query: are activists foolish?
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Thu May 31 21:38:56 CDT 2007
[ed: thanks to Chris for continuing the discussion.]
From: "Chris Cavanagh" <story at web.ca>
I appreciate the reference to Gitlin's book. My now-almost-30-years of
afflicting the powerful started in the student press in Montreal where
we fancied (in our oh-so-arrogant-youthfulness) that we could reinvent
journalism. We made a small difference i believe. Gitlin's book does
have some good stuff about media "framing" of activists - i second the
recommendation; he's got an excellent analysis of how Jerry Rubin was
framed by the media - how Rubin's flamboyant clowning around (and his
lack of an organizational base) played right into the media's hunger for
lionizing celebrities. I think it a good example of the ambivalent
nature of foolishness. As important as i think "foolishness" is, it is a
wild force that resists our domesticating efforts. Something that The
Motley Fool that Stephen mentioned, is trying to do.
The Motley Fool is not really about the "fool" at all. It's taking
advantage of the caché of the romanticised notion of the court jester to
challenge conventional wisdom. They're really performing a simple
reversal in which they are mocking conventional wisdom (claiming to
expose fallacies) and offering up their own understanding of economics
(albeit limited to investment) as better. They're not at all challenging
any of the assumptions of capitalism. If they were to take some shots at
neo-liberalism, the "invisible hand" of the market, "rational economic
man" (sic), and talk about how to invest from that critical disposition,
maybe then they would deserve the moniker "foolish". I think the
positive notion of foolishness that i argue for should be in the service
of freedom, emancipation, revolution even. Foolishness in the interests
of the dominant economic and political systems is opportunism and, in
fact, an important part of the machinery of social control. That's what
the media is looking for: nice, tame (or tame-able) fools that can be
used to re-affirm what is (usually unquestioningly) normal.
> [ed: thanks to John and Steven for continuing the discussion.]
> From: "JOHN M. BEAM" <beam at fordham.edu>
> Hello all:
> I may be raising what should be a separate thread, but I would argue,
> albeit from the very parochial perspective of New York City where the
> Times rules, that, in fact, too much concern is attached to news
> coverage in organizing. One possible explanation is that many people
> must share a power analysis that sees media coverage as the thing
> that makes policy makers jump, an assumption for which the evidence
> -- especially for fundamental problems such as institutionalized
> racism -- is decidedly mixed, to put it charitably. And, one might
> suggest, the liberal rush to term limits in the 90s, here at least,
> left local politicians (only a sub set of power players) even less
> vulnerable to public embarrassment. Another possibility is that the
> media equals organizing equation might be an unintended consequence
> of the surviving organizing models. I know I don't have the current
> expertise to explore that one well, but would appreciate perspectives
> from folks who do.
> John Beam
> From: Steven Taylor <stevetaylor at preventharm.org>
> At the risk of digressing a bit too much into part of this topic, let me
> refer Chris and others to with an interest in Foolishness (capital F) to:
> - Laurie R. King's "To Play the Fool" (in which a main character is
> exactly this sort of Fool)
> - The Motley Fool
> PLEASE NOTE - NEW contact info for Steve Taylor below.
> New address: 238 Goddard Road, Lewiston, ME, 04240
> Numbers for Mike Belliveau and Amanda Sears remain the same.
> *Steven Taylor
> Organizing Director
> Environmental Health Strategy Center
> "Preventing harm where we live, work and play"
> Ofc: (207) 782-7151
> Cell: (207) 504-2555
> *Proud members of MaineShare <http://www.maineshare.org/> - workplace
> giving for Maine's future*
> colist at comm-org.wisc.edu wrote:
>> This is a COMM-ORG 'colist' message.
>> All replies to this message come to COMM-ORG only.
>> [ed: thanks to Richard and Chris for continuing the discussion.]
>> From: Richard Layman <rlaymandc at yahoo.com>
>> Probably the best book about how media frames activists is Todd
>> Gitlin's _The Whole World is Watching_, an analysis of how the New
>> York Times and CBS covered SDS, and the impact on the organization
>> internally and externally. There's a great section on how photo
>> cropping can be used to cast activists in a "foolish" light.
>> I haven't read Phyllis Kaniss' _Making Local News_, but it's on my
>> list to read. Richard Layman
>> From: "Chris Cavanagh" <story at web.ca>
>> Apropos of talking about organizers as fools, i am currently
>> developing a
>> piece of theory i call trickster pedagogy. I'm a big fan of fools
>> though by
>> such i mean more of what Jeff is referring to with "Shakespearean
>> The fool (trickster, holy thief, wise fool, mischief maker, et al) has a
>> long and venerable history. A history which is abundant with
>> resistance to
>> injustice and laughter in the face of violence and despair.
>> But, fool-fan that i am, i also want to affirm your concerns, Larry.
>> For the
>> mass media and the dominant common sense is ever alert to the
>> opportunity to
>> frame (and dismiss) activists and organizers as fools in the most
>> sense: i.e. infantile, lunatic, crazy, hopeless (unrealistic) dreamers,
>> dangerously mad and more. And for sure, activist and organiser
>> often play into these negative notions, giving the media, the public
>> and the
>> very forces which we oppose, unfortunate confirmation of their common
>> notion of fool.
>> But there is some uncommon and very positive sense of fool as well.
>> Not the
>> least of which is the importance of laughing in the face of power. A
>> dangerous thing at times, i'll grant. But the Ethiopian proverb that
>> Scott begins his book, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, is good
>> advice: "When the great lord passes the wise peasant bows deeply and
>> (The Daily Show and the Colbert Report are our modern equivalents of
>> wise peasant, don't you think?).
>> The fool (in all its varieties) does contain values/ethics/energies
>> that are
>> both bad and good, helpful and troubling, clarifying and confusing.
>> But i,
>> for one, feel that understanding what the fool is all about (and
>> is the way i most often categorize my taxonomy of fools) is absolutely
>> essential and has never been more urgently needed. Whether we play
>> the fool
>> or not, the mainstream media will seek to frame activists and
>> organizers as
>> such every chance they get. So i feel that we have to go more deeply
>> what the fool has to teach and learn to be ever more tricky (like the
>> peasant). Of course, if we limit our "tricks" to mere tactics, then,
>> we're likely playing into dominant agendas and risk being
>> marginalized or,
>> worse, co-opted (and not even know it). The Yippies had some good
>> ideas and
>> it's still worth laughing at their antics. But their tactics were
>> from necessary political analysis - it was infantile to some extent.
>> But it
>> made us (and makes us laugh) and for that, i can forgive a great
>> deal. I am
>> not a fan of Alinsky-style organizing, but i have a deep appreciation
>> Saul's tactical smarts.He had a wonderful sense of humour (perhaps of
>> holy rage variety) and brilliant imagination. And that's what the
>> fool keeps
>> alive: imagination. Not to mention hope and humility and love.
>> What we need to do is learn from the trickster how to be strategic in
>> "foolishness". How to be taken seriously when we must. But also to
>> show the
>> world that no matter how hard things get, we will not let our senses of
>> humour be crushed. And i'd best sign off before this turns into genuine
>> rant. As i said to begin with, i am working on some theory about all
>> and so my head is simply packed to overflowing with thoughts on this
>> subject. Thanks for raising it.
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