A series of blog posts focused on a topic suggests. The suggestion thread together by dates (Nov 18, Nov 28…). The series could argue (I have grown tired of arguments, though). It could illustrate (but to illustrate would be to claim, and I don’t want to illustrate or support an argument I do not have). I’ll believe (for now) that I am suggesting something here.
Social media have revived argumentation. These arguments, however, occur not in well supported claims or through documented evidence, but in fragmented moments of anger, displeasure, disgust, alarm. As Bradley points out, outrage dominates. At any given moment, out of 20 – 30 Facebook updates I read on my stream, at least half are moments of outrage: a state’s local politics, gender, occupation, race, the national government’s politics, the military, a country’s indiscretion, higher education’s indiscretion,Â Google’s indiscretion, scandal, and so on. We are not only forever involved; we are forever outraged. We are outraged by the suggestion (often, not by the proof) of a moment. A moment suggests a problem, our response, to paraphrase the Comic Book Guy, is to express our outrage online.
Everything is an argument? Or everything is an outrage. What if we switch from our demand to argue and to argue around outrage to a concern (not a demand) with suggestion. I’ve been suggesting as such by briefly focusing on the suddenly canonical image of a cop pepper spraying protesters at a university campus. Arguments quickly become canonical. Repetitive. An argument becomes a story we tell over and over until it is believed. In outrage, we are trapped in the same argument circulated as novel, but it is frequently a repetition of a previous argument. The image repeats. It becomes canonical. It becomes an argument on the basis of its repetition.
Vilem Flusser tells us that writing – as opposed to imagery -Â resists suggestion. “Writing set out to explain images, to explain them away. Pictorial, fanciful, imaginative thinking was to yield to conceptual, discursive, critical thinking.”Â For many, the image I am interested in of violence done to protesters does not suggest; it argues (“we are a state dominated by brutality” etc). Arguments often are not imaginative. In their contemporary form, they are the products of writing. Once we are trapped in repetition, we have no need to imagine. Detroit is in ruins. Detroit is on the brink of rejuvenation. Such were the arguments that motivated my writing about Detroit. Casinos will save an economy; casinos will continue to devastate an economy. These are also two Detroit arguments. They are picked up as well in a recent Slate article, “In the Heartland, the Occupation of the Near Poor”:
Predatory capitalism follows the failed service economy. Across America there appears to be a direct relation between theÂ casino economy and poverty. Depressed economies from Detroit and upstate New York to Mississippi and Washington have turned to some form of state-sanctioned gambling, which now exists inÂ 41 states. Itâ€™s no accident that as inequality began widening in the 1970s, states turned first to lotteries and then to video poker, gaming rooms and full-fledged casinos in the following years.
Casinos are good. Casinos are bad. Barthes was interested in binaries for the ways they posed paradigms; he also was interested, however, in working between the paradigm, not in embracing it as reality or argument. That in between/seam state, for him, posed a space where another meaning occurred that the binary could not provide.Â In the casino/economy/poverty argument, we can replace – as the author of the Slate piece does – Detroit with Kentucky.
The rolls and folds of the inner bluegrass are partitioned by winding white-washed fences, which Morgan explains signifies wealth because they are harder to upkeep than black fences. Sprawling manors are tucked away from the road and sublime thoroughbreds nibble at the grass. But the idyllic landscape hides an ugly â€œback stretch,â€ the area behind the racetrack where abusive conditions are the norm. Itâ€™s one of the deadliest sports for horse and animal alike, withÂ 24 jockeys having died during races in the 1970s alone. Morgan describesÂ frequent drug abuse and deaths as jockeys struggle to make weight of 112 pounds.
This argument is as follows (and it could be found in any other space): what seems lovely, innocent, and wonderful (sport) is really marked by something horrible (death). Or the argument could be (as one reads the passage in full): what looks beautiful (homes funded by the horse economy) hides what is ugly (immigrant labor that goes without benefits and proper compensation). Switch this formula to the current argument circulating: What we thought was a vibrant economy we all contribute to and benefit from is really controlled by the 1%. The puppets have strings. Let’s pull back the curtains. X is really Y.Â Barthes also called this imagery or representation “mythology.” What seems natural really hides a history.Â Only, Barthes did not advocate deconstructing or breaking mythology in order to be more aware (you can’t do so, he tells us, because we still believe in myths even after we decode the myth); instead, he proposed mythologizing the myth. Or, we might add, suggesting. We can critique the Occupy movement for its inconsistencies, but that critique does not cause the movement to stop, reconsider its position, and move on. Nor does a critique of capital stop capitalism or a critique of oppression stop oppression or a critique of representation stop problematic representations. Outrage continues.
After all, it is no secret that immigrant labor is oppressed labor. I know that. I agree with the argument. And yet, immigrant labor is still oppressed labor. And those Kentucky homes still look beautiful. And the horses continue to race and be sold for outrageous amounts of money. Might we suggest rather than argue? To do so does not imply a weak response (“if you would please stop oppressing, that would be great”) but possibly a return to Flusser’s understanding of the image. What, then, would the imaginative, suggestive approach (as opposed to its possible binary opposite, argumentative approach) look like? I feel I must suggest such an approach….and not just a response to an approach. Such is the nature of practice. We need “fanciful, imaginative thinking” as opposed to critical thinking. A job for the Humanities? Finally.