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Rage against the ATM machine

April 9, 2009 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The G20 protests across London were alarming for many reasons. Not the least of which was the role of the media. Image after image showed knots of photographers and cameramen jostling for position at the front of each march. There’s even a moment in this footage when a protestor is about to smash a window of the RBS bank when he suddenly stops. He turns to camera, proffers to the media the “perfect shot” complete with Braveheart scream, and then smashes the glass. It’s as if someone had yelled, “Back to one”, on a movie set for the sake of a better take.

Two things concern me about this. Firstly, the media aren’t just in the front line, they are the front line. Shoulder to shoulder, holding other protestors at bay, trying to get their piece of the shot to sell on the AP auction block. One photographer even taps the protestor on the shoulder, red carpet style, as if the heat of the moment should defer to cold hard cash.

As for the protestor, he gives me the same feeling one gets – I imagine – when Paris Hilton turns and smiles to camera when making one of those videos. Shouldn’t you be more focused on the job at hand?

This seamless, consenual ballet feels oddly inappropriate, as if both parties were happy to compromise the integrity of the moment for the sake of capturing it “first hand”, “as it happens” and “as if you were there”. More in bed than embedded, the photographers and protestor seem equally seduced by the immortality promised by a timeless image.

The footage also reminded of the readiness of Europeans to take to the streets in protest. As an Australian with immigrant parents who has worked in Europe, I can’t help but compare the street fighting tactics used on the U.S. Senate floor with the feeling that if regular citizens took to the streets it’s somehow ‘un-American’. How many times in the last eight years have you heard people remark, “If this were Europe people would be storming the White House?”

As stalwarts of constitutional principles, shouldn’t their compromise be the one thing that motivates us to rise in their defense? Or is protest somehow perceived as a greater afront to civic order than the breach of principles that secure it?

I’m left championing the passion of protest but not the media savvy that comes with it. I’ll have to content myself with this post. If it seems out of order, in my mind, that’s the least I can do.

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7 responses to “Rage against the ATM machine”

  1. admin says:

    Thanks Dan. Yes, something felt sadly self-conscious and manipulative in the way the media behaved here. Not everything can or should be ‘made for television’. The reality of people’s suffering is overwhelmed by the immediacy of the reporting. Even the protestors were laughing as photographers egged them on. It felt like it was all for show. Sadly the media manages to put even real protest out of reach.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks Dan. Yes, something felt sadly self-conscious and manipulative in the way the media behaved here. Not everything can or should be ‘made for television’. The reality of people’s suffering is overwhelmed by the immediacy of the reporting. Even the protestors were laughing as photographers egged them on. It felt like it was all for show. Sadly the media manages to put even real protest out of reach.

  3. QUOTE:

    As for the protestor, he gives me the same feeling one gets – I imagine – when Paris Hilton turns and smiles to camera when making one of *those* videos. Shouldn’t you be more focused on the job at hand?

    Nice.

    This is interesting, but I’m not that familiar with what went down. But if corporate media was in any way playing the role of instigator here, it’s a flagrant violation of one of the J-school principals of objectivity and observation.

    Of course, if it’s citizen media, then nothing’s really surprising, however depressing. And as Brian Morrissey recently said, “We’re all media now”.

    Good post.

    doug

  4. QUOTE:

    As for the protestor, he gives me the same feeling one gets – I imagine – when Paris Hilton turns and smiles to camera when making one of *those* videos. Shouldn’t you be more focused on the job at hand?

    Nice.

    This is interesting, but I’m not that familiar with what went down. But if corporate media was in any way playing the role of instigator here, it’s a flagrant violation of one of the J-school principals of objectivity and observation.

    Of course, if it’s citizen media, then nothing’s really surprising, however depressing. And as Brian Morrissey recently said, “We’re all media now”.

    Good post.

    doug

  5. admin says:

    Sadly it looked like the press. There were digital cameras and phones among the crush, but the elbow-wielders at the front were professionals in every sense. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised but when citizen protest sells out, there’s not much left that’s honest or corrective.

    Love that quote, “We’re all media”. Thanks

  6. admin says:

    Sadly it looked like the press. There were digital cameras and phones among the crush, but the elbow-wielders at the front were professionals in every sense. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised but when citizen protest sells out, there’s not much left that’s honest or corrective.

    Love that quote, “We’re all media”. Thanks

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Simon Mainwaring

Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.

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