The organisers and the performers deserve to be congratulated for putting on this long overdue event because the line up commanded attention depsite nobody taking a fee. Orginally it was to be named ‘Radical Media Conference’ but due to technicalities the event was renamed ‘rebellious’. Either way there were few moments of radicalism or rebelliousness, although there were indications and moments towards such adjectives; and this is not me simply wishing for more. As has proven true in other cases the smaller workshops were always going to be a lot better than the massive plenaries when the opportunity for fringe events was missed to make way for the ‘Almighty Chomsky & Albert Show’. In the opening plenary there was much mutual masturbation by the duo and little on the media. Bad organisation also contributed to this becoming comical as the duo couldn’t hear the audience but attempted to an answer along a theme they half imagined. I was happy to get out of the hall and get into the workshops.
I attended the ‘Mind the Gap’ workshop which was about how to fill the gap left by the corporate media. The workshop made it clear to me that the paramount concern of the conference was to network with like-minded media people. In hindsight this workshop was perhaps a bad choice on my side; I found little room for ideas that I wanted to contribute and a general belief that the way forward was to centralise alternative media and seemingly to mirror the existing mainstream. These are not the ways forward I seek to engage because if the internet has taught me anything it’s that accessing original, different and diverse sources is an irresistible benefit. Despite this the session did reveal a few publications that I want to look into further including the Manchester Mule and the Salford Star. For the final seminar of the day I attended the feminism forum organised by The F-Word. The all-female panel seemed quite a good mix of educated and middle class perspectives from southern England. I also appreciated the brief discussion on the role of males in feminist thought and action; I felt Laurie Penny almost hit a nail on the head when she said all-female spaces really are a red-herring. Indeed if all-women spaces can be valuable than so too can all-male spaces, highlighting that it is not such spaces in themselves that are useful but their purpose and meaning. During this session I had a phone-call from a female friend in Indonesia who once said to me, “I ain’t no fucking feminist, all they do is write and discuss theory. I am taking action.” This fits nicely with Laurie Penny’s acknowledgement that those who write about feminism often represent the ‘hive vagina’. I would’ve liked to have heard some recognition of the return to biological determinism within the corporate media but again there were a number of links worth following up.
On Sunday I went to the forum on alternative voices from ‘the riots’ this was a focused and well organised session; probably worthy of the trip in itself. A number of young people talked about their experiences of the riots, their interpretations of mainstream media as well as their analysis of the causes. They expressed themselves in a variety of ways, including using video and poetry. This was the ‘rebellious media’ I was looking for, not mirroring the current inadequacies but finding common ground with others and allowing their own expression to be the media. Concerns of those close to events were raised, not mediated through some elite journalist with a decontextualised catchphrase. This is what a radical media conference should look like as voices from the heart of relevant issues command centre stage while networking and organising follow. I didn’t need to hear the repeated words of Chomsky and the fantastical theories of Michael Albert, they did say some better things in the final plenary but it wasn’t essential for me.
Some more mutual masturbation occurred in the final plenary, this time with some crowd participation, as people hailed a ‘successful’ and ‘nice’ conference. When venues for events like this consistently take place in universities and Friends Meeting Houses friendly middle class voices will continue to dominate, whether they come from men or women, white or non-white. I would love to see these events take place in community centres and to stop panels of academics and professionals dominating affairs. Mix it up from the status quo and place academics and professionals alongside the youths of the riots and black feminists. Neither do we need American dominance taking main stage; the UK has a wealth of expertise with greater analytical depth that is directly relevant (as Chomsky acknowledged). Regardless of my opinion, most obviously there were two things missing from this ‘Rebellious Media Conference’; representatives from Wikileaks and Anonymous. I never even heard these two groups mentioned in passing and wondered if I was missing some aspect of alternative media politricks that served to exclude them. Anonymous and Wikileaks have had a massive impact in the relatively short time that they have been around, and certainly fill the ‘rebellious’ quality.
Of course if my name was Noam Chomsky or Michael Albert I’m sure my criticism would be consumed much more easily or even swallowed whole. Thankfully I do not wish this; I prefer the idea of ‘critecon’ (promoting a far more diverse critical economy).
A few groups worth checking;