Cultural critic, author and professor, Douglas Rushkoff, believes movements are over and done with.
It’s a shocking and cynical claim on its surface, for the labor movement, the suffrage movement and the civil rights movements have all changed America for the better.
Part of Rushkoff’s problem is identifying a real movement in the first place. Is health care a movement, or a political topic? Is gun control a movement or a special interest? Is the abortion debate a movement or is it work left undone by the womens’ movement?
Rushkoff examines the problem:
The best techniques for galvanizing a movement have long been co-opted and surpassed by public relations and advertising firms. Whether a movement is real or Astroturf has become almost impossible for even discerning viewers to figure out.
…the problem is not simply that we’ve lost the ability to distinguish between real movements and cynically concocted fake ones. It’s that they are functionally indistinguishable. They may as well be the same thing.
In our current position, when disconnection from the real world is itself a cause for concern, movements only serve to disconnect us further from the actionable. They give us content for websites, language for our bumper stickers, and faces to put on our ideals. But they distract us from the matter at hand, and worse, turn our attention upward toward brand mythologies instead of immediately before us to the people and problems that need our time and energy. In the place of real connections to other people, we get the highly charged but ultimately fake connection to an image.
After reading his piece and reflecting on it for a moment, I believe what Ruskoff means is don’t count on the movement–whichever one it might be–to usher in change. The only real change you can count on is the one you yourself are willing to make. For instance, he argues, “We’d more effectively pull the rug out from under a corrupt financial sector by simply investing in one another’s businesses–our own town restaurants and drug stores–instead of outsourcing our retirement savings to Wall Street.”
Advertising is the great sponge. It will soak up anything it can use. But that doesn’t mean movements are not real today. On the contrary. While media saturation can contribute to separating fact from fiction, the flip side of that coin is greater community empowerment through communications technology. The trick is doing something positive with the knowledge gained from media sources. In other words, don’t leave a comment on a blog or make a call to Rush or one of his many clones. Step up and out. Act on behalf of your cause, whether or not your cause is universal enough to be called a movement.