Archive for May, 2009

Media Democracy — What is to be done?

May 28, 2009

Here’s a very short post about last night…

Raul at Hummingbird 604 wrote about the Where’s the Money in Media? panel.

they’ve said things that I’ve already heard, so that’s why I am slightly distracted. I mean, we all know that the newspapers and news outlets are in crisis. I don’t think they (the panelists) nor us (the public) have a response or a policy option that we can offer/suggest.

And early this morning in another conversation about the event the talk turned to a lack of solutions.

How do we make media democratic? I’ve got some ideas, but then this wouldn’t be a short post anymore…

[update] more links:

Video and Audio of the panellists:

Vancouver Independent Media Asks ‘Where’s the Money?’

Georgia Straight on CBC layoffs:

Vancouver Observer:

Review: Digitize This Book

May 22, 2009

The question of access is totally political. Democracy, and to be clear we do not live in a democracy, needs an open environment to be possible. Without access to relevant information, we are incapable of both our highest self-development and informed participation in social questions. Today information is exclusive in its distribution. Decision making is also an exclusive process. In capitalist systems of government, the decisions that affect our lives are not ours to make, and the information on which those decisions are made is not ours to scrutinize.

New media has given the potential of broadcasting to everyone with internet access. This growing access has been revealing the limits of access, as well as the possibility of information distribution. It has called into question notions of authority, and the control of ideas. The lines between the private and communal right to ideas have been blurred. The control of ideas by commercial organizations has become an active question, the situation has become political. In Bolivia when private commercial organizations tried to control the flow of water, the question of the possibility of democracy in a country controlled by private interests erupted in a wave of social organization. And while information is not as important to life as water, the question of who controls the flow of substances necessary for human development in each case, nonetheless, is activating the political.

Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now is a completely frustrating read. What are the politics of new media? And why do we need open access? Those  questions have radical implications. The title, however, with its allusion to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book!, is misleading. I had expectations of a freedom-loving-people-first radical “we” in need of open access, but, unfortunately, the “we” in the title refers to career-building professional academics.

And unfortunately the politics in this book limits itself to the institution. Hall delivers a book on using open access for professional political purposes. The idea of open access as it relates and presents the  possibility of free education and real democracy is the idea I’d have liked to see written out. But Hall didn’t do that. Hall limits himself to an academic discussion in a way that makes the book nearly irrelevant to anyone outside that world. I’ve been putting off writing up the book.  My reaction is to write off the academic world as career-minded, grant-chasing, intellectual conservatives, and while the academic world is definitely heavily populated by this type, of which Hall fits, the academic world is also all we’ve got. The main space left where thinking happens is the academic world. So writing them off isn’t really an option. This book of Hall’s is a disappointment for sure, but in it there are some points on which to get started.

First, there’s the difficult concept of a desire for changing one’s place in the order of things. This concept — and you can correct me if I’m wrong, or out of line – may not be a concept so much as a cognitive disorder; a desire for change without anything changing. Gary Hall seems, and he’s not an activist, to suffer the same affliction as a lot of activists. He wants a better world for himself — and others — without making a change in the world. Sure he calls the institution into question, but finds it necessary, it’s just maybe if he had a little more control over his work. This idea of a little change is something that needs to be thought through. Any change is a leap, a little change is a big change. In the case of institutional legitimation, where an author’s work needs to go through a series of controls, these controls can seem oppressive. Hall has found the process of publishing online can bypass these controls, but without the control, his status as a legitimate academic is at risk. Hall needs the oppressive control to exclude others and maintain his identity.

Hall conceals this return to a desire for oppression and control in the face of the possibility of freedom, in the terminology of Derrida. He uses Derrida as a cover, but also a legitimate currency. He draws on Derrida like one draws on a bank.

This is another starting point, the academic use of the names of our most radical thinkers as coinage. Hall does this on a number of occasions. The issue of legitimacy and authority, through drawing on the value of names. But the name becomes separated from the body of work, legitimating in this case a Cultural Studies critique.

Halls desire to maintain, in the shift toward digital publishing, the authority of print is just not a concern that anyone outside the university would have. It could be seen as similar to the grumbling of journalists, and Hall’s dismissal of the amateur is very similar but the question is New Media. What are the politics? What is happening to whom and how? But can an academic, especially one with an interest in career building, clearly think the university? How does the commercialization, the manipulating market forces on the practice of the university look to an academic? And in Hall’s case an “academic with no preconceived politics”? How much of this thought was forged in the free-market furnace?

On authority, and it’s similarities and difference to worth, an essay of Derrida’s is difficult to follow, and a book like Hall’s which trades on Derrida’s style and terminology is difficult in its counterfeit. The question of worth. It’s something to think about. No one is going to take the time to read anything I write. They might be interested in a quote from Deleuze. But Hall does something less. He drops names, Benjamin, Foucault, Deleuze, he drops these names without a direct reference to their work. Nietzsche  says something about those who use superlatives reaching beyond their grasp. And in this instance, the use of these names to legitimate his book, Hall completely steps out of his depth.

