Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Procession of Simulacra and Social Movements

I was in Vancouver last week for the start of the Olympics. It was a really strange time for me.

On one hand, I was excited about the Olympics. Large parts of downtown Vancouver had been pedestrianized, and were accordingly vibrant and brilliant. The massive support for street culture at this time reflected some of the excitement that got me interested in cities in the first place: it reminded me of sitting in classes during the fall of 2005 (!), after a year and a half of a boring and directionless university experience, and being stimulated by the thought of streets as a point of contact, social negotiation, struggle, and not-so-quiet beauty. I would be lying if I said I didn't find this really engaging. Many of my friends in Vancouver were similarly excited about the buzz in their city.

On the other hand, I felt some affinity for the argument that the glitz and the glamour of these games were obfuscating some disturbing social trends. The story by now should an unfortunately familiar one: gentrification, displacement, place-marketing, the construction of amenities for the wealthy at the expense of social welfare programs, and so on. In the case of Vancouver, however, these processes were hurtling forward at warp speed. Serious questions need to be (and have been) raised about the magnitude of funding that the City of Vancouver has dedicated to sprucing up Yaletown while a scant few blocks away the notorious Downtown East Side, Canada's poorest postal code, continues to grapple with deeply entrenched poverty, homelessness, crime, and drug addiction. Serious questions need to be asked about the viability of the Canada Line skytrain and twinning the road to Whistler, and why money wasn't spent on more sensible systems. Serious questions need to be asked about why housing promises for the game have fallen through, and about the scale of the games' incomprehensibly huge ($1 billion CDN) security budget. Serious questions need to be asked about the relevance of the Olympics themselves and the amount of investment they attract in a world where over 3 billion people still live on under $1USD per day (of course, this observation calls into question the whole spectacle endemic to neoliberal capitalism, and so it shouldn't be a surprise why it gets overlooked ... but still, come on).

I had one friend who shared these concerns, and he took to me a large protest of the games on opening day. I would estimate that the protest drew about three thousand attendees. It was peaceful and inclusive, and managed to march all the way to gates of BC Place, where it was stopped by a line of (surpsingly congenial) police officers. It was framed in class terms, which I think was the right idea. It emphasized democracy and communication, which again I think was the correct notion. And yet there is one thing about the protest that bothered me, and continues to bother me.

There were a small group of self proclaimed anarchists wearing requisite balaclavas and waving black flags at the forefront of the march, chanting anti-state slogans and coordinating their action with scouts operating ahead of the march via their cellphones. There were bored looking teens in brightly coloured keffiyeh snapping pictures, undoubtedly for their blogs. There scraggly looking men smoking joints and shouting "viva la relolution!". There is a no 2010 site offering "militant merchandise". There is a Tent City in the DTES where the population of homeless persons is outnumbered by middle-class UBC students. I look at all of this and can't help but wonder if revolution itself has become an empty signifier.

Revolutionairy social action, or playing right into the hands of
what marketing has informed us we should anticipate?

Have suburban malls selling Che Guevera shirts, radio-friendly punk rock, flag-burnings in Rage Against the Machine videos, romanticized accounts of revolution in television and film and so on commodified the concept of revolution so thoroughly that it has precluded a popular conception of what a real revolution (or really effective social action) might look like? If so, no matter how well-meaning these protests are, how effective can they actually be? Is the Spectacle, as Debord has it, really so skilled at processing and coopting dissent, turning it into a hapless caricature? Is there any hope for meaningful social action that can escape cliche, irony and marketing logic, or are these forces too deeply entrenched - in short, has Adorno's negative dialectic crossed the rubicon?

I don't want to think about the answer to that question right now. I'll have to, soon, but I don't want to right now. I want to believe in communication, I want to believe in democracy, and I want to believe in consensus, but some days...

Artistic ammunition for ontological warfare: The Raincoats - S/T, The Fall - This Nation's Saving Grace, David Harvey - The Urbanization of Capital, Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender, Magrudergrind - S/T, Antipop Consortium - Fluorescent Black, Iggy Pop - The Idiot and Lust For Life, Jig Ai - Katana Orgy, As the Sun Sets - 7744, Lioness - S/T EP

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I Just Want to Forget

I can't do it. Spiked hair, spiked drinks, the most banal music conceivable, the most desperate-yet-spoiled people imaginable, matching smiles, gladhanding, pretedetermined futures, pervasive marketing, just do what your parents did and take the life that was advertised to them, and don't ask too many questions, and no, I can't fit in here. I don't even try anymore. I won't go through the motions. Are you uncomfortable? So am I. Your discomfort will probably not last as long as mine. Maybe that's my problem. Maybe. Maybe. Then again...

Substance: Wolf Eyes - Human Animal, Final - Reading All the Right Signals Wrong, Rotten Sound - Cycles, Fushitsusha - The Caution Appears, Parlamentarisk Sodomi - De Anarkitiske An(n)aler, Santogold - Santogold, Official Secrets Act - Understanding Electricity