Friday, June 22, 2012

On The New "New Media"

I wrote in an earlier post that the media collective that has arisen is perhaps the most pronounced Occupy legacy to date, and I thought I'd try to expand on that a little bit today.

Of course, as we all know, Occupy "began" with a poster, or rather an ad campaign that featured a poster, initiated by AdBusters, a Canadian publication notorious for tweaking the media and public relations in every conceivable way and initiating a whole raft of alternative ad campaigns of its own.

Video production and graphic arts are integral parts of media, advertising, and public relations. They are inseparable. And anyone who's been around the realms of marketing -- and propaganda --  for any length of time is well aware of how important these elements are to shaping public consciousness. They infuse our culture.

I've been struck for many years at how completely so many Americans, even on the internet, or maybe especially on the internet, are captives MSM. Unless they see it over and over again on their cable teevee, it isn't real.

"Alert the media! Get this to Olbermann stat!" became a catchphrase and joke on the internet as various leftish elements were allowed a little bit of freedom of expression through "New Media" during the Bushevik Era, mostly in blogs during those days.

This led to obsessions with various personalities on the teevee and columnists in the papers. It took quite a while for the early blogger triumphalists to recognize that not only were they media critics, they were themselves "media," and they were quite as capable of generating news if they chose to be as those they were so obsessively criticizing and denouncing in the mainstream media. In other words, they could -- if they would -- be doing what they were criticizing the "media" for not doing. And there were more and more people in the various aspects of the alternative media who were doing what the mainstream media wasn't doing but who were almost totally ignored by blogger triumphalists.

"Blogs" seem almost anachronistic now. There are so many more aspects to alternative and New Media that some corners of the intertubes, cul de sacs if you will, like blogs seem quaint these days. I wasn't able to consistently blog until 2007 though I'd made previous attempts going back to the late 1990's. But by the time I entered the field on a regular basis, it was no longer the next big thing. Not even close. That was actually liberating, but I'll get more into that aspect of New Media in a bit.

When Occupy came around, initiated by AdBusters but not run by them by any means, graphics, print and video media were almost immediate highlights of the nascent movement. Handlettered signs on scraps of cardboard were a feature of the first wave of Occupy demonstrations, and they continue to be an important element in the panoply of Occupy graphics and visuals. Handlettered signs were supplemented by strong original graphic designs printed in bold colors on large posters which were sometimes carried in demonstrations and marches or posted around and near Occupy sites but more often served as internet graphics almost exclusively. That is to say, the often very bold and striking Occupy graphics were available for download from the internet -- still are, for that matter -- and circulated widely on the internet, but they weren't necessarily printed in large quantities for distribution and use among demonstrators on the ground. Other graphics, which might not have a strong internet presence, tended to be used on the ground, often supplied through unions and other supporting groups or were created especially for the specific Occupy or event and produced by artists involved in it. At the rally after the pepper spray incident at UC Davis, for example, a collective of artists produced a series of stunning screen-printed posters that were distributed (still wet) among members of the crowd but which never appeared anywhere else.

One of the chief elements of Occupy media, at the outset and now, is video, both livestream and production. In fact, the Global Revolution livestream, which I believe originated in Spain or perhaps Greece during the pre-Occupy days, became the immediate outlet for real time news and information about OWS in New York, and when it wasn't working -- which was often in the early days -- Twitter became the news resource of choice.

"The livestream is down" became something of a constant complaint about OWS as for a time those who were attempting this new (to most of us) form of live internet video from New York had frequent equipment problems (laptops were used in the beginning), were unable to establish a connection with the internet, and had such frequent outages of coverage at Zuccotti/Liberty Plaza it seemed that the streams were being deliberately sabotaged.

As other Occupys were established around the country and the world, most had a livestreaming video contingent, and few of them had the kinds of service interruptions that seemed to plague OWS. Many livestreamers used the UStream software and service rather than Livestream, and they seemed to have much better and more reliable results. UStream also provided advanced equipment at no cost to some of the more prominent streamers, though ultimately, most streamers settled on using their own iPhones and jerry-rigged stabilizers and mounts for their efforts rather than bulkier equipment.

Tim Pool became the breakthrough streamer in New York, live streaming the police assault on the OWS encampment and its aftermath in November of 2011 -- for a total of 21 hours nonstop.

That singular effort demonstrated the potential of the livestream format for gripping coverage of Occupy events and news. It was a revelation. It also became something of an unfortunate standard. No individual can maintain a round the clock schedule like that for very long, but Tim did it once, and he became an instant celebrity -- both on the internet and in the mainstream media. I shouldn't say it went to his head, but I think it went to his head. There was another problem as well: his celebrity attracted controversy and eventually attracted what appeared to be attacks from persons unknown (but widely assumed to be "black bloc anarchists") and accusations that he was a snitch in cahoots with the police. Something similar happened to some of the other prominent independent streamers such as OakFoSho in Oakland. Both Tim and Spencer (OakFoSho) took it hard and both, for the time being, have shut down their Occupy coverage.

Other livestreamers have emerged in the absence of or as complements to Tim and Spencer and some of the other better known livestreamers, and I follow as many of them as I can.

Of course much of what Occupy is doing these days isn't as constant and dramatic as it was in the early days so the need for extensive livestreaming of actions doesn't seem quite as pressing. Burnout has been a real physical and emotional problem throughout the Occupy firmament, not simply among the media collective -- although burnout seems to be more of a problem in media than in some of the other aspects of the continuing Occupy movement. I witnessed it first hand at my local Occupy. While there is still an independent media presence with the local Occupy (yes, it is still in operation), it is much lower key than previously, and there is only one individual doing most of the video streaming and recording as opposed to the half-dozen or so who once occupied the Media Tent and ultimately burnt out in their efforts (I'm sure they would deny it!)

In addition to the livestreaming, Occupy in New York and elsewhere in the country and around the world has produced some of the most compelling and visually stunning stand alone videos there are these days. Not only is the output remarkable, these videos are some of the most professionally well-crafted media I've seen from any source. Some are feature length while most are much shorter. As film-craft they are among the best in the documentary field.

No matter how Occupy evolves, the new media it has spawned will stand as one of its chief legacies.

It is a Do It Yourself media first and foremost. The insight is that you can do it yourself, you don't need to rely on the Mainstream Media. Though there are distinctive personalities involved, it is not a personality driven media unlike most of what's in the mainstream, and it does not rely on expensive equipment and a huge corporate infrastructure to exist or survive. Much of it, such as the graphics and the printed newspapers, is old fashioned and evocative of previous revolutionary eras. Much of it, like the livestreaming and the videos, is well in advance of the mainstream.

The New New Media that has come out of Occupy to my mind represents a paradigm shift in progress, away from the rigidity and control of the traditional media and their corporate owners and toward a more personal media.

As that concept takes hold, public perceptions will change. My hope is that the ability to propagandize from "above" will diminish and eventually disappear, but hopes are fragile things, and I don't really know how this paradigm shift will evolve.

All I know is that what's been done so far by the Occupy media collective has had a profound effect on public consciousness.

In a future installment, I hope to be able to assemble some of the examples of Occupy media I've written about here, but my schedule is likely to be somewhat chaotic for a while as packing and travel and a whole raft of other issues come to the fore.

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