Two Men and a Meme | Creative Destruction

Two Men and a Meme — The image is compelling and sublime. A ballerina (a member of the Boston ballet) poised delicately on the back of the iconic Wall Street Bull statue in the Financial District. A visual contradiction: the dancer, unbearably light; the bull heavy and muscular. The text, equally intriguing. Above the image in four lines: What/Is Our/One/Demand? Below the image in three lines: #OccupyWallStreet/September 17th./Bring Tent. Published in the Vancouver, British Columbia, counterculture magazine Adbusters, the poster was the catalyst that inspired the first wave of the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS), which began in lower Manhattan and has now spread across the country. When it began on September 17, 150 people showed up in response. Adbusters is an unconventional enterprise. A slick, not-for-profit magazine with 120,000 subscribers, it was conceived as a change agent: “A global network of culture jammers and creatives working to change the way information flows, the way corporations wield power, and the way meaning is produced in our society.” The poster was a collaborative effort of Adbusters editors Kalle Lasn and Micah White, who cofounded the magazine in 1988. The publication’s editorial staff of six was also involved. The ballerina-on-the-bull ad was designed and produced by Adbusters’ art and design department. A member of Adbusters’ staff said the ad, and the idea of a “Tahrir Moment” in the U.S., grew out of a series of telephone conversations between Lasn, in Vancouver, and White who lives in Berkeley. The question that “boiled in the office” over the summer was: Could something like the Arab Spring, and the indignados or acampados movement in Spain be engendered in the United States? Lasn has stopped giving interviews, but in early October he described Adbusters’ role in the OWS movement to The Tyee, a nonprofit, online daily in Vancouver: We always thought of ourselves as the catalyzers, the people who set that meme, as we like to call it, in motion. And right from the start we decided that we’re not going to play a part on the street, that if our meme flies, if people love it, then we’re happy to come up with posters, and we did send them all kinds of handbills and we sent them corporate America flags. So we left it pretty well up to them…. We thought it was a mistake for them not to discuss what some of their demands could be, and we pushed them very hard to get some of their demands together, so when a New York Times reporter phones up and says, “What do you want?” you can at least answer that question. Adbusters provides some direction. On July 17, the day the August/September issue arrived on newsstands, their office began a series of “tactical briefings,” which are updated on their website, www.adbusters.org. The unconventional nature of the campaign, from Vancouver to Manhattan, con- tinues to bewilder many reporters. Creative Destruction — Reggie Middleton, who writes at BoomBustBlog.com, is an unconventional investment analyst, but he’s often right. (He was way ahead of the end of the housing bubble.) Perhaps he’s onto something again when he describes the untapped power of bank depositors who hold even small sums of money in their accounts. Social media, he claims, can create large networks of depositors with the collective power to compel even the largest financial institutions to respond to depositors’ demands. And the timing is right for such organizing. Banks, according to Middleton, are precarious. Because of low interest rates, banks are making nothing off interest-bearing accounts. Much of their collateral is underwater, a result of the recession that has left many homeowners underwater. Bank stocks have been falling in value for the past several months, so they are losing market capitalization. Consequently, banks have become dependent on depositors’ money to fund the few profit centers that remain, as they use checking and saving accounts for the high-risk endeavors keeping them afloat in a difficult economic climate. Middleton’s argument: If “activist bank depositors” join together and threaten to pull their deposits, banks would have to respond to their demands. A $500 account holder has little influence. But 100,000 $500 accounts allow small players to speak with the authority of institutional investors. Why occupy Wall Street when you can own it?