The Medium is The Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media
The Original Version of the 1997 Essay that Gave Birth to Narco News and the Authentic Journalism Renaissance, Unabridged and Without Footnotes
By Al Giordano
School of Authentic Journalism
June 1, 2012
(First published January 1, 1997.)
For the purposes of discussion and action, an immedia project presents a central premise, which, if accurate, carries urgent implications:
Media now controls a new economic order: one that has supplanted governments, churches and productive industry to impose a mediating tyranny over people and our Daily Lives.
Therefore, something akin to Revolution is necessary.
First, we define our foe – an enemy that attains advantage over its adversaries by defining them. The law of Mediated Nature is “define or be defined,” therefore it is helpful to define “Media.”
We define “Media” to encompass all Mediation; that is, the process by which Middlemen stand between people and our pursuit of happiness.
Members of the Media and their machines are the most pervasive Middlemen in people’s Daily Lives. The News Media are Middlemen who place themselves between people and information. The Entertainment Media, likewise, place themselves between people and information, and between people and human events of global or community significance. The Entertainment Media, likewise, place themselves between people and our pleasure. Media “terminals,” such as the TV screen, the computer monitor or the automobile windshield, come between people’s daily communication. The act (or inact) of sitting before a screen increasingly turns the consumer into a kind of terminal, into an object, who reacts only to the stimulus on the screen. We, the mediated, fuel the Screen’s power through our attention, our consumption of its products and, increasingly, our mediated creativity and labor. Media turns its producers and consumers into mere cogs in its machinery, making us less than human in the process.
Some Media aren’t as obvious: the landlord who stands between us and the space we need to enjoy life; the job at alienated labor that stands between us and the time to enjoy it.
We don’t take our argument to the extreme of identifying every injustice or repression or problem on earth as a by-product of Media. There are other violences, from domestic battery to police brutality to abuse of children, that have their own additional roots in the “dominator culture” that preceded and guided Media’s invasion. We assert, however, that the rise of Media, Mediation and Middlemen in modern times has fortified many of the injustices that preceded it, even as it supplanted others (while offering the illusion of having vanquished them). The economic and Daily Life pressures imposed by the Mediated Society have weakened our ability, as individuals and as communities, to address and solve the urgent problems that plague people, even those traumas that Media did not create. And so we aim our immedia analysis and practice, ambitiously, toward a revolt that ends domination’s long reign through the act of toppling domination’s final warden: Media.
Because all of us are forced to be Middlemen or Mediators of varying degrees to participate in the economy and in political life, and because Middlemen come from all classes and include inanimate technological objects, the use of the term “revolution” should not imply that this well be a class-based effort. Rather, this revolt seeks to unite all classes and subcultures.
We do not deny the existence of a class-hierarchy in Mediated Culture, nor do we ignore its present and inherent unfairness. Rather, we acknowledge that the traditional divisions between owner and renter, “bourgeoisie and proletarian,” debtor and creditor, have become so muddled in the Media Age that most people find themselves inflicted by roles—oppressor and oppressed—in the course of Daily Life.
Media, with its reliance on “market niches,” compounds the problem of self-identification. Consumers over-identify with products and brand names, but also with their roles in the ceaseless cycle of reproduction. “Jobs” and other roles have, themselves, become objects of identification. Careerism ensures that its devotees offer many unpaid hours of labor each day through near-constant obsession on work, career and money. The panicked treadmills associated with schools and workplaces now occupy the “leisure hours” as well.
Consumers choose not only from a menu of commodities but also from a menu of roles to be played in order to participate in economic and social life. We can choose some roles, others are forced upon us, but we so far can’t choose not to have roles encase around us. Roles, in the Media Age, become so numerous that they tend to collide: one can be a manager at work, a debtor at home, a tyrant over children, a bully at the check-out counter, a servant in kitchen, a dominant or submissive in bed, an executive caught in a traffic jam, a salesperson on the telephone, the holder of the remote-control in the living room, or the opposite, adopting an ever-changing menu of positions, mediating and mediated, often varying with the time of day.
The net result for most people is an overall slavery of body and mind, made bearable by brief illusions that one has mediating power over others, or over consumer products and services. This constant shift and flux of power roles—and the chain-reaction of illusions and humiliations that accompany them—creates vast difficulty for old-style “revolutionary” efforts that rely on whole classes of people to self-identify as “workers” or “consumers”; themselves roles with inherently narrow, and deadening, connotations.
Somewhere beyond this endless desert of roles and divisions remains an oasis where our direct lives experiences—our unmediated adventures in pleasure and mutual empathy—still exist: this is the terrain we are reasserting.
Any anti-Media, or Immedia, revolt, first and foremost, requires a self-revolution by individuals.
In other words, the enemies of our desires—Media, Mediation and Middlemen—exist outside of us and within us, as individuals, simultaneously. Our strategy to destroy and replace them must likewise address, at once, tactics of liberty that reclaim Daily Life’s private and public terrain from Media in all its forms.
But the moment one seeks to free himself and herself from the techno-trance of the Media, a new need fast develops as a natural consequence: that of new tactics and strategies to join with others toward two goals: a.) to end the process by which our Daily Lives have become over-mediated, and, b.) to make possible a world in which we are not called upon to over-mediate others.
Three Immediate Questions:
A. How do people develop a language of opposition against Media when the Media controls all language?
An immedia project defines “language” as all communication: language encompasses more than written and spoken words, more than poetry or lyric. Language, as we define it, includes every grid of expression between people: visual images, physical gestures, the ambiance of architecture and immediate surroundings (what some have called “psychogeography”), music and sound, performance, dance, rhythms, “body language,” sexual signals and expressions, experiments in freedoms of impression (through alterations of consciousness), emblems, culinary arts, sculpture, horticulture and landscaping, games of sport, rituals of social engagement and forms of human relationship…even silence…every path of creativity that exists is part of a language.
Media and technology have, in recent decades, given birth to new forms of language, some obvious, some hidden: product logos; technologies to measure and to shape public-opinion and consumption; computerized photography, cinematography, videography, recording, graphical design and word-processing (computer programmers have inflicted a new linguism, haven’t they?); “community planning;” social, and now genetic, engineering—these and any other forms of language are hopefully to be addressed by this inquiry.
At present, we have insufficient language to fully describe or act upon the situation (even the word “language” has connotations that challenge our inquiry). An immedia project is, first, an immedia laboratory. We seek new approaches to language (which might also be called means of communication) in order to break the screens between each other and our selves, and begin a project of mutual, unmediated (or de-mediated), communication.
And although this is a revolution of the individual, we recognize that no one person can reclaim, or even understand, every category or “dialect” of language that has been imposed upon our world. This is why we act together, with each other, to seek a mutual translation and construction of, in many splendoured forms, an immedia language of revolt.
B. Since Media excels at co-opting popular movements, both political and cultural, how can a popular resistance be designed to successfully overturn the co-optation process that has turned other important causes into commodities?
From “political” causes for the natural environment to civil rights and the multitude of equality efforts that encompass “identity politics,” to counter-cultural and avant-garde artistic movements, activists and creative people have been divided by Media into market niches. Many have participated in this division by over-identifying with groups or ideologies (as consumers over-identify with brands, hobbies, careers and products). Meanwhile, the Media marginalizes and co-opts all popular movements to sufficiently disarm each’s potential to unite the people as a whole.
We find the term “Media Virus” helpful as a tool to understand how the Media co-opts, then destroys (often vaporizing a concept instantly), ideas and acts of revolutionary potential. this view observes that Media behaves like a living organism, and that ideas, concepts and images mutate, like viral agents, within this “datasphere.” According to this theory, and idea replicates and evolves as it moves through the Mediated grids of expression. It both subverts the “cells” it passes through, while also becoming changed itself: a Media Virus is not a catalyst (that which remains unchanged), but, rather, a force on an often unpredictable trajectory.
