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October 18, 2011

Demonizing OWS: Beware “the Anger Meme”

I asked (the Washington) Post Managing Editor … if she could shed light on the thinking behind using the tackle photo for the paper’s front page Saturday. She responded that the photo was “the most original and the most newsy” of the options that day.

– from Occupy Wall Street’s struggle for nonviolence (Justin Elliot/Salon)

Aggression is different from anger. Anger is an emotion; aggression is a behavior. There are better ways to deal with anger than behaving aggressively. Aggressive talk, gestures or behaviors belong to the old way of being. Once we tune in to a higher level of consciousness, aggression is as unnecessary as is the hand-held plow in modern day agriculture.

– Gwen Randall-Young, Growing Into Soul

Salon’s Justin Elliott has already done the heavy lifting in terms of fleshing out the context surrounding Saturday’s Washington Post front page photo.

According to Justin’s research, we don’t really know if the protester actually tackled the police officer, nor does the photographer (in spite of the caption crediting him with a tackle). Given the tension in Zuccotti Park last Friday night, with the city and the NYPD threatening to clear the place out the next morning, the brief physical skirmishes that were clearly documented that evening — see the video Elliott also posted — seemed to have primarily been instigated by the police.

What’s so significant about this photo, however (accentuated by the innocence of the Managing Editor), is how it plants the seeds of demonization. Although the OWS movement has been overwhelming peaceful and non-violent so far, even in the face of provocation, my concern is seeing an “anger meme” creep into the reporting.

Besides the selection and labeling of this photo, Justin is astute in also noting the proximity of the adjacent “Wall Street angst” headline. If you read the completely separate article — about “the public’s frustration and anger” toward Wall Street — the juxtaposition with the photo serves, just as much as the photo and caption, to suggest some kind of violent underbelly to OWS. And then, raising the possibility of a theme here, yesterday’s NYT pushed the same thesis, the title of their front-page article, “Countless Grievances, One Thread: We’re Angry.” In this case, the accompanying photo-collage offered peaceful demonstrators — their signs more determined than angry) as evidence, somehow, of a bottled rage. And then, does The Times really feel that anger is the one thread that runs through this movement?

If anything, the volume of imagery so far, opposed to aggression or hostility, speaks loudly in favor of poise and deliberation and almost cringingly-peaceful resistance. I should add, putting my shrink hat on for a moment, that there is a serious deficit in the commons when it comes to the understanding of anger. As stated in the Randall-Young quote above, it might be rare to find agression without anger, but anger, as an emotion, can be as contained, mediated and constructively motivating as it can be the ignition for a swing. But then, when it comes to selling stories, we know there are two sure-fire emotions that will garner eyeballs: one is greed and the other is fear. And in an atmosphere like this, all you need is 1% of one and a few headlines and pictures questioning the temperature of the other 99%, and you’ve got a two-fer.

See Bag’s complete OWS coverage here.

(photo: Andrew Burton/AP WAPO caption: A man affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street protests tackles a police officer during a march in New York. Police arrested 15 people during demonstrations Friday, but the movement gained a victory after a plan to clear people from a Manhattan park was halted.)

  • Jonst

    It will be interesting to see if the powers that be try and wait out the OWS people, and let old man winter handle them (so they hope).  Or go for the photo opt police confrontation that reenforces the narrative, ‘hey, these types are violent’.

    My guess is,  in about 15 days….20 at the most, we gonna start seeing the Paradise Lost meme begin to be employed.   The ‘yeah, in the early days, the good ole days’ we really had DEDICATED people here…it felt like a family! Now, we just got wanna be’s comin to party and get laid, sell trinkets and shit” and bullshit like that.  However much I loath it….it is something to behold, watching the two political parties, and their lackeys, fight back against any meaningful progressive movement.

  • glenn

    My understanding is this photo was taken during an incident where the police punched another man in the face without provocation – or maybe the provocation was that the man “gave a look” at the police.

  • Erthsister

    It looks like the protester is falling on the police officer, but whether on purpose or by accident, I can’t tell. The angle makes it harder to see what is really going on. Maybe it’s the protester’s facial expression that confuses me – it doesn’t look angry or aggressive. 

    • Nick

      And his grabbing for the officer’s gun was by accident too, right?

  • Ralph

    Isn’t that the same guy that was targetted by a policeman’s fist in the photo posted a few days ago by the Rude Pundit?

    • Nick

      No, different person. 

  • Dave McLane

    As for agression without anger, the Godfather series was awash with it: “Just doing business.” That’s movie, but isn’t hunting animals for food killing animals because they’re annoying agression without anger or something close to it.

  • Stan B.

    “They will come for you and drag you into the streets
    and kill you…they’re Marxist radicals…these guys are worse than
    Robespierre from the French Revolution…they’ll kill everybody.”

  • Nina

    The Weekly Standard has been fascinating.

    Last week’s cover was priceless.  They featured a girl as a ghoul from the zombie march.

    October 17 2011  Vol 17,  No 5

  • Anonymous

    I agree that it would be lethal to the movement if OWS came to be seen as violent and dangerous. Most people in this country reject all violent movements, whether their cause is just or not. Union busting? Illegal wars? Jim Crow? The genocide of our indigenous people? Slave revolts? No violence, no way, no how. A successful social movement in America cannot be violent because we are a Civilized People.

    This is not to say that there isn’t quite a lot of simmering (justified) anger out here towards those who are seen as the oppressors: Wall Street and the 1%, corporations, Congress, our lazy-biased-incompetent press. And on the conservative side there’s a list of oppressors as well, and a choppy white-capped lake of resentment and self-pity. So far, on the grand scale, the great bulk of violence has come from the extremist right fringe. What will become of us if the extremist left fringe begins to return fire?

    • Jonst

      “No violence, no way, no how” cept for the our Founding Fathers. 

      Look TC, and I suspect I’m not tellin ya anything you don’t already know, but if the powers that be don’t allow for peaceful change….they will get violent change.  Unless things get a hell of lot better. This is Chris Hedges’ argument, the Ruling Class has co-opted and neutered the traditional liberal wing of the body politic. Nothing between the tender mercies of the Ruling Class and the rest of us. I’m afraid for my nation….because no form of resistance is off the table at a certain point.   But we all lose, I suspect, if that happens. But it WILL happen I believe, if one pushes people too far.

  • Anonymous

    Some FYI, this pic is taken in the scrum after Deputy Inspector Johnny Cardona sucker punched Felix Pitre-Rivera.  That is Cardona on the right in this pic you have here.  I read it somewhere, don’t have the link, but Pitre-Rivera said the “tackler” came in to separate the cops from him.

  • Dave McLane

    I agree, in about 15 days….20 at the most, we gonna start seeing the Paradise Lost meme begin but perhaps not as it’s quite reasonable to stay out in places like NY if you have the right camping gear.

    I grew up on Long Island where “cold” mean one thing but only “cool” compared to other places I’ve lived such as Sioux City, Iowa, where I worked outside as -20F. The most difficult but beautiful time was spending weeks at above 8,000 feet in the Trinity Alps in northern California. The first one or two days I froze but then my internal heating system kicked in and I was quite comfortable.

    We shall see what happens in NY ….

  • David Forrest

    If he’s tackling, he’s tackling wrong.  It is more effective to go low rather than to go over the top of someone who is low.

    • piratepat

      ok. .

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  • Anonymous

    “…we all lose…if that happens…”


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