Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Walking Dead follow-up: tracking some gender issues

I'm going to do a quick post on gender relations in The Walking Dead, the AMC series that's recently aired its third episode.

The Walking Dead holds true to the atmosphere of the comic, which is good enough for me; I believe an artist has some responsibility to their source when adapting something, but I'm not a purist. Darabont's series treats Kirkman's protagonists lovingly, it adheres to the tone and intensity of the comics, and it remixes these elements to form a great parallel product. It seems to me that most of the new material -- the racists and the domestic abuse, the additional action and escape scenes, the return to Atlanta -- are mostly added in order to keep up with the pacing needs of television. I find this acceptable, even if these additions aren't as graceful as the original writing tended to be.

However, there are a few ways in which AMC's changes effect the tone of Robert Kirkman's narrative. One of the most jarring is the way the TV series handles its females, at least in these first three episodes. Now, I know there hasn't been a lot of development of the secondary characters, but real quick, I'll mention a few of the details that come into play when you talk about gender roles in The Walking Dead.

The first conversation in the TV series is between Rick Grimes and Shane, his best friend. After Shane offers some half-baked female-bashing guy talk, Rick unpacks some of his frustrations with his marriage to Lori, his wife, and he basically argues his side of the argument unilaterally: she undermines him emotionally, right in front of their son. Shane's only answer is to reassure him that this is just a phase marriages go through. This exchange is NOT in the comics; take that as you will.

Later in the same episode, we see Lori, just for a short sequence. She has a minor fight with Shane in front of Carl, and it becomes clear that Lori and Shane have started a relationship, since they both suspect Rick might be dead. Again, this conversation was invented for the show. In light of the previous exchange, it gives us a sense that Lori might be a bit self-righteous and hysterical (a "nag" is one word that springs to mind). This would naturally come as a point of contention for critics with a feminist awareness, such as, for instance, Nathaniel of Film Experience Blog.

But what I think is really happening here is that the writers are filtering these first two to three episodes through an explicitly male point of view. These are Rick's story, following the total collapse of his domestic life, and all the plot points introduced are related to this collapse. He was struggling with his relationship with Lori; now he's been replaced by Shane (though he doesn't know that yet). He's confronted with the unvarnished love and camaraderie between a neighboring father and son. If this unilateral point of view takes over the whole TV series, I'll take issue with it, as the comic is notably subtle and objective in its tone.

In the second episode, there is still a conventional gender divide, but it becomes more complex. Andrea is a presence in episode two, acting courageous, if a bit frantic, in the face of disaster in inner-city Atlanta. Again, there is a sense that she's a bit hysterical, and that should rightly raise some hackles. However, she also shows signs of becoming a strong, assertive female character, confident with a weapon and willing to take action. Her personality dominates the males around her, until the arrival of Rick, who derives most of his authority from the fact that he's a sheriff.

Through these two episodes, the male point of view remains fairly coherent. Rick and Shane are the strong, grounded, controlled leaders of whatever company they keep. The female point of view is kept at arm's length, at least somewhat. Lori and Andrea seem to linger in conventional modes: frantic, over-emotional, and motherly. Happily, in the third episode, these essentialisms break down further.

In Episode Three, "Tell It To The Frogs," Rick is finally reunited with his family. There are already power-struggles fomenting among the survivors, and they seem to ignite when Rick arrives. Lori viciously reprimands Shane for acting as a father figure to her son, since her husband has returned; meanwhile, the other women of the group step up to an abusive, misogynistic husband over the distribution of duties in the camp. Both of these are highly charged events, the cracks in the gender wall that the show has erected.

Lori's angry move to reclaim her family -- especially her son -- from Shane's paternalistic aura is rather jarring. It seems like nobody has even discussed this uncomfortable love-triangle situation, and she's acting like Shane's moving in on her kid. From the rationalistic, "let's discuss the issues" standpoint of a male viewer, her behavior may seem unreasonable, but it's probably appropriate in the circumstances. We've already seen how this post-apocalyptic world has brought out the territorial, the brutal, and the reactionary in its shaken residents. Lori has rediscovered her solid ground, and she takes this opportunity to stake it out.

The sequence that immediately follows justifies her aggression, at least partly. Shane "heroically" steps in to punish the domestic abuser of the group, effectively asserting his own status as the benevolent patriarch and punisher of injustice. However, you can see in the faces of the women he's defending: his reaction is excessively violent and self-indulgent. Read in isolation, Shane's outburst is a gesture of benevolent masculinity. However, seen in the context of his situation -- his sudden loss of a potential mate and protege -- it hints at dangerous reactionary instability. As the law-officer/husband/father patriarchy unravels, it starts to show something sinister underneath.

