Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is An Online Mutiny Not Mutinous Enough?

Today I had the chance to meet Holly Hughes, making this the third of the infamous NEA Four I've met in person. (Memo to John Fleck: wanna do lunch?)

Hughes gave a talk about performance art as a political act, which evolved into a group discussion of the state of activism in the US.

One of the older faculty members made the following comment: "No one wants to be a public activist anymore. Everyone goes online and does these clicky-clicky things, but that's anonymous and impersonal. No one's willing to go out there and be an activist in their body, and take that public risk in front of everyone."

Immediately I responded that these online "clicky-clicky things" had perhaps spurred more political change in the past few years than any physical act; the internet brought down George Allen, Dan Rather, and Rick Santorum, just to name a few. The internet revealed the true horrors of the Saddam Hussein execution. As soon as the Clinton campaign "leaked" pictures of Obama in "his native clothing," the internet was there to call bullshit.

Another faculty member said "But it's not activism if you're online doing it anonymously. To be truly political, you have to put your name and your face and your body out there."

It soon became a split discussion. The "young people" argued that online activity has done plenty to further political and social change (where would Obama be without the internet?), and that the impersonality of a laptop was more than overcome by the connectivity of an online group. The anonymity of the internet also afforded those of us who might be unable to participate politically "in the body" (we're all worried about employers finding out, after all) to take part under an assumed identity -- an identity which, online, became as public as one's real name.

And the "older people" told us to stop dinking around on the internet and go out there and march, even if it meant losing our jobs or getting sprayed with tear gas.

The trouble, I think, is that the internet generation has seen marches. People have been marching on Washington since the beginning of the Iraq War (that'd be five years now), and nothing has changed. We saw Cindy Sheehan protest, physically, outside of GWB's ranch... for three years.

We've also seen people who try to politicalize the physical get fired, get tased, and -- in some cases -- get detained "indefinitely." As students, we could be expelled for protesting the building of a parking garage, or see our politically-themed play canceled (with the administration asking us to saw all of our prop guns "in half," lest someone go into the prop shop and use a whole prop gun to threaten someone).

But we can put an anonymous video online and watch it go viral, we can bring down a candidacy while posting entirely under avatars, and we can organize everything from flash mobs to bone marrow registry drives.

Okay, okay, I know those last two involve physical actions. ^__^ But the moral of the story is this: perhaps we don't feel the need to put our bodies on the line because we have the capability to put the truth online.

And the truth will set us free.

6 comments:

Indianoguy said...

I sort of agree with your faculty members. I think Online activism is over rated. Take the case of Ron Paul's presidential bid, it got him no where. The internet generation (along with generations X and Y) have been mostly apathetic and thats one of the reasons the Anti-War and Pro-immigrant movements failed to muster enough support.

DesiDude said...

Saw this and thought of you: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/2008/01/23/20-being-an-expert-on-your-culture/

DesiDude said...

Sorry try that again:
Stuff White People Like

Shripriya said...

The biggest issue I see relates to this paragraph - "We've also seen people who try to politicalize the physical get fired, get tased, and -- in some cases -- get detained "indefinitely."...

That paragraph talks about a severe decrease in civil liberties. And instead of taking that on, our generation has chosen to hide anonymously and online.

I'm all for online activism if we believe that it will have more of an impact. But not because we live in a society where we fear offline activism...

Blue said...

One of the faculty at the discussion argued that physical protests in the US died (literally, unfortunately) with Kent State.

As for hiding behind anonymity, it'll be interesting to see what we start doing after "anonymous" no longer means "anonymous" online... at my university, for example, they were able to identify a student who hacked into the university email system and sent threatening emails to the entire student/faculty/staff body... and they did this even though he used a public, non-university computer.

Long story short, I'm imagining ISP tracking and the like will soon become standard, and someone somewhere (Google? Facebook? the gov't?) will start keeping a record of who makes what comment online, and who has what avatar name...

And really, if you think about it, that's already happened. People have been fired from their jobs because they were connected to specific "anonymous" blogs or "anonymous" avatars.

So then where do we go to protest?

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