The videofilm What is to be Done tells of a group of illegal deported immigrants who decided to seek asylum at the museum, because of their belief that “art is on the side of the oppressed”. The director answered to the reporter that the museum is open to everyone, and that their aim in opening and running a museum is to “wake society up”. Without it, he questioned, “who will pose and discuss these questions?” Art as a means of activism has been an ongoing theme we’ve explored in class this past semester, from the Yes Men to the Barbie Liberation Organization, artist-activists have been using performance and tactical media to provoke and question society and the ruling order. Art is “completely harmless,” as it is mere representations, meant only to “make us think.” In order to open up the museum to visitors again after news reports on the immigrants, the director and in-house artist decide to turn the situation into a piece of art, Victory of the Sun, a performance on the deportation of immigrants. As “actors” to a performance, the immigrants cannot be arrested because what they are doing is in the name of art, and thus poses no direct threat to society. While there are laws and orders in place to protect and to ensure the smooth running of society, the choir in the film sings that “we should hear [illegal immigrants] out: They’re people, too!” These people need shelter, food, and protection, and “they’ve got kids!” Since the Dutch call themselves a “hospitable nation,” and that “humaneness has not been abolished,” a country cannot call itself respectful of human rights if it were to forcefully deport illegal immigrants to camps that are “horrible.” If laws and regulations are in place to protect the people, it should protect everyone in the society at that time, regardless of how they got there and whether or not they have a right to be there. The film portrayed the illegal immigrants as kept within The Eye, and that whatever they say or do are soundless to the people outside. This represents the actual situations of illegal immigration around the world, many live their lives as aliens in a foreign country, their voices are not heard, and their needs are not addressed. Their situations are often worsened by mainstream media’s negative and exaggerated reports to the threats of illegal immigrants to the country, often blaming them for crimes and trafficking. In the film, the news reporter also repeatedly referred to the immigrants as criminals and extremists, accusing them of posing severe threats to the safety and stability of the country. The Director retaliated that the media should be more restrained in the name-calling, because it’s not up to the them to decide who is a criminal and who isn’t. The “hysteria” the media creates often brews unnecessary fear and frenzy among the people, villainizing innocent victims who actually need our help and sympathy.
Author Archives: hollyfang
The Coming Insurrection paints a depressing picture of what capitalism has done to society. It described the dominance of capitalist ideas had created a future that “has no future”, where assailants rebel in all sorts of ways united by their “hatred for existing society”. The Invisible Committee wrote that the assaults “made no demand[s],” and the threats carried no “message[s].” This reminds me of what we read about in Anti-Capital Projects, which stated that their occupation of the schools made “no demands.” There reason for that was that “because anything we might win now would be too insignificant,” and that the “demand is never really addressed to the existing power. They can’t hear us – everyone knows that. And, in any case, they’ve never responded to petitions of requests, only force.” Similarly, the Invisible Committee described of the resistance in city centers around the world, from “nocturnal attacks” to “nocturnal vandalisms,” to carry with them no demands because there “there will be no social solution to the present situation.” At the end of the book the authors wrote “all power to the communes,” which again resonates with the Occupy movements and the Zapatistas, all three of which criticizes neoliberalism and the evil propagation of globalization and capitalism and advocates power to the people. While the Invisible Committee concedes that the communes “are obviously vulnerable to surveillance and police investigations, to policing technologies and intelligence gathering.” It tries to call to action activists to form underground networks to gather strength outside of the mainstream in order to fight the insurgent war. It calls for attacks on moments of crisis, be they social, political or environmental, to strike the system at moments of weakness. It gave examples of the student protests in France and the grassroots relief work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as examples of the temporary breakdown of the social order which activists could seize to make powerful attacks on the system. To the Invisible Committee, insurrection is the “local appropriation of power by the people of the physical blocking of the economy and of the annihilation of police forces” that are currently ruling the states. The Invisible Committee believed that “A day will come when this capital and this horrible concretion of power will lie in majestic ruins.” The Yes Men also staged a public performance on the likely downfall of capitalism and profit-driven corporations in their impersonation of Dow Chemical on BBC World News. However, while the Yes Men painted a picture of what the world could be like if corporations and government agencies take up responsibilities for their actions, the Invisible Committee went further to proclaim the impending collapse of capitalism. They believed that the failure of capitalist values have caused civilizations to be already in the midst of collapse, and that from “from whatever angle you approach it, the present offer no way out.” The past thirty years of struggle against capitalism have demonstrated that “things can only get worse”.
