Tag Archives: occupy

Thai Protesters Adopting the Hunger Games Salute: Valid Expression, or Intellectual Bankruptcy?

Protesters raise three fingers during an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok on Sunday. Photograph: Sakchai Lalit/AP. Taken from The Guardian website.

Protesters raise three fingers during an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok on Sunday. Photograph: Sakchai Lalit/AP. Taken from The Guardian website.

A few years ago, the Occupy movement appropriated Guy Fawkes masks as a symbol of resistance against an all-seeing state. The masks served two purposes – to anonymize participants in protests that were being filmed and shared around the internet, and to create an image of solidarity. While Guy Fawkes has been a symbol of resisting authority for hundreds of years (ever since his attempt to blow up the houses of Parliament), the mask that was used had been popularized by Alan Moore’s graphic novel, “V for Vendetta,” which was later made into a film of the same name.

Now, it looks like Thai protesters against the military coup have taken on a symbol from another film: the three-fingered salute from The Hunger Games franchise. While the exact meaning of the salute (in the context of Thai political protesters) isn’t precisely clear, its use as a symbol of resistance to authority is. So much so that the military has made statements saying they will arrest any group of more than five people using the sign if those people refuse to disperse and desist.

The Guardian published an article deriding the appropriation of mass-culture symbols as displays of political protest, finding the gestures “intellectually bankrupt” as compared to the gestures of the past, and this seems unfair. Isn’t the point of a political hand gesture that it requires no outside resources and can be performed by anyone wishing to take part in resisting authority? That it’s widely recognizable by members of society, while perhaps escaping the notice of authorities? Reading from the Canadian Globe & Mail, it would seem that the junta isn’t even sure of what the protesters are symbolizing when they use The Hunger Games’ three-fingered salute.

While I’m no fan of The Hunger Games novels, finding fault with a mode of expression available to those under military rule seems petty and unnecessary. If The Guardian finds the Thai protesters’ use of Suzanne Collins’ fictional gesture, like that of Occupy’s use of the Fawkes mask, to be intellectually bankrupt, their insistence is intellectual naval-gazing:

Images have meaning. The clenched fist of Marxist revolutionaries was not just a gesture. Behind it lay a history of revolution going back to 1789 and a huge body of serious political thought from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte to the writings of Antonio Gramsci. But what does it actually mean to claim allegiance to The Hunger Games?

Whatever its literary quality, The Hunger Games enjoys widespread recognition thanks to its blockbuster success as a film, and the gesture adopted by these protesters is instantly recognizable to teens and young adults bound up in the franchise, around the world. If the writer of this article thinks the Thai protesters are “claim[ing] allegiance” to the franchise, they’re either being deliberately derogatory or else unprofessionally obtuse. With limited resources and few opportunities for group gatherings, what better way to get a message out about how the protesters feel their rights are being trampled on than to use a pop-culture gesture that’s loaded with weight and meaning?

The hand-gesture symbols of the 20th century were just as manufactured and have gained widespread respect over time. From Wikipedia, regarding the “V-for-victory” sign that gained popularity during WWII:

On January 14, 1941, Victor de Laveleye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-speaking broadcasts on the BBC (1940–1944), suggested in a broadcast that Belgians use a V for victoire (French: “victory”) and vrijheid (Dutch: “freedom”) as a rallying emblem during World War II. In the BBC broadcast, de Laveleye said that “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, [would] understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure.” Within weeks chalked up Vs began appearing on walls throughout Belgium, the Netherlands, and northern France.[24]

Buoyed by this success, the BBC started the “V for Victory” campaign, for which they put in charge the assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie posing as “Colonel Britton”. Ritchie suggested an audible V using its Morse code rhythm (three dots and a dash). As the rousing opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony had the same rhythm, the BBC used this as its call-sign in its foreign language programmes to occupied Europe for the rest of the war. The more musically educated also understood that it was the Fate motif “knocking on the door” of the Third Reich. (About this sound Listen to this call-sign. ).[24][25] The BBC also encouraged the use of the V gesture introduced by de Laveleye.[26]

By July 1941, the emblematic use of the letter V had spread through occupied Europe…since 1942, Charles de Gaulle used the V sign in every speech until 1969.[31]

Using pop culture, art and the will of the people to manufacture ways to express dissatisfaction with political leadership is a technique that’s been used through the ages, around the world.

