The Snowflake Historian’s Take on Internet Activism (or: My 12 Minute Lecture)

Part A: The Lecture. Representation, Imagery and the Borders of Truth/Fiction: Using the Virtual

0. Disclaimer.

All that will be written here is my own two cents out of my own mind and thoughts. It doesn’t represent the opinions of Hollaback Israel members or Hollaback.

1. Confession.

I started Hollaback Israel after an assault. I have no idea what made it work so well, and this wasn’t exactly the plan: I thought of it as a few months’ project, with maybe two reports and 500 views per week, tops. I excepted it work this way because that was the (lack of) treatment I seen street harassments were handled with before. I had a good reason to think this way: I thought that a society that tells more than half of its population not to walk outside after dark is a society that knows, even subconsciously, that it’s not safe and not made for the lion’s share of its population. What I didn’t think for more than a single moment is that more than a few people – most of them will be my friends – will think that my perspective of the assault and of street harassment is worth paying attention to, and maybe, just maybe, this time the Random Hysterical Female might be right. I’ll let other to discuss and analyze the site and its success, but for now what I want to talk about is playing with (and perhaps, redefining) the borders of representation and imagery in the virtual sphere to influence on the non-virtual sphere.

  • representation – any sort of information that’s gross data, without context or change other than what’s done to it via the natural senses.
  • imagery – any representation (or a collection of representations) that’s been conceptualized or interpreted.

3. The Internet, The Data and The Imagery

Person A: <sheepishly/shamefully> I…I kinda like to wear rubber gloves on my head and pretend to be a chicken. Sometimes. Er. For a laugh, you know?

Person B: I do that every weekend.

Person C: I’m wearing a rubber glove on my head right now and it’s fucking great! Those non-rubber-glove-wearers (henceforth to be called NRGW) don’t know what they’re missing!

Person A: Yeah!

Person B: Let’s set up our own forum at World Crossing.

That’s, in a nutshell, the Internet. The web is a home to countless representations and imageries and tons of data which Yours Truly loves to dwell in and research – but what can we do with all of this data? Well, what we do with it is to turn representation into imagery, because that’s how to human mind conceptualize things. We do that for excellent reasons: we can’t hold and relate to so many different pieces of non-contextualized data in our brains. Some of the representations we ditch for our own good. However, the problem with sifting is that sometimes very good representations are lost to the under-the-sofa-in-hell sphere. And who has the time, these days, for details, round characters, complexed representations and – gasp – a plot?

4. A Sorta-Reality

Taussig and Durkheim claimed that the most important social knowledge we have is knowing what not to know; the knowledge we order ourselves to omit, not to remember, or not to pay attention to. The catch is that it’s a knowledge that we have even before we articulate our social convention – but unlike it, this knowledge is a representation that we chose not to contextualize into an image/story/myth/phantasma (choose your thinker, choose your weapon). As Taussig claims, revealing that not-known knowledge works on society just as jokes works on language – it expose something, but it doesn’t cancel the imagery.
The greatest fear is from the unknown (/unarticulated), but if you’ll think of it for a moment, this fear is from the dark side of the imagery – not from the lack of representation, especially this day and age. We throw away so many representations, every single day. Using some of them differently and telling them as a part of imagery change the imagery, and the way we tell ourselves our lives in, and in turn, the way we live our lives in. Dismissing representations due to fear of unknown is a tactic – but it doesn’t solve anything.

5. The Table of Concepts

Representation Imagery
Know to Know “My day. Let me tell you all. about. it”. Suspension of disbelief
Know not to Know Feminist Critique Reality TV

The slots and the borders aren’t clear and in constant debate, but that’s the spirit of the division: we know how to tell and what to tell of our day (and to who), we know to suspend our disbelief when watching TV or reading a book, we know not-to-know the “hidden powers” behind the heroes and heroines of reality TV and treat them as Regular Joes and Janes, but we don’t really know how to get access to representations of the data that we know not to know. That’s, I believe, where feminist critique, history, information studies and other fields may come in hand. In feminist critique the way to gain access to this knowledge is called suspension of judgment.

  • gaining access; the how-to
Representations Imagery
Know to Know Suspension of disbelief
Know not to Know Suspension of judgment; empathic listening Critical studies

Take a moment and think of all the ways on which literature, music, art, cinema and culture in general enriched our lives. I believe that if we can suspend our disbelief, we can also suspend our judgment. It works, it gives us access to data we didn’t know how to articulate before – and I think it can enrich our world and our narratives. I think it’s a hell of a tool to shape our lives with.

