OWS, Discourse, and Narratives

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5 Responses

  1. Paul Horwitz says:

    An excellent post, Tim. I would add only one thing, which I think is mostly there in your post already. As you say, it is a natural human tendency to situate phenomena in a narrative or discourse. That leads me to want to emphasize two points. First, it would be a mistake for readers of your post to conclude that efforts by the media and others to “characterize and to some extent normalize[OWS] through devices of discourse and narrative” is either unusual or demonstrative of some pernicious intent. Explanation is a part of reporting, and we always make sense of things through discourse and narrative. One hardly need conclude, as some seem wont to do, that there is something shady or malicious in the media’s actions. Of course, one can disagree with what believes is an incorrect narrative or discourse frame on the media’s part, but one needn’t believe the media is up to something malicious just because one disagrees with it. It begs pointing out that, inchoate as OWS may be at times, its supporters, organizers, and participants, and not just its critics or opponents, are also always imposing frames of narrative and discourse on it. Others on this blog have written fulsomely in support of OWS; they, too, are engaged in imposing a narrative on the protests. It is simply an inevitable feature of human life. I understand your belief that it might be best to give OWS the breathing space to come up with its own narrative; but if and when it does, we should approach that narrative with skepticism too. If one believes that all narratives are about power, surely that is true of whatever narrative the OWS will come up with too.

    Second, if I am right in saying that the urge to come up with narratives, discourses, and other frames to attempt to understand social phenomena is an inevitable human phenomenon, then I am not sure that your breathing space proposal quite works. There are certainly good reasons to argue for it, but we might want to think about it a little differently. Against our urge to come up with narrative frames to explain the world, we can recommend that we all display a little patience and humility, and try not to reach our own conclusions or impose our own narratives too quickly on a developing event. That makes sense to me. But that we will, to some extent, continue to try to do so seems inevitable.

  2. Ha! Of course those who want to “characterize” and “normalize” OWS are frustrated–that’s part of the point.

    The two best articles I have read on what OWS is about are Gary Kamiya’s fascinating Salon piece, “Original Mad Men,” and Bernard Harcourt’s insightful analysis for the New York Times where he suggests the movement is engaged in what he calls “political disobedience.”

    Like the ballet dancer on top of the Wall Street bull in the original Adbusters poster, the movement seeks to “evade and exceed” traditional politics. Or, as Harcourt puts it, OWS “resists the structure of partisan politics, the demand for policy reforms, the call for party identification, and the very ideologies that dominated the post-War period.”

    So it’s not enough that Balkin, for example, might be sympathetic to the group’s ends; the offering of traditional means to achieve those ends is, for now anyway, a nonstarter.

    Good on them. I hope they achieve something lasting and important.

  3. Tim Zick says:

    Hi Paul. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think it’s understandable that reporters, like others, seek to present some narrative with respect to nascent moments/movements. Nothing at all pernicious about it; my point was merely that we all come to the moment/movement with different biases and frameworks. I think you’re quite right that although patience would be a virtue, it’s in our nature to characterize, frame, and shape the event or narrative. I think it’s up to the movement, if it is to be one, to formulate and disseminate a message or platform. Until it does, others will undoubtedly continue to fill the gap. Thanks again.

  4. Paul writes that “it would be a mistake for readers of your post to conclude that efforts by the media and others to ‘characterize and to some extent normalize[OWS] through devices of discourse and narrative’ is either unusual or demonstrative of some pernicious intent. Explanation is a part of reporting, and we always make sense of things through discourse and narrative. One hardly need conclude, as some seem wont to do, that there is something shady or malicious in the media’s actions.”

    And much of that is true enough, the exception perhaps being the “shady” part, which has not so much to do with anything necessarily intentional in any straightforward sense, but rather (structural) problems that arise owing to the way corporate media functions in our society. Thus it seems to me, and in the spirit if not letter of Tim’s reply that “we all come to the moment/movement with different biases and frameworks,” that we should make some effort to understand how contemporary mass media in this country frames and narrates media events and especially those with bearing on political questions, and in particular for our purposes, political protest on the Left. Fortunately, there are a number of works that are quite helpful in this regard, and so I’ve assembled below a short list of what I take to be (much of) the best of that literature. Were I to accord it a title, it would be something like “Narratives and Sociological Framing of Social Protest on the Left: Toward a Democratically Motivated Critique of the Mass Media in the United States.”

    · Alterman, Eric C. What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News. New York: Basic Books, 2003.
    · Bagdikian, Ben H. The New Media Monopoly. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2004 ed.
    · Baker, C. Edwin. Media, Markets, and Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
    · Baker, C. Edwin. Media Concentration and Democracy: Why Ownership Matters. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
    · Bennett, W. Lance, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston. When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
    · Chomsky, Noam. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2nd ed., 2002.
    · Cockburn, Alexander and Jeffrey St. Clair. End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate. Oakland, CA: CounterPunch and AK Press, 2007.
    · Cook, Timothy E. Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 2005.
    · Dahlgren, Peter. Media and Political Engagement: Citizens, Communication and Democracy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
    · Davenport, Christian. Media Bias, Perspective, and State Repression: The Black Panther Party. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
    · Gans, Herbert J. Democracy and the News. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
    · Gitlin, Todd. The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2nd ed., 2003.
    · Herman, Edward S. Triumph of the Market: Essays on Economics, Politics, and the Media. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1999.
    · Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.
    · Herman, Edward S. and Robert W. McChesney. The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. London: Cassell, 1997.
    · Hunt, Darnell M. Screening the Los Angeles “Riots:” Race, Seeing, and Resistance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
    · Iyengar, Shanto. Is Anyone Responsible? How Television Frames Political Issues. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1991.
    · Jenkins, Henry and David Thorburn, eds. Democracy and New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
    · Jones, Alex S. Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
    · Keller, Perry. Liberal Democracy and the New Media. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
    · Martin, Christopher R. Framed: Labor and the Corporate Media. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.
    · McChesney, Robert W. Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times. New York: The New Press, 2000.
    · McChesney, Robert W. The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2008.
    · McChesney, Robert W. and John Nichols. The Death and Life of American Journalism. New York: Nation Books, 2010.
    · Parenti, Michael. Inventing Reality: The Politics of the Mass Media. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986.
    · Shiffrin, Steven H. Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

  5. Ken Knabb says:

    THE SITUATIONISTS AND THE OCCUPATION MOVEMENTS (1968/2011)
    http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/situationists-occupations.htm

    This is a critique of Kamiya’s atrocious article.