Tag Archives: activism

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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Rita MacNeil, security risk?

From mediascout.ca:

The Big Seven’s Beijing Blowout
August 6, 2008
by Drew Nelles

In case you didn’t get the memo, word is that China is on the rise, and the upcoming Beijing Olympics are its coming-out party. Also, in case you’ve been under a rock (or behind, say, an Internet firewall), what was supposed to be Beijing’s flawless emergence as a global superpower has been marred by demonstrations, crackdowns on dissent, terrorist attacks, media restrictions, lung-scorching smog and forced displacement. It’s not just the sports sections that are bursting… Read more »

Check out this item at the bottom:

The National
, CTV News and the Star go inside with the revelation that the RCMP included singer Rita MacNeil in its spying on the women’s movement during the 1970s. A pair of academics recently discovered declassified documents describing MacNeil as “the one who composes and sings women’s lib songs,” from spy notes taken at a 1972 meeting in Winnipeg, where the not-yet-famous Maritimer was representing the Toronto Women’s Caucus. All reports see MacNeil more bemused than concerned by the news: “I don’t know what [the Mounties] were up to or why they decided to keep a file on me. It could have been fear,” she tells the Star. “In those days they weren’t used to women talking about equality, subsidized daycare and empowerment.” The RCMP’s now-defunct spy branch, the Security Service, kept tabs on a number of movements from the 1960s through the 1980s – including labour, civil rights, and students’ movements – in an apparent attempt to uncover Communist infiltration. The CBC’s online article includes some unfortunate (not to mention insulting) quotes from the RCMP at the time: An officer refers to the “so-called exploitation of women,” and a memo from the Winnipeg conference describes the meeting as “consisting of about one hundred sweating, uncombed women standing around in the middle of the floor with their arms around each other crying sisterhood and dancing.” Espionage bungles are rarely so amusing, however, as when the fearful agitator goes on to host family-friendly variety shows and Christmas specials.

While funny, it’s also interesting. Undercover police infiltration still occurs in activist circles, as last year’s Montebello agents-provocateurs scandal makes clear. This means that some people take security culture seriously – sometimes, too seriously.

Last summer, I travelled to Halifax to report on the demonstrations against Atlantica, a proposed East-Coast free-trade initiative. There, I stayed in an organizer’s house with a few random people. One was a guy from Ottawa I drove up with, whose name was Evan but who inexplicably introduced himself to everyone else as “Rusty.” The others were a couple, a man and a woman from Toronto who decided to move to Halifax. They seemed nice enough at first, but quickly proved petty and possessive. They clashed on and off with Evan, who was off-kilter in a harmless sort of way. One morning, the woman – I forget both their names – screamed at him to leave. It wasn’t her decision to make – she didn’t live there. But she told Evan that the hosts didn’t want him around anymore.

Then she turned to me and said, “Drew, I don’t care if you stay, I don’t think you’re a cop.” I had no idea what she meant, but Evan and I quickly packed up and left. Then Evan told me: for some reason, she had been telling everyone – including our hosts – that I was an undercover cop, there to infiltrate the movement. At first I was insulted, but then I remembered that she was crazy.

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