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Category Archives: Fran’s section

To rely or not to rely? That is the question.

I thought it was very interesting that even George H. Bush was shocked at the verdict regarding the Rodney King case. How is it that even though the incident was caught on camera, none of the officers were convicted of committing a crime? I mean just by looking at it, shouldn’t that be enough evidence? I guess what I’m still trying to figure out, and that the rest of us should all realize is that no, it is clearly not enough. Wendy mentioned that “vulnerability was transformed into danger” in the trial. They were able to say that King putting his arm up to protect himself could be seen as an actual attack –which naturally might have been a human response in such a situation anyways. Basically, in the age of cameras and constant surveillance, we still need to not take everything as fact.

This brings me to Wikipedia: all throughout high school (and even still in college, of course) every time I was assigned a project or research paper it was highly recommended that we don’t use Wikipedia as a first source because anybody – and I mean anybody – can edit. Which brings me to believe that it is very hard to find anything on the Internet that is 100% the truth. I think this is partly because we all have either too many opinions or because we all experience things differently. For example, one fad diet posted on Women’s Health magazine might work for a few people, but for others it might cause negative side effects. Anyways, I think in general its important to take everything that is being constantly thrown at us from the Internet and twitter and nightly news segments, Wikipedia with a grain of salt because usually, it is never telling the full truth. This doesn’t mean we should look at cameras and other technology and such as always a bad, distrustful thing, but we should definitely not rely on it so heavily.

It’s interesting to think about the implications of the evidence used in the Rodney King case, especially because King himself was never asked  to testify. As we talked about in lecture, this seems to undermine King’s experience: is what happened to him only the truth if it’s recorded?

This same line of logic is used in relation to Wikipedia as well. If something is written on a Wikipedia page, it becomes “fact” for all intents and purposes, regardless of its actual legitimacy. Because of its capture on the page, we encode it into our personal knowledge, and it becomes truth just because we accept it as such. In lab, it was mentioned how a lie published on the Amelia Bedelia Wikipedia page ended up being taken as truth even by the author of the books.

In both of these instances, “truth” is no longer the subjective experience of something, but its capture, regardless of this duplicate’s accuracy. It’s a very 1984-esque conception of truth, where whoever holds the power to publish history is in control of our conception of reality.

I was confronted by two conflicting concerns upon watching The Dream is Now documentary trailer in lecture. The trailer powerfully and effectively depicts the inspirational stories of hopeful youths in their efforts towards equal immigrant rights. The determination underlining this these youths in their call for social justice successfully framed a moving message that ultimately humanises the victims behind the neoliberal systems, which operate in a framework of privatisation and exclusivity. However, at the same time, this particular portrayal of the DREAM act campaign elicited a kind of underlying discomfort within me. Though their visibility is achieved, though their voices are amplified and placed at the forefront, and though their self-disclosure is an understandably effective attempt at reclaiming a sense of political autonomy and freedom, the DREAM act operates in complete agency with neoliberal notions that define citizenship. Though their voices express and disclose their personal dreams and narratives, these dreams already seem marked by a conservative nationalist ideology that diminishes and whitens out their personal cultural narratives that already stains them as the undesirable immigrant.

I am torn by the hopeful, empowered individuals portrayed in the documentary who are subject to the invisible forces that reinforce the xenophobic logic that traps foreigners in a perpetual cyclical condition of vulnerability and threat, and thus a an accepted “reason” for discrimination. Desire and devotion towards military services, prestigious college degrees, becoming a doctor — institutional adherence becomes a motif in these DREAMers’ dreams, in this central concern of proving oneself to be “worthy” of citizenship. I was pleased to read Beltran as she eloquently pointed to my inner discomfort that the documentary elicited. Beltran’s article effectively tackles these issues and provides a critique of the framework in which the DREAM act operates on and thus, very clearly explores this notion that the act of encouraging of these nationalist values as qualification for protection and citizenship is problematic. The domestication and thus effective erasure of the foreign, brown body becomes the primary means by which the marginalised are given any sense of political autonomy and freedom — it is an understandably seductive offer. In this sense of assimilationist politics, it becomes clear that the notion of citizenship becomes a powerful instrument of biopower.

The DREAM act aspires to emancipate marginalised individuals and communities from their silenced states of governmental, and institutional erasure, but simultaneously seems to operate as a recursive trap. Perhaps the projected fantasy of the democratic internet (as an alternative space and a channel of equalised power of voice) and its almost sublime effect towards collectivity and visibility has in turn, obscured our vision of this underlying workings of biopolitics. This complex relationship leaves me ambivalent — is there a better time and place for subversion? can queering politics help change/illuminate this complex condition? 

After reading Rafael’s “The Cell Phone and the Crowd” and attending Wednesday’s lecture, “Does democracy mean something?”, I began thinking about the leadership/ownership of protest spaces in events like People Power. Democracy indeed means that power does not belong to everyone, but to no one. Likewise, public spaces of protest—exemplified by the mall whose security guards smiled as their building was invaded by the crowd (or mob?)—belong not to to every protester, but to no protester. In these vacuums of leadership, it is easy for one goal to be accomplished, like, say, the ousting of a corrupt leader. But once that goal is accomplished, the power of the crowd dissipates.