Yes, My Friends, Everything is Political

May 8, 2009

Here are some notes. They fall under the general category of democracy.

Issues of legitimacy haunt independent journalists. Why? Independent journalist are not attached to any legitimating body. They need to seek sources for their stories, and those sources need to be legitimated. This isn’t always a problem, but journalists, any writer, interested in social change needs to go outside the parameters of legitimacy to engage with not what is, but what is possible.

Any writer concerned with democracy feels the weightlessness of their words, if those words lack the stamp of a legitimating authority. A scholar needs to find a peer reviewed and published work deemed legitimate by the institution to begin her critique. A journalist needs official sources to get the story right. When the story falls outside common sense, finding legitimate sources is near impossible.

Common sense is a sense I continue to struggle with. We know a lot of things — we think a lot of things — that are so basic to our understanding of the world that writing them down is unnecessary. As an adolescent, and then when dealing with kids over the age of 10, (an interesting age when conditioning is more or less complete and reflective thinking is kicking in) you’ll hear, “I thought we lived in a democracy?” or “I thought we lived in a free country?” It’s just common sense that we live in a free country, which is of course a democracy. The evidence to the contrary of this common sense, doesn’t seem to have an effect on the way we understand our situation. Clearly we do not live in a democracy, the basis of this note/post is the question of authority and legitimation as an external conditioner imposed upon a writer’s practice and limiting expression and action.

In the Weekend edition May 1-3, 2009 of the Metro, Ezra Levant writes in the Comment & Views section,

Funny: I thought freedom of speech, freedom for the press and freedom of religion were human rights!

He ends the article with, “freedom is a Canadian value and we won’t give it up easily.” He says in the article that we take this freedom for granted, and that the price is eternal vigilance, but if you find that whenever you actually say or do something outside the parameters of ‘Canadian Freedom,’ you find yourself in court (literally or figuratively), would the base line not then be that we live in a heavily legislated society, and that we’ve got the choice to obey or resist?

I’d also like to make a note of the Metro’s May 8-10, 2009 Comment & Views section. In the article titled “Vote – democracy will thank you”  we get another short piece heavy on common sense. It’s peppered with phrases (are they cynical?) like “The miracle of Democracy,” “a privilege many people in the rest of the world do not enjoy,” “this choice is better than no choice,” and then it goes into the old line about the apathy of the electorate. But here, trotting out these old tired lines, there are some interesting moments. Paul Sullivan writes,

“For some reason, everyone is really good at complaining about the government, but not so good at doing anything about it.”

Even writing the words ‘journalistic integrity’ calls the notion into question, but my concern here is journalistic curiosity. “For some reason,” just like that, is dismissed, it is as though this reason is of no interest. What interests our writer is the tired old line about the complaining non-voter. The implication is that those who do not buy-in to the illusion of representational democracy are somehow themselves the systemic problem. Could the reason be, as is even mentioned in the article, that there really isn’t anything the voter can do about it? We are limited by weak choices. Look at the Vancouver-False Creek riding with a Conservative running as a Liberal against a 22 year-old-tit-grabbing-kid!! No seriously make your choice, and live quietly with it. This statement is also ridiculous but because as common sense it stands without editors needing to check the facts and sources. It’s a joke sure, “everyone;” where’s the source to confirm that number?

And this is good too:

“More than 40 per cent do not live in a democracy and have no say over who runs their lives.”

Is that what a democracy is? Choose the people who run your life? Choose your Gods and Kings? Or might democracy be better understood as the right to manage your own affairs in community with others. It might, but that’s not what we have. Looks like real democracy still needs building.

And one more note…

Ok, maybe this is a few notes, but they do relate.

At Broadway Station on Thursday morning a transit employee used the system’s loud speaker to say “Carole James rocks” and in all the news reports this was followed by a negative comment, let’s imagine “Gordon Campbell is a big fat liar” (That’s been going around on the back of a bike for the past few weeks.) The employee was sent home, his actions are under investigation, and he will be dealt with accordingly.

Teachers have had the same sort of muzzle strapped on them by their employers. (And Canadian scientists too)

Bill 42, B.C.’s pre-election ‘gag law’ which took effect on February 13, is an attempt to muzzle all critics of the BC Liberal government in the 90-day period preceding the May 12 provincial election.

And in today’s Province (Thursday May 7, 2009) it looks like Onion-like-lampooners have struck again. On A3 there’s an article about Parliament’s unanimous support for integrating seal pelts into designs of the Canadian Olympic Team’s uniform. Yes, my friends, everything is political.

Rambling on the DTES

May 7, 2009

Jane’s Walk

Originally uploaded by Rodger Levesque

Jane’s Walk is held simultaneously in 11 cities across the country and this past year was a first for Vancouver. Inspired by Jane Jacob’s grassroots vision of the city and her belief that in order to know your city “you have to get out and walk,” Jane’s Walk is a simple idea. It is free, it connects people and builds communities by promoting urban literacy and citizen engagement.

