Now the Mainstream Media Notices

My last post was about how the mainstream media was ignoring the Occupy Wall Street campaign. Of course, that was then. Now they cannot shut up about it. Suddenly Occupy Wall Street is important.

All it took was 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, a viral video on Youtube of champagne- drinking, rich folks laughing and snapping photos of the protesters, and the spread of protests into other cities including Washington, D.C., Boston, and even Prague.

Funny. Twenty Tea Partiers gather with some crazy signs and the mainstream media is all over it. But thousands gather to say the system is broken and very little is written about it for the first several weeks. But now that the mainstream media has finally noticed what may end up being the American Autumn, they are noticing it in a very patterned and predictable way. According to many media outlets, the real problem with the protest is it doesn’t have a coherent message.

Over at the BBC, we’re told that

The protesters aren’t unified in their motivations or their demands, but they’re tapping into discontent about inequalities in an America still struggling after one recession and fearful about entering a second.


And at The New York Times, Georgetown history professor Michael Kazin is quoted to insist that

it (is) unclear if the current protests would lead to a lasting movement, which would require the newly unleashed passions to be channeled into institutions and shaped into political goals.

Indeed, the Times not only refuses to hear the protesters’ message, but they’re also being criticized for changing their captions of the arrests, at first pointing out that the police led the protesters to enter the traffic portion of the bridge and then arrested them all to changing the caption for the same photo to “in a tense showdown, police arrested 700 protesters.”

Meanwhile, NPR insists that

The zombie agenda is just one of many issues and philosophies animating these protesters, who’ve eaten and slept in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park for more than two weeks now. If you ask them what exactly they’re protesting against, you get a lot of different answers.

But NPR at least admits that  ”some themes do emerge.” And those themes are fairly clear. As I found out when I went down to Zuccotti Park this past Sunday and spoke with a few of the people camping out.

According to one young woman, who works with a sustainability circus, she feels “disenchanted with the world … with greed, individual and institutional.” She was working on a sign that said “Tired of corporate greed. … Stop buying s___ you don’t need. Change starts here.”

A couple of young women, students from Ithaca College who had come down to camp out with the protesters for a few days, told me that there’s “so much corporate greed at this point that it’s completely out of control. … Our message? Stop being so greedy. Tax the Rich!”

This sentiment was echoed over and over again. Greed is NOT good. It is destroying our economy, the world economy, and the world with global warming. Greed has made most Americans worse off and the few who became much better off must be held accountable to the “99 percent.”

And the protesters were not just talking the talk; they were walking the walk. They’ve organized large tables of food for whoever needs it. They distribute pizza around the campsites. There’s a first-aid station. People take turns cooking, cleaning, and generally keeping a community going based on taking care of one another.

This communalism is startling. This is Wall Street, after all. It’s a tough place. The idea that you could just leave tables of food and candy and drinks out and no one will steal or take more than their share or even push to the front of the line is a rather amazing idea. To institute an alternative economy and means of distribution and ethos right in the belly of the capitalist beast is, if nothing else, quite a piece of street theater.

But it’s more than symbolic. These protesters seem to understand what the mainstream media cannot: that capitalism is broken, that greed is not good, that it’s time for a different economic system to take hold if we have any chance of surviving. That message is not something most of us can actually hear.

In American culture, the idea that capitalism may not be a perfect system, but it is “the best system ever invented” is so pervasive as to be hegemonic. To speak outside of hegemonic ideology is, of course, to be incomprehensible.

“We must end capitalism” comes off as complete gibberish. But that’s what the protesters are saying, even if the media only hears noise.  


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