Progressive politics, ideas & culture


Autonomous media. Is anybody listening/reading/watching?

This Magazine Staff

“Autonomous Media: Activating Resistance and Dissent”, a how-to handbook on seizing the media, edited by Andrea Langlois and Frederic Dubois carries a sustaining metaphor of autonomous media as a bamboo garden.
A single innocent shoot can stand alone for several years and then suddenly an entire field of bamboo begins to sprout…While on the surface each shoot appears to be an individual, related but separate from its neighbours, underground [they] are all connected.
-Autonomous Media: Activating Resistance and Dissent 17
“Pissing oneself in a dark blue suit…you get instant relief, you feel warm all over feel relief, but then…” is another powerful, yet somewhat unlovely literary device used to describe independent media as an interconnected mish-mash of democratic experiments in communication.
Langlois and Dubois introduce the book by positioning autonomous media as no less than the purveyor of a collective cultural salvation: “Autonomous media are the vehicles of social movements. They are the attempts to subvert the social order by reclaiming the means of communication”.
Marian Van Der Zon, author of a chapter within the book titled “Broadcasting on your own Terms” recounts the story of how she soldered together a $20-dollar build-your-own radio kit and became a pirate of Montreal radio waves.
Van Der Zon’s station, Temporary Autonomous Radio, (TAR) has signal strength of about three blocks, but has broadcast, at one time or another, from cities across Canada. TAR broadcasts whatever is on the minds of whoever might happen to wander by. What emerges is a pirate radio collective, a mix of multi-generational and marginalized story telling, underground music and participatory karaoke.
Van Der Zon talks about a shift of focus from broadcasting to narrowcasting as a tool to “disseminate tactical information, or a space to develop and share analysis around specific issues”. She also talks about pirate radio’s ability to combat corporate media agendas and counter the affects of mass social amnesia.
Langlois and Dubois recognize some of the challenges facing autonomous media, including the “come and go nature…, as well as their marginality and limited audiences”. But they encourage people to overcome these challenges with creativity and determination: reminding us that “media activists toolbox is not only microphones and keyboards, but also markers, glue, film, spray-paint and coloured pencils.”
But is anyone listening/watching/reading? Not the point, argues this do-it-yourself guerrilla media guide. Whatever metaphor appeals to you, isolated bamboo connected through a root system or the gratuitous relief of pissing yourself in a blue suit, the important thing is to continue tearing the microphone/camera/press away from a handful of corporate behemoths and keep “imagining and unearthing revolutionary, radical, autonomous, spontaneous, creative ways of accessing the airwaves and filling them with the voices of many.”
Sounds like a revolution to me.

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