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February 7, 2007

Ratting Out


(click for full size)

In a BAG post, and a Huffington piece I contributed this week on the recent Washington anti-war demonstration, I raised questions about the viability of the modern-day protest demonstration.  Interestingly, in both discussion threads, similar comments emerged about personal time and economics.

For example, HuffPost commenter JLB wrote:

As someone who was there, the protests of the ’60s and ’70s were a different thing. It was a time of single income families (mortgages at 1/4 income) – which translates to free time. The middle class and single income family have been – willfully – destroyed. … no more free time.

The average person is several paychecks away from oblivion – they cant attend an optional activity at the expense of – potentially – their survival.

Instead, they communicate in other ways. Ranging from text messaging to blogging – or did you miss the rise of online activities in recent years. Well, MSM did miss it. Several political candidates have not.

This is an issue regarding the death of the middle class and single income families. How easily we have come to accept our own economic demise.

Maybe we should … protest. :(

Another “D.C. demonstration commenter” at Huffington went a similar route, explaining how reduced protest energy reflected how corporate America has co-opted the two-party system.  With the Democrats rising, perhaps an awareness is growing that “fortunes” at the bottom and in the middle might not be commensurately on the rise?

While doing the demonstration post, I also got interested in the media coverage of the Super Bowl ads.

The thrust of a NYT analysis of this year’s crop focused on the theme of violence and militarism, seemingly “inspired” by the debacle in Iraq.  One of the frames in the Times slide show, however, cut a different way for me.  The screen shot, from an E*Trade ad, depicted bank customers being robbing by the employees.

In analyzing news and media images, one thing I like to focus on from time to time is what we don’t get to see.

In this case, we have something  fabulously rare.  It’s a ultra-high profile, mega-dollar commercial trumpeting how corporate America skins the customer.  Of course, the smack-down only comes courtesy of the differentiation between the banking and brokerage industries.  Still, industry segment competitive bloodletting or not, it’s nice — if not a manipulation still — to have the snapshot of free market truth.

I leave it to you to consider the choice of the rabbit, the chicken, the pig and the cow, and the particular techniques and methods they represent.  (Certainly, with the amount of time I spend on the phone with over-courteous but under-trained support people, the rabbit is not the first animal to come to mind.)  Telling, as well, is that the choice of a black person as the closest witness to the reverse bank robbery (and there’s more good symbolism too.)

Anyway, I would love to show you more examples of the system unmasking itself — but don’t bank on it.  It’s just that, in this one case, Madison Ave. saw more money to be made by shining the light on the rats.

(image: frame grab.  February 5, 2007.

  • Darryl Pearce

    We are so far removed from husbandry of livestock that the cartoon images of these masks made me think of PETA before banking (but that’s just because I only saw the still picture and not the commercial).
    Still… pretty darn chintzy for a superbowl advertisement.

  • donna

    All I know is JP Morgan/Chase is a bunch of crooks. Three years now sitting on my mom’s estate and not settling the last of it because of three timeshare properties they claim they don’t know what to do with.
    Imagine, a multi-billion dollar corporation claims it can’t handle three timeshare properties properly. I closed all my Chase accounts since it’s obvious I don’t want these jerks anywhere near MY money.
    They are soulless idiots.

  • lima

    Animal Farm.

  • granny

    As a old woman with 6 college educated children (with huge education debt) and working 3 jobs at 60 hours/week all I can reiterate is
    Who had time to watch the superbowl?

  • granny

    But thank you bagnews. This is my one treat in a workfilled day!!!

  • Stan B

    JLB strikes the right note. Supposedly, during one DC 60’s protest, Congress members were scuttled into their secret ecape tunnels fleeing what they perceived to be the soon attacking hordes. It didn’t take a “conspiracy” for them to dissolve free quality education, single income families and a veritable host of civil rights and social programs upon their return. We’ve been paying the price ever since…

  • Dunc

    I think people already know they’re being exploited. Ads like this only keep people from understanding what it would mean to do something about it. Dissent along the lines offered by the ad will be commodified, because it constructs a straw-person argument for liberation.

