Here at the Literary Man, our politics trend towards Give Us Some Books & Beer and We’ll Figure It Out Later party. But it’s impossible to ignore the cultural phenomenon that is Occupy Wall Street, especially as it continues to increase its presence in our fair Gotham City. As we watched the chaos unfold in Union Square last night, we found ourselves asking our collective selves: “Do we agree with this?” And, surprisingly, the answer to our question was: “Agree with what?” And therein lies the brilliance of the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric.
All along we’ve been thinking, “yes, this is impressive, inspiring, kind of bad ass, but how will it change anything? Where will it lead?” The Occupy Wall Street movement, unlike the Tea Party, lacks a cogent political platform, and some have argued that this is possibly its Achilles Heel. As recent as as week ago, Portland Mayor Sam Adams held conferences with several leaders from the Occupy Portland movement and expressed his frustration about the vagueness and imprecision of the so-called demands of the group. Few days later, as we know now, the City of Portland and, of course, New York moved forward to evict the occupiers. Presumably, one might argue, if the Occupiers had presented a tenable political platform, negotiations might’ve been held, and a plan of action might’ve been agreed upon, the evictions avoided, the whole thing forgotten in a matter of days.
And yet. And yet, for lack of a specific “platform,” in a strange way, there’s nothing that anyone can disagree with. “We are the 99 percent” is impossible to argue with, and it is also an empirical observation that is irrefutable; you cannot deny that the numerical masses of protesters are 99 percent of something. Things get murkier when people make specific claims about economic principles and institutions — such as, destroy all banks, or blah blah blah the banks — because any argument about economics is by definition an argument about politics, and that’s why the most brilliant element of the Occupy rhetoric has been its simplicity. “We are the 99 percent” is a tagline, a brand, a logan, and something as simple as “Yes, we can.” If the movement isn’t defined, it cannot be stopped–like a constantly mutating giant squid. We’re not even sure what we mean by “the movement” or even “it,” and that’s the brilliance of the Occupy rhetoric.
Now, onto more important matters: we can no longer ignore the Occupy Movement’s firm insistence that Batman join their ranks. Again, this is an interesting gesture for the sheer clarity of its symbolism. Batman, as we all know (or should), is a rogue crime-fighter who allows Commissioner Gordon to call for his help in desperate times by launching a Bat-like light onto the sky (this is called the Bat signal). Batman then appears, listens to Commissioner Gordon explain the problem, which is usually dire, and Batman proceeds to calmly kick the asses of every slimy criminal in Gotham. Who is the Batman of the Occupy Wall Street movement? We’re not saying someone in a cape will literally emerge from the sky and start kicking ass, or will they? Will the Occupy movement demand that a leader emerge and become the acknowledged symbol of its people? Will that person then run for public office and become elected?
The strength of the movement so far has been in its democratic nature, in the “demos” of the people sense, a grassroots culture that has been essentially faceless, not unlike the Roman slaves in the amazing Stanley Kubrick film “Spartacus,” which serves as an effective counter-example in considering where the Occupy Movement will go from here. In Spartacus, the Roman slaves are led in their uprising by Kirk Douglas, but, from an outsider’s perspective, the slaves seem to act as one, democratically helping one another for their collective goal: freedom. In the end (spoiler alert), after the slaves are cornered and beaten, their captors demand that Spartacus be brought forward to be executed for leading the uprising. The guy says something like, “Which one of you is the man they call Spartacus?” And in one of the most bad-ass, tense moments in Hollywood history, Kirk Douglas steps forward and says. “I am Spartacus,” but then every other Roman slave steps forward with him, and each one of then screams “I AM SPARTACUS.” And the movie ends. Epic.
Either Batman will emerge and galvanize the group to political action, or Spartacus — all those who call themselves Spartacus — will remain anonymous in the crowd and continue their Occupation. In either case the cultural impact of Occupy Wall Street can no longer be ignored.