Saturday, February 13, 2010

Lighting a Different Flame: Media, Discourse, and Democracy at the Games

I have never been more proud to be a Canadian than I am today.

I'm not proud because of our elaborate opening ceremony, nor because of our ability to throw a great global party.

I'm not proud because of the corporate sponsorship or the torch.

I'm proud because today, I truly realize that I live in a democracy. Not just a democracy, but one that people will defend, fight, utilize, question, and protect at a moment's notice.

Some exposition: since September of last year, I have been involved with a community organization in Vancouver, formerly known as W2 Woodwards. Located in the Downtown Eastside, W2 serves as the fulcrum around which Vancouver's media arts and activism scene turns, using the intersection of community, media, creativity, and a spirit of innovation to create positive social change and support activist concerns throughout the city. In anticipation of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, W2 took on a new role. Through tireless planning, promotions, and organizing, this 4-floor gallery space has been transformed into and officially recognized as W2 Culture + Media House. W2 now serves as a media and broadcast centre for unaccredited and citizen journalists who have come to the city to provide and alternative, critical, or celebratory perspective on the games, from beyond the frame of corporate journalism.

I have the immense luxury and privilege to work part time out of a small office at W2, and spend some time with some of the globe's leading independent media innovators. As such, the past two days of my online, mediated life have been explosive. When I arrived at work yesterday and fired up my TweetDeck, I truly felt that something had shifted in the way that we discuss and communicate in this country, and perhaps around the world. And I believe that shift has been for the better.

When the tragic news of the death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili at the Whistler Sliding Centre broke yesterday morning, the social media networks caught fire. They were on the front lines of the story as it developed throughout the day, and following the initial frenzy, they were among the first to raise concerns over the use of the video as spectacle in mainstream news broadcasts. Even now, I'm receiving updates from critical media watchdogs questioning CTVs gratuitous use of the footage in last night's programming.

In the lead up to the games, social networking platforms such as Twitter and its activist toolkits were used extensively by anti-games protesters to organize demonstrations and pressure action throughout the city. When these protests turned violent this morning on Robson Street, once again, the independent, non-commercial media were the first to catch the story, and the first to turn it over to citizens for comment and discussion.

This is democracy incarnate.

The journalists, bloggers, activists, and critics based at W2, and stationed around the city, on the front lines of breaking stories, have not simply taken it upon themselves to challenge the authority of traditional modes of media distribution, but have also taken what they gather in the field, and turned it over to the population through Flickr pools, blog posts, and a flurry of tweets, where questions are constantly being raised and debates are constantly evolving based on new information pouring in, free of the filter and bureaucratic infrastructure of big media production.

Regardless of what one thinks of the riots this morning, the fact that I am actively engaged in discussions about their legitimacy with people both inside and outside Vancouver, around the globe, pro-Olympic, anti-Olympic, and indifferent is truly one of the most astonishing, invigorating experiences I've had in recent memory. Today has demonstrated, beyond a doubt, that we live in a nation where dissent is the norm, where challenge is almost mundane, and fiery conversation is the hallmark of the every day. The Robson protesters have exercised their right to challenge dominant messages and ideological systems. The people who have critiqued the Robson protesters and their actions have done the same. In no way do I celebrate the acts of violence and vandalism themselves, nor do I subscribe the hurtful, ignorant, reductive slurs being thrown at them by games supporters. What I value and celebrate today is the fact that it happened, and the fact that it has ignited a city and a nation, forcing us into a direct confrontation with our assumptions about how and where we live. This is a revolution that has been bred by passionate individuals utilizing networks of support and innovative approaches to technology that put the power of speech back in the hands of those who value it most- citizens.

This is not an over-statement. This is a change. This is coal-fired discourse.

As the games wear on, I suspect the protests will subside, or at the very least, become more civil, and as the excitement over medal counts, global rivalries, and the amazing cultural events happening throughout the city heats up, the focus of the media coverage of these Olympics may shift. But I will remember today. Today our city changed, and today we have a rare and unique opportunity to step back, and become staggeringly aware of all that we truly have to be proud of.

1 comment:

esther said...

Well, first and foremost, thanks for being alive. I have to say I was really shocked by the violence from downtown Vancouver, though it does seem to have subsided a great deal recently (or at least the coverage of it)--but it is a democratic place, and while I am basically in love with the Olympics, I think it was tragic that the meaning of their protest was so easily lost in the violence.