Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does Michael Jackson's Death Usurping Coverage Of Iranian Protests Show Our True Values?

Neal Jansons who according to his friendfeed profile is a Writer, Web Developer, Geek, New Media Consultant and blogs at asked this question on his friendfeed stream recently: While Iranians suffer systematic oppression, the internet becomes obsessed with the death of a pop icon. Talk about showing your true values.

Many people agreed with his assessment or were sympathetic.

For example one commenter wrote: The news cycle is totally idiotic. There's absolutely no sense of any journalistic prioritization.

I didn’t think that was true. I think there is a priority and it is right in line with what we as Americans would want to see and read about. My comment to Neal's post is below:

I'm sympathetic to your POV on this, Neal but I'd argue that Iran's systematic oppression is not news—it is, in fact, old news to say the state of Iran mistreats its citizens. The protests against the election are the news. Michael Jackson was not much in the news before he died (I didn't even know he was planning a major tour in a month!) but his death is very big news considering his past and the circumstances. These items have a life cycle in the mainstream media and on the minds of Americans (I'm going on the assumption that you are referring to US news not international). Michael Jackson was a uniquely American icon with a uniquely American story. He influenced popular culture in the US for decades.

His death, tragic, as it was, and his life, twisted, sad and unfortunate as it may have been, doesn't belie the point that he had a tremendous role in American life for millions and millions of people for a very, very long time. I'd argue (as other have) that Iran is getting a disportionate amount of media (and social media) attention while similar and even more tragic abuses are occurring all over the world at the same time. It is human nature and the nature of the news cycle that tragic events closer to home (no matter how unbalanced you may think they are) claim more attention to people than events halfway across the world. And as we all know very well, celebrity gossip and news is a huge distraction for us. The lives and deaths of people we see on television, on the big screen and hear on the radio are fascinating to most of the population because we either resent them and glory in their misfortunes or envy their fame and fortune and live vicariously through their every moment.

The actions of the people protesting in Iran are sympathetic, inspiring and important but they are not the cult of personality distraction that Americans (and probably not limited to us but the entire world) love to hear about. Michael Jackson was a true cult of personality (he appointed himself the “King of Pop”) and some of us of a certain generation grew up listening to his music and following the twists and turns his life took over the years. His death became more than the unfortunate end of one man, just as Neda came to symbolize the entire Iranian struggle and epitomize the tragedy of a young, liberalized populace as many others were also dying on the streets.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Two Discussions I Had Recently About Iran On And About Social Media

Facebook Discussions About Iran

I’ve been discussing Iran and Neda on Facebook with some people who are obviously hardliners about this current Iranian crisis. A person even called Neda a “media darling saying, “The fact is she became a media darling bc so many people want mahmoud out, they will rally around any of his enemies.” He also said that no one knows anything about her – which I pointed out was not true and was very easy to find out.

I posted that, in fact, there’s been a lot of investigation into Neda's life since her death.

“I'd say she's become more of a martyr for the cause than a media darling since she's dead and was randomly shot on the street, when it turns out, she wasn't even protesting.

“She was a young, educated woman from Iran who runs atypical to most people's perception of the average, fanatical, anti-semetic, "death-to"America" shouting, nut ball Iranian that is Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah. Whether she was protesting or not is actually irrelevant and whether she is being used as a symbol for the opposition is also irrelevant.

“What matters is the people she represents: young, educated, Iranians with hopes and dreams like everyone else who also want at the minimum a voice in their government. People who never occurred to exist in the minds of I'd say 90% of Americans until these protests.”

Twitter And The Green Tinted Avatars

On Ari Herzog’s blog he wrote a post, “Why Twitter Goes Green and Why You Should Too” which inspired a very lively discussion about the tinting of people's avatars in support of the Iranian protesters. I commented in reply to @waynejohn who questioned the motivation and effectiveness of people tinting their avatar green on Twitter in support of Iranian protesters.

In his comment he wrote that he does hope “that they get what they want. In the meantime, I’m keeping my nose well out of that mess. Not my problem, nor any of the people that hopped on the next do-gooder bandwagon.”

He also wrote:

“You’re latching onto a cause that will ultimately mean absolutely nothing to you only because everyone else is doing it.

“How is this more important than our population growth? Or cutting down the Amazon. I’m not a tree hugger, but those seem like bigger issues that we should be….I don’t know , wear brown for?

“Seem silly and elementary to me.”

