The Eyes of History — Işık Barış Fidaner

Published in Turkish in the e-book compilation Brave New Media (April 2011) by Alternative Informatics Association

tarihingozleriCamera had long been deemed as marking a secure and obscene enthusiasm that’s inclined to interesting sights. War photographer journalists whose occupations were deemed sacred were a more specific party exempted from these weaknesses. But the cameras that were turned into a device of action by the people participating in the Arab rebellions of 2011, marks the collapse of both of these privileges. The world approaches a point where we might not need journalists to witness what goes on far away, where we can get out of this sanctity also by all citizens becoming journalists, a point where the camera watching over world streets cease to be an intruding foreign eye to become the world peoples’ own eyes.

Speaking of war photography and weaknesses, we cannot avoid to mention Kevin Carter’s photograph “The vulture and the little girl” with 1994 Pulitzer prize. According to those who accuse Carter for not helping the baby he photographed, the camera was the passive gaze of the West towards the East. The West, in coming across these evils far from home, having forgotten that they had originated from itself, was in turn consuming each of them as an image. But much water has flowed under the bridge. Now the cameras handled by those Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans of the same age with that Sudanese girl, turn into a unrivaled device of action that exposes the Western fake democrats that have been seizing these countries’ wealth for years.

This video was taken by a Libyan camera. It documents the toppling of a statue that symbolizes Gaddafi’s green book, its turning into a pile of rubble [1]. The subjectivity in this symbolic action that takes place like a ceremony, with all its details, was able to fit into the short gaze of this camera: the slow turning around to watch the surrounding crowd’s joy, the participation by shaking with the ecstasy of those toppling the monument under its eye, the bewildered examination of the remainders of a fragmented plaque, being all eyes and ears for each and every little triumph ripped out of their rulers… The fire of revolution in Tunisia had leapt first to Egypt, then to Libya and other countries through videos like this. Tunisians, having known this from the beginning, was already pouring to the streets “a rock in one hand, a cell phone in the other” [2]. Discerning the power of visual sharing devices, Egyptian government deployed world’s first national Internet blackout to stop the actions of January 25, but it was too late.

What about us? Are we aware of the power of visual communication devices? Having complained so much of our real relationships falling out under the strain of time-killing videos of a “virtual world,” now that we witness real kingdoms that had stood up for decades being overthrown by the help of this virtual world, along with their every political grounding and all ideological polarizations, what do we think?

Let’s remember those lines from the Communist Manifesto:

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. [3]

The melting into thin air in question has been going on for centuries. At first, the capital destroyed many things that connected people to each other and to life. Then, by its own consumer products and communication devices, it filled this emptiness that it had opened up. For this new filler stuff to take hold, that initial destruction had to be disclaimed and denied, the destroyed traditions had to be replaced by fake ones.

In an age where “cultural structures dissolve, relationships weaken, people don’t value one another”; the cellphone, the camera, even visual sharing and new media devices have quickly improved and entered our lives. The the initial emptiness opened up in our world of meaning was marketified by slogans like “store the voice and sight of those you love” and entered the capital’s circle of movement. But the capital was compelled to continuously reshape our needs to protect this circle that it had acquired. The production of leisure was, first of all, the production of the demand for leisure. And the so-called “leisure” was the ephemeral satisfaction provided by consumption.

The demand for leisure that the industries created to market their products relies on the repression of the demands for permanent rights and freedoms. Let’s remember that the melody of “O freedom” [4] used in a 3G cellphone advertisement had drawn much reaction, even obliging Zülfü Livaneli (the singer) to withdraw his composition. With the Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan activists that pour to the streets with cellphones, having liberated themselves from this denial, we confront a new generation of “consumers” that are “compelled to face with sober senses” the communication device in their hands.

Let’s say, the global production system is a giant construction site. Global capital cares about nothing other than “working” for ever and ever, namely that this construction continues no matter what. And this construction site’s working scaffold whereto the world’s workers are condemned, has been fixed to this building for decades, through the political status quo and the alliances between governments in these workers’ countries. If all were left to the capital, the construction would never get completed, and the workers on the scaffold would need to spectate this building –that have been being constructed by themselves– from the outside with fear and fascination. Now in 2011, this plan was interrupted. If the communication devices constitute a tower in this castle, the peoples in the Arab revolutions have captured this tower and have toppled the working scaffold that was left behind. The communication devices thus have been freed from the bullshit fed by the advertisement, to arrive at their own truth, completing the construction, in a way.

It seems that the time has come to free the communication devices from fake dreams of freedom to go towards real freedom, the time for these devices to cease to be the privileged foreign watcher to become peoples’ own eyes, to become the eyes of history. Nonetheless let’s not lose sight that these devices depend on the capital’s production and distribution networks. Like the government cutting Internet and cellphone networks in Egypt, there will be many crows that will attempt to scratch these eyes out [5]. The world capital will try to globally control the communication devices’ improvements, it will try to eliminate its destructive effect on the existing markets, and may have partial accomplishments. But, in any case, what has happened in the year 2011 cannot be erased from the memories. We have now learned by experience the real purpose served by the cellphone and the Internet.

[1] The video that contains the image above.

[2] “How Tunisia’s revolution began” by Yasmine Ryan

[3] Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

[4] The lyrics are from Paul Eluard’s poem “Liberty“.

[5] Turkish idiom: “Feed a crow and it will scratch your eyes out”

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