I am not Cuban. But because I grew up in Miami, surrounded by Cuban culture, sometimes mistaken for being Cuban (or even Jewban), I have a somewhat misplaced identity with Cuba. That is, I am not a Cubanphile or person with an extraordinary interest in the island, but I feel some sort of attachment or identity with Cuba that is not easily explained. When I hear “Cuban,” I sense or feel some sort of emotional attachment to some force. Cuban is a keyword for my misplaced identity.
Identity is a common keyword for social protest. The Charlie Hebdo massacre produced one initial result: I am Charlie proclamations as those upset over the murders of French cartoonists show solidarity with these senseless deaths. The murder of four Jewish shoppers in a French kosher supermarket the following day (aligned with the Hebdo killings), too, has been followed by statements of identity solidarity. I am a Jew quickly has circulated as a point of identification with these deaths, particularly for a country with recent and cultural racist feelings towards its large Jewish population.
The “I am” meme is a well circulated one. Recall that in Fight Club the narrative’s focus initially is on anonymity (the faceless/nameless rebellion without much of a cause). When Robert Paulson (Meatloaf) is killed in a raid, his anonymity suddenly is replaced by a chanted repetition. “His name his Robert Paulson” The chant is a turning point where death leads to identification. Anonymity is replaced by a misplaced identification.
There is no shortage of “I am” declarations. Craft beer circulated the “I am a Craft Brewer” and “I am a Craft Beer Drinker” a few years ago. Treyvon Martin’s death was followed by an “I am” campaign where photographs feature African Americans replicating Martin’s hoodie.
“I am Liberian” attempted to shift an identification (Liberians equate ebola) from its stereotype to a reality not captured in the public assumption regarding Africans and outbreak. So, too, did the “I am Harvard” campaign which challenged assumptions about who attends the Ivy Elite school.
While the “I am” movement offers various levels of symbolic action or even equipment for living (in Burke’s terms), it also offers an example of the power of social media circulation as each campaign gains traction through media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). The origins of “I am” might be traced to 1968 when Memphis garbage workers proclaimed “I am a man” to protest their lack of civil rights. The aggregation of this moment (realized or not) into contemporary “I am” statements of identification offers insight into what Flusser called “the technical image” the moment the image becomes a computation, a processing of a variety of beliefs and ideas outside of the representation itself. Or to follow McLuhan, one does not have to be aware of media to be influenced by it. Aggregation operates at different media levels.
I am not Cuban. I do not declare “I am a Cuban” regarding any form of cultural or political solidarity. When I read the NY Times story on Cuban today (juxtaposed with the promise of new diplomatic relations between Cuban and the U.S.), I pause to look over the photos (as opposed to any of the other pieces) because I still feel some sense of misplaced identity. I am not a Cuban. But my background (as it aggregates) creates in me an interest that might not be created in someone else who did or did not grow up in South Florida. It does so because of all the assumptions and stereotypes I encountered while growing up: food, coffee, music, clothes, neighborhoods, etc.
These aggregations are based on what Barthes called the power of the stereotype to shape identification (mine or others). Stereotypes (as in Barthes’ example of Japan or an Italian advertisement) shape assumptions which become juxtaposed with other assumptions which produce a point of: That is X. The process is maybe more easily identified in a memetic repetition of “I am” statements that become associated with social protest (as the initial “I am a Man” enthymeme was). Or these moments become aggregated into that other level of Barthes’ “The Rhetoric of the Image” analysis: the notion of “icity.” Italianicity – what Barthes claims for the feeling or sentiment of being Italian (based on how one aggregates assumptions and stereotypes of Italian culture in a food advertisement). This aggregation (not the actual thing called “Italian”) become other versions of icity when we look at social media moments as they circulate. Identificationicity – may be one level. Outragicity is another: the feeling or sentiment of outrage over not a reality (whatever that may be) but a representation based on various levels of aware and unaware aggregations. Technical images. Social media is a space of outragicity because of how we computate the various associations, beliefs, ideologies, moments, assumptions, stereotypes, etc. we encounter in headlines, images, and links.
And? Come to Bloomington in April to hear more…