Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Law of Gravity

Gravity is both an incredibly useful, interesting and worthwhile film, and one of the most terrible movies I've seen in a long time. It is, without a doubt, the most beautiful and graceful use of 3D I've ever encountered: It feels like the camera is floating and spinning around in outer space and its long choreographed takes, though none come near as breathtaking as that one shot in Children of Men, can be vertigo inducing, beautifully evocative of space's emptiness and silence, or intensely fucking action packed. But that riveting, absurd and almost constant action, combined with the embarrassingly inept characterization and dialogue make it feel like Tarkovsky co-directing a Michael Bay film.

So, for the terrible first. Sandra Bullock's character: what a fucking mess. She's the least probable woman scientist since Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough. Bullock spends the majority of the film panting in fear, which, fair enough I suppose, but her actions point to her being a total bad ass. I mean, she's installing electronics she personally designed onto the fucking Hubble in open space as the movie opens, and yet later, in the film's climax, we see her bleating, moments before giving up all hope, that she doesn't know how to pray because no one ever told her how. She gives an unbearably inane, abject and pathetic speech asking the absent George Clooney to visit her four year old daughter in heaven and tell her that she found her favorite red shoe while she is performing an insanely complex and clever emergency procedure on a space capsule she's never piloted before. In Russian. And yet, she required an inspiring vision of George Clooney--a cowboy alpha-male with whom she has completely unnecessary sexual tension--to figure out the trick and convince her to not give up but to go on. Despite her ostensible brilliance, she can't do anything without someone else (preferably a man) tellin' her, she's single and pointedly sad about it, and she's a total emotional wreck due to her daughter's death some time before. She's the exact opposite of cinema's greatest space bad ass, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley.

I watched the film with my partner-in-crime Sophie, and she pointed out that Gravity has the geopolitics of Independence Day. The Indian doctor working on the Hubble in the opening scene, upon completing his work, sings a little Bollywood ditty and manages the dubious feat of doing an orientalist jig in a space suit. To which George Clooney quips "Can you believe he went to Harvard?" Haw haw haw. It's foolish Russians, irresponsibly using ballistic missiles (yes, seriously) who set off the chain of events that dooms the spacecraft. Despite having proven herself a Russian-speaking telescope-inventing spaceship-flying capable-of-Lara-Croft-like-physical-feats type genius, when Bullock gets into a Chinese shuttle, faced with a control panel covered in pictographs, she actually says "No hablo Chino". And when Bullock finally arrives on Earth, she lands down in a jungle in Tahiti, or Indonesia, some South-East Asian tropical paradise, and weeps with joy to be holding the beautiful orange mud of the beach. To paraphrase Sophie here, we're meant to recognize this space as the communal bounty of the Earth, the birthright of all mankind, some sort of unspoilt Eden: this is Orientalism 101, the perfect colonial gaze.

Despite the obvious drama of the premise (total space disaster with only current technology) the film insists on making our protagonist, flying in the face of everything the context suggests should be true about her, an ingorant, weak-willed, emotionally traumatized single woman almost unable to do anything without having it mansplained to her. It pivots the entire emotional drama not on the fact of her survival--which we as an audience are assured of, I mean, after all, we paid £14 to get into the damn IMAX--but rather on the meaning of her survival in the face of her loneliness and maternal failure. In other words, the drama is transposed entirely within the bounds of bourgeois subjectivity, the family, and patriarchy: a drama which is completely and utterly not contained within the images of the film.

In fact, most of the characters' dialogue is spoken over headsets, from within space masks: you could almost completely redub the film and make it a totally different movie, because the psychological drama is entirely external to the film's visual narrative.

And this is exactly why Gravity is so interesting. Rob Horning said about Victorian novels that we should pay extra attention to the long, boring sections whose presence makes no sense to us now--this excess is precisely the ideological content of the novel. What is interesting about Gravity is that it reveals the extent to which the psychological centrality of family structure, the heterosexual desire between protagonists (aggressively instituted by the man), but most crucially psychological back-story itself is ideological excess. It is precisely the need--the economic imperative--for 'characterization' and 'relatability' no matter what it means or at what costs that makes Gravity a totally shit film.

