[3 January 2012]
“London burns.The Arab Spring triggers popular rebellions against autocrats across the Arab world. The Israeli Summer brings 250,000 Israelis into the streets, protesting the lack of affordable housing and the way their country is now dominated by an oligopoly of crony capitalists. From Athens to Barcelona, European town squares are being taken over by young people rattling against unemployment and the injustice of yawning income gaps, while the angry Tea Party emerges from nowhere and sets American politics on its head. What’s going on here?”
—Thomas L. Friedman, “A Theory of Everything (Sort of),” The New York Times, 14 August 2011
Roughly a month before the manifestation of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), one of America’s most preeminent neoliberal op-ed writers, Thomas Friedman, had no choice but to confront the underbelly of globalization. Despite the global entrepreneurialism fostered by internet technologies that Friedman describes in his 2005 book The World is Flat, recent popular unrest pushed him to realize that “this same globalization/I.T. revolution enables the globalization of anger, with all of these demonstrations now inspiring each other” (“A Theory of Everything” 7). A month earlier he even more precisely identified the generational outrage that steers much global protest: “it is a powerful sense of ‘baby boomers behaving badly’—a powerful sense that the generation that came of age in the last 50 years, my generation, will be remembered most for the incredible bounty and freedom it received from its parents and the incredible debt burden and constraints it left on its kids” (“The Clash of Generations” The New York Times, 17 July 2011, 5).
It says something about the current state of international unrest when even neoliberal champions like Friedman must acknowledge the vast inequalities and pure destruction wrought by global economic policies. Yet when OWS became the most recent spark among the burning global rebellions, the US commercial news media feigned ignorance of its causes and effectiveness. The New York Times writes, “The protest’s leaderless and nonhierarchical structure raises the question of how effective it can be. The demonstrators have yet to proffer clear demands and have rejected any involvement in electoral politics” (“A Protest Reaches A Crossroads” 6 November 2011, 28). Yet even a stalwart neoliberal like Friedman identified the central demand that coursed throughout protests in Tahrir Square and Syntagma Square months before the appearance of OWS: “It’s the word ‘justice’. You hear it more than ‘freedom.’ That is because there is a deep sense of theft in both countries, a sense the way capitalism played out in Egypt and Greece in the last decade was its most crony-esque, rigged and corrupt deformation, letting some people get rich simply because of their proximity to power” (“The Clash of Generations”).
Journalists’ inability to link OWS’s goals to the demands for justice championed by other global protests speaks to the myopia, mediocrity, and irrelevancy of much of US news. As Nathan Schneider writes in The Nation: “Expecting to find the usual formula of an ineffective leftist protest, they [journalists] were sent reeling by their inability to find some vague, though catchy, overarching slogan” (“From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere” 14). As a result, US commercial news remained stuck asking questions largely irrelevant to an anarchist-inspired movement.
Part of the blame must be squarely placed at the movement’s ill-preparation for dealing with the commercial media. Schneider relates the stark media operation that OWS had patched together during its earliest moments: “At first it was mainly just one valiant, black-clad college student with no previous media experience who was assigning interviews, posting communiqués online, keeping reporters informed and, unintentionally, spreading false rumors” (17).
Similarly, when my wife and I attended visited Occupy San Francisco in mid-October no one was initially there to greet the press and curious onlookers. The rows of ramshackle placards, tables, and booths that littered the sidewalk made it difficult to identify an approachable location. Busy participants scuttled among a maze of napping homeless in their sleeping bags and sporadic outposts of guitar-and-drum circles. Finally, Rachael, a mom and member of the firefighters’ union, approached us to answer some of our questions.
That same day I attended a general assembly that was just beginning to discuss the role of media relations— three weeks into the protest. Among the whirr of a bike-powered generator that charged a car battery that powered the general assembly laptops, participants debated the necessity of a centralized media liaison and a unified media message. One man dressed in techie-black asserted: “Even if we explain that we intentionally don’t have a central message, it would be better than doing nothing and letting the corporate media define us.” The four others attending nodded in agreement.
The rather loose organization of the OWS movements has led some journalists to question its overall structure: “Is it a moment or is it a movement?” (“A Protest Reaches a Crossroads” 28). Yet this question also plagued the alter-globalization movements that crystallized during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. During the tenth anniversary of the Seattle protests, activist Rodrigo Nunes observed: “The movement had never existed. It was a mirage, produced in a moment of hugely and rapidly increased capacity of communication and coordination, and wide-eyed astonishment at a just-discovered capacity to produce moments of convergence whose collective power was much greater than the sum of its parts” (Turbulence, December 2009, 39). David Solnit, a Seattle organizer, agreed: “There is no global justice movement. At best, ‘global justice’ is a common space of convergence” (ibid., 5).
