I have found myself, along with many other people, incredibly frustrated by the media portrayal of the occupy protestors across the globe as ‘rebels without a clue’ because they’re not proposing soundbite solutions. It just smacks of entirely missing the point – that the protestors are expressing discontentment and anger at the injustice of the poor being made more vulnerable along side the irresponsible and unregulated banks rewarding themselves for the exact same behaviour that got the global economy in this mess in the first place. This is not a “what do we want… when do we want it…?” type of protest.
Pundits can’t cope with this kind of complexity, as this piece articulates so well.
The mass media’s inability to understand or report on the Occupy protests reminded me of Clay Shirky’s TED talk about social media bypassing the censorship of oppressive regimes. Although most of the Occupy protest camps are in democratic and relatively affluent areas of the world – although not all, check out this map - there is a sense that the censorship that filters what is reported about these protests is more insiduous.
By which I mean, the media doesn’t restrict reporting of it, it just filters it through the lens of the prevalent worldview that unless you have something to sell to people – a soundbite message or a bar of chocolate or a party-political view or an insurance product or whatever – you can be dismissed as a crank. If the medium is the message, then TV, newspapers and radio, as Shirky points out, is perfectly designed for selling the views of one set of people by broadcasting their message to everyone else, with no comeback, no dialogue, no disagreement. The 1% imposing on the 99%, to utilise a topical phrase.
Occupy is born out of a completely different worldview – one that is inherently suspicious of anything that does not involve immediate participation and feedback. This is hardly surprising when we have spent our whole lives being sold something, being imposed upon by people of privilege and power who had access to a microphone or a mass printer or a pulpit, and we have come to know that our true selves, the integrity of our experiences and, crucially, not just our own experiences but those of other people which we share via social media, are not to be found in the booming or shrill or bitching or cajoling or sneering or patronising voice of the mass media.
Media people are sneering because the protest are ‘just a few tents’ rather than demos of thousands of people, or a well-funded advertising campaign. The analogy of twitter springs instantly to mind – a tweet is by its very nature small and yet it can be distributed and retweeted across the world in minutes. Which if I visualise it, looks a lot like that map of the protest camps “springing up” around the world. The protestors don’t want a mass message, they don’t *need* one, and sneering at them because of this is like ridiculing a French person for not speaking Danish. They have a different language, and different culture and worldview, that means that they understand the world can be changed one tweet, or one tent, at a time…