Section C of... The Medium is The Middleman For a Revolution Against Media First Published January 1, 1997 With June 2002 Updated Author's Notes
Today, we publish the first of... 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" 11). 12
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 14, 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. 15
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.
Updated Author's Notes in June 2002 General Notes:
11. The stated disillusionment with the "alternative press" was not resolved, for me, until 1999, when I met Mario Menéndez Rodríguez (my eventual co-defendant in the Drug War on Trial Case) and listened to his ideas (and studied how he put his theories into practice) on "periodismo auténtico" or "authentic journalism." Menéndez provided a very important missing link in this evolving chain of thought and action. The term "authentic journalism" is now a media virus, and so that it does not mutate too far from its source, I'll share a concise definition Menéndez gave to a visitor and collaborator with our project who I brought earlier tonight (June 12, 2002) to meet Mario in Mérida, Yucatán. Asked to define "Authentic Journalism" he said: "First, we gather the people together to identify their problems in their own words, and the newspaper gives public voice to those words. Second, we gather the people, all the people, the very same people together to determine what are the solutions to those problems, big and small, and the newspaper gives voice to those solutions. And Third, we gather the people together to force the authorities to either solve or get out of the way of the solutions the people want, and the newspaper is on the side of the people in that struggle to the ultimate consequences."
12. "But that's not objective journalism," is the kneejerk reaction by some media professionals who haven't thought this through at all. I would venture to say that Menéndez's view is more "objective," because it establishes clearly and exactly who decides what is the objective, or, "the greater truth made by the discussion by all the public with its many truths." After all, who has more moral authority to determine what is "objective" truth? One reporter, one editor, one stylebook, and one owner or class of owners lording above the operation? (Do they really believe that crap on 43rd Street?) Or, the synthesis of all the "truths" by the many into that greater truth? There's nothing "alternative" about this process. It's kind of traditional, even "old school." In any case, always hundreds, and often thousands (often entire towns!) show up every time Menéndez, the publisher of Mexico's third largest daily newspaper, Por Esto!, calls one of his regular assemblies of readers in the towns throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. They come knowing that whatever they have to say about their local or individual or national or international problems and solutions will be published in the region's dominant newspaper. Having seen this process with my own eyes, the enthusiasm and investment that the Masses feel for "their" ("our") daily newspaper - so opposite the cynical weariness with which the public rightly holds newspapers in all of North America - I had to reconsider and change my mind about a statement I made later in this 1997 document: "Journalism is dead as a living art form." Mario, and the public he has "gathered together," proved me wrong. As a result, the 11-year-old Por Esto! is the fastest growing daily newspaper in all América at the very hour when circulation for almost every other newspaper is either stagnant or in decline. Even by the capitalist invoked standared of "market share," the people of the Yucatán and their newspaper have beat the capitalists with solutions that are not.
13. The text about "military organizations" as "not necessarily" being part and parcel of "the State" borrows, in part, from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari analyzing the histories of "war machines outside the state," and also the work of Paul Virilio on the concept of "Pure War". Venezuela has turned previous models and assumptions on their head: Although certain military brass carried out the attempted coup d'etat in Venezuela, it was the mass of rank-and-file soldiers (again, the majority of them poor, think "class struggle") who reversed the coup together with the masses of the poor who "came down from the hills" (see Three Days that Shook the Media for the immediate history of these events)
14. I beg the kind reader's indulgence to re-read these sentences in the context of pondering the attempted coup in Venezuela: "History is rife with examples of how military organizations have engaged in coup d'etat, whereas the specialized bureaucracy of domination supplants the state. The media is likewise an occupying force, not merely over land and institutions, but as a techno-army that colonizes human consciousness..."
15. There is no dispute that in the attempted coup in Venezuela, the commercial media assumed a role that historically had been the realm of military organizations. They must now be dealt with as such. And that will require an increasingly guerrilla strategy (and Che Guevara level of commitment willing to take it to the ultimate consequences) by the opponents of tyranny.
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