  • Cactus

    Further to what Stan B and JLB have stated, UCLA psychology professor Carl Faber gave a series of lectures in the late 70’s called “Casting Pearls,” basically about the difficulties of the creative person to exist in today’s atmosphere. The protestors in the 60’s & 70’s didn’t realize how successful they had become but the elites in power did and the effectiveness scared the hell out of them. They set out to ensure that those no-good hippies and rabble-rousers wouldn’t be able to do it again. Professors and intellectuals could no longer afford to teach part-time and create part-time or become an activist. Reagan (then the governor of California) set about making college less available and more expensive (his famous comment: “Why should I have to pay for someone else’s education?).
    The rest of the middle class got the carrot and the stick. The carrot being all the consumer goodies to shop for and the stick being the outsourcing of jobs and the destruction of the unions. (In simplistic terms) Plus the threat of ‘big brother’ watching us all. Just enough of the surveillance and skullduggery of the government has “leaked” out so as to put a chill on any anti-government activities. The abandoning of habeas corpus and the locking up of so many protestors at the last publican convention in NYC was, I believe, meant to put a chill on any demonstrations in the future. It looks like it has worked.
    Another prong of this establishment elite attack was to destroy the educational system. The highly touted charter schools are now proving to be a failure. Funds have been depleted and/or denied so that schools can no longer teach the arts and in some cases not even gym. “Educating to the test” has meant that they have been able to ( or were forced to) abolish from the curriculum such classes as government/civics and history. Therefore, the young don’t even know what their rights are. Why should they be angry if they don’t know what they are losing? Another prong was the all-volunteer army. If you have nothing personally to lose, why protest? If you have no skin in the game, why protest?
    Ads like this (which BTW, I haven’t seen) only serve to further the illusion that there just MIGHT be some (any?) good corporations out there. “Trust us, we’re your bank and we’re here to help.” Sound familiar?
    I can’t watch the videos and I didn’t watch the game but the comment about violence didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed a large up-tick in the violence in TV programs such as “24″ and “The Unit” (neither of which I watch). But I consider it a back-door attempt to influence the public in favor of the war in Iraq. In fact, one of the Turner channels had a program on ABOUT Iraq and the activities of the troops. I did see some of them and found it very pro-war. I think it was canceled, probably because the war isn’t selling too well these days.
    OTOH, we have “Boston Legal” which seems to say something thoughtful at the end of every program against the war or the administration. Truly a bright spot in my day. And I apologize for getting off topic here.

  • jtfromBC

    panem et circenses
    food stamps & market place
    the rats are winning

  • weisseharre

    “…I foresaw that in the blinding sunshine of that land I would become acquainted with a flabby, pretending, weak-eyed devil of a rapacious and pitiless folly.” -Conrad

