Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Monday, October 29, 2012
For nearly a decade I have been tracking the way in which the temporality of news media has shifted from a focus on the present and recent past to a focus on the future. Made visible first in the run-up to the Iraq War, news media have increasingly concerned themselves with the premediation of potential futures as much as with the remediation of the recent past. This shift from remediation to premediation has in part been fueled by the proliferation of big data, of computing technologies that aggregate massive amounts of information in order to mine them for indications of futures that are or might be coming. It has also involved a massive expansion of what kinds of media count as news.
The introduction of global cable news networks in the 1980s and 1990s expanded the reach of live, real-time news coverage from regularly scheduled broadcasts to a 24-7, always on capability to cover whatever crisis or catastrophe or item of interest might arise anywhere in the world (or beyond) at any time. In the 21st century social media have expanded the reach of news media exponentially. Now, in addition to local, network, and cable news on television, and daily and weekly print news media, socially networked media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, TUMBLR, Instagram, and others all participate in the remediation and premediation of news across the globally networked world.
In addition to the temporal shift enabled by this proliferation of forms of mediation we have also seen a shift in focus from the idea that the aim of the news was to report on what actually happened ("all the news that's fit to print") to the idea that the aim of the news is to premediate what might happen, a shift in emphasis from the actual to the virtual as the province of news media. While this is a daily feature of news in the 21st century, some events make this shift to the premediation of the virtual more evident. Clearly we can see this in the nearly non-stop election coverage of the past 18 months or so, where news media focus much more on the potential implications of any actual occurrences (debates, public statements, revelations of past actions) than on the occurrences themselves. And the future-oriented media temporality of catastrophes like the impending landfall of Hurricane Sandy make particularly clear the way in which print, televisual, and socially networked media today participate in a logic of premediation in which media attend less to what is happening or has happened and more to anticipating what might, or is about to, happen.
In keeping with the Deleuzian version of this distinction, it is important to remember that this shift in media temporality is not a shift from "real" news to "simulated" or "imaginary" news. With Deleuze, Guattari, and others, I want to insist that what we are witnessing is a shift in the notion of the real, in which the virtual futures premediated across our socially networked media are as real as the actual pasts reported in our print, televisual, and networked news. Indeed because of the surplus of virtual futures premediated across our socially networked media, it makes sense to think that these virtual futures are indeed more real than the actual pasts that have been traditionally reported in the news.
What is key here is the realization that disaster and catastrophe are always and already forms of premediation, strategies for premediating the hurricane and the damage and destruction it might bring. The forms that this destruction will take, and many of its most significant economic and social effects, precede the hurricane event—or perhaps are part of that event’s becoming. Premediation helps to bring forth events, to structure them, not just representationally or cognitively but more importantly, or more accurately, ontogenetically. In this sense premediation is related to Brian Massumi’s account of preemption—but differs from it in certain key respects.
The premediation of Sandy does not work to preempt damage; there is no possibility that the damage is going to be prevented or displaced. Rather premediation works to prepare people affectively for what might be coming and to multiply the virtual forms in which the damage might emerge, what kind of event Sandy will turn out to have been. Premediation helps to bring Sandy into being not to prevent it. Most importantly the premediation of Sandy does not exist outside of the event as something distinct from it but rather is immanent to the event; premediation is part and parcel of Sandy itself.
Monday, February 20, 2012
It is hardly news to note that the premediation of war with Iran has been intensifying over the past month or so both in official government statements and in the print, televisual, and networked news media. Glenn Greenwald has been particularly good on this topic in Salon, taking on The New York Times, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's Erin Burnett as leading the chorus of voices premediating war with Iran, even engaging in a heated Twitter exchange with Burnett over the past few days. Last Friday, the headline of a piece by Huffington Post's Michael Calderone explicitly drew the connection with the run-up to the Iraq War: "Iran Nuclear Coverage Echoes Iraq War Media Frenzy." That same day Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi cited Greenwald in arguing that we are seeing in the media a rehearsal of the drumbeats that led up to the Iraq War in 2003: "You can just feel it: many of the same newspapers and TV stations we saw leading the charge in the Bush years have gone back to the attic and are dusting off their war pom-poms."
