Part of Proyecto Civico: Diálogos y Interrogantes

Is it possible to create a discursive democracy, in the manner theorized by Jürgen Habermas, under the state of exception that Giorgio Agamben claims is the contemporary form of governance? Our project, emergencia / agencia emergente aims to investigate this question by focusing on the role of the mass media, specifically television, in the state of exception.

For decades, the goal of projects such as Paper Tiger Television, Indymedia and Bulbo TV has been to realize the democratic promise of mass media by allowing disenfranchised groups to have access to the airwaves. Bulbo TV’s mission is “busca propiciar la comunicación o enlace entre grupos sociales/culturales distanciados por sus intereses o modos de vivir, mediante un conocimiento más profundo de sus realidades,” not specifically making claims at democratization such as PTTV, but similarly targeting various social groups and attempting to create better understanding between them.

For Proyecto Civico: Diálogos y Interrogantes, our project emergencia / agencia emergente will focus on the transmission of messages, as a most basic form of communication, as a means of facilitating engagement between various social groupings and the mass media, through the Univision television channel which is broadcast both in San Diego and Tijuana. We will take messages which have been discarded by the network, as well as messages solicited from various social groupings and broadcast them in a short segment on a news show.

Recently, under Felipe Calderon, the mass media in Mexico has undergone unprecedented levels of privatization. For decades, the mass media was seen as a public service, essential to democracy, and was built with the funding of the Mexican government. In recent years, all of this taxpayer funded infrastructure has been sold off to private corporations. Similarly, with advances in digital convergence of media, as video and radio move into online digital formats, one can see that media which was previously seen as a public asset is being moved into completely privatized arenas such as the internet that only some members of the population have access to. The loop of public-private-public can be seen as closing in the recent appearance of numerous Mexican government officials in telenovelas as a means of circumventing the laws restricting their ability to purchase airtime.

Yet, while the mass media grows increasingly privatized, it still seems to support the state of exception whereby the population is disenfranchised and alienated from the political process, steadily eroding any sense of citizenship or social responsibility. Yet the situation is more complicated than simply a mass media in service of pure totalitarianism. In her 2004 book, Network Culture: Politics for the Information Age, Tiziana Terranova looks at the politics of information theory, communication and noise. In it she states:

“the public sphere of the welfare state and mass democracy is described by Habermas in terms that are markedly different from those of the bourgeois public sphere… The current public sphere is not a sphere of mediation between state and civil society, but the site of a permanent conflict… Communication is not a space of reason that mediates between the state and society, but is now a site of direct struggle between the state and different organizations representing theprivate interests of organized groups of individuals.”

emergencia / agencia emergente can be seen as an entry into this network of conflict, a modulation of the flows of messages, not with the goal of creating communication or understanding between groups, but simply to allow the messages to find a broader audience, opening the possibility that they might find their intended recipient. Yet the messages may have a more poetic message, more textural than content focused. These messages will be welcome as well, as our gesture simply serves to open up a more polyvocal space through television. While we do not seek to create pure communication, we do seek to engage the passions of those involved by offering them a mass media platform for their voices, and similarly to impact the viewer on an affective level, in a way demonstrating the non-transparency of communication.

We plan to solicit various groups for short messages they want to have broadcast, and then encode as many as possible into a short 20 second segment that we have negotiated with Univision. We have engaged with a group of homeless youth, some of whom are undocumented, who are sexually exploited, who are queer, or who do not fit any of these categories, but these youth must all remain anonymous for the purposes of the broadcast. In this way, we hope to offer these youth a space of reflection on what they might want to communicate through the mass media.

Another segment will include messages left for the television station on their voicemail, but which they chose not to broadcast. Employees there tell us that they receive messages such as lost dog information nearly everyday, and they discard these. Here one sees just one example of how the mass media can maintain the state of exception, by choosing who’s emergency is worthy of broadcast, and who’s is worthy of broadcast a hundred times a day. By broadcasting these messages, we open the question of the mass media as a public service and who they should be serving.

For the Habermasian space of discursive democracy to exist, there needs to be a space of pure communication. The mass media, much like the system of art museums, always already precludes such a space of pure communication, because such a space would have to exist without privilege, hierarchy, with equal speaking partners. In the mass media, just as in the system of the museum, there is always a gatekeeper, be it a director or curator, who not only chooses what messages are to be included in the communication, but who sets the very terms, questions and focus of the dialog from the outset. Given the years of work that are required to become a television network producer or a museum curator, there is no pure communication here, because the participants are not equals, and are always subject to pleasing the hierarchy.

As such, our project critiques this idea of discursive democracy by providing a service to the groups we engage, without attempting to reproduce the rhetoric of democracy that only reproduces the state of exception. In his book Protocol, published in 2004, Alexander Galloway examines the politics of information infrastructure, asking “how control exists after decentralization” and proposing protocol as the answer. He proposes that the way control societies operate is through a decentralized  “protocol [which] not only installs control into a terrain that on its surface appears actively to resist it, but in fact goes further to create the most highly controlled mass media hitherto known.” (emphasis in original) Here one can understand that not only does the mass media serve to maintain the lack of democracy, it does so by presenting itself as a constituent part of democracy.

As we are concerning ourselves with messages, missives or letters which have been discarded or rejected, it seems appropriate to visit the “Seminar on The Purloined Letter” of Jacques Lacan, which deals with the question of the possibility of communication that is at the basis for Habermas’ discursive democracy. Lacan also found television to be an interesting site of intervention, as some of his seminars were broadcast there. In the seminar, Lacan claims that “a letter always arrives at its destination.” If this were true, it would seem that our task for our project, of broadcasting discarded messages, would be unnecessary. How is one to understand this concept? In the same seminar, just before, Lacan says that “the sender… receives from the receiver his own message in an inverted form.” If this is so, if one only hears the inverse of what one says, perhaps communication is not possible. Perhaps the public at the root of the notion of the public sphere doesn’t exist, but in its place can be found a network of immeasurable complexity, such that one can only add more messages to send off into space, not to know if they will be received.

In the place of discursive processes leading to a liberatory democratic situation, we offer an emergent agency, based on the multiplication of pathways, codes, messages, identifications and groupings.  Guattari claims in Chaosmosis that the mass media is a technology of subjectivation. He offers a strategy of using complex interactions to offer new possibilities, saying,

“the important thing here is not only the confrontation with a new material of expression, but the constitution of complexes of subjectivation: multiple exchanges between individual-group- machine… Grafts of transference operate in this way, not issuing from ready-made dimensions of subjectivity crystallized into structural complexes, but from a creation which itself indicates a kind of aesthetic paradigm… an ethico-aesthetic engagement”.

As such, we propose that the value of dialogic processes of engagement with communications media do not arise from working towards a common reasonable agreement, but from the exercise of expressive and creative faculties and the fashioning of new collective subjectivities. Our project will serve as a kind of “Emergency Broadcast System”, interrupting the normal flow of the broadcast to introduce these discarded messages. The interrupting of the patterns of flow can be important, as Guattari states “these complexes actually offer people diverse possibilities for recomposing their existential corporeality, to get out of their repetitive impasses and, in a certain way, to resingularise themselves.” Perhaps instead of working out agreements over differences among already constituted groups, poetic subversive acts like ours can offer paths towards new groupings and new ways of reimagining social engagement.