Activism in Media Life in a World after the Zombie Apocalypse.
From the ‘Witte Mars’ in Brussels, Belgium in 1996 to the ‘Planet Occupy’ movement today, and everything in-between – Ukraine in 2004, Moldova and Iran in 2009, Tunisia in 2010, Egypt in 2011, the UK riots and cleanups in the same year, and across Syria during 2012 to name but a few – contemporary activism is alive and well, while at the same time escaping the neat confines of traditional ways of making sense of its movements. There are certainly elements of new social movements and current activism that remind one of previous times… but there are uncanny properties to today’s playful participation and mediated mobilization.
There seems to be a direct link between specific kinds of contemporary global protests, our current media ecology, and constituent elements of the social system structuring everyday life. Referring to the Occupy movement, Steve Anderson, director of non-profit organization OpenMedia, writes in a column for the Canadian weblog Rabble (on 1 November 2011): “[the Occupy movement] feels like an ongoing space infused with web values and practices. Their structure of participation mirrors that of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia […] Will it last? I have no idea, but I think these social practices are addictive and contagious.” Sarah Juliet Lauro (writing for the io9 weblog on January 13, 2012) links the Occupy movement to a particular zombie-like quality of contemporary society by suggesting that the collective disruption of public spaces takes its cues from zombies – more specifically, zombie walks occurring more or less regularly around the world: “[t]hese events seem to me to incarnate the youth culture’s lament for its lack of real social power, and perhaps signal a willingness to change this.”
In a talk given at a symposium on zombies at Winchester University (on 28 October 2011) British Romanticist Gary Farnell endorses the zombie as “the official monster of the moment,” suggesting that the zombie “signifies an image of the truth of the current conjunctural crisis of global capitalism.” Relating zombies to a link between worldwide protests and the role of (social) media, Lauro and Farnell feel zombies put a particular kind of human face on a widespread sense of crisis, whereas Anderson links this phenomenon directly back to our current media ecology, befitting a labeling effort of global news media of contemporary forms of activism as a “Facebook-Twitter-YouTube Revolution” (coined by the Huffington Post on February 1, 2011).
It is my goal in this contribution to suggest that the organization, technologies, and outcomes particular to contemporary forms of social movements and global protests differ in significant ways from those in the past, while stipulating there always has been a co-creative link between public protest, media use, and socio-political context. The unique character of playing activism today is that it takes place in (not: with) media, and that it reduces us to – it requires us to be – zombies.
Hailing from Holland, Mark Deuze is an Associate Professor at Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications, with courtesy appointments at Leiden University (The Netherlands) and the Lisbon University Institute (Portugal). Publications of his work on digital culture and media work include over fifty articles in academic journals and seven books – including “Media Life” (published by Polity Press in July 2012). Mark’s work has been translated in Chinese, German, Portuguese, Greek, and Hungarian. He was a Research Fellow at the Center for International Communications Research of the University of Leeds in the UK, and held a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. At IU, he has been a Faculty Fellow with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. More info and contact: about.me/markdeuze.