The antimedial arsenal proves unlimited: short-circuiting telephone exchanges, bringing satellites off course, burning down cable boxes, sawing down electric pylons, not paying television and radio fees, sending out fake press releases, getting cameras to show up for nothing, pouring cement into dish antennas, cutting assorted cables, cleaving TV screens in two, painting over security cameras, altering data, installing magnetic fields, implanting and spreading viruses and worms – communicating with the hammer: »Talking back to the media.«
The quote comes from a book about the Netherlands squatters’ movement. This anti-media attitude was a pretty standard view for radical politics, up through the anti-globalization protests, and through writings like The Coming Insurrection. If you’ve been there, you’ve seen it before. The hassling of camerapersons, especially those who attempt to photograph people’s faces. Stickers, and vasoline stuck to lenses. And worse.
But this concept of anti-media doesn’t carry on through the Occupy protests. Sure, there are individuals who don’t like the constant camera presence. But in general, media coverage is viewed as a good thing, and not just for publicity purposes. Media is an all-seeing eye, and the panopticon is on our side. Each occupation with a significant amount of action has its own Livestream–a 24 hour news camera, embedded at eye-level inside the inner workings of the occupation. Photos are tweeted and re-tweeted, live blogs come up early and often. We are the media, and our media is thorough and deep.
I’m not sure when this transformation happened. But now, it seems like something we are occupying, in addition to physical parks and buildings, virtual web sites and Twitter feeds, is media-space. We occupy the media, the information, or consciousness, depending on what way you want to put it (I’ll leave the deep semiotic argument for another time).
Maybe it began in Egypt. I remember watching the Arab spring and thinking, “Thank goodness for Al Jazeera! If those cameras showing Tahrir Square shut off, they’re finished.” It wasn’t a sense that if they were removed from my eyes, they would disappear. It was that media, in terms of accessible record (not just spectacle) constituted the protest. It formed the safety of the people, in a searchable, coherent record of events. It was the history that was bring made. Without the cameras there, anything that the powers that be might say could be the truth. The government would again control the media-space, and define history. Al Jazeera made a point, over and over again, of showing their camera feed of Tahrir Square juxtaposed to the Government TV Station. The thousands and thousands of people in the square were the truth, compared to the shots of a few “pro-government supporters” milling about in front of a TV camera. Al Jazeera knew it, and we knew it. And the protesters in the square knew it. With this media channel, we could all say in our own minds, together: this is history. This is what’s happening. Al Jazeera is an international media organization, but the point was made. The media that shows us, ought to be our media. Al Jazeera, for that period, was our media. But they won’t always be around. So we have to step up ourselves.
And this isn’t just an awareness issue. Having control of the media-space is a tactic that literally saves lives. Take the case of Mona Eltahawy, a journalist who was arrested, assaulted, and tortured by the Egyptian police just this past week. The situation was difficult: publicizing her plight could have made the situation worse, rather than stimulate her release. However, in the end, it helped hurry her release.
Where this history goes is anyone’s guess. The role of our crowd-sourced media, and of popular protest’s new wide endorsement of publicizing itself as a way of enacting it’s own history has yet to fully play out. This history is still unfolding.