If Gravity were better written, it would be an exceptionally beautiful and entertaining action film--the content of the images, the story of survival against the odds doesn't allow for much more than that, but honestly, that movie would be great. But its sloppiness, the way it insists on beating you over the head with Bullock's feminine weakness and reproductive failure, not to mention its totally overbearing and manipulative soundtrack, contrast tellingly with the overall grace and inventiveness of the visual film making. It's so pretty, so well shot and edited, the camera is so fluid and so capable of both putting you within the total chaotic terror Bullock is going through and capturing some beautiful ideas and images that contextualize that horror, that the script's total failure has an almost schizophrenic effect. The extreme contrast between the two experiences, and the fact that all of this dialogue is wildly, violently extraneous to the narrative, clarifies precisely what kinds of narrative moves are ideological.

After watching Gravity, you might ask yourself: why must every film feature a legible back story, clear-cut psychological motivation for action, the centrality of love and family to everyone's experience, weak women and strong men, racist caricature? Just like gravity, in Hollywood, ideology is a law.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Is de Blasio Better? Is Better Better?

The fart-smeller of Union Square is a short white man of about 30 years of age, perennially in a baseball cap and almost always standing in Union Square, holding a sign referring to his desire to smell your farts. His sign works, too: people will let him lean over near their ass, he will lie down on the ground and they will squat over his face, he will smile, the flatulent's friends will take pictures on their iPhones and laugh, he probably gets off on it, they get a "New York story", everyone is happy, I guess.
On #S17 this year, a pathetic and meaningless event even by post-May Day OWS standards, the Union Square fart-smeller held a sign that read "de Blasio will save us".

In 2013, for the first time in decades, the police were a major issue in the mayoral campaign, but crime wasn't. Every democratic candidate had to come out against stop and frisk--failure to do so was a major factor in Christine Quinn's inability to ride Bloomberg's coattails, although those coattails were already pretty oily and moth-eaten by 2012--and de Blasio has promised not only to end stop and frisk, but much more significantly, the quota system.

That de Blasio has floated Bill Bratton--inventor of Broken Windows Theory, the man who more or less built the NYPD as it is today as police commissioner to that friend of minorities and civil-liberties alike, America's Mayor Rudy Giuliani--as Ray Kelly's replacement hardly bodes well. But if de Blasio does, in fact, end stop and frisk and/or the quota system, it would mean a major improvement of life for subjects under the reign of the world's 7th largest standing army. Wouldn't this vindicate a pro-voting, pro-reformism attitude? What's a hardline anti-election anti-state anti-cap to do?

First things first: wait and see. The odds that de Blasio, a public advocate and not all that much of a hard-nosed politician, could win a dog-fight with the NYPD top brass and a largely reactionary city council seem as low to me as the odds that he actually has the intention to do so. And anyone who voted for any Democrat in the last, I dunno, 30 years? should be pretty cynical about left-leaning election promises of any kind at this point.

But the political-cycle focus of modern electioneering also hides the way that political issues come to the fore. Stop and frisk was a major issue in the mayoral campaign, but there is little mainstream discussion of how it got to be there: tireless activism in the streets and, to a lesser extent, in the courts, by predominantly POC youth. And it (sadly) took the spectacle of white protesters being beaten by NYPD during Occupy to broaden anti-cop feelings in the city beyond perpetually police-oppressed communities of color.

Some commentators have pointed this out: that the leftward swing among mayoral candidates, in discourse at least, is due to Occupy. Such accounts often leave out the equally significant role of the POC-led Trayvon Martin, Kimani Gray and anti-stop and frisk marches, riots and campaigns--or how the spectacle of potentially revolutionary uprising around the globe has some capitalists quaking in their boots. But the point remains, without the action in the streets, NYC could've elected a hundred Democratic mayors without ending stop and frisk.

And here is where the liberal narrative around protest ends. Protest is valuable precisely because it changes the nature of the promises made and actions taken by the political class--it is the role of protesters, putting everything on the line in the streets, to give the liberals' vote meaning.

