Monday, May 28, 2012

Tweeting outside the... boxes?

Jennifer Egan wrote a short story that she is disseminating in installments of tweets. It's called "Black Box." She uses twitter as the format for a voice inherent in her protagonist, which in turn becomes "didactic" and reflective after each individual action. I'm interested in her idea to use twitter as the voice of a heroine because I tend to think the voice of twitter is, in general, quite alienating. And Egan acknowledges this with the confession that her protagonist's voice is didactic, paternalistic, and patronizing.

The heroine is a "beauty" who involves herself in matters of terrorism and sacrifices herself for her country without asking for "payment" in return. Egan says the heroine keeps reminding herself she doesn't take payment because she doesn't want to feel like a prostitute for sleeping with all these men in order to save the country from terrorism. Egan likens this sort of sacrificial "new heroism" to a military mentality, where you think outside to the collective rather than just to your individual sacrifices. But she admits that as the story continues, the new heroism has an especial crudeness to it, that there is a crudeness in the collective mentality... just like there is to the collective twitter mentality.

Another thought. A "Black Box" is defined by wikipedia as "a device, system or object which can be viewed solely in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings, that is, its implementation is 'opaque.'" Twitter is a black box; hardly any of its inner workings are up for inspection. People offer little windows into their lives in installments they deem necessary, appealing, meta, ironic, funny, cool, etc. But the readers don't have lines to read between, they have full sentences often pejorative or ambiguous in nature.

Wikipedia went on to say that "the opposite of a black box is a system where the inner components or logic are available for inspection, which is sometimes known as a white box, a glass box, or a clear box." Of course, I thought of the glass ceiling. With the glass ceiling, women can see higher positions but cannot reach them. When you're in the glass box of the corporate world, most of the system is completely open for inspection. On twitter, women use the black box to their advantage. Twitter is not and never will be an inherent society of any type, so each person is free to impose her own. I think this is a very far-reaching way to explain why women comedians are having such success on twitter right now when it was virtually impossible for them to gain exposure before. The method of using the black box to circumvent the existence of the glass one.

Preliminary Ramblings on Russia's Most Powerful Female Politician

You might call Valentina Matviyenko the Nancy Pelosi of Russia. As current Speaker of the Federation Council, she holds the third most powerful position in Russian politics, led only by Vladimir Putin and his protégé, Dmitry Medvedev. And she is setting out to increase her political impact.

In April of this year Matviyenko, former governor of St. Petersburg, called for a new rubric of the Federation Council’s duties, saying that the duties of the Council must be “optimized,” its “role heightened in the perfection of actions taken by the Upper House of the Russian Parliament.” Since being appointed Chairman of the Council in September of 2011, Matviyenko has had time to realize that not all with the Russian political authorities runs smoothly. The centralization of the Council’s powers would smooth out the kinks, according to Matviyenko.

The rubric also includes the disassociation of all Council members from any political party. Matviyenko proposed that she would even remove herself from the United Russia party if the depoliticization of the Council members were made official. However, depolitization in the strict sense of the word seems highly unlikely, as most of the members of the Council are indebted to Putin for appointing them. Matviyenko is no exception. So why the declaration of depolitization in a political climate where decisions are still heavily Putin-ized?

The first female governor of St. Petersburg, who built her political roots as an active leader of the Komsomol in the 70’s and 80’s, owes much of her more recent success to Mr. Putin. Matviyenko served as First Secretary of the Krasnogvardeysky District of St. Petersburg from 1984 to 1986, Russian ambassador to Malta and Greece in the 1990’s, and was Deputy Prime Minister of Russia for Welfare in 2003. In 2000 she was Putin’s darling for the St. Petersburg gubernatorial race against Vladimir Yakovlev, but he forced her to back out of the race upon learning that Yakovlev, a personal enemy of Mr. Putin, was a shoe-in for the win. Mr. Putin couldn’t afford to appoint a loser, and St. Petersburg was rallied around Yakovlev: a drunk and a crook, but a man who had done a lot for their city. At that time, according to a New York Times article from 2000, citizens of St. Petersburg considered Matviyenko “a wooden, Communist youth type of person,” not ready for the “mafia structure” of the city, which would “squash her in no time.”[1]

In 2003 Putin removed Yakovlev from his position as governor before the expiration of his term in 2004 and appointed him to the presidential administration, which left the seat of governor wide open for Ms. Matviyenko. Putin’s backing of Matviyenko made the campaign a highly predictable one and encouraged nothing but indifference on the part of Russian voters. Through the duration of her campaign, the Kremlin blocked several local news channels because of their opposition to United Russia. St. Petersburg news channels focused primarily on Matviyenko and hardly afforded airtime to any of her opponents.

Putin’s endorsement of Matviyenko was so blatant that looking back on his actions now seems humorous. At a televised conference, Matviyenko declared the importance of funding for continuing the reconstruction of St. Petersburg after its 300th anniversary. During the meeting, Putin publicly telephoned the director of the federal budget and then told Matviyenko not to worry, the funding would be there.

The 2003 elections for governor of St. Petersburg were representative of a plague of indifference infecting Russian politics. Danil A. Kotsyubinsky, a political journalist in Moscow, said the low voter turnout for the 2003 election was “symptomatic of the crisis of ‘managed democracy’ Putin is trying to implement.” He added, “It’s a little regional model of a huge national crisis.”[2]

Russians didn’t bother to go to the polls because many were tired of empty promises from candidates. Interestingly enough, Matviyenko herself has also expressed disdain for such empty promises. In an interview with Steven Lee Meyers for the International Harold Tribune in December of 2006, she confessed that her campaign in 2003 was “the most difficult point in my life,” and that she deplored the “million promises” made by her opponent. She stressed that Russia should not elect its executive leaders because Russians weren’t ready for an electoral democracy: “The mentality of the Russian demands a lord, a czar, a president.”[3] That czar, Putin, endowed Matviyenko with all of her political power, obliging her to abide by all of his empty promises.

In 2008 Matviyenko was reappointed governor by Putin, which supplied further evidence to the fact that Putin was controlling all of electoral politics. Matviyenko found a way to impose a positive spin on this strain of stalled democracy. As she explained to Meyers in 2006, “people do not want any more revolutions. People want the quiet development of the country, stable development, without shake-ups. They would like to see a president who can guarantee the succession of power.”

The succession of power back to Putin from Putin’s boy scout, Medvedev, in May of 2012 was anything but a shake-up. Even in the midst of a testy political climate where anti-Putin protests are occurring at an unprecedented level, the transfer of executive power and reformation of the presidential administration occurred without a violent upheaval. Ms. Matviyenko was the only candidate for Speaker of the Council, and out of 141 senators, 140 voted for her and 1 abstained.

Currently, Matviyenko, collectively with all members of the Federation Council, is working on passing a law called, “The Formation of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation,” (a title which sounds only slightly less repetitive in Russian…) which sets out to establish a new rubric for the Council’s responsibilities and formation. The new rubric is a project started by the members of the Council to grant themselves political power that rivals the State Duma. According to the official Council website, the project involved 90 thousand Russian citizens in a one-month long discussion and democratic exchange of ideas as well as a survey asking which of the project’s proposals they supported.

Matviyenko tweeted about the proposal on May 1st: “The legislative role of the Federation Council will grow, and the name, ‘Senate’ will possibly become official.” It seems she is trying to democratize the law-making bodies of Russia with the name, “Senate,” and the talk of engaging the public in a discussion of the Federation Council’s role. However, is the centralization of the Council’s powers really such a great idea? They are a body of regional politicians with a hodge podge of local interests. How does a country like Russia, with its adolescent democracy, go about combining local interests and federal power?

It is easy to believe that Matviyenko is a Putin puppet, but is that all she is? With such an ornate political past, I hesitate to think that she is just a United Russia party mascot. What does her presence on twitter mean about all of this, too? When I followed her, her account followed me right back. Is that because she’s actually engaging in a conversation with the public? Or is it because she wants to keep a tight leash on her nay-sayers?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Medvedev starts instagram, instademocracy

On May 18th, Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev posted his first instagram pic on twitter. It is just a link and no description, which (I've heard?) is a twitter faux pas, but hey! the former President of the Motherland is exempt from twitter rules. This is the pic:

Reactions from Russians are, not surprisingly, mostly mockeries. Some are angry and some are charmed. @v_kovalchuk writes*, "Medvedev started an instagram, how I've waited for this. He's totally going to show us his manicure, his cats, and his Kremlin food." There's a clearly defined element of vanity in instagram that is hilarious when mixed with Russian politicians. Russians seem to think so too.  @rasozzz writes, "To the post of ex-President, the Prime Minister and professional photographer added yet another responsibility: to be the country's main hipster..."

