Down To Clown: Dadaism Meets Occupy Wall Street

'Dada Manisfestation' by Jay Schwartz“Every word that is spoken and sung here (the Cabaret Voltaire) represents at least this one thing: that this humiliating age has not succeeded in winning our respect.”
– Hugo Ball
“Apparently nothing will ever teach these people that the other 99 percent of the population exist.”
– George Orwell


It’s just another day on planet Earth. The warmongers are rattling their sabers. The power-mongers are scheming. Political pundits, regardless of their place in the political void, are preaching to their own choirs, and pseudo-intellectuals everywhere are mentally masturbating over whether or not the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has faded away, even as its 2-year anniversary approaches.

Meanwhile, the rich (1%) are getting richer, the poor (99%) are getting poorer … and the ‘dadas’ are still creatively angst-ridden, at least this one is. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of existential angst, please note that I ‘might’ be facing deportation at sometime in the near future. Despite what my lawyer says, I reserve the right to be paranoid.

After all, having traded ‘standard of living’ for ‘quality of life’ about 18 years ago, I remain an American living in Greece, or so my pedigree and permanent resident papers claim, despite my personal non-conformity to either countries’ national norms.

Speaking of norms, I can’t help but draw a parallel between OWS and Dadaism, especially in regard to both movements’ anti-establishment stance on ‘the system’. In the faces of both personal and societal upheaval, both movements delight in rejecting the logic and reason of a fallacious zeitgeist that slavishly adheres to a system of personal slavery that’s been irrevocably broken for quite some time.

Of course, some people just don’t get it, claiming that it is human nature to bring order to what is perceived as chaos. Regardless of the fact that chaos may very well have its own brand of symmetry, hair-loss becomes rampant for some when presented with a square peg and a round hole.

Hoch-Cut_With_the_Kitchen_KnifeTristan Tzara, one of the seminal dadas of dada, suggested that “we are often told that we are incoherent, but into this word people try to put an insult that it is rather hard for me to fathom. Everything is incoherent.” I think the organizers of OWS would agree in that their view of coherence in reality is vastly different from that of Wall Street ‘banksters’ or the elite.

Yet to many, a movement espousing the occupation of public space for peaceful protest would seem conspicuous by it absence having been forcibly evicted from its soap box. Nevertheless, it would be wise for ‘ye of little faith’ to look elsewhere for the truth – which is that OWS is alive and well and merely occupying different kinds of space: social media and our consciousness.

To me, OWS was first and foremost a phenomenon that only social media could have given birth to, as much as Dadaism was a phenomenon that only the arts could have sired. As such, and in the face of heavy-handed authoritarian pressure in the form of police brutality, it is within social media that OWS has continued to thrive since its inception.

The Occupy movement was not limited to New York or Wall Street. It just exploded onto the consciousness of America, a country traditionally lacking in middle class protest. The action’s roots, of course, lie in the ‘Arab Spring’ and Europe-based Indignados (Spain, Greece, et al) movements. Again, at the heart of these progenitors was social, economic and political disgruntledness expressed via social media.

In their day, the dadaists, as well, resorted to the same actions via publications and public gatherings. They too raised the ire and indignation of the ‘status quo’ around the globe, eventually withstanding the test of time.

'One Percent Democracy' by Sandy SandersIn his ‘Dada Manifesto’ of 1918, Tzara suggested that “The magic of a word – Dada – which has brought journalists to the gates of a world unforeseen, is of no importance to us”. Likewise, OWS brought journalists far and wide to similar gates to bear witness to a growing human mass of realism.

Meanwhile, hordes of banksters and Wall Street suits tumbled out of their skyscraper cracker boxes to gawk incredulously at what they could only fathom as an army of Lilliputians bearing down on them. And, in ivory towers far off in the distance, the ‘rich’ worried about being eaten and so they marshaled their duly elected and bribed government officials to prosecute (read: execute) this mob to the full extent of the ‘soon to be amended’ laws governing restricted free speech, misuse of public places and homeland security.

Such a return to ‘sanity’ meant crowd control, via law enforcement representatives ‘waking early to beat the crowds’ and maliciously pepper spraying peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders. This is the reality of our times. In order ‘to protect and serve’, officer friendly requires riot gear.

It’s all too easy to resort to fighting fire with fire dismissing the eventual depreciating results sure to follow. It takes real brains, however, to understand that sometimes a clown is required to expose the real buffoons. The dadaists understood this, so did the principals behind Clown Bloq. After all, absurdity is not a crime … at least not yet.


In their own manifesto, Clown Bloq championed fighting flashbangs with pies, disarming weaponry with antics, and being prepared to defend space with absurdity. When the motley crew of clowns and mimes threatened to throw pies at the police, the authorities were both angered and concerned as to the content of such pies. Obviously beating a ‘guitarmy’ of ‘peace loving hippies’ requires no second thought, but clubbing Bozo the Clown on the 6 o’clock news might prove somewhat embarrassing for all involved.

