“The Ground Noise and the Static”: The Queer Effects of Bodies that Mutter

bahdies

In early September 2008, thousands of anarchists and other radicals descended on the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities to ‘crash the party.’81 The protests lost focus after the McCain campaign cancelled the first day of the convention – possibly nervous about the impending protests, even though the official claim was that the cancellation was to wait for Hurricane Gustav to make landfall.82 Confrontations between riot police and anarchists were numerous, but for days, a huge police force outnumbered and outmaneuvered them, and prevented them from being more than a mild nuisance.83 Yet on Thursday night during McCain’s acceptance speech as the Republican Party nominee for President, a series of Code Pink anti-war protestors rose from the gallery and interrupted the event.84 McCain, looking irritated, dismissed the protestor by saying “Americans want us to stop yelling at each other, ok?”85 Another protestor soon interrupted McCain. Subsequently, McCain was so distracted that he stopped his speech to directly address the protests and urged the audience to ignore them. Those protests, along with McCain off-the-cuff responses, soon became the most memorable part of an otherwise routine speech.

Beyond Signification: Or, How to Have a Good Time

Strictly speaking, it was the Republican audience that interrupted McCain’s speech and not the Code Pink protestors. Every time a lonely protestor raised their voice, a whole chorus of ‘USA! USA!’ thundered through the convention center to drown them out. In that way, the delegates turned potentially insignificant irritations into event-shaping disruptions. If the crowd had responded as they did the day before, when two Code Pink protestors rushed toward the stage during Sarah Palin’s speech only to be snatched by the Secret Service at the last moment, then McCain would have continued without interruption.86 Yet it appeared difficult to calm down McCain’s chanting crowd – a group so incensed by the mere presence of a dissenter in their midst that they were compelled to match her verbal outbursts with an overwhelming vocal response of their own. This excessive response is indicative of the paranoia present in a group obsessed with the politics of identification – so anxious to erase an otherwise minor disruption, the intensity of the crowd’s reaction reveals the precarity of the imaginary fantasies that bind together state discourses. Caught within a perspective that structures relations in terms of identity and opposition, the politics of identification leads to an aggressive policing of borders that reacts violently to anything that evades categorization.87 Continue reading ““The Ground Noise and the Static”: The Queer Effects of Bodies that Mutter”

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Failed Rhetoricality: Bodies that Mutter

da-bahdie

Soon before President Bush left office, he had a pair of shoes thrown at him during a press conference on his farewell journey to Iraq. The thrower was Muntadhar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi journalist upset with the American occupation of his country. In the middle of the press conference, al-Zaidi stood up, yelled, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog,” and threw a shoe at Bush.62 Before security personnel were able to intervene, al-Zaidi launched another shoe, saying, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq.” Showing just how unaffected he was by the whole ordeal, Bush later laughed it off by saying, “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw,” further shrugging of the protest with the comment, “I don’t know what the guy’s cause was. I didn’t feel the least bit threatened by it.”63 As a strategy of confrontation, al-Zaidi’s shoe-ing follows Voltairine de Cleyre’s classic definition of direct action as one of the “spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppressed by a situation.”64 Moreover, it matches the essential characteristics outlined by direct action advocates, being confrontational, public, disruptive, and illegal.65 Yet it was unable to affect Bush, probably because it was immediately contained by the politics of identification, which raises an important question: can other types of embodied protest disrupt power? Continue reading “Failed Rhetoricality: Bodies that Mutter”