While the comparison of the current premediation of Iran with the media's role in premediating war with Iraq in 2002-3 is well-taken, what can get lost in the comparison is the arguably more interesting differences between the two situations, particularly between the way in which war with Iran is being premediated by the Obama administration and the way in which the Bush-Cheney administration premediated the war in Iraq. In both cases premediation operates through government spokesmen, military and intelligence proxies, and media outlets. But what distinguishes the current premediation of war in Iran is the way in which, unlike Bush-Cheney, the Obama administration spokesmen operate to premediate war with Iran not by making the case for such war, but the opposite--premediating war with Iran by explaining why such a war would be a bad idea.
Over the past weekend both the US and British governments (who together led the way in making the case for war against Iraq in 2002-3) have made it clear that they disapprove of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Statements from the Israeli government, on the other hand, insist that all options are on the table. Meanwhile, Iran has cut off shipments of oil to Britain and France, ahead of sanctions by the French and the British that would have ended that trade in the near future, and are now threatening to cut off other European nations as well.
Despite the Obama administration's caution, global news media continue to premediate a variety of different military confrontations involving Iran. The most visible involves the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran has threatened to cut off oil traffic through the Gulf. Cable news media like CNN have begun accompanying their stories about this potential development with maps of the Gulf oil routes and video of Iranian warships, premediating (as they had in the run-up to the Iraq War) the audiovisual mood of war in advance of any potential blockade--and irrespective of whether such a conflict even occurs.
On February 20, the front page of the New York Times provides an even more complex premediation of a possible Israeli attack on Iran, one which bears more than a passing resemblance to the shape of articles and cable news stories that proliferated in the run-up to the Iraq War. Although the thrust of the article is to outline the difficulties of an Israeli attack, the detailed premediation of various options--including how many (and what kind of) planes Israel would need, where their flight paths could take them, how they would have to refuel, what their targets and timing would be, and whether they could pull it off without the help of the US--make such an attack all the more tangible. And while such an attack remains for the moment only virtual, its effects on the collective mood of the global media public is quite real.
On NBC Nightly News that same evening, a similar case was made, including maps in motion with the three different flight plan options and a retired general to make the case against Israel attacking Iran.
The question to be asked about these negative premediations is whether they work to make such attacks less likely or whether, even while arguing against an Israeli attack, such premediations make such an attack, or some form of war with Iran, more likely. What seems clear is that these premediations (both for and against a potential war with Iran) are serving to shape the mood of the nation, in part to prepare the media public to accept a war if it were to come about, and in part to minimize the sense that such a war would be unnecessary, unjust, or just plain wrong.
Interestingly, if Israel were to attack Iran despite the Obama administration's negative premediations, this would not be the first time that Obama has discouraged a course of action in the Middle East that his administration later followed in some form or another. Clearly some version of this course of action was followed with Libya, and the current hands off policy in Syria might also turn out to be a similar prelude to US intervention of some sort or another.
But I am less concerned, and less qualified, to analyze the Obama administration's foreign policy strategy than I am interested in making sense of their policies and practices of premediation. What makes the Obama administration's negative premediation strategy so interesting is the way in which it clarifies that premediation works independent of its specific content. That is, although the Bush-Cheney premediation of potential paths to war with Iraq turned out to be followed by the shock and awe of March 2003, the premediation of this war had already worked to produce a national affect of at-warness prior to and independent of the war itself.
Similarly, in the current situation we can see that premediation does not only have to work by advocating a particular course of action but can work as well to produce a warlike national mood even while discouraging a course of action. What distinguishes premediation from prediction or preparation or planning is that it works not only whether any of the premediated possibilities actually come about but even when what is being premediated is the opposite of what might come about. Or put differently one can premediate war not only by rehearsing it or making the arguments for it but by discourarging it, making the arguments against it. Both open up, or proliferate, potential paths towards (or away from) war. And most powerfully both produce the same collective mood or orientation towards war, thereby providing an environment in which such war seems not unthinkable but rather thinkable as something that we may see, and indeed have already seen, on TV.
