Daniel R.

Stout Subtle Symbolism, Tactical Media and Land of Dead

Stout 2

The world is changing and it is doing so at a rate that is almost so fast that we can’t even recognize its changes. The old order of social movements is dying. We are coming up to a new era, one where the world is globalized, and no one country will be able to be held at fault for the problems that cultures and the world are having. The world is becoming interdependent in a way that very few have been able to envision. No longer are there restrictions upon the communication and the trade between countries and cultures. This lack of restrictions creates clashes that are promoting tension and allowing elites to become even more powerful and exploitative than ever before. Yet, social movements aren’t reacting in a way that is constructive. They are continuing down the path that social movements of a different world, a different era, and a different life choose. We currently see social movements create a violent dialecticalism, such as the one that was presented in Seattle against the World Trade Organizations’ meeting only a few years back. The media and the state were able to blame the street battles that ensued on the undemocratic practices of the protestors. This blame that was assigned was extremely helpful for the powers in place because it gave them legitimacy for having to go out and exert their force and their power in order to ensure a peace and calmness that people want1. Current movements, also have tendency not to engage in the politics of everyday life, but to engage in activism where rhetoric is separate from that of the people’s life and has placed itself in its own proper place.2 This placement of rhetoric into a proper place has some serious repercussions. The first is that the system gets its strength from the very act of critiquing. The power of the system is that it allows the critique to take place. The

Stout 3 system needs that opposition, its critical for the fictional equal exchange of information that has to occur for the elite to dupe the masses into thinking that the representative democracy is working in a functioning way3. Ultimately if such a claim is true, that the system needs critique to ensure its own survival then, it proves that current modes of traditional activism will not be effective in the future because of its clearly defined space that the system will delegate to the movement, and the ability to use that information presented in a way that ensures that the system upholds legitimacy. What yet maybe most disturbing to the current field of social movements study is that of movement’s employment of ideas. Throughout school individuals and groups are taught that the way to things to be changed in the world is to raise awareness and through that awareness create momentum that will result in a movement. However, people no longer seem to take an interest in politics, sure there are your occasional individuals that follow politics intently, but for the most part it seems as though people just want to go to work, get paid and go relax at home before having to do it all over again the next day. This kind of mentality is proven through the United States as the voter turnout has been tremendously low for years now. So why do movements spend hours upon hours making up and distributing ideas in such traditional forms of brochures, leaflets, published texts, and any other action that is used to present a formulated argument. This reliance on the rational argument that is used in traditional modes of persuasion is exactly what the system uses. The system uses these rational arguments to prove that equalization of information is present and accounted for, but more importantly is that the discussions reliance upon using rational argument proves that they are in fact saying nothing more than the sender of the cultural

Stout 4 economy4 is ill-informed. The movements say that this ill-informed sender needs to have the message replaced with their message in order for the world to operate in a way that is more appropriate for everyone5. But this just places the movement group into the same category as the system is now, they use the same logic, and the same structures of power to just change the cultural economy. This puts us into an endless cycle of oppression, torture, and wars as communication in this manner will only reproduce one powerful group after another that is constantly occupying the locations of power and will inevitably create new movements that will be opposed to the new occupiers of the structures of power. For the sake of discussion it is important to realize that there are two major forms of action that movements can take to try to change the current order; the first is that of strategic action. Strategic action inside of movements stake out rhetorical space in which they identify as their proper rhetorical place that they should be occupying. Strategic action has a specific goal that it is working towards, it is looking to fix the problem in a specific fashion. From this discursive space that the movement claims it relates itself to all other things in the world and decides how those relations interact with the movement. This is what is described above when we talk about old forms of movement building. This is also what we can see when the peace movement members create a location for themselves by saying that their movement’s rhetorical proper place is saying things like ”peace is possible”, “Bush is the enemy against peace” (this establishes a relationship and a place in the rhetorical economy) and that we need to “bring the troops home”. This is exactly what we talk about when we speak of strategic action. 6

Stout 5 The other type of action that exists is that of tactical action. Tactical action doesn’t rely on a specific place or a specific time in order to be operational. Tactical action is way the weak defeat the powerful. Tactical action is using the very things that the powerful use and give us for the purposes of the weak. Given this distinction, what does it mean as far as social movements are concerned? Several Authors have noticed that the media is a major influence not only in the works of De Certeau, but also in the entire realm of tactical action. Several Authors have put together something they like to call tactical media, or guerilla media. The characteristics of the tactical media encompass all that is described in tactical action. The first thing that is a characteristic of tactical media is that tactical media is always trying to camouflage its actions7. Tactical media isn’t trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together for people. Tactical media realizes that information by itself has no ramifications for how people are to interact with the world. Only when we attach meaning to the information that we have acquired does it actually cause us as the receivers of the information to care8. This is why tactical media thrives off of multiple meanings that are presenting themselves in any given work. It uses this discursive space that is created to interpret different signs in different manners as a way to disfigure or distort the system and its power9. Tactical media draws its power from the exact things that the system has given us. It takes the signs that are presented and reinterprets them in a fashion that shows the multiple meanings. It exposes the power relationships that exist and it makes us look at and examine them. This examination can lead to deconstruction of the problems that exist in the world and create a new orientation towards our worldview that can create transversal dissent as is described by Roland Blieker when he