  • readytoblowagasket

    1) Anti-war demonstrations over the decades, 2) the decimation of the middle class in the U.S., 3) corporate control of the American political process, 4) the two-party system in the States, 5) violence in advertising, 6) the Super Bowl, Madison Avenue, E*Trade, banks, and The Huffington Post, 7) creepy animal masks.
    Six of one, half a dozen of another. The thing I want least to address is the image of the creepy animal masks (beyond what lima said), except to say that if you make an ad creepy enough, I for one will tend to avoid the company that attaches its name to the ad, in this case, E*Trade. In other words, such ads backfire with consumers like me.
    I watched the Super Bowl and I noticed immediately how violent and creepy and unfunny *all* the ads were. I rarely watch TV, and I never watch the Super Bowl or ads when I do watch TV. But I was reminded of the 1980s, when violence so dominated American TV advertising and movies that the news media spent time analyzing the phenomenon (and, true to form, Congress reacted by slashing funding for the arts and commercial-free television). I remember a psychological connection was made back then between violent government policies like Grenada/Iran Contra/Libya/Strategic Defense Initiative and the Rambo/Terminator imagery permeating popular visual culture.
    These days violence in advertising is not unique to American TV:
    “In the past year, TV addicts have seen people thrown into the air, impaled and left bloody or dead. Of this crop of ads, Volkswagen’s ‘Safe happens’ campaign has generated the most buzz for its brutal depiction of real car crashes. In the 30-second spots, unsuspecting passengers, played by stunt people, are side-swiped, cut off and sent flailing around in their seats like crash-test dummies. One cheeky ad in the series features two women discussing the shock value of the Volkswagen campaign — when they are suddenly T-boned by a hulking grey SUV.
    “But Volkswagen isn’t alone in its quest to elicit an ‘Oh my God!’ response. Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is offering up ads showing a forklift driver being skewered with metal rods, a corpse blackened by electrical burns, and a young woman falling face first into a glass display case. In Nova Scotia, a similar campaign goes so far as to show a woman holding her bloody arm after her hand has been amputated. And in anti-drunk-driving ads sponsored by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, a teenage boy is launched through a car windshield.”
    Of the drunk-driving ad campaign, the manager of road safety for ICBC says, “The target audience was males aged 21-50. We had to get them to pay attention.”
    This target-marketing “logic”–and the consumer’s reticence in objecting to its authority–is the problem. It’s the problem because such false authority herds the public discussion into a corner by not presenting *any* alternative or truly representative views. (So what are males aged 21-50 so distracted by that you have to dump a bucket of blood over them to get their attention?) I agree with Dunc. Looking at the E*Trade ad as if it has authority to speak for us is the wrong focus. It’s as condescending and limiting as every other ad. It’s the same wolf dressed up in new sheep’s clothing.

  • PTate in FR

    I think the reason we aren’t seeing protests is because America has become deeply suspicious of collective action over the past 40 years: It is part of the whole “bowling alone” phenomena. Is it a huge corporate conspiracy, though? Nah. Let’s face it, political activism is a minority passion. I think 60%, maybe as many as 80%, of Americans have never been interested in the larger issues or getting involved.
    In the 60s, protest against the Vietnam war started with an acute problem that affected an elite group (Boomer College men who faced the draft), a successful model for addressing oppression (Martin Luther King and the nonviolent Civil Rights movement), and a robust folk music scene (Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan.) Put these three elements together–the critical mass of articulate people with a strong interest in change, the means to express dissent and inspire committment to a cause, and the model of street marching–and, voila, you’ve got a protest movement.
    Another thing was different in the 60s. The society was far more homogeneous, and the 5-10% of the population that was white, college-educated, male AND affected by the draft defined the culture. They provided leadership for the anti-protests. They ran the media that covered the protests. Not any more. Today American society has atomized. We live in our own little cultural bubbles defined by race, class, gender, ethnic group, sexual orientation. One result is that indifferent Americans have a much bigger influence than they did. What they care about–their domestic lives and entertainments (celebrity scandals, sports, crime)–is catered to by the targeted marketing. In the absence of a cultural hegemony, the media goes where the money is and you end up with Fox News and the Today show and the rich bubble of the NYTimes promoting Hillary Clinton.
    In this context the eTrade ad is fascinating. It reiterates the message that internet allows you to act for yourself and bypass everyone else (all those suckers) and that you can’t trust your bankers/institutions. Some of the interest is the choreography and music from a standard action film, with the nutty premise. But the visuals, those silly masks–co-opted from current street protests and performance art–PETA, WTO–suggest the impotence of the modern street protest movements. The final kicker in the ad, was the bank manager’s cheery “see you next week” — which communicates to the viewer that people are sheep, and you need to act for yourself.
    I propose that the reason we aren’t seeing 60s style protests against the Iraq war is because it doesn’t threaten people personally–the problems are diffuse, not acute. Second, we have no good models of effective action. Third, we lack cultural leadership and lack ways of inspiring a common vision. Fourth, going it alone still seems like the best strategy. And finally, we have alternatives, such as the blogosphere. The internet allows people to bypass all the hassle and act for themselves.