Even the mainstream media (MSM) came running to interview this incarnation of a rebel clown army. For all their interest in broadcasting OWS related stories as entertainment more than reality, they too ended up with pie on their faces, compliments of those who defy the ‘norm’.



Yet, ‘normalcy’ is often nothing more than a numbers game and one that even democracy should not define. Simply put, if everyone were to decide to jump off the Empire State Building, social logic would deem it a ‘norm’. Moreover, when industries learn how to profit from the norm … well, then it becomes an establishment fully protected by ‘the powers that be’. In their own contexts, both the OWS movement and the dadaists railed against the prevailing ‘sanity’ of their respective times.

Clown Bloq’s mission was “to provide hilarity in the face of a humorless police state and to provide a fool’s critique of organized and militarized oppression of the people”. The action, certainly an act of artistic expression, like Dada and Pussy Riot, was not unlike ‘Ocularpation Wall Street’, an often cited precursor to the OWS movement. Conspired by Zefrey Throwell and a group of fellow artists, this peaceful street performance featured approximately thirty people, initially dressed up as police officers, bankers and various business types, who would eventually strip down to their ‘bare commodities’. On the streets of hallowed Wall Street financial district, three of the party were arrested as they protested against “the dark cranny in the financial world”, as Throwell put it.

Video: ‘Ocularpation Wall Street’: Naked Protest on Wall Street

However much art can be political and thought-provoking, there are still those with rigid and banal tendencies who remain nonplussed. And so, as the plight of the economically disadvantaged continues to deteriorate, it is the false promise of ‘different results’ that keeps the poor in line hoping to become rich one day. Of course, the rich won’t allow this and so the old adage applies: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting (the above mentioned) different results. In response, ‘big business’ continues to market insanity as sanity … and many are prepared to wait in line and beat each other silly just to attain it.

It’s unfortunate that all too often, some of the masses are asses … trained asses, in fact. To many, it’s obviously more convenient to search for freedom within the confines of slavery, eventually discovering to their relief that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. Sorry, this construct is not freedom, but rather delusion and a product of victimization.

611px-Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone_49For example, clueless detractors of the occupy movement cannot fathom why the movement, as a whole, did not set sail for the stagnant polluted waters of politics. The ‘Tea Party’ is often cited as an example of a grass movement that mutated into an official political party … regardless of the fact that an actual political party had been funding and helping it to thrive all along. Yes, yes, marionettes generally dismiss their grand puppeteers, until their strings are cut.

Similarly, grandstanding for nationalism and ‘party politics’, like racism, is contagious. Like a computer virus, the source surreptitiously infects others, who in turn become ‘bots’, blindly serving only their instructions to infect others. In worse cases, these infected hosts become so dependent on their source that removing their connection to the original infection renders them useless.

In this sense, computer viruses are really nothing more than a grand metaphor for how our society works, especially when the traditional (elite and government controlled) MSM becomes the mainline source of news and information. This is why social media is so important in helping to eradicate such ‘social’ infections. This is how Dadaism, OWS and similar revolutionary movements managed to grow – by defying the established one-way ‘network’ of infected drones.

Real change demands breaking from the norm. It means defying the expectations of others, especially the elite, the ‘powers that be’, the captains of industry and all of their enslaved minions. Revolutions occur when real people eventually realize that maintaining the ‘status quo’ represents nothing more than a futile exercise in bleeding off time, energy, money and other personal resources.

'MonopolyTower' by Lalo Alcaraz As OWS continues to endure and defy expectation, some proponents envision a ‘next generation’ or ‘messianic type second coming’. Some, like me, rightfully argue that OWS never really left, and that the nature of the beast is just widely misunderstood, especially by the MSM and those who represent or ascribe to the ‘status quo’.

To some, OWS was surreal, but no more surreal than the day-to-day lives the homeless, the anxiety felt by the chronically ill with no health insurance or even the college graduate drowning in student loan debt. No one said that real change was easy, not even President Barack Obama. Creating a new reality often requires dispensing with the accepted ‘reason of the times’. To this end, such ‘sanity’ can only be met with ‘insanity’. So there.

Long live OWS and Dadaism. Hail to dadas and clowns everywhere!

P.S. Happy Birthday, Occupy Wall Street!

P.P.S. Free Pussy Riot, too!


More Dada 4U: click here for my other posts on Dadaism

Occupy Karma: click here for my other Occupy inspired posts


Further Reading


Suggested Reading



Suggested Listening

The Souljazz Orchestra: Manifesto

“Manifesto” by The Souljazz Orchestra – Help support independent artists!


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