The Media changes the context of each idea it absorbs, and, as Jean Baudrillard and the “post-structuralists” have noted, causes the meaning within ideas to implode: all that remains from this process is a Media of commodified objects.
There are some who say, for example, that it is useless to call a revolt a “revolt,” or a “revolution,” because, in the Media Age, all revolts become labeled, defined and are eventually packaged as commodities—usually linked with certain market niches—which fuel the overall mechanisms of mediation over life.
We see a crack in this co-optation machinery: what would happen if a revolt which held refusal of mediation at the core of its message were to build momentum outside of the Media’s grids of expression? This revolt, rather than manifesting itself as a sedentary organization or series of stationary institutions, adopts an unfixed stance; we are not a “solidarity” movement, but one of fluidarity, striking with stealth, surprise and creativity against Media’s institutional stations.
We may, at times, appear to come from nowhere; in fact, the tensions and contradictions inherent in modern Media provide us with an underscreen of tunnels through which we travel, elusively, both to shadow and to illuminate the nomadic and economic forces of the power we oppose.
In other words, we are busy constructing an Immedia Virus, creating a situation in which the powers of the Media, should they attempt to co-opt and commodify our message, will be turned against themselves, creating additional ruptures in Media’s armor of illusion, which we will then further exploit for the purposes of destroying Media’s control over life.
C. In history, revolts have been conducted against governments, leaders and classes. But how can a revolt be formulated against a technology such as Media?
An immedia project’s revolution against Media, Mediation and Middlemen acknowledges a unique situation before us. Because all people suffer under the Mediated Society, every individual is, potentially, an ally in this cause.
Conversely, because each and every one of us becomes Middlemen in the course of participating in economics, politics and even creativity, every individual (including ourselves) is, potentiall, the enemy, too.
In a sense, this is an appeal to the human within everyone to engage in self-revolution; by throwing off the electronic shackles that turn us into cyborgs, we reclaim our birthright as free men and women.
We don’t have the answers (yet) as to how to accomplish such an overwhelming, but necessary, goal. But we are developing the questions and the language by which answers begin to reveal themselves. To succeed in this quest, we feel that a spirit of experimentation—one that allows for individual mistakes and for learning from their lessons—is vital to our success.
To this end, we are developing tactics, as well as specific areas of inquiry to be evolved. These essays outline a dozen key pursuits of an immedia project:
Twelve Immediate Inquiries:
I. Unnecessary Labor & the Broken Promises of Technology
The broken promises of technology are at the heart of these inquiries. Many have long believed that technology would free us by making life more efficient. Technology was going to bring us more “leisure time” and better ways to enjoy it. This is still pretty much gospel in today’s culture despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In actuality, technology has served to allow Middlemen of every stripe to squeeze ordinary people more efficiently and to divide us from the time and space we need to live happy and creative lives.
Many people cling to a desperate hope that technology will solve the problems of our era. Furthermore, in the eyes of many sincere people, Media – because it has replaced older mechanisms-of-control like Church and State – has the carefully-coited appearance of a cutting-edge phenomena; a mythical techno-progressivism.
This correspondent realizes, with no small amount of sadness, that his 20 years of social activism ended up fueling the very mechanisms of control that he’d set out to oppose – either by trying to shape causes to please the Media (and thus gain coverage for “issues” or movements) or by becoming one of the Media’s members (albeit in the “alternative press”).
Illusion, however, inevitably leads to disillusion. And dis-illusion ought to be a more valued experience, because the illusions most people labor under bring them more pain than pleasure.
We see disillusion everywhere in society, especially in those increasingly scarce places where Media does not, at any given present moment, control the surroundings. The act of staring into a screen – be it the television, the computer, the automobile windshield or one’s own ego’s representation of itself to itself and others – is profoundly alienating as lived experience. It is the over-mediation – and destruction – of all that used to be life.
A Mediated World has frozen our Daily Lives into a simulacrum of things that have replaced lived experience: dollars, clocks, images and representations. As such, it has made its consumers weaker-minded (bringing with it a weakening of physical fitness and health caused by sedentary life on couches and in cubicles, which compounds the mental and spiritual impacts of over-mediation).
We are not alone in noticing that so much of the “work” being done in the modern economy is “busy-work;” bureaucracies, meetings, paperwork, data entry, regulations, and alienating labor on the orders of Middlemen and Mediators at every turn. Unnecessary labor, long a burden upon people’s daily aspirations, now encompasses most of the human-hours expended in the global economic system. This is true of all Mediating commerces, but within Media especially so; Media produces very little, in the traditional sense of production and consumption – it re-produces, or mediates, everything, almost always for a price.
Media’s self-perpetuation function is to reproduce the “understanding” or belief that all this labor is necessary. After all, advertising rates are the same regardless of the nature of the product being sold. But something else has happened as well: in the game of competitions and alliances between power structures, Media has gained the upper hand over power’s former giants: church, state and industry; co-opting their powers to serve its machinery, while absorbing the most tyrannical qualities of each. Despite the skirmishes between these institutions (and between competitors within each of these circuits of power), these forces have always found points of alliance, and that remains the case today.
But Media’s relationship to other power structures has evolved radically from the ages when churches commissioned artists and supplies to advertise their myths and ideologies. For (at least) the length of time recorded by written history, Media has been a tool of churches, of productive industry and of governments (including, for the purposes of this inquiry, military organizations 13, which we acknowledge might not be inseparably or eternally bound up with the state). But at some point, or period, in the past half-century (and reasonable people can dispute when exactly this was), a shift, or a rapid sequence of shifts, occurred to consolidate Media’s power absolutely.
Church, State and Industry are all dependent upon “information technology,” or Media, to remain players at the tables of power. The rise of “televangelism,” for example, not only demonstrates how Media advertises a religious product, but also how the Medium itself favors certain hierarchical and power-motivated religious models over others. (We are intrigued, though, by how some strains of spirituality have proven, in some places, more resistant to Media’ invasion than have State or Industry, oppositional currents from Chiapas to Tibet to parts of the Islamic world have demonstrated unusual durability while other more authoritarian faiths were co-opted or absorbed.)
We have a more difficult time finding a clear boundary between Media and the State, despite the efforts of apologists for each to feign vigilance against each other. For the purposes of identifying the constraints upon Daily Life, we can’t pull them apart. In terms of most regulations over human behavior that used to be the domain of governments, Media has either set those enforcers to work on its behalf, or has replaced them altogether as a kind of spectacular police force; the self-appointed mediators of public disputes and crises.
To the extent there ever was any boundary between Media and Capital, it has blurred. Whomever – or whatever – controls the sphere of money becomes more difficult to locate given the elusive and international nature of economic power.
Media is the most visible and audible face of economic powers, individually and collectively. To the extent that additional “control rooms” can be found behind Media’s screens of surveillance and mediation, we must first destroy the screen’s mediating power which protects Power from exposure. A popular revolt against Media, Mediation and Middlemen, upon gathering sufficient stream, may in fact have the effect of forcing the powers behind the screens to uncloak. And although the border between Media and Capital is kept so complex as to appear vague, there is an echo of a distinction we would like to resurrect; that between productive industries and those merely reproductive industries that are embodied by Media. Unnecessary labor, after all, is mainly a consequence of unnecessary management.
