Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guest Blog By Marc Herbst, of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest: Where Fashion and Style Don't Matter, or, Why it doesn't matter that Occupy Wall Street look like a bunch of hippies, yippies, or punks.

The form of the current occupation is not a style manifesto.The principals of solidarity out of the Wall Street Occupation are not a Hot Topic fashion coup.  The demands that are published in their Fifth Communique are not the ramblings of some overheated fashion editor.

They are, instead, a political platform.

The hemming and hawing one hears, regarding how the occupiers “look like hippies,” or how their form is “just like the recent anti-war protests” or how they “lack a message” are wrong. This is a different situation, this is a unique response to a uniquely ongoing crisis. As such, it's technically impossible for the response to be “the same”, but that's besides the point.

As should be now common knowledge, capitalism in the United States (and elsewhere) fosters ever more shit-employement, a further impoverishment of the public sphere, an ever more disfunctionalizing political systems, and alienating social forms. It sucks, and the bet of this occupation, of any open occupation or open radical forum is that peoples from all walks of life, alienated from the ever-shrinking structural “mainstream” “centricity” will find their future in the movement, its plazas and platforms and barricades.

As many have commented, we have before us an opportunity for real, general, movement. Though there have been localized resistances, (Wisconsin, Empire Windows and Doors, New School and UC Occupations, The push-back against defunding of Planned Parenthood etc..) we have now a form that, in a generalized manner (99% might understand) can be the wind behind these and other struggles. Yes, there is a qualitative difference between local and general struggles, this is true. But to discount the general struggle because of the way it looks or the way it talks is wrong. Change happens with the movement you have, not the movement you want. If not now, when? To fault this movement because it doesn't look like this or that group of people is, in my understanding, a mis-read of the nature of radically progressive politics.

Movements happen not because people want things to stay the same but because folks realize that something has to change. This is a first step in bringing individuals into action. In become active, in become activists, people individually go from accepting the status quo to recognizing the need for something new. Only “conservative” movements suggest a need to go back to some imagined “was.” Radical, progressive movements, like this one, instead suggest the need to invent new forms, new ways of being as individuals and collectives. The open forums that characterized Tahrir, the Spanish Plazas and the new Occupations of Liberty and elsewhere are such forums for which to forge that new look.

For the movement to be successful, that new look, or better, the many new looks will be forged in the course of movements. To predetermine the look (as designers or political organizers) is to limit the movement's potential, is to be bound into “the student look”, “the hippy look”, “the same format of the RNC protests”, “the antiwar protests etc...” or some formula that will limit the potential for real generalization.

And this here is where style matters. To allow for this or any other general movement to grow, there need be a sensitivity to the difference between what people are saying and how they say it. There need be a sensitivity to the fact that under this political platform and principals of solidarity, many manifestations are possible. Thus we need to design a keen eye as to what people hope too appear as and not how they currently look, a sensitive ear as to what individuals aspire to sound like and not how they sound. Thrill started somewhere, the civil rights movement started somewhere. In that manner, any movement that begins with a bunch of students or a bunch of leftists will in the end come to look like our movement. And it will look like nothing we've ever seen before.

The nature of social movements; from the technical/social movement generated with the mass-production of the automobile, to the theological social movement generated with the schism between Rome and the Protestants, to the social movements generated in the civil rights era- they all radically alter the ways that people look and dress and talk and sound and live. Occupy Wall Street gives form for a generalized movement that may have the potential to radically alter things- it has a structure in which to incorporate yet is differentiated enough in order to forge something yet unknown.

I among many have been waiting for this for some years now. Lets all stop being fashionistas sneering at the pages of Vogue and instead join in on the forging of something radically beautiful.

Thanks to Benjamin Heim Shepard, Beka Economopoulos and Olive McKeon and my friends at Occupy Everything for ideas and words which helped me write this piece.

Note from Benjamin Shepard.  Thanks for contributing Marc.  After you helped me put together my first writings on social movements and play in JOAP, its an honor to have you post on this blog. Its also a pleasure to respond to the dude on Wall Street yesterday, who chimed in that we were "Fucking hippies." 
"I'm not  a hippy" I wanted to respond.  "But I am with them."  Thanks to Marc for helping explain why. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello There,
    I just wanted to see if you were currently interested in additional guest bloggers for your blog site.
    I see that you've accepted some guest posters in the past - are there any specific guidelines you need me to follow while making submissions?
    If you're open to submissions, whom would I need to send them to?
    I'm eager to send some contributions to your blog and think that I can cover some interesting topics.
    Thanks for your time,