What we have is this, “We want to live! We believe in
the right to believe! Save our world we must survive! No justice,
no peace!” Meaningful snippets of songs given to speak
for all our inchoate hopes.
This editorial was long in the making even
though the issue as a whole came about relatively quickly, it
was written from November 2002 until May 2003. The speed in
which the issue came together is either something for a no budget
magazine to be proud of or a horrific marker of just how fluid
these times are. This particular article has taken so long because
we have desired to capture something worth reading.
The milk days of the Seattle generation and
Documenta 11 have now passed. Gone is the hour when Reclaim
the Streets could easily communicate that Starbucks shouldn’t
control the zoning board. Gone are the nights of cursing “Nike
sucks”, when swearing “Fuck the Gap” suggested
a burgeoning social critique. Today, culture is solipsistic
unless it also aspires to address unbridled political domination.
Though Nike still sucks, where is the point in swearing at them
when the WTO whines to the New York Times that American Military
dominance has stolen their yonni? In Seattle, Bill Clinton was
said, however insignificantly, to have responded to the protesters
concerns. Now, since September 11th, power regularly conflates
expression with terrorism.
The reader wonders about the relationship between our hopes
and the analysis that follows. What exactly is the relationship
between these initial emotional stirrings and an analysis? Partially,
the correlation between these personal dreams and the historic
(though constantly fleeting) record is that one is understood
as a recipe towards realizing the other.
An article of faith among progressives is
the notion that within everyone’s heart is a progressive.
I am not able to quantify how truly universal these stirrings
for justice are. Regardless, it is clear that while our democracy
further degrades under this repressive regime- institutions
that sponsor the critical discourse and actions that spring
from these stirrings continue to effervesce.
As recently as several months ago, we lived
in the rare space of a huge number of heretics coming together
under the multiple signs of “No To War in Iraq”.
Having once been constituted in this climate, it is easy to
imagine these protests gathering again. Acknowledging that our
lives are bound in both indescribable personal miasma and clearly
geometric social trends, we are tempted to use these gathered
“focus groups” to distill approaches that facilitate
future revolutionary moments. Yet we understand that it is potentially
misleading to refocus from personal reflection to broad-based
speculation. Individual body knowledge may be distorted when
realizing trajectories of social theory- witness the outcome
of International Style’s use as public housing. Architects
and public officials constructed what contemporary theorists
identified as enlightened structures. From the beginning the
social venture was flawed- the interests of those identified
as the public’s “most needy” were ignored,
they were displaced and their unique communities destroyed.
Once they occupied the International Styled housing, the public’s
fickle politicians, theorists, and architects abandoned these
monuments of the “public good.” The notoriously
uncomfortable homes further degrade. Too often, discourse on
social trajectories functions to justify pre-existing authority.
Nonetheless, we draw from these recent protests that “this
is what Democracy looks like.” This Democracy- this space
of post-modern performativity, with its countless identities
hoisted on placards. Where we sing in call-and-response amongst
ourselves- in these bawdy streets we encounter purposeful diversity
and practice the beginnings of a multi-identitied democracy.
One imagines the crowds an ocean of functionalized post-modernity
floating a contingent fleet of social agreements.
This democracy recedes with the right-wing’s
aggressive media strategy and successful institution building.
The Reagan Phenomenon crippled the progressive left, making
it increasingly unable to gain traction in setting the public
agenda. “So what if Iraq had no weapons of mass-destruction
at the ready, this was a war for freedom!” The Right is
able to co-opt feelings of compassion and to metastasize the
media image of a revolutionary to fit the Gingrich/Rove/Bush
agenda. Many people’s sincere passions have been suckered
for often-tacit support of fucked up agendas.
Regardless, the left perseveres. We credit
the institutions that have maintained its representation…
those venerable galleries, meeting halls, social groups, museums,
clubs and political parties which are supported by Anabaptists,
Stalinists, counter-culture freaks, academic Marxists and others.
Each of these war-horses display their own unique commitment
to representing living or lived social expression.