Naomi Klein rightfully observed back in 2001 that “our activism has been declared dead before. Indeed, it is declared dead with ritualistic regularity before and after every mass demonstration: our strategies apparently discredited, our coalitions divided, our arguments misguided” (Fences and Windows 236). The critique of OWS seems to be more of the same. Commercial journalists largely dismiss actions and structures that do not easily fit into the compartmentalized worldview that journalism school and newsrooms have imposed upon them.
Yet, by all standards, OWS has been immensely successful in changing the terms of the debate within the United States. Discussions of debt ceilings and austerity have been replaced with those of wealth gaps and economic inequality. OWS has become a global meme that the Left has been yearning for over the last ten years; this is not entirely surprising since OWS, in a very different form, initially emerged from Adbusters, the Canadian culture jamming franchise that reroutes advertisements to expose their insidious assumptions and crippling psychological and physical demands.
Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters, has been arguing for the importance of progressive memes since the appearance of his 1999 book Culture Jamming: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binger—And Why We Must . Within it, he writes: “Memes compete with one another for replication, and are passed down through a population much the same way genes pass through a species. Potent memes can change minds, alter behavior, catalyze collective mindshifts and transform cultures” (123). Similarly, groups like San Francisco-based SmartMeme argue that activists must turn towards establishing memes in popular culture since it “is an ever-evolving, contested space of struggle, where competing voices, experiences, and perspectives fight to answer the questions: whose maps determine what is meaningful? Whose stories are considered ‘true’?” (Re:Imagining Change 19).
But the only way to successfully establish such memes is by progressive groups abandoning their dour politics of the past that were riddled with industrial age clichés and puritanical appeals of reason trumping emotion. According to Lasn, “We find in Mother Jones, The Nation, Z , Extra, The Multinational Monitor and dozens of Left-sprung books, magazines and newsletters the same old authors repeating the same old ideas of yesteryear” (118). As a result, progressives must establish newer tactics and strategies that are better equipped for dealing with a post-modern landscape.
Stephen Duncombe, one of the founders of Reclaim the Streets, has become the most recent proselytizer for progressives to adopt new media-savvy tactics. According to his book Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, progressives need to harness a politics that “embraces the dreams of people and fashions spectacles which give these fantasies form—a politics that understands desire and speaks to the irrational; a politics that employs symbols and associations; a politics that tells good stories. In brief, we should have learned to manufacture dissent” (9).
OWS, as a result, can be seen as the latest incarnation of a semi-media savvy, consensus-based, non-hierarchical movement that distinguishes itself from an older, more centralized and media hostile Left (even if this older Left exists more in the imaginations of younger activists than in historical reality). The centrality of independent media within OWS has led some within the anarchist community to lob Old Left charges that OWS focuses too much on “symbolic reclamation rather than more disruptive direct action that pushes ‘occupation’ into new territory. There appears to be greater emphasis on media attention and memes, and less on the relationships we have, the new ones we’re building, how we are changing through” (Team Colors Collective, “Lions After Slumber” in Occupy the System 10-11). But this dichotomy between media savvy and movement building overlooks how much of contemporary movement building is premised upon media production. (See my earlier PopMatters article, “Rust Belt Visions: The 2011 Allied Media Conference”, 20 July 11).
Needless to say, violent protest footage against Occupy Wall Streeters has become the most popular, going viral on the web and landing on the front page of newspapers. Most recently, we watched UC-Davis students being fumigated with neon-orange pepper spray by the police, treated as nothing more than vermin on their own campus. But before this event were the evictions from Zuccotti Park, the port seizure in Oakland, California, and the kettling of 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Although activists often dismiss such footage as nothing more than riot porn, a virtual rebellion that allows viewers to vicariously participate while remaining safely ensconced in their seats without any overview of why such actions are occurring in the first place, such videos serve two primary purposes. The first is their importance in inspiring activists.
