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Who Should Be Shot?

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New York, 2011
New York, 2011
(Image by Linh Dinh)
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In a recent article, "Smashing Culture," I briefly described a scene in Philadelphia from 30+ years ago. Sitting in McGlinchey's, I was drinking Rolling Rock.

This trivia triggered a most curious yet telling response from a commenter, "Rolling Rock? - really? Were you listening to the Eagles too? Nice street cred attempt, but it's either 'While knocking back a few beers' or 'While drinking a Guinness' - Rolling Rock just makes you sound like, well, another pretentious art f*g."

It never occurred to him I was simply telling the truth. To establish "street cred," I should have come up with something way cooler. It's all about one's image, you see.

With social media, everyone is a microscopic celebrity, the undisputed global star on his own cellphone, so online preening has become a universal obsession. Compulsively, they make duck faces while quack quacking bon, not really, mots.

Enjoying such a fabulous virtual life, they miss out on a real one, however, so "street cred" must be established, to mask the fact that they're never on the streets, even when they're on the streets.

Occupy Wall Street erupted in New York on September 17th, 2011. Four days later, I took a Chinatown bus from Philly to see what's going on, and for the duration of this movement, I kept a pretty close eye on it. Besides the Occupy camps in Manhattan and Philly, I also visited those in Harrisburg, Trenton, Atlantic City, Washington, Raleigh, Savannah and Orlando.

Living in tents like urban savages, these protesters suddenly had a tactile and smelly existence inside a community, so despite the cold, rain and absence of indoor plumbing, they were soothed. Night after night, there were no brick walls between their bodies.

Their movement fizzled out, however, because it degenerated into an endless display of narcissistic posturing, with everyone making self-important speeches about his or her pet cause, to an audience of fifty, tops, which is not how a revolution is ever made.

Had Samuel Adams showed up, he would have had to squeeze his truncated speech in between, say, an animal right manifesto and a black reparation sermon.

Still, it was fun to fancy yourself a Mao, Che or Comandante Zero, even if your thundering cosplay was immediately canceled by the next, completely unrelated yet equally forgettable, performance.

Sitting on a striped blanket, a glum, balding guy went on a hunger strike to protest "UNEMPLOYMENT, POVERTY AND CORPORATE GREED." Ignored by all, he disappeared after a few days, apparently to stuff his face greedily.

Conceived as not just an indictment but siege of Wall Street, Occupy became a sad, stinking and incoherent skit that increasingly annoyed nearly everyone who had to work, do business or transit around their messy camps.

Though government infiltrators undoubtedly helped to fragment Occupy, most protesters gleefully went along with their own gelding, because, to them, it was never about rallying the 99% towards common goals, as they vaguely claimed, but airing minority grievances. Most importantly, they could look cool doing it.

With visual evidence uploaded onto FaceBook, Tumblr and Instagram, etc., soy boys from strip malled subdivisions could accrue street cred.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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