Obviously fuck liberals, but we should also reject the accelerationists and the miserabilists who argue that things need to get worse before they get better. The history of revolutionary movements does not map onto the history of economic crises, period, though conditions of possibility often appear in the gaps produced by economic and political crises. And if we really do subscribe to that most vulgar demand, that no one go hungry, there is no way we should be rooting for crisis. 

There is a revolutionary advantage to social democracy, and it is precisely this: it makes it easier to prepare for revolution. Often ignored in the narratives around protest, both from liberals and the revolutionary left, is the calculus of fear, risk and self-care that every person makes when they mask-up. It is easier to go out into the streets if you know that, for example, should the police break your arm with a baton, your treatment will be free. That if your employer fires you for political actions, or if you choose to quit your job to dedicate your time to political organizing, you wont be thrown out of your house or starve.

So that if de Blasio makes major reforms to the NYPD operating procedure, and I'm not holding my breath, it will be a material improvement for communities of color which is a direct result of their organizing and their actions, and which will open up potentialities for further struggle. Living in NYC, you come to learn that you can get a ticket for having your feet up on a subway bench, for not dismounting your bike before you go up on a sidewalk to park it: you take a risk having a picnic with a few beers in Prospect Park, and the awareness of that is a form of internalizing fear and control, of strengthening the cop inside your head.

Much more seriously, young people of color don't feel safe walking down the street when NYPD drive-by, they and their parents know that any encounter with a cop could be fatal: to go out into the streets to confront the police under such conditions takes more bravery, strength or rage than it does most white activists, and we should not pretend otherwise out of machismo or righteousness. Anything which lessened that fear and that risk would be a happy one.

But such changes can also be disastrous. The history of failed revolutions is also a history of liberal treachery and social-democratic selling out. Minor or even major concessions can satisfy or confuse a movement enough that it can be put down. It could prove true that replacing Ray Kelly and ending stop and frisk would be a materially small change in NYPD day to day practices, who would figure out a different way to terrorize communities of color, but have a massive Obama effect on NYC's view of NYPD, setting back anti-police activism by a decade.

Action in the streets can produce the sort of politicians who make it easier for us to take further action in the streets: de Blasio could well be better than Bloomberg. But there is no police-reform economic-inequality attacking de Blasio campaign without our actions in the street, and if he does reform the police department, we must not declare victory but ruthlessly take advantage of every opening he gives us, not confuse him with an ally but recognize that the streets are beginning to have an (incredibly limited) effect on our enemies, that bourgeois politics is beginning to have to respond to our (potential) power.

Reform is better than no reform. General population is better than a CMU. Living paycheck to paycheck is better than being homeless. Living a life of boredom and alienation is better than living a life of violence and starvation.

The most important thing that is better about things getting better is that it can make it easier to build the real movement that smashes the logic of better forever.

Update: Derp. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

We hate Paula Deen so that we can hate Rachel Jeantel

Sitting in the house where my grandmother was dying, I half-watched some midday TV news program the hospice nurse had turned on, laptop in front of me, my twitter list expanding too slowly to abate the boredom and despair, everything insufficient to abate the boredom and despair. The lead, their main story, was Paula Deen's continuing collapse into racist infamy. She's remained a story, despite the fact that nothing changes: she made a televised apology? She gets fired from different jobs? Always a new headline to keep her at the top of the hour, and indeed, the whole week of hospice she was all over afternoon TV- from The View to CNN.

But this particular program, one I had never seen before, one which for me was as totally anonymous as I was to it, not being in its target demographic of old women and housewives (the midday ads remain cleaning products and arthiritis medicine, just like I remember from watching Judge Joe Brown at 1PM after faking sick from school, it is ever so, cleaning products and arthiritis medicine, because after a life time cleaning grout your joints wear down, begin to fail you, a smooth transfer which you don't even see as it happens, the ads a comfort, saying: "Someday you'll be just another old lady, but don't worry, you can watch the same shows, at the same time, with the same ads"), cut from a teary eyed apologizing white Paula Deen, back to the lily white newscasters, then to an image of Rachel Jeantel.

