Tag Archives: social justice

Danger Brown’s Potato Salad and Social Justice

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/324283889/potato-salad?ref=popular

One thing that really excites me about the world that we live in is the ridiculousness of the internet. The creativity it inspires and makes possible is always one step ahead of what we can currently imagine. There is simply no way that anyone could have imagined that less than one month ago, some dude from Ohio would raise over $40,000 for a project involving only him and increasing amounts of potato salad. Yes, you read that correctly – over forty-thousand actual U.S. Dollars for making potato salad (for the first time). You may be saying to yourself, but hey, I have been making potato salad for years and have never earned even a cent! Or you could be wondering if there is a new potato famine you somehow have not heard about. Or, perhaps, this guy is going to create some innovative method of making potato salad. No, the project is as simple as you know it to be – making potato salad.

It all began with a simply stated goal:

I’m making potato salad.

Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet. 

Twenty-two days later, the Potato Salad Kickstarter project  had attracted nearly five and a half thousand backers and a series of updated goals. The most recent is a “Big Stretch Goal” for those willing to donate $3000 to the project:

My kitchen is too small! I will rent out a party hall and invite the whole internet to the potato salad party (only $10 and above will be allowed in the kitchen)! The internet loves potato salad! Let’s show them that potato salad loves the internet!!

Rather than simply dismissing this as the dumbest fucking thing I have ever heard of, I can’t help but pause for a critical moment. Don’t want to throw the potato-salad out with the Tupperware, now!
Danger Brown is some middle class white guy living in white bread middle America. This positionality gives him access to things like resources, and importantly, a knowledge (or even perhaps mastery) of internet communications and language. I actually found the project page to be hilarious, and has obviously created a sense of community amongst the backers, people who themselves are likely middle class people (I mean, they are willing to donate USD to this clearly satirical project and have the time and capacity to do so), and this is likely because of the comedic dexterity of Danger Brown. The backers essentially egg him on to create more crazy goals and potato-salad themed gifts for different levels of donation. So in this sense, of course, if any body on earth is going to create a kickstarter project for making potato salad and actually gain backers, you bet, its going to be a white and male body, that is probably also American.
The positionality of Danger Brown stands in stark relation to millions of people across the world who will not see that amount of money in a year, a decade, or even their working lives. And, the project is clearly not one of charity – Danger Brown will not be feeding potato salad to the homeless. And, we are living in a world where food scarcity is a real threat, yet where hipster “foodie” culture has developed in tandem with the iPhone Instagram app. “Passion for food” can only ever be a middle-class “hobby”. The Potato Salad Kickstarter Project speaks to the development of “food” pop culture, and the inequalities it highlights. Food is conceptualized as humorous, stylish, and photogenic, not an “essential need” for human life.
So, lets not dismiss Danger Brown’s Potato Salad as the dumbest fucking thing we have ever heard of. Let’s think about what this kind of phenomenon tells us about the state of our world. And, on the other hand, let it tell us something about the power of the internet to accomplish just about anything. As unfair and ridiculous the Potato Salad project is, it shows just how relatively simple it can be to gain support for one’s projects (at least on Kickstarter). It is unlikely that whatever you are thinking of right now is less mundane and ordinary than Danger Brown’s extra-ordinary Potato Salad.
 

 

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Internet Taco: Let’s talk about social media

Attempts to delineate or disentangle the “material” world from the so-called “virtual” one is an exercise in futility. Things that happen in the tangible world become the subjects of interest and debate in virtual social spaces, and vice versa. internet tacoAlthough we cannot draw a clear distinction between where the “material” ends and the “virtual” begins, we can say that the virtual social-media networks we participate in create new ways of creating, disseminating, validating, and gaining information.  For instance, virutal social-media “products” like memes, .gifs, “share” and “like” buttons, and blogs like this one allow us to engage with information and each other in new ways. Of course, social media also exposes one to high levels of disinformation through hoaxes an photoshopped images. But, false information are realities of the material world (and come from the material world too),  so we must forgive the internet and realise that it is not the source of the age-old problem of the manufacturing of “truth”.

What I have enjoyed about this blog is the space it creates for me to reflect on and more deeply engage some of the developments and events that have gone “viral” in social media networks. In doing so, it has become clear to me that there are major events which have more of a life on social media than in the material world. Usually, this is due to the simple the fact that the majority of the world will engage in a “material” event virtually, while only a relatively small minority can fit into one physical space such as a stadium, arena, or court room. To participate in these events virtually is also to participate in the discursive eruptions which accompany them. Discourse is the vehicle of social media communications, be it in the form of images, videos, or typed text. Sometimes, these events are even virtual themselves, and take the form of something that has gone viral through social media networks, like the nefarious Kony 2012 campaign. nomnomnom

This is why I find it hugely worthwhile to engage in social media during such events. There is actually something unique about following twitter during events that have international interest. Local examples include the internationally televised Nelson Mandela memorial at Soweto stadium, and the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing in 2013 which had the world gripped (and distracted from work) by the 140 character messages produced by  journalists tweeting from the courtroom.

