Why do alt/grassroots media fail
Stupid individualism and the visionOntv CJ video templates.
Our templates for video journalism are designed to simplify and empower normal people to make coherent video news pieces using the tools they already have. They are successful at this if people fallow the template's – it says this at the end of most of them. The issue that creates failure is a standard one for the possibility of an alternative “stupid individualism”.
Our shared western society is based on a hegemonic false senses of individualism, were the reality is largely faceless bland conformity thinly covered by a surface of lifestyle fashion. This is the bases of consumer capitalism our “wealth” is built on. The current world view atomises any possibility of building an alternative and shows up as a block in most attempts to build one. The disparity of wealth on the surface and poverty of the underlying human condition (some more hippy types would call this “spirit”) is striking to many thinking and feeling people.
Our templates boil down more than 30 years of experience of awarded wining fast turn around video journalism to a A4 cartoon sheet. The instructions are clear and complete, if you fallow these, after a few attempts you will likely have mastered the bases of audio visual story telling and from this point of basic mastery opens a whole world of creativity and real genuine “individualism” of the less stupid kind.
Over the last 10-20 years of teaching few actually get this far and we know this because we have trained thousands of citizen journalist over hundreds of workshops at both undercurrents and visionOntv. Why? I would put into view my old friend/foe “stupid individualism” as the explanation (though would admit the are technical challenges as well).
The impotence of the template is more in what it doesn’t say. The is much more information in the omissions, this is how it fits on a A4 with pictures. It distils what does work and explains this. And leves out much that people do by default that dues not work.
Simply, people do not fallow the template, often they do not even pick them up and read them, they then go onto do what THEY think is video making, they do all the bits that the template purposely omits and very few of the bits in them, the result is almost always a dis empowering mess. This is the same outcome with all groups we work with.
We live in an individualist society, were we are all “empowered individuals”. The problem is evident in that this is our empowerment is an almost all an illusion, we are all dis-empowered individuals with egos let lose on dispoling mode. We think we are empowered because everything around us that works is on bureaucratic auto pilot, we don’t actually have to create anything original and lack the base skills to so when the rare option comes round.
Our templates are such a rear opportunity, if you can take your mind out of dispoleing mode and fallow the instructions – the first step and a rare hopeful sign for us as trainers is a budding CJ actually checking the steps on the paper template as they go though the filming.
This is a example of “stupid individualism” a block on many parts of building an alternative.
Some background http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity_fetishism
Stupid individualism and the possibility of an alternative
Stupid individualism and the visionOntv templates.
Our templates for video journalism are designed to radically simplify and empower normal people to make coherent video news pieces using the tools they largely already have. They are successful at this if people fallow the template's – it says this at the end of most of them.
The issue that creates failure is a standard one for the possibility of an alternative, I call it this “stupid individualism”.
The disparity of wealth on the surface and poverty of the underlying human condition (some would call this “spirit”) is striking to many thinking and feeling people. Our shared western society is based on a hegemonic false senses of individualism, were the reality is largely faceless conformity thinly covered by lifestyle fashion. This is the bases of consumer capitalism our “wealth” is built on. The world view atomises any possibility of building an alternative and shows up in as a block in most attempts to build one.
Our templates boil down more than 30 years of experience of awarded wining fast turn around video journalism to a A4 cartoon sheet. The instructions are clear and complete, if you fallow these, after a few attempts you will likely have mastered the bases of audio visual story telling and from this point of mastery opens a whole world of creativity and real genuine individualism.
Very few actually get this far and we know this because we have trained thousands of citizen journalist over hundreds of workshops at both undercurrents and visionOntv. Why? I would put fowered my old friend/foe “stupid individualism” as the prime explanation (though would admit the are technical challenges as well).
The impotence of the template is more in what it doesn’t say, the is much more information in the omissions, this is how it fits on a A4 with pictures. It distils what does work and explains this.
People do not fallow the template, often they do not even pick it up and read it, they then go onto do what THEY think is video making, they do all the bits that the template purposely omits and very few of the bits in it, the result is almost always a dis empowering mess. This is the same thing with all groups we work with.
