I haven’t seen Prometheus yet. I actually plan to, which is rare for me. I don’t think I’ve seen a new release film in the theater for over two years. I have a hype allergy–if someone is excited about a film, in such a way that it might convince me to see it, it actually kills the experience, because I’m afraid that the film won’t live up to the hype, and therefore my low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This odd cultural auto-immune disorder notwithstanding, this is the Alien saga, and so I know I’m going to see it one way or another, so I might as well go eat some overpriced popcorn while I do it.
However, until I can overcome my self-preserving inertia, I am fascinated by the Twitter conversations about it.
This is the way I normally judge whether or not I want to see a film. Rather than read reviews written by people with movie tastes based on who-knows-what, I listen to my Twitter feed. My Twitter feed is already filled with an amalgam of folks who I think have interesting opinions, but whom I don’t necessarily agree with perfectly. I set my feed up as a spectrum, shining out into the world of subjectivity with a wide frequency of light, and looking for what is reflected back. Of course, I don’t want everything reflected back, as the sea of popular opinion is a vacuous wasteland, absorbing light, rather than twinkling it back to me. But I get a good image to guide me, fine-tuned over the years.
Except, that with Prometheus, I am getting a glitched out radar image that doesn’t make any sense. Naturally, my Twitter feed never agrees on anything. There is the range of spectrum that responds well to comicbook-oriented films, there is the spectrum set that reflects on art films. There is the SF spectrum, with all its various hues. And there is the “dark art” set, that shines with a UV intensity against anything cryptic or alien. In this case, everything was coming back awry. No particular color of light was resolving into a clear image.
This is not a bad thing, it’s just weird. I have no idea what to think of this film, because I’m getting glitchy results that don’t match how the correlated data I’ve analyzed in the past.
I have a theory as to why, but not having seen the film yet, it’s just a theory. Think of people you may have met who really like Harry Potter, or Twilight, or Lord of the Rings, or something like that. When the film comes out, they most likely love it, because it is the film of the thing they love. It’s like planting a sunflower, and then, what do you know, a sunflower blooms! Everything is awesome.
Alien, in many ways, is the “film of the thing they love” for me and many other people. However, there was no book that is simply adapted into a film. It is adapting something more bizarre, more diverse and cultural diffuse, and attempting to make a film of it. Blade Runner is also a film of it. William Gibson sometimes writes books of it. There are dozens and dozens of blogs and Tumblrs about it. I follow many Twitter accounts that tweet about it. But what it is, is the hard part to explain. Again, depending on the light with which you are trying to view it, it will look differently. And yet, Alien was most definitely a film of it. We know that. That’s why for many people, it’s a classic film.
As to whether Prometheus is a film of it, that remains to be seen. What is confusing right now is that some people think that it is, some people think that it isn’t. Additionally, we are trying to resolve those feelings with the idea that it most certainly is a film related to Alien, which was part of it, and yet the prequel might not be part of it, or at least we are definitely not sure.
I wish there was a way to quantify this subjective dissonance, because I would love to compare it to the Twitter Vision glitching that happens when/if a Blade Runner sequel comes out. Perhaps there will be more consternation–or maybe, if Blade Runner is much more foundational than even Alien, perhaps there will simply be more univocal dislike.
Occupy Portland continues to evolve, as the various committees find more “permanent” shelters and locations, and infrastructure acclimatizes itself to what endless street-siege really means.
There’s lots of thinks to discuss; far more than there is time to discuss them, as there are toilets to be cleaned, and over in Sanitation (where I seem to be finding my more regular home, except for today and tomorrow, which I am taking off) the compost is always piling up. But I want to devote a moment to a topic that keeps cropping up, about which I had a Twitter conversation this morning. That is: radical inclusivity facing off against exclusivity.
The conversation was prompted by this tale of a border-fascist group (the exact organization of which is disputed, but I feel comfortable calling what smells like it, it) showing up Occupy Phoenix, and how the confrontation went down.
The subject of the conversation that proceeded was whether or not the writer of the account took more time to berate allies than condemning the fascists, and whether this was an alienating, divisive act or not, of a kind that might splinter or fracture the growing occupation movement.
Setting aside the fact that the written account seemed to be aimed at confronting the movement itself after the fact for it’s lackluster response to fascism, whereas the actual confrontation with the fascists occurred at the event; I think this is a good cautionary tale not only for dealing with fascists, but also for dealing with a certain passive dynamic of human groups.
Note I’m saying “human groups”, not liberals, sheeple, or any degradatory term for any particular sub-culture of leftists I don’t happen to agree with. Because all of us feel the impetus for general peacefulness and calm in the face of any aggression (I hope). But, it is also appropriate to set passivity aside and raise ones voice at times. That’s the whole point of protest, after all.
I myself have encountered this necessity in Portland, thankfully not in the presence of armed paramilitaries, but to counter the force of what I’d call “passive exclusivity”, as opposed to the active kind that carried assault rifles.
Several motions have been raised both in the GA and other assemblies, proposing some form of “exclusivity”. Mostly, in terms of kicking out “certain elements” from the occupation camp. The term “riff raff” has actually been used. I think we all know what is being referred to here. There are people at the occupation who, for whatever reason, are not comfortable with the look of some of their fellow occupiers. For the time being, we’ll just pretend this is an unfortunate, unconscious bias, and not read it as a symptom of any form of class or race antagonism, just because that’s not really the point of what I’m writing (though we should get into that at another time).
Often this exclusivity crops up in discussion of work. While working in the dish line the other night, a guy came up to us and thanked us for our hard work. Then, he preceded to tell us how we shouldn’t serve food to people who don’t volunteer. Regardless of the fact that I’ve never seen that individual doing anything around the camp, I am proud to say we working Sanitation at the time sent him away with an earful.
While it might seem, according to the sort of common sense logic that gives the 53% people a position of ego on which to stand, that “work ought to be a prerequisite for reward”, it is also the beginning of the capitalist exchange, the end point of which is class-based division of labor, and exuberant salaries based on the so-called “importance” of the work being done.