By criticizing Thai protesters for using the methods of protest readily available to them and insisting they adopt an intellectually-sanctioned (Western) gesture of political protest instead, the Guardian article only demonstrates its own ethnocentrism and ivory-tower intellectualism, showing its own irrelevance when it comes to commenting on the right of oppressed people to choose their own method of showing dissatisfaction with their ruling over-class.

In Which I Wax Verbose on Assange, Wikileaks & More

I’ve been giving a lot of brainspace to the Assange case over the last year or two, particularly in light of PIPA/SOPA/ACTA legislation and the signing of NDAA last December, here in the US. Anyway, Julian Assange’s situation has been a long-term story which undergoes long periods of silence punctuated by short flurries of action: his escape to the Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge a couple of months ago, and now the announcement by that country that they will grant his request for asylum.

There’s a huge amount of discussion taking place around these issues on the internet right now. One of the major questions relates to the charges Assange may face in Sweden, and the idea that they might be a smokescreen that leads to his being extradited to the United States, where he could face charges of espionage for his role in the leaking of diplomatic cables.

On Thursday, Ecuador announced their intention to grant Assange asylum. Saturday, the Organisation of American States made statements in support of Ecuador’s decision, while meanwhile the UK spoke about their legal obligations to Sweden and the possibility they might go into the Ecuadorian embassy without invitation and arrest Assange. Today (Sunday, EST), Assange made a statement from a balcony of the Embassy (to what I’m sure was chagrin on the part of Mitch Benn, none of the crowd members burst into “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,”).

Friday morning, when Ecuador’s announcement on Assange’s asylum was made, a friend asked me, what side was I on, anyway? Was Assange a hero or a sexual predator? We talked about it a bit and I said that at that point, it seemed like there were actually multiple issues that had become tangled up. I’ve been thinking about how to untangle them for a day or two now, and must be getting somewhere, because I finally got around to writing this blog.

 

Issues:

1. Julian Assange has been accused of rape in Sweden.

2. Julian Assange received classified information from a US military officer in the form of diplomatic cables, which he then published through his organization, Wikileaks.

3. Ecuador has agreed to give asylum to Assange, who has been sheltered in their embassy for two months. In response, the UK has suggested that it might enter the embassy without Ecuador’s invitation, which would breach both formal conventions to which the UK is a party, thus disrespecting Ecuador’s right, as a sovereign nation, to grant asylum as it sees fit.

Breakdowns/thoughts:

1. Assange is not currently (as I understand it) wanted for arrest in Sweden. He is wanted for questioning, as the authorities endeavor to determine whether or not to charge him with rape. It has been suggested that Assange is willing to return to Sweden for questioning on this case if Sweden were to give guarantees that he would not be subsequently extradited to the US for item (2). Sweden has declined to make this promise. To me, this piece of the puzzle suggests Sweden is less interested in accumulating information that could help the two women accusing Assange to find justice, and more interested in getting him back on Swedish soil. Had Sweden actually charged Assange, then I understand why a Skype call or a visit to the Embassy wouldn’t do. [EDIT: A friend pointed me to this article in the Independent, which states that under Swedish law, charges cannot be brought until a suspect is in custody; this adds a new dimension to the question, but still doesn’t explain why if Assange is only wanted for questioning, it can’t take place from the UK.] If the Swedish government hasn’t brought rape charges against Assange yet, why won’t they compromise on the location of the interview in order to get the information they need before they can decide whether charges should be brought?