We live in an individualist society, were we are all “empowered individuals”. The problem is evident in that this is our empowerment is an illusion, we are all dis empowered individuals with egos let lose on dispoling mode. We think we are empowered because everything around us that works is on bureaucratic auto pilot, we don’t actually have to create anything original and lack the base skills to so when the rare option comes round. Our templates are such a rear opportunity, if you can take your mind out of dispoleing mode and fallow the instructions – the first step and a rare hopeful sign for us as trainers is a budding CJ actually checking the steps on the paper template as they go though the filming.
This “stupid individualism” is a block on many parts of building an alternative.
Is the OMN tech complex?
There is a hard-to-understand idea that the technology behind the OMN (open media network) is complex. At a base level it is not, it's the same tech that has been written 1000s of times in the past and uses nearly 20 year old technology.
What is complex is the ideas and social understandings behind the ideas of using this “stupidly simple” technology in the OMN.
Firstly it's needed to understand that Alt-media and the open web in general is F**cked. Once past this point it becomes easer. Secondly a understanding of the forces that F**cked it are both on their side: the #dotcons, Facebook, uber, Amazon etc and on our-side, our encryptionist geeks, NGO social media gurus, process vampires etc.
We don’t currently have power to affect their side, so let's look at our side, in the sense of understanding the OMN. It's based on the 4 opens and none of our guys like this combination for different reasons. It's based on KISS - our geeks don’t like building on the old and our politicos are pushing the fashionista of the vapours avant-garde, so both reject the “old” foundation ideas/tech of the OMN.
The idea is very simple - that we get alt-media groups and sites to be part of a network so they become bigger than their parts. And a very basic issue is solved, they link to each other, which currently the isolated silos do not consistently do. The link is the currency of the web, in this we all become richer and have wider outreach on the “openweb”.
The “innovation” of the OMN is the use of RSS articles as a database exchange format. We thus create a redundant distributed network of databases holding and displaying (linking) to our collective history. Why RSS? Without it we have to get agreement and write custom code for every site that wants to join. With RSS, it's copy/paste and go on 98% of existing sites on the open web. The first is self limiting and impossible to grow, the second just works. There is no complexity at all at this basic level and no need for site agreements etc.
Trouble-shooting this rollout there are issues, but nothing that can't be solved by tweaking and bodging. The next stage is a little more complex, synchronising these databases and keeping articles up-to-date and exchanging tagged metadata so that the “curating of the flows works”. This will need thinking and programming for real, but nothing that throwing some bandwidth and processing power can't solve in an “inefficient way” - again KISS.
Build it first, scale it second. We are running this out in the small world of alt-media, so geeks keep it KISS. There is a philosophical and design issue that will cause bottlenecks, the CMS's we will be using are designed as portals/silos not data rivers/media flow sites. Some creative thought can help here. And there is the opening for innovation and new CMS's at a later time.
To conclude the blocks on building out the OMN are within our own geeks and politicos and have to be overcome. That is the tech is relatively easy, the social side is complex, Ideas for this? My idea is to form a wide;y skilled affinity group and go for it, lead by example. Other paths, ideas, welcome.
Trust and control and the role of gatekeepers in blocking
Everyone understands the role of “gatekeepers” in traditional media. I want to look at how there are very similar issues with radical and progressive media. Most blocking and authoritarianism in activist organising is not conscious, rather its roots lie in psychological traits rather than ideological thinking. Everyone might be a professed horizontalist, but some are clearly not acting in the accordance with the way they think/speak.
The Ratcliffe Swoop prosecutions caused a backlash against activist media that reverberated around the Edinburgh climate camp. We were not present at the Ratcliife Swoop, and played no part in the gathering of video there. When we saw footage posted of identifiable activists doing criminal damage, we were astonished, as throughout the history of video activism this has been an absolute "no no", without the express consent of the activists pictured. We immediately took this material down from visionOntv accounts where it had been posted, and told the Ratclifffe media team why we did so. Regrettably the footage was later re-posted by the producers to accounts outside of our control. Having said that, as of writing, we have been unable to find out any details of the prosecutions and exactly which footage was used.
