A blockbuster electronic arts event-slash-symposium called Revolution is unrealistic. Still, it is anything but unexpected. Over the last few years several trends have developed which – if followed through consequently – make the appropriation of such a dramatic word for radical change more understandable.
Firstly, the momentum associated with the social uprising of the late 60s has been transformed into social romanticism and introduced deep into popular culture. The French philosophical and political heritage of 68 has been essential to the kool theories of the 1980s and continues to be fashionable – alongside D&G – in the 1990s. After the killer cynicism of the last decade, revolution is cool again. 30 years on in European history, throwing a brick into the social hierarchy has been aestheticised. Throwing the molotov theme party today does little more than deliver hobby politics into the social life of Middle Youth.
Political action outside the parliamentary system turned sour in the 70s with an increase in terrorist actions. Radical activism, fundamentalist politics and direct democracy not only split the left outside of the parliamentary system, but also created cracks running deep through elected parties, as was the case with the German Green party in the late 80s and early 90s. Today’s romantic attitudes towards the student and workers’ riots mean nothing when detached from their political motivations, especially when they are also divorced from their subsequent history. Investigating the assimilation of anti-establishment iconography within the new marketing strategies might be helpful in understanding some of the recent cultural shifts in the New Britain – but it certainly stalls enthusiasm for revolution98 …
Secondly, the ‘Digital Revolution’ has been announced. The fashionable transfer of notions of radical change from the sphere of the social sciences to those of technological advancement makes one question the reliability of the concept of revolution as such. As for revolutionary change within societies: attempts to define a universal check-list for ‘The Revolution’ have failed. Common sense now tells us that no attempt to describe change in unique and idiosyncratic systems is capable of creating an “eight out of ten” yardstick for qualif ying transformation as revolution.
Where does that then leave the ‘Digital Revolution’? With no grounds for objective definitions, radical change might best be defined by its subjects. Following the parameters of intersubjectivity, revolution might adequately be described as a dramatic change which forces the individuals within a system to renegotiate their roles. But, from that point of view, it obviously becomes ridiculous to pin down ‘a revolution’ to an empty technological framework. In the case of the ‘Digital Revolution’, then, it is clear that there has not been a revolution, simply because nobody attended.
Finally, the battlegrounds of subversion have allegedly re-located to the digital (and analogue) realms of networked technologies. During the 80s ‘hacking’ came to be regarded as a possible cause of atomic war – sparked by some 14 year old playing with a public telephone and a hair clip. Our public space has been extended into networked media and some nurture the idea that the streets have become altogether obsolete as a battle ground for political struggle. Today, some tactical media operations are prime targets for CIA and FBI monitoring activities – seemingly proving the economic threat of such attacks. But, put into perspective it becomes questionable whether their terrorist action retains any real revolutionary potential.
Some members of the old-time hacker/anarcho scene are currently pulling out of the internet — dismissing its currency as a tool for radical change. It has been argued that increasing commercialisation has blunted the tool. Relevant points of intervention have been washed away by millions upon millions of America Online internet subscribers. Also, the increasing finesse of networked surveillance in the business sector and the increase of customer and lifestyle databases more than outweighs the dangers of terrorism. So, how does the establishment feel about the threat posed by the internet guerrillas? In the form of the Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, it writes that “over time, public sector regulation of content will become increasingly difficult; technology will erode the State’s capacity to intervene” (Fourth Report on Content Regulation in the Internet). Even though this statement does not directly concern itself with subversion from within the networks, it is quite telling that the government’s worries are directed towards the future, whereas the small online community of today appears negligible. Hard-core net activists have moved their battle grounds since the mythological mid 1990s, yet their natural opponent — the state — feels that the real danger is about to come, possibly in 2005 to 2010. It seems more like the eye of the storm than a revolution.
Where does that leave 98? This is certainly not the time, nor the event, for biased propaganda and innovative market strategies. Drop the euphoria and let’s be realistic…
With thanks to Richard Barbrook, Josephine Berry, Martin Conrads and Pauline van Mourik Broekman.
- Micz Flor, Revolting Project Manager