What differentiates video, and art in general, from history and speeches is that it can relate what Raymond Williams has called “a structure of feeling”: “a kind of feeling and thinking which is indeed social and material, but each in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulate and defined exchange” (Marxism and Literature 131). According to Williams, the true social content of art and literature, in a significant number of cases, lies within “this present and affective kind, which cannot without loss be reduced to belief-systems, institutions, or explicit general relationships” (133).
Similarly, numerous social justice organizers emphasize the affective solidarity produced by protests and direct action. Jeffrey Juris argues that “these affective dynamics are not incidental; they are central to processes of movement building and activist networking… they constitute platforms where alternative subjectivities are expressed through distinct body and spatial techniques, and emotions are generated through ritual conflict” (Networking Futures 21, 124).
Documentary video clearly cannot reproduce these affects, but it can approximate them and relate inklings of what it might feel like to be in the streets, to be resistant, non-compliant, a vector of bodies surging against repression, the State, and the sedimentations of global capitalism. As Jane Gaines observes, “The whole rationale behind documenting political battles on film, as opposed to producing written records, is to make struggle visceral, to go beyond the abstractly intellectual to produce a bodily swelling” (“Political Mimesis” 91). Ultimately, it is to make activists more active.
So in a video like Occupation Blues, which records the kettling of protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge, the camera is a part of the crowd. Its framing jostles against surrounding bodies as the police cuff protestors, immersing the viewer in the immediate movements and sounds. The filming represents an interventionist perspective that places the body of “the filmmaker on the same plane of historical contingency as its subjects rather than to preserve the distance, and relative safety, afforded by the gaze” (Bill Nichols, Representing Reality 85).
The video emphasizes such contingency during its finalé as a cop turns around reaching for the filmmaker. The image blurs and the following words appear on a black screen: “Sorry. No more footage. Couldn’t film in handcuffs.” It then encourages: “Go to www.occupywallstreet.org to find an occupation near you.”
The second important aspect to riot footage is that at times it starkly exposes the brutal power relations that often lurk beneath the polite veneer of civil society. This is abundantly clear in UC Davis Protestors Pepper Sprayed. In spite of all the talk on public university campuses about the centrality of students and a quality education, the pepper spray footage reveals the true neoliberal mindset at work on students. They are viewed as either compliant revenue-streams to offset the shortage of state funding for public education or disruptive bodies that must be eradicated from the destructive, megalomaniacal paths forged by the one percent who rule university Board of Trustees and state legislatures.
The casualness by which the officer sprays the students reflects an autocratic atmosphere fostered on campuses where the demands of the many are sacrificed for the benefits of the few. The student filming the action remains hidden behind a tree, knowing full well that the threat of recording the officers’ actions no longer acts as a deterrent. The arrogance of authority trumps video evidence, personal testimony, and reality itself. The police’s actions brutally condense and materialize the undemocratic and cruel decisions made by those in power who remain safely hidden within their offices lording over their domains.
Yet OWS and its fellow-travelers have created many other videos that have been largely ignored by the commercial news media. Although no video can represent the overall zeitgeist of OWS, they provide vague correlations of various constituencies’s feeling and attitudes that comprise the movement.
One predominant strain of videos possesses a New Age feel that borders on the tackiness of a charity-relief advertisement. Where Do We Go From Here, for example, open with synthetic ethereal music. The camera smoothly floats across the screen capturing attractive and diverse participants—young and old, black and white, male and female— speaking to one another, determinedly typing on laptops, and feeding others. Periodically, someone spouts a hollow aphorism: “It kind’a feels like something is finally being done. Like people are waking up”—or a worn-out Civil Rights cliché: “When Rosa Parks refused to give-up her seat on the bus… no one knew that four years later there would be a comprehensive Civil Rights Act.”
The video’s sanctimonious feel established through its semi-religious music, floating camera movements, and hollow-rhetoric can be off-putting. It presents those filmed within it as the anointed and leaves the rest of us less pious rabble watching from the outside in the cold. It possesses an oppressive inclusivity that smothers us by its ever present wind music and beautified participants who imploringly stare out at us during its conclusion. The video makes OWS seem more like a cult than a diverse movement, more therapy than politics.
The German and slightly more refreshing corollary to the US New Age videos can be found in Thank God the World Economic Crisis Has Come. The title alone suggests the anarchist-inspired outlook that often welcomes the economic crisis as an opportunity. Disaster and catastrophic imagery flow through much anarchist media such as the writings of Derrick Jensen, John Zerzan, and CrimethInc., the videos of Franklin López, and numerous articles.
