Thinking loudly about networked beings. Commonist. Projektionsfläche. License: CC-BY
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The Six Kinds of Republican

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Transcript of cartoon:

CAPTION AT THE TOP OF CARTOON: The Six Kinds of Republican

Panel 1
CAPTION: 1. Overt Racists
IMAGE: A natty white man, with a shaved head and a pinstripe vest, is standing on a sidewalk talking directly at the viewer with an intense expression.
NATTY MAN: Obviously white people are better at civilization. That’s why we need to stop Blacks from voting.

Panel 2
CAPTION: 2. Strategic Racists
IMAGE: Same scene as panel one, but now an older, successful-looking white man, in a jacket and tie, has entered and is talking to the Natty Man, putting one hand on the Natty Man’s shoulder.
OLDER MAN: No, my friend! We have to stop Democrats from voting. But most Blacks vote Democrat, so we’ll find some excuse to keep the Blacks from voting.

Panel 3
CAPTION: 3. Enabler Racists
IMAGE: We are looking closely at the screen of a smartphone, being held by a hand. On the screen, a well-dressed white woman with a straight haircut is talking.
PUNDIT LADY: Voter I.D. laws don’t literally say “we hate Black people.” It’s unfair to call them racist!

Panel 4
CAPTION: 4. Pragmatic Racists
IMAGE: A suburban-looking white couple stands in front of a two-story house. The man is holding a baby.
MAN: Maybe voter I.D. laws do suppress the Black vote.
WOMAN: But we’re white, so that’s not a deal-breaker.

Panel 5
CAPTION: 5. Willing Dupe Racists
IMAGE: Two young white men are talking. One, with a chinstrap beard and a plaid shirt, is waving his arms and has an angry expression. The other, with neatly combed hair, a t-shirt, and a lecturing expression, has his arms folded.
PLAID SHIRT: In what way is systematically making it harder for Black voters to vote “racist”? (Stop playing the race card!)
T-SHIRT: We need I.D. laws because millions of “illegals” are voting! (But you’ll never see that reported by the lamestream media!)

Panel 6
CAPTION: Not Racist
IMAGE: A blank white panel, other than a caption in the middle of it.
CAPTION: (No example found)

Little “kicker” panel at the bottom
The plaid shirt guy from panel 5 is angrily gesturing.
PLAID SHIRT: This cartoon is why Trump won!

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4 days ago
Six kinds of republican (could be applied with small changes to Germany)
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Reaching the Moral High Ground and Finding It Barren

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Milo Yiannopoulos tried to speak at the UC–Berkeley campus a few weeks ago and the residents and students stopped him. The Berkeley News reported that, “no major injuries and about a half dozen minor injuries” occurred, a few fires were set, and fireworks were aimed at police. That’s less property damage and violence than a particularly popular World Series game. Still though, many people are not convinced that what happened was productive. In fact, many are questioning whether this is another kind of headfake that will ultimately come back to haunt us. Protest that does anything more than gather people together to chant and hold signs, could add fuel to the growing nazi fire.

The effective-protest-is-not-actually-good-but-in-fact-is-bad line of reasoning is best articulated in Thursday’s Observer article by Ryan Holiday where he writes:

Most brands and personalities try to appeal to a wide swath of the population. Niche players and polarizing personalities are only ever going to be interesting to a small subgroup. While this might seem like a disadvantage, it’s actually a huge opportunity: Because it allows them to leverage the dismissals, anger, mockery, and contempt of the population at large as proof of their credibility. Someone like Milo or Mike Cernovich doesn’t care that you hate them—they like it. It’s proof to their followers that they are doing something subversive and meaningful. It gives their followers something to talk about. It imbues the whole movement with a sense of urgency and action—it creates purpose and meaning.

Holiday knows what he is talking about. His book Trust Me I’m Lying lays out the tactics that got rape culture media artifacts like Tucker Max’s book and movie into the national spotlight. By taking out highly offensive ads (e.g. rape jokes about blind women) and then participating in the coverage of the ensuing controversy, a “niche player” like Max can not only get loyal fans, they can find every single one of them thanks to all of the media attention. Holiday contends giving away his tricks by publishing Trust Me I’m Lying was necessary because “others might soon use them to sell something more nefarious.”

