Although the selection of a persona or groupbased identification rather than a specific individual is not a new developmentfor TIME; this year’s selection of “The Protester” points toward intriguingnew developments in the dynamics of global publics. TIME Magazine’s selection criterionis rather simple; the award goes to that person, group, or concept which mostinfluenced the news, for better or for worse.
Why “The Protester”? Why not the singularTunisian fruit vendor; the spark that spurred a fire that would rapidly proceedto engulf the globe; from the favelas of the south to the arctic blastedRussian metropolises, and the most developed countries in the world? Why notchoose even a specific group of protesters, “The Arab Spring” or the #OWSmovements?
Here’s portion of TIME Magazine’s defense oftheir selection:
Everywhere thisyear, people have complained about the failure of traditional leadership andthe fecklessness of institutions. Politicians cannot look beyond the nextelection, and they refuse to make hard choices. That’s one reason we did notselect an individual this year. But leadership has come from the bottom of thepyramid, not the top. For capturing and highlighting a global sense of restlesspromise, for upending governments and conventional wisdom, for combining theoldest of techniques with the newest of technologies to shine a light on humandignity and, finally, for steering the planet on a more democratic thoughsometimes more dangerous path for the 21st century, the Protester is TIME’s2011 Person of the Year.
News by definition is generated fromcontroversy. News is a form of protest against the status quo; it pokes holesin the previously seamless fabric of the present. In re-presenting the facts ofwhat has occurred the news defies expectations of what we thought wasoccurring. But news is also analysis, opinion, and commentary on how we shouldrelate ourselves to new developments; as they emerge in real-time. News even offersanalysis on the news. And other media offer analysis on the analysis of theanalysis. Entertainment, factual presentation, commentary and opinion becomeever blurred in the era of Meta-news.Yet the news has also donned the mask of the figure of the “The Protester” inresponse to the “The Protester” itself, in its myriad forms.
The Person of the Year is not decided based on extractingdata from algorithms or trends from complex metrics. TIME’s award is ananalysis by the media of the media, but while it claims to be simplyrepresenting the facts of the case, should this award not be the most obviousof decisions? Shouldn’t the answer be staring us straight in the face? TIMEdoesn’t seem to even feign some sort of claim to objectivity or very rigorouslystress the differences between the runner-up’s and the winner. The selectionprocess is based on perceptions, and like all perceptions, from the verybeginning it is an act of valuation.
Developments in Cognitive Psychology and Neurophilosophyhave demonstrably proven the inability to maintain a distinction between factand value. At the most basic level of the visual cortex (V1), before one iseven conscious of a visual sense perception, feedback loops of higher orderthinking processes have already influenced the act of perception. Sober,rational deliberation that’s freed from all extraneous influence vanishes,always trailing in the wake of precognitive, emotional valences.
And in a sense,TIME Magazine is all too aware of this phenomenon. In the penultimate statementdefending their decision, TIME reflects on the affective capacities that “TheProtester” generated:
For capturing and highlighting a global sense of restlesspromise
The criterionfor selection is fundamentally based on the influence a person/group/concept has had on the media. The reason “The Protester” was so influential was because itfostered the conditions of possibility that connected, created and fedunpredictable desires. There was something else at work in the figure of“The Protester” this year. The figure itself always already was a figure thatembodied influence. In a sense every TIME Magazine Person of the Year recipientembodies the figure of “The Protester” in one-way or another.
In the immediate wake of the revolts experts, theorists and scholarsscrambled to try and explain why predictive models and theoretical framesfailed so miserably to foresee such a drastic upheaval. The events that we arewitnessing can only be traced to one sort of cause, the final cause, in anAristotelian sense. The TIME article relates the figure of “The Protester” to theetymological origin of democracy or demos. All of these movements are ‘caused’in the sense that they fulfill the meaning and strive to satisfy the end of thedemos.
But there are also very specific figures that are emblematic of “TheProtester.” There is the Tunisian Fruit Vendor, the romanticized figure ofself-sacrifice and ineffable defiance of conventional wisdom. There are the#OWS protesters, the leaderless and organic network of protesters, but a morecontentious figure, admired, mockupied and demonized all at once. Within theOccupy Wall ST. Movement the most famous representatives are the victims; the NWGrandma and UC Students Pepper-sprayed, the Iraqi War Veteran whose skull wasfractured by Oakland Policy with a tear gas canister, or countless others whowere subjected to police brutality.
I posted during the first few months of the #OWS protests about thestatistical connection between acts of police repression and media coverage ofthe protests. There was a significant positive correlation between instances ofstate violence and the amount of media traffic consumed by global publics; thusits no surprise that the most well known figures are the victims.
Yet TIMEMagazine repeatedly insists on the fact that this revolution was not linearly causedby advances in technology:
Technologymattered, but this was not a technological revolution. Social networks did notcause these movements, but they kept them alive and connected. Technologyallowed us to watch, and it spread the virus of protest, but this was not awired revolution; it was a human one, of hearts and minds, the oldesttechnology of all.
But perhapsthe human heart itself has changed. What if our affective sensibilities havegrown drastically? The article explicitly asks the question:
Is there a global tipping point for frustration?
To me the more interesting question is not whether there is a tippingpoint or brink in terms of the numbers of people that have to be frustratedbefore general sentiment translates into action; or whether there is a brink interms of how pissed people have to get before an emotion becomes an occupation. Instead, what if technologicalprosthesis expands our collective affective horizon of possibility? Or if therewere a brink, what if it were not fixed or timeless? What if we could activelywork on finding ways to lower or raise its threshold? Or return to a moreancient education of the sense? In so many ways (that need not be repeatedhere) the sources and levels of frustration within the varying contexts (from#OWS to the Arab Spring, to Russia and Greece) differed dramatically, yettactics by the different groups were remarkably similar. This movement emerged from and continues to generate a social imaginary; an envisioning that feeds forwards and backwards through the public , other movements and the prefigured present; like an electric charge. Thebonds of solidarity sedimented through millions of bytes in the bucket spurredpassionate attachments to the trajectories of other protesters and movements.The interconnectedness of the movements provided an infrastructural base thatwould outpace its wildest dreams.
the oldest oftechniques with the newest of technologies to shine a light on human dignity
What if thenewest of technologies is really just as ancient of principle? Are thetechnologies, as they disclose themselves in their many-sided mystery not thetools enabling one to take to the task of generating an ethos? Can wenot think of ethos as a technique as well as a technology?
A technique ofthe self;
A prostheticallyenhanced capacity to respond;
An augmentedduty to own up to one’s ownmost potentiality for respons(e)ibility.