Category Archives: news and Culture

Space and Time Separate Opt Out Film Week, but Anti-TSA Activists Protest On

Today marks the start of Opt Out & Film Film Week, a weeklong protest aimed at convincing passengers to refuse the use of the TSA’s advanced imaging technology in our nation’s airports (opting out) and when they receive an enhanced pat-down to film the procedure. Aside from potentially overwhelming TSA checkpoints with a mass of individuals opting out across the nation, the project is aimed at raising awareness about the TSA by creating a video archive of the TSA’s hands on contact with our bodies. The hope seems to be that with  a mass of videos there will be evidence of misconduct by the TSA and increased public awareness of what these activists view as a dangerous power grab by the state.

The organizers of Opt Out & Film Week have also created fliers that can be handed out at airports for those who are unable to fly this week. The hope is that if you cannot travel you can still engage in a PR campaign in hopes of convincing people to joining the protest on their way into the airport.

In my own research I have distinguished between resistance-performances and the resistance-performative. Resistance-performances, I contend, are the automatic reactive postures taken to the State  that do little to advance resistive politics. State’s anticipate the expression of resistance and even rely on the extremes of such logics to help moderate State positions. In essence, resistance-performances can legitimate the TSA by making anti-TSA critics appear as enclaves of people branding the TSA and Nazis. In such a discursive environment building resistive politics with mainstream appeal can be difficult.

The resistance-performative, however, is based on the notion of kinesis–that certain rituals have the potential to dramatically alter current social relations. Our performatives materially engage in a breaking and remaking of society leaving customs  and practices wholly changed from what they were before. Clearly, Opt Out & Film week is engaged in a week long campaign to alter the flows of power in airport security checkpoints. The last Opt Out Week, in November 2010, was a  failure. Evidence of this failure is little change in TSA practices two years later. Assuming that Opt Out & FIlm Week will necessarily be successful would be a mistake but that does not mean the protest cannot be a success. There are a few factors, however, working against the this protest.

1) Space- Most successful protests rely on mass mobilization. Even online mobilization recognizes the power of crowds. However, the business of airports and the function of security is about metering entrance to spaces and creating senses of inclusion and exclusion. Airports are almost impossible to mass in, and the design of Opt Out & Film mobilizes the power of the crowd in their digital archives after the fact. I am curious if a sense of solidarity and momentum will be achieved by assembling often isolated acts of opting out (that may be filmed)  after the fact. After all, even if the thousands who indicate they are joining the protests do engage, their flights are divided by time and space across the nations airports and border crossings.

2- Time- The sense of isolation that occurs with space also occurs because of time. Even if activists are located in the same city, they may fly at different times on the same day or different days this week. While a week long protest is needed with the enormity of the air national infrastructure it could threaten the efficacy of the protest.

3-Class-While there are an array of reasons to be concerned about the increased surveillance of bodies by the State, and resistance to normalized acts of watching is even healthy, the embedded issues of classism in anti-TSA communities persists. I wrote about class and Opt Out & Film Week in a previous post and got a very fast response from Ashley Jessica who is the main organizer behind this protest. Her argument was that class is not a relevant factor because anyone can participate by showing up to airports and handing out fliers.

As I responded at that time, class would only be irrelevant if you live near an airport, have leisure time away from work to protest, transportation to and from the airport, and freedom from a host of other social obligations that would allow you to go and protest. One of the things I am aware of as a critical scholar is that factors like class ( race and gender as well) are never irrelevant, especially when it comes to conversations about State surveillance. A leaked recording of a stop made under New York’s “Stop and Frisk” program underscores that under racist regimes, for example, there may be more pressing issues than TSA surveillance.

While all of these would qualify as critiques of Opt Out & Film Week, my hope is that Ashley Jessica and other supports do not take them negatively. Critique is integral to social discourse. Also, none of them are meant to suggest that the protest is unable to be effective. Over the next few days it is certainly an exciting time for anti-TSA activists as they engage in the resistance-performative in airports across the nation’s air infrastructure.

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Obama’s Dour Presidential Address at the DNC

Overall, Obama was rather dour save for his crescendo at the end of the speech. It was nowhere near his best speech. However, that is hardly a fair critique because that ship sailed in 2004. He was very Presidential- “The times have changed –- and so have I. I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the president.” I take that to mean he was assertive and much less cold and intellectual than he is often perceived.

