For about a week I have been wanting to write a blog post called “the value of being trolled” about how negativity online is related to cultural value. The introductory example was going to be Rebecca Black’s Friday, along with her recently uploaded video “Rebecca Black Reacts to Friday,” in which she cringe-watches her way through her original video, 2-years “older and wiser:”
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And then, out of the blue, this shows up on e-bay:
The thing I would like to propose about both of these works of art (The Zimmerman painting and the original “Friday” video) is that they are both very successful. These works are not only financially successful (it appears George Zimmerman might make 100,000$ off of this piece of work made from house-hold latex paint, and Rebecca Black has reportedly earned nearly 1 million $ off of her song and video Friday) but to me they also have a tremendous amount of cultural value. The fact that this value was generated by people hitting “dislike” on the Black video, or by re-posting the Zimmerman e-bay link to show how “crazy” and “backwards” the world we live in is, is besides the point. By making fun of something, by hitting “share” on something you think is bad, you are still consuming that thing–in fact, on some level, I would argue you are still enjoying that thing. Enjoyment is much more complex than a smile or a laugh or a “deep thought.”
The closest analogy from the pre-internet era of media might be TV shows like Jerry Springer or B movies or romance novels or tabloids. Every medium has an illusion of what it does for society, and then a reality of how it actually functions in society. For the internet in 2013, that illusion is one of “sharing,” of creating meaningful connection with friends, acquaintances, or larger audiences.
People seem to forget that the internet in 2013 is primarily a form of entertainment–like watching TV or reading a book. For most of us, it is not a revolutionary way to change the world and it is not “interactive.” Reading this blog post doesn’t do anything besides maybe make you think differently for a couple of minutes. At one point perhaps the internet as a medium had a different kind of promise, but that promise was neutralized long ago, even before Facebook or Google. There are people who use the internet in revolutionary ways but those people are wanted by the government. The rest of us are 21st century consumers–we are not “a part of an active online community”. This is not something to be ashamed of, but it is something to notice about yourself. We are all watching THE NEW TV, 4-5 hours a day, and we are all loving it.
At the beginning of this post I called both the Zimmerman and Black pieces “art” but in the previous paragraph I have been talking about entertainment. That is because for me, there is no difference between art and entertainment, besides context. And context is becoming increasingly movable or transparent. Reports from my friends that went to Basel Miami this year clearly indicate that Art has become Partying and I could easily argue that Partying in Bushwick is a form of Art. That is the dumbest example I can come up with–there are many, many more. The separation between Fine Art and Popular Culture was never real, but it is the myth that currently holds it together, just like the myth that Entertainment is simply escapist. Neither and both are true.
I would like to return to how the concept of “negativity” or “hate” functions as entertainment/art online. Recently a friend posted a video to YouTube which ended up on Reddit, where many people began to “make fun” of the video:
No one “makes fun” of your video unless there is something important to make fun of. I’m not arguing that just because you have got people to make fun of you that you have succeeded in creating social change or critical dialogue, but I am arguing that if you get people to make fun of you, that you have the beginnings of what it takes to be a good entertainer. Whether or not you can then figure out a way to turn that into a career is up to you (how thick your skin is), your ambitions (where you want to go), and luck (actually very little is luck in my opinion). I guess all I’m trying to say is that in the world of art/entertainment, being respected and being made fun of are often inter-related. Anyone who has tried to make a living from their art/entertainment can tell you stories about how they were taken advantage of (dis-respected) but that through that dis-respect, they were able to get farther in their career aspirations. Drake loves to write songs about this. I like reading Kitty’s blog posts for this reason:
In fact, she is the one who tipped me off to the Black reaction video (maybe out of solidarity with these kinds of traumatic experiences). The important thing to remember is that the relationship between dis-respect and success has been around long before the internet–for better or worse. Court Jesters, Clowns, Britney Spears, Jeff Koons, The Beatles, James Franco, Weird Al. Maybe disrespect/consumption is actually the medium that artists/entertainers are using–not music, painting, film or writing, but Public Image. Again, not a new concept, but one that is still not very popular . . .if success is tied to the brand of the artist then success is inevitably tied to public image . . . duh.
I am not saying that the Zimmerman painting is something I would like to own, but I will write a blog-post about it, which in some ways implicates me in all of the tiny injustices that constitute what we call popular culture. News blogs pretend to not be implicated when breaking a story about something bad that happened, but in some ways maybe they should be, if news is a form of entertainment (which it increasingly feels like to me). I try to accept that I am a part of this nasty machine, and just like everyone else attempt to carve a daily path that has some semblance of integrity. But integrity is a moving target much like the techniques and secrets behind success and financial stability are moving targets. Maybe all I am saying is that the Zimmerman painting is successful in the same way that Zizek referred to the ‘fake’ Mandela funeral interpreter as “Saying it all without saying anything:”
Lastly, OMG, the tabloids are reporting that today Grimes just joined the illuminati: