February 20, 2017
YouTube is a new kind of nation-state rooted in, and ruled by, self-aware performances about the rules and truths of its own conditions and practices. Like the internet it is built in and builds, it is a self-aware production about the conditions and experiences of social media labor, affect, ownership, and politics that also teeters on, and sits uncomfortably within, the true/fake divide.
Note to readers: With a heavy heart I link to this video. You need not watch it to understand its astounding connections to and revelations of the internet’s self-aware s of labor, politics, economics, the nation-state, and the truth/fiction divide. Its status as real and fake news is definitive of the medium, the message, and the man.
Further Reading on Performance and #100hardtruths-#fakenews:
February 20, 2017
#100truths-fakenews #9 is taken from John Herman’s “YouTube Monster: PewDiePie and His Populist Revolt,” NYTimes, February 16, 2017:
For now, most of the biggest internet platforms are understood as venues for communication, expression and consumption. YouTube has given us a glimpse at what happens when users start associating social platforms with something more: livelihoods … With more than a billion users, YouTube has become not merely a platform but almost a kind of internet nation-state: the host of a gigantic economy and a set of cultures governed by a new and novel sort of corporation, sometimes at arm’s length and other times up close.
Herman goes on to explain how YouTube’s recent firing of PewDiePie, one of its biggest and top-earning celebrities, for his either real or fake alt-right leanings (does it matter? can we ever know?) exposes a cluster of truths about this platform, truths that I have been documenting since the site’s inception, and which both he and I understand as bellwethers for other “developing” social networks and the internet that has been built by and on them. Namely, that YouTube is a “performatively self-aware” political-economy (Truth #10); that is, a new kind of nation-state rooted in, and ruled by, self-aware performances about the rules and truths of its own conditions and practices; that is, self-aware productions about the conditions and experiences of social media labor, affect, ownership, and politics that also teeter on, or sit uncomfortably in, the true/fake divide.
While it might seem a bit of a press to discuss Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and @ajkeen’s Digital Vertigo in one breath, or really, blog-post, I will do so because they both tackle one issue that is critical to me, albeit from different places: the changing nature of sociality in lieu of the digital.
Fisher writes as a professor, trying to do his job in a time when his students suffer from “depressive hedonia” and “reflexive impotence” both symptoms of capitalist realism: “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” (please see my similar experience when teaching feminist labor films from the 1970s in class last week). Meanwhile, Andrew Keen is also clocking discomfort in his workaday world, although in his case, as one suffering author in persistent and grueling competition amongst the “hyper-visible digital elite,” all of them, himself included, locked into a different totalizing system: hyper-connectivity and sociality.
Given that I am not in the digital elite (where my counts would keep growing and my opinions would thereby effect both the billionaires who rule the web, and the billions who track me), nor do I hope to be, Keen’s read on hyper-connectivity seems a bit overblown as a theory for either the masses or for me. While his book-length rant for the right to and dignity of privacy seems spot-on, his paranoid delusion that we all live our entire lives in the digital spotlight (or would want to) generalizes Internet culture from his own position, and life choices. Again, his fear that the digital elite are scheming for everything to become social, while justified, seems to miss that many humans still do many things offline (while he may not), and that we also lie, evade, and mis- and multiply-represent when we are there (even as they try their best to lock us into “frictionless sharing.”) Furthermore, his deep suspicion of the social seems again to be theorized by someone who is (perhaps rightfully) afraid of people, crowds, and groups because, I suppose, he is a member of the “digital elite,” and therefore a specially visible sort of somebody, and so can not be aware of the marvelous, sustaining, deeply human things people do in groups, big and small (like organizing, being friends, making art, teaching and learning). His suspicion of the social tracks back to those pesky hippies who tried to write their values into the web’s beginnings; a form that “mirrors the bohemian values of its pioneers.”
But all sociality is not about buying, bullying or selling, and all masses are not about conformity. We can be deeply human and in crowds, and some of our most satisfying and liberating experiences occur in collaboration. “The practice of happiness becomes subversive when it becomes collective,” writes Bifo.
Again, here’s where I think teaching comes in—as a social, moral and political act—and where Mark Fisher’s writing, although equally cynical and afraid (and rightly so), hits closer to the mark. I agree with Fisher that the role of teaching in these capitalist realist times becomes more complex (and even counter-intuitive), as other public institutions that might have served young people are erased by neoliberlism’s attention to cost-cutting (and fear of the social): “teachers are caught between being facilitator-entertainers and disciplinarian-authoritatirans.” Man: just see my Learning from YouTube to watch that unruly entertainment/discipline project unroll! But from there—that distinctly and entirely and definitively social experience that moved us on and off the Internet, talking and learning together—I can attest that my truly depressive-hedonist students, while truly luving Google, and their many devices of solitary-sharing, are also hungry, no rabid and open, to talking together about what this depression (and its associated diseases of ADD, anxiety, and loneliness) means and what they might make, given their place within it.
July 29, 2008
In my ongoing life as minor YouTube pundit, I’ve been asked to reflect on the phenomena that is Fred for Teacher’s College Record. Given that I had not seen the lad before the request, although I had skimmed Strangelove‘s post on the ADD of the matter, I’m using this entry to commence reflections towards the final piece. The final version is published at TCR.