There is only one reason to work, in the Occupation camp, or elsewhere: that is because there are tasks to be done. And there are only tasks that support a single (though, admittedly loosely construed) goal: to make sure everyone is taken care of. The alternative is social Darwinism of a lethal kind. And as long as I work as part of the Occupation, it will be an occupation that includes everyone willing to take part, even if the way in which they take part is only showing up to be fed. When we say this is a leaderless movement, i hope we also mean this is a classless movement. There is no privileged working class above an unemployable class–there is only all of us, part of the same humanity.
To a lesser but no less real extent, I’m also seeing a similar exclusivity occurring between different committees, among individuals who haven’t fully grasped the radical class conception of the occupation. Last night a medic told me he didn’t have time to sort his committee’s garbage because “he had to get back to work.” I asked him what he thought we at Sanitation were busy doing, if it was not work? I obliged him with the favor of sorting his recycling, because he truly was in a hurry, but I think this language slip shows a sort of passive exclusivity, a division of thought that slips back in to our way of thinking, if we don’t unlearn what capitalism has taught us to believe as axiomatic truths, and take it upon ourselves to gently but vociferously correct our fellows when they slip up.
Another big way this exclusivity crops up at the Portland occupation is on the subject of “safety”. Last night a proposal was brought to the GA that would give the Safety Committee (a great, historically-aware name, no? It shouldn’t surprise that this committee is often mis-named as “Security Committee” in practice) the ability to escort people consuming drugs or alcohol out of camp. Safety is an issue at the Portland occupation; we’re fortunate enough to not have to deal with police on an hour-by-hour basis, but the flip side of this is that there have been aggressive incidents with individuals we’ve had to deal with ourselves.
However, the wording of the proposal makes it an easy way to roust undesired members of the community at the will of others. There are many people dealing with addiction that are enjoying the safe space of our camp. There are also those with disabilities who make look unpleasant to some, and speak as if intoxicated, but are productive members of the community. Any of these people might be kicked out of camp by this proposal at the whim of a more articulate person.
I offered an amendment to change the proposal to deal with the actual concern: violent, aggressive behavior by those who are intoxicated. I’m still uncomfortable that I had to offer this amendment. It seems obvious to me how a security procedure might be abused. And yet, the crafters of the proposal, as honest and concerned as their intentions may have been, were unconscious of the way this proposal might be used to segregate our community. (The GA ran out of time on this proposal, so it will be recrafted to accommodate my and others’ concerns, and offered to the GA anew.)
All of this is to make a point: sometimes it is easy to see those that would introduce oppression and exclusivity into a community, and other times it is not. But to keep a community inclusive, especially a community such as our that is building and rebuilding itself daily, it takes the radical step of confronting this exclusivity, regardless of the intention and the source. We need people to speak up and remind us of our privileges, and how they affect our self-governance. We need people to openly reject those who consider it “isn’t an important issue”, or pass it off as a potentially divisive issue. What is far more divisive than speaking to people displaying passive exclusivity openly and honestly, and defending our community against fascism is allowing it to sleep peacefully within our nascent movement.
We’ve made a start that is very inclusive. Part of our hard work will be keeping it so, as we grow.
There are many things that ought to be said about the Occupations that are not being said.
Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that there are many things about the Occupations that are being said; though, those I believe are most important are not being said within range of the human microphone. Neither the human microphone of the GA, nor the human microphone of the blogosphere, which sees generally agreeable sentiments by writers and thoughtful people echoed and rebounded off of this claimed, political public space, much like the one out there in the street.
If only it was so simple that what I mean is that I am the one with things to say that I’m not hearing said. Then I could compose an essay, yell it out to the world on my blog, and then wait to hear if there was any echo at all. But it is not just me, but many other people who are saying things under their breath, or only to their fellows in the dish washing line, or to a crowd of only fifteen or twenty half-interested people just waiting for their turn to speak. And I can’t speak for them. They can’t necessarily speak for themselves. They could speak at the GA, and many of them do–but the substance of what is said would necessarily change.
There is the sort of speaking one does when one is addressing a crowd, and there is the sort of speaking one does when one is cleaning a bathroom used by over 500 people. There is discussion, and there is consensus, and there are demands. And then there is work, and sweat, and fatigue. There is enabling of subaltern voices. And then there is un-thanked volunteerism.
There is no doubt in my mind that the latter is what makes a revolution. A protest is a raising of the voice, but a revolution is a made with the hands. And that is why Occupy Portland, the occupation in my hometown, is certainly a revolution. And this revolution is a revolution of problems.
I’ve heard a lot of talk about “direction”, both on the internet and off. It’s what I’ve pejoratively begun calling “directionalitarianism”. Everyone is “concerned” about the lack of direction in the “movement”. Well, yes. Lack of direction is all of our concern, and it is why we’re in the streets. We’re concerned about the lack of direction facing our generation, and people of the majority class. The direction we’ve proposed is occupation. You want to see coherent demands? Look at the occupation camp. That is the demand. The demand is to make something, by volunteerism alone, with only contributions: not loans, constituent-rights granting donations, share-holders, parties, or voting blocs. This is a revolution about problems. The problems are debt, corruption, exploitation, and so forth. As well as lazy hangers-on, co-opting political elements, the moralizing effect of “mainstream society” and its government and police force, personal addiction, mental health, the cold, the wet, and sheer fatigue from working so hard without tangible reward. The revolution is combating these problems ourselves, with nothing but what we have, and have together. This is the only direction we need, because it is what we are dealing with. And if you look at the people working, you can see this direction inside of each of their muscles. In each of these hard-working hands, is more phalanxes of bristling riot cops than any public budget could throw at us.
But enough of these words. Let me relate to you some of the things being said through hard work, and some of the problems being confronted by our revolution here in Portland. I won’t be able to speak these voices–you’ll have to go down to the camp yourself to see it. But I can at least show you a few pictures. And maybe, you can see the scope of the problem we’re facing, and how we might begin to tackle it.
Brief intro: the GA has empowered certain committees to work under their own guidance for certain goals. I’ll start my little tour with these committees, because they are the most obvious locations of work and progress at the camp, and also excellent starting points for anyone arriving at the camp, and wanting to know where to pitch in.
