“If the culture industry used to make consumers imitate commodities (see Horkheimer/Adorno), then social media turns this act of imitation into a commodity of its own. Separation is no longer a product of this process, but its raw material: it is not perfected until it is shared.”
Sebastian Lütgert via pirate cinema berlin newsletter
Ten years ago, it was still a commonly-held belief that while television
produces separation, the internet produces community. It was a classical tale
of technological progress: a one-directional medium, useful only to transmit
orders, was being replaced by a person-to-person network that could be used to
actually communicate. Obviously, the media industries tried hard to sabotage
it, and the commonly-cited worst case scenario was a repeat of the history of
radio: peer-to-peer technology reappropriated as broadcast infrastructure.
Ten years ago, Google bought YouTube, and since then we have learned what it
means to turn the internet into television (incrementally, of course, but by
now, they’re pretty much done with it). The most important lesson is that in
order to produce separation, there is no longer a need to turn the masses into
passive consumers of propaganda: to capture and commodify their personal
communication works even better. The sad figure of the couch potato has been
dislodged by an even sadder one: an office chair potato, in short: a YouTuber.
Of course, internet television is still television, and most of what YouTubers
do is just a waste of time: the “content” they produce is meaningless, useless
and entirely harmless, and no-one is watching it anyway. From time to time
though, we can witness a perfect storm, when deep personal isolation meets a
strong penchant for exhibitionism in front of an unusually large audience.
These are unique moments of transcendence, images that make visible what it
looks like when we turn internet into television. And it’s not a pretty sight.
Our program is going to be rather short, since most of us have a relatively low
upper bound of tolerance for this type of material (even though none of it
contains any nudity, violence, gore or nazis – these are just bored teenagers,
and like previous generations, they’re the most radical outsiders our societies
have ever seen). At the same time, our screening shouldn’t be mistaken for a
cringe fest or a fail compilation: this is footage that rises way above cringe,
and the failures it exhibits are not individual, but obviously systemic.
Anyone who still has any hope in the internet as a medium of enlightenment
should watch this kind of stuff at least every now and then, since rather than
just a peek into a deep corner of the internet, it provides a look at the dark
core of enlightenment itself. If the culture industry used to make consumers
imitate commodities (see Horkheimer/Adorno), then social media turns this act
of imitation into a commodity of its own. Separation is no longer a product of
this process, but its raw material: it is not perfected until it is shared.
And to reiterate our warning: Under the right wrong conditions, the results can
look very weird, often not in a good way, and sometimes even a bit disturbing.