Any organized opposition to the protest, such as a police force, feels the heat of the crowd’s wrath and can always be repelled, depending on the size of the crowd. This is because the crowd’s amorphous energy can be concentrated against a concrete target. But precisely because of the vacuum of leadership, the crowd is susceptible to collapse without a target to attack. The crowd has no real leader to give it direction and shape, not even itself. If power belonged to everyone, then the crowd should be able to re-coalesce around a new goal, and keep fighting. But this is not the case. Once the target against which the crowd originally coalesced has been “killed” (so to speak), the power of the crowd dies with it.

Before lab this week I did not have a Wikipedia account and there was a lot I didn’t know. It wasn’t the first time I had edited Wikipedia however. I edited the page for Blondie’s song, Call Me, earlier this year to include the latest cover version of said song by the American pop-punk band, Bayside on their album Cult: White Edition. I edited the page as a guest user (I think) and never really looked back to see what happened to it. After lab, I went back to my dorm, looked at the page, and saw my edit still there. I opened up the talk page to see what if anything had been said to find nothing new. I guess not that many people are paying attention to a Wikipedia page about a hit song from 1980. Still, that experience was interesting, knowing my small edit could have been discussed by an online community to validate its truth and usefulness in the context of the article. Of course, with nearly 5 million articles in English alone on the site, one can imagine many edits fall through the cracks and outside the community’s watchful gaze.

I think anyone who has ever explored Wikipedia while procrastinating on an assignment or misquoted information they found there for a project (usually with the specific instructions of not using Wikipedia as a source) knows that there is a lot of bad information of the site. A lot of times, this can be hard to find or even discern from the factual information. Other times it will stand out (I didn’t think Abraham Lincoln had a pet dolphin named Tyrion). Thinking back to lecture, Wendy brought up a terrific point on how this type of community was both legitimized  and delegitimized by everyone and anyone who used it. People using and editing Wikipedia are entrusted to add accurate information that helps increase the breadth of knowledge hosted on the site. The more users, the more information we have available. But at the same time, not everyone is an expert. Not everyone knows the facts. Not everyone logs on with the intentions to expand the information the site hosts. Some log on purely to mess with this information and make absurd claims or to reinforce their beliefs (I think back to Sarah Palin saying that Paul Revere warned the colonists the British were going to take away their guns and a great many of her supporters rushing to Wikipedia to cement this “fact” in Paul Revere’s page). This delegitimizes the space as these users mock the intentions of the site or misuse it. But the users who combat this, who check the facts and make sure things are running as they should legitimizes the space as well. Discussing edits in talk pages and constantly watching out for false, inaccurate, irrelevant information, these people serve as a kind of police force of Wikipedia. All the users of Wikipedia are the politically engaged democratic people of this community, using this portal to make the edits they desire and exercise this power. These engaged in the talk portions of Wikipedia and those constantly fact checking the edits made serve as the police force that tries to keep and restore order. There is a desire to freeze things in place and that’s what they kind of do. They keep the balance with accurate information and attempt to weed out the inaccurate, keeping the information of Wikipedia trustworthy.

I think that the Wikipedia lab this week, although not originally planned, was very fitting. A big part of this week’s topic has been how new media has connected people to allow them too work toward a cause. Wikipedia is not so different, allowing people to work together for an online repository of information. Just how in the Rafael text people were wary of text messages due to the prevalence of jokes, people are wary of Wikipedia articles because anyone can change them, but still willing to trust them most of the time. Also, as we discussed in the lab, Wikipedia articles can also be a way for communities to come together over common interests via editing and the talk page. Wikipedia is sometimes even the only (or only significant) source of information on certain topics not deemed important by mainstream sources of information. Thus, Wikipedia is in a way the perfect representation of collaboration through new media.

The last couple weeks have focused on the interplay of citizens and government in the postmodern era. Whether the topics have dealt with NSA spying (Citizenfour) or the exploitation of invisible undocumented youth (Coleman), the common thread is an othering of government. Most of the readings have assumed a clear division between the populace and a powerful, omniscient state. “Powerful” and “omniscient” in this case carry a negative connotation – government is invasive and oppressive, silencing subjects through surveillance (NSA) or, on the contrary, lack of acknowledgment (Coleman). But the most important takeaway is the notion/perception of government as a different entity; it stands apart from the citizenry, the visible subjects.

Given this framework, I was intrigued by Ranciere’s presentation of democracy. Essentially, he eliminates this notion of the democratic government as “other”.

“The demos is not the population, the majority, the political body or the lower classes. It is the surplus community made up of those who have no qualification to rule, which means at once everybody and anyone at all. The power of the people therefore cannot be equated with the power of a particular group or institution and it exists only in the form of a disjunction. (53)”

Here, Ranciere frames democratic government as a kind of random sampling of the population – an arbitrary microcosm. This sampling is random because democracy is grounded in the non-rule of zero qualifications. Anyone can become government.