So, can anti-war protests be seen to premediate the very course of action they are protesting against? To answer a question with a question, how could they not?
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Given the biblical implications of 40 days and nights, this is as good a time as any to add my voice to the swelling chorus of academic analyses of #occupywallstreet. Nearly two weeks into the occupation of Wall Street I had suggested in an initial analysis that no matter how the occupation turned out it was already successful insofar as it had premediated the occupation of Wall Street and other occupations across the world. In particular I argued that “Insofar as premediation generates potential or virtual futures as a way to mobilize individual and collective affect in the present,… #occupywallstreet opens up paths to potential futures in which the occupation of Wall Street (or the political occupation of other sites) is actualized.” 40 days into the occupation, I want to develop this claim further to argue that it is precisely its virtuality, its resistance to making specific demands or adopting a platform, that makes #occupywallstreet successful and that will keep it growing and thriving.
The virtuality of the movement is evident in its very name, which calls for the occupation of Wall Street even while not occupying Wall Street per se. The occupation of Zuccotti Park is near Wall Street, but Wall Street is not occupied either as street, building, or financial institution. Wall Street is, however, virtually occupied, as Times Square has been, as Chicago or Los Angeles or the London Stock Exchange have been. While some veterans of earlier protest movements have argued that occupation involves going inside buildings and taking possession—as Wisconsin protesters did in the State Capitol—it is the potentiality of these virtual occupations, I would argue, their premediation of greater and more numerous and powerful potential occupations in the future, that vitalizes the Occupy movement.
The virtuality of the Occupy movement is evident as well in the widespread feeling that the movement should not at this point make explicit demands, for doing so would prematurely and unnecessarily constrain or limit the movement’s gathering strength. Despite increasingly vocal appeals by the chattering class of the mainstream political media for the Occupy movement to develop a list of specific demands it has now become almost a truism that such demands would be premature. In a brief video interview Wallace Shawn gives voice to the widely shared belief that the movement is in the preliminary stage, that it is "before the moment of specifics." Judith Butler plays off of this belief in her recent speech at Washington Square Park about demanding the impossible, which is another way to refuse actualizing or realizing any particular demands, but rather of encouraging the proliferation of informed, half-formed, nascent or potential exams.
Premediation works by mobilizing affect in the present, by deploying multiple modes of mediation and remediation in shaping the affectivity of the public, in preparing people for some field of possible future actions, in producing a mood or structure of feeling that makes possible certain kinds of actions, thoughts, speech, affectivities, feelings, moods, mediations that might not have seemed possible before or that might have fallen flat or died on the vine or not produced echoes and reverberations. As an event of premediation, #occupywallstreet is also working to change the mood or collective affective tone in the media, in public discourse, in social networks, and in the political sphere so that talking about amnesty for college or mortgage debt or demanding increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations or thinking about restructuring property relations and economic becomes not only permissible, but indeed begins to appear as common sense or received wisdom. So #occupywallstreet may make it possible, say, for politicians to take positions they could not have taken before, by providing cover, or clearing the ground, by means of the shaping of collective moods or structures of feeling out of which more intense feelings about economic injustice are generated.
Before any specific goals or demands can be formulated, and perhaps even if they never are, what has to happen first is that #occupywallstreet must continue to do what it is already doing—fostering and intensifying what Jonathan Flatley would characterizes as “a revolutionary counter-mood.” The heart of this revolutionary counter-mood can be found in what the opening lines of the September 29 Declaration of the Occupation of New York City call a collective "feeling of mass injustice." “As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.” The initial aims of #occupywallstreet seem clear—to produce and intensify a mood of occupation or civil disobedience, a shared feeling of injustice towards such developments as income inequality, the foreclosure crisis, workplace discrimination, student loan debt, and a host of other 21st century developments. It is too early to have the kind of specific list of grievances, demands, goals, but rather this is the time to try to spread and complexify the networks of revolutionary feelings, to try out the power of popular assembly, to let it grow and mutate and mobilize to see how powerful or extensive it might get.