And it was so obvious, the footage of Jeantel, it was so clear where it was going. The whole process is so immediate, so deeply ingrained, that you don't even need to hear the newscasters, just to look at her.

Her? A star witness? But look at her giant hoop earrings, look at the gold necklace and the frilly bright orange blouse and the hair do cut straight over her eyes, look at the shy way she looks down as she's questioned, nervously, look at her fatness and her black skin.

Rachel dressed up for court, she knew that she had to look nice and formal, and she did, she's put together and she's well dressed, but it doesn't matter, because she's not dressed up "correctly", she's of the wrong class, the wrong race to even be able to dress up. In her dressing up, in her inability to dress up for court, she reveals herself as "not-of-the-right-sort" in a way that her informal day to day wear never could.

And what about her words, her attitude, how does the media describe them? Defensive? Angry? Combative? Evasive? Where have I heard these epithets before?

The most sustained exposure I ever had to the court system was in an eviction proceeding against a squat I was living in. The way the proceedings were being brought meant we went to court almost once a week. And I lived with a woman, an artist, who was very smart, very self-confident, a woman of color who, as soon as she got into the courts, as soon as she was addressed by judges or lawyers, started stuttering and stammering, avowing that she didn't understand things because she was "too stupid", "just an artist" etc.

The courts have their own language, their own atmosphere of authority and power, their own special discourse which, if you lack that form of authority yourself, an authority only gained through privilege and education of a certain sort, mostly the privilege and education of being a rich white man--although in post-racial America just speaking and dressing like a rich person will get you through if you bust your ass--if you don't have these privileges then court will always fail you. Access to the courts is reliant on thick legalese, on the belief that procedural nonsense is more than just magic tricks, the deployment of "calm" "rational" "dispassionate" language. Any show of emotion, any fear, any disquiet, any anger, altogether appropriate responses to the inhumanity and cruelty of a court which wants to put you in a cage, which wants to take away your home, which wants to find out that the man who killed your friend in cold blood acted righteously, these reveal that you are not a member of the court, that you can never be its subject, that you do not deserve its respect or the respect of the jury.

A poor black woman can never be a star witness, because a poor black woman testifying in court is always already undermined, the way she dresses the way she speaks, it always already lacks the truth, because truth is power but more fundamentally power makes truth, and look at how nervous she is, look how powerless she is, what she says cant be true, look at how the rich white lawyers can humiliate her, look at how the media gawks at her, she can't know anything really, she can't.

And so the spectacle of Paula Deen, of this unreconstructed racist scum, the way everyone agrees she's scum, shows us how racially just we are. And immediately following looking at Deen we look at Rachel Jeantel, and the newscasters tell us: "look at how stupid she is, look at how poor and powerless she is, clearly Trayvon Martin was the same". But we don't have to worry, we're not racist, we hate Paula Deen, we hate her, we fire her, we love how much we hate Paula Deen, and that makes it safe for us to hate Rachel Jeantel, because we're not racist, we're just interested in the Truth.

We don't have to worry about our society if George Zimmerman is acquitted, because we found Paula Deen guilty.

Friday, June 21, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Hollywood

In a piece of abject film “criticism”, Connor Kilpatrick, managing editor of Jacobin, has declared “I Love Man of Steel and I’m Not Sorry.” The fact that the review starts with a defense of Zizek’s defense of 300, probably the most fascist Hollywood film since the introduction of color (not to mention strong evidence of Zizek’s unreconstructed not-so-leftist authoritarianism), should give us a good idea of where this is going.

Kilpatrick tries to cover his ass right out the gate: the first sentence of the essay is “There’s a special place in hell for people who say nice things about Zack Snyder films”—as though there’s some sort of dogmatic conspiracy of opposition to Snyder rather than, say, intelligent people who have watched his movies and understood them to be terrible (Kilpatrick is right, however, that Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake was pretty kick ass). By associating himself with Zizek at his most openly totalitarian and then placing himself as the victim of an imaginary and impossibly biased film-critical establishment, we already see the defensive projection of guilt and self-recrimination—and we’re only through the first paragraph.

