Friday, December 2, 2011

Why mic checking is like Kanye West interrupting Taylor Swift

Occupy Wall Street got banged around a bit for its hand-signal method of deriving consensus, as if reporters couldn't tell the difference between alternative methods of communication and jazz hands. (It reminded me of this comedy sketch where this ancient Roman invents clapping while all the others--who still wave their togas to signal approval--are appalled.) Personally, I think OWS hand signals allow for a greater level of precision and participation than clapping; but I can understand that, from the outside, it might look ridiculous.

By contrast, I haven't seen as much criticism of the human microphone. (Exception: John Oliver did a Daily Show segment where he said the human microphone was annoying.) In Zuccotti Park, the human microphone seemed like a sensible way to get around restrictions on electronic amplification; and it's spread to other Occupy groups since it fits so well with the ideology: the human microphone is participatory, consensual (you have to agree to repeat what someone else says), potentially equalizing (everyone can potentially speak with the same volume), and group-oriented.

(Which makes me think of the "edge" scene from The Lady from Shanghai:
“A guy with an edge. What makes him [points to the jukebox] sing better than me? Something in here [points to his throat]. What makes it loud? A microphone. That’s his edge.”
“A gun or a knife, a nightstick, or a razor, something the other guy ain’t got. Yeah, a little extra reach on a punch, a set of brass knuckles, a stripe on the sleeve, a badge that says cop on it, a rock in your hand, or a bankroll in your pocket. That’s an edge, brother. Without an edge, there ain’t no tough guy.”
The human microphone might seem like a blunt instrument, but you could say that's the point--it removes edges.)

So we all love the human microphone at Occupy rallies; but what about the recent use of "mic checks" to interrupt speakers or politicians giving speeches? It still has all that participatory goodness; and it levels the playing field between people with microphones and people without. But even if it's a group activity, it's still basically heckling and shutting down someone else's ability to be heard.

I mean, we can all agree that Kanye West looked like a jerk interrupting Taylor Swift to register his dissent over her VMA win; so would he have looked like less of a jerk if there were a group of people repeating what he said? I think he'd still look like a jerk, whether he was borrowing Swift's microphone or brought his own.

So I'm not thrilled with the increasing number of mic checks, though I love the human microphone at rallies.

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