Occupy Wall Street has plenty of detractors and has struggled, from the start, with an image problem. Just what is this movement? What do they want? Right wing politicians and the media were quick to dismiss OWS as a “mob” that, despite most Americans viewing OWS favorably, failed to reflect “reality”. Some on the right went so far as to try and infiltrate and discredit the movement, eager to portray the protests as lawless youth gone wild.
Should it come as a surprise then that Real World 27 is looking for members of Occupy Wall Street to audition for their pseudo-reality show?
Bunim/Murray Productions, the agency behind the Real World juggernaut, posted an ad on Craigslist seeking members of OWS between the ages of 20-24 for their latest show. While not quite as absurd as the Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street Tumblr, the fact that a corporate media monolith has set its sight on the movement should tell us something.
But what that something is may not be entirely clear.
Is this a corporate co-opting of a genuine grass-roots movement? MTV has a history of developing programs like Real World to avoid hiring union-workers, thereby contributing to the continuing problem of lowered wages and an overall decrease in middle-class standards of living. And MTV certainly has no problem objectifying those Real World cast members in the name of viewership and profit. It’s reasonable, given their history, that we’d be suspicious of their interest.
That said, it is impossible to acknowledge the opportunity this kind of access could create for OWS. If a complaint of the movement has been the lack of an inherent message and an identifiable leader, perhaps this is a step in the direction of addressing those critiques. And there is simply no denying the reach MTV and Real World have. The movement has already spread internationally. Maybe this is a perfect opportunity to leverage that reach and transform OWS from a lose-knit band of solidarity protests into a formidable international political movement. Okay, that might be less-likely, but the potential remains.
It also represents a defining moment in both OWS and the new age of widespread social protest that started evolving with the Iranian elections of 2009, through the Arab Spring and now here. The ubiquitous presence of social media means that even if mainstream media “ignores” an event like they largely have with OWS, people, particularly young people, will not notice because for them traditional media outlets have lost nearly all, if not all, their relevance as message-carriers. So what if CNN refuses to carry the protests–The Uptake will have them streaming online.
MTV was ahead of its time in its launch of a music-dominated channel targeting youth culture. Maybe they see OWS as a chance to make their brand relevant again in an increasingly diffuse and democratized media landscape. If that’s the case, then OWS and movements that follow have a real chance to leverage this interest into a new wave of politicization that just could pull this country, and the globe, out of the mess it is in.
Photo from _PaulS_ via flickr.