One Two Three Four: What in the hell are they fighting for?

04Oct11

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to gather steam and spread beyond the Big Apple into several other cities, the criticisms it has received from some mainstream media for “lacking a central voice” or “vagueness” concerning its overall message are starting to sound trite and frankly a bit silly. And that comes from someone who for 18 years was part of that same mainstream media.

We’re nearly a dozen years into the 21st century, folks. It’s the digital age. The age of social media. By chance, did you get a gander at the protests that ousted governments in Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year? Perhaps you heard about similar uprisings in more than a dozen other nations as well? Where was the “central voice” in these protests?

With the possible exception of Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni or Google executive Wael Ghonim in Egypt – both of whom have who downplayed their respective roles – such protest movements and others like them are increasingly less about charismatic leaders who are rallied behind and more about the networking power of near-instant communication and its ability to mobilize hundreds of people with like minds. They no longer require union bosses, consumer advocates, name-brand activists – so-called “central voices” – to hold the bullhorn. Modern protesters now have the resources and wherewithal to take this upon themselves.

As for the “vagueness” of the message, I can go a little easier on my journalistic brethren. Unless they are ardent students of economic history, they probably lacked the perspective provided by Terry Flew, who borrowed outlooks from a few of history’s better known economists in an effort to explain the forces that influence new media policy.

Through benefit of these readings, it requires little imagination to figure out that many of these protesters are victims of what Joseph Schumpeter described as “creative destruction.” As Wall Street [and the various industries funded by its institutional investors] attempts a cycle of renewed economic growth following the financial collapse of 2008, the aftereffects – of which Schumpeter was aware – “undercuts cherished human values.” By promoting the individualism of institutions that are “too big to fail,” the casualties are “social relations of trust and reciprocity.” And of course, there are the views of Karl Marx, whose well-known critiques of capitalism warn of exploitation associated with “relentless capital accumulation” and the treatment of human labor as a commodity in which “the devaluation of the human world increases in direct relation to the increase of value of the world of things [p. 60-61].

How does all of this relate to media organizations and new media policy? It’s not that big a leap. Flew noted that an unexpected result of capitalistic criticisms in the 1960s was the rise of discourse in capitalist management and public policy that sought to harness participation, creativity, and individual autonomy for economic ends. Yet at the same time, the rise of internet and digital media has – as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development describes it – led to the “democratization of media production” and changes in the nature of communication and social relationships characterized as “the rise of the amateurs.”

Which brings us back to the Occupy Wall Street movement. On one end, the so-called “amateurs” – with the aid of democratized media production – demand accountability from financial institutions they blame for America’s [and their own] plight. On the other, those same institutions find themselves trying to build anew to regain lost prosperity, yet in the process marginalize many of those who may or may not assist such efforts by treating them as commodities.

In short, this standoff is a microcosm of the struggles that – unless some innovative approaches are taken – may lie ahead for cultural and creative industries as governments and other institutions shape policies and regulation to capitalize on economies that are increasingly knowledge-based. The following links offer a bit more perspective:

http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/10/03/on-wall-street-a-protest-matures/

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp=44764697&#44764697

 — Bill W. Hornaday

 

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