Wednesday, April 4, 2012

On Marketing vs Reality

The video above features Amalia of (un)Occupy Burque, one of two Occupy efforts in Albuquerque (it's a long story). She's speaking to a group of people on the edge of the campus of the University of New Mexico, but her pointed comments are directed at Mark Rudd and his perspective on "nonviolence." In the background are some of the police present that day (I believe it was a Friday). As far as I know, there were no arrests that day -- though police repeatedly pushed the Occupy effort off the campus. Amalia mentions the fact that during the police push that morning, one of the officers put his hand on her, and it was all she could do to keep from socking him. Such is the depth of feeling of many oppressed peoples toward those who do the oppressing.

Such is the blindness of those who would play a marketing game with regard to Occupy or any other movement. They cannot fathom that depth of feeling on the part of anyone. Everything seems to be a game to them, with only the most tenuous connection to reality. I'm reminded of the pimple-faced youths who sit in darkened facilities in Florida, Virginia and Nevada (among others) watching the video feeds from the various drones deployed over the global battlefield -- the whole earth being the Official Theatre of War these days -- and pushing whatever buttons must be pushed to fire rockets and drop bombs on unsuspecting suspects, blowing them and theirs to smithereens as if they had exactly the same reality as the figures in a video game. Which is to say none at all.

Our systems are broken, our institutions are broken, our world is broken in part because of the attitude of the maketeers that seems to permeate and objectify everything, such that there are no more "people" any more, no more "society," no more "institutions" for that matter. There are only "products" and "consumers."

And even they seem to be losing their basis in actuality. A question naturally arises: What happens then?

Maybe people like Amalia can help explain. When you and yours become objectified to the point non-existence, as many American Indians became and are still, especially in the eyes of the institutional players of our world, you do what you have to to defend yourself and become real again.

Marketing is not reality. Marketing is a game.

Nearly all the complaints about Occupy that I've been running into for about as long as there's been an Occupy to complain about have to do with its marketing faults -- as well as some of its surprising marketing successes. These complaints come from people who tend to see Occupy as a brand with marketing value, not as a genuine People's movement based in the reality of their lives.

The theory seems to be that unless you can mount a successful marketing campaign, your effort, whatever it is, will fail (generally miserably). Everything is reduced to a commodity in other words.

In the video above, Amalia is addressing the group but is speaking specifically to Mark Rudd's point about so-called "violence" with regard to Occupy, and how to him and many others in the "nonviolence" community, even a hint of potential violence (such as wearing bandanas as masks) can be used to discredit the Occupy movement and thus have no "strategic" value. Such hints of potential "violence" are "violence" in his view and cannot "build the movement."

And "building the movement" is code for branding and marketing a product to be sold to the masses.

This is an idea that Gene Sharp and his followers (as well as other "revolutionary" minded folks) are devoted to. They believe in and promote "revolution" as a product to be sold, and they see the campaigns associated with "revolution" as marketing campaigns, in no way different from product/candidate introduction and marketing campaigns in the commercial or political realm, and they measure the success or failure of campaigns on their market penetration and level of popular "support" -- or product purchase.

Amalia and others point out that that is not what Occupy is primarily engaged in.

But, claim the marketeers, Occupy must become primarily a marketing campaign selling a branded product ("revolution" or what have you) or it is a failure by definition.

(About my use of scare quotes in this installment: I have long been skeptical and cynical about marketing and the campaigns that go with it, whether they are commercial or political. I don't see marketing efforts as much more than superficial activities. Thus the scare quotes.)

By those standards many of the movements and revolutions of the past (such as the Civil Rights Movement) were failures because they were never Mass Movements, and at the time of their political success, they were not popular successes in a branding/marketing sense.

The Communist and Fascist revolutions of the 20th century were failures, not because of any intrinsic flaws or external pressures, but because they were not Mass Movements and popular marketing successes. Or maybe people tired of those brands...

They weren't sold properly in other words.

The Marketing Theory of Everything, I would argue, is part of the problem of our times. We have to get past it somehow, and simply repeating the marketing strategies of the past and calling it "revolution" won't do for the revolution this time.

Something else, something truer and closer to the People, is necessary, and that's what many of those involved in the struggle are searching for.


  1. I don't think it has gotten bad enough yet. When hunger grips the land and years pass filled with hopelessness, the spark that will ignite the revolution will be generated, unwittingly, by the Overclass. What did it take for Popé to lead his revolt?

  2. Like so much of New Mexico history, the story of the Pueblo Revolt is complicated.

    Surely Spanish exploitation and suppression of the Indians were contributory factors, but there were other elements as well: a persistent drought on the east side of the Manzanos in the 1670's led to famine and the eventual abandonment of the Salinas Pueblos. The survivors merged with pueblos on the west side of the Manzanos and Sandias, and they told tales about what had happened. The priests in the Salinas pueblos had contributed to the suffering of the people; this was a general complaint throughout the areas of Spanish colonization regardless of the weather.

    Popé and a number of other Indian holy men were rounded up by the Spanish authorities on the instigation of priests in the pueblos. They were brutalized and mistreated, but Popé and most of the others were released.

    The Indians had been learning Spanish tactics all this time, and Popé turned the tables on the Spanish by using their own terror tactics against them. The Spanish fled in panic.

    But Popé may have learned too well. He is said to have become like a Spanish tyrant himself, and that didn't sit well with the other pueblo peoples.

    After he died, the alliances between the pueblos fell apart, and the return of the Spanish a few years later was welcomed by some of the pueblos, resisted by others.

    Ultimately, the Spanish regained the territory of New Mexico, but conditions were very different than before the Revolt. The Indians made demands and the Spanish acceded at least to some extent.

    There's been an uneasy truce and more or less peace between them ever since. There have been other revolts -- some brutally suppressed, others negotiated -- in the interim.

    The Pueblo Revolt wasn't quite a Revolution. But it had many of the makings of one.