Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

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While happening at the same time, they are not the same thing

February 21, 2011

The protests in Wisconsin and those across the Middle East and North Africa, while happening at the same time, are not the same thing.

The fact that Scott Walker was fairly elected to the governorship of Wisconsin is, well, pretty important. He hasn’t overstayed his term. He wasn’t disingenuous during the campaign about what kind of policies he would pursue.  And he isn’t breaking any rules to pass this bill–if anything, it’s the Senate Democrats who are playing outside the bounds.

So I, for one, found the inevitable comparisons between Walker and Mubarak (or Wisconsin and Egypt/Tunisia/etc) to be, at best, silly and at worst, disrespectful to the real oppression suffered under real dictators.

No really.  It matters that the police were helping protesters in wheelchairs get over curbs, not trying to kill them.

I understand that stupid signs find their way to every protest.  So  I advocate for not reading too much into them.  In fact, the inability of organizers to micromanage every sign is actually evidence of a true grassroots movement.  But.  They still make me cringe, especially knowing that the opposition will try to use them to discredit the protest.

On the flip side, there were allusions to current global happenings that I appreciated and found empowering. A handful of signs that read “Walk like an Egyptian!” come to mind. Rather than drawing a false parallel between two very different kinds of leaders, it called Wisconsin’s protesters to persevere, while honoring the commitment and bravery of Egypt’s reformers.

I don’t mean to suggest that the domestic and international protests are completely unrelated.  Flying Whale and I have talked offline about whether or not a global working class consciousness is on the verge of (re-)emerging.  And this sign from an Egyptian man certainly provide some reason for hope.

But until I see the next step forward on that front, I’ll argue  for better signs.

Jonas

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Firdos and Tahrir

February 8, 2011

Tumblr_lfyhanYdob1qdxs88o1_500I’m very taken with this photo comparison, as are many folks.  I’ve poked around enough to know that the zoomed out shot of the square in Baghdad was available from Reuters all along.  Why, then, were there news reports comparing this event to the fall of the Berlin Wall?  Why was only the cropped shot published or streamed on TV?  At what level did the deception take place?

Lucky for me, the New Yorker decided to take on the myth of Firdos Square last week.  The article pretty decisively dismisses the circulating stories about the entire event being staged by US psychological operations teams. Rather than the government, it was the media that created the lie.

Primed for triumph, they were ready to latch onto a symbol of what they believed would be a joyous finale to the war. It was an unfortunate fusion: a preconception of what would happen, of what victory would look like, connected at Firdos Square with an aesthetically perfect representation of that preconception.

We’re all relatively accustomed to the myth-making that happens when history is reinterpreted with the benefit of hindsight.  In the article, Wilson Surratt, senior executive producer in charge of CNN’s control room in Atlanta that day, says that “at some point, you’ve got to trust the viewer to understand what they’re seeing.”  But should the viewer really have to ask whether they’re being shown a deliberately cropped frame that hides a dissonant context?  The article’s author, Peter Maass, writes:

Propaganda has been a staple of warfare for ages, but the notion of creating events on the battlefield, as opposed to repackaging real ones after the fact, is a modern development.

And I would add, one that we’re not well equipped to protect ourselves from.

There is another question embedded in the article–about whether the event itself–as it really happened, not as it was falsely reported back home–was impacted by the presence of the media.  Any of us who have ever smiled for a camera or cheered when the video swung our way know that the answer is yes.  But the implications for responsible journalism are less obvious to me.

Thoughts?

Jonas