  • readytoblowagasket

    PTate, I’m not sure what you are trying to say because it sounds historically revisionist and demographically impossible. What your theory completely ignores is the fact that the Boomers are the most powerful elites in this country. Are they the Americans you are referring to who are today “deeply suspicious of collective action,” and are they also the “indifferent Americans”? Are Boomers the ones living in their own “little cultural bubbles” now? Because THEY are the dominant group, with the greatest numbers, the most money and voting muscle, and the most cultural experience and influence to force change. So, how can the Boomers, who once protested so effectively and learned so much from their ’60s role models and folk singers, be so impotent or inert or ineffectual in 2007?

  • PTate in FR

    readytoblowagasket: “the Boomers are the most powerful elites in this country…”
    Base-rates. You need to remember base-rates. The Boomers are demographically ALL Americans born between 1946-1964. It is a huge cohort and encompasses many, many different perspectives: A few are elite, most are are not; Some are activists, most are not. People born between 1946 and 1964 are among the Americans living in their little cultural bubbles and deeply suspicious of collective action.
    Not all Boomers protested in the 1960s. In fact, only a tiny minority were involved in anti-war protests. The leaders of those protests were white, male college students–white males were around 43% of the total US population at that time. College educated white males were about 10% of the population. The total number of people who were White, male, of draft-age AND attending college could not have been more than .1% of the population. And of that sliver of the population, not all were involved in protests–John Kerry enlisted, George Bush evaded. That’s still leaves a sufficient number to get media attention, probably perhaps a million. Add in their sweethearts and others, and you have the critical mass for a nation-wide anti-war movement.
    But, if you were to go back and look at the historical record, what you would see is that the anti-war movement evaporated when the draft was ended. But by 1969 the model of non-violent resistence was fragmenting and the anti-war movement was degenerated into bickering. It got mean. It got stoned. It got violent. African Americans got mad when they saw the early gains of the Civil Rights movement co-opted and noticed the number of African Americans shipped off to Vietnam. Sweethearts got pissed that they weren’t getting equal treatment. They started burning bras rather than flags. People got killed. People got appalled. Conservatives saw an opportunity to capture the backlash votes of those who were anti-civil rights and pro-war and revise history.
    Your question is why are the Boomers so impotent in 2007? They have the numbers, the money, the cultural experience….First, I would say, the US has 100 million more people now and most of those were not affected by the 60s. So the particular historical cohort–which was a tiny percentage of people then–has been diluted. Second, many of us who were involved in the anti-war movement saw how powerful collective action can be and how rapidly it can degenerate into violence, and we came away sobered and cynical. Third, the changes wrought by that period have made it almost impossible for the nation to speak with one voice. This is the phenomena documented by Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone.”The American population, the mainstream, has developed remarkable resistance to social change and to leadership by elites.
    I would like to see George Bush impeached and tried for War Crimes. I’d like to see the war in Iraq resolved. But that isn’t going to come about because people are protesting in the streets, 60s style. Right now within their bubbles, Americans are searching for a way to express their anger at the cabal that is running the country, for many different reasons, but thinking about the resurrecting sixties-style street protests is just sentimental. It’s like thinking we can bring back the horse and buggy. We need new ideas. New approaches.
    The kind of analysis that we do on BagnewNotes, actually, makes a contribution–the visual has become so powerful. Pictures cut across bubbles. Anything we can do to deconstruct images helps.