It serves a dual purpose: it not only frightens us, but also incites us towards change, to provide a rupture with the past in order to encourage new beginnings. Slavoj Žižek emphasizes the duality of apocalyptic imagery: “We have to accept that, at the level of possibilities, our future is doomed, that the catastrophe will take place, that it is our destiny—and then, against the background of this acceptance, mobilize ourselves to perform the act which will change destiny itself and thereby insert a new possibility into the past” (First as Tragedy, Then as Farce 151).
Along similar lines, Thank God the World Economic Crisis Has Come reveals a fast-paced, insane world. Shots of skyscrapers lumber across the sky. A man walks frantically through a mall in fast-motion. Images of day-traders hidden behind oversized computer screens shuffle before us, interspersed by stock tickers. The frantic editing reveals an unsustainable world constantly teetering upon its own destruction.
The narrator, who speaks in German-inflected English, announces: “Cash is king. But all that might be over now.” We watch a shot of a city skyline descend into night. A chalk outline of a dead body on asphalt follows as drum-laden techno music swells over the soundtrack. “Old World” appears within the outline. The narrator states: “Finally, the world economic crisis has come.”
Yet rather than developing what this means, the second half of the video blooms into a decidedly more saccharine outlook. A blonde-haired woman and child appear sitting on grass. The narrator appeals: “What should I tell my children when I work three different jobs and don’t have any time to spend with them? ‘Sweety, it’s more important to save the banks than humans.” The music becomes softer, more piano-based.
Interspersed between family footage is that of German protestors smiling and holding banners. The narrator intones: “I disagree with the system. I believe in human beings. I belive in a beautiful world. And I believe in love.” We see shots of wind turbines in fields and children in their parents’ arms. Sustainability through alternative energies become visually linked with new generations.
But unlike Right Here All Over, this video does not suffocate the viewer with its inclusivity, but merely offers one person’s somewhat rambling outlook for thought. Additionally, its use of more youthful music and quick cutting makes the video more engaging and exciting to watch than the slow-paced tempo of Right Here All Over. Nonetheless, the video’s strange soft-lit appeal towards family strains against its more dystopian opening or, more so, it reveals the sentimentality that underlies such a seemingly cynical outlook. The video holds a Romantic worldview, typical of Enlightenment philosophers like Rousseau and the early Marx, that views humanity as estranged from its surroundings and needing to re-reconcile itself with nature.
Perhaps the most insightful videos emerging from the movement are the ones concerned with process. This can be most readily seen in Consensus and The Time for Action Is Now . The first video is geared towards those completely unfamiliar with non-hierarchical, consensus-based processes. We watch a general assembly taking place in Washington Square Park where the human microphone echoes how the group came to a consensus the week before in establishing a declaration of principles for the occupation of New York City. Participants twinkle with their fingers in approval. As the announcement progresses, the camera sweeps over the immense numbers of people who are participating. An Asian woman follows, noting: “I don’t think it is possible without the process. The only way you keep people involved is you have a process where everyone can be heard.”
The video carefully shows the process at work and has people explicating on how it works. Various individuals tell us how the hand-signals work: from twinkling (approval), a triangle shape (point of order), to crossed arms (blocking). It also provides valuable testimony. One male participant states: “Some decisions I might not agree with. But because I was part of the process, because I saw how it was made and how good the intentions were, I honored the decision even if I didn’t agree with it.”
These accounts strongly contrast the skeptical portrayal often provided by commercial news media coverage of the consensus-based process. The New York Times, for example, recounts pointless meetings that last for hours: “one night in mid-October, hundreds of people had gathered, trying to agree on whether to buy brewing equipment, coffee and tea… An hour later, the same proposal was being debated” (“A Protest Reaches” 28).
Overlooked, however, is how consensus-based decision making serves as prefigurative politics for OWS. Pregifurative politics means that the political means should emulate the desired ends. One cannot reach just ends throughout compromised and undemocratic political processes. OWS people are implementing the type of non-hierarchical type decision-making in the present that they want future political configurations to embody. If a world of hierarchy leads to pepper spraying police, Wall Street oligarchs, and political functionaries who all defend minority interests, so OWS reasoning goes, then better to have consensus-based, non-hierarchical decision-making that does not relegate one’s sovereignty to often unaccountable representatives who embed themselves with the privileged.