Others are bitter. @konda_kun says, "Medvedev counted down the days until inauguration. He wanted to escape the presidency in order to start an instagram and spam us on twitter." 

Starting up an instagram seems like a counterintuitive reaction on Medvedev's part to the pretty humiliating thing of having the Presidency taken from him by a stronger, more powerful man. The New York Times recently emphasized Medvedev's need to become less of a joke to the Russian people:

Last week, Mr. Medvedev seemed to rebrand himself in preparation for leaving the presidency, tacking away from the progressives who were once his target constituency and reassuring members of United Russia that he had never espoused liberal views to begin with. “They often tell me, ‘You’re a liberal,’ ” he said. “I can tell you frankly: I have never had liberal convictions.”

But Medvedev, then you posted this, with the caption, "negotiations with Barack Obama out in nature":

Tell me again, how is that NOT a blatant symbol of liberal convictions?

Now that he is Prime Minister, Medvedev claims to be open to "all political forces." He "rebranded" himself. Mostly the rebrand is liberal, but in the Russian public he makes sure to announce that it is anything but.

Stephen Sestanovich, a Russia scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations, was quoted in the New York Times: “He is really deeply, deeply damaged goods as a result of this very, very badly bungled switch. If he is supposed to be effective, he needs a makeover. He needs a reinvigoration. He needs a demonstration that he is not a joke.”

Why did he turn to instagram on this one?

@correktor tweets, "...when Medvedev is flying and a pretty instagram picture of him doesn't happen, does he ask the pilot to go around again?"

In a way, @correktor is, purposely or not, talking about Medvedev's pleas for a second chance at any kind of an appealing image. And instagram is certainly appealing:

@pimkinanadya: "On Russia channel 1 [main news channel in Russia] now there's a special on hipsters, and Medvedev started an instagram. democracy, I love you."

*All tweets are translated from Russian by me.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hang on to Your Perennial Hy-britches, We're Goin' for a Ride!

This blog's url is named after the following quote from famed tweeter and poet, Patricia Lockwood:

Why bring them together — the poem and the joke, or the joke and the prophecy? The hybrid is compelling, always and perennially. It’s the desire to make fucked-up dog breeds that live longer than either of their incest parents. Or if they don’t live longer, they breathe weird and are illegal. Both outcomes are interesting.

I’m always looking for new little sarcastickies, which we’ll say is a word for new layers of sarcasm or sarcasm spawns, you know, new ways to breed sarcasm for the sole purpose of involving as many layers of sarcasm as possible into an observation. In the past few years twitter and blogs have been fertile with incredible new ways for us to be sarcastic with each other. To comment [preposition] and laugh [sexy preposition] each other. [Choose your own adventure with porny figures of speech. It’s the new frontier after “50 shades of grammatical decay,” a chicklit novel that appeals to the fetishes of female fascist grammar nazis who like it ALL: on the period, in the colon, AND during the fucking comma chameleon. *Hyperbo-jizz.*] Online expression knows all the most appropriate ways to exercise the political aspects of metafiction. By appropriate I mean timely, not appropriate. I’m totally gay for online expression. We’re all gay for it. Because it opens up the back corridors of our creativities [that was cheap and homophobic but genuine without the metaphor.]

Lockwood hits it right on the head. The hybrid of the joke, the poem, and the prophecy is, while fucked up, strangely organic in a way that ideas haven't ever been before, and on the internet there are so many ways to complete that hybrid and give it an audience. We’re birthing fucked-up dog breeds all over the damn puppy htm-mills! And even though, for example, languages of certain favorited twitter feeds or blogs are not part of like the national dog language of “NORMAL,” “NON-MIXED” dogs, (I’m lookin’ at you, Golden Over-Retriever who only uses the internet to read his email, or something), weirdo languages are quickly picked up and recognized and become delicious kool-aid for people who just wanna fucking laugh with each other, because humor and the understanding of it are both moving at the speed of… well, however long it takes people to want to be in on something incredible.

On all this aforementioned stuff, I declare: I would love nothing more than to put my two cents away in a piggy bank so my piggy bank isn’t empty… piggy banks look better when they make coin music, and also, what can you buy these days with two cents anymore? Candy bars are definitely at least 10 cents, right? [Payday reference is pun-like in nature.]

Love, Sarah