The kitchen is the biggest area of the camp. I estimate it serves at least one thousand meals a day, for free. Most of the contributions dropped off at the camp are food, and these are distributed, prepared, and served here. They kitchen staff are all registered Food Handlers in the state of Oregon (a requirement for any food service establishment) and they are following all best-practice regulations about serving, sterilization, and hand-washing, in the attempt to not attract the ire of authorities on the basis of a technicality. Dish washing is perhaps the easiest way to help at the occupation camp, as people are always jumping in and out of the line.
The kitchen is also probably the biggest area of interaction for the camp as well, because while there are many people who don’t go to the GA (more about that later), everyone shows up for food. I’ve heard some ire about this, and some grumbled suggestions of closing the kitchen to people not volunteering, but I’ve also heard this loudly rebuked. Right now, there is plenty of food, and I personally see no reason to not give food away for free.
Contributions needed: Food. Raw materials, sauces, and spices, especially.
Work needed: dishwashers, servers and cooks with valid food-handlers cards.
Sanitation is not sexy. But it is very important, and only recognized when it is not getting done. This is why I’m listing it second. Adjacent to the kitchen is the recycling sorting area, where recyclables and compost are sorted, and trash is bagged to be hauled out. Sanitation is also responsible for camp clean-up and bathrooms (there are public restrooms at either end of the park, and also two porta-potties, contributed from I don’t know where). They also seem to fill the water tanks at the fountain, when needed.
Last night, the one woman in charge of sanitation was very overwhelmed. She had just finished cleaning the bathroom at 11 PM, and then someone bitched at her about the state of the porta-potties. I could have yelled at that person complaining. I told the woman doing sanitation how I thought she was doing a great job, especially for doing an unwanted task that no one was volunteering for. She asked me if I wanted to help pick up trash, which I did :) I actually swept and sorted two bags of garbage yesterday, which felt really good, not least of which because as I bent down to pick up cigarette butts and soggy newspaper around the park, I got more “thanks” from other occupiers than even washing dishes during dinner time. In fact, right now I feel guilty that I’m sitting in a wifi cafe writing this essay, rather than being down there picking up trash. That is the first thing I’m going to do when I get down there is afternoon.
Contributions needed: trash bags, and large buckets. ALSO: help hauling out garbage, but I believe there is a separate transportation committee organizing volunteers for this.
Work needed: cleaning, gathering, sorting, hauling. Wear a pair of rubber gloves, and you’ll be fine. There is plenty of hand sanitizer around for you to use afterward.
The coffeshop is called “Rumors and Miss-Information Cafe”. And of course there is one, because it is Portland. There is plenty of coffee, but the main commodity needed right now is hot water. They were relying on donations of hot water from nearby restaurants, but are trying to rig up a system to boil water off-site. They have plenty of propane, but they don’t want to run afoul of regulations against open flames in the park.
Contributions needed: hot water, if you’re nearby. Maybe cold-brewed coffee?
Work needed: I’m sure you could speak to someone about helping with the off-site boiling process.
They have the coolest sign, are working on the most impressive projects, and are probably the sexiest committee, even though I did not see a single female working with them, and that should be fixed. These are the makers of the occupation. They’re working on solar panels, bicycle power generation (one is working, more on the way), and other energy needs. The kitchen is working all on electricity, I believe, and they’ve run generators and battery backups for media and info tents.
They’re also working on tarping the whole camp, and in places, organizing the tent city with “Burning Man like” spoke roads, to ease emergency access. This is actually a bigger challenge than power, because they aren’t laying out roads ahead of time, but trying to consensually organize a city already laid out, without telling anyone what to do. Also, it’s been raining heavily, so drainage is a problem. It’s been a mostly catch-up game so far, making sure tarps don’t collect water, and sweeping up flooded sidewalks as they occur.
I wanted to volunteer with Engineering initially, but I think what they really need, besides materials, is people with very strong technical know-how, perhaps already assembled into a small team. Plans are in the works for a common build-area, and a bike repair workshop (naturally).
Contributions needed: check the website for current needs regarding power generation, but they need gas, pallets, tarps, and rope. They also have an oxy torch, but no gas.
Work needed: strong technical knowledge, or strong technical will to see projects through despite challenges.
Another sexy committee. They have a nice little hut/yurt, with a growing library, organized, as they will tell you, according to the Dewey Decimal System. (Sexy!) Check out is free, of course. They also organize the sign-ups for teach-ins and lectures.
One of the most impressive aspects of this committee is that they are archiving the occupation. All the minutes of the GAs, notes taken by committees, letters, statements, handouts, photos, and anything else that is donated is being scanned. The scans are being stored digitally, and also printed and sorted into folders, so anyone can come into the library and peruse them. They are not currently available online, but I’m hoping to personally talk to them about at least setting up a Dropbox or something, so this is not lost.
Contributions needed: books and magazines, non-fiction especially. Fiction is good, but they’d rather have a more usable research library, and not just a dumping ground for old paperbacks. ALSO: bookshelves, and watertight containers for storing papers and books, folders, and other office-supply type stuff.
Work needed: People to sort and organize, and if you can offer printing services.
Info is the first stop for people looking to contribute and volunteer. They are also, apparently, where most complains are delivered. I think there’s obviously a good duality there. If you have a problem, you should probably volunteer.
Volunteering seems to be a little confused. There are several lists you can put your name on, and no indication that these really followed up. However, this is a good place to see what committees are needing, because they report daily on what they need to Info. Then, you can go to that individual committee’s members, and see about contributing directly (most have contact info on file at Info). For example, there is a dishwashing list and schedule at Info, that has some scattered email addresses, and lots of blank spaces. But, if you simply go over to the dishwashing station they will put you in line, or tell you they are good right now, but check back in ten minutes. Volunteering is more about initiative, than signing up.
Info also runs the Post service, which are basically runners going around and spreading info to the various committees, and bringing it back. They also seem to have a good supply of tarps, rope, and tape, which they are distributing.
Contributions needed: tarps, rope, tape. Especially duct tape. And markers, both permanent and whiteboard. They also take cash contributions here. (Not “donations” though. A tax thing.)
