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Notícies :: globalització neoliberal
Communication guerrilla - a message out of the deeper german backwoods /
10 jul 2005
This message is directed to those who are fed up with repressive politics at their doorsteps, who are not frustrated enough to give up their critical positions and a perspective of political intervention, and who are refusing to believe that radical politics must be straight, mostly boring and always very serious. It addresses those who are interested in bending the rules of normality using textual, artistic, spacial expressions, playing with all kinds of materials and techniques such as wall-painting, woodcarving or the internet. It is sent by some communication guerrillas in provincial germany. It is an invitation to participate in, criticise, renew and develop a way of doing politics which acknowledges the relentless seriousness of reality without sending the more hedonistic parts of ourselves immediately to sleep. Wittyness in a situation of increasing racism, state-control and decline of the welfare state? Yet - even Karl Marx didn't declare boredom as revolutionary...
The starting point for our reflections on communication guerrilla is a rather trivial insight from our own actions: information and political education are completely useless if nobody wants to listen. After years of distributing leaflets and brochures about all kinds of disgraces, of organising informative talks and publicising texts, we have come to question the common belief in the strength and glory of information. Traditional radical politics strongly relies on the persuasive power of rational argument. The belief in the power of plain information as an effective form of political action is almost unshakeable. In a theoretical framework that constructs a manipulative network of media messages influencing the consciousness of the masses, critical content and the unimpeded spread of 'truth' is seen as a sufficient tool to set the false consciousness right. Since the declaration of postmodernism it has become a bit unfashionable to insist on The One And Only Truth. Yet still, traditional concepts of radical political communication are still acting according to the saying: 'whoever possesses the senders can control the thoughts of people'. This hypothesis relies on a very simple model of communication. It only focuses on the 'sender' (in case of mass communication usually centrally and industrially organised), the 'channel' which transports the information, and the 'receiver'. The hissing sounds in the channels of information are almost neglected. Neither the euphoria around information society nor its pessimistic critics - who worry about information overkill - are facing one of the most crucial problems of bourgeois representational democracies: factual information, even if it becomes commonplace, does not necessarily trigger any consequences. Even if stories of disasters, injustice, social and ecological scandals are being published, this rarely leads to much consequence.

In recent years, there has been much reflection on the interrelations between the reception of information, knowledge production and the options to act within a social context. More emphasis is given to the codes which senders and receivers are using in writing and reading messages. The question was - and is: how can information become meaningful and how can it then become socially relevant. Information by itself has neither meaning nor consequences - both only evolve from active reception and depend on the scope of action of the audience. But this basic banality has far too rarely been taken into consideration within the framework of radical politics.

Guerrilla communication doesn't focus on arguments and facts like most leaflets, brochures, slogans or banners. In it's own way, it inhabits a militant political position, it is direct action in the space of social communication. But other than many militant positions (stone meets shop window), it doesn't aim to destroy the codes of power and signs of control. It prefers to counteract the omnipotent prattling of power by distorting and disfiguring the meanings. Communication guerrillas do not intend to occupy, interrupt or destroy the dominant channels of communication, they focus on detourning and subverting the messages transported.

But what's new about all this? Nothing, really - after all, there have been the Berlin Dadaists, the Italian Indiani Metropolitani, the Situationists and many others. The practise of communication guerrilla can even be traced back to legendary characters like the Hapsburgian soldier Svejk and Till Eulenspiegel, the wise fool. Standing on the shoulders of earlier avantgardes, communication guerilla doesn't claim the invention of a new politics or the foundation of a new movement. It is merely continuing an incessant exploration of the jungle of communication processes, of the intertwined and muddled paths of senders, codes and recipients. Looking not just at what's being said but focussing on how it is being said is the method of this exploration. The aim is a practical, material critique of the very structures of communication as a basis of power and rule.

The bourgeois system takes it's strength - beyond other things - from it's ability to incorporate critique. Any democratic government needs an opposition. Every opinion needs to be balanced with another one, since the concept of representative democracy relies on the fiction of equal exchange. Criticism which doesn't fundamentally shatter the legitimacy of the ruling system tends to become part of it. Communication guerrilla is an attempt to intervene without getting absorbed by the dominant discourse. We are experimenting with ways to get involved in situations and at the same time to refuse any constructive participation.

