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Complicity, Traitors, Compromise and Other Media Interactions by Nick A.

It is unequivocally clear that corporate media perpetuates the hegemony of the capitalist state. Ideally, we respond by constructing forms of anarchist communication powerful enough to render the capitalist media irrelevant. However, amongst anarchist communities, occasions arise where individuals and collectives make decisions to engage with corporate media.

This engagement is often met with understandable concern, interest, derision and sometimes outright hostility. In this article then, I explore some of the tensions associated with media interaction by looking at a few brief examples. I conclude by suggesting that outright rejection of all interaction with corporate media limits some opportunities to reach a wider audience.

During the height of the Greek revolt in December 2008, a proposal was put forward at an anti-authoritarian/anarchist assembly in Exarchia, Athens: interrupt a major news broadcast by storming the studio, unfurl political banners, and then escape triumphantly into the streets. The proposal was generally not supported.

Some raised fears that this protest would ultimately serve the advertisers whose product appeared after the political action. Others were concerned that such an action would contribute to the spectacle of the mass media; where instead of living actual experiences, viewers watch representations of their life on t.v. and in doing so become politically neutralized spectators. And yet others were furious that comrades would want anything to do with the dogs of the mass media – they argued that any engagement with the mass media signalled nothing less than complicity with capitalism, the state, and corporate media.

Regardless, the next week a different collective went ahead with the proposed action targeting NET, one of Greece’s biggest TV stations. On December 16th, after manoeuvres reminiscent of an Ian Fleming novel, the 3pm live national news broadcast on the NET. channel was hijacked when activists stormed the studio. For two or so minutes, political banners were unfurled by a group of anarchists, anti-authoritarians and fellow non‑defined activists. They read:

Everyone get out in the streets, Freedom to the Prisoners of the Insurrection and Freedom to Everyone.

With the desired goals of the action met, the activists fled the building before the cops had a chance to finish their donuts.

 

I provide this short anecdote as a way of universalising some of the tensions associated with media interaction. Whether it is in the advanced anarchist milieu of Athens or – as I will shortly discuss – in Sydney, interactions with capitalist and state-owned media are everywhere fraught with complex political issues and are sources of tension.

For the rest of this article I offer examples from the infoshop Jura Books in Sydney. While these interactions are certainly different to the Athenian context, they still raise similar concerns.

Early last year, 2010, Jura organized the People’s World Cup, a day of park-football and fun that humbly challenged the corrupt, capitalist, sexist and nationalist theatre that was fifa’s 2010 Male World Cup. This event caught the attention of a street mag called C!ao, a paper located close to Jura. C!ao sells advertising alongside crappy local interest stories like local food crazes and whether we’ve finally embraced Halloween.

Some collective members agreed to be interviewed by C!ao. In the published edition, Jura was mentioned – the location, activities and a bit about Jura’s anarchist politics, plus some chunky political quotes about the point of the People’s World Cup. However, at the same time, anarchism was parodied. The cover of the magazine had a balaclava over the face of an anarchist, and the usual clichés were wheeled out. These included: for most anarchism means chaos; and anarchism and molotovs.

Opinion was strongly divided about whether this media engagement was a good idea. Some condemned the action. It was disrespectful to anarchists; it mocked the struggle of workers who had died for anarchism; and it degraded Jura by putting it alongside advertisements about property sales and new cars.

Yet others supported the action. It was never going to be fully complimentary. Jura got free publicity (in fact a cover) in a prevalent street magazine in the local area. Jura does hours and hours of outreach with stalls, events and door-knocks; it was nice for once to easily get anarchist ideas out into the community without having to invest heaps of time. And finally, anarchists are strong enough to handle a few jokes about them.

“As you can imagine, the decision to participate in this program caused some serious friction.”

Despite these divisions, some Jura collective members have continued to be interviewed by street mags. Favourable articles have appeared in Time Out (Sydney) and City Hub. While broadly progressive, both these papers sell advertising and are hardly anti-capitalist. Importantly and despite our best efforts, it includes readers who would just never be exposed to anarchist ideas or Jura Books.

