“At the time the circumstances of my arrest in Poland seemed trivial. I hardly thought about them afterward. But now, when I consider the fall of 1989, and the fall of communism, my little run in with the Polish authorities seems highly suggestive of how things were then and what has since come to be.”
With these words, I opened my book After the Fall: The Pursuit of Democracy in Central Europe. I used a description of my brief detention in Lublin at a student theater festival to reveal the struggle for a free public in Communist times. I used my memory of the event to open my exploration of the relationships between public and private, and how the relationships formed the bases for the pursuit of democracy of post communist Central Europe.
In today’s post, I return to my experience in 1974 (drawing from the report in my book) to further my dialogue with Dayan Dayan, as we explore together the relationship between “monstration” and power. I report here first my recollections of my “trivial day” and why what seemed so unimportant at the time was of practical significance in Poland back then. I close by highlighting what I take to be the theoretical significance of my little story.
Disorientation is what I remember about that April afternoon in Lublin, when the People’s Militia detained me for a couple of hours. I was attending a Festival of Youth Theaters. The bulk of the theater presentations in Lublin that week were not very interesting. Some of the best theater groups of the Polish youth movement were not represented in this relatively minor festival, and others of mediocre quality were in great number. Veteran theater critics, journalists, directors, and actors were generally dissatisfied, particularly with one performance I attended, billed as a “happening.” It took place in a gymnasium and involved little more than a rock soundtrack, a colorful slide show, and some student actors playing with an orange and yellow sheet. When it ended, a group of Polish . . .
Read more: My Arrest in Poland and the Ironies of Consequence
I recently returned from a very enjoyable and very fruitful week in Paris, combining business with pleasure. I spent time with family, and also enjoyed a series of meetings with my dear friend and colleague, Daniel Dayan. We continued our long-term discussions and debates, moving forward to a more concerted effort, imagining more focused work together. His semiotical approach to power will inform my sociological approach and visa versa, with Roland Barthes, Victor Turner, Hannah Arendt and Erving Goffman as our guides. At least that is one way I am thinking about it now. Or as Daniel put it a while back in an earlier discussion: my politics of small things will combine with his analysis of the politics of even smaller things.
We had three meetings in Paris, a public discussion with his media class at Science Po, an extended working breakfast and lunch at two different Parisian cafés, and a beautiful dinner at his place, good food and talk throughout. I fear I haven’t properly thanked him for his wonderful hospitality.
At Sciences Po, Dayan presented a lecture to his class and I responded. This followed a format of public discussion we first developed in our co-taught course at The New School in 2010. He spoke about his theory of media “monstration,” how the media show, focusing attention of a socially constituted public. He highlighted the social theory behind his, pointing to Axel Honneth on recognition and Nancy Fraser’s critique of Honneth, Michel Foucault on the changing styles of visibility: from spectacle to surveillance, Luc Boltanski on the mediation of distant suffering and especially J. L. Austin on speech acts.
At the center of Dayan’s interest is his metaphor of “the media as the top of the iceberg.” He imagines a society’s life, people showing each other things, as involving a great complexity of human actions and interactions, mostly submerged below the surface of broad public perception, not visible for public view. The . . .
Read more: Spring Break with Daniel Dayan: the politics of small things meets the politics of even smaller things
To skip this introduction and go directly to read Daniel Dayan’s In-Depth Analysis, “Overhearing in the Public Sphere,” click here.
Daniel Dayan in today’s “In-Depth” post considers overhearing on a global scale. He investigates a simple formula: overhearing + global media = public crisis. He starts with a little anecdote, a personal experience at an academic conference in Sweden, and uses the anecdote to open an examination of major challenges of our times: differentiating, maintaining and then connecting public spheres, which resist the twin dangers of fragmentation from within, and global confusion. As usual, his is an elegant and provocative inquiry.
I find particularly illuminating his concise definition of the public sphere: “a conversation between a given nation- state and the corresponding civil society, with central media connecting centers and peripheries,” along with his expansive discussion of how such spheres operate. He analyzes how such spheres are de-stabilized, and how they are interrupted, how overhearing and intruding have become a normal in global public life promising a more universal public, but delivering moral spectacles. Reflecting on the case of Gerard Depardieu and his relationship with Vladimir Putin, and on the WikiLeaks dump, Dayan warns of the dangers of irrational spectacle in the world of normalized overhearing and intrusion, and he notes the illuminating transparency of things near and far lead to unintended tragic effects.