40 days into the occupation, #occupywallstreet is perhaps still becoming a movement. Or to play off of Erin Manning’s recent book, Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, I would suggest that #occupywallstreet might best be understood as a becoming movement, still in a stage of preacceleration or incipient movement. As a virtual movement #occupywallstreet remains in an ongoing process of inventing what a global social and political movement can be in the 21st century. In so doing it is producing its own rhythms, its own temporality, through stages of preacceleration and intensification and emergence and articulation, only then to return to another interval of preacceleration and re-intensification and re-individuaton. “When articulation becomes collective, a politics is made palpable whereby what is produced is the potential for divergent series of movements. This is a virtual politics, a politics of the not-yet… These are not politics we can choreograph but politics in the making…. These are politics of that many-bodied state of transition that is the collective” (27).
It is precisely this incipience, this preacceleration, that makes #occupywallstreet so frustrating to politicians and political commentators, who are trapped within neoliberalism’s calculus “of the rational modern subject,” according to which the Occupy movement does not compute—does not even compute exactly as a movement, since it has no clear aim or goal. This incipient emergence can be both powerful and frustrating for those participating in the occupation, as expressed in this recent piece from Harrison Schultz: “For the sake of keeping your head sane and your heart still engaged, be aware: we are not in control. You are not in control. We at the NYC occupation are not in control. The website hosts are not in control. No one is in control of this hurricane.” As Schultz suggests, not unlike recent geotechnical, political disasters like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill, or the Sendai quake, or the occupation’s more immediate precursors in the University of California student protests, the Arab Spring, or the labor protests in Madison, #occupywallstreet is emerging as a complex 21st-century media event, with its own temporality, its own affectivities, and its own scale.
In her recent post on “Lessons from #occupywallstreet,” Jodi Dean addresses the movement’s incipience and its untapped potential, the fact that “the movement exceeds any single occupation.” Dean writes: “We will start learning the different tonalities and variations of this movement. Some sites might become more intensive as others regroup. Some might abandon one site in order to occupy new possibilities. Regrouping is an opportunity: an opportunity to build outside of the prying eyes and presumptive expectations of a 24/7 media cycle concerned only with pumping content through feeds.” The “regrouping” that Dean speaks of functions similarly to what Manning describes as the “interval.” “Political philosophy has not made space for the interval within the vocabulary of the rational modern subject,” writes Manning, “yet the interval has nonetheless leaked into the complex iterations of pure plastic rhythm’s political becomings” (28).
Insofar as #occupywallstreet in fact creates such an interval in the daily rhythm of business as usual, it has the ability to open the political space for potential becomings whose scope and power remain untapped and unsounded. Dean sees the arrival of winter in the northern hemisphere as providing for an opportunity to regroup, an interval, from which the Occupy movement can emerge with even greater vitality than it currently possesses. In the past few days, police crackdowns in Chicago, Atlanta, and most violently Oakland have brought about state-sponsored intervals which will almost certainly have the result of intensifying the movement. And insofar as Atlanta and Oakland are relatively temperate in the winter, it would not be surprising to see those nodes on the Occupy network intensify in the coming months. As a virtual occupation of Wall Street and hundreds of other sites around the world, the Occupy movement should take advantage of whatever intervals it can make or find to help actualize a more just world. By premediating and proliferating potential futures for social and political opposition and a more just world, #occupywallstreet will be able to intensify "a feeling of mass injustice," thereby mobilizing collective affectivity towards an increasingly powerful revolutionary counter-mood of occupation.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
The focus of much of this discussion (even the meta-media critiques) has been on the significance of the occupation itself, what it represents, what it might become. What has been missing from these mainstream and participatory media accounts is any sustained critical and theoretical discussion of Occupy Wall Street as itself an act of mediation, or as I understand it, of premediation. Occupy Wall Street is best understood as a premediation of the occupation of Wall Street. Let me explain.