I replied to him and here it is in full:

"I see your point Wayne, but I disagree. The people in Iran were Twittering and making themselves heard for a reason. That reason is they want solidarity from the world for their cause. When they hear that others are behind them across the globe they may become empowered, realize they are not alone int his fight and institute real change.

"Symbolism is a powerful thing. I personally did not change my avatar. I don’t take up causes very easily but I respect and admire the people who have changed their avatars to green to show the people across the world and in Iran that they (we) are with them in this fight. It is not stupid, silly or worthless. It is powerful and important.

"And thought there are a thousand other causes to get behind some people pick one over another because it touches them in some way. For some it’s hunger. For others it’s the fight against ALS (my company). And still others, it’s standing behind people halfway across the world as they fight against oppression. It may end up that things do not change in Iran tomorrow or next week but if young people over there know that good people are wearing or tinting their avatars green in support, that may have an affect that resonates for years or generations to come.

"Imagine how powerful that one picture of that student standing up to Chinese tanks was 20 years ago. Did that symbolic moment institute wholesale change? Did it inspire people? Also, remember back to a time when you were younger, more idealistic. Didn’t symbolism mean a lot more to you than it does now? It did to me.

"I’m happy people still carry that meaning in their lives despite the problems we have here. I think that the Iranians are inspiring us to be better. And all round, that’s a good thing."

I think the symbolism is important. The green avatars may do nothing substantial in Iran but they do bring light to the cause and hopefully some people in the U.S. with little knowledge or wrong assumptions about Iranians may get an education. I know I did.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Takes A Community… To Fight A War

By Lon S. Cohen

Go back a few short years ago. Who knew that people all over the world wanted to share information in a mere 140 characters on Twitter or to gather around Causes as grim as Cancer to ones as lighthearted as “Drinking is Cheaper than Therapy” on Facebook? Apparently just as financial experts misread the dangers of subprime mortgages and credit default swaps, pundits missed the simmering underground of geeks and technophiles creating a powerful means through which a smart candidate might just get millions of people to rally around his vision of change. Barrack Obama (or more accurately David Plouffe) saw this undercurrent not as just a passing fad but as a middle ground where people were crying out to be given a voice on everything from gadgets to politics. His strategy was wildly successful as is evident from his victory in November 2008 at the polls and it legitimized Social Media in the process proving its power. But what was there all along was the fact that people always formed communities, not just inside websites, in forums and chat groups but in real life as well. This is the keen insight that Barack Obama had about the American people.

Barack Obama’s past as a community organizer taught him about the need to bring people together to advance a cause and the power that community can wield once the momentum gets going—for good and for evil. This is why the foundation of that community needs to be strong, educated, moral and most of all led by a person of good character. This what President Obama brought to the table when he spoke in Egypt. It’s what so many past diplomats did not or could not even being to understand.

The previous administration faced one of the most tragic and direct attacks on the United States in modern history. They reacted quickly and with the certainty that what they were doing was right. Putting aside all the missteps and misinformation, what the Bush administration failed most to understand is that when they were framing their campaign as a “War on Terror” they had made a huge strategic mistake. What they should have recognized was that this was not a war on terrorism but a battle with terrorism, for terrorism is merely a symptom of a larger and much more complex problem than routing out the bad guys and brining them to justice. The battle against terrorism has not been won. It has mitigated some of what the terrorists tried to do but at a high premium in blood and money. The war has still yet to be fought.

By going to the Middle East and presenting himself to the Arab world with a message of understanding President Obama has shown that he knows where the war really is and he has the experience and background to fight. The Arab world suffers from some of the deadliest afflictions known to mankind: lack of education, poverty and oppression. The terrorists know that this where the real war is fought and they’ve been winning, getting stronger and better at it because they have “boots on the ground” in the real battle zone, recruiting form the disenfranchised, exploiting weaknesses, transmogrifying the shield of faith into a sword of vengeance while we fight the terrorists that they produce on the other side of that process to stalemate because there is no lack of resources in the Middle East when it comes to frustrated young men looking to make a mark on this world.

What Obama brings with him is the knowledge that while building a strong community in an American city like Chicago may not be the same as building a strong community in Kabul or the West Bank, the lessons learned and the hopefulness that makes a person better, stronger and smarter when he is part of a community larger than himself is universal. This is where the “War on Terror” will finally be won, not on the battle fiends of Iraq or even in the mountains of Afghanistan but in the community of men.