Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Aesthetics of Assange

Julian Assange addresses the crowd outside the Ecuadorian embassy today
Julian Assange appeared in public today, for the first time in 61 days. A small group of pro-Assange protesters lined the pavement opposite the Ecuadorian embassy where Assange is claiming asylum and the rest of the surrounding streets were taken up with a large police presence, press and tourists. The atmosphere was friendly but excited as the Met Police helicopter circled overhead (presumably to help catch Assange should he make a bolt for it). A few diplomatic cars with blacked out windows sped away and one person in the crowd commented "that's it, he's gone". But he wasn't gone. He did appear, slightly later than his advertised 2pm slot, on a balcony - just out of reach from the police (both physically and legally). 

But what does this mean in aesthetic terms? Assange knows better than anyone that since around 9-11 we have entered into a Bond Movie. The (seemingly) loan baddie Osama takes on America and the West in a daring terrorist attack, unbelievably hitting the Pentagon and the WTC. Then some of his henchmen hit the media: a one eyed man with hooks for hands called Abu, a man who decapitates statues with a razor-tipped top hat and another man who releases all the world's secrets via the Internet... you can't make it up.

The great American intellectual George W. Bush, during his presidency, simplified the War on Terror that followed for us, by explaining that "you are either with us or against us" and often adding that the terrorists' motives were simply that that "hate freedom".  With Assange though there is a problem, to invoke Spinal Tap: there's a bit too much fucking freedom if you ask me. In fact Assange has crowned himself price of truth and freedom - how can we fight against that? This reminds me of George W's response to the Yes Men's prank website and the satirical campaign "Yes Bush Can!" that followed in the run up to the 2000 election. While the website was only intended to highlight hypocrisies on the real Bush website George W didn't like it at all. In fact he said that they had gone too far and that there should be limits on freedom of speech (imagine Spitting Image being taken to court...) At the same time as the Assange case we has Pussy Riot beginning their 2 year prison sentence for... well, playing an anti-Putin Punk protest song in a cathedral. I guess the church could be pissed about trespass (although I'm pretty sure they're supposed to forgive trespasses) and maybe not Punk fans but guess what? The Russian Orthodox Church called for clemency! So who prosecuted? And for what? It's a joke. You might be able to convince me that they broke a law but a two year custodial sentence? We all know this is about Putin sending out a message: criticise me, and you'll end up in prison.
One of two diplomatic vehicles (with blacked-out rear windows) leaves the embassy unchallenged

Meat wagons line up outside Harrods
 This makes it very difficult to call for limits on freedom of speech without sounding like a right wing fanatic. But I reckon there should be limits. Surely releasing defence plans (read "weaknesses") is irresponsible. We are operating in an information age vulnerable to cyber attack but old school defence has always guarded its secrets - think of the Cold War or even Bletchley Park. Certain information in the wrong hands can cost lives.

Back to aesthetics and we can now see that Assange is evoking cinema (Bond baddies), music (Punk and protest songs in general) and art (specifically protest art and culture jamming in the Yes Men!). He was also evoking Eva Perón through the manner of his address. I also feel the white hair adds an element of Bond baddie and the French-sounding name coupled with the Australian-British(?) identity adds a kind of suave debonair sophistication also found in Bond movies. Furthermore Assange appears to have made the US and UK act as if it is they who are in a Bond movie. Cold War era espionage and trickery are back on the table. Do they really think we are so stupid that we won't see through these sexual assault "accusations"? Anyone with half a brain cell can see it's a set up. Just as anyone with an ounce of moral fibre or sense of justice can see that Pussy Riot have been fitted up: it's political. But I have a solution: Assange should offer to stand trial, in Sweden, in absentia. He could appear via video link. If found guilty he should give himself up and serve the sentence, if not in Sweden then in the UK or Ecuador even. Surely the UK couldn't object to him being moved from the embassy if he were going to prison? (whether in Sweden or elsewhere). 
Met Police Helicopter presumably waiting to track Assange should he make a run for it!

So, aesthetically, we can expect the UK or US government to poison Assange by ascertaining only he in the embassy eats a certain food product (Vegemite I expect), or kill him with a poison blow-dart the next time he appears on the balcony. Perhaps Assange will evade the blow-dart and escape to Ecuador on a jet-pack? Assange could be said to have brought issues of freedom of speech and the policing of the Internet into the public conscious and debate and artistically this could be seen as operating in the same mould as the Yes Men and many others (see my posts on Militant Art for examples).

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