Stout 6 talks about how the music of West Berlin, and its punk angst that was produced through media that was about changing culture through everyday practices, like the way we interpret the systems of power. Blieker contends that music was a main, if not the main reason the culture of East Berlin changed in a way that allowed for the fall of the Berlin Wall10. Another example of this method was used again in Germany. A group against German deportation airline Lufthansa was attacked in a manner that was extremely funny. It took what might be considered a typical airline advertisement and decided to put a slant on it that indicated that you can get a ticket for the “deportation class”. This simple wording and advertising that looked extremely legitimate, used the current systems tools against itself. This advertisement forced individuals to see the contradictions of the current system. It forces a one of two views of what deportation class really means, the first is that there is a contradiction within the system and whether the plight to make money makes it acceptable to destroy dignity of humans. OR it forces a view that it is a successful criticism of the deportation practice that the airline is participating in. Even if they view the advertisement as a criticism, it doesn’t allow the individual to simply brush it to the side, but to confront the very methodology that the airline is using to make money. There are two other main characteristics that exist in tactical media, the first is that it never separates itself from that which it criticizes. This means that the advertisers above, although they are offering a criticism, they are never going to tell you that such a criticism is occurring. They are going to make the entire campaign look as legitimate as it possibly can in order to ensure that people are paying attention11.

Stout 7 The second is that tactical media is looking to completely alienate12 or over identify with the object of the criticism13. This could also be done at the same time. The ticket example is a good one in that it shows how they are over identifying with the system by participating in the advertising of a company that they truly don’t support. They are using the current modes of operation to ensure that publicity is out, they are using the signs of the company in a different way, a way that wasn’t traditionally being used and forces a reevaluation of ideals assigned to the signs presented. This reevaluation may cause a complete alienation of individuals or the ideas that you want to be apart of such a system. In other examples alienation can also be applied in a way that the messages inside of the content are used to exclude individuals from feeling as being part of the society that is being described. If it is accurate that the world is changing it is important that we as scholars look not only at how the world is creating change, but also discover how this is being done. It is obvious that one way that tactical media is being employed in the current world is through subtle symbols. In order to prove that subtle symbols are in fact operating in such a manner that would classify them as tactical media we are going to use the example of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead (2005). First, we shall look into the movie and identify some ways that the movie is camouflaging its multiple messages inside of the movie. The best example of such actions occurring in the movie are the zombies themselves. I have been an avid zombie movie fan for many years now, and yet something that seems so obvious to me, that zombie movies have political messages built inside of them is not something that other people always see. Many people see the zombie movie as something that is scary,

Stout 8 something that is an excuse to get a lower rating on some blood and gore and generally just an action or horror type movie. One might argue though that if no one picks up the multiple messages then it’s a useless means of creating social change. This doesn’t always have to be the case, the use of art and symbols help “lubricate” the process as art forms like movies have legitimacy in their own right, so if someone sees the message they aren’t just going to play it off but actually embrace their reading of the story. Making people notice is one aspect of tactical media that make it successful. Land of the Dead is successful in this manner because Zombies can represent multiple different things, the first is that they are the other in the world, this figuratively is linked to the other we see in the real world, like people from other nations, or the third world, or the Middle East. This is specifically the case in the way that we treat the Middle East today, seeing the society as backwards, and in need of social readjustment towards capitalism and democracy. In the current world, it is also very important not for everyone to notice. The closer we make our movie to saying something out right so that everyone can understand what our argument is, or what we want changed, the more likely the system is going to be to subsume such arguments and create it as part of its own. This process is described above, as what would likely happen is the system would indicate that this is something that has its discursive space delegated purely to the movies and no where else. This stable notion of space can only be created if all people understand there is a blatant argument being made. This is why not everyone need receive the same message about subverting the system in order to be effective.

