media, information, the contemporary

The Mediatized Protest: Hong Kong, Cinema, Telegram, and The Lennon Wall

The Mediatized Protest: Hong Kong, Cinema, Telegram, and The Lennon Wall

Date: 17th January 2020, Friday
Venue: Seminar Room, CSDS, 29 Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi-110054
Time: 4.00 pm

Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 15 September 2019: Young citizens all around you gear up: face masks, gloves, goggles, helmets, knee and shin-pads, biking gear, backpacks and the inevitable umbrellas. As they go into a very twenty-first century war, you are guided every step of the way. You are told to open your umbrella when walking down the main police headquarters. You could be tear-gassed or worse, facially recognized. Helicopters are flying overhead. The surging movement seems seamless: Telegram groups broadcast elaborate diagrams every ten minutes indicating where the police are, how many, what the escape routes might be, where the tear-gassing and water-cannoning may take place. Poles bearing CCTV cameras are avoided, and sometimes uprooted. From Telegram to various Reddit-type chat forums to Facebook to Lennon Walls to simply hand-gestures, you are surrounded by a jungle-telegraph of signs. You can’t read them, but you are told what to do.

This presentation takes off from the Hong Kong protests which began in June 2019 and are by no means over, to explore a mediatized space of political protest. In a way a celebratory return to the physicality of analogue, it is also a space of virtualized independence, uncontrollable because invisible to regulation. It explores a cinematic invention, inherited by diverse media forms, that has increasingly become central to protest movements everywhere. The ability of the cinema to ‘spill out’ beyond the screen and into the streets is well known, but here we encounter a variant of this phenomenon in what Ackbar Abbas famously named the ‘politics of disappearance’ or the déjà disparu, and we would now see this in the way that Bruce Lee and Johnnie To (alongside franchises like Avenger and Hunger Games) provide the paradigms for struggle, even as established political theory strives to keep pace. 

The talk will include excerpts from Hong Kong films such as Makin Bing-fai Fung’s cult classic Hong Kong Road Movie (1996), Tammy Cheung’s July (2004), the dystopian Andy Lau blockbuster Firestorm (2013), Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After (2013) and the famous Umbrella Movement films Chan Tze-Woon’s Yellowing (2016) and Rita Hui’s Pseudo-Secular (2016).

Ashish Rajadhyaksha is an independent scholar. He is the author of Ritwik Ghatak: A Return the Epic (1982), Indian Cinema in the Time of Celluloid: From Bollywood to the Emergency (2009) and The Last Cultural Mile: An Inquiry into Technology and Governance in India (2011),  and editor of Encyclopaedia of Indian Cinema (with Paul Willemen) (1994/1999), In the Wake of  Aadhaar: the Digital Ecosystem of Governance in India (2013) and The Shock of Desire and Other Essays (Kumar Shahani’s writings, 2015). He has been visiting faculty at the Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and at Ambedkar University, Delhi