This past Sunday, Wendy Pedersen took a group on tour around the Downtown Eastside. We were shown some of the community successes, and some of the failures. The failures must be properly dropped on the governments, federal and provincial, that let the people down. Political decision making in the past couple decades seems to have leaned more toward the interests of profiteering developers. The tour did show there’s still a whole lot of fight left in the DTES community.

There are empty lots the community wants a say in developing. (There’s one of the lots behind Wendy Pedersen in the picture above.) In a democracy would development be decided by people or profit? If you’re interested in learning more about the DTES community check out the Carnegie Community Action Project blog.

This is as good a place as any to write about Krishna Pendakur‘s talk at the Reel Justice Film Festival. During the festival there were two constantly conflicting lines about the issue of homelessness. The one line is that the issue is complex, or the solution is complex. And the other is the issue and solution are simple.

The issue can seem complicated by drug, family breakdown, mental health, youth, age, race and disability issues, but Krishna Pendakur presented the problem as simple and solvable. Quite simply, homelessness is an issue of high rents and low incomes. That the problem is growing, that more people in BC are becoming homeless is simply the result of government policy decisions.

In the early 1990s the federal government quit subsidizing rental housing builds and then the province followed that lead in the early 2000s. Another policy decision, the condominium act, allowed buildings to be more easily broken up for sale. This policy decision helped reduce the number of rental units available.

Pendakur sees the issue as solely the result of government policy. He said we can undo these choices; an election is coming. One group that’s trying to get the issue of homelessness on the political agenda is the Organizing Centre for Social and Economic Justice. They’ve organized a rally for this Saturday, May 9. It starts 1pm at Clark Park.

Movie Review: 7 Pounds

May 1, 2009

I’ve been at a bit of an impasse lately here on this blog. It’s not that over the years I haven’t gone a week, or a month, without a single update, but this is different. Those spaces of inactivity were just that, inactivity. I wasn’t writing anything, or thinking about writing anything, but the past week, I’ve had many ideas for posts, and it’s not like I’ve done thing about it. I’ve got pages and pages of notes, but nothing has been finished. I’m considering posting the fragments, the starts, misstarts, notes, whatever it is I’ve got. I’ve been thinking about it. I could do a massive dump of unfinished material, not that anything is ever really finished here, and maybe this is my issue. Something. I am trying to do something here. There is an attempt at an articulation, an articulation that is impossible if I keep trying to hold it together. And here I am trying write freely, while trying to hold it together. Not that I’m holding much together, not that at this point letting go is a very far fall. I’m on the lower branches of this here tree.

A critic of mine recently said that blogging was like breathing, it’s nothing, it’s what you do in your normal everyday existence, a completely unimportant thing; not something you should take time out of your day to do. We’ve all got these critics, some are people we hardly even know. The subtle criticism, a form of humiliation, a gentle chiding to get with the program. Here I am trying to write the revolution, my revolution, here I am trying to live my revolution, I want to deprogram myself, this is the experiment. I have you in me, I can actually hear you as I think, thinking over and through me, calling my writing a form of self-justification, justifying what it is that I want to do, but what of standing in line when you don’t want to as the ‘system’ reproduces itself? What of actions that need no justification, this is the way things are… What? Didn’t you say you want change? Can change come from comfortably redoing what is? I am troubled by my need to justify. Reconstituting yourself in a new social, it’s got to be uncomfortable. The look on Will Smiths face in Seven Pounds, regardless of what you think of his acting, or in this case, overacting, really would suicide come so often as a shock if real-life suicidal people looked at you with a screwed up face of tortured anguish, like at any moment their face is going to implode in a puddle of tears? That look is an actor’s artistic expression of this discomfort. Otherwise, like in real life, you wouldn’t see it. “He looked fine, was talking about the future, seemed happy…”

Seven Pounds, ok, movies are timely, constitutive, and heavily financed, even if the makers are considered ‘Hollywood Left‘, that designation carries a very different set of values than say, working-class left. So here we have a long slow meditation on extremely deliberate suicide. Why? All movies are made for a reason. All movies are doing something for someone. Money is always making something happen for someone. So the questions are always, who is this for? who is this from? and why? But also what can we do with it? Can we treat it allegorically?

Will Smith plays a wheeler dealer, with his eye on business, only business, not on the road, he loses everything worth living for. At some point he decides to altruistically give his body away. He investigates people in need of physical parts to see if they are good people. I note with interest the violence (he slams the head of a ‘bad man’ into and shattering a glass pane) he inflicts on bad people. He slowly gives away his body parts, and finally his heart and eyes are donated in a suicidal bathtub scene oddly reminiscent of a Britney Spears video, The last scene is a reuniting of his eyes and heart. The world is a better place for his reconstituting of his self into a new and better social body.

The anguish of becoming something other than what we are is shown graphically. He gives bone marrow without anaesthetic, and finally lowers himself into a tub of ice, and is stung by a jellyfish. This is deliberate and painful. Restitution hurts? Who is this movie taking to? What is being said?