[-empyre-] Premediation and Social Justice (1)

Richard Grusin rgrusin at gmail.com
Wed Dec 10 05:49:33 EST 2014

Many thanks to Renate and Tim for devoting this month's -empyre- discussion to one of the most pressing issues of the moment in (mainly) US politics--the extraordinary uprising of political protests across the US in response to the spate of unjust murders by white police of (mainly) black men. Thanks, too, for inviting me to formulate and share my thoughts on the issue.  I have several things I would like to say, but will do so in multiple messages, as Renate has urged us to avoid messages that require scrolling.  So here goes.  

1. Renate and Tim have noted the incredible complexity of the question of "the relation of social media to efforts in acquiring social justice and social change." I would want to begin by insisting upon the historical and medialogical specificity of these relations.  Thus the relations of social media to social justice in the Arab Spring (roughly 2010-2012), for example, were very different from those in the US in 2009-2012, starting with the University of California tuition protests in 2009, the Wisconsin occupation of the state capitol in the Act 10 protests of early 2011, and the Occupy Wall Street protests in NYC and beyond in 2011-12.  Medialogically these relations were very different as well, especially insofar as print and especially televisual media have now (beginning with coverage of the Arab Spring) thoroughly incorporated social media into their reporting and news coverage, so much so that I think it would be a mistake to separate social media from distributed mass media, although not a mistake to try to distinguish among various media forms for analytical purposes.

2. In my 2010 book Premediation I argued that media in the 21st century have begun increasingly to focus on the pre-mediation of events before they happened.  Beginning in 2004 I had argued that the US governmental-medial apparatus had so thoroughly premediated the Iraq War in the months leading up to the US invasion that when it finally took place there was little uproar--certainly much less than there had been in the widespread global, socially-media coordinated protests that had occurred in February of 2003.  In fact when I presented this argument in Europe in the spring of 2003, most of those who had participated in protests across the continent admitted that even while protesting they had felt the futility of doing so, as if the war had in some sense already begun.  The premediation of the Iraq War marked in some sense a sea change in US and global media from a focus on the past and present to an increasing focus on the future.  This shift, I argued, particularly in news media, was related to the shift from print to televisual to networked media, with print news focused on what had just happened, televisual news focused on what was happening live, and now socially networked news focusing on what was to come. My book predated the efforts towards social justice outlined above, so I have been interested to see how print, televisual, and networked media have adapted to these social movements. One way this happened especially during the Arab Spring was that media like CNN would go to commercial teasing viewers with tags like "after the break, we'll look at the latest tweets from Tahrir Square." By now, most televisual news coverage, and print news, too, covers social media as an event in the world no different from marches, demonstrations, die-ins, or other forms of protest.


Richard Grusin
rgrusin at gmail.com

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