It is difficult to get past the fact that liberals are earnestly and completely believing (and sharing!) an essay prescribing protest techniques in the Observer, a magazine owned by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. Still though, let’s take this professional media manipulator at his word (for some reason, everyone else is doing it) and look at where it takes us.

Holiday argues that, “The last thing you ever want to do is give an opponent the moral high ground—and attempts to suppress, intimidate and revoke constitutional rights do exactly that.” He goes on:

If you actually want to fight back against these trolls, here’s a strategy to consider: Organize all you want, get as many people as you can to show up at their events, but don’t try to shut them down. In fact, the only thing you should try to shut down are the instigators who try to incite violence. Regain the moral high ground by saying that you absolutely respect their right to free speech.

This is nonsense for three reasons. First, this is precisely what the mainstream left has been doing for 30 years with little-to-no-success. The single largest day of peaceful protest in world history wasn’t enough to prevent the War in Iraq. The “when they go low you go high” tactic of the 2016 campaign doesn’t seem to have convinced anyone of anything either. The so-called moral high ground was no use then, and it is far from useful now. If the secret to political success was polite protest then Democrats would not be the minority in governors’ mansions, Congress, and (soon) the Supreme Court.

Second, Holiday’s formulation misses the content of Milo’s talk and its direct consequences. Milo sought to name undocumented students and call for their expulsion through legal and extralegal means. Such an action seems far more violent than burning trash cans and fireworks aimed at well-armored police. Holiday is trying to compare an (admittedly disgusting) movie and book to Milo’s campaign to incite targeted violence on specific groups of people. He is equating hate speech with advertising a movie.

Which brings me to reason number three: The moral high ground is not simply claimed, it is created. The idea that protestors stopping hate speech through direct action is somehow something to be ashamed of is the exact reason why Democrats are often caricatured as cowards and fair-weather friends. By sharing articles that cast direct action as unseemly, liberals are building a moral high ground for Milo to stand on. The fact that Milo got a booking agent to rent an auditorium to spew hate somehow imbues his calls to violence with legitimacy while protestors who are protecting vulnerable members of their community are cast as rouge vigilantes. Holiday’s prescription becomes more true the more you share his article. The very sharing of articles like Holiday’s is what creates the kind of moral high ground that Milo can stand on and undocumented UC-Berkeley students cannot.

What dissolves the moral high ground as it is presently conceived is changing the discourse around structural violence, property damage, and free speech. Structural violence must be understood as something that can happen in private, in secret, and just because a black bloc appears more violent on its surface it pales in comparison to the regular deportations in this country that rip families apart. Reactions to property damage must be couched in a history of humans-as-property, that is, property owned by white people should not be afforded the same care and concern as living black and brown bodies.

Finally, there is the matter of free speech. Rather than accept the conservative frame that all speech is equal, we need to adopt a more justice-oriented understanding of speech that acknowledges the fact that the free expression of white supremacist views hampers the free speech of many others and, if left unchecked, leads to the silencing of everyone else.

Then there is the matter of Holiday’s assessment of past activism and what constitutes “effective counterinsurgency.” He suggests we focus on “bargaining, partnering and the reestablishment of norms—not hardlines.” Essentially, you have to offer Milo and his ilk the opportunity to actually have a say in something—“put up or shut up” as he puts it—and watch the whole thing fall apart because the Alt-Right are all bark and no bite.

None of this is even remotely connected to reality. This suggestion might be close to the truth if Milo’s former boss Steve Bannon didn’t have an office in the White House where he is writing executive orders with the same speed and ideological purity of a Breitbart article. The Alt-Right has an immense amount of power and they have bitten hard.

What is particularly frustrating here is that people who are sharing this Observer article are likely to have shared Lindy West’s landmark 2013 Jezebel article, “Don’t Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode.” In this essay she argues that, rather than ignore every troll that threatens you on Twitter or some other kind of semi-anonymous internet forum, you should talk back: “I talk back because the expectation is that when you tell a woman to shut up, she should shut up. I reject that. I talk back because it’s fun, sometimes, to rip an abusive dummy to shreds with my friends. I talk back because my mental health is my priority—not some troll’s personal satisfaction.”

