One of my favorite past times is watching protests. I like watch people standing up for what they believe in and putting in work to change things, regardless of the fact if I believe in them or not. Some of you may have noticed that I like to write about the latest trends and craziness on this front. Well, here is one more to add to the tool box. Lighting. Yes, like stage lighting. Sorry conspiracy theorists, I just used the that post title to rope yall into this. hahaha.
To make some structure out of this post. I’ll talk about a couple aspects of lighting. The first aspect to be covered are historical aspects of lighting as a means to project national power and its use by the State(s). The second aspect concerns the use of lighting on the State Level. The third aspect of lighting I will cover will be the use by which individuals use lighting tools to make their voices heard.
Using lights to project power at the national level is not new. The first uses of States using light in pre-electric days could be seen in the use of bonfires and fireworks. These practices date back thousands of years, and is a phenomena which took root on a global level for a variety of reasons.
The bonfire is more of a natural cultural universal with its spiritual tie-ins; whereas, fireworks were invented in China, thousands of years ago, and took hundreds of years to promulgate across foreign lands. They too became a cultural universal, but usually to mark political celebrations, as in the celebration of a victory in battle or at the whim of a joyous State leader.
As technology evolved bringing us electricity and the light bulb. These too became adapted by societal leaders to elevate the stature of the State or themselves. Today, lighting is a tool that can be used by the State to project power on the national and international fronts. The type of power projected here is informational because it sends a signal of companionship to its observer, which intended to produce a cohesive effect amongst the populous. The game is the same, just new tools.
State Level Uses
During the Cold War, a number of offices would remain lit throughout the night so that the windows at the Kalinin Prospekt would read CCCP from the roadside. This Soviet decadence was a means of promoting the stature of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (CCCP), not just to visiting dignitaries, as the US Embassy and Russian White House are located just down the way, but primarily directed towards the Soviet citizenry. Kalinin Prospect was the epitome of Soviet decadence, as only high ranking members of the Party could and would live and work in the area. A mixture between the Las Vegas Strip and Times Square, Kalinin Prospect would make any Soviet Citizen proud of Soviet power. Now that I think about it, was Kalinin Prospect just a next level Potemkin Village? Needless to say the outcome of the Cold War was reflected in this battle of the lights between the USA and the USSR. At the end of the day it was Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip would be the preeminence of prosperity and power that people from all around the world would come to witness; whereas, Kalinin Prospekt would be snuffed out by the bombing of the Russian White House.
In 2013, the US State Department used rainbow colored lights to advocate US policy, as the US Embassies and Consulates across the globe did last year to promote LGBT rights , the act was an act of public diplomacy, that being an action of explaining or taking a public stance on policy so that a foreign public is aware of the acting State’s stance, in order to generate dialogue and a common understanding around a particular issue.
Another issue, that the Obama Administration took up to provide awareness with the use of lights was/ is breast cancer. Since 2010, President Obama had the White House illuminated pink. Seeing as it is coordinated in a month along with other organizations in a directed campaign, it only adds to the effectiveness of promoting awareness and fundraising. The Pink House campaign has been effective enough for a Blue House campaign to promote Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.
An event not to be forgotten, concerning this subject, is the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics. This too is an exercise in public diplomacy, as the hosting nations does its best to outperform previous hosts, in its technical theatrics, while promoting its sense of identity. As hundreds of millions of people tune into the opening ceremony and tens of thousands take part in it, the effectiveness of these actions are seen in the ooh’s and awe’s that are uttered from the observers’ mouths. While these events do little to sway a populous on political stands, it does create a temporary effect of identifying with one’s global competitors that could be temporarily blinding.
The Russians did a particularly clever job of infusing pop-culture with their opening ceremony by making rock stars out of the Russian State Police Choir. How little did the masses know, that the symbolism of staying up all night to get lucky was in fact a reality on the Crimean-Russian border as Russia was amassing their troops. Meanwhile, the US media was quick to have the choir, which is known for singing anti-Western songs, perform on their morning show. It’s amazing how a little bit of lights and glamour can be so blinding.
China’s opening ceremony for the 2008 Olympics was touted as the greatest opening ceremony that world had seen to date. It had people buzzing all around the world. The must have spent a bit of their fortune on it. Meanwhile, US markets were sliding, and investments in China rose. Is there a causation here? No, well maybe. Who wouldn’t want to invest in someone who appears to be going big, and having their act together? Once again, it’s amazing how a little bit of lights and glamour can be so blinding.
The Illuminated Individual
While use of fire and fireworks can still be still be seen in protests around the world, from the Tunisian fruit vendor who sparked the revolutions of the Arab Spring to the Tibetan monks who have self-immolated themselves who failed to start the same revolution, to the firework hurling Occupy protestors have proved to be effective and ineffective to some degree, this section will focus more on electrical lighting.
During the Arab Spring (and all the other recent “grassroots” uprisings), those who were frequently tuned into the live news reports will remember the use of laser pointers. Many times these were used to help identify the locations of news teams to coordinate protest tones, as well as to blind the vision of State Police forces. These are just two ways lights may be used in a tactical way, granted this is at the more extreme end of activism.
Mid-July 2014 a German artivist illuminated the side of the US Embassy in Berlin with a light image of President Obama wearing a ball cap and a peace hand sign with the words “NSA in da House” for all to see. During this same time, the US government was facing scrutiny with CIA agents who were caught spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While, the light show was not the cause for the dismissal, it did help fuel the fire against the US intelligence community. The artist rendering not only appealed to those in Germany, but also those around the world, particularly those in the USA, who are concerned with the size and scope of the US intelligence community, despite the fact it does more to help their interests, than their it does to abuse their civil liberties. Also to note, this was not the artist’s first time to use light messaging. He also used light tools to project “United Stasi of America” on a building during another anti-US spying protest. The sexy State Department Spokesvixen, Marie Harf (Holla at me girl!) was reported saying, “Well, I strongly disagree with the message in it, but support the ability of people to freely express that message.”
Just recently, the US Embassy in Moscow became the canvas for another light-wielding hooligan. This time, it was a group of Russian students who took it upon themselves to wish President Obama a Happy Birthday, except it was laced with racist and possibly homosexual undertones. I’m sure the desired effect was just to be a thorn in President Obama’s side. While this is juvenile work at best, it sure does seem indicative of things to come. That meaning, the Russians immaturity will block access to any decent resolution in the near future. They would rather play light games (21st century shadow games, if you will), rather than find peaceful outcomes to violent situations.
What does any of this mean? I don’t know. What does it matter? I don’t know. What I do know is, that this lighting thing seems to be a somewhat tool in the tool box, and we will see it when we see it on a variety of levels and by a variety of actors. With that, I will leave you with this song.