My writing this was inspired prior to last week’s result by an article from May of this year, which proclaimed 2016 as the first “internet election.” The author, Andrew Keen, was less concerned with rigorously defining what an “internet election” might entail, and more interested in throwing a variety of questions at 2016 in order to rip it away from the course of standard electoral discourse. The barely-implicit question, of course, was to explain away what seemed––at the time and until last week––the outlier that was Donald J. Trump.
The internet has been saturated with Trump memes. Some times they are hilarious, some times they are hurtful. Some times they bring relief, some times they are agonizing. This post is a product of my observations and archive of Trump memes and their evolving power from “subversive frivolity” to “normativity”. I demonstrate how Trump memes have transited along a continuum as: attention fodder, subversive frivolity, the new normal, and popular culture.
Screengrabs with the black header were archived from the mobile app version of 9gag on 8 November 2016, around 0001hrs, GMT+8 time. They include all the posts tagged “Trump”, with the earliest backdating to 14 weeks. There were 141 original memes in total but a handful have been omitted from this post. Screengrabs without the black header were archived from various news sites and social media throughout the Election season.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally ran on November 9, 2016 and included a call to politics of affinity. On November 10th, I added to the essay by applying the framework to ongoing protests.
As the reality of the 2016 election results sunk in, my echo-chamber of a leftist newsfeed was full of two key things: heartbreak and I told you so’s. The heartbroken expressed disbelief that the U.S. would elect a person with an impressive record of bigotry coupled with an appalling record of incompetence. The I told you so’s said they already knew. Not knowing was a sign of privilege, naivety, foolish trust in big data. We should have nominated Bernie, they said. You should have voted, but not for Jill Stein.
Donna Haraway, so keen on blurring boundaries, promotes what she calls affinity politics, vis-à-vis identity politics. more...
After my last post on Neil Degrasse Tyson and the (seemingly fictional?) War on Science, I received feedback from a few people suggesting that there was more to be written. In fact, more has been written; for well over a century, the field of science studies has been developing and shifting, comprised of scholars studying the history, philosophy, and sociology of “science” and many of its cousins (technology, asceticism, “innovation”, et al.). I am an artist who is starting to immerse myself in the field in order to strengthen my critique of technological mediation in culture. So while I don’t plan on using science studies frames in every one of my posts, I do expect there to be shades of its tenets throughout.
That said, where should one start to understand the history and development of science studies? more...
It’s been a real struggle for me to talk about Donald Trump.
No, not because he’s an extremely unpleasant subject. I mean, that, sure. Though to be honest I’ve been talking about him a lot in various places. I wish I could ignore him – and the whole damn election – entirely, but this is not how I cope. Or my coping mechanism of choice isn’t altogether a healthy one, and it is to become totally and utterly obsessed.
Don’t ask me what my curated news feed largely consists of. Don’t ask me how many political podcasts I currently follow. Don’t ask me how frequently I check FiveThirtyEight, and how much emotional weight I attach to numbers which are, after all, not objective but instead mediated through and interpreted by human beings. The point is that I’m obsessed, which means that I’m immersed in the way you and I and we all talk about Donald J. Trump.
‘scuse me a sec.
A substantial part of my graduate research work focused on the vernacular creativity of Chinese digital media users. In practical terms, this meant participating in various local social media platforms and collecting content that my contacts shared through chat applications and posted on their personal social media feeds. Given that most of my friends and acquaintances knew I was doing research about 网络文化 wangluo wenhua [Internet culture], it wasn’t uncommon to receive proactive updates about newly-minted slang terms or hot-button funny images of the week, often accompanied by detailed explanations and personal interpretations of the content in question. Sometime in 2014, right at the beginning of my actual fieldwork, a friend from Shanghai sent me a stylized image of a frog with teary eyes and pouty lips on the popular chat application QQ. “What is this?” I asked. “It’s 伤心青蛙 shangxin qingwa [sad frog],” he replied. “I see… but do you know where it comes from?” I continued. “Hahaha, no, I don’t… it’s just funny, it’s really popular now on the Baidu Tieba forums, I got it there. There’s many versions of it.”
In fact, I knew that the vaguely humanoid frog was Pepe, a character originally appearing in Matt Furie’s Boy’s Club comic series that had by that time already become an archetypal figure of American digital folklore, circulating from relatively unknown bodybuilding forums to massive discussion boards like 4chan and Reddit, and mutating from his trademark “feels good man” comic panel into an endless series of self-referential variations and meta-ironic phenomena such as rare pepes. The fortuitous and unpredictable popularity of Pepe, rising from one among many characters of an independent comic to paragon “Internet meme”, has been amply chronicled as one of the most evident examples of how the creative practices of digital media users can near-instantly put anyone or anything under the spotlight of “Internet fame”. Matt Furie himself, reflecting on the unexpected rise to fame of one of his artistic creations, describes the cultural dynamics evidenced by the circulation of Pepe in terms of “post-capitalist” vernacular creativity: “It’s like a decentralized folk art, with people taking it, doing their own thing with it, and then capitalizing on it using bumper stickers or t-shirts.” more...
Some time ago, I spoke with a reporter regarding the Internet virality of Michelle Dobyne of “ain’t nobody got time for that” fame. They intended to run a ‘where are they now’ follow-up piece on Dobyne’s life post ’15 minutes of fame’. In the end, the TV clip and its companion article condensed our 8-minute interview into these anonymous soundbites:
“We asked a noted social media expert what makes a video viral worthy. She said catch phrases and exoticism, something that takes us away from our routine lives.”
