[-empyre-] Premediation and Social Justice (2)

Richard Grusin rgrusin at gmail.com
Wed Dec 10 06:22:09 EST 2014

3. In the run-up to the Ferguson grand jury decision in November 2014, premediation by the governor of Missouri, the police, and the news media was in full force.  The premediation of the Ferguson grand jury decision took a very interesting turn, one which accentuated the racial element of the premediation of the Iraq war. Like the premediation in the run-up to the Iraq war, the premediation of the grand jury’s decision was aimed to prepare the public for the jury’s decision not to charge, its decision to return what the law sometimes calls a “bill of ignoramus.” As with Iraq premediation served both state and corporate media interests. As with the run-up to the Iraq War televisual news media supplemented reports on fears of violence after the verdict with images of violence in Ferguson from the past summer, so that media viewers had an affective experience similar to watching a news report of violence actually happening. The virtual violence was real even though it wasn’t actual, as if in fact the grand jury had already failed to return an indictment.  In other words even if the grand jury had returned an indictment against Darren Wilson and there had been no protests against their failure to do so, the premediation of a violent response by blacks in the streets of Ferguson had already produced that effect in the media public. And the effect of premediating that violence was also to generate and reinforce racist attitudes towards blacks. On the one hand there is a frankly racist assumption that of course there would be racial violence if the jury returned a bill of ignoramus. On the other hand even if the grand jury would return an indictment and there would be no racial violence, the premediation of that violence would still have had real negative effects on the public mood, through the generation of a mood or “stimmung” of racism.  Interestingly this premediation also bore elements of the way in which media premediate major storms.  Not only was the rhetoric in many cases climatological with references to the storm of violence in Ferguson and the potential aftermath, but the canceling of schools and the boarding up of businesses in anticipation of this storm are precisely those things people do in snowstorms or hurricanes, respectively. Thus print, televisulal, and networked news media all naturalized racial violence as an uncontrollable force like earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides, tornadoes, volcanoes, or storms.

4. In 2011 I had a chance to pursue some of these questions in a short piece for Theory and Event. My thesis was that Occupy Wall Street succeeded in premediating the virtual occupation of Wall Street and in doing so succeeded in providing the public with the collective affectivity of this occupation even though it never technically happened.  Wall Street was never actually occupied, but it was virtually occupied; and this virtual occupation had real affective force not only for supporters of the occupation but for the nominal 1%.  What was, I think, so crucial about Occupy Wall Street was the way in which it began to use premediation as a tactic against state power and corporate media.  Adbusters had premediated the September 17, 2011, occupation of wall street for several months on social media.  Social media in the US played a key role both in circulating and intensifying a collective affectivity of opposition to the 1% and in organizing and coordinating protests across the US and beyond. And the protests themselves, even in their open-endedness and lack of specific, determinate goals, worked to use premediation to create at least some sense of fear or anxiety in the New York City police/security/political apparatus. 


Richard Grusin
rgrusin at gmail.com

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