But this paranoiac anti-Snyder left is only the first straw man Kilpatrick creates—he attacks critics of Man of Steel with the wise realism of the liberal who says “of course Obama kills brown babies with flying death robots—he’s a president, what did you want, utopia?”:
In the lefty blogosphere, I’ve seen a few complaints about Man of Steel’s tie-in campaign with the National Guard. The movie is certainly far from critical about US militarism…Here, like in the Silver Age Superman, Kal-El enters into an alliance (albeit an uneasy one) with the US military…But I’d have to ask: what do you expect? This is Hollywood. This is bourgeois art…to be honest, this kind of thing has never bothered me. I just expect it.
In other words: critique this on the level of its material production or its ideological deployment all you want like some sort of, I dunno, Marxist? But you’re wasting your time, because you should have already known, like Kilpatrick did, that it was ‘bourgeois art’.

Ok fine, but he will have no cake that goes uneaten. Earlier on, Kilpatrick pointed to a materialist critique of cinema production, but only to defend the film from its critics.
I saw another critic say that Snyder’s “no auteur.” Though, really, what the fuck does that even mean in the age of $225 million movies?...Great cinema as the result of a single, uncompromised genius is just as much a bourgeois illusion as the idea of a billionaire having “earned” his wealth.
A proposition with which I totally agree. The only problem is that this entire fucking review is in an auteurist mode, from the opening sentence on. One paragraph later:
Snyder goes out of his way to keep every single punch, jump and crash interesting…Somehow, Snyder makes the physics of the film feel real — one of the few decent skills Hollywood’s picked up from video games
Uh, yeah, that has absolutely nothing to do with Snyder, and everything to do with the 100s (1000s?) of underpaid special effects employees working on the film. Special effects workers picketed outside this year’s Oscars to bring attention to both the centrality of their work and the exploitation that they face, exploitation which is reified when you give the director credit for their work.

Though film production is one of the last private industries which is still heavily unionized, the increasing reliance on non-union effects workers, the dramatic increase in international outsourcing of film labor and contract work given to small pre- and post-production firms, not to mention the totally non-unionized distribution networks through multiplexes and Best Buys, mean that cinema production these days is, like the production of all commodities, incredibly and increasingly exploitative.

If Kilpatrick was against Hollywood auteurism as a matter of principle or even just theory, if he actually had a critique of cinematic production, he never would have written the way he does about special effects, but he's only muddying the waters. This inconsistency not only doesn’t matter to his argument, it elucidates what's really going on here. This piece isn’t about (this) film('s) production or the production of meaning through (this) film, but rather, how can Kilpatrick's enjoyment of Man of Steel reconcile with his politics? This piece, along with the abominable “Friends is Full Communism” Washington Post op-ed from Bhaskar Sunkara and Peter Queck, reveals the worst tendency in 'leftist' thinking on culture. I don’t mean to pick on Jacobin exclusively—they are by no means the only people who produce this form of “critique”, although they seem to produce a lot of it—but these two articles are the most recent and blatant examples of this trend that comes to mind.

What is this tendency? This tendency is what actual “identity politics” looks like in all of its pejorative infamy. Criticisms in this mode begin from a political identification on the part of the writer: “I am a leftist”; and then a feeling: “I like this piece of culture”; and then an absurd conclusion about that feeling based on the totalizing force of that identification: “and since I am a leftist, in order to like this piece of culture it must also be leftist.” It's easy to write when you know what you're going to say: justify the conclusion you've always already arrived at through lazy psuedo-deconstruction, drop some block quotes from Marxists, and giddily swat at some critics without actually engaging their arguments. Maybe it’s Zizek’s fault for so repeatedly admonishing us that all you need to know about revolutionary subjectivity can be found in Kung Fu Panda, maybe it’s ideological self-definition through the affective pleasures of consumption, or maybe it’s just boring left-ish guilt.

