Agit-Prop to Info-Prop; Culture Jamming, Alternative Media, Activism and the monolithic corporate-controlled US American Media
performance lecture at C-Level in Chinatown
Good Evening and Thanks for coming out.
Thanks to Michael Wilson who quickly put this together upon realizing that I am leaving the U.S. – due here next week, really – and for recognizing that this departure may be permanent … and for having the appreciation for my work to see that a presentation like this might be useful … for myself as an organizational mechanism and – perhaps, if we are lucky – for you, gathered here tonight to consider the material.
I’m a writer, a book and performance artist and a member of the Booklyn Artists Alliance [you can see our work at www.booklyn.org] there’s a decent bio there and though the list of works, exhibitions and performances is a little stale, some colophons of books I have finished in recent years and links to work in progress can be found by navigating to the Artists page and clicking my name, M.T. Karthik.
One of my most recent public projects was to function as News Director at Pacifica Station KPFK 90.7fm here in Los Angeles from 2003 to 2004 and to produce and direct coverage of the 2004 Election.
I want to frame things a little because this talk is really a companion to two other formal talks I have done since the election –
one immediately afterward … on that Thursday after the Election, 4 November 2004, when the Kerry concession was just 36 hours old, at a panel at Cal-Arts.
I was invited by the artist Mariana Botey and in my presentation, I promoted the idea of rejecting the concession as meaningless to the outcome and really meaningless to democracy in the U.S. at all – focusing on the errors not in political strategy and campaigning as most media outlets were doing at that time, but rather upon the mistakes in vote casting, counting or registering … the mechanics of voting itself and reports of problems and issues.
KPFK News stayed in the context of the actual votes cast and counted – or uncounted – long after others had heaped their towels atop John Kerry’s, thrown so soon after Election Day.
From our position it was clear that the election was still too close to call.
I maintained that claims to the contrary were suspect. But the constant and immediate projection and legitimization of a Bush victory is what we saw … and heard … daily, at incredible volume from every network and publication – that they “did not contest the outcome of Bush’s victory …”
only a handful of alternative media outlets proposed that votes in OHIO were unclear and that results from many parts of the country that used electronic voting machines were skewed versus long-trending and historically accurate exit polls.
[actually the Herbst Brothers were there – is it correct to call you that? I mean that the editors of The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest were on that panel, as was the artist Mariana Botey, who invited me to participate]
and a second talk I did in San Francisco at New College in The Mission District one month later, on 5 December of last year, entitled, “Radio As Meta-Medium.” … that one is available apparently in its entirety online … I haven’t heard it but I understand it’s there … and it was sort of hectic as I was positioned to have to defend myself against my former employers and fellow Pacificans for a projection I made by e-mail
Yes, after the election and before the electoral college vote, I was the only broadcast journalist in the USA to project John Kerry the winner of the state of OH – and thereby the winner of the Presidency by an electoral college vote-count of 3 delegates 270 to 267.
I did it three weeks after election day and only upon the collection and broadcast of numerous testimonials regarding the election from experts, monitors and voters in Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and other parts of the country. I made the projection because I felt that the declaration that Bush had won was no more than an unsubstantiated projection made by corporate-controlled media in the U.S. and parroted by those unwilling to do proper journalism or even proper investigation into electoral problems. I did it more than a month before the Electoral College voted because I wanted to slow the confirmation of George Walker Bush’s second term as President – so a proper investigation of the election could be conducted.
As a side note: I do not believe that George Walker Bush is the legitimate President of the United States of America. The NORC study, an independent, academic investigation into the election of 2000 v. Gore proved Bush lost at that time and published results in the Spring after his first so-called Inauguration – that data can be found at www.norc.org
and I believe Bush, through Rove and his people, have committed election fraud in 2004 to bring about a bureaucratic coup here in the U.S. – perhaps you do, too.
It was this position that forced me out of KPFK and Pacifica –the network was unwilling to take my stance, considered, at the time, too radical. The local station manager claimed she had to play her hand as it was dealt, folding me out and, ultimately, stooging for Pacifica management at the Network’s head offices in Berkeley.
Though ultimately foiled by the inner-workings of the institution, I was able to get key pieces of information out, was able to make certain kinds of journalism happen that had not yet happened in much if not all of U.S. electoral journalism. And techniques that had not been tried in U.S. American journalism were tested some of which thrive today at KPFK News and nowhere else.
