berlin street art - ALIAS (and if you know who the other artist is, let me know!)
I’m standing at the outskirts of the crowd, partly out of care and partly out of cowardice. I’ve never liked crowds, and if the crowd is a demonstration surrounded by police in full riot gear, I like it even less. For some reason we’ve come to a stop and none of the people around me seem to know why. Everyone’s going ‘what the fuck’s up?’, but there’s no announcement, no information. We stand around for quite some time before we can hear something being said over a megaphone, but exactly what is impossible to hear. The conclusion everyone draws is that it’s over now, that the police has stopped the demonstration from going any further. We’re on a long stretch of street without side streets and it’s very crowded. People start moving a bit, but there’s really nowhere to go. And then, pretty much out of the blue as far as most of us are concerned, the police line advances and in the middle of the crowd people start screaming. I’m right at the edge, so the police are pretty much trying to push me back in to the crowd. Luckily, and most likely because of the aforementioned cowardice, I immediately notice what’s happening and manage to sneak through a gap before they close the line completely. Behind me I hear two girls begging to be let through, panic in their voices. As I push my way through the crowd of people now desperately trying to get away from the erupting turmoil, I see several people holding their faces in extreme agony. People are screaming for water. And at first it’s like my brain doesn’t really want to process the information, it’s just too bizarre somehow, but then I realize it’s tear gas. They have fired fucking tear gas straight into the crowd. That’s when I also realize I have to get out of there. Fast. And I’m very lucky, not only do I get out, but I also manage to find a spot where I can still see some part of what’s going on. And I see people trying to get out anywhere they can, some try climbing over a 4m wall in a courtyard hoping to find a way out in the adjacent one. Out in the street people are running and the police keep pushing the crowd together and backwards even though there’s not really anywhere for them to go. More tear gas, more screams. I don’t know how long it lasts, but it doesn’t take the police that long to clear the street from most of the people. But the sirens keep going all night.
The next day I read the story in the paper. What happened, according to the report in the paper, was that the police or the organizers, there’s a bit of mixed messages on that point, stopped the demonstration due to misconduct from some of the participants, and the crowd was then asked to leave. But since the protesters did not adhere to this order the police had to advance to disperse the crowd. There was violent resistance and arrests were made.
Sure, I was in the crowd, so I didn’t really have an overview of everything that was happening, but what was described in that report felt like a completely different event than the one I was at. The crowd didn’t adhere to the order to leave. Well, if you can’t hear the order it’s not that easy to adhere to it. And even if you did hear, there was no way to adhere to it, i.e. to leave, because the cops where stopping everyone that actually tried. I don’t know if it was because the reporters were standing right by the cops, or there was a more sinister motive, but I couldn’t relate to the ‘truth’ that was being presented in the media. It felt very distorted and very one-sided.
Media has a very big influence when it comes to shaping our world view, that’s why freedom of speech is such an important thing. It’s crucial that we are allowed to speak our mind. Freedom of press is a big part of that, but what do we really mean by freedom of press? That politicians don’t interfere with what’s being written? Sure, but is that really enough? What about money? The money being made from news media, big money. Isn’t that just as important? To know who’s financial interests are being served. Because it is about money, about making as much money as possible. To get as many readers as possible because that’s how you get the all important advertisement. That’s how you make more money. And these advertisers don’t want to be associated with just anything. So you need to make sure that you aren’t being too controversial. That you are conveying a message they want to be associated with.
Right now northern Africa and the mid east are undergoing tremendous turmoil. The people have taken to the streets and are demanding change. And end to oppression. We see new images every day, the news are full of stories about violence and riots. But are we getting the whole story? Most likely not. And above all, we are not getting the background. We actually don’t know how all of this came about. We don’t know what life was like for these people before the protests started. We don’t have a full understanding of where they are coming from, and media hasn’t helped us all that much. A lot of the reports are eye-witness style stories from westerners who are caught in the midst of the riots. “And we made it back to the hotel just in time.” Oh, lucky you… The focus is on the action, the adrenaline. As if it was all a reality TV show. But it’s not. It’s actually happening. And if there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that we are not getting the full story. We didn’t get it before and we sure as hell aren’t getting it now. Because before all of this happened no one was discussing the fact that Libya has been ruled by one man for over 40 years. We were just happy that there was “stability in the region” and that no one was able to escape into fortress Europe. Libya was a good gatekeeper. And Egypt was a nice holiday destination. And now? Well, the formula 1 premiere in Bahrein has been cancelled, but we are assured by Bernie Ecclestone, the formula 1 ‘commercial rights holder’ (?!), that if the turmoil subsides the race will be held at a later point this year. Oh what a relief… And the organizers, i.e. the crown prince of Bahrein, will not be charged the annual staging fee of 25m pounds since the protest are to be interpreted as force majeure (the comparison used to illustrate this is an earthquake…). I suppose you can’t really expect too much in terms of political commitment from the world of sports, but when this ‘commercial rights holder’ person goes on to state that he “wants to be loyal to the King of Bahrein” and doesn’t want to cause him any more trouble*, that’s a bit stiff even coming from the bizarre world of sports. Granted, there have been some questions raised on the ethical implications of the warm and fuzzy relationship between sports and oil money from some sports journalists in the light of the latest developments, but before the protests started? No, not so much. In fact, one could, if one was even just a tad prone to conspiracy, argue that sports journalists have been at the fore front of white washing these countries praising their willingness to invest money in various sports and providing space and resources for competitions.