These are the first hints of something I hope continues through the rest of the season, and the series: the exploration of gender at the horizon of the apocalypse. Georgia has been converted, almost overnight, into a place governed by desperation, paranoia, and scarcity. This could devolve into pure vicious patriarchy (I understand something like this happens in the movie/book Blindness?) but in the hands of the writers and directors at work here, it should become something far more complex. Alliances will certainly be shifting over the next few episodes, and gender struggles will be balanced against familial loyalty and group solidarity.

Ultimately, it will be worth considering the writers' treatment of evolution and regression: do our human natures endure the trial of a desperate, wasted world? Do paranoia and desperation break down the barriers between us, or do they reinforce them beyond repair? If the writers are half as good as the other people writing for AMC, the gender issues will feed into these broader questions, rather than distracting from them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Walking Dead: Three Episodes Down, First Thoughts

I'm keeping a close eye on AMC's The Walking Dead. I could give a respectable-sounding reason for this... it's an unusual artifact, being a television series based on a horror comic. We've been seeing a lot of movies based on comics lately, but isn't a television series probably a better match for the comic's format, which stresses perpetual, cyclical continuity? And a horror-based television show... aside from infamous examples like Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone, we haven't had many of those, partly because broadcast television has such strict content controls.

But the real reason I'm following The Walking Dead is that I'm a huge fan of the graphic novels. I have been for three or four years, since they were publishing collection five or six (out of thirteen now). It's fascinating on a personal level to see how the story, characters, and atmosphere of the comic is changing with its move into a new format. As much as that stuff is my real point of contact, I think I should start with the media questions, because in writing these two paragraphs, I've realized that stuff is probably more interesting.

Sure, there have been TV series based on comic books before. Superman, Batman, The Hulk, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- these all jump to mind. And recently, there've been some abortive attempts at creating series based on comic strips -- Boondocks, Dilbert, etc. However, it's worth noting that those first four, the adaptations of superhero comics, totally abandoned the continuity that makes the comic book series such a fascinating medium. Indeed, The Walking Dead is one of the first live-action adaptations that, as far as I can see, attempts to keep the comic book's sense of perpetual continuity and change.

This was one of the great aspects of The Walking Dead in its graphic novel form. The characters weren't unchanging, mythical embodiments of ideals, like Superman and Batman, nor were they stuck in constant cycles of crisis and contrived resurrection, like many superheroes tend to be (the characteristic they share with soap opera characters). It's an inevitable fact of the series that characters, including the ones you hold dearest, have finite lifespans, and as the reader, you never get the comfort of functionally immortal protagonists. The series itself isn't even titled after a hero, so there's always the possibility that Rick Grimes, the series protagonist, may die a permanent death.

Within these limited lifespans, these characters evolve constantly, becoming hardened in the face of the apocalypse, sometimes breaking, sometimes becoming pillars of strength. If the series plays its cards right, we'll see that by about the mid-point of the second season (which has already been renewed, by the way). This is when the first batch of protagonists will have established their roles in the group dynamic, and it's when we'll probably be seeing the first "turnover," if you will, of some of the most important characters.

I have to mention, in passing, the brilliant casting decisions. Carl, in particular, is perfectly cast. His presence in the show is actually one of the first times I've ever seen an adaptation improve upon the spirit of the original. Carl makes the most sense as a character when he's seen as a fresh-faced little boy. Robert Kirkman, the writer of the comic, does a good job of evoking his childlike mentality, but artist Tony Moore can't really do justice to the face of a child. This is mostly because of the harsh, scratchy, India-ink finish of the artwork. Yet, it still stands -- the rough artwork seems to alienate the reader from sheltered little Carl. In the show, on the other hand, Chandler Riggs has exactly the right on-screen presence to evoke the Carl of Kirkman's writing.

We're now past the third episode, and it's become clear that pretty extensive liberties have been taken with the core team in adapting the comic to a television series. In particular, the show has added a couple subplots about social issues: a raving racist becomes a key figure in the show's first major moral dilemma, and some of the early power struggles among the survivors occur because of a wife-beater's treatment of the women of the camp.

