Voices that challenge, inform… Influence?

‘Do not mistake information for influence’
Blogs and Bullets, Aday et al, 2010

Authority, irreverence and justice are all profoundly influential concepts and qualities. Equally important when considering influence and impact, is content, form and context. Political messages can be hard to communicate, particularly against a hostile opponent with the power to destabilise and obscure the field of play.

But how does one undermine the Machiavellian principles of leadership without employing tactics of ritual, process, officialdom – or those of market driven ‘consumer’ interest? Basic human characteristics can be played to exploit individualism, competition. insecurity. Donovan and Henley (2010) state that ‘Facebook is less useful a mobilizing tool than a marketing tool’. Commaerts (2005) also warns that ‘analysis reveals an inverse relationship between broad online social movement mobilization and deep participation.’ 

Michael O’Regan’s post Beyond culture jamming—digitally augmented artivism on the Beauty is in the Digital Street: Mobilisation in the Internet Age blog asserts that ‘culture jamming… all too often problematically conflates the petulant with the profound.’

‘Its focus on the ironic take contributes to a studied unseriousness, reminiscent of a minor English public school common room: its interventionist character alienates as much as it enlightens (Brisman, 2014, p. 58); its characteristic ephemerality militates against sustained movement mobilisation.’

Mindaugas Jocbalis’ post, Perpetual power struggle – new leftist nostalgia built on capitalist media foundations, on the same blog, explores and questions the efficacy of socialist new media communications in political activism.

Both posts establish the flaws of process and impact, yet one can recognise these gaps without ruling the methods out. There cannot be only one correct method that meets all ends. A networked and pluralistic digital culture, utilising a variety of approach, media and tone is needed. Approaches that further a cause either through direct action or communication have the potential to engage and build receptivity, to new ideas and for new audiences/groups.

To disregard differing approaches, risks undermining the bargaining power and collective influence that these diverse voices together can achieve together. The cumulative impact of a collective voice, targeting differing groups via appropriate methods and means; that respond to the need for entertainment, distraction and emotional stimulation with fiction, performance; tragic, comic, satirical, poetic; the need for institutional change with political diplomacy and digital campaigning…

Tom Scocca of Gawker, generated wide debate with popular cultural and social theorist and philosophers, when he wrote about On Smarm [vs Snark] in media and cultural practice. Snark is the snide response to the hypocritical righteousness of Smarm. The evasiveness and dirty tactics of which it is accused, simply a projection of the practices being mimicked and undermined. ‘Through smarm, the “centrists” have cut themselves off from the language of actual dispute. In smarm is power.’ There has been a flock towards honest politics – often in nationalistic and right-leaning forms; any platform that can allow us to present and debate contentious social content must encourage critical but measured engagement rather than more extreme forms for expression and activism. This is not a cyber-utopian view but a call for a genuine pluralism of perspective, as Mouffe extolls in Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism?

CasetteBoy is an increasingly recognised outsider symbol for creative political and social critique. The Emporer’s New Clothes rap video (above), which was released during the UK 2015 General Election campaign, concludes with a trailer for Russell Brand and Michael Winterbottoms social and political activity and cultural output. Brand’s approach circumvents all the standard requirements for a legitimate political voice. His irreverence offends the establishment but provides a line of entry for information, networks, collaborators including Owen Jones and Labour PM candidate Ed Miliband. While these individuals and methods are inevitably maligned by centrist and right-wing media, this needn’t strip them of all value.

Operating in an efficiency driven economy, battling a vastly resourced opposition with limited capacity, it matters where energies are directed. But this broadly political calling-out of commercial interests and practices through comedy, performance, pastiche; while not a solution in and of itself, can play a part. Playing to strengths and enthusiasms, whatever form these takes, rather than suppressing potential allegiances, creates a line of opposition, which can catalyse further engagement and action.

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