  • readytoblowagasket

    PTate, I am not familiar with your non-financial use of the term “base-rates.” Regardless, my own birthday falls in the last years of the boom, although many Boomers consider me too young to be one of them. With an older sibling born in 1956 and a wide range of friends both older and younger, I have firsthand knowledge of the “many, many different perspectives” within the Baby Boomer “generation.” In fact I represent the phenomenon. I wasn’t asking for a lecture on a history I didn’t know, I was asking you to clarify your biases.
    Just because photographs of Vietnam War protests often showed twenty-something white students on college campuses in the late 1960s doesn’t mean that the *actual statistics* of anti-war sentiment by age, race, or gender support those pictures. In addition, popular opposition to the Vietnam War–even on American college campuses–was not immediate or widespread. It took YEARS for the Vietnam protests to become a viable movement, *far longer* than for the opposition to the Iraq War to qualify as a movement. In the early days of the Vietnam protest movement, demonstrations were quite small:
    “On May 2, [1964] 400 to 1000 students marched through Times Square, New York and another 700 in San Francisco in the first major student demonstration against the war. Smaller numbers also marched in Boston, Seattle, and Madison, Wisconsin.”
    Meanwhile, the marches *before* the invasion of Iraq are considered the largest pre-war protests in history:
    “These protests are said to be the biggest global peace protests before a war actually started . . .”
    Back to Vietnam:
    “There were many polls on public opinion during the war, and they show a consistent pattern by age. Young people were more likely to support the war at the beginning, when it was popular, and more likely to support it at the end, when it was not. The polling organizations used many different questions to tap public opinion during the war, often changing them as events changed. No matter what questions were used, the same pattern of public opinion was found, with the young people more likely to choose the hawkish alternative(s) than older people.”
    Which makes sense because older people had more experience with the ravages of war. From the same article (which includes a chart reflecting poll results by year for pro-Vietnam War sentiment according to the respondent’s age):
    “Educated people were more likely to support the war, not less. There is not as much data on the subject, but draft status did not seem to affect opinions on the war. . . . Women were more dovish than men, and blacks more dovish than whites.”
    If we don’t look at the *facts* in addition to the pictures–then or now–we are not deconstructing anything, we are just promoting our own biases. To give white Boomers most of the credit for “sixties-style” street protests is a case in point. Many of the Vietnam anti-war organizers, leaders, writers, and thinkers were from the generation *before* the Boomers, and many too were active in the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s.
    To argue that the Iraq War protests have no viability or influence (especially compared to Vietnam protests) is basically inaccurate and unsupportable. Especially when you consider there is no draft *now.* To think that the Vietnam War protests ended that war is inaccurate too.