“Our expert said what Dobyne and other viral video stars are able to do long term with their 15 minutes of fame is anyone’s guess.”
Since much of what I had to say about eyewitness virality, racism, and journalistic responsibility did not make the final cut, I later transcribed my conversation with the reporter and wrote it up.
In January 2016, Michelle Dobyne gave an eyewitness account after her apartment complex caught fire. In the original interview, her catchphrase “Nuh-uh, we ain’t gon be in no fire. Not today.” and her overall decorum caught the attention of the television crew, who then put the clip up on Facebook. And well, you know the formula. The clip went viral. Dobyne became a meme. Romantic and commercial offers were rumoured. Semi-officious merchandise became available.
Three months later, the news network decided to run a follow-up piece on Dobyne. As it turns out, not much of her material circumstances have changed despite her transient internet fame. Rinse and repeat. The saving grace? Kind strangers started a gofundme page for Dobyne. The backlash? Her neighbours feel “overshadowed” by her fame and are still struggling post-fire.
I am going to call this phenomenon “eyewitness virality”: The proliferation of television news interviewees, many of whom are themselves victims of the unfortunate event being covered, who attain overnight but transient fame through the news networks who curate and disseminate their eyewitness accounts on social media as humour and clickbait.
But Dobyne is just the latest addition to a string of eyewitness viral stars: more...
Call for Papers
Theorizing the Web 2017
April 7–8 in New York City
At the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, Queens
The submission deadline is January 22, 2017 (11:59 p.m. EST)
Started in 2011, Theorizing the Web is an annual event for critical, conceptual conversations about technology and society. Theorizing the Web begins with the assumption that to talk about technology is also to discuss the self and the social world. Debate around digital social technologies too often fails to apply the many relevant literatures of social thought. We do not think “theorizing” is solely the domain of academia, and we value clear and compelling arguments that avoid jargon. Here are some photos from last year’s event if you want to see the vibe of it all.
Theorizing the Web is a home for thinking about technology by people who may not think of themselves primarily as “tech” thinkers. Activists, journalists, technologists, writers, artists, and people who don’t identify as any of the above are all encouraged to submit. We especially invite submissions that engage with issues of social justice, power, inequality, and vulnerability from a diverse range of perspectives.
Submissions on any topic are welcome. Some general topical suggestions include the intersections between technology and identity, privacy, sexuality, the body, power, politics, surveillance, racism, sexism, ableism, harassment, space, code, design, knowledge, images, memes, attention, work, fiction, gaming, globalization, capitalism, and protest.
Submissions should be 300 to 500 words (only the first 500 words will be reviewed). The TtW Selection Committee will blindly review submissions and make decisions in early to mid-February. Space is limited, and our acceptance rate is typically 20-35%. The presentations themselves will be 12-minute talks in a panel setting. You will be speaking to a general audience who may not share your area of expertise.
Before submitting, please read our FAQ section on submissions.
Submit your proposal here: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/2017/submit
Registration for Theorizing the Web remains pay-what-you-can, and we ask that you donate whatever amount you deem fair or can afford (minimum $1). Register here: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/2017/registration
Stay tuned to theorizingtheweb.org for announcements about invited panels, and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to help out with our all-volunteer event in any way. We’re @TtW_conf on Twitter, and the conference hashtag is #TtW17.
On May 28th, 2016 a three-year-old black boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. As a result a 17-year-old gorilla inside the pen, Harambe, was shot, as the zoo argued, for the boy’s protection. Nearly three months later, on August 22nd the director of the zoo, Thane Maynard, issued a plea for an end to the ‘memeification’ of Harambe, stating, “We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe…Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us.” By the end of October, however, despite turgid proclamations to the contrary, the use of Harambe seems to be waning.
The six-month interim marked a significant transition in the media presence of Harambe, from symbol of public uproar and cross-species sympathy to widely memed Internet joke. The death and affective trajectory of Harambe, therefore, represents a unique vector in analyzing intersections of animality, race, and the phenomenon of virality. Harambe, like Cecil the Lion before him, became a widely appropriated Internet cause, one with fraught ethical implications.
Two very different kinds of thoughts were running through my mind on the way to Leipzig to the BMW factory and on the way back. On the way there, I was thinking about how and why factories are relevant to the study of artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles, the subject of my PhD; and on the way back I was thinking about the work of Harun Farocki, the German artist and documentary filmmaker who left behind an astonishing body of work, including many films about work and labour. These two very different thought-streams are the subjects of this post about the visit to the factory. They don’t meet at neat intersections, but I think (hope) one helps “locate” the other.
BMW is a German car company that is working on ‘highly automated driving‘ (although the Leipzig factory we visited isn’t making those cars at present). I’m doing a PhD that will – someday – suggest how to think about what ethics means in artificial intelligence contexts, and will do so by following the emergence of the driverless car in Europe and North America. One part of what I’m doing considers a dominant frame that has emerged around ethics in the driverless car context: ethics-as-accountability. In the search for the accountable algorithm in driverless cars of the future, I went to the BMW factory to see where the car of the future will come from. Who, or what, must be added to the chain of accountability when the driverless car makes a bad decision? Who, or what, comes before and around the software engineer who programs the faulty algorithm? more...