On Temporality and Truth

Aaron Bady comments on recent developments in Oakland.  It’s a worthwhile read for those interested in the production of narratives, chronologies and the news, and the role of time, experience, and positioning in all of these. The post is organized around the experience and effects of different positions.

Activists inside and outside the jail:

I spent Sunday outside Santa Rita County Jail, waiting with other Occupy Oakland people for the 400 people who were arrested the previous day to be released, to greet them with food, rides, hugs, and cheers. As of last night, the round the clock support team was still there; people were still, slowly, being released. It was a very strange day, but quite pleasant for those of us lucky enough to be free, bathing in the information vacuum, the company, and the California sun.
For those we were waiting to greet, the situation was somewhat different. When my friend Michelle got out, her first words were a very understated “That place is really not a good place.”

Reporters far from the scene:

As I wrote on Sunday morning, what was so striking the day after was how all the mainstream news stories seemed to have been composed the same way, starting with OPD’s press release (issued in the mid afternoon) as a rough outline, sprinkling in some quotes from non-OPD sources (often social media, no doubt collected from the comfort of their office chairs), and then (maybe) added on the additional information that between one and four hundred people were arrested in the evening, depending on how late in the day they filed their copy.

Those with the means to get their press releases into the hands of journalists and those whose narratives must be heard through other channels:

All sorts of information asymmetries result from this sequencing: the stories written Saturday have details on every injury suffered by the handful of police who (supposedly) suffered injuries… because the police were in a position to supply the press with loving detail of every pinky scrape. It would not be until yesterday, by contrast, that the National Lawyers Guild – whose green-hatted observers were all over the place on the day of the march – would be able to write this account of and response to what happened: “It is appalling that the OPD continues to violate the law and its own policies,” said Carlos Villarreal, NLGSF Executive Director. “The police instigated the confrontation by immediately attacking the march with chemical agents, flashbang bombs, and a volley of rifle or shotgun-fired projectiles.”

And also around the importance of different modes of temporality in shaping our understandings of reality:

The result is that, as more and more information trickles out – and as the story develops further, as people talk to each other, as video comes out, as new accounts emerge – the mainstream faucet of news about Oakland has already slowed to a trickle, if that; Saturday recedes deep into the past, and the news cycle churns on to the next thing.

The experience of protests as occurring in stages, with beginnings, middles, and ends:

Once the march got back to OGP, there was a pause. And this, too, is important: it was some time later that a different march (with many of the same people but also many different people), started marching from Oscar Grant Plaza to try to take, apparently, the Travelers Aid building. That pause fooled me; I thought, from the demeanor of the crowd, that the day was over, and I went home

And the construction of narratives and the production of truth(s) via temporal ordering:

This is one problem with chronology; another is that the narrative logic of a newspaper article has its own warped sense of time, a distinctly non-chronological version of reality: beginning with The Thing (Clashes! Tear Gas! Arrests!, etc) it then goes on to add context and quotes and commentary on The Thing, thereby re-establishing that it was a singular thing, an event, a lede, a story But the larger issue is this: if you were there – or even if you simply experienced it in real-time, over the livestream (as I did), or twitter, or whatever – you know how misleading that one sentence is. It isn’t untrue, exactly; those things did happen – more or less – but the chronology is incredibly important, and that’s the thing that’s been removed (along with protester injuries), when you reduce a narrative into a lede, especially one which strongly implies – as this one does – that the arrest was a response to the “assault on City Hall.”… That said, the “assault on City Hall” was virtually the last thing that happened on Saturday. It wasn’t the cause of the police reaction, as the National Lawyer’s Guild noted: it was a response to the actions taken by OPD and the city of Oakland. You can still think whatever you want about it; you can be appalled at the protesters who did it, if you like. But it wasn’t the cause of the days events; it was the coda to the night’s events, if that.

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