One thing that struck me was that the speech did not feel totally built for his base. Some preaching to the choir, but most of it outlined the choice against Romney argument and built his Commander in Chief visage. This was especially clear in the foreign policy section. This has to be the most non-sensical contrast in the election. There is almost no daylight between Obama’s foreign policy and a hypothetical Romney-foreign policy.

Two takeaways:
1) The DNC showed that there is no more effective campaigner than Bill Clinton. The GOP has yet to really refute the bulk of Clinton’s substance. I take great heart in that. Not just because I appreciate the arguments but because out of both conventions Clinton was the only speaker to address actual policy differences between the parties with depth, substance, and length. He mustered ethos, pathos, and logos to make a policy-oriented argument for a candidate. The candidates should feel ashamed they lack that ability or are restrained by their consultants from using it.

2) Conventions matter, but a bump is unlikely. Unemployment fell today, by proxy of people leaving the workforce. That is bad news. At the end of the day the President has less control steering the economy than other factors. Nonetheless, this report will tamper what little momentum may have come out of the DNC. I am not a quantitative scholar and so I don’t prognosticate but those I watch (and whose methods I pay attention to because method matters) look for post-convention polls to return to pre-convention levels.

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The Epistemology of Fact Checkers

We treat fact as facts and fact checkers as arbiters of truth. However, facts are more complex than they seem and the current presidential campaign warrants a look at the rhetoric of fact checkers.

A curious tweet came across my feed during the Republican National Convention. With disdain and snark someone had lamented, “Epistemology is hard.” Their sarcasm was aimed at the factual inaccuracies they saw mounting in Paul Ryan’s primetime speech accepting the GOP’s VP nomination. The left’s outcry for fact checking was immediate. Sadly, fact checking is not a fast process. As fact checks rolled in the next day there were indeed a number of claims with which Ryan took liberty. During the first night of the Democratic National Convention, before speeches were even complete, Republicans were taking to twitter screaming “But where are the fact checkers?”

Fact checkers seem to be playing a curious role in this election. Romney Pollster Neil Newhouse said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” While campaigns are quick to bring up fact checkers to attack their opponents claims, rarely do they modify their own dubious claims debunked by fact checkers. Some have taken to calling the 2012 election a post-fact campaign because of the lawlessness with which facts are abandoned. Such defenses are lazy and often made by those who rather report what happened or support a candidate instead of investigating what was said.

More than all of this, however, is the nagging issue of the epistemology of fact checkers. While simple sayings like facts are facts may sound convincing, the many non-partisan fact checking reports, not to mention the various news organizations engaging in their own fact checking endeavors, makes it clear that facts are actually tough things to check. Take a few examples:

1) How do we calculate jobs gained or lost under President Obama? Do we start the day he was inaugurated? Do we begin when his policies take effect? How would we measure that? Do we factor in GOP obstruction to Obama’s economic policies? Yes, if we think they would have worked. No, if we think they would have made unemployment worse. All of a sudden fact checking Obama’s 4.5 million-job record is a difficult thing.

2) Medicare is another wonderful example. Representatives of both campaigns (Obama & Ryan) have taken or proposed changes to Medicare. These changes forever alter Medicare. That sentence sounds scary, but theoretically any change no matter how small would forever alter Medicare because it was different than it was before. The scuffle over cuts to Medicare, and attempts to check these claims, is based on this very issue. What counts as a cut? Who do cuts impact? What are the effects of a cut? Is a cut bad if it increases the solvency of the program? Maybe not, but I can make it sound bad? Can I make it sound good?

3) Mitt Romney’s phantom middle class tax increase is a good final example. Romney has not proposed a middle class tax increase. Now listening to the DNC you would not know that. However, Romney also does not have an actual formally articulated tax policy. Democrats have been operating by inference that if Romney is increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy the only way to cut the debt, even after cutting loopholes and spending, is to raise middle class taxes. They base this on a non-partisan study that argued this is the only way the math can work out. Here we see the complexity of facts. Fact: Romney has not proposed a middle class tax increase. Fact: Romney says he will reduce the debt. Fact: Romney cannot reduce the debt under his tax scheme without increasing middle class taxes (based on analysis of his tax outline). Obviously not all of these facts can be true at the same time. Democrats are creating facts by inference, filling in a gap in Romney’s policy for him. That is an inference not a fact. Yet, for some, even for fact checkers, this passes as a fact.

