Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Neo-Dada at its best

Disclaimer: I don't support public pie-throwing. But I do support passionate, educated reactions to important issues, especially by 18-22-year-olds. If you want to know why, read the discussion in comments, below.

I was energized today to read that Brown University students launched two green, Cool Whip-topped pies at New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who had just begun an Earth Day speech in one of Brown's largest halls last night. The first pie was right on target, while the second was just shy of its mark. Friedman's talk (called "Hot, Flat and Crowded," after his recent book, The World is Flat) dealt with green technology's economic and foreign policy implications, part of the spring speaker series entitled, “Going Green, Globally: Scientific, Economic and Political Perspectives," sponsored by the school's Environmental Change Initiative. Friedman didn't let the colored whipped cream deter him; after cleaning himself off, he did give the speech. The man isn't too popular with a large contingent at Brown, probably because of his advocacy for questionable petrol alternatives like E85 and his support of the United States' 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Believe it or not, YES: there is a video.

The two culprits, calling themselves "Greenwash Guerrillas" (those who oppose greenwashing through action) threw pamphlets at audience members before their attempted escape. The pamphlets read:

Thomas Friedman deserves a pie in the face…

* because of his sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism’s conquest of the planet

* for telling the world that the free market and techno fixes can save us from climate change. From carbon trading to biofuels, these distractions are dangerous in and of themselves, while encouraging inaction with respect to the true problems at hand.

* for helping turn environmentalism into a fake plastic consumer product for the privileged

* for his pure arrogance.

* as the only way to compensate for the ridiculousness of having this fool speak on Earth Day.

On behalf of the earth and all true environmentalists — we, the Greenwash Guerrillas, declare Thomas Friedman’s “Green” as fake and toxic to human and planetary health as the cool-whip covering his face.

The pamphlet also contained an excerpt from Raymond Lotta's critical review of Friedman's book.


jodru said...

No one deserves a pie in the face for being cheery or even arrogant.

That's a really lame and unhelpful reaction to a guy like Friedman, who offers up just as many good ideas as he does bad.

Mr. Bacon said...

Objectively, I agree with you - not many people deserve pies in the face. What excited me was that college kids, having read his work, consciously objected and therefore decided to stage a metaphorical act to protest his views. Greenwash Guerrillas do all kinds of public interventions to get their environmentalist points across - often, they're probably being more disruptive than they should. But there are two specific reasons I applaud the act: 1) the Cool Whip metaphor (explained in the pamphlet), the act's figurative level which to me adds a layer of meaning to the act; and 2) more importantly, look at what their action caused - thousands of people are reading up on Friedman, reading the Guerrillas' website (risingtide), and making their own decisions about environmental issues. If I was a self-proclaimed environmentalist like Friedman, I'd be willing to withstand a little Cool Whip if it meant more press for the urgent green issues at hand today.

pH said...

I was greatly amused to hear Friedman, that cowardly ideologist of global capital, had been pied in the face (and sad not to have seen it or been a part of it). I don’t really get what it means to say that Friedman doesn’t “deserve” to get hit by a pie. Does he “deserve” his salary? Does he “deserve” to be respected and taken seriously? It is precisely Friedman’s entitlement to these real, material powers and privileges that the pie throwers bring into question. Friedman’s dignified persona is not something incidental to his intellectual message that was a kind of innocent casualty of this instance; Friedman’s ‘dignity’ is an integral part of the way his message is disseminated—he is paid to be a talking head. It is Friedman’s privileged position in the economy of prestige that makes people take his babble seriously at all. The talking head cannot be separated from their message; the only way to combat self-legitimating prestige of a media figure is through simple degradation. So throwing a pie at a talking head seems like a perfectly fair play to me.

also, krotch, i started a blog. god help me, enjoy yourself

Mr. Bacon said...

Thanks for your comments, PH. Yeah, I think being a high profile writer like Friedman, especially one who speaks at colleges nationwide, is an agreement to face opposition from time to time. If it's picket lines, it's picket lines; if it's pie, it's pie. More controversial figures like David Horowitz are surely used to protests at just about every talk they give. Like I wrote above, I wouldn't mind a little pie on my coat if it meant kids were reading my books and forming their own strong opinions. So maybe in fact Friedman is highly deserving of pie by nature of his role in society, as opposed to the opposite? But yes, perhaps 'to deserve' or not doesn't even apply here.

Whit Bernard said...

I agree entirely with PHs evisceration of the above use of the word "deserve," and to the corresponding logic that in the case of a persona as public as that of Tom Friedman, the person behind the talking head (inside it? beneath it?) is hardly "deserving" of anything other than what comes his way. Moreover, the word "deserve" invokes a moral economy which has been leveraged in many an argument on behalf of that imaginary monolith we call "global capital."

But it is in regard to this latter monolith that I must demur... "cowardly ideologist of global capital" sounds like newspeak to me, and it strategically avoids the critical encounter in favor of feel-good neo-marxism. Friedman is, for better or worse, a populist - while he spews a good deal of bullshit, he does so in a field of discourse whose sheer excess of opinions would negate, I think, the conspiratorial closure that the above response seems to imply. Such theories of closure tend to mask attempts to assert the supremacy of one's own discursive field, to discipline the field whose closure is theorized. The ontological negation of one subjectivity by another through the linguistic turns afforded by the theoretical perspective is endemic of another kind of classic prestige politics: the academic kind. The negation of a populist "talking head" through the logic of an academic elite, furthermore, is an implicit challenge to the legitimacy of the public sphere in which that talking head does its talking. Are we really ready for such a move?

A more productive tact might be to use the nuance that the theoretical perspective allows to dispute the cowardly ideologist of global capital, or even to archaeologize its emergence, instead of simply and categorically sealing its discursive realm and negating its right to speak.

pH said...

yo whutevah call me the K.C. and the Sunshine Band of Neo-Marxism