March 27th, 2005

Representing Anarchy

As you may already realize, I'm keenly interested in the way the mainstream media represents the academy. In a similar vein, I also pay close attention to the way it represents radicalism. Frequently, the same strategies are used to represent both. This article from yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle is a good example:
"A Bush election is very good for anarchist consumerism," said organizer Joey Cain, 50.

On the other hand, anarchists didn't exactly love former President Bill Clinton, Kanaan pointed out, and anarchism is always in fashion in San Francisco.

For those who haven't read some of the anarchist classics, such as Alexander Berkman's "What Is Anarchism?" fairgoers and organizers were happy to offer their own quickie definitions.

"Anarchy proposes that humans have the ability to join together to meet our needs without the intervention of church or state," Cain said.

"It means freedom and responsibility. It means taking into consideration how your actions affect everyone else on Earth," said Rene Alvarez, a physician from Berkeley.

"Resistance to authority," said Mike Travers, who was there with his 5-year-old son, Sam. He came, he said, to check out the state of anarchist theory.

"I thought of myself as an anarchist 20 years ago," said Travers, 47. "Anarchism is great as an attitude. I lost faith that you could run the world according to anarchists' principles."

He sighed: "It's hard being an anarchist parent," he said, "because as a parent you have to be the authority figure."
The not-so-subtle use of ironic juxtapositions, the condescending "Isn't this amusing" attitude -- doesn't this sound like an article on the annual MLA Convention with the substantives swapped out? For all I know, the article's author is sympathetic to anarchism. But the form these stories take makes it almost impossible to avoid a tone of bemused detachment.