We, Facebook, Own the Rights To You, the Consumer/Producer
Written by: Ash Marshall
When you step outside of the classroom, can you talk about the things you learned with other people? With your family? Or friends in different programs, or who are not in University at all? What are the barriers and boundaries that keep information locked in or out? Where does the private end and the personal begin?
As a community, we share history and geography. We are both more connected and yet more disconnected than we might realize. In our digital age of technology, the lines between public and private have been made more and more blurry. Ask yourself, is any form of social media public, or is it private? It is hard to tell. All over we see private issues emblazoned in public spaces. I am thinking specifically of the macro-level, something as seemingly benign as status updates, to the more macro, such as capitalist gains that benefit only a small cohort of people but are advertised to any and everyone. How does the advertising we are bombarded with every day relate to the ideas of artwork that sends a message to its viewership? These are things to think about as we move forward in a time of isolation, surveillance, and other forms of quite appropriate Orwellian anxiety.
On November 29, I attended a lecture supported by the Public Intellectuals Project, a group of brilliant-minded students and faculty members who are deeply invested in the promotion of a publically engaged citizenry, as well as a socially informed and politically activated community. The Lecture was attended by some heavy weights in the Humanities, including Suzanne Crosta, Susan and Henry Giroux, and Patrick Deane. The headliner was Carol Becker, Dean of Columbia University School of the Arts. Becker’s thrilling lecture, entitled “Artists as Public Intellectuals: Engaging Micro-Utopian Practice” captivated the audience as she expressed the collapse of distinction between public and private space in our contemporary moment. Becker explained the fusion of these spaces, and thus the confusion of how society moves within them. Highlighting this boundary collapse brought to the fore many issues surrounding public agency and the power of the collective. Referencing the Occupy movements that have mobilized many forces of change made her message clear: the antidote to spectacle culture is action.
Becker reified the call for the development of an ethical grammar effective in expressing the collective issues and values of the public. The development of these discourses in the interest of the citizen, the public as a whole and not a stratified group of people being led by one central figure, emphasizes the need for unity presently, in this moment of crisis of public values. Becker’s emphasis on the role of art, and artists, to subvert systems of dominance and give the public back to the people was a powerful message that did not fall on deaf ears. Her speech reignited my love of art and drove home the notion that art does not need to serve an immediate utility. Rather, art, as a politicized statement, already, innately, presents itself as a force of action (and activation) instead of merely becoming spectacle.
As a community, the art that we participate in each and every day is the imagining of something that is not. We do it in our essays, in our labs, even when we are thinking about what to wear in the morning, The power of critical imagination is that it has the potential to envisage something better, if only by a little, that helps everyone involved. What does peace look like? What about justice? How about hunger, shelter, family? Imagination is the tool of everyone, one that needs to be made more public and much less private.