What do Ira Glass and Jean-Marie Le Pen have in common? To follow the argument of Jared Ball’s recent book I Mix What I Like, they both represent a counter-insurgency against colonized populations. The allegedly progressive NPR, writes Ball, is the contemporary equivalent of Radio-Alger, operated by the colonial French government in Algeria. From post-war Algeria to the ghettos of the United States, colonial power requires propaganda in order to function.
There wasn’t much to wax romantic about in the Detroit music scene at that time. The culture industries were undergoing a restructuring for the immaterial age. Vinyl was no longer moving. Local radio and local music venues had gone corporate, squeezing out local music. DJs who wanted local gigs had to play Top 40 playlists in the suburban megaclubs instead of the native styles of electronic music that had given Detroit mythic status around the world. Many had given up on record labels entirely. Everyone looked to the internet as the saving grace for record sales, promotion, networking – for everything, practically. Some of the more successful artists were attempting to license their tracks for video games. Almost everyone had other jobs, often off the books. I wasn’t embedded within this community, as an anthropologist would be. Instead, I made the 90 minute drive to Detroit when I could, and spent the time interviewing artists in their homes or over the phone.
“The ruling class in the United States,” as McKenzie Wark puts it in the recent special issue of Theory and Event on the Occupy movement, “is less and less one that makes things, and more and more one that owns information and collects a rent from it.” Every time you buy a CD or DVD, even every time you stream from YouTube or Netflix, you’re not funding artists. You’re funding the 1% and their personal army of metropolitan police, whose major interest right now seems to consist of gassing students and tearing down barns. What’s a politically informed media junkie to do? Probably what you’re already doing – pirate.
A week ago, mayors across the country, working with shadowy law enforcement organizations, coordinated a crackdown on the occupations in their respective cities. Washington DC’s own occupation was untouched. As cops cleared parks and trashed tents and familiar cities made it into the headlines – Denver, Oakland, Manhattan – DC, yet again overlooked, felt like it hadn’t been asked to the dance. My feelings were compounded when a few days later, on November 17 – a day of action in response to the crackdown, with thousands marching on Wall Street – Occupy DC marched in support of a jobs bill with the SEIU, who that day had endorsed Obama for president. As police beat journalists in New York, DC protestors tweeted photos standing with arms around cops, waving. As 30,000 people took over the Brooklyn Bridge, Occupy DC boasted of barely impeding the flow of rush-hour traffic over the Key Bridge in Georgetown.