We use the word “revolution” with serious intent. We recognize that the word has been commodified and left for dead by Madison Avenue and by “revolutionaries” alike. Every illusory shift, from a new sneaker to a new Congress, is termed a “revolution.” (That the advertising class so frequently provides for illusory “revolutions” indicates, to us, a recognition on its part that a hidden public yearning for “the real thing,” to coin one of its slogans, still beats loud enough go necessitate its regular co-optation.) Even the rise of the tyranny we oppose has called itself a “media revolution,” or an “Information revolution,” a “technological revolution.”
“Revolution” is not the word that best describes the Media’s ascent to power: a better term is junta. Consider how a military apparatus is, in fact, made up of a specialized class of bureaucrats. History is rife with examples of how military organizations have engaged in coup-de-etat, wherein the specialized bureaucracy-of-domination supplants the State.
Media is likewise an occupying force, not merely over land or institutions, but as a techno-army that colonizes human consciousness: the internal dialogue of the individual.
And yet, though its becoming so all-pervasive in most people’s Daily Lives. Media has inadvertently provided us with a common enemy in itself.
Media is the middlest of the Middlemen. It has dishonestly represented Mediation – the technologies of Middlemen – as a menu of commodified art-forms, when, in fact, mediating peoples survival, creativity and liberties constitutes more a form of meddling.
The public is angry, of course, but Media channels our hostility toward each other, as groups and market niches, instead of against the overall phenomena of Middlemen and their mediating technologies. Ah but we notice at fissure in its vessel: Media has programmed us well to seek scapegoats, and has test-marketed every scapegoat upon us except itself.
In limited ways. Media has held up parts of itself for ridicule and compliant: print journalists bash television, talk-radio hosts attack cyberspace, some TV programs make a ritual of self-referential “deconstruction” (i.e. ABS’s “Late Night with David Letterman”, FOX’s “the Simpsons” and certainly MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead:” with its cartooned armchair critics of the network’s own music videos). Media provides an illusion of self-opposition, or what their industry calls “media criticism,” the most impotent of the journalistic beats.
Media is aware, to some extent, that its jig is almost up. Its technologies of market research have already picked p the public rage against Media upon their radar machines of market research. And so Media, in its attempt to redirect the people’s mounting discontent, is today carving up “market niches” of Media bashing, creating its own roster of oppositional celebrities from Bob Dole to William Bennett to Catherine McKinnon, even to Kirkpatrick Sale and a litter of over-socialized cyber-kids, behind whom Media’s critics will supposedly line up.
We have nothing in common with such spurious opponents, nor with their censorious approaches. We have not arrived to burn books, to impose warning labels on media products, to smash TVs or to hack personal computers to death. Nor do we fall for the trick by which we conquer one set of communications technologies by enslaving ourselves to the newest. We, rather, will strip these technologies of their entrancing luster by creating a better, more participatory, show outside of the Screen. An immedia project comes not to destroy Free Speech, but to fulfill it.
We repeat: Media has already test-marketed every scapegoat upon us except for the actual loci of power behind its masks and pixels. For Media is, if nothing else, the approximately 90-percent of the global economy not tied to the production of any goods or services: The Medium is the Middleman. The indigenous Zapatista revolutionaries in Chiapas, Mexico, have labeled this post-Cold War beast, “global neo-liberalism.” Others have termed it “the spectacle” or “commodity capitalism.” We have fluidarity with such efforts. But we use the word Media because, in our Daily Lives, it is the most phenomenological way that people, now, of all classes experience abuse at the hands of power.
Media is synonymous with the unnecessary economy of Mediation and Middlemen; that which keeps everyone slaving instead of enjoying and creating. Media embodies technology’s most broken of promises.
The already mighty public reservoir of rage against Media and Middlemen, on mute for so long, simmers on this side of the Screen.
Revolutions arrive when the public finds its “protector” has, in fact, been its tyrant.
The public oscillates between illusion and disillusion when it comes to Media. We, the people, have a love-hate relationship with our screens, tinged with a sense of resignation that a mediated life is unavoidable. On every corner, we hear enraged complaints about Media, seeking a common voice. On those same streets, we also hear the blare of TVs and radios, in cars, shops and homes, and most of us can’t seem to stay away from The Screen’s seductions.
An immedia project forms out of the necessity to break free, as individuals, from over-mediation. And yet, having evolved around Media and Technology ourselves, we recognize that there is, at present, a 24-hours-a-day war between Media and Self, and we find ourselves daily on each side of the barricades. And so we strive to better understand the nature of our current relationship to our enemy.
II. Technological Imprinting
The problem of Media, for the individual, is a deep psychological one. Anyone who has ever taken a puppy from its mother to a new home knows something about imprinting. The puppy begins to assign emotions and feelings it had previously held toward its mother, now toward its human masters, sometimes even toward inanimate objects such as a blanket or a pair of shoes.
Modern civilization is now dominated by generations who were set down in front of a TV set at a very early age. The TV was and remains a surrogate parent in most households. We were imprinted by the Screen (and quite literally so—it is well-established that television imposes a refocus of the human optical lens on its young consumers); thus began our deep emotional relationship to Media technology and to mediated life—a very complex psychological relationship that must be explored and better understood if a way out is to be found.
This, if true, means that all the varied emotions people normally have toward their parents, they now have toward Media (which, enjoying our labor and attention, keeps us, correspondingly, in an infantile state as a population). Madison Avenue has been aware of this “infantilization process” for decades, and has worked very successfully to keep us spectators in our own time; spectators in our own homes!
And yet, this imposed depth of relationship we have, as individuals, with technology (and with Media as its highest manifestation) has also led many to a simmering, Oedipal-type, rage against techno-tyranny. The Unabomber is perhaps the most extreme example, but popular culture is also filled with outbursts of less violent complaint against the inhumanity of a mechanized culture. This is a core emotion behind the environmental movement. It can also be seen in many strains of conservative complaints against Media. It is also a theme of much popular art, science fiction and theater. Unless and until this rage finds its transformation in a popular revolt of unmediated creativity, it will continue to ricochet around society in the form of the constant humiliations that occur when unhappy individuals encounter other unhappy individuals; the hidden tax on Daily Life that results from mass disempowerment.
III. The Political Illusion
Politics has ceased to decide the issues that most impact our Daily Lives; we find the current grids of political expression inadequate to our task of reclaiming the terrain of Daily Life. For example, who ever voted for an urban life dominated by an overpopulation of automobiles? (We reject the fiction that the public “voted” as consumers by purchasing and using motor vehicles; when individuals are forced by economics to participate in an activity, that does not constitute free choice—that is, in fact, an imposition, a tyranny.) The most significant changes to our lives are not voted on: they are announced as new inventions, each as a fait accompli, in an ideology of technological inevitability.
Instead of being able to formulate our own concerns into policy, the public is now presented with a menu of “issues” from which a limited set of options are forwarded: are you for or against abortion? lower taxes? the environment? Buzzwords and soundbites have replaced real democracy. “Identity politics” have shaved every social insurrection down to an unacknowledged rallying cry of “Larger Crumbs, Bigger Cages!” Thus, people over-identify with groups (based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, generation, class and category of worker or consumer), and then seek to win for their market niche greater economic and political power (usually at the expense of other groups) in ways that strengthen the very mechanisms of control that continue to oppress them as individuals.
“Campaign finance reform” is an excellent example of this kind of issue. Much ado is now made of what some of us said years ago; monied interests have too much influence over government and politics. Even the Media—the primary beneficiary of our current electoral system (if measured in dollars and cents)—acknowledges public discontent over money’s prevailing influence over campaigns. It’s pretty much accepted by most, now, that this is a problem. And most people ‘get’ the arrangement by which corporations and PACS donate to political campaigns and collect legislation and special treatment as a result.
Yet everyone inside the Media seems to be missing, or omitting from their coverage, the obvious. Where does the money go? The trail leads back to Media.
“Follow the money” is a journalistic catch-phrase, obviously of little meaning to a working press that has failed to trace the political paper trail to its conclusion. The public has thus been fed a mythology that it’s the politicians who personally pocket these millions of dollars that go into their campaigns (this, too, has its deleterious effects on the body politic, in the form of cynicism bordering on scapegoating toward a whole calss of persons—politicians). But the fact remains that, in most campaigns, more than fifty cents on the dollar goes directly to the Media for advertising: a question of “cui bono?” invites a most disturbing answer.
Who is the racket set up to benefit most? The Media. And who owns the media? The legal owners (Westinghouse, GE, Capital Cities, Disney, Murdoch and Microsoft) control the levers of power, but also, no less significantly, the advertising class to which the Media rents our daily attentions have their stake in maintaining this system. Companies that advertise their products in the Media enjoy a kind of “time-share” ownership—those who own title to the property answer to them. The overlap between campaign donors and the eventual recipients of that money is a story the Media cannot tell without exposing itself and its sponsors. Is it any wonder, then, that it’s so difficult to build a language for true campaign reform or for any systemic changes, given the Media’s endless capacity (and motive) to confound the real issues?
IV. Refusing to be Mediated
At present, Media Workers are quite defensive and thin-skinned when information surfaces that threatens to burst their own illusions about themselves and their role in society and the economy. They are ever on guard against members who will not keep the dirty little secret of their own illusory power. (This inquiry, to say the least, narrows my own “market niche” as a writer. these ideas, and my passion for them, place me very far, I acknowledge, outside of Media as career.) The Media is overpopulated by a new class of individuals who have, in essence, the Souls of Middlemen; having lost the creative edge themselves, their sole reason-for-being is to mediate other people’s creativity.
And yet, there is (I can think of ) no revolt, except for one with a battle cry of “refuse to be mediated,” that can successfully resist the co-optation process that has diffused social movements so effectively in the late 20th Century.
Refusing mediation is a near-impossible goal in total. However, the process of refusal in creative endeavors holds promise as a successful tactic: once adopted by a critical mass of writers, artists, musicians, performers, craftspersons and creative individuals (a broad term we define in more detail later in this text), an “immedia” movement begins to establish some spectacular terrain from which it can launch ideas, concepts and language. The goal of this new language is to destabilize and begin to dismantle the techno-trance by which the Media holds the public in its illusions.
Some strains of this “artistic resistance” have already established terrain in the form of the Do-It-Yourself—or D.I.Y.—movement among self-producing musicians that emerged out of punk rock, and in the “zine” phenomenon of self-publishing (we are, though, disappointed by the lack of immedia consciousness or aspiration to be found in most publications of the “punk zine” genre, especially the “fan zine” phenomenon which, paradoxically, genuflects at the altar of consumer products). Still, an ethic of distrust toward Middlemen in the music industry has spread to many talents, accomplished and accomplishing, within the music world.
Similar thrusts have been witnessed in the visual and performing arts, indeed, one of our findings while conducting our “immarket research” is that some visual artists and cartoonists have been confronting and subverting the mediations of galleries, museums and the curatorial classes for some time already. In this, they (and also some theatrical artists) have developed street tactics for their grids of expression that may apply to others.
Visual and performing artists have thus found and created, at least temporarily, cracks of irony in theMediating systems (i.e. the bypassing of galleries and curators via the internet; or the funding of street art through a gallery sale). We’re not suggesting a refusal that is so absolute and rigid that it denies the truth that everyone must eat; mutant times call for mutant tools. However, we issue a provocation: Visual and perfoming artists, like creative people in all other grids, have not yet coalesced to break the walls of ink and electrons erected by the news and entertainment Media; this frontier awaits your visionary attention. And does not an “artist” live for the frontier?
Literary and journalistic artists, in fact, are way behind the curve in this effort. In part, that’s because written and spoken word are so reliant on language—and language is what the Media controls best.
The one area where written word appears to have shaken off the shackles of mediation and censorship is the Internet—where tens of millions of individuals are presently pouring much of their creativity. This appearance of Free Speech has been strengthened by efforts to control speech in cyberspace; as if mere legislation confirms the existence of what it opposes. But “Free Cyberspace” is a myth, regardless of whether or not governments leave the Internet uncensored.
V. The Cyber-Dilemma
For those of us who were raised on television (a one-way screen to which we could not talk back) the Internet seemed to be a kind of liberation: a two-way screen to which we could indeed reply. And cyberspace, like the telephone through which it exists, carried practical advantages for communication with other individuals and subculture in an alienating world.
The sheer joy at being able to “talk back” to our technological media has fueled a kind of religious enthusiasm about cyberspace in specific, “New Media” in general, and in technology overall.
Writers, in particular, have embraced the “editor-free” environment of cyberspace and its e-mail, conferencing and web opportunities, as a grand blessing upon literature. But in doing so, we have ignored, to our peril, the ways in which the Internet, like all Media, over-mediates us.
First and foremost, is the cyber-screen’s demand that we remain in sedentary position—seated in front of computers—to participate.
Second, is the increased capacity for surveillance offered to institutions and individuals by cyberspace.
Third, there is the delicate question of labor: We thought that cyberspace was better for us than television because of its interactive components. But at some point the realization creeps in: Television, for all its irritations, at least is not a work station.
Dr. Gary Greenberg, in his book, The Self on the Shelf: Recovery Books and the Good Life (1994, SUNY press) examined the question, “What kind of self is being helped, and what kind of help is being offered to it by these self-help books?” A similar question must be asked about Internet technology: what kind of self is being processed through these screens?
To labor at a computer screen for eight hours a day is profoundly alienating; it breeds anti-social attitudes by isolating individuals from human contact. Alienated labor is nothing new. What has emerged, though, in the past 40 years of Western Culture, is a new kind of citizen: the alienated consumer. He and she live life vicariously through Screens that keep him and her alienated not only from others, but from him and herself. Participation in cyberspace requires the invention of a “new persona”—one dimensional, as everything else on the computer screen—that the participant comes to believe is himself or herself. But it is only a representation, severely limited by both technology and self-censorship imposed by the limits to the mind and body that one must acquiesce to in order to be part of the “cyber-revolution.” This is not to say that without the Media’s screens the modern man and woman would not suffer alienations. We are saying, instead, that the Screen calcifies alienation so as to render it unmanageable; an absolute power over Daily Life.
The TV generation lived life vicariously through actors and cartoon heroes on a screen. The cyber-generation, in a new twist, makes the representation of the participant into the hero. But that protagonist is no less alienated from the whole person within than those played by actors and actresses who never meet their audience face-to-face. Because of the shrouded nature of this self-detachment, the cyberprotagonist, in fact, is more alienated.
We’re now faced with an emerging new class of technologically literate individuals who, to attain those skills, have sacrificed large chunks of lived human experience. Media workers, long from the “educated” classes, have never quite been in touch with the public. New technologies have widened this chasm: the individuality once displayed by some Media workers now is roadkill on the Information Highway. The “Free Speech Class” has hardened into a fixed, stationary entity, even while its individual members who staff the omnipresent Media technologies move from job to job. And this over-alienated “cyber caste” now encompasses most members of the news and entertainment media, which has consequences for us all.
VI. Free Speech and Free Speakership
Again, the Media’s members constitute a new “Free Speech Class.” They now have rights that average citizens do not: the First Amendment has thus been selectively rationed.
One need only look at the “protest lottery” held by the city of Chicago last August to determine which groups would be able to peaceably assemble outside the Democratic National Convention to redress their grievances. More tha 60 groups petitioned for rally permits. Only seven were granted, and those by lottery.