2.  The cables Manning made available to Wikileaks contained sensitive information which was understandably embarrassing for several countries. Manning has been held without charges in the US for over two years, with international condemnation of the circumstances under which he is being held. Having watched the situation spinning since it started, I do not think it’s unreasonable that Assange might face retaliatory action from the US if placed in a situation where he could be extradited to the US for charges related to item (2). Again, I understand that if the US promised not to seek Assange’s extradition from Sweden on unrelated charges against him (charges related to Wikileaks’ publishing of diplomatic cables, for example, he would willingly go back to Sweden for questioning related to item (1).

3. Oh, UK. I love you, but please don’t go there. Ecuador is it’s own country, and Ecuador now has pretty much all of South America backing them up on their right to grant asylum as they see fit. I hear Russia (Russia!) even sent you a note saying they were concerned about how you might go into the Ecuadorian embassy. You threw a hissy (and rightfully so) when your embassy was disrespected in Iran last year, acknowledging the inviolate sanctity of foreign missions. You’re a member of a convention that expressly forbids barging in on somebody else’s embassy. I understand that you have a responsibility to Sweden, and think that you’re still trying to fulfill it is great, but same question here as I asked Sweden in item (2) – if you’re so concerned about the women involved in item (1) (as you should be), then why can’t you broker a situation where Assange answers the questions the Swedish police have for him within UK borders?

 

So in summary: I’m furious that Sweden and the UK are letting items (2) and (3) get in the way of resolving item (1), because the women who have accused Assange deserve closure. I think item (2) gives Assange a reasonable basis for fear of extradition, particularly based on increasingly restrictive legislation concerning expression in this country (Naomi Wolf has gone on the record stating she declined to meet with members of Occupy Wall Street because  she was, in part, concerned about prosecution under #NDAA).

Finally, item (3) is disturbing because in threatening to enter the Ecuadorian embassy, the UK has made what was a bilateral discussion between themselves and Ecuador into a larger question for the world at large. Already, South America (including Brazil) and Russia have spoken out against the idea of violating a nation’s embassy; that’s half the BRIC nations right there. (And lest we wonder where China would likely come in on this – they didn’t go into the US embassy when Chen Guangcheng was holed up there).

This is where the fiction writer in me yells, “THIS COULD GET ARCHDUKE FERDINAND UGLY!” and goes off to scribble notes for a WWIII novel.

Happy Sunday, everyone.

I expect this won’t be the last post I make on this subject, so if you have any resources or insights, please feel free to link me to them in the comments.

 

Edit: The Guardian has posted the following editorial piece regarding Assange’s statement.

Finishing Something

I’ve nearly made half a dozen blog entries in the last couple days. I want to post about Julian Assange, I want to post about Ecuador, I want to post about Pussy Riot, I want to post about climate change, I want to post about Playing it Cool, I want to post about theater (this, at least, is out of my hands till next weekend, when I have a show booked).

I want to organize the things in my living room, put the books with the books and sort through the clothes and sweep and swiffer and take out the recycling and clean up my emails and work on my novella and read my friend’s novella and brag about having just finished copy editing another friend’s novel.

I have a to-do list as long as my arm full of things I don’t feel passionately about starting, and every so often I think, “Breakfast would be nice.”

But mostly I want to lie in bed and think about the play I saw earlier this week: Coriolanus at Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, a New York City institution currently being nurtured by The Drilling Company, whose Mangella I very much enjoyed when I saw it last year.

Shakespeare in the Parking Lot takes place down on the Lower East Side, at what must be one of the last publicly-owned parking lots in the city. Plastic chairs were set up in traverse-style, and there was a huge swell of blanket-dwellers beyond that.

I’ve never seen Coriolanus before. The imagery/rhetoric of Occupy was used to draw distinctions between the commoners, their representatives, and Coriolanus himself – a soldier returning home triumphant after long wars, whose utter disdain for the lower class would make Ayn Rand (and probably a Romney or two) proud. I was never quite sympathetic to Coriolanus, except in brief scenes with his mother, but the actor played him very well (and my apologies for not grabbing a program and therefore being unable to call out his name).

