August 18, 2005

Over at Avant Game, Jane McGonigal proposes the "Ministry of Reshelving Project." She suggests that people go into their local bookstores and reshelve all the copies of George Orwell's 1984, moving them from their "incorrect" location in Fiction to a "more suitable section" such as Current Affairs or True Crime. She describes this as a "revolution" and a form of play, a game.

What will be the impact of McGonigal's "revolution?" Principally, it'll make a lot of extra work for all the minimum-wage clerks who have to re-shelve the books she and her fellow vandals have moved; secondarily, it'll make it harder for those who want to read the book to find it.

McGonigal argues that neither of these will happen, because she's asking everyone who takes part to print out a little card, to be put at the location of the removed books, directing people to their "corrected" location. And since all of her revolutionaries will follow those instructions to the letter, and none of those little cards will themselves ever be misplaced -- well, that's a relief, isn't it?

It's hard to see what's really being accomplished here. As a form of political protest, this is entirely ineffective, and a waste of time and energy that could be spent doing something useful -- registering voters, perhaps. As a piece of performance art, it's trite. And as an act of "gaming?" It seems to me that once you start imposing your "game" on unwilling participants, it stops being a game.

And here's what really annoys me about this: It's so childishly solipsistic. As long as we're amused by our own cleverness, McGonigal seems to be saying, who gives a shit about the inconvenience we're causing to others? It's political protest as re-imagined by a 3-year-old.


Lynn S said...

Most political protests are childish. As protests go, this one seems fairly harmless. I'd rather put up with a little extra difficulty finding a book than have to drive through a bunch of people blocking the street and waving signs. Of course I'd rather not have to put up with either one. The best political protest is always to just shut up and write your congressman and keep on writing.

Keith said...

"Most political protests are childish."

Do you think so? I don't see much childishness, for instance, in Cindy Sheehan's ongoing anti-war protest; nor do I see much disruption of other people's lives, certainly no deliberate disruption.

Put those things together, and you get the essential element that's locking from McGonigal's childish prank (which really shouldn't even be dignified with the word "protest"): respect.

Sheehan is expressing her dissent in a way that demonstrates respect for the institutions against which she's protesting. McGonigal's prank doesn't demonstrate respect for anything except, perhaps, her own wit.

Maggie Osterberg said...

As a former bookstore clerk, I gotta say that the only political action this is going to accomplish is maybe getting some poor schmuck like me fired, because "[the clerk] obviously can't shelve properly" or worse, "control the floor."

It's fine as a one-liner, but a terrible idea in practice.