Power relations have a tendency to appear as normal, even natural and certainly inevitable. They are deeply inscribed into the rules of everyday life. Communication guerrilla is one of the ways to create those short and shimmering moments of confusion and distortion, moments which tell us that everything could be completely different: a fragmented utopia as a seed of change. The symbolic order of western capitalist societies is built around discourses of rationality and rational conduct. Guerrilla communication relies on the powerful possibility of expressing a fundamental critique through the non-verbal, paradoxical and mythical.

However, guerrilla communication cannot and is not meant to replace a rational critique of dominant politics and hegemonic culture. It doesn't substitute counter-information, but creates additional possibilities for intervention. Yet this form is more than the topping on the cake, more than a mere addition to the hard work of 'real' politics and direct, material action. In search for seeds of subversion, guerrilla communication is taking up the contradictions hidden in seemingly normal, everyday situations. It attempts to distort normality by addressing those hidden desires that are usually silenced by omnipresent rules of conduct, rules that define the socially acceptable modes of behaviour as well as the 'normal' ways of communication and interpretation. We tend to believe what we want to believe. Just a simple example: Most people will say that it is not okay to blag the bus-fare, even if there is a widespread feeling that public transport is too expensive. If, however, some communication guerrillas at the occasion of an important public event (like the funeral of Lady Di) manage to distribute fake announcements declaring that for the purpose of participating, public transport will be free, the possibility of reducing today's expenses may tempt even those who doubt the authenticity of the announcement.

Communication guerrilla is about attacking the power-relations that are inscribed into the social organisation of space and time, into rules and manners, into the order of public conduct and discourse. Everywhere in the 'cultural grammar' of a society, legitimations and naturalisations of economic, political and cultural power and inequality are inscribed. Everybody has a knowledge of Cultural Grammar - which can be used to cause irritations by distorting the rules of normality. Such irritations have a potential to question seemingly natural aspects of social life. Hidden power relations can be made visible and subverted or deconstructed. Using a term coined by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, one might say that communication guerrilla aims at a temporary expropriation of Cultural Capital, at a disturbance of the symbolic economy of social relations.

Go Internet, experience the Future! The practice of communication guerilla developed in pre-computerised times. Up to the present day, many communication guerrill@s feel a strange affection towards living in the backwoods of late capitalist society. There is an inclination towards the use and abuse of outdated media, such as billboards, posters, printed books and newspapers, official announcements, face-to-face events, interventions in public space. Thus we are sceptical towards the hypes and promises in and about the web. It is said that liberalism leads us directly into hyperspace. A space of absolute absence of state control, no-copyright, free production of ideas and goods, free and equal flow of information and people across all borders, such is the dream brought forward by some Californian net-ideology of freedom-and-adventure. Yet neo-liberalism doesn't really work this way, but rather: freedom for the markets, control for the people. It's becoming more and more obvious that the internet is no virtual space of freedom beyond state and corporate control. The law-suit of toy-selling e-company e-toys against the web-artists Etoy has shown how badly the corporate world wants to take control of the territory of the web. The subsequent toy-war and the complete victory of the web-artists was a glimpse on what's possible if we use the web as a space of intervention. (http://rtmark.com/etoy) There are still opportunities of free interchange, there are lines of information transmission beyond police control, and some corners of the net are still governed by potlach economy and not by commercialism. Yet the grip of corporate economy is tightening - and if they succeed, aesthetics and functioning of the internet will not be predominated by cyberpunks but by corporate self-representation interspersed with a myriad of middle-class wankers exhibiting their home-sweet-homes including garden gnoms on corporate-sponsored homepages. Our impression is that the structures and problems of communication in the web do not differ fundamentally from those encountered elsewhere, at least not as much as the hype wants to make believe. Some media-theorists (like Michael Halberstedt in his "Economy of Attention") have even discovered that the potential recipients of e-information are free to filter and discard messages. They may do even much more with them! Most users select messages not mainly according to content. Just like the reader of a paper or the recipient of a leaflet, they/we also use criteria which may be conceived in terms of cultural grammar and cultural capital. This is evident to anybody who has ever tried to distribute leaflets to people in the streets. The web's potential to distribute infinite information is just like traditional media structured by the needs of the audience. The basic problems of communication are just the same on both sides of the electronic frontier. To develop tactics to use the web as a space for critical intervention, we need to move away from the belief in the glory of information. As in public space, we need to focus on the influence of social and cultural settings. 'Access for all', 'Bandwidth for all': these are legitimate demands if the web is to be more than an elitist playground of the middle classes. In some professions, access to adequate means of communication has already become a vital necessity of everyday life. But information and communication are not ends in themselves. First of all, they constitute an increasingly important terrain of social, political and cultural struggle. Even if we're all online, it doesn't mean that a paradise of equal opportunities will emerge. We'll still need to attack power relations inscribed into the structure of communication processes both inside and outside the web. In the dawn of information capitalism, such attacks become more than just a method, more than merely a technology of political activism: When information becomes a commodity and cultural capital a most important asset, the distortion and devaluation of both is a direct attack against the capitalist system. To put it the swanky way: This is class war. Paradoxically, increasing attempts to police the net are also increasing its attractivity as a field of operation. Fakes and false rumours inside and outside the web are already helping to counteract commodification and state control - after all, the internet is an ideal space for the production of rumours and fakes. Where technological knowledge is available, the opportunities to fake or hijack domains and homepages, to spoil and distort the flux of information are innumerable. Guerrilla communication relies upon the hypertextual nature of communication processes. Even a newspaper or a traffic sign has plenty of cross-links to other fragments of 'social text'; a medium transporting plain text and nothing else cannot exist. Communication guerrillas consciously distort such cross-links with the aim of re-contextualising, criticising or disfiguring the original messages. In the web, hypertextual aspects of communication have for the first time come to the foreground, and the hypertext offers fascinating possibilities for all kinds of pranks. Imagine hacking into a homepage of, say, the CIA, but instead of leaving a blunt 'Central Stupidity Agency ' (see http://www.2600.com/cia/p_2.html) simply modifying some of the links while leaving everything else as before. There are terrible things one could do in this manner...

