Sunday, January 27, 2008

Show Offs and Showdowns

Lovink's chapter on "Updating Tactical Media" in Zero Comments raises a number of interesting issues in thinking about balancing activism with engagement with policy-making and the role of the public intellectual assumed by many of my colleagues both inside and outside academia. Lovink quotes Paul Garrin's warning that "Tactical Media is not only something that Media Activists engage in. It's advertising, corporate psychological warfare of Perception Management."

As someone who well remembers Act Up, I'm not sure that Lovink is right to date the phenomenon to 1992, although his catalogue of "ways to connect, relay, disconnect -- and again reconnect -- a veritable stampede of pirate radio waves, video art, animations, hoaxes, wi-fi networks, music jam sessions, Xerox cultures, performances, grassroots robotics, cinema screenings, street graffitti, and (don't forget) computer code" accurately describes how tactical media attempt to engage public audiences by mixing branding with political subversion and high art with low. Despite the critique of blogging with which Lovink opens Zero Comments, he also argues that "blogs are an essential vehicle" for "sticky ideas."

One could argue that the recent public showdown between friends, colleagues, and fellow copyleft advocates Kembrew McLeod and Siva Vaidhyanathan over a robot-costume/Bill-Clinton-heckling incident also represented a kind of showdown between Tactical Media Activism and Critical Information Studies. There are certainly those who use tactical media who have a place in the academy and even members of The Yes Men are known to keep campus office hours and go to department meetings. But there is certainly tension between those who embrace the spirit of what Lovink calls "protestivals" and those who focus on public testimony wearing suits to try to convince policy makers by using formal channels for official political deliberation.

Finally, I tend to side with Lovink when he says that at least theory needs to be part of the globalization debate as well, but -- since I studied with Derrida and Lyotard in graduate school -- I may not seem like the most neutral party on that question to readers of this blog.

(Speaking of Tactical Media Activism, I will be giving a talk about hacktivism at this year's Popular Culture Association in San Francisco.)

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