West further argues that this is much more than talk and can have very real, material consequences that can keep people safe. If such an argument holds for white liberal feminists it should hold for undocumented immigrants. If this argument holds for high-profile writers on Twitter, it should hold for radicals and undocumented immigrants that are being threatened by a well-financed author with direct personal ties to the President’s senior staff.

Creating a 21st century attention economy helmed by people with more expertise in statistics than theories of attention was a bad idea, and this has made our media deeply susceptible to manipulation. Holiday is certainly right that we have to be careful about how we use the media in the next few years, but this fight cannot be reduced to optics. Holiday is making a clear “don’t feed the trolls” argument which is no different than West’s detractors telling her to just ignore her harassers. To fuss and hand-wring about confronting fascists because you might be giving them the attention they crave is to ignore the deeply violent things they will do to others when you are not paying attention.

David is on Twitter.

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9 days ago
Awesome essay by Davin Banks on free speech, the "moral high ground" and direct action
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Avengers Assemble to Suck My Ass

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fail image little girl thor

Submitted by: (via Dirtdisturber)

Tagged: superheroes , avengers
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11 days ago
A heroine starts young.
12 days ago
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3 public comments
11 days ago
Nevertheless, she persisted.
13 days ago
She is worthy.
Healdsburg, CA
14 days ago
A hero rises.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal - A Realistic Alien Invasion

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Click here to go see the bonus panel!

I am prepared to write comics for our alien conquerors.

New comic!
Today's News:
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15 days ago
A realistic alien invasion in 2017
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16 days ago
I'd be okay with this.
Greater Bostonia
16 days ago
(actually one of the themes of the sci fi novel Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin)
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm

Liquid Lunch

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Human flesh: the ingredient in the mysterious food product in the 1973 thriller Soylent Green. In 2013, engineer Rob Rhinehart gave his meal replacement drink the same name, though with a less sinister recipe. According to Lizzie Widdicombe’s 2014 New Yorker profile of Rhinehart, the tech entrepreneur just wanted to make something he could afford to eat on a startup budget. To save on food costs and code nonstop, Rhinehart crushed up vitamins and minerals and ground them into a goop that he hoped could supplement his frozen pizza intake. He named the goop after the 1966 novel that inspired the film, and after a well-timed Kickstarter campaign, the goop became more profitable than his startup.

This liquid meal diet was genius and unprecedented — except it wasn’t. Substances like Soylent had been sold to consumers since at least 1977, argued Guardian journalist Nellie Bowles, as meal replacement diet drinks like SlimFast. The effects are largely similar: In his blog entry “How I Stopped Eating Food,” Rhinehart noted that after three weeks on Soylent he was “two belt loops down,” and by week four he had lost so much weight he wrote that he “started getting chilly.” Vice journalist Brian Merchant documented a 10-pound weight loss in his 30-day Soylent-only diet.

“What makes Soylent unique,” wrote Adrian Chen in his 2013 Gawker profile of the drink, “is that it is the first of these ‘functional beverages’ developed for and by young, male tech geeks,” specifically Silicon Valley “biohackers,” a group that believes “every moment they don’t spend coding a world-changing app might be a loss for humanity” and that “feeding yourself is a time-wasting problem that can be solved with technology.” This group skews predominately male.

Soylent and SlimFast exist in an ad space that presumes gender is binary and nonfluid. Women are sold bodies without minds, and men are sold minds without bodies

Meal replacement diet drinks signify flirty commercials and bottles shaped like hourglasses. In 1988, Oprah attributed her weight loss to a meal replacement drink called Optifast, and dragged a red wagon full of fat onto her television stage; the world had watched her lose 67 pounds, and would later demean her for putting it back on. SlimFast ads have mostly featured women in their commercials — in 1990, baseball player Tommy Lasorda became the company’s spokesperson, but research demonstrated that he was particularly persuasive to women consumers. (He was reportedly even more credible because he was a man admitting to weight problems.) An ad from 2015 shows 12 women and two men twirling in tight clothing and bikinis while clutching and kissing SlimFast bottles. Women appear in Soylent ads, though they are rarely the focus.