Work needed: If you want to work with them, ask. Or, tell them what you can do or contribute, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
I couldn’t get around to every committee yesterday, and things are evolving so fast I don’t feel comfortable detailing the status of every committee. But here is a list of other committees that exist, and you can probably guess what sort of stuff they need. Or, check the website, OccupyPdx.org, for latest requests. Or even better, go down and ask!
First-aid, etc. Medical training would be a great thing to contribute, as well as supplies. I know they are working on getting mental health facilitation up and running.
A new committee, launched yesterday.
From what I can tell, it’s one coordinator organizing people who can drive vehicles for pickups and deliveries. THEY VERY MUCH NEED VEHICLES AND DRIVERS! See Info booth to learn how to help.
They update the website (such that they can) and also include the video collective. They don’t speak for the occupation, but release statements in solidarity with the occupation. I know they very much need Mobile Data hotspots and modems.
- Police Liaison
Just one person, who is empowered by the GA to communicate with the police, reporting back to the GA on what the police have to say, though not to negotiate, make statements, or reveal information without the explicit approval of the GA. I imagine she might want a break, now and then, though only she personally was approved by the GA.
People who have volunteered to be on the front lines to observe and passively-resist (though I’m not sure that’s the properly approved terminology) in case of physical conflict with the police. Also, people trained to generally assist with in-camp safety. This means making sure no one is intoxicated or incapacitated, or suffering a health issue. I don’t believe they have any mandate to do anything though, other than offer advice, and notify medical if needed.
- Sexual Assault Working Group
Available for advice or consult. I know they need folks, especially those with training.
- Short Term Tactics
A brainstorming and proposal-crafting committee. All well and good, but I personally am of the opinion that Sanitation needs more volunteers. :)
- Long Term Goals
My comments are the same as above.
* * * * *
With so many people working so hard to craft this occupation from nothing, with almost no plan, frustration is inevitable. Many people have strong, differing opinions, of course. And when we’ve all been standing on our feet in the rain for three hours, trying to decide together whether or not we’ve been following the GA process that we’ve agreed upon, in order to make a serious decision that could decide the future direction of the occupation and could result in everyone’s arrest… well, you can imagine it’s a challenge to keep it civil. And then you get back into the center of camp from an only barely-satisfying GA, and see the same half-drunk guy banging on a bucket with sticks is still going, just as off-beat and un-syncopated as he was four hours ago, and suddenly you can feel that pounding inside your brain…
But this is what society is. This is what democracy looks like. What I’ve learned in the four and a half years since I left academia is that the democratic system, as advertised, is a sham. There is no honor or glamour in working for a minimum-wage, because there is no boot-strap to pull on in the vast majority of cases. The economic system treats all of us, the hard-workers and the layabouts, precisely the same. We’re expendable. We’re certainly not worth anything. And we’re all dumped in the streets together. So I say, let’s not reach for boot straps, but let’s reach for the lamp posts. Let’s rewire them, put in outlets and USB charge ports, and convert them to solar.
For my part, I’m going to contribute my hard-working efforts towards raising us all up, to build a new society from the street. There are enough of us to do it. And it doesn’t have to be the walled garden, the gated community that the so-called 53% strive to build. Because that is built from steel and cinder block. The architecture of safety and security is the architecture of a prison. I look around myself, and I am in the streets. So the streets will be the model for my home and society. And the streets are crowded with people.
So let the problems rain down, both literally, in terms of the weather and mud, and figuratively. As I tweeted earlier this week, I’m not intimidated by much. This generation watches Al Jazeera. This revolution will be a revolution of solving problems. And if that is a problem for anyone, then they can either take it to the GA, or it can become a problem for them.
The water fountain in Chapman Park. While some doubt the usefulness of the Portland Water Works’ constantly bubbling fountains, this one is now primary water source to a city of 1000 people.
The first priority near term goal of the Portland Occupation has been achieved. The police have said there will be no arrests or harassment as long as the occupation can share the space with the marathon to everyone’s satisfaction. As of 11 AM last night, it appeared there was consensus to do so, and the police have been true to their word, with no arrests at the encampment, although there was one incident off-site in which two people were arrested for graffiti. The first priority of any occupation–the defense of the space–has been achieved.
Of course, this presents the next short-to-medium term problem: what’s next? This is an occupation without firm demands, but still, a community must have goals. Dealing with imminent issues of a threat towards it’s existence is a good rally point for a community, but after that’s been secured, what will continue to define the space and people?
The occupation swelled on friday night, and there is hardly room for more tents. The occupation needs room to grow, and proposals for off-shoot locations or new locations were being suggested in the GA. While long-term goals might not yet be on the table, this is an occupation that is going somewhere, or evolving into something. It would behoove us all to look ahead. Many detractors use the lack of forward plans as a criticism. I don’t think a roadmap to anything is necessary; but all the same, we should be sure our driving skills are up to the challenge.
In a tweet earlier today, Alexis Madrigal suggested (apologies for no link, but I’m blogging by phone again) that a leaderless, consensus movement would not look strange to anyone familiar with open-source tech. I think there is such a relationship. There is something of “Maker-dom” here, and perhaps that is the key.
It’s already there, of course, in the craftspersonship that anyone clever can display on a camping trip when the wind starts to blow the tarp away, or when your trying to cook dinner even though you forgot to buy several items. Both those examples are in fact occurring at the occupation. And for those who are taking part in the consensus groups, there is certainly a volunteer spirit in play.
But I think we need to dig deeper. The occupation needs projects. Something needs to be built. The crazy suggestion, “let’s build a giant airship!” keeps coming back to me. I think everyone could agree that a protest airship would be awesome, just as everyone would agree that it would be near impossible. Where would we get helium? We would would face opposition not just from the police, but from the FAA. There would be a serious risk of people getting hurt. And what if the Oregon Tea Party deploys anti-aircraft gun batteries?
I don’t like the idea because it is “just so crazy”, and because I think the occupation should “aim for the moon and hit the stars.”. I like it because people built airships a hundred years ago, and they did it without computers. People build their own drones now, and control them with their cell phones. People build amazing things, just for fun. We can and do amazing things all day long. The question is, how do these amazing things become not just amazing, but part of the occupation?