And note how Dayan’s opening story presents a concrete compact rendering of his global diagnosis. I will respond to this in my next post.
To read Daniel Dayan’s In-Depth Analysis, “Overhearing in the Public Sphere,” click here.
To skip this introduction and go directly to Daniel Dayan’s In-Depth Analysis, “On Un-publics: Former Publics, Future Publics, Almost Publics, Observers and Genealogies,” click here.
In today’s “in depth” post, Daniel Dayan examines publics in depth, from different analytic viewpoints, drawing upon the insights of a broad range of thinkers. Dayan considers what comes before and after “publics,” the diversity of types of publics, their relationships, their life histories, how their projects are realized, or not, how they are related to audiences. He analyzes the way publics perform and show, how they watch and are watched. It is an elegant and challenging rumination, valuable, because it clarifies how thinkers who often don’t seem to understand each other are actually talking to each other in a serious way. And I should add that the study of publics is especially important to me because it is my field, and Daniel and I have been talking about it for a long time. This piece advances the conversation.
I was struck by a number of telling observations, one particularly hits close to my intellectual home, related to my research on Polish theater, and my colleague, Eiko Ikegami’s studies of “linked poetry,” in her book Bonds of Civility.
“Aesthetic publics (the reading publics of literature, the active publics of theater, the connoisseur publics of music and the arts) have always been singled out as exemplary by theorists of the public sphere, and by Habermas in particular. Yet, despite this ostensible privilege, aesthetic publics have been often ignored, or analyzed as mere training grounds for political publics. ‘Salons’ were first celebrated, and then turned into antechambers to the streets. Interestingly the publics, which tend to be best studied, are political publics. Aesthetic publics have been often neglected. This is why approaches that pay aesthetic publics more than a lip service, approaches such as those of Goldfarb (2006) or Ikegami (2000) are so important.”
Ikegami and I examine the relationship between art and politics through the analysis of publics. Dayan approves. He notes that aesthetic publics have been an . . .
Read more: Introduction to “On Un-publics”
I couldn’t sleep last night, haunted by a world gone crazy.
I dreamt that a purported Israeli, with the support of one hundred rich American Jews, pretended to make a feature length film aggressively mocking the Prophet Mohammed and Muslims in general – Islamophobia and anti-Semitism combined!
The faux film producer uploaded a mock trailer to YouTube. Along with thousands of other clips, it was ignored. But then when the film was dubbed into Arabic, the demagogues of the world all played their roles – the clash of civilizations as mediated performance art.
Radical Islamic clerics worked as film distributors (monstrous monstrators as my Daniel Dayan might put it), bringing the clip to the attention of the mass media and the masses. Islamist and anti-Islamist ideologues worked up their followers, happily supporting each other in their parts. Feckless diplomats in embassies tried to assure the public that hate-speech isn’t official American policy. Analysts identified root causes.
The clash of civilizations was confirmed. All the players needed each other, supported each other, depended on each other. A marvelous demonstration of social construction: W.I. Thomas would be proud of the power of his insight. Social actors defined the clash of civilizations as real, and it is real in its consequences.
A reality confirmed with a jolt when I awoke, knowing full well about the global attacks on American embassies and symbols, and the tragic death of a man who was determined to go beyond clashing clichés, the heroic American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. The American right, including the marvelous Mitt Romney and Fox News talking heads, denounced President Obama’s purported support of the attacks and failure to stand up for American values, including the freedom of speech — this from people who worry about the war on Christmas. It’s a surreal reality this morning.
And this morning, wide-awake, I am savoring Marvelous Mitt’s recent . . .
Read more: The Clash of Civilizations and Class Warfare: The Videos
The Democrats in the first two days of their convention manufactured news. But I think it is important to understand that it wasn’t propaganda or an infomercial, as many overly cynical academics and commentators would suggest, from Noam Chomsky to Joe Nocera. Rather, like the Republican Convention last week, it was a modern day media event, a televisual combination of demonstration and manifesto, revealing, or as my friend and colleague Daniel Dayan would put it “monstrating,” where the party stands, who stands with the party, how it accounts for the past, present and future. The first two days were particularly about the past and the present, identifying the party. Today, Obama will chart the future. This, at least, is how I understand the storyline. We will know, soon enough, if I am right.