Rapidly emerging and transforming discourses also have implications for social justice, in that they can confirm and promote, or subvert and challenge dominant stereotypes, prejudices, judgements, and inequalities. Of course, the existing digital divide mediates who is able to participate in this, but cellphone internet technologies are increasingly filling the void which once existed between those who could afford a PC and internet connection (predominantly those in the “developed” western world) and those who could not (the “developing” global south).

There is also a banality through which hate and violence occur, and forms of media can function in ways that are damaging and helpful. Consider, for instance, the role of the radio in the Rwandan genocide, or the effect of the May 2008 front page image that was printed in many South African newspapers depicting a Mozambican man on fire  (with a police officer looking on smugly in the background) – the day this image appeared in papers, the already simmering levels of hatred towards African nationals boiled over in townships across the country.

Despite the power of social media, I am surprised when people act as though it is irrelevant or not worth a second thought. unimpressedI know quite a few people who refuse to engage with, and entertain, social media at all. Sometimes, they claim that our fixation on social media is making us somehow less “authentic” as humans. This is a futile debate.The (virtual) reality is that the internet is here to stay, so we must take it seriously as a space where meaningful human communication occurs. What we really need to be concerned about is the pending infringements on our internet freedoms, like Angela Merkel’s recent proposal for a “Europeans Only” internet. While this proposal reflects Merkel’s glaring ignorance about how the internet actually works, it is a dangerous idea that would restrict flows of information and create segregated virtual spaces. The US government is also working to create restrictions that would severely censor information on the web. Bizarrely, protecting internet freedom may be an area of common interest between embattled conservatives and progressives.

I am grateful to have the space on this blog to write about things like this. A faster press than the slow turning wheel of academic knowledge production, and able to by-pass the usual time lags between events and their reporting in newspapers, social media allows us to get news out there in real time and discuss how we feel as we are feeling it. The wonders of human creativity are everywhere on the internet, and “social media events” allow us to collectively engage through one another.

typing

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People’s Pride March 2013 – Queering South Africa’s Social Movements

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Wow! The Johannesburg People’s Pride march was amazing.  As I sit down to write this post, I am still sizzling from the energy and blazing sunshine, skin beginning to glow red. Joburg People’s Pride  brings something truly unique, powerful, and beautiful to the fight for social justice. Not only did it feel momentous to be a part of the march itself as it moved through the streets of downtown Johannesburg, but it also gave me a sense of what it can feel like to bring together struggles against racism, heteropatriarchy, and capitalism in real terms, on the ground.

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It was the first ever JHB People’s Pride march, and I feel so privileged to have been a part of it. A queering of the ways in which issues of sexuality, race, gender, landlessness, education, health care, xenophobia, and HIV/AIDS are usually articulated (in isolation from one another), People’s Pride can build bridges of solidarity between these issues. I was given a placard to carry that read, “We demand universal and quality education”.  My favorite was “We demand an erotic justice”. And, in my mind, I was demanding a public culture of sex. A culture where sexual knowledge is accessible and circulated. Joburg People’s Pride contributes to the public elaboration of a social world where less alienated relations can be made possible.

This mode of action speaks back to the de-politicization of gay rights movements, here and elsewhere, which have been hijacked by capitalist consumption and white, middle class interests.

Last year’s Johannesburg Pride march, which has become an indisputably apolitical movement, can be said to have catalyzed the formation of People’s Pride. The main pride organiser’s statement that “we are not political animals” when responding to her and other’s engagement with the deliberately politicized 1 in 9 disruption-intervention (if you have no idea what I am talking about, watch the video), illustrates how pinkwashing and homonationalism have normalized LGBTIAQ movements.

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It was when I read That’s Revolting: Queer strategies for resisting assimilation that I began to realise the ways in which the issues of gay-marraige, gays in the military, and gay adoption have co-opted a movement that had radical and revolutionary origins. A movement which probably felt a lot like the JPP march.

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Rather than pursuing a struggle for erotic justice, public sexual culture, and the dismantling of heteropatriarchy, the mainstream gay rights movement has embarked on a normalizing mission to align itself with heterosexual, white, and middle class values and interests (See The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life). This, of course, has the effect of further alienating queers who are marginalised along additional axes of oppression such as class, race, nationality, and HIV/AIDS status.

The march concluded with a very powerful and respectful honour to those who have lost their lives because of the violence through which heterosexuality and patriarchy are policed in our society.

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Two rows of marchers standing with simple placards showing the smiling faces of people whose lives have brutally ended because of homo- and trans-phobia, intolerance, hate, and violence.

A drummer played a marching rhythm. Faces appeared one by one. People who once had life, like us marchers, at one time. It is important to keep our history with us as we  work towards the building of an equitable future. The silent walk of honour was a powerful way to achieve this, and to actively invoke these lost friends and allies into the present.

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The phrase “They cannot kill us all” was painted in black on a white sheet, greeting the marchers as we arrived at the final turn of the procession.

Ending with a gathering at Constitution HIll, the march concluded with the high energy with which it began. Thank you Joburg People’s Pride for this day and for creating a space where we can create something new. A space for creativity, and a space where we can find new paths towards justice together.

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