December’s riots as mediated by the image of mass media

Leandros Kyriakopoulos from void network

Submitted by Uncreative on January 28, 2011

“lt is the historical and structural definition of consumption that, by way of [a] ‘lived' level, it exalts signs on the basis of a denial of things and the real." This quote comes from the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard as he was meditating on the culture of mass media and the ways in which visual consciousness adjoins the image. In these few pages, the devastating thinking of this mediator will be the vehicle for a reflection on the events that followed Alexandros Grigoropoulos’s death, as mediated by the visual and printed screens of Greek and international mass media, Reading the sign of Baudrillard, one could say that "riots" is a micro-event in the contemporary news reports, permanently interlocked with others of its like, such as the war in Afghanistan, a typhoon in the Philippines, sports events,and the weather forecast. This technique of mass exporting (and producing) events, like a collage, is based on the pathetic exaltation of them. This is the denial of the real through the multiple repetition of a reactualised exemplar. If the impossibility of an ”outbreak"is proposed, then this “outbreak" is being ritually sacralised by the media through the consumption of its image in the “up-to-the-minute"news reports.

The Greek and the international media identified the riots that followed Grigoropoulos's death as an “insurrection," strongly referring and comparing them with other historical events, such as the Parisian May of ’68 and the riots at Columbia in the US during the same period. The headlines of known newspapers are very indicative of this: "The whole world is inspired by the insurrection of Athens" or "The dynamic of the youth’s insurrection has awaken the citizens" On the 13th of December - a week after the riots had begun - all the Greek media had comments on the foreign press' reports about the situation in Greece: "The revolt of the spoiled: European youth are rising up as they see the end of their privileges." Titles like this on the front pages of the German and French press are the result of a correlation between the events of Athens and those of Berlin and Paris. Social injustice, suffering, and anger are incarnated in the image and are being combined with the archetypical paradigms of the modern expression of opposition and political disobedience (such as the Parisian May of ’68). At the same time, the media’s images carry the terror of violence as it cataclysmically intrudes in everyday life and disrupts the State’s efforts for an "equitable modernisation of the civil society."

This essay is not concerned with the political management of December’s events by the mass media. It can be said though, that the range of comments extends throughout the political spectrum-inside and outside the political correctness of the parliament (1). Every attempt at assembling December’s events through the image - even the "friendliest" one - embraced by the media’s logic of consumption, becomes suspect as a result, since the sign at stake - named in a holistic way as "outbreak" - is manipulated with certain contents which were not previously subject to that logic. That happens because of the turning of the events into up-to-the-minute daily news that corresponds to the technical essence of the media, that is the disarticulation of the real into successive and equivalent signs, and their combined modulation with other ones. This is evidenced in daily news reports such as: “the economic policy of the Minister of Finance," “the problematic state of Exarchia," "the state of alert of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs," "the limits of police violence," "the change of political attitude," "the major issue of European integration," and "the common question of global democratic governance?"

What is shared then, between media’s portrayed images and the emotionally stressed eyes of the viewers, is a corpus of signs and references based upon the camera’s representation and the state, legal, and political reformulation of the embodied lived experience of the riot’s participants. In this corpus of signs, the intractable materiality of "youth," "anarchist," "masked face," "foreigner," "unscrupulous vandal," is shifted from the dark and imponderable body of the street, towards politically familiar, ideology-bound platforms from which the question of the “outbreak" and its virtual answers can be addressed. Thereby mass communication excludes the corporeal experience of the polyphonic event of the riot, while at the same time it creates a common ground from which a compromise can be made among all the eyes staring at the dramatic images, toward the same ambiguous demand of this "outbreak"; namely a change to a more humane social world. Therefore, the reading of the new contents by the virtual collective of all those driven by the same ambiguous exigency sacralise “outbreak" as something profane that needs purification through an eligible "answer."

This “answer" though is not articulated, yet is always at stake in every effort for defining, commenting, and situating December’s events by the mass media. This rephrasing of the "outbreak" with its presaged answer implicitly provides a reassuring social narrative (which at the same time ascribes blame): that “modernisation of the State" and “just democratic governance" entails the progressive withdrawal of violence from everyday life. What is really at stake then, in the mass media’s discourse about December’s events, is not Alexandros Grigoropoulos’s death by the armed hand of the police and the riots triggered off by this death, but the capability of the State to handle this domestic crisis.

A month of continuing reports and live broadcasts is encapsulated in three stances that, after a year, makes Greek political life conform to the universalised rational norm of its parliamentary spectrum. The first concerns the criticism by the main opposition party the Socialists, against the government that is "incapable of protecting the citizens", the second is the attack on the small party of the progressive Left (SYRISA) by the liberal,the Communist, and the right-wing parties, because of its "unwillingness to confine its political range within parliamentary legitimacy." As for the third one, it involves all the parties and it is the commitment to terminating domestic terrorist political movements. Mass media say that December’s “outbreak” changed a lot of things in the political life of this country. I believe that these stances are the legacy of the power of images in the collective thinking of the Greek citizen-viewers.

The Greeks' involvement in December via the image and discourse of the media indicates their consent in the deciphering of the media’s message. And if "the medium is the message,” then this deciphering is not about the “outbreak" but about the media themselves. That is, the viewer is being unconsciously called upon to decipher the deep discursivity of the media - the realist representation of the camera with its applied objectivism - before and beyond December’s events. Thus, mass media’s image incarnates December’s riots while evading their embodied character, and re-writes them through an evenly up-to-the-minute agenda for collective reception. And as these riots are sacralised by the viewers for being the “outbreak” of a social and economic privation that troubles Greek society for many years now, they are sacrificed all the same when one attempts to find an answer in their actualisation.


(1) The well-known national satiric comedian Lasopoulos, said during his most popular TV program: "I would recommend to these kids to destroy everything, do not sober up!"