The structure of the presentation, thus far, has been interesting and informative. There was a clear understanding on the part of the convention planners. Before 10:00 PM, without the major networks broadcasting, with a much smaller audience watching, was the demonstration slot. It was the time for showing the stand of the party and demonstrating who stands behind it. Between 10:00 and 11:00 PM, with the full prime time audience watching, the manifesto was presented by the major speakers: on Tuesday, Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio and First Lady Michelle Obama, on Wednesday, Massachusetts Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren, and former President Bill Clinton.
The coherence of the Democrats’ presentation was striking. This contrasted with the Republican convention, in which candidate and platform were in tension, and the personal qualities and not the political plans of the candidate took priority, and the speeches didn’t add up. The worst of it was Eastwood’s performance piece. It represented accurately the state of the party, with its pure ideological commitments and tensions, as I have already discussed here earlier during the primary season.
The Democrats revealed some differences of opinion, in symbolic floor scuffle on God and Jerusalem (pandering nonsense . . .
Read more: The News from Charlotte: The First Two Days of the Democratic National Convention
The shaky video clip lasts for less than one minute. A young woman falls to the ground in a pool of her own blood, bleeding from her chest, as several men rush to her side. Two men press their palms against her chest attempting to stop the massive bleeding. As the camera operator approaches, her pupils roll to one side, she seems to be looking into the camera. Another woman’s screams are heard as the men frantically shout “Neda” and plead with her to stay with us and open her eyes (Omidsaeedi, YouTube, 2009). Blood streams out of her nose and mouth into one of her eyes; she dies with her eyes open.
The woman in the video was later identified by her fiancée as Neda Agha Soltan. Neda lay dying on Kargar Ave. in Tehran, Iran Saturday June 20, 2009 during a post-election protest, allegedly shot in the chest by a member of the Basij, a voluntary militia that takes its orders from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Using a cell phone, an anonymous bystander digitally captured the moments just after Neda was shot. According to news reports, the author of the video then contacted a virtual friend he had met through Facebook who lived in the Netherlands, and asked him to post the footage. The virtual friend, known only by his first name, Hamed, uploaded the footage to the Internet and sent copies to the BBC and The Guardian as well as other media outlets. Within hours, two distinct clips surfaced on Facebook and YouTube. Shortly thereafter, the video was broadcast by CNN, thus making “Neda” a household name (Langendonck, NRC Handelsblad, 2009).
Today, I am here to talk about how mobile and social media fit in to the ongoing discussions about media’s influence on public life. I am going to make this argument in three parts. First, by offering a brief overview of Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz’s concept of the “media event,” as outlined in their book of the same name, and more recent additions and amendments to this theory. I will then define what I call the “digital event” by looking at the capture, distribution and reaction to the Neda video. . . .
Read more: Digital Events: Media Rituals in the Digital Age
To skip this introduction and go directly to the full In-Depth Analysis of “Fake vs. Fox News: OWS and Beyond,” click here.
In December of 2011, I took part in a very interesting conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. The conference participants were asked to respond to the work of the media theorist, Daniel Dayan (my dear friend and colleague and Deliberately Considered contributor) and to answer a straightforward question – “Is democracy sick of its own media?”
I presented a mixed answer: yes, when in comes to troubling developments in television news; no, when it comes to the effervescence of television satire and the social media. I closed with a proposal to Daniel to co-author a book, linking his ideas about “monstration” with mine about the politics of small things. While a book may or may not be forthcoming, a dialogue here at Deliberately Considered will appear in the near future.
In my paper, which I present here as an “in-depth” post, focused on the American case, I argued that we live in both the best of times and the worst of times concerning the relationship between media and democracy. Fox Cable News is relentlessly confusing fact with fiction with partisan intention, and serves as a model of media success, both financial and political, while responses to Fox including by the TV satirists, the famous “fake news” journalists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, on Comedy Central, who also have interesting imitators around the world, present important challenges to Fox and its influence on common sense.
These media developments, I sought to demonstrate, are connected to significant new American social movements: the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. In the case of OWS, and other new “new social movements,” social media is of crucial importance. They are providing new health to democracy globally in many different political contexts.
I maintained in my Sofia paper, that the relationship between social media and OWS is a significant manifestation of the way the politics of small things have become large in our world. I see in this . . .
Read more: Fake vs. Fox News: OWS and Beyond (Introduction)