For Kilpatrick, in any case, apologism is right there in the title: “I Love Man of Steel, and I’m Not Sorry.” (To do a Zizekian reading of the subtext: “I hate that I loved Man of Steel, I know I should be sorry, and I’m using this analysis to publicly display and dissipate my guilt”). Kilpatrick has to prove that the film has a left position, or else the fact that he liked it so much might mean he’s no longer a leftist. Therefore, the villain has to be a leftist bete-noir:
Zod reminded me of an ultra-right Likudnik. The big, loud climax of the movie comes when Zod sends two gigantic robo-drills to terraform Earth into a New Krypton, which would of course end with the total extinction of the human race….He all but says “can’t make Space-Zion without breaking a few eggs.”…For a character dreamed up by two Jewish boys in Cleveland as a kind of Moses-cum-Christ figure, it’s bizarre that no one’s made this connection yet. Which goes to show you just how off-the-radar the plight of the Palestinians is for both mainstream America as well as our circle of liberal film critics.
None of that strikes me, even framed as he does it, as totally self-evident, although it’s certainly an interesting and valid reading of the film. But it’s more important that he makes fun of critics for failing to notice the “krypto-zionism” (a pretty funny joke, gotta give credit where it’s due), while completely failing to mention the overwhelming presence of 9/11 imagery. People say it’s unfair to attack a writer for what’s not in their writing, and though I think that’s often a sophistry meant to elide engagement, it would hold more weight if Kilpatrick didn’t scold other reviewers for missing a much more subtle political undercurrent in the film.

You could just as easily read Zod, via the 9/11 imagery, as the extreme-rightist bogeyman of total terrorism which seeks the destruction of everything American unless something (like, maybe a Christ-like uber-mensch teamed up with the US military) stands in its way. I’m not arguing for that reading, necessarily, just saying it's also there. But even if Kilpatrick were to dismiss the 9/11 imagery as a posturing and empty evocation of pathos, an argument you could certainly make in good faith, he should at least, in reviewing the political content of this film, take it into account.

But all that’s beside the point, because Kilpatrick isn’t interested in reading this film so much as he is in justifying his enjoyment of it. And furthermore, since the movie has been widely panned, he wants to connect the contrarian nature of his personal taste to the contrarian nature of his political brand. As we’ve seen, throughout the piece he distances himself from other (legitimate) leftist attacks on the film, while aligning himself, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, with uber-conservative Armond White (another tactic of Zizek’s—attack the left while agreeing with the right’s premises, but pretend that because you’re aware of it and it’s funny and ‘you’re a leftist’ that you’re not in fact adopting a right position, but some sort of pure and true populist-leftism).

Here’s the thing: if you enjoy a movie, great! In this barren and miserable world of capital’s dominance, good-on-you for every happiness you find. But don’t come at me like it’s a goddamn leftist triumph. There are enough film critics in the world whose entire lives are spent convincing people to keep going to the movies. Perhaps the minimum commitment we should ask of film critique is not to deploy leftist concepts to write paeans to Hollywood.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Which Leftist Deviation is For You?

Feel like you're probably against Capitalism, but not really sure which ideological subject position most thoroughly matches your brand? Don't worry! We here at Wasted Ideology Inc™ know a thing or two about matching wayward comrades with their hyper-specific leftist worldview of choice. Just read the following strategic guidelines out loud, and discover which one feels most genuine in your mouth! We can do this together!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Brief History of US Statist-Communist Thought: The Last 4 Years

2010: We need a mass movement to respond to the financial crisis and begin a revolutionary sequence. The reason we haven't seen a real movement in America in 40 years is that we don't have a mass Socialist or Communist Party.

September 2011: These protests are fine, but we won't throw our support behind them because they wouldn't listen to us in the early general assemblies and organize in a serious way. They will never spread or generalize without a mass Socialist or Communist Party.

October 2011: What success Occupy has had is because the desire is there for a mass Socialist or Communist Party, but it will not continue to grow or spread without militant and hierarchichal organization

November 2011: Occupy is clearly a mass movement of serious importance, but now that the camps are gone we need to organize into a mass Socialist or Communist Party. It's the only way to continue.

2012: The failure of Occupy to move beyond its limited means is a failure of horizontalism: Occupy would have succeeded had it been precipitated by a mass Socialist or Communist Party.

