The International Writers Magazine: Making a Splash
Social Networking in Brooklyn
In Philippe De Broca’s allegorical 1966 antiwar film comedy “The King of Hearts”, set in World War I France, an advance detail from a Scottish battalion, led by a young lieutenant played by Alan Bates, is sent into a town that has been evacuated by the Germans to find and disable a gigantic bomb before the Scots can enter the town.
Bates discovers that the town’s residents have all fled, with the exception of some very peculiar characters dressed in bizarre costumes who have taken over and who are engaged in whimsical, nonsensical behavior. It eventually unfolds that in their haste to flee, the townsfolk have left the inmates of the local asylum to their own devices, and those have found their way out of the hospital and taken control of the town.
Last weekend I felt as though I had witnessed an updated version of that story when a few hundred youngish people dressed in black tie and evening gowns had descended on Brighton Beach and proceeded to jump in the ocean, I kid you not! The regular beachgoers, thoroughly astonished at the sight of a large crowd of people in formal dress frolicking in the waves with Frisbees, boogie boards and snorkel masks, finally got over the initial shock long enough to take out their cameras and iPhones to shoot pictures.
This was Brooklyn, after all, which is no stranger to peculiar activity, but the sight of women in ball dresses floating in the ocean (still alive) was very disconcerting. When I finally got up the composure to ask a couple of them what was going on, all I got in response were snarky, sarcastic remarks. Why would they want to mitigate all the meticulous preparation that had surely gone into this shocking theatrical gag by calmly explaining the reasoning behind it? Indeed, what rationality could it possibly represent?
Eventually, by process of deduction, I determined that I was witnessing was one of those social networking gags where a group of extended internet “friends” decides to descend on a predetermined location with the express purpose of blowing minds for the fun of it.
Well, in this case they certainly succeeded. Naturally, though, in my case it set the wheels turning in my mind. When I was a young person we used to engage in more or less spontaneous Be-Ins, as we called them. The method of communication was pamphlets or word-of-mouth, with the purpose being to get stoned, listen to live bands, get naked and espouse radical politics. Unfortunately, the lead-time required to set up a thing like that was also sufficient to attract the attention of the security apparatus, and the cops were often present to break up our parties.
It all goes back to Professor McLuhan’s dictum of the medium being the message. Unlike the nineteen sixties, the kids today not have any overt political agenda, particularly since Obama went over to the world of adult politics, thereby exceeding their attention span.
The open question being, now that they have got all these devices at hand, Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, etc., what are going to do with them? The answer: let’s all descend on Times Square in our underwear and stage a pillow fight. Basically, to my mind, it’s an updated version of college kids swallowing goldfish in the nineteen-twenties.
Well, what of it, right? But the basic difference being that there seems to be an underlying, subliminal suggestion of power that even the participants may not be aware of. To wit: if we can mobilize a large gang of people to jump in the ocean with our clothes on, what might we be capable of in order to advance our interests, going forward?
In countries like Iran and Thailand the authorities are already finding it very problematical to contain spontaneous demonstrations of a political nature that are being fueled by social media. The vigor with which the Chinese authorities scrutinize and contain digital communications demonstrates the high level of priority they place on monitoring communications in that unstable country, where fully one-third of the national territory consists of minority homelands subjugated by the dominant Han ethnic group by means of military occupation.
As I stated, young Americans do not have any politics, but they are now beginning to learn the extent of their latent power by playing games, the same as children with building blocks or other primitive toys. As long as they feel their interests are being served, they will continue to occupy themselves with similar mindless divertissements.
Nevertheless, if these technologies had been available ten years ago, when the Republicans staged a coup d’état spearheaded by the Republican Supreme Court majority, which nullified the majority Democratic vote in Florida, setting the stage for eight years of a reactionary Bush presidency, with all the tragedy and miseries that have resulted from that, might not these kids have used the same resources they are now using to organize beach parties to fill up the National Mall with a million screaming protestors and shake the political establishment down to its very foundations?
©Dean Borok September 2010