This brings me to what fact checkers (non-partisan and partisan alike) do. They inaugurate a regime of epistemology. When fact checkers determine what is true, what is half-true, and what is false they enter the discourse as truth tellers in a way that lends discourse an official status of truth regardless of its actual veracity. Regimes of epistemology have power because they serve as gatekeepers of knowledge, they help determine what counts as knowledge in our society, and even those who say they fact checkers will not dictate their campaign end up responding to fact checkers. Fact checkers are weighing important values in the conversation and verifying claims, that is an important role, but facts are complicated and fact checker’s determinations can be as faulty as a campaign’s original claim.

Ultimately, fact checkers matter because truth matters in a democracy. However, a lingering question is what counts as truth and knowledge in a democracy? We are already dealing with a very narrow window of discourse. The information that candidates say dominates the information that gets fact checked (obviously). They serve as gatekeepers for knowledge in this election. Fact checkers challenge them on that field, necessarily, and are thus complicit in the regimes of knowledge produced by campaigns. Is that cynical? You bet. However, we should take a moment to recognize that in an election marked by factual shortcuts and post-factual statements that the facts being contested and checked are already rigged. They are products of multi-media campaigns designed to produce very specific kinds of knowledge. That is the epistemology of fact checkers, a regime under which we are satisfied with the checking of the knowledge we are given instead of what we find on our own. That is not meant to call us dupes or to argue we are bad at democracy. I find little solace in sad militancy. However, we should be aware that every candidate, pundit, and fact checker has flaws and a regime of knowledge. Testing the limits of that epistemology is vital for our democracy.

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Rape Culture, Rape Prevention, & Masculinity

This was an invited talk at Your Community Center in Ogden, UT on April 14, 2012 to address the connection between masculinity, rape, & culture during a Take Back the Night event. They titled the presentation “How Not To Be a Rapist,” which I was not entirely comfortable with but working off that theme I addressed the need for to intervene in boys male teens, and men’s lives as part of rape prevention strategies. [Apologies for the poor sound quality]

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Rick Perry’s Strong #Rhetoric and the Politics of Censoring Hate Speech

[Warning this post contains references to Judith Butler that some may find always objectionable and already incomprehensible. Fair enough.]

This week Rick Perry pulled up his boots and stepped in it once again delivering a divisive new ad that among other things appears at its face to be homophobic and launches a direct attack agains Barack Obama for operating a “war on religion.” The ad reads:

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.

As President, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.
I’m Rick Perry and I approve this message.
(Transcription Here)

Several issues persist with the internal logic of the video itself. First, the overturning of a discriminatory practice in the military is not a defacto attack on any religious set of practices. Moreover, no direct link has been made that argues Obama has, himself, forced any school anywhere to stop openly celebrating Christmas. The ridiculousness of such a claim was laid bare when Perry tries to defend it. When asked by Wolf Blitzer about Obama’s War on Christmas Perry responds with “I’m just giving you some examples of what we’re seeing from the left, of which, I would suggest to you, President Obama is a member of the left and, uh, substantial left of center beliefs.” In essence, he has no substance and is only able to launch a vague attack on the left. See a portion of the interview and Think Progress’ take on the interview here.

Perry’s ad and message smacks of desperation, playing on the social issues of God and Gays to rally support as his presidential campaign fizzles. Yet, it is these very issues that Timothy Egan argues are losing traction among the right. Regarding, Perry’s ad Egan writes, “This is Perry’s last gasp; in desperation, he shows how this particular balloon has run out of hot air. Poll after poll has found that Americans now overwhelmingly favor letting gays serve openly in the military — a sentiment backed even by a sizable majority of Republicans.” As Perry’s presidential ambitions dwindle his campaign and his ads enter a kind of farcical phase. Even his choice in wardrobe becomes subject to satire. To wit: BrokeBack Perry This image, being shared on Facebook and other popular social networking sites point out the similarities in Perry’s wardrobe and the critically acclaimed cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain. The irony derived from both the film’s and Perry’s use of a rugged cowboy ethos for radically different ends suggests the fractures in the culture wars are beyond repair. Moreover, parodies of the advertisement are appearing all over the internet. Some even take on Perry’s logic directly and reverse his claims blaming people of faith for every problem this country faces. Take this parody from The Partisans for example:

All of this suggests to me that we may have seen the moment where Rick Perry’s campaign has jumped the shark. In its desperation to get back into the GOP primary race Perry went all in on social issues (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the War on Christmas/Obama’s War on Religion) that lack the permanence and vivacity to revive his ailing campaign. In a sentence, the ad is ridiculous. That does not, however, let Perry off the hook and we should remember that given the materiality of discourse we should consider how to respond to a rhetoric that attempts wedge a policy of hate and division for the purpose of political advantage.

It is here that I noticed, and was disappointed by, some of my friends and colleagues who desired to censor the ad instead of responding to it. Another image that I saw circulating with great popularity on Facebook asked users to go to youtube.com and (1) flag the ad as inappropriate, (2) for reasoning indicate that it contains hateful or abusive content, (3) indicate the ad promotes hatred or violence, (4) indicate the ad contains hate speech about “sexual orientation,” (5) then share these steps with others.
FB flag youtube

While I find Perry’s advertisement intellectually dishonest, desperate, disgusting, and one of the lowest forms of politics following the impetus to censor the ad is dangerous response to hate speech. First, we know that censorship stifles discussion, dialogue, and intervention in the dissemination of hateful ideologies. Stoping homophobic discourse from being expressed by political leaders will not make homophobia disappear because no act of censorship is a total act of discursive invisibility. As Butler argues in Excitable Speech

This view maintains that a text always escapes the acts by which it is censored, and that censorship is always and only an attempted or partial action. here, it seems, something about the text under censorship exceeds the reach of the censor, suggesting that some account is required of this “excessive” dimension of speech.(129)

Removing the ad from youtube will likely to shift the conversation away from the homophobic nature of the advertisement and poor quality of argumentation and instead agitate sympathetic media to report on the censorship of the ad and not the content of the ad itself. Not to mention that youtube is one of many places the ad has been released make the act, though symbolic, materially ineffective at removing the speech from the discursive field of contemporary American politics. It is of course ironic that the case Butler made in her analysis of censorship was the original institution of DADT and yet her I mobilize it to oppose those who wish to shout down a politician who wants to reinstate such a perilous social experiment. For Butler, however statements are performantive in that they have force in the material world. Given that framework, we ought not censor Perry and not allow his performative homophobia rest under the surface but instead be laid bare. The more we welcome his subjectivity into the realm of speakability the more transparent his politics become and the more efficacious our rhetorical responses can be.

In essence our impulse in the face of excitable speech must never be censorship, especially when words wound. Instead, it must be engagement with the material reality of living in a world where the flows of power operate to subject and oppress the majority of Americans to serve the interests of those who exercise the flows of power to their advantage.

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The Becoming-Nomad of the #Occupy Movement

This post is the second in a series of three using some concepts from the work of Deleuze and Guattari to chart some lines of flight through the #Occupy movement.

I want to deal directly here with the tension between sedentary ways of living and the figure of thought of nomadic resistance. Deleuze and Guattari argue that nomadic resistance exists outside, beyond, and in excess of the State and as a result poses a threat to the stability of the State and has the ability to make social relations otherwise. In this post, I argue that there is a dangerous tension at work between the desire in the occupy movement for sedentary territories (encampments across the country) and their mobilized potential as a nomadic war machine that can escape the reach of the state by avoiding remaining sedentary.

Let’s begin by addressing the central problematic of all of culture summed up in one remarkable word: difference. Despite our claims to the contrary, culture is not homogenous and we cannot get over or ignore difference, there is no post-race, post-class, post-sexist (this list could be so much longer) society to get to. Culture is a
heterogenous play of forces that struggles to negotiate flows of power
through and over difference. The occupy movement is one of many social movements to struggle over the way power has been distributed across
nodes of difference.

