Beyond Terrordome

Facebook's reputation management system and the prison house of identity
It's obvious that Facebook wants to be the ultimate ad-targeting mechanism: It collects information on self-generated demographic networks and is developing ways to sell those micro-demos to marketers looking to maximize the effectiveness of their messaging. Facebook assembles audiences for ad broadcasters; the intramural sharing among users is in some respects a sideshow to this line of business, except insofar as that data can be used to refine the narrowcasting. It's not clear whether the "creepiness" of targeting inhibits or augments ads' impact, but this initiative is proceeding apace. The data on how users respond to the ads are also being collected, and the ads will be adjusted accordingly. And users themselves will be able to conceive their discourse as explicit advertising by paying for "promoted posts," which will guarantee that the information shared will be featured prominently to the… Read More...

Radio ASMR

ASMR delivers aesthetic transcendence with a formal vocabulary that excludes authenticity from the outset
At 8:00 pm London time, Resonance FM is airing a program on ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) — tingling sensations in the brain brought on by hearing things like repetitive scratches and whispers in accented language. At @autodespair's request (thanks!), I wrote a short, highly speculative essay that will be featured in the program; I'm pretty sure it will even be whisper-spoken in ASMR style. The text I submitted is below (some of it was recycled from here). Maybe the way to understand ASMR is as an anti-aesthetic, or rather an ur-aesthetic hidden in plain sight — art without the egotism of the art world, the concern for cultural capital, the status displays. Intentionality is irrelevant to the experience; ASMR recordings and videos aim to reproduce the feeling of having something resonate accidentally, despite its content. The reaction is pure, undeniable, uncalculated.… Read More...

Fragments on microcelebrity

Microcelebrity evokes something small but it marks an excess, a need for more, a hunger, a dissatisfaction that can't be resolved by social media.
1. I'm trying to collect some thoughts for an essay I've promised to write about microcelebrity. In the past I've talked about the phenomenon mostly in terms of personal branding and amassing capital in an attention economy through social media. The idea there is that in communicative capitalism, you are only as valuable as your platform, the audience you can bring. In other words, the main work we do in a network society is assemble and commercialize our social network in various ways; microfame is one way of conceptualizing and articulating that process. Microcelebrity is a matter of misrecognizing the potential to be broadcast as the achievement of being seen; mistaking talking for necessarily having an audience. 2. Usually the attention economy is conceived in terms of a surfeit of information creating a scarcity of time to take it all in.… Read More...

Sade Is Punk as Fuck

If punk necessarily denotes the identity which is not one, than Sade is its ablest exponent
It's no secret that  pop punk's mainstream success in the 1990s necessitated a retroactive redefinition of what could be considered "real" punk. By its nostalgic defenders, it was no longer to be understood in terms of any formal musical hallmarks -- relentless tempos, simplified song structures,  amateurish guitar thrashing, atonal barking rather than singing. Instead punk was rebranded as a disposition, an iconoclastic attitude that manifests itself as a rejection of contemporary terms of success and embraces a radical posture of refusal, sometimes in the guise of an intentionally abrasive avant-gardist innovation. Punk wasn't merely a genre of music; that is, like all genres it aspired to become a totalizing lifestyle, though its adherents would hardly use that term. They preferred to discuss it in such terms as "respecting the scene," disavowing the various brand logos under which they disciplined… Read More...

Liquid Modernity and Social Media

Liquid modernity dissolved identity; social media tries to resolidify it.
I've been reading Zygmunt Bauman's Liquid Modernity, which has some interesting speculation about mandatory individuality in the "liquid modern" world, in which few traditions and institutions remain to anchor identity.  It's a familiar story: capitalism (if you follow Marx's version) dispenses with old solidities to facilitate a universal trafficking of everything, such that you end up having to buy your own identity rather than inherit it by virtue of being born. That's not necessarily a terrible thing if you would have been born into some subaltern caste, but it's obviously not a guarantee that you will face some level playing field of equal opportunity. Our identities under capitalism are as circumscribed as they are under other forms of society but capitalism discourages us from identifying ourselves in terms of those circumscriptions, promising us instead the ability  to create ourselves in the… Read More...