Soylent’s origin story works to associate the drink with the culture that founded it. Soylent adheres to its tech roots; its commercials are about “hacking” and “maximizing efficiency” and “food product.” Its label is sleek and minimalist, and its products never filmed far from a laptop. If it’s also a weight loss drink, it doesn’t want us to know.

Soylent’s slogan “use less, do more,” implies that a body is only good insofar as it is a tool for mental optimization. Its shape is secondary, unmentioned, and because it is not named, unimportant. In contrast, SlimFast ads never mention productivity or efficacy; consumers’ professional desires or work schedules are secondary to their physical attributes. Soylent and SlimFast exist in an ad space that presumes gender is binary and nonfluid. Women are sold bodies without minds, and men are sold minds without bodies.

“I just want to look good naked,” says the protagonist of 2013’s SlimFast ad campaign, Get What You Want.” Our protagonist is a middle-aged woman, who speaks to her mother on her cell phone while wearing a pink pajama set. “Two kids ago, I was doing the reverse cowgirl with the lights on!”

“Did you say something?” her husband interjects, carrying a load of laundry.

“No,” she says.

“I heard cowgirl,” he says through a smile.

“Not happening,” she says, stone-faced, and he leaves.

She bites her lip, and grins. “Just when I’m twisted up like a Russian gymnast,” she continues wistfully, “it would be nice to actually look like a Russian gymnast.”

This commercial feels progressive, if only because it features a husband doing laundry, and a woman allowed to talk about sex — “non-traditional” sex that places the woman in a position of power. Nowhere do we see a man tell the protagonist what is wrong with her; instead, she regulates herself. Having sex with the lights on would be to allow herself to be seen in a way that she is not permitted to be seen, so, contrary to the ad’s title, she withholds from herself what she wants. The ad sells negative space — the loss of mass from a woman’s hips — as well as accusation, and instruction. If you aren’t actively working to make yourself more slender, then you should be. To be a competent woman, you must show that you are working to look better, that you are always striving. This self-enhancement is primarily self-serving: the woman only looks to embody an ideal.

Soylent’s first ad, from 2014, features Rhinehart sitting in a warehouse while clouds of chemical formulas materialize around his head. It’s half tech ad and half TED talk, casting Rhinehart as both peddler and prophet. “Everything is made of parts,” he says at one point, staring off into the middle distance.

A robotic-sounding female voice introduces the commercial. “Soylent began as an idea to create the ultimate food,” she says. Onscreen, vintage film of wheat fields, grocery shoppers, and “Nutrition Facts” move in black and white over the image of a clear glass cup. “The goal wasn’t to replace food, but to provide a better alternative to what we usually eat.”

“It takes a little bit of perspective to see that food really is made up of chemicals. It is reducible,” Rhinehart continues in a milquetoast monotone. “And we can build it back up, and make it better.”

The commercial insists that Soylent is food technology, that Rhinehart is an engineer. “Everything is made of parts,” he says, staring off into the distance

The scene switches to a sleek apartment, all chrome and dark wood. A muscular, bespectacled man wearing a mesh athletic top pours a glass of beige food product, then returns to his laptop and standing desk. The commercial insists on reminding us that Soylent is food technology, that Rhinehart is an engineer who studied electronics and computation. The commercial never calls Soylent food; rather, it’s “a sustainable food source designed to keep the body in a balanced state of ideal nutrition.” Humans become collections of cells; food becomes the intricate technology that prevents these parts from rusting. “We know what we’re made of,” Rhinehart says, “and that’s what Soylent is.”

The next scene shows a woman in an office, her glass of Soylent resting next to her laptop. A man and woman go for a run, pack Soylent in Nalgenes for a nature hike. The bespectacled man from the beginning of the video is chill, we learn; he sips his Soylent while reclining in a recording studio, bantering with a tattooed dude. The Soylent-drinking woman speaks up in the office.

“By using Soylent as a resource, you can guarantee your body gets the nutrition it needs,” the robotic narration continues, “as a low cost way to be healthy, and save yourself some time.” Bodies in this commercial are vehicles for productivity and progress, not ends to themselves. When Soylent’s consumers free their minds from the cumbersome routines of food consumption, the world profits.

