ECONOMIC crises are curious situations. They are tipping points, moments in which a situation may go any way – for better or for worse. Normalcy is shattered, truths questioned, institutions delegitimised and alternatives proposed.
They are moments that shake the taken-for-granteds of everyday life, especially when institutions that govern are rendered incapable of performing their normal tasks, often fulfilling only the most repressive functions, exposing power relations that are not normally seen.
Yet we see among the economic, political and media elites that dominate our society one unified message – we must preserve our domination by any means necessary. This destructive conservatism becomes the media message.
Whilst much of the coverage of the impact of the crisis on Greek people in the corporate media has focused on things like queues at ATM machines, the reality of the crisis is much more extensive. As we were filming in Athens, it became apparent rather quickly that the crisis is having a crippling effect not just on employment and cash, but on food supplies, healthcare, housing, and in one area that gets hardly a look in – psychology.
Reports of the effects of the crisis on people’s mental well-being came to us when we visited the Solidarity For All food project in Mandra.
When asking about how the project works, what is thought of the crisis and what the response should be, we were faced with the stark reality of the debilitating impact of it – the psychological impact and lack of access to basic resources generates fear. Fear generates paralysis. Paralysis presents those in positions of power, such as the ECB and the Eurogroup, with an intensely strong negotiating position.
These relations dominate corporate media coverage of Greece: the ordinary people “just want life to go back to normal”, they just want a solution to the crisis. It just so happens that because of the wrong-headed economics that underpins news discourses, the only solution that can be seen by journalists is that presented by hegemonic sources – austerity.
In the meantime the arrangement of news images supports this way of seeing. News organisations are cliché junkies – protests need fire, crises need banks, vox pops need truncated pleas for normalcy, resistance consists in heroic individuals trying to make things as they were. As we know the complexity and depth of any situation simply cannot fit into news discourses.
So the question for us about how to present an adequate representation of the crisis without falling back into clichés, without simplifying complexity and without pacifying the subjects is not just a question about narrative but also the imagery we use.
To speak to real people in depth, one is aware that those who are not incapacitated by fear do not want a return to “normal” because they understand that crises like this are indeed normal under finance capitalism. Human beings are disposable economic units with little worth outside their value to the market. Whether in respect of work, food, housing or heating, the market has no compassion – if it is not profitable to provide, then it does not get provided.
Such a narrative won’t make it into mainstream news discourses – it is too “complex” to mediate (of course, “complex” here means simply out of sync with the dominant narrative – too “strange”). Instead, people are victims, but there is little sense of who the perpetrator is. They are also the passive victims of the horsetrading of politicians of Syriza, each group having its own agenda, disconnected from the people.
The notion that people are agents of change, that they are rational actors with the capacity for form their own associations and movements, that it is the people who always already produce the things they consume and create the wealth that is stolen from them cannot form part of mainstream news narratives.
To suggest that people can organise their own societies would be heresy in the mainstream media. In the same way that the Eurogroup forbade any alternative to austerity to prevent “contagion” of alternatives, so the mainstream media exclude or at best marginalise movements that may inspire others around Europe to another way.
Yet this rationality and agency, these movements, organisations and networks are plentiful. From our experience at Mandra we saw people are quite able to understand the crisis. They are quite able to understand capitalism and its shortcomings. People are quite able to organise themselves and create alternative systems of production and distribution. People do this best when organised in to networked movements where human solidarity overcomes capitalistic atomisation. It is perhaps unfortunate that it takes a crisis to realise this. It takes a rupture from taken-for-granteds to know that “normalcy” is neither the only option, nor the best one.
Only time with show how the situation unfolds in Greece, Spain, Ireland and elsewhere. We will be documenting this whole process in Money Puzzles. But whatever the outcome, we know that there is an alternative. We know that people can organise themselves, that we can change.