The force of their visibility comes from the State’s inability to process or create strategies to deal with the #Occupy movement in any successful way. It is a movement that emerges and reproduces like a rhizome and seems to make about as many demands as a rhizome. From the perspective of the State the movement must appear altogether perplexing. Take for example Deleuze and Guattari’s stringing of
Nietzsche and Kafka together to describe the sudden appearance of
nomads in the city:

“‘They come like fate, without reason, consideration, or pretext…’ ‘In some way that is incomprehensible they have pushed right into the capital. At any rate, here they are; it seems that every morning there are more of them.'” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 390

We can see that the bewilderment Deleuze and Guattari pick up from
Nietzsche and Kafka is likely remarkably similar to that found in the
stammering rush to justify State aggression and evictions of
protestors from their camps. The encampments in Zuccotti Park and in
Oakland, and so on, were simply not going away. At the start of the occupy movement folks smugly gave it a few days, then a week or two, then the eviction of Zuccotti would put a stop to this mess, and yet here we are and “every morning there are more of them.” However, the movement’s identity in its twitter hash tag #ows and its sense of belonging to community formed in places like Zuccotti represents its greatest liability. #OWS cannot risk becoming a sedentary movement and let the State dictate the boundaries of its cultural expression. it
cannot afford to have its identity dictated for it by geographic boundaries, instead it must reticulate the mate retrial force of those
boundaries.

Let’s parse out two terms. States are striated sedentary ways of living that plant roots and hierarchies, chains of command deliver official pronouncements that use centrifugal force to compel bodies to the center of structures of power. The nomad is cast out from the State, wandering beyond recognized culture, beyond recognition at times. Yet, they can traverse vast amounts of space and arrive in the
city “like fate, [seemingly] without reason.” The nomad is at war with
the State because they refuse to have their bodies subjected to inherently unequal systems of human relations.

Now to be clear, the majority of the folks who enter the #OWS movement
are not nomads, either in the traditional or in the Deleuzian sense. However, they are experiencing what Deleuze might call a becoming-nomad. That is to say that these geographically dispersed movements are sharing an intellectual, affective, and aesthetic
experience that need not be tied to any one place to make war with economic inequality and injustice despite geographic distances and to, at times, gain power and force because of those distances. The danger is that the movement cannot become a sedentary one. The last week has revealed some troubling questions about the exercise of free speech and protest in the United States. The clashes between police and protestors are doubly heartbreaking because they are avoidable and they have the potential to shift the conversation from income
inequality to protest rights. To be clear, we need both conversations, there is no doubt about that. However, if this movement, that is a kind of becoming-nomad, gets consumed with its right to this territory or that territory it ceases to make war with the economic injustice it
seeks to battle in the first place.

None of this is to say give up on Zuccotti or any of the other encampments, Deleuze reminds us to always have a small plot of land,
for without it we may lose our sanity. However, the occupation of these places is a tactic of confrontation that enables a making of war against economic injustice and cannot exhaust the creativity, energy, resources, and bodies of the movement. That is the strategy of the State and is the status quo. “Invest in defending your space. Pay your legal fees, pay for goods to protect you from our riot gear. Pay your taxes to buy our riot gear.” When these movements march in the lines the State provides it has become a sedentary movements and it’s creativity has been folded back into the desires of the State. At
that point little large scale social action seems plausible. All of this assumes, of course, that the becoming-nomad of #OWS can achieve some plausible social change if it presses on through the cold winter months.

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#OWS Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

Things have gotten ugly; they have gotten ugly in Zuccotti Park, ugly in Oakland, ugly in Denver, and so on. The late night raid in New York led to a drastic reduction of protest abilities for members of the #Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park. Speculation began shortly after the raids, and subsequent legal defeat, that these #OWS was losing the fight. Some even speculated that this could be the end of the occupy movement altogether. Such conjecture can be found from gawker here and huffington post here.

Yet, this morning the occupy movement in New York began marching on Wall Street and attempting to reassertion dominance over Zuccotti Park. Some were even arrested while dismantling police barricades. Despite the systematic crack down against the protesters and the widespread coordinated exclusion of the press from covering police mobilization against the protests, how does the occupy movement continue to sustain itself?

20111117-112736.jpg

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