One of the central reasons why citizens were so limited in their Free Speech rights is that the city of Chicago was hosting 15,000 members of the news media that week. This elite corps occupied hotel rooms, function halls and significant areas of street and sidewalk outside the convention center. They had press passes and access to the events that average citizens did not.
And yet, the “Free Speech Class” is made up of individuals with less “Free Speakership” than the population as a whole. The Daily Life of a media worker is one of chasing deadlines, with little time to think about the consequences of his and her products, and even less time to enjoy life or stumble onto something NEW: thus, the term “NEWS” has become a hollow shell of what it was in the early days of the First Amendment.
Specialization has also come to plague the Media industry: no journalist or creator can see his or her creations through to unmediated completion. Every writer is subject to editors: the larger the audience, the more editors between the writer’s words and the readers. The same is true for radio hosts, TV reporters and even “new media” workers. This is also the case for entertainers, muscians, visual artists and performers. The trade-off is clear: Free Speakership is traded away in exchange for audience, and a resulting commodification of all words, sounds and images. There is no more “press”—only product.
Journalism is dead as a living art-form. It now generates mere filler for all that remains: the daily advertising assault that keeps the culture obsessed with consumption and production.
The word “Media” is used most effectively in the context of the word “Middlemen.” Our project has already found great success using this technique. the public’s distrust of Middlemen has found more root in language than has its equally-severe distrust of Media. When the public begins to view all Media as the work of Middlemen, a greater receptivity to these ideas generally follows.
In our continued efforts to elude the mistake of creating dogma, we also stress that this use of language, like any other, has limits; there will be some, who will, no doubt, take this aversion to Middlemen to extremes that beg our ridicule. After all, is not the homeless beggar a “Middleman” of sorts between you and the curb? Is not every sentence a mediation? See, no phraseology is perfect or permanent.
And not every mediation equals an imposition (ironically, developing a consciousness of how a thing or person mediates may actually make it more possible to find pleasure in some mediations). The line of demarcation is not fixed; there are as many points of attack as there are events in each individual’s day. But we have enough experience with the strategy of linking Media and Middlemen, and with the tactic of refusing to be mediated in creative endeavors, to feel confident that creative people are quite able to discern the uses appropriate to each’s Daily Life.
IX. Property, Airwaves and Cable
“Freedom of the Press is for those who own one.” This is a much-stated truism of the First Amendment. The continuing consolidation and merger of mass media into fewer and fewer hands of ownership has placed Free Speech far from the public’s ability to practice it.
An immedia project must, of course, address this problem of ownership. We take great inspiration from the “squatters movement” of urban centers in the U.S. and abroad, in which citizens have reclaimed abandoned slums and buildings and rebuilt them for their own housing and creative ventures. Their actions to remove the landlords—the Middlemen of property—have provided us with a glimpse of an immedia tactic that begins to bypass the Middlemen of news and entertainment.
We find it helpful to think of public airwaves as a form of property. Television, radio and satellite transmissions invade the private airspace of everyone. Telephones, the Internet and cable television likewise take advantage of public wiring systems and enjoy considerable infrastructure support from local governments. These are the means of communication and expression in the Mediated Society. They must be democratized, of course, so that all may enjoy comparable access. But as urgently: the grids themselves must be transformed and, in many cases, the more centralized systems destroyed so that none may abuse them again.
We are watching, with great interest, a civil action underway in the 9th Circuit Court of the United States, in which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has fined a pirate radio operator for $2,000. But the FCC has lost on the merits of key motions before the judge, who has indicated a willingness to hear the case on First Amendment grounds. In this case, the pirate radio operators, in essence, “squatted” unused airwave frequencies to reclaim their Free Speech.
We are in close contact and active praxis with the largest such pirate radio project in New York City – 88.7 FM “Steal This Radio” – which hosts more than 30 programs by community artists and groups on the Lower East Side. Despite the high profile of the “Steal This Radio” station since November 1995, the FCC has not moved against the station. We suspect that the agency’s defeats in the 9th Circuit Court have led to this regulatory timidity.
We count among our collaborators attorneys who are researching the legal possibilities for the squatting of unused broadcast frequencies, which lie dormant in every media market in the U.S. and most of the world. Having witnessed the success of New York’s “Steal This Radio” in bringing together disparate groups who otherwise do not meet or talk, we view this project as an immedia laboratory. The station does not answer to advertisers or to media regulators; the participants’ creativity therefore flows unrestrained. A spirit of improvisation has entered the 88.7 FM frequency where silence ruled before.
Last October, the Steal This Radio studios, which, appropriately, are located within a long-term squatted building on the Lower East Side, were remodeled and soundproofed. Live phone lines, for call-ins, have recently been installed, adding the public’s voice to the broadcasts. The station has gone to a six-night-a-week schedule, and will soon broadcast on a “24/7” schedule; ‘round the clock. The audience for the station grows in defiance of the “market niche” limitations that have calcified around commercial and public radio alike. An immedia project will continue our enthusiastic participation in this pirate radio station. We will record its progress, disseminate (and not consolidate) its arsenal of experience toward the launch of additional pirate stations, and to provide context in our mission as a “laboratory of language” as we develop an immedia dialect.
IX. TVTV NEWSNEWS
In the Spring of 1996, some of the principles in an immedia project developed, in Boston, a tactic by which ordinary citizens can begin to shoot back at the Media’s cameras that invade our daily lives.
“TVTV NEWS NEWS,” or “Television News About Television News,” descended upon a particularly “spectacular” political event: The April 8 debate at Fanueil Hall, between U.S. Senate candidates John Kerry and William Weld.
This project began with a question: How would the news media react if the cameras were suddenly turned upon them?
We borrowed a video camera, lights and battery pack from a local cable TV station, secured credentials through collaborators in the working media, and printed our own “press passes” using Polaroid photographs of our crew. (To the extent our effort appeared, at times, to be the work of amateurs, this worked to our advantage by lulling our Mediating enemies into underestimating us, and by demonstrating that any small group can play with this tactic.)
In addition to our “news crew,” another, separate camera (called “TV3”) videotaped the interactions between our news crew and those from commercial television stations, as well as our crew’s interactions with various print and radio reporters who were covering the debate.
The TVTV NEWSNEWS crew also asked members of the public, the candidates (including the Libertarian and Right-to-Life candidates, excluded from the debate), and the operatives for the competing senate campaigns, to comment on how they felt the media was doing its job.
TVTV NEWSNEWS has, subsequently, tested this tactic of SHOOTING BACK at the Media in other theatres-of-operations where the media has invaded.
During these tactical maneuvers, when we noticed a commercial news crew interviewing a source or a bystander, our crew shined its lights upon that interview, and then descended upon that individual immediately afterward, to ask whether they felt they had been treated fairly and whether they had been afforded the opportunity to say what they meant to say.
A few discoveries became obvious to us:
• When members of the news media have cameras aimed at them by the citizenry, they often become overly defensive and exhibit the very same kind of behaviors that they provoke in their unwilling subjects. Some reporters have run from our camera crews. Others have tried to place their hands over the lens, leading to humorous – and gratifying – footage that demonstrated the power of media weaponry when transformed into “immedia weaponry.”
• The vanity of many Media Workers also created an advantage. Some, rather than run from the cameras, acquiesced to interviews, in which they were asked how much (or little) they were being paid and other questions about their own individual roles in the process. Thus, the TVTV NEWSNEWS project succeeded in illuminating the illusory nature of the news media, and thus exposed that its power is also illusory, and available to anyone with a videocam.