Another example of media interaction and associated tensions arose in the middle of 2011, when Jura was contacted via email by a producer from Mornings with Kerri-Anne on Channel Nine. They were interested in doing a story on dumpster diving and wanted someone to talk to. So the collective forwarded the email to some anarchists involved with Food not Bombs – and left it at that. Some fellow activists agreed to take one of the co-hosts of the show out on a night of dumpster diving (scavenging through bins outside supermarkets searching for food that has been unnecessarily discarded), followed by a cook up of the food collected.

The segment highlighted the waste that supermarkets create and linked it to the inflated price of food in our consumerist society. But for sure, it gently mocked the process of rummaging through bins for food. As you can imagine, the decision to participate in this program caused some serious friction.

 

On the one hand, some supported the decision to participate. It is important to cautiously take advantage of some opportunities, especially when they get your message out to a large group of people. And what a large group of people it was. The issue of supermarkets and food prices is very relevant to the wider population – and this action allowed activists to link it to waste, consumerism and a touch of capitalism. Viewers of this show are rarely exposed to any radical ideas from the Left – this was a freebie.

Yet others were furious. Some were concerned supermarkets would immediately lock dumpsters and people who desperately relied on this source of food would have to go without. Others were concerned with the broader issues of capitalist media engagement. Mornings with Kerri-Anne is a horrible show that perpetuates sexist divisions in society. It is dogmatically conservative. It represents the worst excesses of a consumerist society, where advertisements for products are actually part of the show. What more, the story about dumpster diving would be nestled between these advertisements. This was an act of complicity with the capitalist machine and traitorous to the anarchist cause. Wrapped up in this, were some nasty accusations of corporate and capitalist complicity on the part of Jura, for passing on the email to other activists.

So what do we do when confronted with these sorts of options? Is it best to disengage completely with the mass media? Is it enough to go ahead and create independent sources of media at the complete exclusion of pre-existing capitalist and state media? Or should we do both? Should we use the mass media when it suits us, knowing full well that they can always screw us over; yet at the same time construct our own sources of media?

As mentioned in the introduction, the preference and priority should always be for the construction and dissemination of anarchist media. Notwithstanding, I believe a dogmatic approach that simultaneously prevents all corporate media engagement is stifling: where opportunities can be exploited and limitations acknowledged then I think cautiously, we should be less hostile to engagement with this form of media. Sometimes we can be a bit insular with our forms of communication – concurrently I am all for getting anarchist ideas out to a wider audience. Compromise is not necessarily reformist. It is not necessarily anti-revolutionary. It is sometimes a tactical approach when your society is not even close to transitioning to an anarchist society.

This article was originally written for and published in Sedition.

Comments

2 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. karen,

    I agree. Dissemination.
    Some people watching mass corporate media will ignore, parody, take offence. Authorities may react in any number of repressive ways. We kind of know that.
    Some people might be inspired, they might take up some of the tactics, dumpster diving for example, if all of a sudden they have lost jobs, have others relying on them for food, housing, education. They might start their own peoples’ garden. Why should anarchists presume people would not be inspired or at least interested?

    As you point out this is particularly important in our context in Australia.
    I thought about this a while ago in a slightly different context though, one with similar issues. Posh anarchism was the charge leveled at Simon Critchley after the publication of his book Infinitely Demanding. There are similar debates about anarchists within universities and some anarchists have made the distinction that they are in and not of the university. We could say the same thing about corporate media, capitalism and the state.

    I came to the conclusion that if anarchism is a practice that includes the idea of openness and free thinking then sure, posh anarchists, all kinds of anarchists and hopefully a whole lot more people who at least now know something about anarchism that people actually trying to practice it have something to do with… bring it on.

    If part of the struggle is keeping alive ideas and experiences within anarchism, then I think, at least at this point in time, that anarchists and unidentified comrades should use all available media.

    Happy to have an article to use in my classes, that is short, sweet and offers some clear examples.

  2. Nick A,

    Thanks for the comments Karen!

    Was the Critchley critique you were referring to by Van Oenen (http://www.krisis.eu/content/2008-2/2008-2-05-vanoenen.pdf)?

    If so…
    I “love” Van Oenen’s impotent accusation on p49 that Critchley “fails to speak as a true anarchist”. Upon reading statements like this, or hearing them in group discussions, I get so angry that all the bookshops in Sydney have run out of the “anarchist manifesto; how to be a true anarchist”. So I can just read it and know how to act for fuck’s sake!
    Thanks.

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