Occupy Aesthetics

Despite the best attempts of municipal and larger governments to block coverage, it has been hard to ignore or remain ignorant of the Occupy Movement. Or ‘#Occupy’, should you prefer to use the language of Twitter in keeping with the movement’s primary method of planning, orchestration, and communication.

For those still unaware (if there is anyone), Occupy is the mostly peaceful demonstration of a large number of American citizens ranging from the young, educated, and broke to 90 year-old, retired World War II veterans, who choose to assemble in places of financial power to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the growing financial gap between rich and poor in America. The movement has spread to other countries and has been praised and demonized, supported and condemned.

What has struck me most about the movement is its aesthetics.  I am the daughter of two flower children, those 1960s teens and young adults who did not tune in, turn on, and drop out, but instead fought for political change. I was politicized early (I attended my first political rally at the ripe old age of four), and have grown up not only hearing the stories of the many marches my parents joined, but seeing photos and documentaries so that I would understand what the 1960s my parents participated in truly stood for (ie, not Woodstock alone, awesome though the music may have been). So when the first photos broke, it was hard for me not to instantly see the similarities.

Image via SFGate

Image via Travis Lin Photography

And it was not long before Occupy had its iconic moment of horror,

to join the infamous 1970 photo from Kent State.

The imagery produced by the movement itself, however — particularly its posters — borrow heavily not from the aesthetics of the last age of American protest, but from America’s ‘enemies’ during that time: the Communist regimes of the USSR, China, and North Korea.

Image by Eric Drooker

Image by Alexandra Clotfelter

Image by Dave Loewenstein

You could also argue that perhaps the protesters had seen a few too many episodes of Mad Men.

But I just don’t think that a movement organised enough to form a library for use by those residing in camps protesting corporate greed would have chosen anti-Capitalist imagery by accident.

Capitalism in and of itself is not flawed, any more than is Communism. But the belief that the Market — or the Premier, or the President — is always right most definitely is. The problem is that Capitalism and Communism are only uncorrupted so long as they stay within the hallowed white tower of Academia. This is not to say that Academia is pristine so much as to say that any theory must alter when placed in the hands of human beings, a highly unpredictable species if ever there was one. And Capitalism began to be corrupted in America in about the mid-nineteenth century, when President Lincoln gave unprecedented powers to rail and industrial corporations in order to win the war between the Union and the Confederacy. Lincoln was troubled by what the outcome of his choices would be and even wrote to the effect that he hoped things would return to what they had been before.[1] Genies are not quite so easily put back in bottles.

Capitalism was further distorted when the Fourteenth Amendment awarding the recently-emancipated slaves ‘personhood’ was used to award corporations their own ‘personhood’. The idea that a corporation could have the same rights as a person is ludicrous in the extreme. Particularly when the corporations are magically immune to the repercussions for their actions that other ‘persons’ must face. If an individual steals or murders, they must stand trial and pay the determined penalty. But when corporations do the same, you do not see groups of CEOs, their boards, or shareholders going to prison for the decisions they made as a corporation.

Whatever your personal feelings about the Occupy Movement, you must admit that it has begun a dialogue. It has drawn attention to the growing schism between rich and poor, and at long last given voice to a portion of Americans who have been silenced since the introduction of first radio, then television turned the exchange of information in the modern world from a dialogue (as could be achieved when the only medium of communication was word of mouth or print) into a one-sided dictation of what those who HAD the information decided those who did not could or should know.

But all the attention and all the dialogue will not change anything if the thousands of protesters and supporters do not begin speaking the language the politicians understand: Votes.

America is lucky in that it has direct representation. Each vote counts, as the Iowa Caucus in which Romney only won by EIGHT votes has shown.

To paraphrase Ghandi: First they ignored the movements because they were organised through Twitter and other social media (it’s not like any of those things brought thousands to Tahrir Square or anything); Then they dismissed us, and told us to take a shower and get a (non-existent) job; Then they fought us, and banned press coverage and arrested journalists so we could not see the overtly brutal tactics they used to do so; Now, we win. Whoever ‘we’ ends up being.

By voting.

[1] Gore, Al. 2007. The Assault on Reason. (New York, Penguin Press): 88.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jackson Mobile Glass
    Jan 09, 2012 @ 21:43:47

    Stop forcing industry out, and jobs along with prosperity shall manifest itself

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  2. Jacqueline
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 14:25:57

    Great discussion. One thing I have noticed is that Occupiers do not shun personal technology. I’ve been tossing around in my head how their loyalty to certain brands, like Apple, figures into their dress dynamics. There was certainly a whole load of criticism in the beginning of the movement that many protestors were dressed in clothing that is not inexpensive.

    I’ve been watching to see how that would play out, and if the Occupiers would change their appearance because of the negativity.

    They are made up of such a diverse group, so it’s interesting to see if any one particular aesthetic will win out long term.


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