A piece was put up on IndyBay Media a few weeks ago using Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of encoding and overcoding in relation to the anarchist subject and advertising in the racially charged city of Oakland. The immediate setting was the Trayvon Martin protests in which crowds gathered to express their collective outrage at yet another slaying of a black youth by a white man going unpunished – this time from a self-proclaimed vigilante acting as a citizen-cop. The opinion/theoretical analysis piece comes off as a chiding of window smashers and attackers in the crowd, especially by white individuals in a protest of anger at racism in America. I’ve read it many times – seeing as I live in the Bay Area, study Deleuze, and was present at the protest – and I don’t really have a critique of it. I can only say that it should be read, and that this is exactly the kind of analysis that should be applied to contemporary radical-political actions.
It is particularly relevant in taking Deleuze and integrating his work into an Anarchist strain of thought, which is always concerned with action in the present and pushing for revolution in all aspects of one’s life as well as in the superstructure. A school of thought has been taking off called “post-anarchism” that takes post-structuralists like Deleuze and “smashes” them into Anarchism, looking for a way to further anti-capitalist struggles without the individualistic emphasis on autonomy dominating the question of freedom. Todd May has done some of the most interesting work in my opinion. Video-Lecture.
The concentration on racist advertisement at the end also bolsters the piece in giving one a sense of the environmental-affective nature of living with a subtle, then not-so-subtle (read: policed) racist society. The take-home message here with the black pop-star looking white is for white anarchist dudes: it is far more subversive and empowering if a black person tears it down. Acting in the place of a person affected by racism robs them of their struggle. When a black icon is made to look white by advertisers making a buck off of fame, having a white person deface it keeps white people in the front of every angle. This is especially apparent in a public march where one’s race and gender is visible, as opposed to, say, covert billboard improvement like this:
The problem with window smashing is not about property or even tactical efficacy at this point in the anti-capitalist struggle – it is about (over)coding. When outbursts like this happen, it plays right into the narrative that the newspapers craft and the state/capital adore. The media *overcodes* such actions as violence and cites them as de facto proof that anarchists and other folks who show at militant demonstrations are rabid outsiders with nothing but misguided anger. A new encoding, a different meaning, is what should be sought out by such moments and the symbolism of a broken window needs to be considered for what possibilities it could bring about. Lets face it, the smash-a-window action is only as powerful as it inspires further actions. To create a new encoding and escape the state/capitalist overcode, new targets or perhaps even new tactics all-together are needed. Confronting capitalism as well as *escaping capitalism and building that world on the other side of it means finding ways to keep moving and achieving that escape velocity that would sustain itself.
This isn’t to say that window smashing is to be scolded as vehemently as it has been by all stripes of the political spectrum. The point is about emphasis and messaging. The action by itself is only a brief expression of anger and dissatisfaction. But to bring in the wider context of interpreting the action is to realize that *who acts and *what targets are hit is to look beyond the act itself and into a game of meaning between players that succeed or fail. The means for gaining success in my view cannot be separated from a mediation that resisters do not control now. We are overcoded, so we must look to other ways to encode *ourselves.
Here is a good quote to end with:
Rebellion is not measured through quantitative amounts of vandalism, sabotage, or any other particular tactics. Rebellion is without measure. It either appears and strengthens itself, or it is captured and destroyed. Rebellion is not the schemes, visions, or plans of this or that group or vanguard or cadre, it is the boundless energy of the people and what they do to expand that rebellion. All that gives way to freedom, all that expands beyond the confines assigned to it by the state, is the nomadic war machine. The goal should be to expand it, not to control it.