6. This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.

I think Hollaback Israel works not only because it gives access to these representations, but also because it doesn’t immediately solve them with a narrative/imagery/story/myth. There are a lot of representations we give home to, but we hardly sort them into a single imagery. And that decision creates a lot of tension, which in turn, translates into action. Because we don’t tell people how to read these representations. We just offer access to them, and let people decide themselves what to do with them. And the ripples and  collaborations we made are the efforts of energy of trying to frame these representations into a new story and into a better society. One of the things I like most about it, being me, is the anti-simulacric usage of the petri dish of simulacras.

Nothing of what I said here is new (I hope). As a mankind, we’ve broken and reconstructed imageries for thousands of years (and called it “progress”). We’ve built academic institutions by the galore to advance access and analysis of representations, to gain access to “truth”, whatever that may be. Reorganizing data, representation, imagery and our access to them can be surprising and illuminating. The change we’re offering in Hollaback Israel is a safe, new space for representations and playing with the line between representation and imagery, which is done using a short suspension in judgment. And apparently, it means a thing.

Part B: l’esprit d’escalier

Me: I’m just a girl with a keyboard and a weird sense of justice. That’s all. Apparently that’s all you need. Weird, huh?

Person A: Sometimes, all it takes is for that one snowflake to start an avalanche.

Person B: Someone tripped the wrong fucking snowflake.

I hate, hate, hate, hate lecture in front of people (I’m good at meetings, though – I like the dialog, the conversation). Not because I think I don’t have anything to say, or that my argument’s bad or that I suffer from a severe case of the impostor syndrome – but because there’s a reason why I chose the written word as my medium. The reason is that even my friends, most of the time, need an explanation to what’s going on in my brain, and my inner utilitarian hates to repeat herself. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and I don’t hide it well (or at all). And I like to rethink phrases, and try to nail the argument down as best as possible. Talking doesn’t allow one much space to do that as much as writing does.

This particular event was even more stressful because of the case study I’ve been asked to talk of. Even without my fear of backlash, I already encountered so many misconceptions about Who That Hysterical Female beyond Hollaback Israel Is. From the catch 22 of volunteering in the field of sexual violence to emails that asked me if I’ve been raped and/or took self-defense classes because I’m apparently so worried about it that I need professional help, I’m reluctant to clarify the same thing over and over again (mostly because I think my private life isn’t anyone’s business who isn’t in them): running Hollaback Israel have done wonders to my self-confidence, to my confidence to walk in the streets, to my sense of security and community, and helped me to meet so many wonderful people – to some I’m very lucky to call friends and colleagues. So no, I’m not afraid to go outside. I’m more confident than ever, actually, because now I truly feel that these streets are mine as well. I just hate the fact that I even have to clarify it, not to mention to repeat it every single time. This is one battle I’m giving in to.

Maybe that’s (the anxiety over giving that lecture) why it took me so long to understand what I did with my argument there. To understand that my initial analysis lays not in sociology, but in history. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I love sociology and anthropology better than I love history, but it’s the history department that taught me how to learn and conduct a research.

What I did there was to reconstruct the difference and treatment between primary sources and secondary sources into what we do in Hollaback Israel. We try to keep the sphere as primary-sources-friendly as possible (we call it “evidences”, and the only framing given is “of banal daily sexual violence towards women and LGBTQs”), which is what I referred to as “representation”. Whenever we put this into context – a story, a myth, a phantasma, we turn it into an imagery – because that’s what we, humans, do. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, but if we’re trying to work on changing the imagery, we need to take a closer look at the primary sources.

And more than that, I see that’s how I approach bigger and bigger parts of my life. Somewhere in my mind, I divide the things I meet into this very simple division: primary and secondary, representation and imagery/(story/myth/phantasma). Sometimes it doesn’t say much about how I’m about to handle the thing, but whenever I need to get critical, I mostly use this division.

Part C: Thank-Yous

To E., L., and T. who were my practice-audience and gave wonderful advice. To Itamar, who invited me to begin with. To Assaf, who made the sweetest mistake on my last name. To the folks that whenever my eyes met theirs, smiled and nodded their head extra harder for me. And to, for supporting me in emails, gifts and stirring in the temperamental water of my mind since 2008. To you, who read my theoretical post till here. I heart y’all.

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