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WATCHING U.S. TELEVISION FROM THE PALESTINIAN STREET: The Media, the State, and Representational Interventions



This article tracks contests of representation among the Palestinian Authority (PA), the U.S. news media, and the Palestinian public regarding the funeral of PA President Yasser Arafat and subsequent presidential elections. It is popularly assumed that governments primarily represent by gathering people and implementing actions in their names, whereas media represent by depicting the world. Latour has called for “object-oriented democracies” that reintegrate gathering and depiction in ways that eschew formal structures of political legitimation, which have so often been abused. This enables recognition of emergently democratic forms. However, even in these provisional assemblies, established institutions of legitimating representation, like states and elite media institutions, continue to exert authority. This demands an ethnographic examination of connections among the state, the press, and the public. Palestinian officials and the public alike identify the U.S. media as influential conduits to powerful outsiders. Thus, Palestinian officials may use the Western press as an executive force, to encourage Palestinians to perform nationhood in an orderly manner. Palestinians may determine that neither the U.S. media nor the PA adequately represent them, and thus carry out political actions according to local political traditions. U.S. media depicted popular forms of gathering in the street at Arafat's funeral as chaotic, whereas they depicted voting, about which some Palestinians had important reservations, as a progressive form of gathering. As officials and journalists do their representational work, the ostensible subjects of representation, the public, often undertake their own projects of gathering and depicting, but these are reincorporated into—and transformed by—authorized representational institutions.