But as a response I (perhaps naively) thought it might be helpful to try to do consensus/affinity group process with activist film at the Edinburgh climate camp. To kick this off, we showed a sneak preview of END:CIV on the Saturday to a crowd of around 50-70 people which sparked off a good and respectful debate about aesthetic of activist film and the old spiky/fluffy debate about effective action. People came away challenged and thoughtful.
The next day after the action on the RBS HQ we showed the rough edit of it to get feedback and make sure it was OK to put out. It was enthusiastically received but there was also a very forceful verbal attack of “you must do this” “do it now, or you are endangering activists” and a refusal to answer simple questions about “why” in exchanges with one person. Finally, after some bad feeling, I found out that she had seen an “object for causing criminal damage” being held by one person in the film. OK, that is a genuine issue, so I agreed to look at it again. I asked her to show me where it was in the film but instead she rushed off to tell everyone that climatecamptv had refused to remove the “weapon” and that we were putting out films that were endangering activists. This led later to many different groups and individuals coming along to have their say over the next day about how the film should made.
See later where this led.
I had watched the film 3 times during editing for legals, and had shown it to to a number of other trusted people. After we had packed up the screening we looked at the “object” on the video and found it to be a plastic horn not an “object to cause criminal damage” at all. Humm... a storm in a teacup you would think, but read on.
Let's briefly go through it - the film of the action had a few legal issues.
* The pushing on the bridge (possibly assault) leading to the earlier dressing-up sections (unmasked) being possibly incriminating of this possible assault.
* We had no video of the breaking of windows (criminal damage) thus this was less of an issue in the film. Nor did we have film of any identifiable possible perpetrators.
* There was one additional shot which could potentially have been "creatively" used by police to prosecute an activist.
* The bridge-pushing was problematic as all the activists were unmasked, with all the FIT team on the roof and 3-4 corporate media TV/photo actively filming. Many photos/images would be available so on the one hand it was clearly done in the open, and therefore accountable. On the other, if they were charged, our video would likely be used in the prosecution, both for and against the activists. It's an issue we face many times and it unless we know otherwise we have to have to err on the side of caution. Without the opportunity to ask them whether they were accountable thus OK to show it or not, we decided to blur this section – rendering the need to blur the early stuff irrelevant as we now had no incriminating video of this “crowd” action.
The other potentially incriminating shot was removed, at the request of the individual filmed.
After running it past the affinity group made up of CCTV/visionontv crew and some trusted legal support we left it to a volunteer to polish the final edit for showing that evening before putting out to the web. In my experience you can never run a film past an audience too many times before it's finished from both a legal and an aesthetic point of view.
The day of action was very busy, and we were all running around filming. While we were out and about a number of people came in to look at the earlier action video being edited and asked the editor to make changes – he responede to their requests and made a lot of changes to hide and obscure many details throughout the film.
When we saw the film in the evening just before the screening we were shocked. Editing a film by committee is always a disaster and the film was now an incoherent and sinister mess making climatecamp look like a bunch of criminals. We now had a film we couldn't put out. This wasn't our volunteer editor's fault, it was a problem with the process we had begun but were not around to control. To top this, at the end of the day the editor had found the people who were at the front of the bridge-push and they had made it clear that they were unhappy being blurred out as it was the best thing they had done in ages. They were willing to be accountable for their actions, so we didn't need to thus put any obscuring in the finished film.
We now had to re-do the film from an earlier version. It was dark and we were late for the nightly screening, we had one computer to gather all the films up and convert then to the right format and re-edit this film – we decided it wasn't possible to screen the action film and concentrated on showing the other 9 finished but less exciting films we had ready. We started the screening with non-action films to cries of "we want to see the action". So an old version of the action film was rush-encoded and was ready half-way through the screening. Unfortunately this contained the ptoentially incriminating shot we had earlier taken out, and was screened to about 40 climatecampers. NOT good. Another person had a very solid go at us...
What did we learn from this?
Should protesters never trust any video/photo on an action OR should they trust video activists as THEY know what they are doing?
For me, not trusting experienced video activists leads to the very real danger that through bureaucratisation it pushes the working affinity group structure underground and renders it ineffective – the option of bureaucratic/consensus process isn't an option with film which is at its best a skilled creative story-based process.
