Begging For More

The Licking County Concerned Citizens for Public Health and Environment held a meeting on February 17, 2013. The 2-18-13 Newark Advocate reported on the meeting and quoted committee member Carol Apacki as saying “We want to raise public awareness on this issue, and people can take that information and do what they want with it.”
How many times have we heard that? Is it doing any good? If not, why not? What alternative approach could there possibly be? Why can’t we imagine it?
We all know (ala knee jerk reaction) that taking “that information and do[ing] what they want with it” can span the spectrum of responses—from creationist fundamentalist religious ones, to economic conservative or liberal ones, from I’m-aware-of-a-lot-of-things-let’s-not-rock-the-boat to radical activism. Providing information for the recipient to “do what they want with it” doesn’t work. It fails because it does not produce the intended response– folks actively engaging in the “cause” to produce the demanded change. Sounds reasonable and liberal enough. I give people a plethora of information. They can’t help but conclude with the hoped for response. And yet repeatedly THAT is not occurring. Why not?
Upton Sinclair writes The Jungle. Readers are outraged that this is what is involved with the food they eat. Because it is not good for the public health and environment there is a demand for change. Change occurs. This is the historic narrative approach. The narration, as all narrations do, follows a this, then this, then this time line model. Repeating the narration repeats the time line model. The historic approach (implicated by a time line) leads through the present into the inevitability of the future. Being inevitable creates some urgency—resist (facilitate change) or be overcome by the anticipated march of history. This was the approach with regard to most matters leading up to the end of the twentieth century. A simple but effective logic that contributes to the formation of what Ranciere regards as “sense”.
Previous posts of this blog have been investigating video in contemporary culture, especially the aspect whereby video performs memory, producing time and difference. Here’s a time lapse video of a glacier disappearing. Want to see it again? Here’s a Michael Moore film on the easy accessibility of guns in our society. It is filled with a lot of information. Let’s replay the Michael Moore film. Video performing memory, as opposed to narrative (re)constructing memory along a “first this, then that” basis (narrative always begins and inevitably ends, even when repeated), dispenses with the inevitable and its implication of urgency. Want to see that glacier disappear again? There is no connection between this performed memory of the glacier disappearing (which we can repeat ad nauseum) and any inevitable outcome of this memory, with any urgency to act on some (nonexistent) inevitability. “We want to raise public awareness on this issue, and people can take that information and do what they want with it.” And many things are done with this information, as many things are done with videos.
So what works given that the obsolete narrative approach and the contemporary assumption that creating awareness will produce an inevitable intended response don’t? Video as communication of ongoing event seems to be especially effective in generating the desired inevitable response and its needed urgency. Whether natural disaster, victim account, covert filming of illegal activity, etc. video presentation becomes akin to Sinclair’s presentation in terms of ultimate outcome. But this brings us to privacy concerns, Occupy and eventually, the current ongoing discourse on “the right to look.” Occupy seizes on the “public”-ness of public space. An analogous scenario could be made for the various “public” rights of expression, freedom of the press and dissemination of information, universal internet access, etc. Privacy rights and laws are becoming ever more a priority for the 1% determining our governance. The right to look is not found anywhere in the document drafted by the eligible 5% who governed the land, serfs, indentured servants, and slaves in late 18th century America. Please, oh rulers of our great land, we beg of you, let us look (and see), and communicate (via digital media) what is going on around us right now– not “to raise public awareness” but to communicate and act immediately, which is what we already do when we drive our cars and perform at work.
Hmmm… Somehow that last line doesn’t look just right. Wonder why that is?

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