Stout 9 To make a comparison to Bliekers analysis, it would be hard to believe that everyone was listening to punk music in Germany, yet the music still had the effect on the few people who in turn created the culture that was needed for the removal of the wall. So even if not everyone understands the subversive message inside the movie, the people who do see the message can still create a culture that fights the dominance. Romero uses symbolism to criticize the capitalist framework. He indicates through the construction of a rich poor gap that exist inside the sheltered city of human survivors. There is a skyscraper, this skyscraper has all the luxuries that the rich currently enjoy, shopping malls, fine wine, big nice furniture, and great condos. Meanwhile there is no middle class, the lower class are the ones who have to provide the resources to the rich, are exploited for the rich, and are given nothing in return. Although this is what it shows through the use of barrels that are used for warmth, ratty clothes with no color, its all taking place during the a time where zombies have taken over. So while some people may just see it as something that had to occur in this fictional work that is being presented to them, others will realize that the zombie world that is being described is the current world we are living in. The poor are forced to go fight for our resources (oil), against the zombies (the other) who have the resources. It shows how we see the zombies (the other) as mindless, non thinking, and less intelligent as the human survivors (Middle Eastern countries are backwards with their lack of democracy, and lack of women’s rights). But because all of this is exist inside a world where zombies have taken over, its seen as fictitious. What is more amusing is that Romero is doing all of this in order to gain money, so while he is criticizing the capitalist make up of the world, he is using the movie

Stout 10 industry (mega money, ultra capitalist system) to voice a message. This is just like the Natives that De Certeau speaks of in his book, The Practice of Everyday Life, where he speaks of the Natives who were colonized by the Spanish, and although the Spanish successfully forced the Natives to conform to religion, rules and structures, the Natives still interpreted and used the system in way that wasn’t intended. The Movie industry wasn’t created in order to tear it down, but to sustain it. So, while Romero is using the system, he is using the system to tear down the system because he is reinterpreting the system to create his own Tactical Media. Romero uses the third part of Tactical Media in an unusual way. He clarifies and makes the residents of the skyscrapers look and act as many Americans do now. The residents were purely concerned with the fur coats they were wearing, their fancy clothes, the bottle of wine they were drinking, the cigars they were smoking, and most of all MONEY. They showed that the residents were the epitimozation, or the over the top version of what the capitalist, or CEOs of companies, or the average greedy person of our society do. This is the exact over identification that was used in the advertising campaign for the airline. Romero showed and exaggerated view of how capitalist live, only living for money and possessions, and how that cost most of them their lives. It is again quite obvious that such practices are having an effect. The Internet Movie Database has quite the discussion about the movie and its political messages, and whether they are appropriate. You can find blogs about the messages that are in the movie, and you can find movie reviews that spot such messages, this all proves that the rethinking that is accompanied by tactical media is taking place as the message is getting noticed. Tactical Media has successfully changed policies and is the future of social

Stout 11 movements. It is important that we broaden our discussion of tactical action, tactical media and its relationships and methods that are used in social movements or else we will fail to understand how and why movements are successful, or be able to identify movements that need to be prevented.


a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe, Communication Guerilla- Transversality in Everyday Life?, Republic Art. September 2002 http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors3/afrikatext2.html 2 a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe, Communication Guerilla- Transversality in Everyday Life?, Republic Art. September 2002 http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors3/afrikatext2.html 3 Blisset, Luther & Brunzels, Sonja. What About Communication Guerrilla?, autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, no date given. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors/afrikatext.html 4 Cultural economy can be defined as the customs, beliefs, actions and rhetoric that has been decided upon as being appropriate for society. 5 Blisset, Luther & Brunzels, Sonja. What About Communication Guerrilla?, autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, no date given. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors/afrikatext.html 6 de Certeau, Michel, Directeur d’Etudes at Ecole des Hautes Etudes et Sciences Sociales in Paris. The Practice of Everyday Life. 1984 p. xix 7 Wark, McKenzie. On The Tactic of Tactics, Netletter no 113, distributed via Nettime. May 22, 1997. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors2/warktext2.html 8 Blisset, Luther & Brunzels, Sonja. What About Communication Guerrilla?, autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, no date given. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors/afrikatext.html 9 Blisset, Luther & Brunzels, Sonja. What About Communication Guerrilla?, autonome a.f.r.i.k.a. gruppe, no date given. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors/afrikatext.html 10 While my book is currently loaned out which prevents a specific page number at this moment, a reorder of the book is on its way. The book however is Popular dissent, Human Agency and Global Politics. 11 This is something that De Certeau speaks of when distinguishing tactical and strategic action. 12 a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe, Communication Guerilla- Transversality in Everyday Life?, Republic Art. September 2002 http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors3/afrikatext2.html 13 Richardson, Joanne. The Language of Tactical Media, subsol. August 2002. http://subsol.c3.hu/subsol_2/contributors2/richardsontext2.html