Of Gaza and Facebook, part II

Vogt fires back, both barrels blazing. He concedes a few points, but takes issue with my last one. PJ, I’ll respond to each of your final points individually.

Yes, it’s true that photography, writing, and film do not get us all the way to the experience of lived war. But a James Nachtwey, a Hannah Arendt, a Philip Gourevitch, or a George Orwell get us as a lot closer than a bunch of inane, trivilializing back-and-forth between undereducated Westerners.

Of course they do. I don’t think I implied absolute equivalency between status updates and more, uh, traditional forms of text. (Did I actually just write that sentence?) Obviously, there is more to an Arendt or Orwell work than to some Qassam count on my news feed. My point was only that it’s silly to damn the Facebook format simply because it can’t do justice to tragedy.

Great writers are better able to capture inhumanity and devastation than most, so it’s unfair to compare Eichmann in Jerusalem or 1984 to a status update. In fact, it’s unfair to compare 1984 to anything that’s not a great work of literature. A lot of writing is bad, and bad writing cheapens human tragedy, through sentimentality and exaggeration and whatever else. We know that great writing is better than expressing yourself via news feed, but is sub-par reportage somehow innately superior to a status update? I’m not so sure. Though we’re immune to it by now, there is something viscerally inhumane about packing death counts into headlines and punchy ledes, but that’s what journalists do. We’re uncomfortable doing the same thing on Facebook – admittedly, I’m uncomfortable doing the same on Facebook – but this feeling needs to be interrogated.

They also demand that we engage the history of these places and weigh the stakes in these conflicts in a serious way. At the very least, I feel like they’d consider it misguided to reduce something as terrible and complex as this conflict into deaths v. rockets status-updates.

I think my above point, about good writing v. bad writing, also applies to the first sentence here. As for the second point, we could always email Gourevitch and Nachtwey to see what they think. But I’d like to think Arendt, for one, would be on my side. PJ brings up Arendt’s banality of evil – and what’s more banal than social networking? What’s more banally evil than a military launching a war and ending it on a political timetable? Facebook’s crudeness is fitting. The deaths of innocent Gazans have already been so cheapened by political calculation that a status update has little to add.

Drew, I suspect you probably agree with me, but are just using that big brain of yours to argue another side. Am I reading you right, Nelles?

I’m not sure what I think. Beyond a campus setting – where Facebook is powerful because it’s all students think about – I’ve always been suspicious of social-networking-as-activism. As I watched a fruitless Israel-Palestine back-and-forth crop up on my news feed, I posted a snarky Gaza status of my own. But, I think, that’s a knee-jerk reaction, and it comes apart under scrutiny. You’re right that this is partly a thought exercise, but I think I might have convinced myself.

Finally, I can’t believe we’ve burned up all this server time arguing about Facebook. I guess I started it. What a world.

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3 responses to “Of Gaza and Facebook, part II

  1. Facebook is a place where students hang out, so facebook ought to be a place where ideas are shared about shit that matters. True, I started out in the ‘facebook is for fun’ camp, but I’ve also realised that joining groups like Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, or Canadians for Democratic Media, or Shiba Inu PuppyCam: World Peace Will be Easy, have helped keep me up to speed on some of the things I care about.

    Sure, status updates can be petty and poorly articulated. I thought about signing up for a Gaza status updater, but, too, felt reservations in the end. I decided I could have come up with my own licks if I had really wanted to rather than going with canned statistics. But for others who also feel strongly about the atrocities and war crimes committed in Gaza, I felt no qualms seeing their statuses go to the cause. We’re not all poets; we all express ourselves differently Most of the time I find facebook political antics, no matter how informed or uninformed, original or canned, to be a welcome break from the 99 percent of the other escapist crap on there.

    Besides, Facebook activism often works:
    http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008/09/05/f-online-protest.html. And at a minimum, people are paying attention to it: http://brighthall.aol.com/2009/01/14/the-facebook-fight-over-gaza/.

    Bottom line is, activism is inherently social, and Facebook is a social networking site.

    New topic now, plz!!!

  2. Pingback: Former Daily editors engage in not so epic blog war. « Will Vanderbilt

  3. Kelly

    One more to add to the pile — a NYT piece entitled “Revolution, Facebook-Style” about facebook activism in Egypt:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html

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