The students who took over Wheeler Hall described their use of chains and barricades to lock up the building to be a “paradox”. For a public school that should be open and accessible all students, teachers, workers and the community, UC Berkeley is in fact “open in appearance only.” While on the surface the campus is wide and welcoming, at the root it is closed. Contrary to its label as a public university, it has raised tuition fees, laid off workers, and attempted to silence all voices of dissent, putting in place measures that work to reduce its publicness. By taking over Wheeler Hall and locking it down from the school administration, the students have created in their opinion, an actual open space that is not bound by “protocols and rules and property relations.” In that space where the administration cannot reach, its occupants were truly free to their rights. Within that limited space the students created a symbolic representation of what the school should be like, where everyone had an ownership to this public property and a right to have their voices heard. The students wrote in Anti-Capital Projects that the only property of things which they respect is “omnia sunt communia, everything belongs to everybody.” What they were taking over was the rights to education, employment and public property that were rightfully theirs, yet were which “never [theirs]” because of the exploitations by the people in power. The students covered their faces with masks and scarves, just like the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas called themselves the people without face and without history, “armed with truth and fire” to fight “for [themselves] nothing. For everyone, everything.” Similarly by covering their faces, the students represented not just a single entity but all the students and workers who have been exploited by the system. The Zapatistas question: What is it that has excluded me? What is it that has isolated me? In a rapidly globalizing Mexico dominated by profit-driven multinational corporations, the indigenous people of Chiapas are increasingly left behind and forgotten. Similarly as the university becomes increasingly exclusive, more people are left behind to “clean the floors” and be the “underclass.” This has become the new goal of education: to create a social hierarchy that privileges the few at the expense of others, to create a stratification that allows for the easy compartmentalization of people into the various rungs of the social ladder. The students thus felt the need to occupy the university and its spaces to “put them to new uses.” To use as a “point of transmission” to broadcast to the students who study there and people who work there the need for change and the possibilities of change.
Fernandez and Wilding wrote in Situating Cyberfeminism that while many women like the name “cyberfeminist”, they hesitate to identify themselves with feminist politics. They distinguish themselves with cyber, as it’s “sexy”, but the word feminist “gives people a bad impression.” There exists a very fundamental difference between the feminists in the early feminist movements, and the pioneers and propagators of cyberfeminism. The authors wrote that from their experience teaching young college women between the ages of 18 and 23, most talk about female rights as rights to their body and image as viewed by themselves, their peers, the society and media. Early feminists however, fought for the “abolition of the State, the Church, and the family” and equal rights to voting, education, and job accessibility. These demands for fundamental rights differ vastly from those of cyberfeminists, who were concerned with gender issues that arose as a result of the computer and internet. When asked for a definition of feminism, cyberfeminists “most often say that it means equal rights for women, and they are quite sure that in the United States we have these.“ Here the authors wrote that many “younger cyberfeminists world-wide are alienated from a feminist past they perceive as irrelevant to their own situations.” Having achieved in their opinion equal rights as their male counterparts, cyberfeminists turn their attention to the portrayal of women by society. The objectifying and mass stereotyping of the female body as a result of the advent of technology in a free-market economy poses a threat to the status of women as equals to men. These threats could possibly reverse the supposed equal rights society has achieved. Thus, cyberfeminists attempt to use the Internet to “recode, redesign, and reprogram information technology to help change the feminine condition” with the aim of creating “new images, identities, and subjectivities for women.” The Internet was regarded as both a threat and a tool.
Another interesting point is the identification of the “innate affinities of women and machines.” Plant viewed technology as fundamentally female, defining the internet as a “feminine space” due to the web-like structure of cyberspace. Here Plant used the example of the telephone operator. Women have “traditionally comprised the laboring core of networks of all kinds, particularly the telecommunications networks.” The world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace, also gave the origins of the machine to a its female creator. Cyberfeminism then, is the alliance between women and their rightful tool to reshape and recreate the definitions of sex and gender. Cyberfeminism is also a virus, both to the machine and to male-domination. Plant and others “identified Grace Hopper as the discoverer of the first computer bug, and thus the computer bug is also intrinsically female. Computer bugs and viruses are mutations that can “propel technology in interesting new ways,” just like how cyberfeminism is attempting to reprogram and recreate the female image.
The conventional atlas is a geographic map of the world, marked with clear political boundaries between nations and continents. It serves to inform and educate, and at the same time mold our understanding of the world as consisting of separate entities distinguished by their physical locations. The map on the cover of An Atlas of Radical Cartography however, presents an “upside-down” world map, thus making it oriented with the South Pole at the top. This new representation of countries with their inverted geographical locations “calls into question our ingrained acceptance of this particular ‘global order’.” Our understandings of the North-South divide are challenged, and differences can no longer be classified as location-based. The North has been used as the general term to refer to wealthy developed countries, and poorer developing countries have been collectively know as the South. Physically on the map wealthier countries preside at the top, further enhancing their position as the powerful rulers of the world. Just as in “The Long Journey From Despair to Hope” by Subcomandante Marcos, the rich and powerful dominates Penthouse Mexico, a place that is so high up on the social ladder that one has to arrive by plane. The poor and forgotten indigenous people of Chiapas are confined to the Basement, a place for the lowest level of society’s hierarchy. However with the inverted map our beliefs of the order of the world is challenged, and “new perceptions of the networks, lineages, associations and representations of places, people and power” are provoked. How does the physical representation of the world affect how we regard it, and how it turned out to be? How did phrases such as “up north” and “down south” subconsciously shape our belief of the presiding world order?