As you can see Fred’s hyperdrive parodies the hyperactivity borne of a life within media (or so says LA Time’s Web Scout), one proscribed to children of this generation, one already younger than the much-touted “digital native,” who can not ever ever ever think or watch outside the logic of new media. “Cruikshank’s generation is the first one never to have known a world without the Internet. These kids speak the language of computers and technology as well as they speak English — if not better.”
Although the videos are almost unwatchable (for those of the calmer generations, we geriatrics still capable of sentences in real time…almost)—largely because, beyond their egregious squeak, the “humor” is so stunningly juvenile—I must suggest that their popularity among the under 15-set has to do, counter-intuitively, with their artful if banal sophistication (note oxymoronic structure ). I would begin to mark the nature of this timely form of media savvy within three more realms of opposition where I think Fred enacts the live tensions which are defining our media moment:
Boredom/distraction: Fred (like his teen-viewers) makes these trifles because he is stuck at home with nothing to do. He’s BORED. And yet, Fred (like his adoring fans) is jumping from YouTube to IM-ing to friend’s house, too distracted, speedy, and hyperactive to have time to get really bored (like we used to in the oh-so media-pure past of hay rides and beer bashes).
Real/Parody: FRED is watchable, and lovable, as is true for all vloggers, because he is visibly himself. A regular, rural kid from Nebraska in a tract-like house with carpet made apparent through a consumer camcorder. And yet, this likably real Fred is notably and obviously playing the character of Fred: a guy with a prostitute/alchoholic/absent/mannish mother and a jailed/murderer father. Fred artfully mixes several familiar media languages of the moment: skewing only slightly younger while amping the juvenile pre-occupations (poop, pee) of the much-loved man-boy genre (inventing the boy-boy version, I suppose); and mixing this with the mundane boring nature of the vlog. Now, I’ve written on the radical potential of the known parody in the fake documentary, and it seems that once its gotten to FRED and his banal, if savvy minions, the cutting depth of this style of critique must have worked thin. Although he reminds me eerily of Jonathan Caouette playing the black crack whore welfare Mom in his bedroom a generation earlier, Fred’s parody has been drained of what makes Caouette’s work HURT.
Isolation/Community: Of course, Fred is alone in Nebraska, which contributes to the boredom which drives him to the web, and there he meets endless, interchangable youth, also so driven to the internet, and there they parody him, in less-worthy homages, and so meet, sort of, still of course, stuck in their bedrooms, but endlessly reflecting each other’s loneliness and boredom, ever the state of youth, or ever more so the state of today’s digital youth who don’t ever go out to play, perhaps because they’ve been somehow convinced that this “community” of dopplegangers has a value, allowing them to make another video…
Now what this means for educators, people interested in media literacy, and youth media, is what I must get to next. But for now, I must get my daughter (and myself) of the net, and go to lunch.
May 21, 2008
Some more of that today.
First: “Over the weekend I went to the Getty Museum to see the show on “California Video,” where many of the genres now being produced by vernacular content-creators for YouTube could be seen in the avant-garde practices of video artists of the sixties and seventies: parody, pastiche, remixes of news and political speeches, confessional, and many experiments with the affordances of the technology were well-represented in the exhibition.” Liz Losh, VirtualPolitik
Liz’s observations, ones I did not make myself when I saw the show because the viewing context was so MUSEUMY (dim lighting, round plastic stools, multiple stimuli, random viewers), are interestingly linked to a thread of conversation begun by Chuck Tyron about another video artists’ exhibit in New York, explicitly inspired by YouTube, and then Chris Cagle’s response: “Does You Tube employ a different type of montage?” Category D
We see evidenced here media scholars modeling what we are trained to do: ferreting out what might be specific to this medium, on the one hand, and establishing how it continues tactics and forms from previous media traditions, on the other. While I agree with Chris and Liz that there would be no reason for a YouTube video to use montage, or video form, any differently from how artists have developed traditions over the history of their medium, this question of viewing context and platform seems critical. Videos (YouTube or otherwise) function differently on a box, in a room, on a screen, and this is a type of montage, albeit not within the text itself. YouTube artists have a new sort of palette for cutting (either from one YouTube video to another, as I have attempted to experiment with in my Vertov project described recently on this blog), or across the digital field using and including comments, descriptions, and advertisements as part of the image (as Eisenstein suggests montage within the frame). Chuck’s observations seem useful here: “Her [NYTimes reviewers, Heffernan] comments here vaguely remind me of Benjamin’s approach to the Paris arcades, in which Benjamin sought to make sense of commodity culture through montage, through the connections between things.”
“For better or worse, we can expect YouTube and online amateur video to become a common tool for the 25% of American women who have been sexually assaulted.” Dr. Strangelove, Rape Victim Seeks Justice Via YouTube
“Considering that a free cinema and television don’t exist in the current state;
Considering that a tiny minority of authors and technicians have access to the means of production and expression;
Considering that the cinema today has a capitol mission to fulfill and is gagged at all levels in the current system: The directors, technicians, actors, producers, film and television critics determined to put an end to the present state of affairs, have decided to convoke the Estates General of Cinema. We invite all of you to participate in these Estates general, whose date will be specified later. – The Revolutionary Committee of Cinema-Television, published in Cahiers du Cinéma, August 1968. Chained to the Cinemateque
“The last post was sooo teel dear. Well, for the uninitiated
teel dear (tl;dr) = Too long; didn’t read.
In this twitter age, I know I have sinned with my preposterously long posts earlier in the blog. But let me assure you, I am trying to be rid of the disease, and I am a advocate for brevity.” Digital Nativity