So now I’ve spoken about the theater stuff I saw the other night, at least.

Maybe breakfast isn’t the worst idea I’ve had all morning.

Speaking about Hot Mess on The 99 Report

At 3pm EST today, March 20th, I’ll be speaking about HOT MESS: speculative fiction on climate change on the Earth Day episode of The 99 Report, a weekly podcast. You can access the podcast here.

The show starts at 2pm, and features some interesting guests who’ll be discussing the condition of the post-oil-spill Gulf of Mexico. We’ll also talk about how fiction can inspire conversations about real-world issues.

This is my first podcast appearance – so as you can imagine, nerves are high and your support is appreciated!

The Hot Mess Update: Print Editions, Radio Appearances & More


So you’ve been dying to read Hot Mess:speculative fiction about climate change since it came out, but you don’t own an e-reader. Well, here’s some good news for you: the book is finally available in print.

You can now purchase print editions of  Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change via our CreateSpace E-Store. Within a week or so, this will populate out to Amazon, but in the meantime you can pick up a copy from CreateSpace.

Next up? I’ll be calling in to Earth Day edition of  The 99 Report’s podcast to discuss Hot

Mess with host and fellow indie author Allie, after a fortuitous Twitter introduction from @Uncucumbered. The show will also feature a discussion of how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has affected the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding waters – so hopefully I’ll be learning something while I’m there. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Deepwater Horizon from today’s xkcd.

I’m also putting together a guest blog for The Masquerade Crew as part of the A-Z challenge. My letter? S. My topic? Self-publishing. (Because really, why limit myself?) That should be going up some time around Earth Day, too. Is there anything about this process that readers and other indie authors want to know? Any questions I should try to bear in mind? Feel free to leave ’em in the comments.

PS – you can still buy Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change for Kindle, Nook and on Smashwords. Our Goodreads page is here

PPS – Both print and e-readers have an environmental impact; by making the work available in both formats we hope our readers will be able to make a conscientious choice that fits their lifestyle.

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THEATER REVIEW: “Righteous Money” at the Kraine Theater

As a latter day Jim Cramer, CJ (Michael Yates Crowley) hosts “Righteous Money,” a blinged-up version of Cramer’s own Mad Money. The audience sits amidst the trappings of a TV studio (a monitor, a camera, and references to an off-stage producer), but the events taking place on stage would have any TV show cut off within minutes. The conceit falls through almost immediately, and from there on out Righteous Money (also the title of the play) is hard to take seriously.

There’s no throughline of sociopathy in Crowley’s character, thanks to a bizarre breakdown that includes his confessing to an one-night-stand-with-some-meaning-thrown-in with one of the interns. Not for a moment did I believe any of CJ’s confessions regarding having true feelings for “Nathan,” the intern, and given the enormous dose of self-confidence Crowley has given his character, there were times when director Michael Rau could have brought greater depth to the material – for example (and not that I was hankering for nudity), after CJ spends time bragging about his physical appearance and noting the fact that he sleeps naked, why does he only strip to his boxers when spanking himself for the camera? This lack of logic extends to things like CJ’s producer allowing him to remain on the air, and even to the sort of things he says while railing against his assistant. His “freakout” may be realistic, but it fails at providing a cogent dramatic through-line to the play.

CJ’s philosophy of money is entertaining – he wants his audience to have access to what he calls “righteous” money – money they deserve, and money beyond what they dream possible – but his repeated references to a non-present “woman guest” Suze Orman soon grow tired.

Righteous Money features a rich topic, perfect (metatextual) timing, and a lead performer who we very much want to like. In the end, though, it never quite achieves liftoff.

In Protest of SOPA and PIPA

The anti-SOPA and anti-PIPA blackout protests have come to a close as of 8pm EST.
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