Stewart, Colbert and The Flesh of the Multitude

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Chris, in a recent segment on Bits & Pieces, asked "if the streets can do anything constructive". I really believe they can, particularly in the realm of culture building. Or to put it in other terms, I think one core constructive strength of the streets is the forging of solidarity and new shared collective identities. Jurgen Habermas has shown how the creation of a "public sphere" in early modern society- in coffee houses, journals, clubs and periodicals- helped create a shared public discourse that would strengthen the new bourgeoisie collective identity, and help it eventually come into ruling power. This new shared public discourse resulted in "the cementing of a new power bloc at the level of the sign...Public opinion began to evolve, which thereafter had to be reckoned with" (1).

rally_to_restore-_signs_plus_priestThis past weekend John Stewart and Stephen Colbert held their joint Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear. Many commentators have been debating what if anything this rally signifies or accomplished. For an answer to that, I think we have to look at the level ofmuslim_t-shirt culture. Over two hundred thousand people, whose views are to a large extent unrepresented in the mainstream American media (despite the ridiculous claims that there's a liberal left-wing media), got to come together and see each other, be with each other, talk to each other, feel each others presence in a real palpable way. And there was a real lively festival atmosphere, with a vibrant semiotics at play. A space for memetic transference was opened up with all the signs, shirts, costuming and other creative stunts and activities going on in the crowd. I saw footage of one group who were getting people to "Skip Rope with a Muslim", and people were having fun jumping in. One man had a sign that simply read, "We Should Do This More Often". Precisely.

The streets can build, create and strengthen the flesh of the multitude, the living social potential that can always be enacted anew between us. And these dynamic formations can of course arise from any point on the political spectrum. These new emergent social assemblages can then force goverments and other ruling instutions to take notice, to respond, to reckon with the strength of the new cultural force, as Habermas has shown in his analysis of the turn to modernity, and as the Tea Party has recently demonstrated in the American situation. From this perspective, I would say that the Rally to Restore Sanity/And or Fear was a solid success. As a collective identity forming solidarity creating venture it seems to have done it's job. What the political fruits of this will be, only the future will reveal. Here's clip of the final rally speech by John Stewart, where a lot of these themes are present, and where one can get a direct sense of the crowd that gathered on those Washington streets.

 

 

(1) Eagleton, Terry. The Function of Criticism: From the Spectator to Post-Structuralism. London: Verso Books, 1984. p.13-14.

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