2013: We have clearly learned the lesson of Occupy: horizontalism is a total sham and will never result in a mass movement. We need to form a mass Socialist or Communist Party.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Total Despair

The day after the bombing, an official candlelight vigil saw 1000 people mourning in Boston Common. After the reports of Dzokhar in a pool of his own blood, seven, eight times that number came to the Common to celebrate. They danced, chanting "BPD" "BPD" "BPD" "USA" "USA" "USA"

They acquiesced, acquiesced, without a peep they hid in their homes, the fear has built a home in their hearts, it makes sense, a 19 year old boy, everyone should stop everything.  He might have another device.

"Don't go outside. Don't open your door for anyone except police."

The photos of the abandoned city, of empty streets and squares in broad daylight, places I've known as long as I've known anything, were not 'eerie', not creepy not strange, just banal. Ugly landscapes of asphalt and concrete. Purely for police movement. The cameras silent accomplices.

On Mayday last year, if you veered away from the evening march, the streets of the financial district were totally barricaded. No one was there, except, on every corner, a group of four five six sometimes ten cops. This, we observed at the time, is the perfect police state: a city with no one in it except police.

Do you see them celebrating, do you see them cheering for his capture, do you see them celebrating each kill in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia, do you see them, their fear the only truth they know, do you see them dancing and drinking? Hiding in their homes petrified praying thankful at least someone anyone knows what to do do you see them? Do you see the tanks drive past your leafy home do you thank them and salute?

When did we become such craven, slavish cowards, such cringing, bloodthirsty creeps?

Is it even worth the effort of burning it all to the ground?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rainy Day Tourism

On Wall Street,
a bearded man in a wide-brimmed hat
tells them the story of Mario Buda.
"The driver climbs out of the wagon.
The back is covered. No one can see inside."
He raises his arms, spreads them.

On Broadway,
a doubledecker blue tour bus
pauses beside Zuccotti Park.
A family of four
in matching yellow branded ponchos
is bored.

On Albany Street,
the wet crowd is patient.
Their cameras charged.
What do they hope to see?
A hole in the ground. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

This Time it's Not Anarchists Confusing Tactics for Strategy

The NYPD is a war machine. With 34,000 soldiers, its own intelligence agency, branches in 11 cities including Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Toronto, anti-aircraft capabilities, a fleet of tanks, boats, helicopters, and a submarine, the NYPD's capabilities mirror the occupational powers of America's counter-insurgency focused military.

Anywhere else in the country, it would be too much to ask the police to keep marchers on a sidewalk: police would be overwhelmed, flanked, or surrounded. Instead they allow protesters to have the streets, relying on space and lack of escalation to make a march useless. When confrontation is met, it often takes more classical formations: lines of cops facing crowds of protesters. In Oakland, the OPD relies heavily on tear gas and maintaining distance between police and protesters: moving forward as a wall, goose-stepping shoulder to shoulder down broad avenues while firing less-lethal munitions across the gap.

But in New York there are so many fucking cops they can line up right in your face and keep you on the sidewalk with their idiotic little scooters. If other police forces often fight at a distance, picking their moments when the crowds are most massed, the sheer number of NYPD means they prefer a scrim: in the narrow streets of NYC, the police get up close, using pepper spray and batons, arresting frequently and all staccato, attempting to split marches and single out leaders. They make lots of arrests because they can always afford the extra manpower to do so, and they constantly engage in close-combat because they know they won't be overrun. These tactics appear to varying degrees in all cities, of course, but in no other city is the control of protests so consistently achieved by sheer force of numbers.

Of course, when all you've got are pigs, everything looks like slop. The NYPD have the numbers to achieve total control of the streets, and so they almost always insist on it. The thing is, without the insistence on total control, you probably wouldn't have had the video of three screaming women, pepper sprayed and trapped in orange netting, that more than any other image helped spread OWS beyond downtown Manhattan.

The tactic of confrontation toward dispersal that the NYPD deploys over and over again is hardly strategically sound. The imperative to clear the streets NOW, no matter the violence or arrests, may work to shut down marches in the moment, (and, had it been used to clear Zuccotti on September 17th, might've saved the state a whole lot of trouble) but it also builds rage, solidarity and the possibility of offensive escalation on the part of protesters.