I hope that the occupation transforms into a Maker Fair, but one without a permit or venue, that never ends. I hope we build amazing shit. Protester in Iceland are rewriting their constitution. Clearly we can do something as big, or bigger. What if your hobby was not only fun, but built a city? This is what we have the opportunity to do now Occupy Portland has the initiative now, of all the occupations in this country. What are we going to do with it?
I have very little in the way of an affinity group, mostly because I don’t know many people in my local area that are interested in going to the protest. The point of an affinity group, of course, is to provide small groups of people who know and trust each other before hand with a “local” group, that can then decide to or not to take part in bigger actions at a protest. This is sort of an accepted format for protests (at least those I am familiar with), but it is limited by the obvious caveat: you must have this affinity group to take part in this strategy.
Part of the spirit of the “Occupies” protests, at least from what I’ve read of it in other cities, is that many people who are not usual to the protesting “scene” are coming in to see what it is all about, and getting drawn into the general assembly process, the consensus groups, and all the rest. (For a nice narrative of this sort of experience, I suggest this.)
I love that. For one thing, it breaks with the usual, super-serious protest-clique experience, which while not a uniform negative in organizing culture, is enough of a real thing that if you’ve been to a protest before you know what I mean. Second, it is more of a network-culture element, not unlike some of the network-culture online, which you and I both are probably familiar with.
Twitter is, in a sense, an occupation of virtual space. An occupation of virtual space is not the same thing as an occupation of physical space, but it is similar in that the occupation is only constituted by those who are there, in an always-on presence that defines the space. Twitter is “on” and existant 24 hours a day, but only in that I have a network that is checking in, taking part, and constituting the space 24 hours a day. We, that is, my loosely-affiliated follower/followee lists, are the Twitter occupation. Whatever the point of the Twitter-occupation is, that is how it exists. We are the affinity group that makes the virtual a reality, and while it may not be identical to the trust and solidarity of a physical-space affinity group, it does have a certain sort of solidarity to it, the full implications and extents of which we are still discovering.
I’m wondering to what degree a loosely-affiliated network might affect a similar occupation in physical space. And thus, I propose this plan for tomorrow:
I invite anyone reading this who is interested, who knows me from Twitter or elsewhere, to find me and introduce themselves tomorrow at Occupy Portland. I don’t have a large network, but my network is not nothing, so I hope that at least a few people can get to know each other in person tomorrow, in the context of the protest.
What happens next is up to us. I’ll be Tweeting from the protest, as well as posting pictures and other distributed-media sorts of things. If you and I meet up, chances are you will be as well. Perhaps we might work together on it. This could look like a specific hashtag, a joint Twitter list, a photo set, a live blog, or a Storify. Heck, with the online tools at our disposal, we are technically able to start a website chock full of live video and audio, tomorrow, from the occupation, using only our cell phones. Not that we need to, or should. But it could be done. With these sorts of tools, we should be able to do something interesting, and network-culture oriented, together. This will be the second experiment I’ve conducted to see how my own personal network connections might manifest in physical existence (this was the first, that went rather well). Maybe nothing will happen, or maybe something interesting will take shape.
But the most important thing, and the reason we are all attending Occupy Portland (amid all the OTHER reasons) is to meet each other, and to network physically to occupy a space. I’m hoping to make that a reality, if nothing else. So, hey! Let’s meet face to face, tomorrow, at Occupy Portland!
How to find me: I’ll be wearing a green hoodie, and I have dreadlocks. Because this is Portland, and there is a chance I won’t be the only person with this description, I’ll also have a sticker on my chest identifying me as “@interdome“, like it’s some sort of professional event or reunion. Because it kind of is, isn’t it? For those of us, spread out across the wires in our diverse and asynchronous networks, gently magnetized into action by the flows that stimulate our drives to do something. This is our event. Lastly, if all else fails, feel free to email email@example.com, or message me on Twitter.
If you’re shy, I suggest wearing a tag with your own Twitter handle. Then I can introduce myself to you, and everyone who uses Twitter, and therefore is in our wider, open-ended network, can introduce themselves to everyone else.
See you tomorrow!
ps. If nothing else, I’ll be providing traffic on Twitter and here at POSZU about whatever happens tomorrow. So if you are in a different physical location, feel free to check this general virtual space for updates about how the experiment went.
If I tried to combine every thought that came in my head while watching this video into a coherent essay, I would have something book length, so instead, I’m just going to spit it out.
Wow. Mind blown.
First of all, great job, Grand Rapids. Sincerely. The city put together a mammoth effort, even without the help of Kickstarter, and came up with an Internet video that was not only successful, but put others in the category to shame. I tend to think with art of a more casual sort, if you don’t have a concept that in itself is necessarily going to knock it out of the park, at least go big on the effort. Done and done.
And in throwing their hat into the meme, white America reminds the internet that it exists. The internet is not just pro-democracy fronts and third-world music blogs, folks! It is possible to have a good old fashioned Main Street parade online. No taco truck reviews, no workers’ rights, no sex, no militant screen printing hacker collectives. Football, American made cars, and, well, apple pie.
I don’t say this simply to be facetious. Main Street America does exist, and it would only be a publication as idiotically outdated as Newsweek, (see link for back story on that) who thinks that it is somehow more an arbiter of taste, more up with the times and pace of the internet than a city on a river in Michigan. All those “real Americans” you saw in the video have Internet connections, and you better believe they cancelled their subscriptions to Newsweek, if they even had any.
And isn’t it somewhat refreshing, to see the meme of America rescued from hate-filled invective, pulled out of the politics for one minute, to mug for the camera in a way that makes us seem welcome in “real America” once again; to make Chambers of Commerce look like nice community organizations, rather than the money behind union crushing, the propping up of corporate property rights, and anti-gay legislation? I mean, it is almost enough to make me forget the experiences I’ve had being called “fag” while crossing Main Street, USA, and make me think about living in the Midwest again. Almost.
Not that any of these nice folks in Grand Rapids would do something like that. They all look like nice people, with nice lives. And with the sort of effort necessary to put a project like this together, the goodwill and support for the community provided by local businesses, lawmakers, and everyday people alike, they might have a different sort of town that defies the norm, where people band together and form a community, indeed, the only thing that’s ever formed community, unlike many so-called defenses of “family, community, and small business”.
