Tag Archives: Internet

Occupier + current system + social media = ?

20 May 2012: The police crack down pretty hard on the Occupiers in Chicago today during their Anti-NATO protest.

I found this photograph moving around Facebook and I thought I’d post it.  I thought the Occupy protests were winding down, but based on this chaos, I’d say I was quite off the mark.

The focal point of the image is the young man guarding himself against a police officer, as well as on the overwhelmed and scared woman with the camera.  I feel like this image represents three main elements of the entire Occupy movement really well.

The young man represents the generic Occupier: the recent college graduate, possibly a hipster, who feels the need to stand out against the current regime and say that he doesn’t approve of the current status quo.  His hands are up to shield himself against the night stick, but the look on his face isn’t necessarily one of fear.  There is determination there, a confidence that comes out if you stare a little longer at him, and you can see that he isn’t just going to defend himself against the police officer, he is willing to take him on.

The police officer is not only representative of police presence and the issues that have come out of that during Occupy, but the illustration of faulty government itself.  The police are supposed to protect citizens, just as the government is supposed to benefit the people, but clearly the police were not protecting anyone but themselves in Chicago today, and clearly the system is not working for the governed because groups like the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers exist.

Finally, the woman with the camera represents media, more specifically social media.  Before social media took off, people heard about things like this through news articles or segments done by professionals.  Ideally, the news is supposed to be unbiased but it rarely is.  Now, with social media, people who were actually there in the moment can show their own evidence to anyone they want at lightning speed for free.  With these kinds of resources, the moments like this will always be available to the public and the truth will never be forgotten.

The Occupier, the current system and social media. Put them all together and what do you get?  Based on this photo, a real Charlie Foxtrot.



Far from Kent State: The UC Davis Pepper Sprayings through a Lens of Technological and Cultural History

One of many videos from the scene: this one shows Lt. John Pike stepping over the protesters and includes a second cop deploying pepper spray.

On the afternoon of November 18, 2011, a group of peacefully-assembled Occupy student protesters were pepper-sprayed directly in their faces. Onlookers recorded this police action with their cell phones, uploading image and text updates to the internet. As the images spread, commentators both in and out of the mainstream media began comparing the event to the Kent State shootings of 1970 (Kennicott). This is in part because “protest images that become iconic show us faces in anguish” (Judkis), and arguably in part because of how the images and news were disseminated.

A sample news report on the Kent State shootings.

While the Kent State shootings did see coverage as soon as the night of and the day after, both on television and in the newspapers (which is where John Filo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph was disseminated), those mediums are still not as immediate and personal as the internet. After Louise Macabitas’s photograph of Lt. Pike using the spray was posted on Reddit, meme versions of the image arose and quickly proliferated (Jardin). The institution of UC Davis faced protests in response to the incident, which is where most of the backlash seems to have been concentrated outside of the internet, and various already-existing Occupy sites expressed solidarity; after the Kent State shootings, not only were there student protests across the United States but there was a large protest in Washington, DC less than a week later (Doyle).

The Kent State/Cambodia Incursion protest in DC – around 100,000 attended.

The comparative lack of nationwide, in-person turnout after the UC Davis incident would seem to support Gladwell’s position that the “weak ties” of the internet do not often lead to “high risk” activism. However, it could be argued that the lack is due in part to there being no fatality and, by extension, less emotional impact. Either way, because there is no period so remote as the recent past, it is still difficult to accurately gauge whether the UC Davis incident has had an outsize cultural impact. Creating imagery that is then made indelible through both common media and memes is one thing; being a catalyst for significant change is something else entirely.

(Food for thought, or for the “arts in the movement” bloggers among our colleagues: had the photograph of Dorli Rainey, discussed by Jardin, not been superseded by the UC Davis imagery, could the discourse around OWS be different today? Why was it superseded in the first place?)


Linkage Does More than Complicate Meaning

In “Toward a Hyperphotography” Fred Richin discusses the Cubist nature of internet images. Internet allows for a unique opportunity to piece information together by linking websites and images. He argues that this cubistic quality of  internet imagery complicates viewers’ understanding of images by adding additional information that can subvert or complicate their original purpose.

Richin only touches upon one of the qualities  linkage. With the example of an image found while searching “occupy wall street art” in google search, one discovers that this cubism goes further to help a movement and to promote individual success.

by Guy Denning

This image by Guy Denning comes up on the google image search. On this post he is described as  “Guy Denning Homeless Artist From Occupy Wall Street” The website from which this image comes offers a link to another. This new website offers the story of Denning, a self-taught artist who participated in the Occupy movement and illustrated some of its imagery. More linking exists and the information about Denning and the Occupy movement proliferates.

A link to Dennings’s youtube account provides videos of his process. He has 91,571 video views (and counting). One can purchase his artworks through another link to his website.

The benefits of such linkage work both ways. Those interested in his approach to art might become interested in OWS, thus helping the movement. Those interested in OWS might become more interested in his art, therefore helping the artist.

This example shows that image linkage promotes the success of individuals and interest in OWS while complicating meaning simultaneously.

see:  Ritchin, Fred. “Toward a Hyperphotography,” After&Photography. W.W. Norton & Company, New York: 2009.

Social Media: Just a New Tool for the Movement

Social Media has played a vital role in the transfer of information for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. However, from what I can see, I do not believe that without the technology, the message would not have spread as much or as far as it has. I believe social media just provides a new outlet for communication that would have occurred, regardless of the technology’s existence.

This is supported in Gladwell’s New Yorker article. He speaks of an incredible Civil Rights sit-in that spread across state lines in the 1960s and highlights how this was able to happen without any of today’s technology to help get the word out. Yes, social media sites make “it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concern,” but if they were not around, the cause would still be very much alive (Gladwell).

Now, I would not agree with everything Gladwell stated about the impact of social media on movements. In Brandzel’s article in The Nation, he points out many areas of interest, such as strong ties verses weak ties, where Gladwell seems to miss the change social media has on interpersonal relationships; Gladwell underestimates the strength of the ties people create and nurture with the help of social media sites. Nevertheless, it almost furthers the idea that social media does not add much more to movements besides acting as another tool for communication.

Even with this technology, sometimes the message still gets mixed up. Occupy Wall Street’s call to action, posted on their Tumblr and Blogger, is very well-written, but what is the movement really protesting? The four-page-long letter to the world continues to state that there is injustice in America, but it never directly highlights actual, specific instances of injustice or reasons people should take part in the movement. Without a strong message, no one will know what to support, and in effect, nothing will change. Today, that is exactly what has happened. Everyone heard about the movement, but no one knows for what they are fighting, not even the movement’s spokespeople.

Personally, I first heard about the Occupy Wall Street Movement by word of mouth and continued to retrieve information about it through the news and through conversations with knowledgeable people. After exploring through different social media sites, I can still say that I have gained a clearer and more in-depth message about the movement through those pre-social-media techniques than I have on any social media site, including the movement’s official sites. I am an artifact showing that social media is indeed just a tool of the cause, and not an innovation.