This was the inevitable conclusion of the piece … It was predictable that the artists methodology would eventually conflict so firmly with the so-called journalists methodology, or that of Pacifica, the pacifist, listener-driven community medium. That there would be some kind of tautological or industrial or logical paradox or collision … this was inevitable. I sought to control this long enough to participate in the election of 2004 in a way that no other media outlet would.
For myself, secure in my methods and what I have learned, I do not accuse Pacifica management of anything more than cowardice, complacency and ignorance. They just don’t get it. They are confused about methodology. Their techniques are sadly outmoded. There are luddites among them and they can’t keep up. They are held hostage by their fear that they will cease to exist and so they function like hangers-on, desperate for attention and support, unwilling to take strong positions. They do not know how to change the way journalism is done in the U.S. They do not know how to take advantage of their unique position. They struggle to stay afloat because of bad management which wastes opportunities and the tremendous goodwill extended in the form of cash contributions by the listener-sponsors.
Pacifica is also deeply infiltrated by agents known as moles. It doesn’t take much … I mean it’s a community station and the doors are wide open. The RCP, Democrats and Right-Wing agents have access and they regularly manipulate Pacifica’s content. I knew this going in, as a listener it is apparent – and I tried to navigate the environment for the term of the project in an attempt to cut through.
The question for myself as an artist was how strategically could I flex in this context. Could I identify stories or angles that were NOT being allowed to break through the U.S. American Media vacuum and push them through the tool?
In the instance of the Election, that circumstantial evidence pointed to manipulation of votes and vote-counts by Republicans and that a fraudulent election had been alleged by reputable elections monitors? The answer is … No.
In the instance of investigating the polarizing events of “nine – eleven” … no. not really.
Well, at least not to more than a few hundred thousand listeners at a time.
Well, I think it’s best NOT to duplicate the material discussed in the previous talks as much as possible. I’d rather bring other things to bear here tonight – perhaps a more global and academic view, now that there has been time to review the period – and then the three talks taken together will have a kind of thicker … meaner … impact.
The title of tonight’s lecture
Pluralism of Media In The Age of Surveillance
Is really very broad because I conceived it quickly in a phone call with Michael to pull this together, but it really suits, to the direction I want to go with the material I have gathered in the last eight years.
I coined a term a few years ago to describe one type of public art or public intervention or public work I am engaged in and that I am encouraging others to participate in, and that’s in our subtitle here:
Information Propaganda is an extension of the 1968 term Agitation Propaganda or Agit-Prop.
Info-Prop is art meant to convey truth past the massive volume of lies and omissions being generated by technocrats and corporate controlled media. It seeks truths that have been buried or evacuated. (We’ll get into this tactic later – the evacuation of collectively held truths)
Info-Prop attempts contemporaneous revision of what is being recorded as history at The New York Times, or on FOX in an attempt to create and maintain parallel histories to that documented by the largest of our mass media.
The incredibly creative signs, performances and clothing I have seen, not just at protests, but everywher over the past few years that include graphics of complex data, visual portrayals of the power structures that exist, images of Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, facts represented on charts that are not made available through corporate media … this is what I mean. Information Propaganda. Info-Prop.
Info-Prop is an outsider art form that can be exercised by professional artists and non-artists alike. As a movement of cultural production Info-Prop has been driven primarily by the nexus of the Information Age: the Internet.
This immediate, free, global connection – invented by the U.S. defense department to allow for internal communication in the event of a nuclear attack [this was before they figured out that EMPs would probably take out all power] … then given second to academics and then finally to everyone else but only through deregulated, proper Capitalist structures … Internet Service Providers and so on … this Internet is still very very very young.
Here in the U.S. we push, sit upon and ride the half-ass, trickety jalopy we call the Internet at the dawn of international communication in real-time, awaiting a sensibility to take hold of the English-language part of our social intercourse that isn’t fundamentalist Christian and radically right-wing or from Texas with a hardline agenda or wearing an elephant tiepin in the form of the flag of the United States of America.
It is apparent now that the United States of America is occupied by a political force that can only be called a faction. This faction controls communications media with near-absolute restriction of content, controls agencies that monitor, manage and distribute the collective funds of the largest bank account in the world, and controls the most powerful military to which it granted more than 400 Billion dollars last year, the best funded, most powerful war machine on earth.
Among the fools in this faction there are elderly bigots who are given swan-songs of attention, there are hyper-militarily minded protocol hounds who have seized the language they wrote only two and a half generations ago. There are House Niggers. And House Wiggers, too. House Immigrunts.