The maps in An Atlas of Radical Cartography are reminiscent of the Situationist International’s idea of detournement. Through the “hijacking” of the conventional atlas, artists reconstructed the situation of the world. The maps in the book address issues of “identity, land-use, imprisonment, energy, migration”, and this mix of world issues and problems comes close to the SI’s definition of a situation, which Holmes quotes, “A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambiance and a play of events.” Unnayan’s map “depicts a community that was preserved in part by mapping it.” The depiction of society’s neglected groups is akin to the inclusion of Chiapas in the world atlas. Even though it’s a forgotten place by the Mexican government, it exists on the world map, and is thus recognized and acknowledged by the rest of the world. Various groups and organizations were established around the world to help the people of Chiapas. Similarly, the depiction of immigrants, of city dwellers, of prisoners in the reconstructed maps also calls to attention their situations, and provokes discussion and debate to their plights. The illustration of the map gives the creator “a tool for liberation” and “an instrument of power”, enabling the artist to reconstruct a situation.
It is interesting the distinction the authors make between international order and global order in their discussion of the United Nations. The supranational role of the UN is to intervene in “territories of other subjects in the interest of preventing or resolving humanitarian problems, guaranteeing accords, and imposing peace.” While an international order refers mainly to the right of intervention by the UN as accorded by treaties and pacts, a global order refers to the actual transfer of sovereign right to the supranational power. The global order unites the rights of individual governments in the “transition toward a properly global system”, where intervention is not regarded as a right, but a legitimate process. A global order creates “universality and objectivity of the international order”, removing inequalities in resolving conflicts between states of unequal power. An example of inequality is the Iraq War. Despite opposition by the United Nations Charter on the basis that war is illegal, and the concern of many other states that war will contribute to instability both within Iraq and the wider Middle East, the United States and its allies went ahead with the invasion of Iraq. This is possible because of the inequality in power among states on both domestic and international levels. Such inequalities in power prevent states from being “regarded juridically as entities of equal rank”. With greater influence and power, the US had greater say in international matters and domestic problems than say, Iraq. However under a global order, the world can be ruled as a universal state that is superior to any one particular state, “where the UN as the supranational governing body has the final say in all international matters.
However the idea of a global order is merely a “fantastic utopia”. Despite efforts in constructing such a supranational ordering, the UN had experienced a long history of ideas, compromises and oppositions that limited its expansion of power and legitimacy. Instead of a sole supranational governing body, developed nations like the US and G8 together act as the supranational power today, dictating global developments in social, political and economic aspects. They form the Empire that controls global exchanges. The establishment of a true global community consisting of equal nation-states will require a transition of power from these developed nations to less-developed states. It will also require the transfer of the title of sovereignty from current nation-state superpowers to the UN. The absence of either of these two criteria will limit the progression from the current international order to a true global order.
The conventional understanding of war involves violence and governments, where troops are sent in and innocent lives are taken, where diplomatic talks break down and massive weaponry are employed. However with the onset of information technology and the prevalence of the Internet and mass media, war is no longer limited to physical violence. The opening quote of the Hacktivists Digital Zapatismo is “world war 3 will be a guerilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” The war of information enables everyone with access to it, and empowers anyone who supplies it. The channels for information delivery thus become vital – they form the strategies for war. The Yes Men spread their messages through the mass media, etoy gathered their supporters through the Internet, and the Zapatistas also took their protests online. These groups supplied information to persuade the public, and used words to attack their enemies. To them, they are using “words as war, not words for war”. Words are no longer the means to an end, but rather, they have become the means and the end. What the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) did with FloodNet is to explore the other “end” of words, by creating a “counter-distribution network of information” that denied access to specific information. Thus essentially what EDT has created is a virtual censorship mobilized by civilians. Activism in the conventional sense is empowered with technology and information to form hacktivism, or “non-violent direct action”.
In the video Ricardo Dominguez likened the EDT’s protests to those of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, who believed in non-violent civil disobedience. Similarly the EDT “never destroy[ed] a server”, “never change[d] anybody’s webpage” and “never hijack[ed] a name or domain”. The interference to the normal functionality of a webpage was the only disturbance FloodNet created. However even though what EDT had done is “non-violent”, it is “a threat… to any government” because it proved that people other than the government “knows how to mobilize large numbers of people”. Thus here the video revealed the second weapon to the information war – people. Before the digital age only the government has the ability and the power to tell its citizens what to do through the enactment of laws and regulations. The two world wars were started and stopped by national governments because they had absolute control over their people. With the prevalence of low-cost communication tools however, civilians now have the ability to reach out to the rest of the global community. The Zapatistas in the hills of Chiapas gained supporters worldwide despite the fact that to the Mexican government, “the indigenous do not exist” (Marcos). Through the use of the Internet and mass media, the Zapatistas have not only mobilized large groups of people to support their cause, but also influenced them to fight in the spirit of Zapatismo for their own causes. This empowerment of people removes the distinction between authority and compliance, making civil disobedience a far greater threat to governments than it was before the onset of the digital age.