These additional elements of drama are only provisionally welcome. They provide some additional opportunities to cast Rick and Shane as heroic defenders of justice and order, and they allow for some commentary on the civil strife within an isolate community. They also feel a little too easy, because "racism" and "domestic abuse" are very easy cues for our moral indignation. Without these little indicators, the comic provided a fairly broad, unpredictable, and murky moral landscape. Perhaps these civil disputes are commentary on culture clash in the American South, where the story is taking place; that rationale is enough to redeem the dramatic baggage, at least for the moment.

Ultimately, and refreshingly, the most powerful scenes in the show are the moments of emotional redemption, brought into relief against a ruined world. The cross-cut "mercy killing" sequence in episode 1, where Rick wanders into the woods to euthanize a female zombie, paralleling Morgan Jones' unsuccessful attempt to put his wife down: this sequence was one for the ages. The reunion scene between Rick, Lori, and Carl was another perfectly directed cinematic sequence, bringing the joy of the reunited family into focus without losing sight of the emerging tension between Shane and Rick.

I'm not completely done discussing these three episodes yet. In particular, I need to devote a post to the gender roles in the show, because they're a bit different from the comic, and they're showing a little regressiveness. However, that's a post for another day, not in the least because it's a bit too foggy and complex to be covered in a mere few closing paragraphs.

With that said, I hope everybody is enjoying the show as much as this Walking Dead fanboy, and I hope you'll stick with me through the first season.

Monday, November 08, 2010

More Politics: The old and wealthy right: Media outrage and resistance

I know I've been a little over-active in the political writing, but these thoughts need an outlet, or they'll vanish into my cognitive history. I'm connecting various dots from the media and from my previous speculation, and suddenly, I'm understanding how conspiracy theorists are born: they like this feeling too much, the feeling of synthesizing disparate information, and they get addicted to it, and start to do it in excess.

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, it seems that the effectiveness of John Stewart's rally, at least in the short term, maybe be tragically limited by economic conditions. As Fenzel from Overthinking It points out, it's far more profitable for the media conglomerates to promote outrage, as it tends to draw more viewers, whether in fearful agreement or disgusted skepticism. Somebody else wrote about this just recently, as well: The New Republic's Jonathan Chait suggests that a lot of the misconceptions about policies stem from the disparate amount of influence of the wealthy over the media. The wealthy scream that taxes are going up because they ARE going up, for the wealthy... even when they're going down for the middle class. So everybody thinks Obama is raising taxes, when he's actually just weighing them toward wealth to flatten out the bell curve of privilege.

These points, recalling the theory of the Frankfurt School, explain some aspects of the short-term political environment. The media (whether consciously or unconsciously) milks the outrage of the right, the political party most sympathetic to free-market business interests and most dismissive of social concerns.

There's another line of thinking going on, as well, dovetailing with the first. This is the theory that the older generation has been galvanized against the left, again offered on Jonathan Chait's feed. It might be argued that the older generations are more susceptible to the kind of outrage and sensationalism that the media outlets are selling. They haven't developed enough immunity to the influence of the once-credible traditional media.

To be honest, I've even felt this myself. As I get older, I get more mentally involved in politics and media, and it becomes hard to withstand the bombardment of information. Whether there's necessarily a right-wing bias, I can't tell, because I still mostly exist in the liberal echo-chamber (though I do take occasional excursions to the conservative outlets). However, I can tell you without a doubt that there's a bias toward discontent, alarmism, and cynicism, especially in the mainstream media that fills in the cracks between Salon and FiveThirtyEight. It's hard not to be taken up in the tidal wave of hand-wringing: is the world really going straight to hell, RIGHT NOW, in front of my eyes?

I'm still pretty sure that it's not the real world, but rather the raw, chafed, twitchy sensory organs of the media, which profit from our fear and oversensitivity. After all, it's built on advertising, which works best when we're off-balance, vulnerable, distracted, and hyper-perceptive.

With all that said... even that thing about me feeling mentally vulnerable myself... I can find a lot of hope under the surface onslaught. If this conservative surge is being driven by the older, richer, cynical generation, then it means that the future isn't necessarily in the hands of the conservatives. In fact, there are signs that this populist upswell is being locked out of party leadership now that it's fulfilled its electoral purpose. And if this is all the result of a malignant, outrage-prone media environment, then we see in John Stewart and Stephen Colbert the seeds of a media resistance. That's why I feel their rally was a significant event: it was a manifesto against the infrastructure that profits from our paralysis.

The younger generation won't always be apolitical; we all get more civic-minded when we step out of the bubbles of our childhood homes. And with luck, they'll be totally indifferent to the inane rantings of the media outlets, and much more prone to get their information from alternate sources -- and to know how to filter and synthesize that information in useful ways. Obama's big win was the first glimmer of consciousness from that generation, and recent progress on gay rights is a continuation of its positive influence.