All have been seized by soldier mentality and blood-lust – that is the stage play CNN, NPR, PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, HBO, The New York Times, Washington Post, and every major news outlet in the United States is meant to project because what happened is:
The free-est economy in the world puffed itself up for eight years – wrapped itself into a Y2knot by getting dumbed into a hitch in the 90’s – and had to be “system re-booted.”
When all intranet debts were erased by a tidal wave of media, pumping the same fiction (a well-known – not obscure – mafia move). They hate our blue jeans and Matrix movies so we get to go kill them and take their oil. All the drunk parasites clinging to the largest multi-media assault on international humanity ever attempted by any country, any peoples.
This faction is guilty of producing, staging and titling “9-eleven” to salvage the failing economy and to stimulate younger generations of participants into their System of Society. They do this with pride. Named themselves neoconservatives and have a fascist mentor, author and originator in the Russian-Jewish immigrant University of Chicago Academic Leo Strauss, a TV-watching, hate-filled neo-Hobbes.
We witness these neocons drop megatons of death from the sky upon the heads of others, elsewhere, anywhere in the world they wish. These, who have said aloud – and continue to say it – they believe they are doing God’s work while openly engaged in murder, manipulation of masses, demagoguery, espionage, political deceit, covert operations and corporate protectionism.
There is significant reason to believe that the Internet, your e-mail, is not secure and that the content is being manipulated by Intelligence agencies of the U.S. and other Nation States as well as by rogue operatives as these agencies claim. That all our phones are tapped.
But, it is important to note –
as this graphic by San Francisco-based, Portuguese artist Rigo 23 illuminates –
how few people really have access to the Internet still.
At the talk in San Francisco late last year, I called “Live Radio” a meta-medium, unlike other media because of its intimacy, its vernacular aspect, its aural and oral nature and the fact that it “happens” in real time.
By distilling content from the Internet, Television, Print and other media into a script to be read over the airwaves by a reader, radio, like television, seeks the trust of the listener in the reader and her or his script and attempts to make itself meta-mediator of content.
If you are blind perhaps the radio is the only way to get the information, but the vast majority of radio listeners are not blind – they have chosen the radio as their mediator. Trust has been established.
Radio is a Meta-Medium.
This is actually how the right-wing in America has achieved so much, using broadcast and particularly a.m. radio to great effect to create trust in voices who bend truth, commit prevarications of omission and outright lies in order to push an agenda of their party and their interests. Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Dennis Miller, etc. etc.
Corporations give them volume … the sheer volume of the “mass” in mass media. This is how dollars are translated into historical fiction.
We live in a condition where small groups of committed, intellectual individuals interested in truth have been cordoned off, marginalized and re-framed. While their messages may be true and may occur in a pluralism of media, these messages are drowned out and disappeared, by tactical disinformation, damage control, spin and evacuation. This is what I mean by evacuated. Vacuo. Vacuum. the idea that some stories are made invisible because once they are reported special interests with access to enormous tools of media create a vacuum around them, bury them in irrelevancies or reduce them in importance in the National psyche.
One of the major problems is that the intelligence capabilities of the other side in this media war are so completely all-pervasive that they are able to nip any impending growth of movements around ideas early and prevent them from growing.
I think of the pre-emptive strikes in New York during the RNC in which 1900 people were arrested. Think about this, folks, three times the number of people arrested in Chicago at the DNC in 1968 were arrested in New York in 2004 at the RNC and nobody cared … well, not nobody … but who really knew that the Republican Party … the Federal Government and Bush had instructed the New York Police Department to arrest protesters in New York in advance of their committing acts of civil disobedience because these were known to participants and police in advance of their occurrence and who cared that the Republicans PAID for the lease on Pier 59, to have these peaceful protesters – women, men, grandmothers – put into a filthy, toxic holding pen. Who now knows that the place had been leased by the Republican Party for this purpose?
These tactics are the physical parallels to the pre-emptive tactics applied in media on a daily and weekly basis by political factions.
You know that a group is going to launch a major story about you because you have them surveilled. You then take whatever steps necessary to make the story disappear or seem ridiculous.
And now we see the title of our talk today more clearly:
Pluralism of Media in the Age of Surveillance.
U.S. American – For many years the term ‘American’ used to describe people of the U.S.A. has been offensive, a classic form of propaganda – mitigating the genocide the whole of the Americas has been experiencing for 512 and a half years under a rubric of the hemisphere’s Master – the U.S.A.
George Walker Bush, Dick Bruce Cheney
2. Media Itself – I think that intercessionary tactics have to be exercised into various media where they are not expected. – example of the NYU kids.
3. Non-Linear techniques … non-sequitors …