• When citizen cameras are aimed at the Media, they cause a clear change in how the Media does its job. Aware that they were being monitored, commercial Media reporters suddenly turned more respectful of their sources. Upon noticing that TVTV NEWSNEWS was asking sources to expound upon their own feelings after having just been interviewed by the press, the commercial reporters turned more solicitous toward the public. Some began asking interviewees “have you said what you wanted to say?,” aware that they themselves were being watched. Interviews became more substantive. The “Heisenberg Principle” surfaced: the act of studying the subject of Media changed the behavior of the group being studied.
When we think about all the public creativity that is currently poured into submissions to a television program like “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” we get a glimpse of the tremendous energy that could be unleashed if the lenses were turned against the Media. Millions of households have a video camera in the closet (and many more have still-cameras, audiotape recorders and computers), awaiting the conversion of these tools into a kind of peaceful weaponry to reclaim the terrain of daily life from those who mediate it.
And when we also consider the impact of the “Rodney King video,” in which a bystander filmed Los Angeles police beating Mr. King, we begin to get a sense about how society could be transformed – if citizens became inspired to actively “shoot back” at the Media (and, in the widest definition of the concept, turned their cameras upon all Mediators, from police and landlords to polluters and corporations.)
Let us not forget how Media’s own language-of-organization reveals Media’s inherent agenda. The television reporter, for example, reports to the “control room,” where the “news” is processed and mediated before it reaches the viewer. The “control room” reports to “master control.” As Danny Schechter (“the news dissector”) has pointed out; “it’s about control.”
Projects such as TVTV NEWSNEWS bypass the Middlemen of the control rooms by destabilizing their “remote control” over reporters in the field. No matter how many electronic beepers, radios or instructions of how to behave “objectively” accompany a commercial TV news crew on the job, the presence of citizen cameras tends to break the scripts and unravel the rules. A dose of theatricality or “secret theater” during such operations can also serve to further dismantle Media’s rules of the field; no one is more gullible than a reporter searching for a “story.”
The tactic of shooting back at the Media has already found us some unexpected conspirators: Of interest is how commercial camera operators and technicians who accompany reporters have repeatedly expressed a sympathy and solidarity with TVTV NEWSNEWS crews, even as their reporters revealed anxiety over having the lenses turned against them; maybe even because of how this tactic knocks reporters off their illusory pedestals.
We are in the process of bringing the TVTV NEWSNEWS project to New York City – the media capital of the world – and continue to develop tactics toward detonating such an immedia insurrection by ordinary citizens. Among our projects: the counterfeiting of “official press passes” which any member of the public may use to turn the tables on the Media.
X. Immedia in Print
Some words about words: We like, as a concept, Hakim Bey’s description of a “hierarchy of Media,” in which mediating technologies are measured by their degrees of alienation. According to this “imaginal scale,” which posits a duality of imagination versus mediation, television and computer screens are more mediating than books or even periodicals, because the consumer is forced into sedentary postion in front of screens just to participate. Radio, conversely, is regarded as less mediating than electronic screens, because the listener is still free to move, to engage in other creative activities, and radio does not, by definition, demand the surrender of eyesight or imagination from the listener.
We also acknowledge that every individual’s “hierarchy of media” may differ; one person’s mediation can be another person’s tool. The current situation is such that one person’s “virtual community,” for all its illusions and mediations, may, in fact, be less alienating than the “actual community” around him and her in Daily Life. However, we don’t buy the technological snake-oil that trumpets the virtual world as therefore real or enough. Such individual exceptions, where one set of alienations are escaped through another, rather, point to what others have called the poverty of everyday life in a Media Age.
And what about this Medium? Pamphlets, letters, books, newspapers and magazines are, at least, non-electronic objects that allow mobility on the part of the reader. However, it must be stressed, this factor alone does not satisfy our desires to reclaim the immediacy of Free Speech. The State of Print Media is one of the “states” we desperately seek to overthrow.
We wish to expose the “state” of “alternative media,” in particular the devolution of “alternative weekly” newspapers and other “alternative media” to their current impotence as creative grids of expression.
We offer this challenge not only to “alternative weeklies,” but to all organizations and networks which claim “alternative” status in the Media (including the “alternative music” market which is currently the rage in the rock-and-roll art form).
To “organizers” and “activists” who believe in seizing, but not destroying, these grids of expression: Let a thousand flowers bloom, but don’t attempt to mediate our revolt. An immedia project does not join “coalitions” of organizations—we work as individuals only and we can strike anywhere. We are weary of meetings, conferences and letterheads that claim the status of “alternative media.” We see marginal difference between the current tyrants and those “outsiders” who wish to replace them, yet without having developed languages, strategies and tactics—or a sense of urgency—to subvert and overturn the Mediating process itself.
All newspapers and magazines that rely on advertising for revenue have fallen into the same trap: the necessity to expand “readership” among “market niches” with expendable cash. The racket at the “alternative” press is identical to that of the “mainstream” press: to rent our attentions to advertisers, while boosting the number of upper-income consumers who subscribe to or read the periodical.
Our counter-vision of print media is severe, and, we are often reminded, threatening to the editorial class that currently controls the presses.
The press, “alternative” and other, places ultimate domain over all written word in the hands of editors, not the writers whose names appear over the stories and articles. We seek to reverse that process, restoring artistic freedom to its rightful place.
The system by which editors mediate the creativity of writers is backwards: a writer ought to have final say over what appears under his and her name. “Refusal of Mediation” in the printed word thus includes refusal to write for editors. This strategy of refusal does not altogether eliminate the techniques (or even the technicians) of editing—rather, it contains the seeds for their resurrection in this way: an editor who acknowledges the writer’s final say over his and her words—and acts to assure the preservation of that Free Speech—will embody the new kind of creativity-friendly editor; the immediator.
We stress that any role of immediator is not something that can be licensed or codified. We use it playfully, in satire of how roles will tend to colonize even efforts against them. Immediating ought to be more like a valued manner of human relations between individuals; collaboration is our substitute for alienating specialization.
But as creative writers know, an incompetent “immediator” can be less useful to a specific project than a competent editor. When it comes to certain literary projects, there may always be a process of figuring out: who can immediate?
We might, for purposes of imagining, envision the dawn of a post-editorial era; a time, perhaps not far away, when literary freedom is aided by technicians of editing and not thwarted by them, by their “styles” or by their formats. Perhaps we might consider borrowing from the less specialized, less alienating, process by which some indigenous tribes recognized certain individuals to be shamans, those proverbial “medicine men,” or, in perhaps the most positive sense of the word, mediums. (Editors, we remind, don’t currently generate such respect for their craft.) The healer’s recognition as such was measured by the effects of his and her deeds; did the patients feel better or not?
Similarly, the immediators of print will be recognized by one factor only; whether writers agree that their actions actually immediated, or facilitated, without overly formatting, our creativity. (Paul Goodman, in his pioneering essay, “Format and Empty Speech,” offered this helpful definition: “By ‘format’ I mean imposing on the literary process a style that is extrinsic to it.”) Anyway, these so-called immediators may be mere fantasy; our current landscape is a techno-Bosnia of over-mediation.
The editorial class is, understandably, reluctant to give up the illusory power it has to mediate and control the works of writers. We do not know of a single major periodical which currently allows any writer unmediated speech. (A crack in this system, which we plot to exploit, is the great expense to publishers whose media organizations have become top-heavy with editorial managers.)
Even the “stars” of journalism are over-mediated eunuchs under the current system, chasing deadlines and consenting to over-mediation in order to be published.
The over-mediation of the written word has also enveloped the book publishing industry—very few writers have won the right to control their own words even in books. Most book authors may not even choose their own titles! That job is left to the marketeers. The reading public must be made more aware of this pervasive censorship-by-format-and-marketing that plagues the entire publishing industry.