Meal replacement food technology telegraphs your preferred mode of bettering yourself, upgrading your personal brand to its next glittering iteration. By emblematizing the absence of food, both Soylent and SlimFast fetishize self-denial and austerity — one makes distraction a sinful indulgence, as the other does consumption — and promise transcendence through self-denial.

Soylent’s mode of optimization centers on mental enlightenment: Soylent, branded explicitly as technology, is material of the mind. Soylent drinkers have a Mission: they care about food system innovation and increased access to quality nutrition. Their goals are serious and high-minded, not carnal but utopian. “We strive to create a world where access to affordable, complete nutrition — one of the most basic human needs — is no longer a challenge, but a means of empowerment,” Soylent’s website proclaims. SlimFast’s method of self-improvement is purely corporeal: Optimization begins and ends with the body, which, unlike the mind, is burdened with bulging imperfections. The SlimFast website tracks before and after images of smiling women (and one man), and locates their transformations within personal testimonials. The outcome is personal satisfaction.

Today, the body is finite, and the mind transcendent. In either case, optimization is a Sisyphean task. The body is perpetually lacking; “improving” it is a matter of striving for adequacy. The mind, with its world-saving potential, must be perpetually upgraded.

When I danced in high school, I noticed that a few dancers in my class started substituting specific tea for their water bottles. Its packaging was distinctive; the deep green of dark moss, serious and vaguely medicinal. Three silhouettes of ballerinas arched out of a teacup. My classmates called it “Ballerina Tea,” though I had never seen my dance instructors drink it. These classmates often placed the boxes of teabags where they could be seen: atop the radiator, against the windowsill, resting above the tangled ribbons of their pointe shoes. I think I registered what this tea was before my friend confirmed it, smiling conspiratorially.

Ballerina Tea is not just for ballerinas, apparently, nor is it made from tea leaves. Instead, it’s made of malva verticillata and cassia angustifolia (Chinese mallow and senna), both powerful laxatives and diuretics. “Be sure to discuss this with your physician before using,” an article on Livestrong cautions. “Follow the directions on the box and monitor your physical reactions, because overuse, or use by people with sensitive systems, can cause problems.”

By emblematizing the absence of food, both Soylent and SlimFast fetishize austerity — one makes distraction a sinful indulgence, as the other does consumption

The name is either a dig at the ballerina stereotypes or a projected result.

In this rarified world, austerity felt necessary for excellence. “Optimizing” your body into a more muscular, sleek version of itself felt directly proportional to the kind of career you would have. I am shorter than average, my body more stubby than willowy. When straight, my knees still protrude and break the line of my arabesque, giving the impression that I am never fully stretched, or that I am always falling. At a ballet summer intensive program when I was in high school, I listened to a young dancer tell me about her time training at a ballet company abroad, about how the instructors wouldn’t let you into partnering classes if you didn’t make the weight limit for your height, lest you strain the arms of the male dancers lifting you. Another classmate professed to have a formula for success.

“You know how those dancers get so thin?” she asked the crowd of us. “They eat only a single orange a day.”

I knew this was ridiculous — you would die if you did that — but for the rest of the five-week program my classmate refused the plastic boxed lunch our program prepared for us, demurely withdrawing a single clementine from her dance bag. I watched my other classmates look at her, heard them talking behind her back. The conversations were cautionary, but always tinged with admiration. People admired her willpower in the same sentence they told her to stop.

To excel in an art form that valorizes female fragility both onstage and off, I believed that needed to maximize my body’s efficacy. I cut pictures of famous dancers out of magazines; I charted my weight in apps like LoseIt! and willed myself to want to stop eating so much. Once I scrolled through a Thinspiration tumblr. I clicked out three minutes later, face hot.

I did not want these distorted bodies. Nor did my desire to optimize my body into ideal dance equipment ever manifest into anything distinctly self-destructive. (I haven’t danced seriously in four years and I look exactly the same as I did then.) I didn’t want to be thin, I realized; I wanted a body that would let me dance how I wanted to dance without getting in my way. But more than that, I wanted the approval of the other dancers, their recognition of my diligence. I wanted anyone who looked at my body to know that I was aware of its failings, and that I was trying to improve it. If I was not demonstrating that I was making my body into what I wanted to be, then I was tacitly accepting that my body was as good as it was going to get, and that I didn’t mind it.

