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Richmond IndyMedia Live! Every Tuesday, 12:30 - 1PM on 97.3 WRIR LP-FM, and streaming online from wrir.org!

News :: [none]

Richmond IMC pushes VMI photos to national attention, internal investigation

Costumes from a 2004 Halloween party at Virginia Military Institute depicting cadets as Nazis, in blackface, and as “fairies? appeared at Richmond Indymedia on January 25 and sparked a debate over the meaning behind the costumes and disciplinary action against the cadets.

The pictures had been on display on a personal photo-share site, but after contact information for VMI administration was posted at Richmond Indymedia alongside the photos the story mushroomed into a campus controversy and a national media feature. The Associated Press ran the story, prompting local Virginia outlets to carry it and then the Washington Post.

The cause of the sudden interest in the offensive pictures is a direct result of a post on Thursday, January 27 by “CBC? on Richmond Indymedia. This article stimulated an intense debate and a vibrant dialogue on the site; there have been nearly 200 replies to the article. The volume of visitors caused IMC editors and tech support to scramble in an attempt to maintain the availability of Richmond Indymedia. The site also served as a tool to convey the public call for accountability, and emails from RVA IMC users convinced the administration at VMI to call for an investigation into the context and meaning behind such offensive and obscene costumes.

Over the past few days, Richmond Indymedia has been flooded by the high volume of people accessing the article, making the site almost completely inaccessible. While a large number of VMI cadets responded to the article to defend their peers, some students at the school agreed with public criticism, acknowledged the offensive nature of the costumes and told of dissent within the student body against the costumes. Another soldier, with 22 years of service, related the offensive costumes to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He stated that "Actions like this, viewed by the world, from an institution that supposedly puts leaders on the battlefield, only fuels their mistrust and pushes them to the insurgency against our efforts... You have to learn about this human sensitivity and to quit labelling it political correctness"....
Costumes from a 2004 Halloween party at Virginia Military Institute depicting cadets as Nazis, in blackface, and as “fairies? appeared at Richmond Indymedia on January 25 and sparked a debate over the meaning behind the costumes and disciplinary action against the cadets.

The pictures had been on display on a personal photo-share site, but after contact information for VMI administration was posted at Richmond Indymedia alongside the photos the story mushroomed into a campus controversy and a national media feature. The Associated Press ran the story, prompting local Virginia outlets to carry it and then the Washington Post.

The cause of the sudden interest in the offensive pictures is a direct result of a post on Thursday, January 27 by “CBC? on Richmond Indymedia. This article stimulated an intense debate and a vibrant dialogue on the site; there have been nearly 200 replies to the article. The volume of visitors caused IMC editors and tech support to scramble in an attempt to maintain the availability of Richmond Indymedia. The site also served as a tool to convey the public call for accountability, and emails from RVA IMC users convinced the administration at VMI to call for an investigation into the context and meaning behind such offensive and obscene costumes.

Over the past few days, Richmond Indymedia has been flooded by the high volume of people accessing the article, making the site almost completely inaccessible. While a large number of VMI cadets responded to the article to defend their peers, some students at the school agreed with public criticism, acknowledged the offensive nature of the costumes and told of dissent within the student body against the costumes. Another soldier, with 22 years of service, related the offensive costumes to the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. He stated that "Actions like this, viewed by the world, from an institution that supposedly puts leaders on the battlefield, only fuels their mistrust and pushes them to the insurgency against our efforts... You have to learn about this human sensitivity and to quit labelling it political correctness".

One question that remains is “Why Now?? Why are these images, and the concepts behind them suddenly creating a stir within the mainstream consciousness? In another time, it may have been remotely acceptable by some to make fun of poverty, homosexuality, and Nazi war criminals. Perhaps in the light of the Abu Grahib and other such prison scandals the public has become wearier of the military permitting forms of discrimination, ethnocentrism and prejudice. Perhaps there is a dialogue going on within our society that questions the institutional problems that cause such obscene and embarrassing images as the ones that we all saw coming out of the Iraqi prisons.

Much of the defense of the cadets has been focused on a seemingly impenetrable barrier that presumably protects VMI students from the outside world. This defense makes the assumption that soldiers are (and should be) socialized in a way alien to mainstream society, a way that most of the public cannot understand. According to their defenders, this difference between the miltiary and the public should protect soldiers from all scrutiny. This argument was countered repeatedly and was described as a “dangerous? one that provides the basis for a military exceptionalism, placing armed forces out of the reach of public accountability. While the defense claims that what these soldiers do to “blow off steam? should not be an object of debate, many RVA IMC users point out that without accountability, the armed forces become removed from the society they claim to serve. The only real accountability becomes one that is top down in nature, one that is derived from the formal hierarchies within the military and the government, not from active participation of a democratic society. This claim of military exceptionalism is thus a defense of authoritarian structures and should be constantly challenged if we are to achieve a more democratic society.

The recent events on Richmond Indymedia and mainstream attention given to this issue show that this is a very pertinent one, that is capable of igniting strong disagreements in public dialogue. Pressure points like these are extremely important for social justice movements, and independent media outlets to push. It is this sort of pressure that stimulates social change, and activist infrastructures need to be ready to handle the dialogue that accompanies it. If IMC’s are to provide activist/progressive news on a mass scale we need to be ready to handle the flood of users when it happens. With this realization in mind, Richmond IMC is working on tech upgrades that will make the site more available to a larger number of users.

Original story in Richmond IMC:
richmond.indymedia.org/feature/display/9193/index.php

Stories in mainstream press:
www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45703-2005Jan28.html?sub=new

times-dispatch.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=RTD%2FMGArticle%2FRTD_Basi

www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/17647.html
 
 


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