The Human Microphone

New York authorities demand a permit for amplified sound, such as megaphones. Perhaps they thought this would hamper the Wall Street Occupation but the occupiers have come up with The Human Microphone. From The Nation:

“Mic check?” someone implores.

“MIC CHECK!” the crowd shouts back, more or less in unison.

A Wall Street assembly. from Julia La Roche, BusinessInsider.com

After the mic check, the meeting proceeds:

with every few words / WITH EVERY FEW WORDS!

repeated and amplified out loud / REPEATED AND AMPLIFIED OUT LOUD!

by what has been dubbed / BY WHAT HAS BEEN DUBBED! 

the human microphone / THE HUMAN MICROPHONE!!! (jazz hands here).

The overall effect can be hypnotic, comic or exhilarating—often all at once. As with every media technology, to some degree the medium is the message. It’s hard to be a downer over the human mic when your words are enthusiastically shouted back at you by hundreds of fellow occupiers, so speakers are usually pretty upbeat (or at least sound that way). Likewise, the human mic is not so good for getting across complex points about, say, how the Federal Reserve’s practice of quantitative easing is inadequate to address the current shortage of global aggregate demand (although Joe Stiglitz valiantly tried on Sunday), so speakers tend to express their ideas in straightforward narrative or moral language.

There’s something inherently pluralistic about the human mic too; it’s almost impossible to demagogue, to interrupt and shout someone down or to hijack the General Assembly for your own sectarian purposes. That’s clearly been a saving grace of this occupation, as the internecine fights over identity and ideology that usually characterize left formations haven’t corrosively bubbled over into blood feuds there—yet. The human mic is also, of course, an egalitarian instrument, and it exudes solidarity over ego. No doubt, a great frenzy erupts when left gods like Michael Moore or Cornel West descend to speak, but many people only hear their words through the human mic, in the horizontal acoustics of the crowd instead of the electrified intimacy of “amplified sound.” Celebrity, charisma, status, even public-speaking ability—they all just matter less over the human microphone.

But the greatest hidden virtue of the human mic has been the quality that almost every observer has reflexively lamented: it is slow. I mean incredibly, agonizingly, astonishingly slow; it can take over an hour for the General Assembly just to get through a nightly refresher course on group protocols before starting in on announcements, which precede debate about anything new, like whether or not the occupation should make a list of demands and if so, what those demands should be. Imagine collectively debating and writing the Port Huron Statement, by consensus, three to five words at a time.

But really, what is the goddamn rush? As my colleague Betsy Reed points out, it’s Occupy Wall Streets’ raw anger and simple resistance to being beat down (sentiments well suited for the human mic) that have captured the public’s imagination, not the elaborate policy proposals of other efforts.

There’s something else. The Human Mic makes me smile. The good humor and playfullness of the Occupants has been an outstanding feature of this event. The Human Mic (THE HUMAN MIC) is a good (IS A GOOD) example (EXAMPLE).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s