No, we are not getting the full story, not even by a long shot. For every message there is a sender and that sender always has an objective, an agenda. Up till now the gulf region was all about oil and tourism. Sure, we did sort of know that these states weren’t actually democratic, but as long as there was “stability in the region” we didn’t really care all that much. And now? Well, now there is concern. Lots of concern. But not necessarily about the people and the still very much ongoing violations of human rights, but rather about our oil supply, our beaches, our sports events and a potential stream of refugees flooding Europe. We are worried about our lifestyle. That’s where we see the main threat here. And I suppose there’s some logic to that in the “looking out for number one” sense, but maybe we should also stop to contemplate how our lifestyle actually contributed to what’s happening right now. How we in the western world through our continuous support and selective vision mentality have actually made it possible for all these dictators to maintain their power for this long.
At a first glance it might seem a bit far-fetched to start this text with a description of a demonstration turned riot in northern Europe, but if we can’t even trust the descriptions of events taking place literally on our doorstep, which in this instance was very much the case, then how could we possibly trust that we are getting anything even resembling the truth about the events that are taking place in north Africa and the mid east right now? We are getting hourly reports on the riots that are happening and just how many westerners are trapped where, but we are not even getting a glimpse of the background story. No light is being shed on just how deeply involved our own governments and various western companies have actually been in maintaining the status quo up to now. The same way we weren’t being told about why that demonstration got out of hand, sure there were people looking for trouble in that crowd, but the police weren’t exactly trying to calm things down. But we don’t get to hear that story. We don’t get to hear about the random searches of “suspicious looking” people in the streets that preceded that demonstration, and we don’t get to hear about how this demonstration fits into the larger context of governments all over Europe hammering down on what’s generally referred to as “alternative communities”, “squatters” or “left-wing extremists” depending on how conservative the sender is. And when you compare the reactions from the European leaders to the ongoing uprisings in the arab world, with the reactions to the recent student protests in the UK or other “domestic” protests, it’s interesting to note how much empathy and understanding is being expressed for the people’s rage in the fist issue and what a stunning lack of the same is displayed for the latter. Sure, the situations are very different, people are actually dying in Libya, but wasn’t all of this supposed to be about human rights, democracy and freedom of speech? How come no one is questioning the quite blatant hypocrisy underlying this contradictory stance? Sure, it may be a bit of political suicide for a politician to agree that people protesting their reforms may actually have a point, but one would expect a bit more courage from the press. Or at least some form of nuanced analysis. But all we are getting is pretty much a reiteration of the official statements decorated with some tabloid flavor descriptions of violence.
There are lots of reports about how the regimes that are now falling one by one have made efforts to control the media with censorship and legislation, and how they have shut down social networks, like twitter and facebook, in an attempt to control the people, all a very big and rather cumbersome operation. But they absolutely knew what they were doing, because like I said, media plays a big role in shaping our world view and controlling the media is key to controlling the people. We all know this. And it wasn’t that long ago that we had the same situation in the western world, government controlled media and censorship, but during the latter half of the past century we gradually moved away from this. But the question is to what? Freedom of press? We live in an age where we can get live news 24 hours a day from a multitude of news media providers, and yet the message is remarkably homogenous. As if they were all speaking with one voice. And in some cases, they actually are. It’s actually no secret that a lot of the news media channels, TV, radio, newspapers, are owned by large media corporations today. In fact, over the past decades this has been an ever-growing trend. The Axel Springer AG is a great example, Trinity Mirror plc another. Seems like there’s actually an easy way to control the media without having to go through the ordeal of maintaining a huge monitoring apparatus – money. He who pays the piper calls the tune as they say. Censorship had a make-over. It’s no longer about scrutinizing newspapers and passing legislation on what can be published, no, today’s approach is different and a lot more refined: Buying your way to media monopoly and then utilizing the old roman concept of ‘panem et circenses’, bread and games. Here in the western world most of us are already fed and these media conglomerates are providing us with the entertainment. Who will be Germany’s next top model? And who will win the X-Factor? And in the commercial breaks we are informed about the latest model of the latest hype and who can provide us with the perfect skin, hair and fat-free salad dressing.The people in north africa and the mid east are fighting for their freedom and we are busy trying to pick which smart phone is the best one and fretting over how to finance that plasma screen we need for watching our daily dose of mind numbing televised bullshit. And we hear on the news that somewhere out there evil young people clad in black are trying to take the peace of mind we find in our new religion, consumerism, away. Yes, of course they must be stopped. And of course the police should be hard on them. And of course these bad governments should be overthrown but hopefully the protests will be over soon so we don’t have to re-book our next holiday. Yes, he who pays the piper does indeed call the tune, and it sounds like we are way off key.