Only when a critical mass of writers begins to refuse mediation in publishing ventures will the editorial class begin to consider that a better deal is mandatory.
One possible tactic, under discussion in New York City, is the publication of an “Immediate Press,” a newspaper with no advertising, and where writers and artists retain full editorial control over their creative words. The financial costs of launching such a newspaper on a weekly or calendrical basis are staggering: it may be that creation of a pilot issue or issues is the best short-term tactic we can hope for until greater resources are appropriated for this revolt. (Besides, it suits our pleasure to untie our efforts from the Gregorian knot of measured time and its deadline-driven ideology known as “working for the weekend.” We prefer to speak only when we have something to say.)
Writers must begin to actualize our illusory power of word. We do not have to accept a system by which our words are edited, twisted and transformed to suit the market needs of periodicals. We intend, rather, to emphasize the content of what is written—and to restore its primacy in the editorial process.
We anticipate that the early phases of this strategy-of-refusal will constitute a fiscal hardship for refusers until the point where we reach our “critical mass.” But we writers are behind the curve; our lateness to an immedia revolt necessitates a swifter response. However, the moment that just one major periodical allows just one writer to publish his or her words, unmediated, and to state that victory within the unmediated text, the Berlin Wall of Mediation will begin to crumble. For what self-respecting writer would allow his or her words to be changed if he or she concluded that such compromise was not necessary?
Over-mediation is not a law of nature; it runs counter to the inherent chaos within the natural world.
Writers must understand our true power, unrealized, over the editorial and curatorial classes. These editors and mediators, many of whom wish to be considered “writers” themselves, are very dependent upon their self-image as members of the Media. Their meddling stance is fueled by our acquiescence to their rules-of-mediation; many a writer complains about format, while acting as a doormat. We ought to be kicking down the doors instead.
As writers, we already have the power to expose this fiction: an editor is not a writer. An editor or mediator is not even, necessarily, a creative person, and is not entitled, not even by title, to the illusory status afforded by the public to creative artists. In sum, we are already using our power as writers and creative people to demote the spectacular status of editors and mediators among our colleagues, among creative people in all grids, and among audiences. (We didn’t invent this ‘hierarchy of status’ conferred on writers and artists, nor do we intend to preserve its elitist structure, but we will use it to discredit and demote editorial mediators and curators who traffic in it.)
First we kill the editors! And that kind of guillotine requires a kind of “auto-sacrifice,” or self-revolution, by individual members of the editorial class. The editor who first acknowledges and acts upon this tactic of de-mediating the printed word will, we predict, set off a chain-reaction of immediacy in the field of publishing. That individual, as Thomas Paine wrote of the Winter Soldier, “deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
Power is never handed over; it is taken. We suffer no illusion that editors are eager to give up their mediating power. And so we will go outside the current grids of mediated expression, those governed by technologies of advertising and market niches, to create a literary terrain outside of the Spectacle of mediation. As creative writers build the New Immedia outside of the boundaries of the Old Media, the current structures will feel the loss of our labor. Let us remember that the printed word is suffering from competition by electronic media—the publishing industry faces desperation already: it is weak an vulnerable to our assault.
We will not continue the charade by which the printed word is, under the current rituals of “journalism,” portrayed as more “pure” or romantic than electronic media. Publishing and print journalism are rackets of commodity as much as television or computer Media. But because the written word holds potential as a more immediate form of expression and communication, we view its reclamation as a priority tactic, and as a pragmatic opportunity.
XI. Developing an Immedia Language
We are conscious that an immedia project and our collaborators have much work (and play) ahead of us in order to refine our message, our tactics and our language.
We are also conscious that, to accomplish this, we must resist all situations in which our project could become marginalized, co-opted or otherwise absorbed by our all-pervasive enemy: the Media.
For that reason, we are not looking for “press coverage” for our ventures, except in carefully plotted situations in which we drag the Media onto our turf—the terrain of Daily Life—for the purpose of weakening their illusory power and empowering ourselves and the citizenry to bypass these informational Middlemen.
We view “creative people” as, loosely speaking, an emerging “vanguard” in this process: not merely artists and performers, but anyone who lives in a state of Daily Creativity. (We wish to make a very strong pitch to other intelligences not normally considered by “art movements,” until, say, a plumber is needed to lay the antenna-pipe for a pirate radio station—at that moment, it is the plumber, not the artiste, who dances a ballet of violence upon the State.)
We don’t appoint ourselves as leaders of a fixed vanguard. We don’t view that as desirable or possible. We do observe, though, that creative people are those who, in greatest numbers, have arrived at some of the same conclusions we have as to the harmful nature of the modern Media.
This should not come as a surprise: creative people are among the most frustrated by over-mediation; by the inability of any individual in the “Media Age” to see a creative project through to completion without becoming dependent upon Middlemen.
As such, an immedia project picks up—and reignites—the embers of a torch left lying by the sigma project launched in 1964, spearheaded by the novelist Alexander Trocchi.
Trochi envisioned “An Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds,” and, as such, was a key strategist in both the Beat literary movement and the Situationist International.
Trocchi, in 1962, grasped the problem of Media early on, when he wrote:
“...our anonymous million can focus their attention on the problem of “leisure.” A great deal of what is pompously called ‘juvenile delinquency’ is the inarticulate response of youth incapable of coming to terms with leisure. The violence associated with it is a direct consequence of the alienation of man from himself brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Man has forgotten how to play. And if one thinks of the soulless tasks accorded each man in the industrial milieu, of the fact that education has become increasingly technological, and for the ordinary man no more than a means of fitting him for a ‘job,’ one can hardly be surprised that man is lost. He is almost afraid of more leisure. He demands ‘overtime’ and has a latent hostility towards automation. His creativity stunted, he is orientated outwards entirely. He has to be amused. The forms that dominate his working life are carried over into leisure which becomes more and more mechanised; thus he is equipped with machines to contend with leisure which machines have afforded him. And to offset all this, to alleviate the psychological wear and tear of our technological age, there is, in a word, ENTERTAINMENT.
“When our man after the day’s work comes twitching, tired, off the assembly-line into what are called without a shred of irony his ‘leisure hours,’ with what is he confronted? In the bus on the way home he reads a newspaper which is identical to yesterday’s newspaper, in the sense that it is a reshake of identical elements… four murders, thirteen disasters, two revolutions, and ‘something approaching a rape’...which in turn is identical to the newspaper of the day before that…three murders, nineteen disasters, one counter-revolution, and something approaching an abomination…and unless he is a very exceptional man, one of our million potential technicians, the vicarious pleasure he derives from paddling in all this violence and disorder obscures him from the fact that there is nothing new in all this ‘news’ and that his daily perusal of it leads not to a widening of his consciousness of reality but to a dangerous contraction of his consciousness, to a species of mental process that has more in common with the salivations of Pavlov’s dogs than with the subtleties of human intelligence.”
Trocchi envisioned (and indeed, his vision was, to some degree, carried out by the Beats, the American counterculture and the European Situationists of his era) that the enlistment of “creative people” into a kind of vanguard leads to a seizing—and a corresponding freeing—of the “grids of expression.” His sigma project, still unknown to many, constituted a secret history behind the revolts of the 1950s and 1960s.
But by the late ‘60s, countercultural and “revolutionary” efforts had largely been co-opted or marginalized by Madison Avenue and its corporate sponsors. Coca-cola taught the world to sing jingles, and the Media began to absorb all revolt into what Raoul Vaneigem labels “spurious opposition”—oppostion that ends up fueling the very levers of power it set out to oppose.
