Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nashville marketer goes out of his way to label Occupy protesters as "idiots" and caricature them on his blog

Nashville publisher, marketer and "social media manager" Rex Hammock is not impressed with recent popular uprisings, and even less so with Occupy Wall Street. Rex, owner of 20-year-old Hammock, Inc, has not only been consistently dismissive of 2011 democratic movements and populist anger at the impeachable and unaccountable financial sector, but this month he expressed his contempt for them based on a single NPR story by calling them "a bunch of idiots" on par with Tea Partyists.

In spite of information constantly streaming online with broader images of Occupy Wall Street in cities and towns across America, Rex seems to have stuck to the bashing distortions of the movement. Yesterday, he overlaid his blog with a pastiche of farcical (in some cases grotesque) cartoon figures, and then exclaimed, "My blog has been occupied." Rex seems bent on continued marginalization of a protest movement and of political disobedience, even as US opinion polls acknowledge their legitimacy.

Hammock gonna hate: Rex's blog occupied per Rex

I do not know why Rex Hammock is bent on bashing people who are trying to make our country a better place for everyone. Perhaps we did not sink low enough in this recession for Rex to believe dissent against this market is necessary. If so, that would be confounded logic.

But I also wonder whether issues that belch these attacks go deeper. On the one hand, he honors the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the March on Washington (no word on what he thinks of Dr. King's radical shift 3 years later to economic justice via abolishing poverty and ending the Vietnam War, which seem consistent with OWS ideas). On the other hand, he identifies "real-life" with families living in the deep south who never had to make a decision between racism or civil rights movement.

So, why isn't Rex sitting this one out? Why does he continue to unleash scorn on dissenters based on scant knowledge of what is happening on the ground? Why does he have to inflate common, rag-tag people into abnormal, misguided fools?

Seeger with Ms. Roosevelt occupying segregation in 1944 
Yesterday, something else happened beyond the extension of Rex's invective here in Nashville. Up in New York City, 92-year-old Pete Seeger joined Occupy Wall Street's demonstration. Seeger is the folk singer who learned the basics of the old Negro spiritual "We Shall Overcome" from union organizer Zilphia Horton. Seeger is also the person who expanded the spiritual's words and mainstreamed the song for the Civil Rights Movement. The singer is married to revolutionary 20th Century movement organizing and was banned from TV appearances for a time for his principles. His versions of songs were sung in jail cells by protesters imprisoned for marching while Rex was apparently growing up in the deep south, spared the tough choices presented by civil rights dissent. For Seeger to join Occupy Wall Street says much more confidently about this movement than Rex Hammock can say hatefully with his blog cartoons and philippic sarcasm.

Over against Hammock's catty caricatures, I would place this video of Seeger performing another civil rights classic, "This Little Light of Mine", with other musicians after marching up Broadway to NYC's Columbus Circle last night:

I probably would not be writing any of this if Rex Hammock were not considered somewhat of a social media guru but, because he is influential, his peculiar ridicule warrants rejoinder. Beyond his standing (or celebrity?), his ideas on social protest are silly.

CLARIFICATION: Both Rex and Laura Creekmore in the comments below express concern or anger that I am accusing Rex of being a racist in the fourth paragraph above. That was not my intention at all. I do want to be clear about my intentions, because I do not believe Rex to be racist by any stretch.  Here is what Rex originally wrote in his Amazon review:

Marsh grew up in Mississippi during the 1960s, the only child in a family who were neither racist nor vocal civil rights advocates. Theirs is a story rarely heard because it is not one of dramatic heroism or tragedy. Yet it's the real-life story of many of us who grew up in the deep south during that era.

Clearly, Rex identifies with Marsh in growing up in a family that was plainly not racist. My intention in paragraph 4 above was not to dispute his plain point but to suggest that, because Rex grew up between racists and civil rights protesters, he may not be inclined to support protesters now in the same way that someone like Pete Seeger did this week, even though praising protest icons like MLK, Jr. I apologize for any imprecision on my part in making my point clear. But by no means am I trying to convey that Rex is racist.