Todd Gitlin, former president of Students for a Democratic Society, in an 8 October 2011 New York Times op-ed was one of the few mainstream commentators to note that OWS’s “anarchist impulse is nothing new in America. There were strong anarchist streaks in the New Left of the 1960s” (“The Left Declares Its Independence” SR4). Matter of fact, this impulse stretches back from the ‘60s with the Students Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to the ‘70s with feminist consciousness raising groups to the ‘80s in anti-nuclear actions to the ‘90s in the direct action demonstrations of ACT UP and to the 2000s of the alter-globalization movement.
It’s only appropriate that The Time for Action Is Now documents the OWS movement currently occurring on City University of New York—Hunter Campus, the very campus that in the late ‘60s held student protests for open admissions policies for black and Latino students. Unlike Consensus, this video thrusts the viewer into consensus-based decision-making without any orientation. We watch students, faculty, and staff discuss during various general assemblies the importance of affordable tuition, tenure, and the need for a more representative body on the Board of Trustees. One student nervously states regarding her actions: “I don’t want to get expelled. I don’t want an adjunct to get fired.” Members from CUNY Law School immediately chime in that they are in solidarity with OWS and will offer free legal services to anyone the administration attempts to punish.
Once again, the viewer is visually linked with the protestors. The camera sits level with those squatting on the ground, a part of the circle that forms the general assembly. Its handheld footage personalizes the images, offering a sense of the rhythms of the filmmaker. Diverse groups of people speak about the issues concerning students and faculty. This diversity becomes a hallmark of the CUNY system, of what an affordable education allows for and contrasts against the more white-dominated and male crowds often seen at other OWS assemblies.
Not surprisingly, the issue of race has arisen in a series of OWS videos. In Occupy the Hood, Malik, from Queens, states how people of color were underrepresented at OWS even though Wall Street practices have been negatively impacting communities of color for decades. He notes, “If the white community has a cold, we have the flu. So what I did was I went on the internet and made a Twitter as a sounding board, and it worked.”
The style is much more minimal than other OWS videos. It largely consists of a two-shot of Malik and another African-American male with a red Che Guevara shirt speaking before a handheld camera. The camera swivels a bit to gaze upon other participants. Malik relates a series of useful information directly to the camera: “And they stopped the welfare and they stopped food stamps on October first in Detroit.” An occasional photograph of protestors and famous supporters like Cornel West intersperses the mere three minutes of footage.
Malik asserts, “We’ve been occupied for years. Wall Street has been built upon slave bones.” A shot of a flag waving “Debt is Slavery” follows showing the linkages between the metaphor and the historical reality. He continues, “They’re feeding more people here than my mayor feeds.” The camera turns around to show a table of food being dished out to a line of people. The camera zooms in on some apples, bread, condiments, and boxes of additional supplies. The other man adds as the camera swivels back, the sound of his voice fading back in: “I want to thank all the people who have donated to OWS. If it wasn’t for you guys keep on funding it, keep on donating, keep on sending clothes, sock, shoes, tampons and tampax for the ladies, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, a lot of things wouldn’t be possible. We just blessed.”
A sense of urgency pervades the sequence not only in the amount of information mentioned, but also through the rough camera-style that frantically scans the backdrop while simultaneously trying to focus upon the two speakers. It’s trying to ingest as much as possible in a very limited amount of time. Furthermore, the sequence’s rather spotty sound and minimal editing suggests that its makers do not have much familiarity with video production but are nonetheless jumping into it since the moment requires it.
The minimal production style speaks to the poverty and neglect that have suffused urban communities. The video lacks the music, smooth editing, and general gloss found in the Manhattan-based OWS shorts. Unlike the New Age demeanor of Where Do We Go From Here with its moderate pacing and smooth camera movements that imply the socio-economic privilege that informs the video’s very form, Occupy the Hood captures within its shaky camera movements and choppy editing the poverty and deprivation that consumes low-income areas.
By mid-October the images of OWS had become so ubiquitous experimental filmmaker Jem Cohen produced a series of short experimental documentaries, what he refers to as “newsreels”, that screened before main features at the IFC theater in Greenwich Village. Cohen is perhaps best known for producing Instrument, his 1998 documentary on the DC-based band Fugazi. One of Fugazi’s members, Guy Picciotto, provides the soundtrack for many of the newsreels.