In addition to offering thanks, we find it
worthwhile to examine the face-lifts these organizations have
undergone in adjusting their constitution to their understandings
of the moment’s needs. Los Angeles’ so jubilant
anti-war marches always crashed into a pathetic stage featuring
stale rock stars, actors and political functionaries congratulating
us for attending. Why didn’t organizers facilitate the
crowd instead of swaying us with the nostalgic strains of Jackson
Browne, Slash and the Moody Blues? Like other less effective
Seattle-style protests, this strategy reified the work of institutional
functionaries and asked all others (whether they actually attended
the protest or not) to only act as good spectators. Instead
of thinking more tactically by engaging, vocalizing and infiltrating
marginal anti-war voices (in this case the communities which
were new to activism), or by becoming self-critical machines,
much of the independent media did no better then protest organizers
by focusing instead on the areas where activist/journalists
could most comfortably replicate their own scene (amongst traditional
leftist circles). Despite claims that this was the most expedient
form to stop the war, the internal politics and personal needs
of activists and their organizations were clearly got mixed
in with their representation of dissent.
Attempting to be conscious of these games then, the Journal
of Aesthetics and Protest finds it urgent to distinguish our
own professional history from what we see as historical necessities-
to find a real edge to stand on. The editors of this magazine
are activists of some experience, dilettantes who received Masters
Degrees from one of the country’s more “prestigious”
art schools. We imagine ourselves educated heirs to a troubled
but noble legacy. In this light, we wonder as never before if
we are turned off by certain styles of protest art and fine
art as in a knee-jerk response to a bad haircut or as a response
to a deeper understanding of a style’s ineffectively.
With the urgency of the political crisis we are more tempted
now to say “it’s all good”- that it is not
for us to judge the validity of an individual expression. We
are generous with individuated expression, criticality arrives
when claims are made that the expression has become particularly
meaningful to greater society.
Without a particular aesthetic edge then, we turn to conceptualizing
formal change. Within Capitalism, change occurs where bureaucrats
have not planned for it. This statement at once supports the
lie that we must wait until they fuck up for change to come,
it also implicitly acknowledges the opposite- that we can create
change if we plan for it.
Though our schizophrenic pop-culture suggests
that 1 person can change the world, this is not so. It is undeniable
that social changes result from the work of many social bodies.
Hegemonic power rewards lone wolves partially because they are
not a threat. Groups constituted with attitude are the threat.
Hegemonic power can’t incorporate whole-clothe
a culture that finds its vision away from their electrified
broadcast towers. Alternative cultures create ecosystems to
support their own continuity. This Journal is but one expression
growing in these biospheres. The Journal cannot afford to give
cash to writers for their passionate testaments. Instead we
offer them a platform of public expression. We hope that readers
take the resulting thoughts to mind and inspect the architecture.
We want our words to matter for very personal reasons. If our
words were called human, heavy, anarchic, beatific, right on,
poetic it would all just feel so right.
Of what use are ideas and actions that avoid market rationality?
Of what use are ideas that disallow their own institutionalization?
Of what use are words that avoid capitalist functionalization?
Of what use are ideas that are dangerous?
The rumor circulated by the right that the
Clinton staff stole, upon vacating the White house, all the
G’s and W’s from the computers clearly reveals the
link between the written word and power.
We want our actions to matter for very personal
reasons. Speak and the House Finance Committee suddenly budgets
for healthcare. Act and a company stops polluting the air. Gather
co-conspirators and plot a revolution. All magic- unless we
find the right spell to make it real.
Alternatively, it is worth noting the implied reciprocity of
the democratic ideal. In these large rallies where identities
are willfully displayed, most people silently shake on a pact
to have a good time. Without the pact, marches would be rage
externalized, a fuckin’ riot. Instead, the rain falling
on LA’s March 5th rally against the war was a whispered
kiss with thousands quickly altering their normal raingear to
make costumes for the fete. Umbrellas, tarps and raincoats served
as uniquely crafted billboards, props not meant for passers-by
(who walks in LA, in the rain?) but as a means to communicate
passionate personal commitments to other marchers. This exchange
of meanings between heretics possibly reveals one of our most
The currency is yearning. The strength of this currency is its
irreducibility. Much has been learned by our readers on Hakim
Bey’s conception of the Temporary Autonomous Zone- the
highly personal yet publicly created experience. The space created
in sharing these thrills is powerful and outside easy meaning.
Ideally, the successful institution builds out on this same
energy. Perhaps it is from these highly personal meanings that
people eventually come to desire political change. What words
do we really have to contain the energy of 50,022 nightmares,
398,206 heads leaving the pillow early in the morning before
a march, 2,489, 328 employees taking a morning shower? -the
point is that we continue to try. Ideally, such institutions
constitute contingent meanings stretching in appropriate directions...