#Occupy Tetrad: The Tent

The tent is one of the emerging symbols of the Occupy movement and for good reason. It’s the semi-permanent structure of the tent that symbolizes the greatest threat to figures of institutional authority. The notion that someone has claimed a piece of ground as their own and plans to hold it defiantly in protest of something is a threat to power. Marching in the streets has always been a staple of international protest movements, but in the age of electronic communication, where our extended consciousness is often disembodied, removed from it’s physical presence in space, those marches are less meaningful than they used to be. We’re used to ideas in transition. That’s the new normal.

Occupying a space takes on added weight in the electronic age. It means that one has descended from the extended, distributed consciousness to put down roots and to stand firm behind the ideas flashing through the common culture. It’s the idea of space bias re-entering the public discourse on behalf of putting a collective foot down. Time and space having been transcended by our electronic selves take on greater significance when something puts them back in their place…so to speak.

One of Marshall McLuhan’s great contributions to the philosophy of media is his analytical tool called the “Tetrad of Media Effects.” It’s a way to understand how technology impact culture, asking what said technology enhances, obsolesces, reverses into, and retrieves. The tetrad structure suggests a tension between quadrants, between which we find a kind of resonant interval where all the action occurs. It can be quite complicated but interesting, and I suggest you check the link above if you’re not already familiar with the concept. I proposed a tetrad game to the listserv of the Media Ecology Association today and had a couple of fast and interesting responses. I thought I’d share what was discussed here.

Initially, I proposed this tetrad for tents:

Tents retrieve the teepee, and therefore the frontier. They reverse into villages or (shanty)towns when pushed to their limits.

Tents enhance presence, and therefore stake claims on territory. They obsolesce private ownership of land, and therefore make radical claims on space.

I had responses from both Bob Blechman, of Executive Severence fame, and Bob Logan of The Alphabet Effect fame. Bob B. offered the following:

Tents personify both figure and ground. From the outside they are the figure which announces a stake in the terrain, whether camping, mountain climbing or Zuccotti Parking. From the inside they become the ground for whatever goes on inside, whether it is medical, shelter from the elements or bibliophile. By definition, whatever the tent is used for is a temporary use as the structure itself is ephemeral and only meant to be there for a short time.

When pushed to an extreme, tents are replaced with shanty structures and your park occupation becomes a Hooverville.

Bob L. went on to add:

[D]o tents obsolesce homelessness and retrieve caves – do they enhance nomadism? Is the tent anti-environment that makes us aware of the environment, the hidden ground of nature? An anti-environment turns the environment which is usually ground into a figure. So the tent which is fig on the outside and ground on the inside makes the natural environment, both a ground and a figure…The occupy nomads invaded the hunting grounds of the 1% capitalists and therefore had to be removed by the capitalist’s mercenaries, the police and the municipal politicians, who are themselves members of the 99%.

Having never considered the interior of the tent, I was happy to have the Bobs chime in. The tent exterior as anti-environment and the interior as environment is a powerful way to look at what the Occupy movement is about. It seems like there’s something of a proxy war going on with regard to control of space, disguised in terms of economic justice. On its face the Occupy movement shouts about economics, cloaks itself in direct democracy, but the medium being the message…the whole thing is wrapped up in the quest for presence in an electronic world in which physicality is increasingly distanced from consciousness. The idea of building a library with books is interesting in this respect. It’s a space biased medium in a world agog at the digital power of social media and electronic technology in fostering the movement and helping it to go viral. It’s the tent and the library that are proving to be most distressful for the powers that be and therefore give them greater power in the movement.

Fortunately, Dan Latorre regularly blogs about issues like this at his outstanding tint.org, so you should head over there to read as often as possible. The final word today ought properly given to the Poet Laureate of the media ecology association, my friend Lance Strate, who contributed this:

We’re tenting tonight on the old camp ground,
Give us a song to cheer
Our weary hearts, a song of home
And friends we love so dear.

Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts looking for the right
To see the dawn of peace.
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight,
Tenting on the old camp ground.

We’ve been tenting tonight on the old camp-ground,
Thinking of days gone by,
Of the loved ones at home that gave us the hand,
And the tear that said, “Good-bye!”


The lone wife kneels and prays with a sigh
That God his watch will keep
O’er the dear one away and the little dears nigh,
In the trundle bed fast asleep.


We are tenting tonight on the old camp ground.
The fires are flickering low.
Still are the sleepers that lie around,
As the sentinels come and go.


Alas for those comrades of days gone by
Whose forms are missed tonight.
Alas for the young and true who lie
Where the battle flag braved the fight.


No more on march or field of strife
Shall they lie so tired and worn,
No rouse again to hope and life
When the sound of drums beat at morn.


We are tired of war on the old camp ground,
Many are dead and gone,
Of the brave and true who’ve left their homes,
Others been wounded long.


We’ve been fighting today on the old camp ground,
Many are lying near;
Some are dead, and some are dying,
Many are in tears.

Final Chorus:
Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,
Wishing for the war to cease;
Many are the hearts looking for the right,
To see the dawn of peace.
Dying tonight, dying tonight,
Dying on the old camp ground

About mikeplugh

Media Ecology General Semantics Baseball Japan Fordham University
This entry was posted in media, politics, technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to #Occupy Tetrad: The Tent

  1. Pingback: Occupy. The Commons. The Great Paradigm Shift. | tint

  2. I am curious to find out what blog system you have been using?

    I’m experiencing some minor security problems with my latest blog and I’d like to find something more safe.
    Do you have any suggestions?

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