  • PTate in FR

    Base rates is a statistical term: the actual incidence of an event within a population. You had said that “the Boomers are the most powerful elites in this country”, and I was disputing that because obviously not all boomers are powerful and elite.
    Your link has some interesting data on it. I was interested that all along the young were more supportive of the Vietnam than older Americans. I don’t know that Mr. Miller is the definitive word on the topic, and the only data he provides is support by age. He simply asserts that draft status did not seem to affect opinions and that educated people were more likely to support the war. What I would like to see is support by age by education by draft status. Here is an overview of the anti-war demonstrations that I think does a nice job.
    You are right about this, and I was wrong: ” To give white Boomers most of the credit for “sixties-style” street protests is a case in point. Many of the Vietnam anti-war organizers, leaders, writers, and thinkers were from the generation *before* the Boomers, and many too were active in the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s.” The leadership did come from the generation preceding the boomers. Tom Hayden, for example, was born in 1939. John Kerry was born in 1943. I think it would still be fair to say that between 1966 & 1973, white, boomer, college age youth were the largest percentage of those who were demonstratiing against the war.
    What is my bias? My bias is that the history of the Vietnam era and protest against that war have been revised by subsequent retellings of the story, both conservative and liberal. It was a terrible, terrible time to come of age in the US, and I believe American society is still working it through. I find it bizarre that we have been having semantic battles over whether Iraq is another Vietnam, and I think part of the reason we were so incapable, as a nation, of accurately comprehending what Bushco was up to in the run-up to Iraq was this emotional detritus left over from Vietnam. I think part of the reason we have had difficulty consolidating our anger at the Iraqi War is because we are still thinking of protest in terms of Vietnam.
    Conservatives want to minimize the number of Americans who did not support the war, at least by the end: the fact that no pictures are allowed of the dead from Iraq and that GWB keeps insisting that victory is our only option in Iraq are direct consequences of the lessons the conservatives took away–people objected to the images, not to the war itself; we would have won had we been resolute, had the will. The labelling of liberals as pansywaists is another conservative meme with which we have had to do battle.
    But on the liberal side, there has been this sentimental view that many have of that era–sex, drugs and rock n roll. The bonding cameraderie of Protesting the Man! I am appalled that at the anti-war marches I attended before the Iraq war that people were still singing “We shall Overcome” and waving peace signs. I mean, please, come into the 21st century. Please come up with new ideas! And I object to the leftist attitudes of “blame America” and “blame white men” because I think those attitudes are self-defeating. I am sad that American society is so atomized.
    So those are some of my biases. I think Iraq may be finally clearing some of this Vietnam emotional debris away. We may be moving on at last.
    So, what about you, what are your biases? Why do you resist giving any credit to white boomers?

  • mrsJackson

    PTate: “…The Boomers are demographically ALL Americans born between 1946-1964…” Those numbers sound like a marketing tool. In fact, the term “boomer” is a marketing tool, just like Gen X and Gen Y. It makes it easier for them to sell you something. As rtbag said: “…Many of the Vietnam anti-war organizers, leaders, writers, and thinkers were from the generation *before* the Boomers, and many too were active in the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s…” The beatnik/hippy/yippie/protest movement was much more integrated and overlapping than the marketing terms would acknowledge. For instance, Tom Lerher was born in 1928, Paul Krassner 1932, Leonard Cohen and Amiri Baraka 1934, Ken Kesey 1935, Wavy Gravy and Abbie Hoffman 1936, Hunter Thompson 1937, Phil Ochs and John Lennon 1940. Pete Seeger and Timothy Leary were born in 1919, FGS! I’m sure there are more but that’s just off the top of my head. The point being that the ‘Boomers’ were not the protestors but the children of. Some may call Alan Ginsberg (1926) part of the Beatniks, which he was, but he was also very active in the 60s and 70s. Tom Hayden (remember the SDS?) was born in 1939. It’s all part of a continuum and each generation learns from and leans on the previous. These people emerged as the ‘leaders’ because of their experience. Perhaps all those white college-age boomers you’ve been speaking about were the ones that followed later. The ones that swelled the ranks of the marches and protests in the mid-70s.
    As for the deterioration into violence, I don’t think the protestors should get all the blame for that. Even at the time it was evident that the police over-reacted in ‘68 Chicago and later reports confirmed that by calling it a police riot. Also, Kent State in ‘70 was due to the over-reaction of the Natl. Guard. Instances of the left descending into violence seemed to be small isolated groups going off on their own, which is a different dynamic and I’m sure studied by someone. In fact, in “American Violence: A Documentary History,” by Richard Hofstadter, he posits that almost without exception, mass violence in America has been by the right and visited upon the left.
    What the right wing has done is to fracture the social network and isolate people from one another by using hatred for the other and niche campaign issues. They have sensed (or witnessed) that the internet has become a tool for people to organize and rebuild the community of protestors and that is why they want to destroy it by supposed “censorship” of pornography and surveillance of “traitors” (dissidents?) and the abolishment of net neutrality. And we can’t even seem to organize enough to stop that.

  • ummabdulla

    I often people point with pride to the huge antiwar demonstration in London before the Iraq War. But Tony Blair still jumped right in, so what does that say about the effect of that protest?

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