If you came here looking for hope, it's above. If you came looking for some ideas, they're below.

First, we have to stay progressive, even when the real world seems frustrating, and multiculturalism seems to be swimming upstream against poverty and hostility, and social welfare seems like a futile gesture. If every generation really does turn conservative when it gets old, there will always be a culture war between the old and the young.

Second, we need to be vigilant enemies of cynicism and doomsday prophecy. The outrage and sensationalism always seems to turn people into fearful conservatives. As Bill Maher says, there is no equivalence (and he's got a good goddamn point there), but what he doesn't realize is that all irrational, self-righteous discourse will become political capital for the conservative cause. Fire and brimstone are not the liberals' strong suits... discursive agility and broad perspective are the weapons that fall on our side of political asymmetry.

Third, we need to listen to the youth, and groom our leaders from the emerging generation of activists and media personalities. These people will know how to manage the insane, super-complex media environment, and by defining the media environment for the next political age, they'll also be writing its policies. And they're smart and compassionate and hard-working.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Horn and the Darkness: Love and death and trumpets in Venus in Furs (1969) and The Salton Sea (2002)

In 1969, Jesus Franco made a film about a trumpet player, living in a world of dreamlike European wealth and sensation, who gets hung up on a mysterious stranger and caught up in her supernatural agenda. Like the art films of the time, it was a sick-soul-of-Europe party, but it was supported by narrative and genre conventions that those other experiments didn't have. That movie was Venus in Furs.

Venus in Furs is steeped in the erotic and the enigmatic; it takes itself deathly seriously, being packed full of dramatic jazzy voiceover, and in this regard it belongs with Roger Corman among the era's kitsch excesses and indulgences. However, Venus in Furs knows how to be a little restrained and a little classy... just enough to be respectful, and therefore respectable. It probably won't do anything for people who love exploitation's self-indulgence, but for someone like me, who's more generally a "good movies" fan, it went down just right. It has its cheesiness (e.g. the title song, the bizarro ending) but it earns it in atmosphere and rhythm and self-awareness.

If you want a more detailed overview, check out an excellent review at Ferdy on Films.

And in 2002, the formula re-emerged as a tweaky cult crime thriller starring Val Kilmer, in one of those strange cinematic parallels that seems like it has to have been intentional, but also, maybe it wasn't. This film was The Salton Sea, and its similarities to Venus in Furs straddle the line between cosmetic and uncanny. Both films are about a trumpet player who's abandoned his craft because of the death of a romantic interest, the protagonists' chance encounters with desire and death. Both come to channel, or manifest, the vengeful personalities of the crimes. Both are lead into obsession and betrayal by their association with these restless demons.

On a slightly deeper level, both of these films are stories of witnessing death and dealing with the guilt that comes of it -- the transfer of responsibility for a lost life, simply because you were present for the crime. The two main characters... Danny/Tom and Jimmy... are led in different directions by this guilt: Danny becomes obsessed with retribution, whereas Jimmy becomes sexually obsessed, and almost enslaved.

It seems to me that their stories part ways at the moment when they make different decisions about the trumpet. Tom (Danny) lets go of his identity as a horn player, and he never goes back to it, taking on a new persona in order to make amends for his idle gaze. Jimmy, on the other hand, can't let it go: as the film begins, he digs up his trumpet and starts to play. This is just the moment when his crime washes up on shore, returning with his old identity, which is still infected with the memory of the murder.

Perhaps if Jimmy had gone Van Allen's route... leaving the horn and taking his life in another direction... he would never have seen Wanda wash up on the shore.

Of course, the journey isn't over for Danny/Tom: he still has to purge his guilt by pursuing the murderers (and contaminating his own body and ethics in the process). This is the amends-making that drives the movie. However, even this fate is better than Jimmy's, who loses the only person who loves him (the only person who seems to notice him), and then accompanies a vengeful spirit through a trippy afterlife. I had the sense, in fact, that Jimmy was Wanda's avatar, her link with the real world, and that she had to stay attached to him in order to carry out her mission.

Franco's tale is a bit more artistically sloppy, as befits a trash culture surrealist, and it has more inexplicable moments of hyperreality: the carnival, where normal people are licensed to release their inner demons; the sexually-ambivalent relationship between Olga and Wanda, involving a doubling collision of lustful glances and camera lenses; the red room, chamber of damnation for the wealthy murderers, where Wanda is condemned to be the object of their guilt. Among the most interesting scenes is the weird imperial fantasy of Ahmed, the host of the party, and by implication, the host of the whole sequences of events of the film.