But now we have to deal with the rumour mill which quickly churned around the "weapon" / plastic horn issue. Rumour has more power than truth when there isn't a functioning media. I heard the misinformation that we had put out footage of window-smashing weapons three times while leaving the camp to get home. And that's why I wrote this post as this rumour could distort the very real pro/anti-media debate in activism which needs to happen in a constructive way.
On the subject of social media and underground/wannabe mainstream film-makers/photographers, there are very real dangers that is the subject of another post.
A bit of spell casting from the greek rainbow gathering - how to make this work in visionOntv
We are made this way
Many try to heal on different paths
Most Stumble from the individualism of there path
“all you need is love” sing the rainbow
“all you need is social/economic change” shout the activists
Both drift into baroness with out the balance of the other
To birth a world
Rituals build and sustain community’s
Rituals bind together the individualism’s
Roots grow from these bindings
Roots hold the earth agenst the weathering of time
And from these rituals a forest grows
And shelters us from the elements (time)
Beauty grows from seeing each the same in the performance of the rite
The harmony of the Ohm
The chaining together to stop the nuclear train
Balancing beauty, unerty, grow the bindings
That make life beautiful
Truth grows from the light and dark of the touched world
Truth is beauty balanced with social rites
Truth is from the forest, with out the forest the is no truth
Thinking out loud - looking at aspects of “stupid individualism”
People are very competitive, an unexpected example of this is only doing finished work. That is not going though the very necessary process of public drafting and redrafting which is about bringing in different points of view and creating the new by stirring up the different/past.
This leads many people to live within their limitations and have little/no way of moving beyond these, they are stuck. They produce finished unmalleable work that is but a shadow of the possibility of creativity that is needed to move change forward.
This is partly to do with inherited life experience and limitations of world-view, but mostly it seems to me to be a psychological issue of insecurity and a weak sense of self. What do I mean by this... when people do not have a vision/hope/passion they fall-back to what they know. Distrust of things outside this grows and sets/solidifys to trap them and the circle is set.
I suppose the way to escape this is by passion/vision/hope – but the last one is probably the most important as the first 2 have a tendency to come from outside so can be controlling and thus limiting. Ones competitiveness has set-in the trap is sprung, what to do?
The trap of small thinking and using Facebook.
if you walk into a private owned walled garden, tend the ground and grow the bounty, and they close the gates. You have to pay to eat the produce. The moral - do not walk in to the walled gardens in the digital world, the are huge trakes of free land on the open web, inhabit it and grow your own utopia. Failbook has failed you, why are you asking them to open the gate agen? RUN!!! RUN!!!!
Rainbow gatherings have a very strong, largely invisible core of myths and traditions
The myths and traditions of Rainbow are what a gathering is. The people come to gather and "enact" these myths and traditions, but they are generally neglected. To put an arbitrary scale on this - the national rainbows are generally only 10-20% of rainbow power, were the European is 40-60% rainbow power.
Rainbow gatherings have a very strong, largely invisible core of myths and traditions these are designed to overcome and transcend the "stupid individualism" of the Babylon world, and in as far as they are remembered and enacted they do this very well. The issue is that it is a virtuous circle, if the is the power there to start with then it is generally successful in transforming a bunch of strangers and misfits into a coherent whole. If the power is not there to start with them then incoherents tends to grow and dominate.
"Stupid individualism" and "Re-creating the Soviet Union"
This is from 07/03/2005
You can go on this journey and find these things out thus creating a possibility or you can push them under the surfaces, smother or bash them every time they spring or seep out of our subcultures.
The lack of any group memory
In activist cercals it is thought a good thing to constantly re-invent the wheel… it’s a symbol of belonging to not rock the bout.
* Tribalism – it's symbols and seint markings - cercals and there disappearing spirals
* Ridged thought – political correctness and it hidden fidgety - re-creating the Soviet Union
* Stupid individualism
What do all these things mean?
Stupid individualism – is all bound up in the smallness of the ego that capitalism makes in us all. Me, me, me is a strong priority even in our most enlightened people.
