Rage against the ATM machine

The G20 protests across London were alarming for many reasons. Not the least of which was the role of the media. Image after image showed knots of photographers and cameramen jostling for position at the front of each march. There’s even a moment in this footage when a protestor is about to smash a window of the RBS bank when he suddenly stops. He turns to camera, proffers to the media the “perfect shot” complete with Braveheart scream, and then smashes the glass. It’s as if someone had yelled, “Back to one”, on a movie set for the sake of a better take.

Two things concern me about this. Firstly, the media aren’t just in the front line, they are the front line. Shoulder to shoulder, holding other protestors at bay, trying to get their piece of the shot to sell on the AP auction block. One photographer even taps the protestor on the shoulder, red carpet style, as if the heat of the moment should defer to cold hard cash.

As for the protestor, he gives me the same feeling one gets – I imagine – when Paris Hilton turns and smiles to camera when making one of those videos. Shouldn’t you be more focused on the job at hand?

This seamless, consenual ballet feels oddly inappropriate, as if both parties were happy to compromise the integrity of the moment for the sake of capturing it “first hand”, “as it happens” and “as if you were there”. More in bed than embedded, the photographers and protestor seem equally seduced by the immortality promised by a timeless image.

The footage also reminded of the readiness of Europeans to take to the streets in protest. As an Australian with immigrant parents who has worked in Europe, I can’t help but compare the street fighting tactics used on the U.S. Senate floor with the feeling that if regular citizens took to the streets it’s somehow ‘un-American’. How many times in the last eight years have you heard people remark, “If this were Europe people would be storming the White House?”

As stalwarts of constitutional principles, shouldn’t their compromise be the one thing that motivates us to rise in their defense? Or is protest somehow perceived as a greater afront to civic order than the breach of principles that secure it?

I’m left championing the passion of protest but not the media savvy that comes with it. I’ll have to content myself with this post. If it seems out of order, in my mind, that’s the least I can do.