And so I wonder if, after raising $40,000 to make this video, the next weekend they all got together to put in bike lanes. Or to build low income housing. I just wonder, I don’t mean to imply that they should have done this instead. They can do whatever they like with their time, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a video, any more than there is anything wrong with putting in a statue of Robocop, as elsewhere in Michigan. But a community is defined by what they choose to do with their community. And a definition is not only what is said, but also what is not said. This might be the cornerstone of self-expression, whether you are a city or a person, or any other entity.
This juxtaposition between the little that is said and the lot that isn’t said is not an accusation in my mind, but when I watch two videos back to back (as the vicissitude of the Internet decided for me), the question is automatically posed. And what is the question, anyway? I’m not entirely sure. But when there’s a nice singalong going on in the streets of one town, when somewhere across the world there are beatings and worse going on in the streets of another town, there should be a question asked, shouldn’t there? Even if we can’t quite bring it to our lips.
I wonder if, maybe not unlike in the classic song Grand Rapids decided to sing, this video could be the moment that something died. Not in a fiery plane crash, of course. But in the sense that when something is memorialized, it in its reality is somewhat ceased. You don’t plant a gravestone for something that is still living. Don McLean reacting to the 60s with nostalgia for something that people wanted to believe still existed, even though that sort of Americana was now a ghost. The ghost of Main Street America, in a world of Tahrir squares. And yet they can still sing this song, with help from their platinum sponsors. That’s something, right? Isn’t it? To whom?
Lastly, in a fit of SF splendor, I imagine this clip resurfacing after a number of years, and discovered by some disaffected youth, longing for the way the continent “used to be”. In a saga reminiscent of Damnation Alley, they set off across whatever this terrain will look like then, attempting to find the promised land of Grand Rapids. What is it that they will find? Probably not radioactive, mutated cockroaches. But other than that, I can’t say that I know with certainly in any direction.
“With the coming of ____ ________ began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.” And so begins the third sentence (with the pseudonym-dropping reference to the Beat scene excised) of the most over-gifted book in America besides the Bible, and the bane of everything creative in this land. You are going to have to excuse me while I vent a little bit about the state of literature in this country, as represented through a particular book that is in no way representative of literature in this country. Okay—so I’d be willing to concede that the book isn’t that bad, and like every so-so book that is wildly popular, there is probably a time and place for when it is exactly the right book. The right time and place for On the Road is when you are a fifteen year-old white male feeling unsure in the first year of high school. But that doesn’t change my criticism of the Beat Poets and a loathing for what they did to America: a white, phoning-it-in, irreversible, suburban coffee shop graft, perpetrated upon American literature.
What they did was create a gold road of unlimited devotion; they lionizied a cursory appreciation of the American literary canon, a lack of hard work, and generally unrestrained hippie optimism that is about as untenable to modern problems as Picasso is to the Internet. And it is not so much that they did, because that could be forgivable as no more than a symptom of their times. It could be a hindsighted mistake, a pathology we will no doubt suffer ourselves in spades come another forty years. But the problem is that we can’t seem to get over the Beats, even now. The continued celebration of this metaphysical pap is not necessarily because there is somewhere within it a canonical truth—it’s just that we have nothing better. We can’t talk about American poetry, let alone write it (at least if we are men), without somehow mentioning the Beats. We just haven’t grown up. We are still teens in high school. You can’t write about modern times in America without obliquely referencing the soaring, anti-America-The-Beautiful tones of Ginsberg. It’s inescapable, like crappy magazines in the doctor’s office. Sports players are male role models today not because they are good role models, but because without them our need for role models would lead us to bend down to politicians and… for fuck’s sake, business men. I remind you that Kerouac was a varsity athlete before picking up the pen.
More crucial to my own personal problems, is the fact that you cannot write about traveling across the American road without at least mentioning Kerouac, or taking two paragraphs to invectively disparage him, both being more than he deserves. This is what canon means to us, today. It’s what we hate, but talk about anyway. Even though the America Kerouac traveled is dead, it lives in the Interstate Highway System of our minds.
Dear readers, I now invite you to purge the Beat from your inner cloverleaf interchange. Expel it, with all the released kinetic force of a eighteen-car pile up caused by a drunk driver in a five-ton pickup jumping the median, soaring through the rusted and outdated guard rail, and landing on top of the busy, commuter-traffic filled, EZ-Pass only, HOV lanes below. The power of crushing metal compels you: exit now. Thank you. We have rubber-necked at the canon, smoking against the Jersey barrier. And now we can drive on.
Flying cars existed back in 1955 when On the Road was published. Huge vehicles, made in America by American Labor out of American Steel, would carry you across the country at incredible rates of speed. The pavement would zip by beneath the singing tires, as you climbed over top of mountains and raced across deserts. The miles per gallon were low, but the fuel was endless. There was nothing quicker than a car; it was the one-manned, streamlined, asphalt aeroplane, carrying newly individual, nucleated American Supermen faster than a speeding locomotive. Death by automobile accident was the heroes death, and the crushed frame beneath your twisted body was the shield your people would carry you home upon. The cars… had fucking fins.
Today, driving Route 66 means driving “Historic Route 66”, the heritage road celebrating unrestrained American road travel in the past tense. On its hallowed, pock-marked surface, just off the real highway, you can get good old American gas for about $3.00 a gallon, which will power the average sedan for a cost of about fifteen cents per mile. At that rate, it will cost you $367.20 to drive Route 66. It will cost you $435 to go across Interstate 80, which travels from San Francisco to New York. A single room at Motel 6 will run you a little less than $40 a night. Meals at Hometown Buffet will cost you… well, I have no idea, and I don’t want to know. Suffice it to say, if you have two or three people in the same car, it might be as cheap as flying. Naturally, there are other ways to do the road trip on the even-cheaper. But low-budget, American family-style travel is hardly budget at all. The only thing soaring, rocketing, and flying are various metaphors involving credit cards.
But we, (meaning us, not you; I have no idea how you choose to travel) are already on a road trip. We have gotten in the car against the wishes of our family who would prefer that we just fly, (even though they bought us our copy of the 40th Anniversary edition of On the Road some years before as a gift) we are out of cell phone reception, and the pavement is, along with the gas, evaporating away beneath us. What are we doing here?
