta­tion to turn their cam­eras onto the streets and change the tone of the cov­erage. The same happened in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 13, 2002, when mil­lions of people took to the streets to op­pose the US-​sponsored coup against Hugo Chávez. As protests raged all over Venezuela, the private TV sta­tions that were in­volved in the coup and con­trolled all air­waves played movies and soap op­eras. This Orwellian erasure of the in­sur­rec­tion by the cor­porate media only came to an end when thou­sands of protestors sur­rounded the sta­tions de­manding that their op­pos­i­tion to the coup be shown on TV. Indeed, The Revolution Will Not be Televised, as Gill Scott-​Heron wrote in the 1970s. Except that we should prob­ably change the tense of the verb in this now famous phrase, for this is not a si­len­cing that will happen some­time in a dis­tant and ab­stract fu­ture but is hap­pening right now, in the year of the be­gin­ning of the glob­al­ized in­sur­rec­tions against the im­perial order of things.

The pop­ular in­sur­rec­tions in Cairo and Caracas re­mind us that the seem­ingly de­ter­rit­ori­al­ized power of media con­glom­er­ates is ul­ti­mately grounded in the ac­tual spaces where a se­lect group of in­di­viduals man­u­fac­ture and dis­sem­inate “news.” And those events re­veal that under con­di­tions of media cen­sor­ship it is ul­ti­mately in those spaces that these actors are polit­ic­ally most vul­ner­able and, in the US, most sens­itive to their public image as sources of news. Any such protest at the gates of The New York Times will no doubt trigger, aside from ag­gressive tac­tics by the NYPD, pre­dict­able ac­cus­a­tions that it in­volves “fas­cist thugs” trying to curb the media’s “freedom of ex­pres­sion.” But the past eight days in New York have made ap­parent that this is just the freedom of cor­porate America to shut down the growing grass­roots op­pos­i­tion to its on­going looting of public wealth.

From Space and Politics

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