  1. Why are you attacking me personally?

    You've searched through ten years of blog posts and book reviews and you find some review of a book you've obviously never read and suggest I'm saying something that is, what, racist? I can't tell.

    Are you so humorless that you can't accept that Occupy Wall Street is political street theater?

    Why are you attacking me personally? Why aren't you attacking Jon Stewart's show for recognizing precisely what I did in those tweets that so offended you:

    You know, because I tweeted and blogged links to it, that I have written at length regarding my beliefs about issues that are directly relevant to occupyism. [ ]

    But you chose not to quote it or acknowledge it in this post, but rather to cherry pick irrelevant snippets that do nothing to connect me with anything negative about your cause -- except some comments I've made, mostly in jest, about how silly and incoherent many of the participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests were. You know also that I've written that once some articulate individuals started pointing out what the in-articulate couldn't explain, I at least began to comprehend what their issues were.

    Is it not enough to come close to sharing your beliefs?

    Must I must also endorse the political theater of the Occupy people?

    And if not endorsing that theater or their approach, do I deserve to be attacked like this?

  2. Rex: No, I was not suggesting that you are a racist. I took you at your word in the Amazon review when you said that you grew up in a context in the south of many families that were neither racist nor civil rights advocates. Further, I acknowledged your reverence for Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

    I don't consider myself humorless and the street theater is clear to me.

    I don't consider it a personal attack to question the logic of your argument and to judge your criticism of the OWS "idiots" as mean-spirited.

    Despite your claims, OWS is not my cause, simply because I've been blogging for a long time myself about various issues. I've been critical myself of OWS and have been countered by some of their local supporters. I do consider OWS a viable alternative to status quo politics. Whether they become my cause remains to be seen.

    Finally, if I believed that we shared common beliefs about OWS, I would not have felt the need to blog about this.

  3. I really hesitate to wade into this because I am not at all sure anymore that you can really hear criticism from anyone who doesn't agree with you lockstep, Mike.

    But I cannot believe the unfair criticism you've leveled at Rex, and I can't let it stand here.

    My bias: I worked for Rex for 14 years at Hammock and at So I know him pretty damn well. Well enough to say: You have no idea what you're talking about.

    You deny that you call him a racist, but that is very much the implication of your 4th paragraph. Please, tell me what else that's supposed to mean? And to be clear here, you have no idea what you're talking about. An implication of racism is incredibly hard to negate. But you've taken two blog posts and made a character judgment -- one which happens to be not only inaccurate but also character assassination.

    You dismiss his other commentary on the OWS movement as if he's a Wall Street fat cat, out of touch with middle America. Again, you have no idea what you're talking about.

    What I think you're missing in your criticism of Rex, and of those who don't understand the OWS movement:

    As Rex and Jon Stewart have both pointed out: This movement has been largely incomprehensible to many outside of it. I'm not talking about "the 1%" -- I'm talking about lots of people in the 99. Because this is largely a leader-less movement, it also appears to the outsider to be a vision-less movement. I do think that has begun to change somewhat in the past week or so, but it has taken extensive journalism to begin to pull together the amazing diversity of threads feeding these protests.

    To many people, this movement doesn't make sense. Our country's character is based on the idea that you pull yourself up by the bootstraps. I think there are many factors today leaving some in our country without boots, but nonetheless, that remains our national identity. That's the fight worth having -- but instead you're picking someone who could be an ally and turning him into an enemy here.

    I would argue that the fundamental divide in our country has become a gulf in the past three years...there are many without skills who remain marginalized, but now there are also those with skills who can't find a job who are marginalized.

    The other complicating factor is that while the economy overall continues to take two steps forward and one step back, some segments of the economy are chugging right along -- so the protests seem mystifying to people in those lucky places, too.

    Finally, I am absolutely astounded at your picking Rex out of the fray to be the subject of a critical blog post. Dude, pick a banker. No one's defending them. Rex owns a small business and employs people. He writes paychecks twice a month.