Love song of J. Lacan

"When one is disappointed, one is always wrong. You should never be disappointed with the answers you receive, because if you are, that's wonderful, it proves that it was a real answer, that is to say exactly what you weren't expecting"
  "I have no wish to rehash the whole thing again, but I will present it for you in a more syncopated way." Lacanian love song: [audio:http://thenewinquiry.com/app/uploads/2012/09/14-Track-14.mp3|titles=Lacanian Love Song]   Read More...

The Birth of the Uncool: Yacht Rock and Libidinal Subversion

After the cultural forms of the 1960s were co-opted in the name of the manufacture of cool, yacht rock was the next dialectical turn
It was very satisfying to see a recent article in the left-leaning journal Jacobin grapple with the significant sociohistorical legacy of an inexplicably neglected recent genre of popular music, yacht rock. But the article, while appropriately seizing upon yacht rock's centrality to the political imaginary of the late 20th century, sadly misrecognizes its role, regarding the form as reactionary and "counterrevolutionary" rather than a subtle dialectical initiative instigated by alienated workers from within the culture industry, the very operatives best placed to launch a far-reaching and, more important, efficacious critique of social relations as figured by pop in the wake of 1968. For those readers not fluent in the often arcane nomenclature of popular-music taxonomy, yacht rock refers to a style of post-Altamont soft rock ascendant throughout the 1970s that sterilized the form of its soul and blues elements and instead… Read More...

Boardwalk YOLO and ASMR videos

Smartphones encourage us to live more chaotically in everyday life while promising at the same time a safe, womb-like harbor from the disarray
I have been down the shore on vacation for a little while, so I have been by and large away from the Internet. Since I don't have a smartphone, I can still think of the Internet like that, as a place I can be "away" from. (It also means that probably 99% of what I write about smartphones is silly. See below.) But on the boardwalk, I didn't feel too far away from the Internet. Alongside the One Direction and Phillies/Irish-heritage-related shirts and the hot pants that had slogans like "This Butt Belongs to Billy" embossed on them, all the stalls were selling YOLO T-shirts. I'm probably wrong to associate YOLO with social media, but in my mind, one demands the other. YOLO is gratifying only in a "pics or it didn't happen" world, or in a world where next to… Read More...

Future’s Coming Much Too Slow

Post-punk is unthinkable without the trailblazing work of 1976 proto-punk band Boston. A guest post by J. Temperance
The 1976 album Boston, conceived by reclusive and uncompromising musical mastermind Tom Scholz, who wrote nearly all the songs, played most of the instruments, and recorded most of the tracks in the studio he built in his basement, is perhaps the ultimate post-punk statement. That may strike some readers as a paradoxical claim, given that the birth of punk itself is customarily dated to 1977, a year after Boston was released. But from its futuristic, post-apocalyptic cover art to its giddy sense of sonic exploration and outré effects to its combative, conflicted stance toward the rockist tradition it warred with ("You've got nothing to lose, just rhythm and blues," the band declared in their manifesto "Smokin'") to its ardent advocacy for the power of pleasure in a turbulent and cynical political era, Scholz's DIY masterpiece anticipated so many of the hallmarks… Read More...

Paranoia lost

Universal paranoia is assumed and redeemed by social media, depleting its power as a critical mode
I wanted to revisit the subject of paranoia and social media that I wrote about in the previous post, and not merely because I forgot to link to this video of the Kinks playing "Destroyer." The obvious association between social media and paranoia is to invoke the panopticon and Minority Report–style surveillance and predictive pre-emption. Those are certainly genuine concerns, but I was trying to get at something different: that social media are a collective expression of universal paranoia transformed into a reasonable approach to everyday life. You don't defeat Facebook by becoming paranoid; becoming paranoid is the prerequisite for embracing it and is its characteristic affect. Jane Hu recommended that I read Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick*'s essay "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading" (in the collection Touching Feeling), in which she argues that "paranoia tends to be contagious" and that it "tends to construct symmetrical… Read More...