Because most of the successful political premediations of the 21st century have been in the service of state and corporate power, I have often been asked whether premediation could contest, oppose, or overturn hegemonic power. Put most starkly, can premediation advocate or help to actualize political change or revolution?
Since introducing the concept in 2003, I have consistently maintained that premediation is not tied to a particular politics. Premediation describes a media formation which emerged and intensified within a historically specific social, political, and technical media regime. Because premediation readily fuels and is fueled by fear, the post-9/11 security environment has been a particularly rich moment for state power to deploy strategies of premediation as a form of preemptive control, as seen in Bush-Cheney's dramatic expansion of executive power in waging the Iraq War and creating a powerful domestic security apparatus.
Insofar as premediation generates potential or virtual futures as a way to mobilize individual and collective affect in the present, there is no reason why such futures could not kindle or nourish a collective affective state of opposition or rebellion. This, I would argue, is what Occupy Wall Street has succeeded in doing, no matter how long the occupation lasts or what eventually comes of it. And in so doing Occupy Wall Street opens up paths to potential futures in which the occupation of Wall Street (or the political occupation of other sites) is actualized. No matter what its goals, tactics, or ultimate conclusion, Occupy Wall Street is successfully premediating the occupation of Wall Street.
This premediation was already evident in the July call for a September 17 occupation, presented on the Adbusters website. The current site archives the ways in which the September 17 event was premediated for over two months. In its initial call to occupy Wall Street on September 17, the Adbusters website seemed designed more to premediate potential occupations in the future than to prompt an actual occupation in September 2011. In the run-up to September 17 the site offered a variety of premediated formats to promote and mobilize individual and collective revolutionary affect through circulation across socially networked media.
The way that Occupy Wall Street functions mainly as a premediation of the occupation of Wall Street can be further drawn out if we compare it to the large protests and 24-7 occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol building in Madison in February and March of this year. Writing about those protests in February, I suggested that they functioned as Benjaminian test performances for socially networked media. This seems even more to be the case with Occupy Wall Street, which seems to have as much to do with generating audiovisual images of protest, occupation, and rebellion in print, televisual, and networked media as with occupying any particular portion of institutional Wall Street.
Still the differences between the two protests should not be understated. The Madison protests were motivated by clear and immediate political wrongs, which were threatening to be made into state law. Occupy Wall Street scheduled its demonstrations and occupations as far back as July and premediated the September 17 occupation in a variety of media forms. Occupy Wall Street differs from the Madison protests as well in regard to the contrast between the significant national celebrity presence at the Wall Street protest as compared to the more regional presence of labor leaders and local politicians in the Madison protests earlier this year.
In making this comparison I am not making the (perhaps justifiable) claim that the Madison protests were authentic expressions of widespread popular political opposition while Occupy Wall Street was an inauthentic political action staged by a group of net activists. Rather I am arguing that it is precisely the premediation of potential future occupations that constitutes Occupy Wall Street's political efficacy and that this premediation is no less "authentic" (a concept I find problematic in any event) than the protests in Wisconsin.
That Occupy Wall Street is first and foremost a successful instance of premediation is borne out in part by the heavy Hollywood and public intellectual media presence, from Roseanne Barr, Susan Sarandon, and Lupe Fiasco to Michael Moore, Cornel West, and the Yes Men. Again, this is not to criticize Occupy Wall Street but to try to explain what I take to be its long-term social and political impact. The presence of media figures from the left is part and parcel of the liberal premediation assemblage, much as the presence of televangelicals and right-wing "intellectuals" populate and propagate conservative versions of premediation.
The most lasting legacy of Occupy Wall Street might very well be precisely its successful demonstration of how premediation can be mobilized in the service of resistance and opposition rather than securitization and control.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Conversation concludes with Part 3 on Friday.