Last night's police attack on the Kimani Gray vigil and march fits into this pattern exactly. Once demonstrators have achieved a critical mass that refuses to flee from police escalation, things, well, escalate, until there's no stopping a march without mass arrests and violence. At last report, over 50 people were arrested, including Kimani's sister Mahnefah. Cops shoved, beat, and pepper sprayed indiscriminately, although they focused their arrests on black kids from Flatbush.

The NYPD is a war machine, and its goals in policing protest resemble nothing so much as the military objective of victory through taking territory, purging your enemy from the field of combat. The pigs' problem, as Vietnamese, Iraqi and Afghani insurgents have demonstrated, is that losing an open battle doesn't demoralize a resistance that's defending its home. The way NYPD wins its battles, they're always in danger of starting a war. They may have done just that last night.

There are some people facing serious consequences this morning (particularly kids on parole and/or with previous arrests), and this is not to downplay the fact that last night was a loss. Whenever anyone goes through the jails of this monstrous city, it is a loss. But it's the kind of loss that intimates a bigger fight to come, one that might be winnable.

Solidarity with all those arrested or injured last night.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

NYT Class-baits OWS

In a post called "In ‘Occupy,’ Well-Educated Professionals Far Outnumbered Jobless, Study Finds" The New York Times' City Room Blog dropped a bombshell today:
More than a third of the people who participated in Occupy Wall Street protests in New York lived in households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, according to a study by sociologists at the City University of New York, and more than two-thirds had professional jobs.
Holy fuck! OWS was just a bunch of spoiled rich kids! I KNEW IT.

Ah, the power of data without context. You know what would not be a headline, but would be equally true? "In New York City, Well-Educated Professionals Far Outnumber Jobless." Manhattan is the most expensive city in the country, and Brooklyn the second. New York City as a whole has an unemployment rate of around 9.5%, disgusting, but, as of 2010, 36% of New Yorkers had at least a bachelor's degree, thus "far outnumbering" the jobless.

Under thirties in America have the highest rate of college graduation of any generation: occupy was 40% under thirty, almost two thirds as young as New York as a whole. And that "New York as a whole" counts babies and school kids, who weren't exactly well represented at occupy, for obvious reasons. Occupy was way younger than your average cross section of New Yorkers over, say, 16. See how this game works?

What about those eye-popping income numbers? Well, as of 2009 (the last time such data was available) 24% of New York City households made over 100k, meaning that OWS was wealthier than the whole of New York. The study points this out clearly: but then it does something very dishonest. It doesn't break down the wealth of New Yorkers by race, age or gender. But OWS was twice as white as NYC as a whole and 10% more male, and, as a result, proportionally wealthier. If you only look at white people, then OWS looks like a pretty direct representation of (white) New York City class make up. 29% of white New Yorkers made more than 100k in 2009; 46% of white people living in Manhattan break that barrier. And all this data is from 2009: Gentrification continues apace, so those numbers are low.

OWS was more educated, and wealthier than New York City as a whole: it was also younger, whiter, and more male. What this data shows, if you look at it honestly, is that OWS represented a privileged portion of the population, but the education numbers mostly reflect the college privilege (read: debt indenture) of youth, while the economic numbers mostly reflects the race and gender make up of the movement in New York. That is not to deny the fact of this privilege or claim somehow that Occupiers were proles: but the fact is, New York City is chock full of fucking rich white people. That's a big part of what makes this place hell. And I'll put money on the fact that the readers of the New York Times are whiter, older and wealthier than OWS.

Playing the spoiled rich kids card and throwing income and education numbers out willy-nilly obscures the inherent privilege of being old, white and male. And the numbers don't cross reference wealth or employment by gender, race or age: what are the odds that the majority of the rich people in the survey were also the over 30 white folks?

The fact that Occupy was whiter and more male than New York as a whole is fucked up, it was the biggest problem with the movement and undoubtedly part of why it was less radical than it could have been. But that's the only news here, and, sadly, it's not news to anyone who participated.