Another place of overlap: isn't there some interesting parallel between Ahmed (played by Klaus Kinski) and Poo-Bear (played by Vincent D'Onofrio)? Both are the deranged lords of their households, entertaining depraved guests and delusions of grandeur. They are the sinister epicenters of these two psychologically intense films, providing a gravitation center for the themes of guilt, repression, and retribution.

See Venus in Furs and The Salton Sea as a double-feature, and spend a night feeling tweaky and tripped-out, meditating on the meaning of non-intervention and guilt and vengeful reincarnation by way of hapless horn players. While you're at it, hire a jazz band to play during the break. Or call me! I'll organize it, as long as you pay for the pizza.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A couple more observations on politics and discourse

First: if we're going to try to get this "well-informed, balanced discourse" thing going after the Stewart Rally and the election-day fisticuffs, we can start with some worthwhile articles from reputable sources that address some of the myths echoing around popular discourse:

Here's one on how Obama saved Capitalism, to his own ultimate political disadvantage.

From Bloomberg Businessweek, Obama is meeting his legislative objectives, and very few people are noticing.

And now a more personal response to these unstable political days.

After the Comedy Central rally, I happened to pick up one of my old Media Studies sourcebooks, Marshall McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy. It argues an elaborate theory that for two thousand years, Western civilization conditioned itself into being an extremely visual society (which he also associates with being individualist, linear, chronological, and structured in our thinking)... he asserts that the Gutenberg press brought about the apex of this form of culture. He then argues that for the past 100 years, we've been reverting into an auditory culture, which he associates with spatial, non-linear, and simultaneous ways of thinking.

And he says that panicked, terror-stricken behavior will be a product of this shift in perceptual mode, if we're not prepared for the changes. His description of this rocky transition is strikingly familiar:
And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. It is easy to perceive signs of such panic in Jacques Barzun [a cultural historian/philosopher] who manifests himself as a fearless and ferocious Luddite in his The House of the Intellect. Sensing that all he holds dear, stems from the operation of the alphabet in and on our minds, he proposes the abolition of all modern art, science, and philanthropy. This trio extirpated, he feels we can slap down the lid on Pandora's box. At least Barzum localizes his problem even if he has no clue as to the kind of agency exerted by these forms. Terror is the normal state of an oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the same.
So, M.M. offers warnings of anti-intellectualism, and a prophecy that our culture will be engulfed in panic and terror, a knee-jerk reaction to the sudden explosion of our mutual awareness (aka loss of privacy, high visibility, and ubiquity of trivial information). And now here we are, scared of terrorists next door, homosexuals infiltrating our childrens' heads, and rats with human brains. It may be a little late for this world, Marshall, but if you can see this from the next, I hope you're saying, "Yup, that's what I figured."

Rally to Restore Sanity: A meta-political landmark. I hope.

Happy political Halloween! Instead of spending a day working on a costume or watching artsy horror movies from the 60's and 70's, I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity. It was a last-minute decision, made on the fly because I knew it would be a cultural landmark, and I saw the opportunity. At least, I hope it will be seen as a cultural landmark. It was a little microcosm of liberalism, in all its beauty and its vulnerability.

I didn't see all the mad performance pieces at the front; I couldn't hear Yusef or Ozzy or Rahzel. I didn't catch the keynote until I got to a video after-the-fact. You may think that this gave me a narrower insight into the dynamic of the event, but au contraire! It gave me a better one! Because, no matter how diplomatic John and Stephen tried to be, the tenor of the rally would be set by the attendees. If they had been Black Bloc and revolutionary insurrectionists, or even straight-edge punks chanting slogans, the politics would have been pretty one-sided, no matter how the speeches themselves were handled. By wandering among the signs and participants, I got a feeling for the mood of the crowd and the tone of the event as a whole, rather than for the specific performances, which (being affiliated with a major media network) are obviously going to be sanitized.

What I found was pretty impressive: the rally as a whole -- both the on-stage rhetoric and the expressions of the crowd -- were strikingly on-message. Leftist solidarity and socialist advocacy were generally absent, and almost all the signs were meta-political, targeting the language and media of politics, rather than the divisive issues that make up its content. The fears of people like Timothy Noah at Slate, who felt the event automatically had a strong liberal bias that made its message of moderation disingenuous, were pretty much unfounded. And the massive crowd was universally calm, cordial, well-behaved, good-humored, and easy to get along with, even in stressful positions (like shut out of a full metro car, even when they'd been waiting for hours to get downtown).

