Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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May 30, 2007
"hipster urbanism"

[The below is a post that I drafted approx. a month ago but shelved, because the bottom suddenly dropped out of my interest in the topic or, to say the same thing, I felt that the material was beyond my grasp. Here it is anyway.]

Number of Google hits for the above phrase, today: 17

Most of the hits are traceable to article by Deborah Cowen (of Planning Action (.pdf)) with that title, here (.pdf), from the Sept/Oct. 2006 issue of Relay, a publication of the Toronto-centered Socialist Project.

A nice discussion of the article is here. The discussion encompasses a sub-discussion of a magazine by the name of spacing.

And yes, the cartoon printed with the article is hilarious.

I wonder if I could find more information about who created the cartoon and where it was first published?
The cartoon shows that it is from the hilarious website called toothpastefordinner, and my pointless research determines that it first appeared on that site in Nov. 2005, in a post that is here.

What is a "hipster"?

The locus classicus definition of the (contemporary) "hipster" is, in my opinion, here
definition of "locus classicus": here
definition of "definition": here
definition of "recurring descent into all-too-often unwitting self parody": here

Cowen has elsewhere referred to something she calls "hipster activism."

The phrase "hipster activism" gets even fewer Google hits right now (2).

Cowen has this to say about that type of activism:

Hipster activism, at its worst, is a gentrification of activism. . . .

Hipsters sometimes occupy the space of activism, but transform the very act of political mobilzation into middle-class claims for better aesthetics and more comfortable consumption.

In the process, they manage to depoliticize politics.

The reference to "hipster activism" basically jumped out at me from the middle of the article in which it appeared, an article that was not ostensibly about activism at all, but pertained to "urban gaming".

The article is Mike Bruch's "Pieces on the Urban Gameboard: Is urban gaming a revolution or just mindless exercise?" It appears in Broken Pencil, issue 43, "The Games Issue."

[The "Games Issue"'s other wonderful linkage between hipsterism and gaming is a "Hipster Bingo" game board.

Is this "Hipster Bingo" game board the same as the delightful and widely   noted game board of the same name, that appears on the ever hilarious   Catbirdseat website?

No, it is not. This new HB board first appeared in the zine Hung, no. 2, which was created by Shannon Gerard. The zine is available here.

This new HB game board includes an entirely different and original set of hipster types, each name of which is completely unexpected
(until the moment you read it, when you realize that it is inevitable and brilliant)
such as "the hipster too old to be a hipster," "the perfect mixed tape engineer" and "the enid."

In other words, Hung's HB game board is funnier.]

Bruch provides (I suppose) a good overview of (I suppose) what are a selection (I suppose) of some of the introductory gaming-ism-skism-istic-ish concepts. Though I am far from an expert in the field, so I don't know, and want to refrain from talking through my hat, though I probably will anyway, by accident.

Bruch hits Manhunt (Toronto) and its 2006 Ottawa "Nationals," gamelab, the Come Out and Play fest, and newmindspace.

Then he includes the above Cowen quote, which contextualizes some of her questions about urban gaming, which, as Bruch recounts, are:
"What if gaming could be radicalized?" she asks, citing the European plane-spotters who last year helped uncover the existence of secret CIA detention facilities.

"Could games become eyes on the street against police violence? Could they make the challenge of their game something really challenging, like building bridges between groups and communities? I think the potential is there, but the answers need to come from the folks who think and play that way."

Good questions. I have no idea if they are answerable, or if they have already been answered.

But here are some evidentiary scraps.

Some background info on the "European plane-spotters" that Cowen cites is here.

As to whether anyone has thought of using mobile technology to be the "eyes on the street" to oppose police brutality, a possible answer to that question comes in the form of the website of LA Cop Watch, here. A related and interesting link about using cellphone technology to "police the police" is here.

What would a politically "radical" urban game look like? Perhaps some urban games already have existed that might be called, in some sense, politically radical? What features of urban gaming, if any, are "radical" or lend themselves to politically "radical" uses or strategies? How can we tell if those aspects are "radical"? What about if riot cops show up? Is that reliable evidence that the features are being used in a way that's politically "radical" or is perceived by the agents of state power as a potential threat?

To put it more simply (or, because from a more conceptual direction, "more obtusely"): How many degrees of separation, if any, stand between the current state of "urban gaming" and the purported political "radicalization" of same?

The answer seems to depend on how you look at the field, what you see when you look at it, how you identify and subdivide the phenomena that you see there, and what connections you perceive among those things.

Viewing the field from my totally non-expert (on anything) perspective, at first blush, I count three, maybe four degrees of separation . . .

or, (to rephrase, in a way that emphasizes connection rather than separation), I count a few clusters of concepts/activities, the connections among which, when plotted out, can be perceived to point towards a space where political considerations might seem to lurk:

step 1:

from "urban gaming" to "flash mobs"
See. e.g., J. McGonigal's thoughts on how flash mobs enable new types of urban "transparent play," and Nicholas Fortugno's observation here about how urban gaming, because it so often involves spontaneous public assembly, almost inevitably implicates the current erosion in the USA of First Amendment rights.

step 2:

from "flash mobs" to the coordinated public use of text messaging
See, e.g., Eric Kluitenberg on the use of text messages to assemble an instantaneous seige of a police station in Amsterdam East, here, and use of text messages to kickoff immigrant solidarity rally and mass walkout by high school students in California.

step 3:

from text messaging to the arrival of the riot cops
See e.g., August 2006 student protest in Manila, and November 2005 Paris riots. See also Belarus ice cream flash mob arrests.

But the above approach, someone might say, is too theoretical, indirect and therefore boring. Can I please get more concrete with specific examples?

Yes, I guess that specific, real life instances do already seem to exist, of urban games that sound somewhat expressly political.

Examples: Operation Urban Terrain (and the 2004 Republican National Convention); DUBES (.pdf)(collaborative urban planning); and World Without Oil.

But, someone might say, these abovementioned games are not 100% sufficiently, clearly "radical." It is unclear that the riot cops will show up right away when you start to play them.

How to respond to that possible objection?

To take the (someone might say) weakass, cop-out, evasive "distinction drawing" approach: I suppose it all depends on how you define the term "radical." Which I suppose raises the question that someone might raise, of whether the games could be considered "radical" by default, in some possible sense, because of the cuttting edge technology they often employ ("often 'play'"?), in a way that plugs into larger technological changes or trends in computing that, someone might say, transcend or scramble or reorder or undercut "traditional" notions of "politics," "economics," "power," "capitalism," "Empire," etc. etc. This opens into other, bigger topics that I won't even try to get into here.

So, to back up, reapproach again, and try to look at the question from another, simpler angle: What might be a nice, hypothetical, "politically radical" urban game for someone to develop; that could use technology that currently seems to exist; that would address a real-time need of many politically "radical" activists; that would help and encourage activists to collaboratively capture and share useful information; and that might be even be "fun," as the term is used by those who get a kick out of things like "Hipster Bingo"?

I'd suggest Spot-the-Undercover-Cop Bingo.

[update 11/24/09:

Some on-going news about the criminalization of social networking technology in the USA, and the "Tweeting Anarchist" can be found on the Friends of Tortuga House blog, here.]