But the fascination of those possibilities should not lead to a technocentric narrowing of the field of vision. The mythical figure of the hacker represents a guerrilla directed towards the manipulation of technology - but to which end? The hacker gets temporary control of a line of communication - but many of them are mainly interested in leaving web graffiti or simply 'doing it' (see the Hacker Museum, http://www.2600.com). Others, however, rediscover guerrilla communication practices of the ancient: In: <nettime> net-artist Heath Bunting slated himself in a fake review (Heath Bunting: Wired or Tired? http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/), thus re-inventing a method which Marx and Engels had used when they faked damning reviews by first-rank economists to draw attention on 'The Capital'.

The internet offers fascinating possibilities also in a quite different sense: Beyond its reality, THE WEB is an urban myth, and perhaps the strongest and most vital of all. Social discourse conceives THE WEB as the location where the people, the pleasures, the sex and the crimes of tomorrow have already taken place. Go Internet, learn the Future! Fears and desires are projected onto THE WEB: this is the mythical place where we can see the future of our society. Paradoxically, the gift of prophecy attributed to the web gives credibility to any information circulated there. The "real world" believes in them because they come from the realm of virtuality, and not despite it. An example: In Germany, there is a longstanding game called "The Invention of Chaos Days" (http://chaos-tage.de/start.shtml). Since the early 80ies, punks have created a tradition to hold big meetings. Of course, the towns involved used to be terrified, the police was alarmed, and more often than not the whole thing ended up with a huge riot. In 1996, someone put a note in the web relating that, on day X, all the punks of Germany would unite in Hanover to transform it into a heap of rubble. The announcement was made, a few leaflets (maybe a dozen) were distributed to the usual suspects. That very day, processions of journalists encountered hosts of riot squads from all over Germany on their way to Hanover. Once again the forces of public order were on their way to protect civilisation against the powers of the dark, only the latter were nowhere to be found. Apparently, they met quietly and undisturbed by police in another place. The most astonishing thing about this game is that it worked several times: Obviously, for the guardians of public order and public discourse, THE WEB is a source of secret knowledge too fascinating to be ignored. We do not mention in detail the innumerable occasions when journalists, state officials, secret services etc. were taken in by false rumours circulating in the net - for instance, the major German press agency dpa who fell for the homepage of a fake corporation offering human clones, including replicas of Claudia Schiffer and Sylvester Stallone. This effect has been reproduced: the next one was a prank about 'ourfirsttime.com'. There is little danger that mainstream media will learn quickly. is Besides its function as a networking tool, the web is a nice playground for communication guerrillas, especially those living in the netscapes of electronic communication. But let's not forget to walk and talk our way through the jungle of the streets, to visit the not so devastated landscapes of outdated media, to see and feel the space and the power of capitalism - may we not forget what all the prankstering is good for.
Mira també:
http://www.contrast.org/KG/nett20.htm

This work is in the public domain

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kill your tv
10 jul 2005
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