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Sunday, November 20, 2011

I record, therefore we are

Re this astounding photo of an unmolested cop methodically macing a row of peaceful seated demonstrators at UC Davis:  I was struck by a sideshow that in effect gave us the show. It's this: Almost every single sideline spectator captured in the photograph is photographing it. This phenomenon first struck me while watching videos of the post-election uprising in Iran in June 2009: every confrontation between demonstrators and Basij was parenthesized by a half-moon of demonstrators holding up cell phones or digital cameras.  Perhaps a year earlier, I was at a wedding where half the audience rose to photograph the "I do."

Just before the Green Revolution broke, in May 2009, reporter Simona Weinglass published in TNR a fascinating account of rival tallies of the civilian death toll in Israel's assault on Gaza in early 2009. In one corner was Khalil Shaheen of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR); in the other, retired Israeli intelligence officer Jonathan Dahoah Halevi. I was struck at the time by Weinglass's endnote:

Both agree, however, that the war does not end when the fighting stops. "In every war there are two components," says Halevi. "The first is the battle itself, defeating the other side, and the second is presenting the facts of what happened." If a country is not vigilant, he warns, "The other side will rewrite your history."
That remains true, of course, and in some sense has always been true, and ever-increasingly so in the last two centuries.  What's new is that now the perception war occurs simultaneously with the physical struggle. There's almost parity.  You have a truncheon or gun, I have a camera. You inflict pain, I inflict infamy.  Martyrdom is instantaneous and viral.  Bearing witness is the keystone of political action. It can also affect the action directly. You shoot, I tweet (or IM or phone) for more demonstrators:
salma said
If you are coming down to bring food, water and blankets. People have beem fighting for 8 hours now! 20 hours ago 

And in spheres including but extending far beyond the political, to experience is to record.

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