Imagery has broken out of a mold imposed by the mechanics of the Gutenberg press.
When I became a newspaperman in the 1950s television was in its early adolescence and newspapers still used photographs as tombstones to break up large blocks of gray type. It was considered daring to run a photograph more than three columns wide. Photographs were adjuncts to text. Photographers and artists weren`t trusted to tell a story, just to decorate one.
Gannett, always concerned with packaging, pioneered a breakaway from this mindset, but until recently the most daring journalistic use of imagery remained strongly influenced by the strictures of Gutenberg.
All that has been swept away by the social networks of the digital era. Young people the world over have discovered to their delight and enlightenment that they can dress Muammar Qaddafi in preposterous clothes and paint Hosni Mubarak as the pretentious artifact he was. They have discovered they can poke fun visually at their oppressors, and they`re doing it with hilarity and aplomb.
The muckety-mucks appear in videos and collages as objects of ridicule, and by presenting them in this light young people have created a global theater "better yet, a peer group that pressures their societies for change and points the direction they want this change to take. They`re tired of posturing brutes. They want humor and compassion and decency with their government and its economy. And visual imagery is leading the way. Newspapers are becoming artifacts. Books are having to reinvent themselves.
Television "except among the independent filmmakers "is zombievision, wholly enslaved to its advertisers and their corporate agendas. And this horrid and mighty truth is being exposed in all its danger by young people poking fun at the elites that have presumed to jerk them every which way in the interests of the few.
The patent categorizations of the press, their consensus about received ideas, is crumbling, because we`re seeing each other not as the media filter us but as we express ourselves, as we friend each other on the worldwide web. The consequences will be every bit as far-reaching as those of the Gutenberg press. The old media are not just being overtaken by technological events: their gate-keeping role is being broken, and this development is far more consequential than their belated efforts to redefine their role in a new environment.
When the great metafiction writer Juan Goytisolo described a Spain in which citizens arose one morning to find a strange script "Arabic "written on their walls, he was addressing Western fear of the unknown and, at the same time and ironically, Spain`s historic familiarity with Arabic and the Arabs. But he chose Arabic script for its eerie, if beautiful, exoticism. Now, only a few decades later, the idea is quaint, because we are quite familiar with Arabic script on Facebook and other social networks, and we know that the young people who employ it have a sense of humor, a shared longing for better lives, a shared dislike of posturing and crooked leaders. The Internet in a few short years has overtaken Goytisolo`s futurist vision.
A handful of students at Belgrade University sparked the revolt that two years later brought down the fearsome dictator Slobodan MiloÅ¡eviÄ‡. Young people in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrein and Syria are remaking their societies under the guns of autocrats. They`re using their cellphone cameras, piecing together hilarious video mockeries of their preposterous leaders. Their message is often this: The men before whom we quake are often ludicrous and we need to lighten up.
The mainstream press, which is either servant of a corporate or government elite or both, takes politicians entirely too seriously. They are harmful to culture, bought creatures of elites that seek to bilk the ordinary citizen, and for all its cartoons and satires this sanctioned, authorized press has never really conveyed the underlying asininity of what passes for government.
But now, suddenly, that assininity is in full view all over the web, and that is why the U.S. House of Representatives just passed legislation to put the Internet into the hands of a corporate elite who will censor this boisterous freedom of expression that is roiling the world and threatening cruel regimes, regimes that are the handmaidens of corporate bilkdom.
When I consider the videos and montages posted to my Facebook pages by young North Africans I am startled and delighted by the humor, the cheery blasphemy and the pure pointedness of their imagery. They take stock photos or their own snapshots and they create a commentary that mocks with its daring and targets the usual postured maunderings of the news, op-ed pages and dreary talk shows. This web dialogue turns the usual news to bullshit and forces us to reconsider the sources of our opinions and their reliability.
The picture that emerges on Facebook and elsewhere on the web is not the picture we see in our news. It`s funnier, more cutting, more immediate, more tragic "and it belongs to ordinary people, to eye-witnesses, not to the official spinners and paid blowhards. It invites us to reconsider the nature of news, and we are doing it whether the media like it or not. So they had better learn to like it or learn to like life in the dumpster.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999. Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm