THE REFUSAL OF REPRESENTATION
"To represent or be represented is a degradation,
a reduction, both in the sense of symbolic culture
and in terms of power."-John Zerzan
Of course, it is inevitable in contemporary society that the mass media will broadcast its representations of anarchists and anarchy. And it is equally inevitable that these representations will be distorted and inaccurate, serving the interests of the ruling regime. After all, mass media is part of the power structure.
For this reason, it is as ridiculous to cry over the misrepresentations in the mass media as it is to make a fuss about the excessive use of violence by the cops or about political scandals. As anarchists, we should realize that it is the very existence of cops, governments and mass media that we oppose, not just their excesses.
In this light, attempts to manipulate media representation of anarchists have to be seen in the same light as attempts to hold the police and politicians accountable-that is, as reformist activity. Attempts by anarchists to manipulate the image of the anarchist in the media stem from an idealistic, evangelistic conception of how revolt develops and spreads. It is assumed, in this conception, that people first come to adhere to some ideology of revolt and that this ideology moves them to rise up. It, thus, becomes important to win as many people as possible to anarchist ideas in order to move them to revolt in our way. We need not even take into account the fact that historically not one revolt has started from an essentially ideological basis in order to see the fallacy of this way of thinking. To view revolt in this way is to keep it in the realm of the quantitative, the ideological and the representational-that is, within the bounds of the methodology of this society. It is not only impossible for us to accomplish the anarchist project in this way, but when we use these sorts of methods, we have already defeated ourselves by transforming our lives and projects into images, into mere representations that are, indeed, degradations.
The fact that millions of people may see the New York Times or network television does not mean that we should seek to get an "accurate" in these media. An accurate representation of a living struggle against domination or of anything truly living and passionate is impossible; inevitably what will be seen will be a deformation in the interests of domination. Even when we turn our own means of communication-our publications, pirate radio stations, etc.-into tools for propaganda, ways of winning people over, this degradation starts to creep in, because instead of being ourselves and acting on our own terms, we begin to represent ourselves and act to win the hearts and minds of others. This is indeed degradation, as revolution and anarchy cease to be our life struggle and instead become a political program in search of adherents.
So if we are to refuse all representation, we must start by refusing to cooperate with any attempt to represent us, as well as refusing to make ourselves into an image, a representation. Though we can't prevent the media from representing anarchists and anarchy, we can refuse to play along with their game, just as we can refuse to vote or to join the military. These abstentions are all refusals to cooperate with the power structure, refusals to let our lives and activities be defined on their terms
To look at the matter from another direction, striving for self-management of the current social order is both ridiculous and counter-revolutionary, since real, full self-determination of our lives requires the destruction of this order. In the same way the attempt to self-manage one's media image also runs counter to any truly revolutionary project, because it places one's struggle squarely within the framework of representation in its most flagrant and degraded form. As with the state, the cops, capital-as with all institutions of domination-the only revolutionary relationship an anarchist can have with the mass media is a conflictual one clearly aimed at its destruction and brooking no compromise. In relation to the media, this is the minimum meaning of the refusal of representation.
Back to the Venomous Butterfly page