Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
August 26, 2008

The Second Time as Farce

Protester Flips The Bird

DNC Guest Post by Robert Hariman, No Caption Needed

Shots of the “free speech zone” set up in a distant back lot of the convention may evoke some sympathy for those protesting at the DNC, but this photo reveals what really is at stake: not much.  For all the supposed defiance, you can see that the rally is all about playing revolutionary and having fun.  Flipping the bird was a part of the 60s protests, and so you see it reprised here. But we are a long way from the anger–the rage–and risks taken then.  Also a long way from something else: the convention of the party that actually controls the White House.

(image: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post, Aug 24, 2008)

  • Richard

    I don’t think that analysis is fair.
    There are many people who feel ignored by the democratic party. I am one of them. Obama promises “change” and always talks of how many small contributors he has.
    But truly populist, progressive politics are far from the democrats. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that many of the protesters are concerned with corporate influence in the party. Why vote for a democrat when they’re only going to support the Telecom industry and spy on us (Obama and FISA)? Why vote for a democrat when they’re going to black mail us and side with credit card companies on bankruptcy “reform” (Biden)?
    Don’t forget that democrats are not exactly the most progressive group out there. Who are the protesters above and many others supposed to vote for? Third parties are so marginalized it’s a shame that all they count for is a protest vote these days.
    I, for one, applaud them for protesting regardless of the ludicrous “free speech zone” (what the hell happened to flat out FREE SPEECH?).
    Oh and just because they haven’t given up on their dreams and dress like 9-to-5 soulless zombies doesn’t mean they’re “playing revolutionary.”

  • MJ

    So many want to do something but have no idea what to do.. I see misguided youth

  • bystander

    These kids are going to have to do it differently than those of us did in ‘68, and the years following. I’ve been kind of fascinated by watching them figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what options are available to them. We sure didn’t have the internet in ‘68. Imagine if we had? Or, would it, instead, look like it does now? Hard to say. Yeah; there are probably some “playing revolutionary.” But, I know of others trying to find other inroads for influence. I wish them all well.

  • MJ

    Pretty obvious from all the other pictures here of the ‘freedom cages’ that protests are pretty much neutralized and have little effect. The first I remember hearing anything about ‘free speech zones’ are with our current president.
    Like what Noam Chomsky says, we’re made to be atomized and feel like we cant do anything about what goes on with our government.
    These guys may be doing it wrong but at least they’re doing something..

  • Hariman

    Bystander makes a great point: we should wish them all well. I was trying to be provocative but not to tell anyone to go home. This is a question of tactics, not of character. And Richard, even though I think this is an incredibly important election, I agree that there will always be need of a more progressive critique, including the anarchist alternative. That said, I think that a street demonstration for the cameras is a case study in being way out of date and ineffective. Ironically, those in the streets this week are locked safely away within an all-too-familiar script. Everyone knows their roles, the cops not least among them, and it’s all for show.
    There are many people who are politically engaged and deep into new media, social networking, you name it, and often tying that into grassroots organizing or alternative community development; some of them are in the Obama campaign and some want to stay outside, but they all are moving the culture forward. A lot has changed since the 60s, but old dramas die hard, not least when they can be evoked in a single photograph.
    If McCain wins, everyone may have to take to the streets. Until then, I’d like people to consider that the most important free speech zone is in the convention hall, and in the neighborhood, the coffee shop, the office, wherever people can talk about what is at stake this November.

  • Cactus

    LSS: First, in the sixties there were student protests in other countries before they were here; France, Germany, Japan. There seemed to be a consensus of what to do and how. Second, there were leaders; Mario Savio at Berkeley in the FSM, Tom Hayden for the SDS, etc. Third, there was a catalyst, a spark, a rallying point of outrage. UCB president Kerr wouldn’t allow black Muslim speakers, but allowed others and the students saw that as unfair, which led to the sit-ins. As sit-ins spread around campuses, they also accelerated. By ‘68 frustrations were more raw, leaders were older and perhaps more desperate, and drugs were everywhere. Interestingly, the park in Chicago was not all that close to the convention, either.
    What’s happening today is haphazard and unorganized. I see that even in the democratic emails I get from the locals. A rally to stop the war, also includes Israeli/Palestine issues, impeachment speakers, veterans issues, global warming and the whole panoply of progressive causes. I’m surprised they don’t also throw in organic farming.
    So I’m not surprised this photo looks like they are disorganized. They are. I feel sorry for them because they look like they missed out on something. What they have to realize is that they must find their own way.

  • stevelaudig

    I miss Buckley v. Vidal, Rounds I and II. There’s no current equivalent.

  • jonst

    Leaving aside your other points, and I believe them best left aside, linking giving someone, or something, the finger during a protest with protests in the 60s is absolutely ludicrous. The ’salute’, for better or worse, and whatever you may or may not think of it, has been with protesters long before, during, and long since, the 60s. It is well nigh timeless.

  • tps12

    [T]his photo reveals what really is at stake: not much. For all the supposed defiance, you can see that the rally is all about playing revolutionary and having fun.

    More accurately, this photo reveals what the Denver Post believes, or wants to portray, is at stake. Anyone who has ever participated in any sort of public demonstration has had the experience of opening the next day’s paper and wondering if the reporters attended the same event.
    The corporate media is invested in the “two sides” narrative, so they will always seek to marginalize any person or event that might suggest a more complex reality. The chances that this photo is anywhere close to representative of the actual protests at the DNC, let alone conveying what they might be “all about,” are close to none.

  • mj

    Cactus: this was all before my time, but Ive watched the Mario Savio speech.. wow. Why do we not hear anybody speak with that kind of passion these days?
    But yea, I think you’re on point. I saw the loony “recreate ‘68″ folks in the news. They were trying to levitate a building with their minds dressed up as wizards…..
    I think part of the point of the ‘free speech zone’ is to lump everybody into one, further deluting any specific message.

  • yesterday

    this doesn’t sound like “fun” to me:
    -Iraq Vets Against War briefly blockade Denver traffic
    -Protest Arrest of Code Pink Activist at DNC
    Video shows a Code Pink volunteer being knocked to the ground by an
    -Cops to investigate brutal arrest
    -Arrests climb to 130; Democratic delegate criticizes cops

Refresh Archives

Random Notes