Blog Post

the politics of internet spectacle

A few days ago I attended the inaugural event of the Digital Media Studies Group at the CUNY Graduate Center. Gabriella Coleman is a cultural anthropologist whose work centers on various online subcultures. For example, in her recent paper, Code as Speech, she examines the cultivation of a legal discourse and expertise among free and open source software (F/OSS) developers, who over the past decade have built a legally persuasive argument for understanding programming code as speech rather than as intellectual property. Because freedom of speech is vigorously protected in liberal democracies, this is a strategic choice by F/OSS developers as well as an ideological one. More recently, Coleman has been studying what she terms the antipodal relations between the Church of Scientology and a certain subset of hackers who work in the tradition of anonymous on Project Chanology and 4chan as part of the protest movement against the practices of the church. In both of these projects she employs an ethnographic methodology  of deep hanging out, similar to the approach of danah boyd in her scholarship on youth sociality in new social media networks.

Coleman's talk touched on many of the issues that I have been occupying myself with lately, some of which are related to my current research and some of which are more in the domain of interstitial distractions. I thought I would use this space to toss out an idea that has been rolling around inside my brain, and this is about a certain cultural circuit that I think runs through the self-proclaimed lulz practices of some hackers and trolls, the disciplinary and authoritarian tactics of the Church of Scientology, and the conceptual work of lifestyle enactment in which pop artist Lady Gaga traffics. It seems to me that all three are mucking around in the politics of internet spectacle and are articulating identities based on the ideas of audaciousness and performativity and the idea of the right to self-proclaim ones own fame, perhaps the dirty underside of the neoliberal capitalist regime.

Watch The Fame here:

The Fame is a mashup of a handful of different songs from Lady Gaga's first album also entitled The Fame, a repackaging of sorts into a new genre of music video turned rock opera slash mock foreign film. At 0:56, in the transition from the first act to the second, Gaga wears sunglasses which are a creation of her bicoastal design team Haus of Gaga. The eye part of the sunglasses are made of repurposed ipods. These Haus of Gaga video glasses can play video that is loaded onto them, thus instantiating the message that pop music will never be low brow. This video depicts the logical end result of remix culture in a neoliberal capitalist regime in which pure vanity is rewarded and it is possible to enact an underground lifestyle and sell it.


Ethan Tussey, another HASTAC scholar, recently wrote a blog post about the idea of digitextuality in the American version of television show The Office, in relation to the episode about Jim and Pam's wedding. This episode features a sequence that harkens back to a certain internet meme, the JK Wedding Entrance video. Tussy uses this example to illustrate a certain discursive mode that has emerged and become ubiquitous through the medium of the internet and more specifically web 2.0 and the rise of networked social media. This discursive mode is characterized by the practice of repurposing technological content, forms and processes with the aim of reaching into specialized niche markets. The new texts that are created (the episode of The Office and Lady Gaga's narrative rock opera) rely on existing semiotic associations between commodities and audiences, or markets.


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