Friday, December 23, 2011

The more things change...

A while back, I picked up a book called Everybody Talks About the Weather...We Don't - a compilation of Ulrike Meinhof's columns during her tenure at konkret prior to her going underground with the RAF. Whatever one may think of her place in history, there is little doubt that she was a sharp writer who had a keen eye for the events that were unfolding during the 1960s. In particular, her observations about how the media organs of the 1% of her nation behaved are ones that could easily be made today. In 1968, she wrote a column in which she layed out how the mass media (whether conservative, centrist, or left-leaning) implemented "strategies of concealment" to deal with the major protest movement of the day (a movement that was part of an international New Left that was in many respects a loose equivalent to some of the Occupy and Arab Spring movements that we've seen emerge this year). The strategies can be described as follows:

1. Petty bourgeois respectability as a value in itself

2. The innocence of the system

3. The order of things is in order - the others are confused

4. Engagement - but of a different kind

Although she was addressing the political conditions in late 1960s West Germany, in which the government was attempting to justify its increasingly repressive approach to civil liberties and against a backdrop of violence largely against protesters, much of what she had to say then is replaying itself with regard to the Occupy movement over four decades later.

Starting with the strategy of "respectability as a value in itself", all we need do is to look at how our corporate-controlled media outlets have portrayed the behavior of the Occupiers. There is a reason why the more overtly right-wing sensationalistic outlets have focused on the occasional occupier who has taken a dump on a squad car, or some equally outrageous behavior; or why the more centrist and liberal outlets - when daring to even mention Occupy - focused on the "unkempt" appearance of these impromptu tent cities that sprung up in many metropolitan areas across the US; or why all media outlets focused on those within the Occupy camps who appeared as overtly counterculture as possible.

The "innocence of the system" can and is portrayed at least a couple ways. One is to play down the abuses committed by police (e.g., pepper-spraying unarmed passive protesters) either by writing them off as bad apples or by blaming the victims. The other way is to portray our increasingly "privatize or perish" austerity system as fair - appealing to a mythology going back to the days of Horatio Alger.

As for "the others being confused": if I had a nickel for every time I either read or heard a politician or pundit from all "respectable" perspectives that they couldn't "understand" Occupy's point, or accusing Occupy of being confused and unfocused, it would hardly be hyperbolic to say that I would now be one of the 1% myself.

And of course we saw many opportunists attempting to co-opt the movement - the "engagement of a different kind". Seems there's an election year coming up, and both GOP and Democratic partisans wanted to get their grubby hands on Occupy, thus focusing the activists' energies on election or re-election campaigns rather than the issues that originally triggered Occupy. Thus far, efforts to persuade Occupy to "occupy the voting booths" or to get behind the Pope of Hope or old Racist Ron Paul or any of a number of other crooks have been in vain.

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