However, the experience of Trocchi’s sigma project, his “invisible insurrection,” is valuable to our current undertaking. We view the creative people of today as similarly alienated, like Trocchi’s contemporaries in the arts of his time. Trocchi, too, borrowed from past efforts by his predecessors: “In the 1920s,” he wrote, “Diaghilev, Picasso, Stravinski and Nijinski acted in concert to produce a ballet; surely it does not strain our credulity to imagine a far larger group of our contemporaries acting in concert….”
An immedia project has spent the Summer and Autumn of 1996 conducting a kind of “anti-market research” to gauge the level of alienation, and the potential for action, among modern creative artists. We have found, to our pleasure, many like minds, especially among some accomplishing talents in the rock-and-roll, performance and visual arts, literary, poetic and “activist” communities (such as Steal This Radio’s participants). There is a yearning for something to happen, and yet the idea that something—can be made to happen, struggles against the cynicism and apathy of our era.
We’re not sure, but it may be the case that all that is needed to detonate an explosion of autonomous actions that are immediate—in the truest sense of the word—requires simply the development and refinement of a language that can be used to oppose Media, including the successful implementation of the kinds of tactics employed by TVTV NEWSNEWS, pirate radio and other projects. At very least, these strategies and tactics inform our practices in ways that place our fire closer to the cultural fuse.
To that end, the most urgent task before us is to secure a space in New York City from which to launch the next phase of this effort.
XI. An Immedia Salon
“The dinner party…in which all structure of authority dissolves in conviviality and celebration…is already ‘the seed of the new society taking shape within the old’... Whether open to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants…the party is always ‘open’ because it is not ‘ordered’; it may be planned, but unless it ‘happens’ it’s a failure. The element of spontaneity is crucial…The essence of the party: face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss—in short, a ‘union of egoists’ (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form—or else, in Kropotkin’s terms, a basic biological drive to ‘mutual aid.’”
Temporary Autonomous Zone
(1991, Autonomedia Press)
Like any aspiring change-agent, we are concerned with the problem of organization. Because, in the technological age, all known forms of organization become so easily absorbed and co-opted, the problem of organization is just that; a problem.
The problem is compounded by the understandable reluctance of creative people to “join” any group or movement. In an era when the individual is so under attack, creative people don’t wish to subjugate their autonomy to groups. Anyone who has spent any time at all with creative artists knows well the rampant individualism of this “vanguard.” Creative people don’t like to attend “meetings,” debate motions or engage in group-process. Many creative artists, for example, are cigarette smokers, and meetings of activist groups are almost always anti-smoker. That’s only one of the more visible obstacles to participation by creative people.
Meetings make their participants tired and more alienated, and have led to a kind of “sedentary activism” where the mind soon calcifies with the body. Meetings have become the death of social movements: the talkers attend, and the doers avoid them; eventually a rift develops between the talkers and the doers, and the group “leaders” are soon without active constituents.
Membership and mailing lists do not make a successful insurrection. Only creativity, unleashed, wins the prize.
In the Spring of 1996, some of our principals participated in an interesting project in the City of Boston: a weekly dinner party/salon, on Tuesday nights, in a Chinatown loft of artist Lydia Eccles (who, along with the other participants, and the projects undertaken, informed the currents in this pamphlet).
These events were by-and-large attended by artists and creative people who saw a necessity for a new kind of political praxis; not the standard effort of political activists to use “art,” but the opposite (“artists” who felt a need for radical praxis), which proved a more potent force. The “Tuesday Salon” was never a meeting: no votes were taken, no decision-making process was necessary.
On many of these Tuesday nights, individual artists and creative activists would offer presentations on their current projects—in street theater, media pranks, public art, music, billboards, “zines,” internet web sites and other alternative communications—toward a variety of concerns: creative resistance to technology, global overpopulation, destruction of the natural environment, AIDS, and the bursting of the overall political illusion.
On others of these Tuesday nights, no presentation at all occurred. People simply came together to celebrate, discuss, refine and plot new tactics.
The conversations increasingly circled around the subject of Media, and the problems Mediation causes for change-agents and artists alike. From this “salon,” TVTV NEWSNEWS was born, as well as other worthy projects.
The formula was simple. A meal was provided, free of charge, typically rice and some kind of stew. Some struggling artists would arrive, we suspected, hungry for the free meal. Others would bring salads, deserts, coffee, beer, in pot-luck fashion. The sessions were always well-attended by a core group of a dozen individuals and a rotating participation by dozens more; typically, a couple dozen would attend. Discussions would often go hours into the early morning; a sense of excitement prevailed, and creativity was offered the situation in which it could cross-pollinate and thrive.
New York City’s Lower East Side and East Village neighborhoods have long been a kind of “zeitgeist factory” for the overall culture: this, having to do with its geography as a home to creative artists and to the many immigrant cultures that come to the United States through this neighborhood.
The conditions in New York for the kind of “dinner party/salon” we envision could not be more optimal—if and only if a space can be secured to conduct and refine this experiment.
Our quest for space may be realized any number of ways: through the donation of a venue or the resources to rent one; or when someone who shares our aims steps forward to volunteer a pre-existing space that suits such a project. Ideally, we seek about 1,200-1,500 square feet in the Lower East Side (this pamphlet is only secondarily an appeal for financial or edificial resources; our primary pitch is to the creativity of individuals—without creativity, a headquarters of any size becomes a mausoleum). Of course, we’‘e flexible in our spatial aspiration: we’re well-used to making do with whatever resources present themselves. An immedia project doesn’t wait for any cavalry, nor for anyone’s permission to proceed.
We feel it is of utmost importance that our weekly session avoid all the trappings of meetings and organization. We do not wish to mediate the individual revolutions of any participant: the whole miserable concept of “meetings” fosters a sense of entitlement (and unpleasantness) among some “activists” who can’t quickly evolve beyond a politbureaucratic mindset. Rather, we wish to claim a common ground where tactics can be joined and improved in ad hocformations. For this reason, a “public hall” or commercial dining space will not do: the dinner party must have the ambiance of a home (with the hosts’ corresponding prerogative to disinvite guests who are, disruptively, no fun).
New York also affords us the opportunity to bring many of the world’s great philosophers and creative thinkers to the table. Many who do not actually live in New York tend to visit here with some regularity. An Immedia project would thus serve as an informal but international center. This space, once secured, would be used on other days or nights for the carrying-out of specific projects that emerge from the salon’s ambient mix of talents.
For the past six months, a few of us have been cultivating the creative and artistic and “activist” communities in New York, testing and exploring the ideas set out in this memorandum. We have found an overwhelmingly receptive mood among our target group, our so-called “vanguard,” or, better yet, an elusive, nomadic “front of luxury” (as amended by Sylvere Lotringer). Our emergence into a front may be guided by our luxurious poverties and lavish debts, but we like the elegance of the term nonetheless.
There is great interest among the creative, crossing over many grids of expression, to attend such weekly salons (of course, some of us have been dining and plotting together already). Many authors, entertainers, artists and musicians have already expressed their eagerness to participate, both by offering presentations, and by bringing dessert. In this sense, we are not proposing anything all that new: throughout modern history, circles of creative agents have coalesced in social settings from Paris to London to Amsterdam to San Francisco to New York to Mexico City to Tangiers, and, through their actions, have asserted a profound impact on the larger culture.
But what has never occurred is an effort, focused like ours, to bring such talent to bear on the question of Media and its discontents. Nor, to our knowledge, has any similar alliance of individuals ever attempted, consciously, to develop a language of opposition to Media.
What lies before us is potential, and a grand form at that: the possibility for a truly transformative project that builds upon past innovations to create something new, an event that has never been attempted or accomplished; a revolution against Media, Mediation and Middlemen, that grapples with the unique challenges of the technological age. The reader who finds common ground with these ideas will already know what to do.
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