Ev-Ent-Anglement 3: One current shape for Internet feminism and its many discontents
July 3, 2015
I recently performed the third iteration of my experimental, affective scholarly talk cum “event” at Console-ing Passions 2015: “Ev-ent-anglement 3: Dublin.” The project has a nearly-completed year-long shelf-life as it and I travel the globe while transforming on the Internet (the sustaining relations between my physical bodily mobility through space and my grounded Internet presence, based as it is on assumptions that at last people can stay put, is one of the contradictions at the heart of this project: I need to be multiply physically placed-based to learn about digital place and community; the longer we have the Internet the more we travel physically because we know so many more people and place seems suddenly as available to us as products). Opening in Utrecht in August 2014, the Ev-ent-anglement went next to Dehli and Dublin. In August 2015 it will surface one final time in Montreal as part of a small symposium, “Affective Encounters.” A live collaborative art-event with Laila Shereen Sakr in Los Angeles at PAM in September will conclude the run. The Ev-ent-anglement changes and grows as does my thinking about feminist Internet culture because of the interactions, objects and collaborators it brings into its fold from the places it and I go. In Dublin Orphan Black and Kara Keeling tangled in (with other objects).
No longer exactly where it started (it has had two websites and three discreet performances to date), this process- and interaction-rich project morphs yet continues as something akin to this: a living experiment that demonstrates in the doing the affordances of contemporary corporate (feminist) Internet culture and its potential alternatives. The ev-ent-anglement (perhaps poorly) enacts a feminist collective critical digital practice thereby telling us more about the corporate Internet and digital feminism.
Let me explain. I built the ev-ent-anglement to consider how we might do better with the uncountable fragments of ourselves that we willingly, massively and generatively give to the man with every tweet, click, and photo. I cobbled together a theoretical armature suited to scaffold my unique intellectual and practical pursuit: how to cut and paste our fragments together making use of feminist principles towards anti-corporate ends. Collaboration, blended live and digital space, co-production of time/space/knowledge (events), the linked value of the situated and the mobile, the entangled nature of things, people, and ideas, a hunger for experiences and communities outside the corporate, an openness to complex and radical political and theoretical critique, a commitment to learning in the doing: these are some of the many feminist and activist principles underlying the project. From them, I concocted a strange place-based practice and performance (an event) where I presented the ideas of the project—montage, new materialism, affect theory, critical Internet studies, feminist and queer theory—while simultaneously asking the audience in the room (and always also online) to entangle fragments of themselves onto the event’s online record thereby marking and saving their part within the event while growing and changing its form within the ev-ent-anglement.
Because I performed the event at academic conferences (and because the ev-ent-anglement also reaches my online community), its participants are feminist activists, academics and artists interested in gender and queer studies, documentary, feminist media and their linked disciplines and foci. Because I performed the event in Utrecht, Dehli, and Dublin (and always online) fragments of these places, and their people and objects, entangle in. Because I showed certain images and quoted certain theorists, the ev-ent-anglement holds generative fragments concerned with the complex ideas and images of editing, cutting, bleeding, events, and entanglements. Because my community interacted, the project grew to include their linked interests: the Arab spring, disability studies, Trinh T. Minh-ha, AIDS, black queer representation and much more. Because VJ_Um_Amel first donated some fragments online, then got more invested, and ultimately began to collaborate with me, she led the production of a new website to hold the ever-morphing collection of ev-ent-anglements fragments. The new site has structuring principles related to ideas of shared-ownership, community, multi-authorship, fragmentation, bodies and their affects, collectivity, and feminism that reflect the larger project.
As of now, the second website cells.ev-ent-anglement.com, looks and even acts a lot like a hybrid (cut/paste+bleed) of two (feminist?) Internet stalwarts, Facebook and Pinterest (thanks to Natalie Bookchin for this comparison, and to the presenters on the Pinterest panel at Console-ing Passions): it automatically generates a seam-filled mosaic produced first from an author, and then from some algorithms that arrange her community’s fragments that have been crowd-sourced, willfully gifted, carefully curated, and linked. And yet …
Here’s where the differences bleed in, allowing us to see and perhaps name the current shape of Internet feminism and its many many discontents:
- Pinterest, Facebook (and other social media platforms) are corporate spaces that are free to use at great cost to users’ privacy and autonomy; I pay for ev-ent-anglement with surprisingly limited personal and institutional resources.
- Corporate spaces market in and mobilize corporate goods and user-generated content (often itself about corporate goods) arranged and calibrated with some very careful measure; while there is almost no outside to the market economy, a rather significant portion of the fragments on the ev-ent-anglement are not (fully) entangled with corporate culture.
- Facebook, Pinterest (and other social media platforms) only work if things and people are bought and sold to each other; ev-ent-anglement buys and sells nothing other than platform space, the infrastructures on which it runs, and its users’ time and expertise (mostly given “for free,” as is so much on the Internet).
- Facebook, Pinterest (and other social media platforms) are fun and easy to use; ev-ent-anglement is intense, difficult, and convoluted in comparison. Interestingly, off-the-shelf platforms bake in more and more ease-of-use but the corporations are always simplicity-steps ahead. The role of ease can not be overstated (see my work on slogans on YouTube).
- YouTube, Vine, Snapchat and their ilk produce a sense of community organized around the self; ev-ent-anglement organizes its community primarily through my invitation (and then that of others) to a dispersed but highly limited group of people linked by ideas, commitments, and proximity.
- Corporate spaces are built and prosper within the growth and scale logics of neo-liberalism: things are best when they get larger and hold unimaginable quantities of data; the ev-ent-anglement treasures and relies upon the close-knit, intimate, specialist interests and commitments of its tiny community and limited data pool. There is depth and connection in the focused, but corporate spaces have other kinds of magnetism.
- Users’ compulsion to engage and stay within Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like is high, a result of many of the features listed above: their ease of use, abundance of content, sense of community, and refined admixture of corporate and user-generated content; very few people want to engage with the ev-ent-anglement in any sustained way (or at all) mostly because it retains my signature (even as it expands), and because it is complicated and demanding of time and intellectual attention. Also, “scholars” have a hesitation to make publicly (although not on Facebook!)
- The collections of fragments that are any individual’s Facebook or YouTube feed are at once satisfyingly tailored around the self, while also being fleeting, abundant, diverse and easy; the ev-ent-anglement is co-authored and multiply-focused; it is time and space bound.
- Twitter, Facebook and the like are founded upon flow, speed, quantity, and brevity; much of the ev-ent-anglement sticks, taking time and space to enjoy its complexity and depth.
- Scholars and users of corporate Internet culture perform the obligatory work of jamming “feminist” intention, activity, community, and values into spaces and practices organized primarily towards neoliberal, hegemonic and sometimes even anti-feminist aims; the ev-ent-anglement, like other “alternative,” “counter-cultural,” or anti-hegemonic spaces asks its scholars and users to name and refine the feminist values and practices that feed us and structure the space; we often disagree, which is useful when done respectfully. Of course, no space is pure, so our movement between and among and within them informs all we might know and do.
The ev-ent-anglement is produced in relation to, conversation with, and defiance against corporate ownership and neoliberal aims within the Internet and every other place we go. It values feminist complexity, community, and collaboration outside the logic of capital, when possible. It tells us that the corporate Internet is expensive, commodity-driven, fun, easy, self-centered, addictive yet feeding, and malleable within these constraints. This tells me something I’ve known for quite awhile: the corporate Internet is the place we are, it is not the place we want or need, we can do better.