We sure as hell don’t know Dean Moriarty. I know some people on Twitter, though. We didn’t so much hear that Dean was in Spanish Harlem, as see some Flickr pictures, and maybe click around in the Atlas Obscura. We might have killed entire hours wandering over the topology of Google Maps, with the Wikipedia layer turned on. I don’t know if this exactly prepped us for what we would never stoop to call “our life on the road”. It sure wasn’t as sexy as a couple of beatniks talking to each other on a dirty mattress, out of their minds on uppers. But all the same, this is how it happened to us, and here we are, rocketing towards points on the compass, leaving in our wake nothing more than a single geotagged post in each state if reception allows it, and at the same time moving away from all points on the compass at the exact same rate.
Because here is the thing about our new social understanding of speed. The faster the pace of history moves, the less distance you have to travel to go the same speed. Velocity is now 1 / Distance x Time. Entropy is our fuel additive. As a species, we’re slowing down. We’re asymptotically approaching zero no matter what we do. But along the curve of this simple, rational function, the individual can cover less ground in an atemporal universe and still be moving at the same rate. The calculus of a road trip is the inverse of every algebra example about road trips and distance that has ever been taught to you.
Flying, for whatever On-the-Road-given reason, is not an option for us. The future is not an option, either. Inevitability is the zeitgeist, and this zeitgeist is inevitable. There is no place to run towards, waving your arms and screaming for shelter. Your present is your future; you credit card limit just hasn’t been distributively absorbed by participating vendors yet. We are not driving towards anything. We’re simply driving away. And this is why we’re still behind the wheel. You could fly around the world in 48 hours, but then you’d have to do something else. If you drive across the country, you’ll kill at least ten times as much time and twice as much money waiting for the future to get here. That is a pretty good buy. The most anyone can ask for their money these days is that it take up more time than it would have taken this time last year. Now that is progress.
Modern vinyl-interiored mp3-capable automatic-transmissioned cars do fly a little. Living on the inside of a safety glass bubble, you are at least a few inches up off the ground. More if you’ve inflated your tires properly. Music sounds better played on certain cheap car speakers. It’s all about bass beating within a sedan-womb. Cheap food tastes better if you eat it while moving. I recommend corn nuts. Caffeine is more effective over fifty miles per hour, bringing the nerves and the brain up to speed, ideas slinging past like mile markers flitting by in the furthest reach of the headlights. I had at least ten ideas in the stretch of road between Nashville and Louisville. I was only able to remember six when I stopped to write them all down. When you are tired, a car seat is more comfortable that it would be ordinarily, when you are not tired. A parking lot with a public bathroom that has paper towels rather than just a hand dryer is about as much of a home as anyone with four wheels underneath them could want these days. You can take more luggage in the car than you could on the plane. But you don’t need to. The car is your luggage. Just throw your extra clothes in back. If your seats fold down, you can sleep in your suitcase. Is this American life? Who the hell knows anymore. If I did a keyword search, I’m sure I could find someone who has written a book or a song or a blog that could tell me for sure.
Modern tourism is just the process of living your life. You could live your life in one spot, or in many. Maybe. I’m not going to tell you anything definitively. There’s just too much at stake, and not enough payoff to start authoring platitudes just yet. I’m not saying I won’t write a book about it though. Or at least start to write it, before it mutates into something else. There are just too many books out there by this time to every write a single book on any single thing. Every book is now every other book, in a hyperlinked process of extension that so tritely networks together all of the things that we think about, in the way that every road trip ever taken is every bit of every other road trip. Driving towards, and driving away. If we’re six degrees of separation away from every other human on earth, you are no more than two from every other road trip on the North American continent. My life on the road, your life on the road. The biggest/fastest/best 3G network in America. Where’s the best hamburger in the United States? There’s not just a single app for that. There’s at least ten, and a couple of shows on the Food Network too.
If I was going to give advice about driving across the country, I’d tell you to not read On the Road, don’t eat a single hamburger, and whatever you do, do not to listen to the radio. Read the road signs instead. And I’ll tell you why.
Don’t tune in next week for: the Museum of Tourist Economies No More than 15 Miles from An Interstate Highway.
These are excellent. They are artwork, and so I could show you a screen shot, and you could see what they looked like. But they are also websites, so it would be like looking at a photo of a sculpture.
I can’t find out very much about the artist, except that his name is Andrey Yazev.
These remind me of the Stainless Steel kinetic ball toys. Machines which we can clearly see how they function, and yet have no purpose but to entertain. These sites are kind of like that, but for the age of the cloud. We click and drag, re-size and select all day long, but this is sort of way of “getting it out”. Just play with it. Like the satisfaction of clicking a bunch of times on a blank screen. Nothing at all, just cliclickliklciklickcicklick. A basket woven from bands of ten-fingered catharsis.
Also interesting: having to have the right browser to view a piece of art.
And one more fact: by hitting CTRL-U, you can see how he made his artwork. Cool.
When I was in New York I went to see Merce Cunningham’s Nearly Ninety performance at BAM, on his 90th birthday. Actually, I was brought there, because Megan sometimes does this thing:
Her: I got us tickets to this performance/exhibition/gallery/thing.
Me: Okay, cool. What is it?
Her: It’s some guy, and there are these people… I don’t really remember.
Me: Oh. What kind of film/ballet/concert is it?
Her: Fuck, I don’t know man. Just some shit I read and thought it sounded okay.
And then we get there, and its something I’ve really been interested in, or would obviously have been really excited to see because it involves things in which I’m totally interested.
This is what happened. I didn’t know who Merce Cunningham is, but I am really interested in the Black Mountain College and the people involved with it (though I’m not very knowledgeable about it). And then we walk past the “merch” area, and I see all this Sonic Youth shit, and I ask dumbly:
Me: Oh, did Sonic Youth play here recently?
Her: You idiot, they’re doing the music for the show we’re seeing.
I don’t know if she just likes surprising me, or if it is fun to keep me wandering about in the dark, or maybe its a combination of the both. I suppose I’m more docile when I don’t really know what is going on.