Body was not always “low-brow,” and mind was not always supreme. When women dominated tech in the 1940s and ’50s, “the accompanying pay and prestige were both relatively low,” according to Rhaina Cohen’s Atlantic article on “What Programming’s Past Reveals About Today’s Gender Pay Gap.” As Dr. Grace Hopper explained to Cosmopolitan in 1967: “Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming,” which is “just like planning a dinner.” When men make up the majority of the field, these same traits are considered to be inventive and societally beneficial, and the product, like the computer scientists who drink it, is considered to be innovative rather than frivolous.

In her article about intermittent fasting, Nitasha Tiku profiles, a community predominately made of young male tech workers who fast in order to achieve “peak productivity and readiness for a future where technology is king and the smartest man wins.” These biohackers fast in order to “do more work and generate more revenue,” according to Tiku; instead of “competing on a physical plane,” they are “competing with the rest of the world.” Skipping meals is considered “monkish,” and disordered eating a productivity hack. In this community, like my ballet classmates, the appearance of austerity morphed into austerity for its own sake. The results, in either case, were eternally projected.

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25 days ago
Great piece on the gendered austerity that SlimFast/Soylent expresses
25 days ago
Weird you post this a few hours after I discover the Silicon Valley fasting trend, making apps to help you not eat
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Turning Violent

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Lots of people have been sharing mashups of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face and, as Natasha Lennard wrote in The Nation, you can thank Black Bloc for the original source content. (My favorite right now is set to “The Boys are Back in Town.” ) Black Bloc is a tactic that has a unique relationship to attention and anonymity. Individuals mask up to remain anonymous but the collective group is meant to draw and direct attention. It is, in this way, not unlike Reddit and so it should be no surprise that black bloc is so compatible with virality. The tactic, however, was invented pre-internet and so it is worth looking at how radicals are weathering (and strategically utilizing) this relationship to digital networks and mass media.

That person who punched a Nazi may be facing up to 10 years in prison on felony riot charges if they were one of the 200 people arrested that day. Even if they escape state prosecution, white supremacists are crowdsourcing a bounty for information on the anonymous Black Bloc participant. More than a funny meme, what happened on inauguration day is a political act that is still playing out. How this event and similar ones are covered in the media has tangible consequences.

One common criticism of the Black Bloc is that white people are overly-represented in the bloc which points toward a dynamic where privileged folks are making an otherwise safe environment, dangerous. Proponents of Black Bloc tactics turn that argument on its head by saying, as Lennard does in her piece:

Not everyone can participate in a black bloc. Those with a vulnerable immigration status, or arrest records, or good reasons to fear police repression because of the color of their skin, often don’t participate in activities where the risk of arrest is high. Friday’s bloc was by no means all white, but it was predominantly white. If bearers of white privilege can do one thing, it is put ourselves on the line and take risks where others can’t.

Black Blocs draw the attention and resources of the police away from other parts of a demonstration and have even been known to “unarrest” people who have been kettled. They also, as the video of Richard Spencer attests, will violently engage people who pose a danger to others.

All of this was true before the internet though, and what has changed is the degree to which particular moments can be captured in media and precision-guided into specific audience demographics. Whereas the Black Bloc tactics deployed in years past were subject only to the framing of mass media gatekeepers, today we have access to a wider range of media producers. It is perhaps only because of individuals’ ability to record and distribute what happened on #J20 that a wider discussion of the Black Bloc can take place at all. How the Black Bloc shows up on our screens may be just as important as what the Black Bloc does in the streets.

New technologies, however, do not automatically change the common sense around political tactics. I won’t draw actual quotes from specific people but a cursory reading of the comments on Lennard’s article and in my own social media feeds indicates that Black Bloc is largely seen as a delegitimizing force. By smashing windows, openly confronting the police, and punching Richard Spencer the media narrative will decenter the message of the protestors and instead “turn violent.” That is, the cameras will seek out anything resembling a riot and largely ignore law-abiding citizens exercising their first amendment rights. When the media produces their piece on what happened that day the protestors in a permitted march get lumped in with the broken Starbucks windows and the word “incivility” gets thrown around.