The Paranoid-Critical Method

Social media let us indulge in an affirmative form of paranoia as self-creation
Paranoia, as the cliché has it, is a higher state of awareness, a form of privileged insight unburdened by such trivialities as plausibility or verification. It's sometimes seen as a cancer that afflicts our hermeneutical faculty, causing it to enlarge and impose itself everywhere, explaining everything in terms of everything else in an ongoing, provisional way, usually to simultaneously rationalize and vitiate a sense of futility. It substitutes spurious explanations for actual efforts to change things, often things about oneself. This sort of thinking can create an impenetrable fortress of depression, repelling all intuitions that it can actually make a difference to do something. But as Kurt Cobain famously observed, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not after you." Depressive paranoia can blind you to the ways people are actually preying on you. And criticality can be labeled paranoia as… Read More...

The literary

Only people and not books can be literary. To claim a book is literary is to try to use it to naturalize one's snobbishness
I don't like the word literary. It seems to imply some particular formal characteristics, but that implication only allows the term to serve as an alibi for the status aspirations of the people who use it, who want to control its meaning. It's a sort of social tautology that way.  The literary is what literary people say it is, which is what makes them literary people. What's at stake in claiming something is literary is different from claiming that some book is good. What counts as literary is a moving target, but it's not always moving in one direction, toward something objectively better. We are not making collective critical progress toward, say, the perfectibility of prose, of the ability to capture the truth in words and well-formed sentences. Such goals are nonsensical, impossible, though they are implicit in what the… Read More...

Trollope’s The Vicar of Bullhampton

Love is supposed to sugar the pill of patriarchy for women, but at the same time Trollope wants it to serve as authenticity's reference point.
  Of all the Trollope novels I've read (and, God help me, I've read at least 20), The Vicar of Bullhampton (1869-70) is perhaps the oddest. Its story lines are very loosely tied together, with a murder investigation taking a backseat to the gripping legal drama over whether a dissenters' chapel will be built too close to the vicar's garden. The love story is highly undercooked, with the eventual groom barely a character — virtually nothing he says or does is more memorable than Trollope's initial description of his elaborate mustache. We're invited to root for his long-suffering rival, but he is exposed in the end as something of an entitled baby, his persistence less a mark of his character than his lack of it. In his Autobiography, Trollope explains that he wrote the novel chiefly with the object of exciting… Read More...

Facebook as experiment

The claim that Facebook is a big social experiment shouldn't distract us from who is wearing the lab coats and who are the rats
When I was in high school, I worked for a while at a market-research firm. My job was to cold-call people out of the phone book and ask them questions about cat litter, cigarettes, laundry detergents, and other products, depending on whatever clients the firm had at the time. This was before caller ID was widespread, so most people would answer. (Imagine that, talking to a stranger on the phone! It seems almost rash to take a call from an unknown number now -- the cell phone makes me feel like someone has singled me out for persecution.)  While some members of the households I would rudely intrude upon would be surly, most people were surprisingly polite. Sometimes we would have to cajole people with promises of how important their opinions were and how they had an opportunity to shape… Read More...

We Were Promised Hot Tubs

Bob Welch and the glories of the lost ideal of 1970s adulthood
I guess I am old enough now for my music-writing "career" to have entered officially into the obituary rather than the discovery phase. It's just more likely at this point that a musician I already love will die than it is that I will find new musicians to get that attached to. Anyway, I wanted to write something about Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch after I heard about his death last week, maybe something about the neglected Mac albums that feature him prominently, Bare Trees or especially Mystery to Me, or maybe something about his special flair for vaguely cosmic, meandering midtempo love songs like "Emerald Eyes" and the epic "Future Games." But then I remembered I had written an appreciation of sorts a few years ago of his first solo album, French Kiss (1977), the apex of his success. Now seems as good… Read More...

Future legends

Technology doesn't improve productivity so much as intensify ideology
In his essay for the Baffler about the disappointed expectations about flying cars and whatnot, David Graeber makes the often overlooked point that capitalism circumscribes technological development as much as it instigates it. In other words, technology can be developed to protect the status quo, not trasform it. When corporations and the governments that serve corporate interests look to fund technology, the criteria relate to whether the expected fruits will serve to reproduce the existing order of things — that is, whether the technology will strengthen capitalism. The criteria is not necessarily whether overall human life will be improved, obviously. (For example, Klout exists.) Apologists for the market frequently claim that it processes information to allocate resources and adjudicate the distribution of goods in the ways most conducive to human flourishing. Technology is thus best oriented toward making markets "more efficient" and… Read More...