the holy fools

The Moment of Community Radio

Within the exuberant writings of the Deleuzoguattarians, there is a curious - and revealing - omission. They almost never mention Guattari’s claim in the Eighties that the Minitel system was about to replace top-down mass media with bottom-up ‘post-media’. [11] The reason for this absence must be found in the close similarity between Guattari’s Minitel utopia and his earlier dreams about the revolutionary potential of community radio. Paradoxically, it is Guattari’s anarcho-communist adventure within radio which provides the answer to why his contemporary disciples have developed such a curious affinity with the aristocratic ideology of Wired.

After May ‘68, many members of the New Left believed that producing alternative media was the most effective and fun way of putting their revolutionary theory into practice. In both Italy and France, the nationalised radio and television corporation had disseminated propaganda from the ruling conservative parties for decades. During the Seventies, New Left activists challenged this monopoly by setting up pirate radio stations. As the regulations against unlicensed broadcasting collapsed, thousands of ‘free radios’ emerged first in Italy and later in France. Although most were commercial, a minority were run by New Left activists.

According to Guattari, community radio stations were the only alternative to the domination of the airwaves by mindless ‘disco radios’. He wanted radio broadcasting to be used to create an electronic form of direct democracy which could replace the corrupt system of representative democracy. Instead of elected politicians, people would directly express their own opinions on the programmes of the community radio stations. The community radio stations supposedly prefigured the imminent reorganisation of the whole of society around direct democracy after the anarcho-communist revolution. Even this ultra-left utopia didn’t go far enough for Guattari. The ultimate aim of a ‘free radio’ was the subversion of bourgeois rationality and repressive sexuality within everyday life. When people were able to express their own views over the airwaves, Guattari hoped that the ‘delirium’ of desire would be released within the population. [12]

In the early-Eighties, Guattari was the leader of Fréquence Libre, a community radio station licenced to broadcast across Paris. However, it soon became obvious that turning Deleuzoguattarian theory into practice was impossible. Far from encouraging audience participation, the sectarian politics of the two philosophers actually discouraged people - including many on the Left - from getting involved in their community radio station. Guattari and his colleagues were more interested in lecturing the audience rather than engaging in discussions with them. This revolutionary elitism even extended the musical policies of the station. When some rappers approached Fréquence Libre about the possibility of making some programmes, the station refused to let any hip-hop crews on-air until their lyrics had been politically vetted! After they’d alienated most of their potential activists and audience, Guattari’s ‘free radio’ encountered growing difficulties in raising sufficient cash and recruiting enough volunteers to operate the station. Eventually, Fréquence Libre went bankrupt and its frequency was sold to pay its debts. Guattari’s attempts to turn theory into practice within the ‘free radio’ movement had ended in tragedy. [13]

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