If this is the case, it becomes a stranger, more difficult task to “other” government. Typically, antagonizing a power entity often lies in the division of rulers and ruled as two identifiably different groups, often with different degrees of access. But in Ranciere’s discussion, democratic government seems less like a standalone entity, distinct from the citizenry, than a sort of random circumscription of a section of the citizenry.

In these terms – everybody has access and government is of the same pool as the population – government is less like a separate eyeball gazing upon the masses than the mass examining and monitoring itself. Perhaps “othering”, then, is not about creating a static distinction between two discrete entities (government/citizenry). Rather, othering represents a dynamic movement. It is simply an action rather than an entity, and embodies the “practice of dissensus” that Ranciere discusses toward the end of his piece:

“Because the foundation is riven, democracy implies a practice of dissensus, one that it keeps re-opening and that the practice of ruling relentlessly plugs.”

There has been an interesting reversal of the understandings of visibility and surveillance that we started the year with in the most recent texts we have analyzed.  In Beltrán’s, “Undocumented, Unafraid, and Unapologetic,” undocumented individuals mobilize visibility as a political weapon, exposing themselves in order to point out the injustice of current immigration policy.  In Citizenfour, Edward Snowden similarly desired to expose himself, along with and as a part of an assertion that he is unafraid of the government, in order to legitimize his information and engender support.

These acts of defiance seem to defy the understanding of knowledge as power and visibility as vulnerability as set out by Foucault.  As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in Citizenfour, it would seem that the DREAMers and Snowden are doing the government’s work for them by offering up their information.  Perhaps public visibility could provide protection in that Snowden, for example, becomes too large of a public figure for him to be covertly silenced by the government.  Furthermore, as Snowden articulates, the understanding that the government has access to your information regardless of whether or not you are trying to remain invisible forces dissidents to take charge of their information.  Is there something significant about visibility on the internet in that it is not directly tied to the body?  Being seen on the internet does not seem to make one physically vulnerable in the same way that being seen as a dissident within a physical public space does.

The idea that public visibility of the government’s actions will reverse the process of control and create progressive change is also present in Beltran’s writing and Snowden’s work.  This idea is often overly idealistic, not only did the video of Eric Garner’s murder not lead to justice, it caused the person who filmed and disseminated it to be targeted by the NYPD.*  The idea that visibility of unjust government actions will lead to change, I believe, overestimates the power of the people to create real change.  The only power that American citizens have is within a system in which the dominant power determines the means of engagement.  Means of insurgency are becoming increasing controllable with the further ability of the government to track dissidents and the militarization of the police.

One perspective that I am interested in bringing into this conversation is that of Bucher and her understanding of invisibility, rather than visibility, being the greatest threat of social media.  Although I am far from convinced that that understanding applies to all social media users, the idea that within the public realm of the internet we cannot exist without active effort to ensure visibility could apply to the activism of Snowden and the DREAMers.

 

In Monday’s lecture, Wendy said that while discipline exposes people to the panoptic gaze, Facebook exposes people to invisibility, which in turn, disciplines us into participating in the EdgeRank formula, in order to be seen.

However, I have always thought of it the other way around. Like in the Panoptic gaze, the warden of the prison is never seen, but believed to exist. Invisibility holds immense power, especially in terms of the Internet and social media. It’s more powerful to put your profile on private, because 1) you don’t reveal information and 2) you control who sees you.

Personally, I choose not to engage with Facebook as a platform, mainly because of this mindset of needing to participate in order to have a “successful” or “powerful” presence. (I put that in quotes because what does a successful Facebook profile even mean?) I find more power in not having a Facebook, and therefore being much more difficult to search and find. I control what personal information is online.

For me, the screening of CitizenFour could not have come at a better time.  One of my favorite television shows right now is “Last Week Tonight: With John Oliver” which currently airs Sunday nights on HBO.  After discussing various hot topics of the previous week, comedian John Oliver went on to his main segment of the episode which concerned privacy.  Not only did Oliver go into concerns with the NSA policies on data collection within the country, he went to Moscow to talk to Edward Snowden, the focal point of the film CitizenFour.  Although Oliver disagreed with the way that Snowden went about his leak of secret NSA information, he does agree with the absurdity of intrusion that the NSA resorts to.

The screening of CitizenFour, as well as the John Oliver segment rattled me severely.  In the case of security, I always felt as though I was ok with the government doing a bit of prying to keep the population safe.  However, these viewpoints have changed since I have been in college and realize that you can’t be as blindly trusting as I used to be.  The conversations that I have in private should stay in that realm.  The websites one goes to, outside of pages linked with known terror groups, should not be readily accessible in a log for agents of the government.  If these invasions of privacy are to occur, the people need to understand the extent of these intrusions and have a say in the laws that make them legal.  As resulting public outrage showed, the American people are not quite aware of how extensively we are watched.