The newsreels take a more metaphorical stance towards OWS, less concerned with specifics than with the movements’ general messages, actions, and imagery. Throughout many of the newsreels, Cohen contrasts the distance and advertising-saturated world of Wall Street with the intimacy, familiarity, and do-it-yourself ethic of the Occupiers. Newsreel No. One tightly frames a series of electronic signs that dominate Times Square. Their flashing images fall out of the frame and reflect endlessly off the glass surfaces of towering skyscrapers. Times Square is awash in a vortex of advertising and swallowed by a throat of steel and glass.
The newsreel then cuts to the crowds protesting in Times Square. Hundreds of people suffuse the frame. Random figures cross our vision. As opposed to the ornate electronic signs, we see hand-written placards that shakily state: “We are the 99%” and “Stop Disaster Capitalism.” Although most of the framing is extremely steady and well-composed, revealing Cohen’s expertise in the medium, the sequence ends with the camera roughly dismounting from a perch that filmed a bed sheet that announces: “I Awoke In A Sweat from the American Dream.” The final shot has the camera immersed in the crowd, filming people’s jeans before cutting to black. It’s as if Cohen is intentionally drawing attention to how his professionalized gaze can also distance viewers from the actions taking place, so he intentionally disrupts or exposes it to remind viewers of the privilege that such short experimental films are premised upon.
Similar imagery weaves throughout Newsreel No. Four. Once again, we are immersed in carefully composed shots of wind-blown and rain-sodden crowds. A minor riff sounding like Middle Eastern music runs over the imagery of people covering their equipment with tarps, hinting at the links between the Arab Spring and the American Autumn. This connection is more pronounced in Newsreel No. Three, which shows graffiti scrawled upon the glass of a bus kiosk: “From Tahrir Square to Liberty Park [Zuccotti Park’s new name].” The music bridges geographical and cultural distances.
The end of Newsreel No. Four, however, ends on shots of towering illuminated skyscrapers, enveloped by mist in a dark sky. Televised voices suddenly appear on the soundtrack. One announces in generic news-anchor inflection: “I’m concerned about the growing mobs of Occupy Wall Street.” Herman Cain follows, chiding viewers to “blame yourself.” The imposing imagery of the buildings as the camera gawks up to their upper heights suggests not only the physical distance, but also the psychological and economic distance between the voices that represent the interests of the ‘1%’ and those on the ground. The tower’s magisterial illuminated windows are both beautiful and imposing—just like the “debates” and news being mass-distributed across commercial media. But both have little relation to the concerns and realities occurring to people on the ground. When it rains and pours upon struggling everyday people, the towers continue to bask in their own luminescence and power.
This imagery recurs once again but in a different format throughout Newsreel No. Two. The camera focuses steadily for 30 seconds on a corner of a shiny black building. Ambient guitar music plays over the scattered noise of the crowds passing by. We watch people’s images reflect off the building causing them to blend and separate as they round the corner. As the filming continues, we lose the distinction where the building ends and the people begin. The image in an extremely economic way suggests the collective transformation that OWS provides. It becomes a site where everyday reality gives way to utopian desires and the swell of converging autonomous actions.
This is followed by a shot of a lone cop on another corner, standing in front of a U.S. Armed Forces Career Center. The two repressive powers of the state—the police and armed services—are visually linked. Yet their power is undercut by the cop’s isolation and seeming irrelevancy. The Occupy Wall Streeters are not protesting his power, but more significantly simply ignoring it by operating on an entirely different script than those in authority are familiar with.
As one can see, OWS has captured the imagination of many different constituencies. With the recent evictions of Occupiers from their New York and Los Angeles encampments, the next stage of the OWS movement remains uncertain. Yet the rhetorical and visual power of its mass actions and subsequent videos strongly suggests that it is not disbanding anytime soon.
The movement’s strength might be how it enables diverse constituencies to seize upon its imagery and messages to engage with social justice concerns that had previously seen unobtainable both on the ground and within video, print, and music. The videos of OWS should not be conflated with the movement itself. Yet they remain valuable barometers in gauging some of the movement’s interests and contradictions, and they serve as a badly needed antibody to the toxic commercial messages that descend like rain from those distant, towering skyscrapers looming above.
Chris Robé is an associate professor of film and media studies. He's written for various journals such as Jump Cut, Cinema Journal, Framework, and The Velvet Light Trap. His monograph Left of Hollywood: Cinema, Modernism, and the Emergence of U.S. Left Film Culture was published by University of Texas Press. In his spare time he agitates for his friendly faculty union. He is currently researching contemporary media activist formations from the 1970s to the present.