But this fun anecdote into our relationship aside, Sonic Youth performed the music live, on this massive pipe-welded rotating structure, while a translucent screen between them and the dancers had video effects projected upon it. It was way awesome.
Now, I don’t know very much about dance from any sort of theoretical perspective, but I am that strange sort of person who when confronted with art, feels some sort of a well start filling within him, whether from conscious thought or from elsewhere, which builds until it overflows into his mind, and he is forced to watch, with mind racing and anxiety causing his fingers to tap against the seat, until the intermission, at which point he can run to find a pen and scribble notes of what he is thinking all over the back of the program.
Here’s a bit of that, from what I was able to get down.
The program printed this, about Merce Cunningham and John Cage:
“They came to the conclusion that the two time-based arts should exist independently, occurring in the same time and space but without supporting or being connected to one another in the usual way. Both Cunningham and Cage made extensive use of chance procedures, which meant that not only musical forms but narrative and other conventional elements of dance composition-such as cause and effect, and climax and anticlimax-were abandoned. Cunningham is not interested in telling stories or exploring psychological relationships: the subject matter of his dances is the dance itself.”
All well and good, I thought to myself as I read the words before the performance. I had heard the same thing said about writing before-but these elements are so characteristic of our conscious thought that if we are going to interpret any sort of meaning at all, it must be in terms of cause and effect, directed motion, and by extension, human relationships. There is cut up text to be sure, but the fact that it is “cut up” shows that it had meaning, it has only been obscured or mutilated.
But once the performance began, I was surprised. Most of the dance I have seen live (the good, technical dance) is ballet. Cunningham’s choreography showed me just how much ballet relies upon cause and effect, and psychological relationships. The pas de deux is pure sex. You might, for all intents and purposes, be watching two people engaging in the act of love on stage. You can add one dancer, or take one away, but the sex remains, only the relationship is made more complicated. The male and female dance as classic male and female components, the epic duality, the cosmic pair, the A and B. You can have A, B, AA, BB, ABA, or BBBB, but one is still spelling this body-phrases with the same two letters. We are consigned to writing in the narrative of classical sex, bodies become symbols. It is the endless story, told countless times both with and without words every time a human being thinks of touching another.
Cunningham instead presents his dancers as motion. It is physics, a swarming pallet of vectors, directed in flows around each other on the stage. There is material there-it is not devoid of meaning, or blank substance. But we are no longer watching a story. We are viewing a building, reading a blueprint, or falling into a diagram. It is architectural-he presents cross-sectional images, elevation views, rotational, cartesian, angular phenomena. As I watched his performance, the video images echoed the motions of the dancers, spinning lines and angles above the stage, as the bodies performed excellently, portraying the curves, stretches, fittings, and joints of the body’s frame and range of motion. They did not move like people, who stumble, bend at the waist while sitting and standing, hold their sore points as they struggle for the flexibility they lost in an ancient youth. Those are stories, and these dancers moved in pure physicalities, in possibilities and probabilities of encounter rather than personification of what we know and are able to think.
But still-these are people, directed to act like machines. They are not an assembly line, not an automaton. They are humane, bodily machines to be sure, but their only design has been for aesthetic purpose, to depict a visual, phenomenal scene, not to build or produce unseen within the confines of a factory or site. We are still watching a stage, after all.
Isn’t this the way that we want our machines? We aestheticians of mechanics, who find beauty in the clean lines of a well-made device, or in the subtle depth of a diagram describing a physical form not yet realized. We want our machines to burst outward in exploded view, whirling upon three axes so that we can see and admire the closeness of their components’ motion, the tight fit of the gears, and the quick pace of the electronics converting our clever programs into physicalities we ourselves could never achieve. And more than that-we design new machines in our minds to fill the still-present voids. Rube-Goldberg machines of cause and effect are the easiest, taking our current machines and lining them up into narratives to complete the tasks that still weigh upon our own fragile skins. We name our devices, love them, and love to peek inside to see what they hide from us. How is it that they work? Why do they still fail us? When will the machine come about that will never break, and will do everything, looking beautiful while it whirls about the stage of our imagination?
The function of machines in our lives is always metaphor, always narrative. We do not love our machines for the aspect ratios of their gears, though we might hold these lovely measurements up as the proof of our attraction. We love them because they function; we love them because they mean something to us. Design is never an accident, never natural, and for that, we love it as we wish to love ourselves.
We can’t see the aesthetics of our machines as we would like. They are never as they appear in our minds, or on the blueprints. We want smooth transfers, gentle harmonics, rotational symmetry, and tight, tight belts. Instead we get rusty cam shafts, stuck and broken interfaces, dangerous vibration and pinch points. The male/female connectors are frustratingly non-sexual, despite our designs and naming. There is no good and evil in binary code, no matter how complex we make it, spitting lines of digits fruitlessly to infinity. The clean lines, tempting us with the narrative of non-narrative, that human fantasy of what is beyond humanity, and the repeating regression that will not find a straight line because there is no compound of quadratics able to approach the fundamental instability of emotional ebb and flow-all of these dreams will remain unfilled. Not even robots can live for ever.
There is no truth in metaphor, but still they speak. “What it is like,” is not actually what it is like, but that is the only think that it is like! The dance has music, movement, video, and no words. Still, words come from the dance to the humans who watch it. The dance is not a machine, nor completely human, but it tells a story of machines to us through its mechanical non-narrative.
And in the background, completely separated, Sonic Youth plays ambient, distorted sounds. Distortion is easy to play, but Sonic Youth are the masters. There is aesthetic to it as well, as the sounds ambulates, oscillates, and resounds through what we typically know as music. Is it music, or is it noise? Does it tell a story, or no? Is there really no pleasure in inserting a ¼” jack into an amp?
As they move around the things they refuse to describe, these art forms have an exacting form of a approximation. Definitive cuts, loose measurements, always fitting, because what they are attempting to assemble is not strictly material. The motion of construction, this design on the fly, this performance of the aesthetic principles before our very, un-describing eyes-they move close and around meaning through the means that inspire narrative within us, though not directly representing any to us. They require no symbolic narrative or psychology; they are mere machines. Aesthetic machines-making phenomena.
For us humans, the poorly-functioning, drunk poets of the machine world, this is as close as we get. We call it beautiful.