Blogs, Angels, Bowling, and Dean

For some reason, I’m having a difficult time putting my thoughts together for this entry, but while I was reading the New York Times Magazine online this morning, a few of the questions I’ve been contemplating the last few days began to coalesce, but in order to get there, I’m going to have to take a bit of a detour….

After turning in my paper on blogging, I downshifted into the self-critical mode that I often experience soon after completing a paper. This self-critique centered around my reading of Chris Wright’s article on weblogs and mainstream media, and I was left asking questions about whether or not blogs could create political change.

In the course of these reflections, Francois reminded me that blogs allow writers to develop a much deeper consideration of the quotidian, which as he points out, is a highly political gesture.

These thoughts were still with me this morning when I woke up and read the Times. I started with the article by Samantha Shapiro on the Dean phenmoenon (David Weinberger blogged about the article a couple of days ago, but it happened to be in today’s edition of the Times). As Weinberger’s reading of the article points out, one of the strengths of the Dean campaign has been its ability to create community among formerly disaffected and alienated people through networks that are modeled (as campaign strategist Joe Trippi explains) on the Internet itself.

Shapiro’s article refers to Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone, which argues that civil society was breaking down as people become more disconnected from each other, their communities fragmented. Trippi then points out that technologies such as, which the Dean campaign has used very effectively, provide this sense of connection or community that has been lost.

One fault with the article: it doesn’t acknowledge in enough detail the perception that Dean’s campaign primarily targets middle-class whites who have easy access to the Internet (I do think Dean’s policies very clearly support working class interests, but that’s another issue), but in general, as a Dean supporter, I found Shapiro’s reading of the Dean campaign’s success to be very encouraging.

After reading this article, I clicked over to Jesse Green’s excellent article, “When Political Art Mattered,” which focuses on the 1980s art designed to promote AIDS awareness. Green’s article appears to be loosely tied in to the broadcast of the HBO film, Angels in America (IMDB), directed by Mike Nichols from Tony Kushner’s play (an according to almost all accounts, an incredible–and no doubt relevant–adaptation).

In the article, Green provides a historical overview of AIDS-related art since the mid-1980s, from the famous “Silence=Death” posters to more recent and mainstream texts such as the TV show, Will and Grace. With middle Americans are clamoring for their Queer Eye makeovers (symptomatic, I think, of a cultural desire for transformations of all kinds), it’s easy to suggest that images of homosexuality in the media have become domesticated, it also points to the success of the political art of the 1980s, including the AIDS quilt and group such as Act Up, in changing the consciousness of millions of people about the AIDS crisis during a time that is perceived to be uniformly homogeneous. The posters and billboards that originally defined the spirit of this movement, of course, were not “museum pieces” in the standard sense, but were meant to be a part of everyday life, an art of the streets, so to speak…

Green concludes with a reference to a new project that I found utterly amazing, the Act Up Oral History Project, coordinated by author Sarah Schulman and filmmaker Jim Hubbard. In these films (some clips are available online), Act Up activists reflect on their experiences as activists. The cinematography takes a simple “no frills” approach, with a static camera arranged in middle-close-up capturing the stories as the people narrate them. It looks like a beautiful project, and the subjects of the documentary are given the freedom to reflect on their experiences without too much intrusion: If the camera were closer, I think it would have felt invasive; if there was nondiegetic sound/music, the film would have felt overproduced.

How to tie all of these loosely connected threads together, I’m not sure. I want to suggest there is some kind of montage effect in place, a relationship between the Dean campaign’s Internet-based techniques for transforming everday life, for getting people involved in challenging the political, social, and economic status quo and Act Up’s political-art techniques for raising AIDS awareness, for combatting an administration that even refused to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic. I want to make that connection, and I think the transformations I’d like to see could learn from the successes (both partial and monumental, in my opinion) of the political art of the 1980s, but I’m still not sure how to get there from here.

1 Comment

  1. HIV/AIDS Said,

    September 12, 2004 @ 1:00 pm

    Hi, I noticed you were talking about HIV/AIDS on this site. If you’d like to submit your page to SH Directory, please do 😉 (

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