Now, here's where I'm coming from. I'm a guy who indulges the unhealthy habit of reading highly partisan blog posts from time to time (on both sides of the aisle) and then reading the comments to each of them, wherein the tantrums of the few trolling attention-whores tend to drown out any useful dialogue going on. I get this feeling from the mainstream outlets themselves, too, at least in the past year or so: that participating in the democratic discourse is always a losing proposition, because any argument is automatically hyper-politicized, linked with dozens of bad (usually irrelevant) arguments, and invalidated by proxy. Every attempt to participate is turned into a shouting match, and thus, expressing any political position whatsoever is enabling trolls and reactionaries, and is therefore self-defeating.

So this rally was genuinely refreshing. John and Stephen (and Yusef and Ozzie and the guy next to me with a big "Use Your Inside Voice" sign) had a cohesive message, contrary to some of the nay-saying that's gone on since the rally... and it's a cohesive message I can get behind: discourse needs to be civil. In so many words, we were trying to say, "We respect, and expect, maturity and restraint from our political media, and we will reward it." And there were a lot of people saying that. And it's actually one of the first large-scale, mass-media sentiments I can get behind, because it outflanks the hyper-politicized culture-war rhetoric. Stewart and Colbert stepped back, took the whole situation into account, and fashioned a message that responds to it at a higher level than mere partisanship. It's a little more complex, and it's far more gratifying.

Of course, with the palpable relief comes the fear that many of us leftists (and also tons of moderates) probably still have, especially after yesterday's election: the fear that this whole thing will be overlooked, because it's not sensational enough to be interesting. Unfortunately, no matter how high-level the thinking is, Stewart and Colbert are still subject to the media conditions that created this shitty situation in the first place.

Fenzel from Overthinking It puts it rather nicely:
The rally isn’t going to solve Stewart’s problem with the press — it’s not even going to come close to solving the problem. The economic fundamentals are too heavily stacked against it. The profit motive for media organizations to keep going the way things are dwarfs what they can make just producing news. They can make a lot more money — for their own books, for their own pockets, and through various complex business relationships — selling de facto editorial control of news outlets to private companies (that will turn profits by influencing government policy) than they can make selling time to the Pine-Sol lady and the Scooter Store.
So while I can call this event a "landmark," it won't even be a footnote if it doesn't have some effect on the material conditions that govern these things. And it will be hard, especially if you follow a Marxist framework, like Fenzel seems to... it won't have much effect on the economics of the situation.

But here's where my hopes for the rally come in.

First, it's important to note that shows of solidarity have a powerful effect, if they can resonate with the media. The Tea Party has proven this -- their power isn't in their spending or their economic force, but rather in their visibility, and their ability to reframe the political environment. This rally was indeed a response to the Tea Party (a common theme on the signs), and it makes reframing the discursive environment its explicit business. The exposure from this rally may give everybody -- not just leftists or teenagers -- an essential tool that they didn't have before: a new sensitivity to media sensationalism, which might have been affecting them for a long time without their even knowing it. Maybe, because of this rally, a new crop of people will be able to roll their eyes and change the channel when someone accuses a university professor of "hating America," or a Christian teenager of being a mindless conservative drone.

I especially hope Stewart and Colbert reinforce the younger generation's resistance to outrage and sensationalism, because they're both the most vulnerable to bad discourse, and the its most powerful potential foe. They need to build up a media immune system, and if their influence works out right, Stewart and Colbert could act as vaccines against the festering media conglomerates.

Also, as a progressive, I have some hopes (didn't mean to give away my political persuasion, but there you have it). I think the conservative perspective is currently dominating the media environment because it's created a foundation of outrage and reactionary rhetoric, and this has served its message very well. This is one very important reason for the partisan shift in yesterday's elections. Though the rally came to late to have any effect on the elections, I hope they can do something new: provide a parallel foundation for the leftist platform to be consolidated and articulated. If a discursive framework of moderation, diplomacy, and constructive, hopeful, humorous, self-aware dialogue can be laid, then the progressives may stand a chance of forming a cohesive platform, based on our core values: compassion, economic and social equality, and market capitalism supported by universal social programs providing for basic civil rights (both negative and positive, outlined in documents like the Bill of Rights and the UDHR).