Two Perspectives on the Baltimore Riots

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Brian Holmes, via Nettime:

As I recall, the finest hour of the American collectivity was the civil rights movement back in the ’60s. As I recall, we got a president today who was elected in honor of that movement. As I recall, the finest hour of the American collectivity involved huge riots, cities in flames, national guard on the streets. As I recall, everyone in America is duty bound by law to recall how fine was that hour. As I recall, some bastards who behave exactly like the military on foreign soil just broke an innocent man’s neck because they didn’t like the way he looked. As I recall, that does not exactly fit with our finest ideals.

Who knows where this thing is gonna go? Please remember that the rebellions of Detroit and Newark in ’67, and just about everywhere in ’68, were followed by the most extreme right-wing repression we have ever known in this country. And that was the foundation of neoliberalism around the world. Historical fact if you care to know anything about it.

Everybody, everybody, we all better learn to talk right now. This is serious shit. What’s happening in Baltimore is not an excuse for more control. What’s happening in Baltimore, what’s happening in Ferguson, what’s happening in New York, what’s happening in Oakland, what’s happening in Chicago is the test of a democratic society that has been tested and found wanting.

McKenzie Wark, via Verso Blogs

Riots have their own logic. Both those who celebrate and decry them tend to think of riots as irrational outbursts, which can be channeled back towards order either by offering a few concessions or by sending in more police. There is invariably some moralizing that goes along with all this, none of it terribly helpful for understanding why riots are a constant of modern urban life rather than some inexplicable exception.

There’s a short text that always does the rounds whenever riots occur again. It was written by Guy Debord, legendary co-founder of the Situationist International, and bearing the jargon-heavy title of ‘The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy.’ These days you don’t have to hunt around for the photocopies passed from hand to hand, it can be easily googled. Its subject is the Watts riots of 1965. Its leading provocation, and the reason for its underground popularity, is this: “But who has defended the rioters of Watts in the terms they deserve?

“The Los Angeles revolt was a revolt against the commodity,” Debord said. It was at least partly so. “The flames of Watts consumed consumption.” In the spectacle of consumer society advertises a life in which all that is good appears on television and all that appears on television is good. This constant circulation of images of the consumer lifestyle, which came into its own in the sixties, could but be a cruel reminder for African Americans in particular of the inequities underlying such images.

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2 Responses to Two Perspectives on the Baltimore Riots

  1. dmf says:

    thanks for these, don’t think that riots have their own logics tho, some interesting stuff @
    http://dcentproject.eu/2015/03/essay-collection-designing-democracy/

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