Re-creating the Soviet Union – is an excellent way of describing the rigidity of much “thought” and clocking of real process. Just as the Soviet Union had a modeal constitution on paper, but acted in a very different way, activist are continually re-righting and re-righting paper utopias and then, actively working under completely different ways – this has been a continues problem for outreach of most projects I have been involved in. The paper ways fall over as they are never enacted by the majority of people. And the hidden ways though often surprising affective at getting things done are very disempowering beyond the small cleack at the center. If we keep re-creating the “soviet union”, unconsciously certainly, nothing can be achieved by this… they had the secret polices and a highly authoritarian polices state to make there paper constitution in to a big illusion and there hidden workings into an affective administration… we just have a paper illusion that confuses and a hidden minority who burn out and move on.
Tribalism - gives the sence of blenonging which for the majorty is the atractive part of the actavist project. The outcome is relativly uniportent to the majoraty of the peopule involved in any campine, they simpaly move onto the next issue as the poassion/creativerty of the last issue burns out. This churning ends with most individuals returning to the treditional tribes of consumerism and carrerisam.
The role of "blocking" in horizontal projects
Mannequins dancing to barely visible strings (DRAFT)
This is an attempt to understand how blocking is used to stop/slow positive social change. By blocking I mean many things, refusing to address core issues, pushing everyday agenda’s to hide more systematic issues, and confusingly using big issues to distracts and fog everyday needed changes.
Outcome-driven horizontal projects are hard to sustain. I understand climatecamp process ossification better now - there is a strong blocking to process change - the continuing pushing of the needed change is blocked thus the change gets harder (more vertical) until it ossifies and becomes non-functionaly strong enough to break the block (thus breaking the horizontal process it is trying to achieve). End up with a broken structure that cannot move or change.
So the issue is "blocking" which largely is a psychological fear of losing non-existent certainty - ie. the false consciousness (cf Marx) of capitalism - Thus the moniker "stupid individualism". The root out of this is to work a way round this "stupid individualism".
Rainbow Gatherings manage this - by forcing scarcity, in visionontv we don’t have this option, in Rainbow you are moved into a world where all the normal options are simply are not there - thus change HAS TO HAPPEN - it's an intentional community. "Stupid individualism" simply becomes too dysfunctional in this situation to stop change. This is at the heart of rainbow process. In our situation, on the internet, in media there is no scarcity, so “stupid individualism” reigns supreme and unstoppable.
An issue is that many people will self-define what I am saying at this point - BUT will not engage with it - The writer is being a "stupid individual" and this would be the case if the writer was not actively engaged in a real social project.
"Trust networks" are the solution to "stupid individualism". With this understanding I have a more sympathetic view of climatecamp process. The derided “process people” suffered from ossification as much as the wider camp. And I am arguing that this is a re-occurring issue, so the individual who were left pushing a empty agenda are less at fault than the systematic issues that they haven’t addressed.
Its important NOT to take personal responsibility for this as the is a dead end block in using this as a solution to this problem. Maybe more useful to seeing us as mannequins dancing in a circle twitching to barely visible strings. And the circle we are in - is not the right one. We need a new circle with some different strings (some of them more visible) and to start a new dance.
The blocks: what participants feel are the tangling of strings, the process they are trying to unravel so as to make a new circle to dance in. We are all attached to strings, so get untangling. It's the strings NOT the messenger that stops you. Help is needed trying to untangle and re-set some strings, perhaps the messenger is trying to help? try not to shoot
In this post I attempt to untangled a string (climatecamp process wasn’t as bad as i thought it was). Which string are you going to untangling? "Stupid individualism" is the trap we have to avoid, but we are getting more and more snared in it - on all sides.
The danger is that we are talking about parallel things and more tragically - thinking along parallel divergent lines - "stupid individualism" is strong and kicking and the more we kick the more entangle we become - leaving little hope of a new dance - by the way dance is a metaphor for process and strings are a metaphor for the very human senses of belonging that we need for society to hold together.
Does it end well I wonder - it never has in the past, but one can keep coming at a problem from different angles. Maybe this time it might. Thus am NOT taking any personal responsibility - just seeing us as mannequins dancing in a circle twitching to barely visible strings. And the circle we are in - is not the right one. We need a new circle with some different strings (some of them more visible) and start a new dance.