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<eyebeam><blast> MAI '98

MAI '98

After a high-profile meeting of international film directors, actors, TV
people, journalists, and a few French ministers in a theater in central
Paris on Monday, and another, no less passionate and powerful meeting of
intellectuals, activists, and organizers in the Labor Exchange building
on Tuesday, protesters have set out this Wednesday morning (Feb. 18) to
ensure that the quasi-secret negotiations over the "Multilateral
Agreement on Investment" at the OECD headquarters in Paris will no
longer go unnoticed.

What it is about the MAI treaty that provokes such a reaction from
people in France?

First, the question of culture. The threat that a NAFTA-like convention
on "equality of investment rights," extended to the 29 OECD countries
and ultimately to the world, would destroy the various nationally based
laws that European countries have designed to protect and encourage
linguistic and stylistic originality in the audio-visual media, leaving
all mass-distributed culture open to the psychologically engineered
formulas of market-directed products. With the consequence, in the long
run, that the delicate and diverse achievements of human consciousness
over the centuries may come, in the space of a few generations, to
mirror a statistically patterned and seamlessly unified symbolic
environment - an environment filled with a "diversity" of commodities,
but drained of all geographical and temporal difference, reduced to the
pure, amnesiac present of production-consumption.

And second, the scary conviction, shared in this case by a number of
American labor and environmental groups, that economic globalization is
going far too fast to be validated by any form of public debate. Leaving
transnational capitalism to explore its viability or lack thereof in
every corner of the planet, without democratic decisions being made over
the details. But with the foreseeable results of both ecological damage
and the kinds of exploitation that can be seen right now in any
third-world country - or in the sweatshops of any "global city."

Does this protest against the MAI treaty have anything to do with
net.culture? Hasn't the rhetoric of the internet always been about
breaking down spatial and temporal barriers, unifying the globe? Why
should the freedom of the internet user be affected by the labor
conditions of Indonesian workers or the kinds of movies shown in
Parisian cinemas or on Portuguese TV?

Does the research carried out by people like Saskia Sassen on the
hierarchical concentration of power in the networked systems suggest
anything to the rugged individualism of the electronic surfer?

The same question, minus the irony:

Can those of us with the knowledge and privilege to use this medium turn
some effort to the creation of culturally based forms of political
resistance, on an international scale?

Brian Holmes
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