Protest tactics in one form or another are all about attention and awareness. When protests are violent or destructive it is because another form of violence has been sanctioned or left unseen for a long time. That is why riots, as the Martin Luther King Jr. quote goes, “are the language of the unheard.” The decision by protestors to set a trash can (or limo) on fire is at least partially informed by the desire to direct attention. It is through empathy—the assumption that people would commit these acts because something truly bad is happening—that this tactic works. If media makers and their audiences focus only on property destruction that is a failure of empathy, not tactics. It is ironic that media Twitter loves to describe bad things as a dumpster fire only to fight for the ability to photograph actual trash fires during protests.

To put this in Stuart Hall’s terms, the idea that property destruction is never a legitimate form of protest, or that the police should never be met with resistance is part of our dominant cultural order. Protestors, according to the dominant American culture, are the ones that decide to make protests violent and police simply react when laws (and windows) are broken. This culture has taken years to cultivate but that does not mean it is immutable. Through careful work activists and media makers can popularize an alternative interpretation.

Hall argues that media making and consumption is a process of encoding and decoding. Media are encoded by their producers and decoded by audiences. Interpretations of news events are created by power elites and are broadcast by professional media producers. “When the viewer,” writes Hall in his essay Encoding/Decoding, “decodes the message in terms of the reference code in which it has been encoded, we might say that the viewer is operating inside the dominant code.” Put another way, when you don’t question how the news frames an issue, you are perpetuating the hegemonic discourse that benefits power elites in a systematic way.

Questioning or interpreting media in a way that runs counter to elites’ interests is what Hall calls an oppositional code.  When reading media against the encoders intended message, the decoder must have some “alternative framework of reference.” Hall suggests by way of example that when people hear that some policy is in the “national interest” they should assume that to mean it is in the “class interest” of the elite.

What would be the oppositional code—the alternative framework of reference—for Black Bloc coverage look like? We can start by inverting many of the value connotations within the dominant code. The oppositional code should flip present common sense on its head.

It is the police’s decision, not protestors’, to make arrests. Many news outlets were quick to draw contrasts between the inauguration Day actions and the Women’s March the next day. While 200 people were arrested in the former, there were no arrests in DC, LA, and many other cities during the latter. There are countless examples, from Standing Rock to Ferguson, of peaceful protestors being violently arrested. Or, as Zeba Blay in The Huffington Post put it: “Let’s be real. A large group of mostly white women wearing knit pink hats is simply not going to be policed in same way a large group of people of color would be.” The Black Bloc was far less destructive and violent as past Super Bowl “revelers” but faced far more arrests and harsher charges.

What gets called a riot matters: The double standard of what gets called a riot and who is deserving of police violence is also a function of race and class. One could even go so far as to say that riots have been unfairly maligned. Regardless of whether riots eventually lose their negative connotation that word is used today as a means of dismissing legitimate dissent.

Assuming violent and destructive protestors have no reason to do so is the result of a profound lack of empathy. The present hegemonic discourse assumes that riots and demonstrations are collective tantrums at worst, and tragically wasted energy at best. An oppositional code interprets property destruction and violent acts as a sign of deep injustices having been ignored. This decoding scheme posits that humans do not choose violence lightly and so something profoundly wrong has taken place. Something that must be rectified and, if possible, reconciled.

Categorically denouncing the black block normalizes Trump. If open white supremacists are taking up key leadership positions in the White House, if David Duke feels like his community won a national election, then there is a much larger and more organized form of violence taking place here that must be opposed.

These are just four small steps toward what needs to be a comprehensive, totalizing, worldview that opposes our present dominant discourse. It is not (only) up to those that participate in black bloc tactics to normalize and legitimize their behavior. That is up to the people who cover and write about what happens at political events. Digital networks and media making technologies mean that a far wider range of people and perspectives can frame the discourse.

The very fact that a Nazi getting punched has gone viral is a signal that oppositional media practices are already forming and that more mainstream media outlets will look different juxtaposed to Richard Spencer getting punched to the beat of X Gon’ Give It To Ya. They will look different precisely because that viral video will breed more essays like Lennard’s, and essays like Lennard’s are what will propagate oppositional codes.

David is on Twitter.

Image is a still from this video.

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26 days ago
Categorically denouncing the black block normalizes Trump. (on #punchingnazis)
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