    If you aren't winning Rex to your cause, you've lost. THAT'S the point. And you're not winning anyone with character assassinations like this. You're just showing your own.

  4. This will be my last comment on this topic, but I feel the need to add to the record here (I'm not debating you, merely making sure I respond to your character attack that obviously isn't evident to you, but will be clear to anyone who reads this.

    Saying that individuals being interviewed on NPR during the first days of the protests sounded like idiots seems to be my offense with you -- you keep going on and on about it, as if that is the only time the OWS protesters have been less than articulate in what they say in interviews. I said, clearly -- and this has been my point on the extremely few times (compared to the other meaningless drivel I write and tweet) -- they seemed more like Howard Bealeists than anything. I said that after re-watching the movie Network, something I suggest you do. Don't just try to remember what you think it was about -- watch it.

    Last thing -- and I hope the last thing ever I write that you read, as you are extremely welcomed to ignore anything I write along with the vast majority of people who ignore it:

    you say -->

    "I probably would not be writing any of this if Rex Hammock were not considered somewhat of a social media guru but, because he is influential, his peculiar ridicule warrants rejoinder. Beyond his standing (or celebrity?), his ideas on social protest are silly."

    I have never claimed to be, indeed have argued time-and-time again, any kind of "guru." I am someone who uses a blog to write things and Twitter to write shorter things.

    I have said over and over there is no such thing as a social media guru...and, except for some marketing people, there is no such thing as social media (in a world where everyone has access to the same media channels).

    I appreciate you saying I'm a celebrity (mystified, but appreciative) and that I am influential (to whom?), but if those are the reasons you think it's okay to attack me personally, I think you're wrong.

  5. Again, I regret that anyone is interpreting my comments to say that I believe Rex Hammock is a racist. My intention was to underscore the probability that coming from a context where one was spared hard choices of civil rights protest may predispose Rex to the kind of armchair triangulation he has been using against OWS. Otherwise, I fail to understand from whence his unrelenting baiting and caricaturing arises. I did nothing in this blog post to contradict Rex's Amazon review where he clearly, unequivocally sets his family apart from racists.

    Rex's October tweets on this issue are peppered with snark about the scope & character of OWS. Rex's self-referential March 2009 post says very little about OWS legitimacy other than Rex was already ahead of the curve on these problems. I'm accused of taking Rex out of context, but my views in this October post about the recent "occupation" of his blog occur in the context of his responses to popular protest, which he seems suspicious of. If someone can point me to material in which he backs popular protests, I'll take a look. Perhaps I missed something supportive he wrote about the Arab Spring or of the London uprisings of a few months ago.

    Now to "celebrity". Whether Rex concedes it or not, he has an impressive number of followers who seem to look to him to set a tone in social media. He is considered an authority because of his successes. He may not consider himself a guru, but in my opinion he is approached by others as one. I wasn't sure the term "celebrity" applied, but these ongoing analogies to immensely popular celebrity Jon Stewart (whom I confess I have not followed on this topic mainly because I don't hang on every Stewart word) indicate that it does.

  6. I've enjoyed reading this banter. I met Rex 25 years ago. Did some business with him. I can say he's a good guy, even if he is a flacker. I also totally support the OWers. What Laura forgets (or does not know) is that it's tough to pull youself up by the bootstraps when your boots have been nailed to the floor by greedy, corporate interests. Fact is, OWers are pro-capitalist. They just want a fair playing field.

  7. Nashville flacks are a strange lot. Just witness McNeely, Piggot and Fox. Most of these folks came from the Tennessean and Nashville Banner as journalists. As did Rich Riebeling.

    Somehow, they have all decided to sell theirs souls for money. They'll drink a beer with you and act all cool, but go to the office in the morning do what they can to make a big paycheck.

    Mike is right in calling Rex out, though his points may be a bit off. However, he calls into question the integrity of Hammock.

    I have to agree with Mike.

    Hammock has always worked for thr machine. And gets his paycheck from them.

    He should be held accountable.