THE XZY OF NET ACTIVISM
It's time to create the pop stars of activism, the idoru of communication guerrilla; it's time to threaten and charm the masses by the ghosts coming from the net, to play the myth against the myth, to be more nihilist than infoteinment!
0. LUTHER BLISSETT AND NET.ACTIVISM
Luther Blissett is a pop myth, a collective "open" pop star. The name is the same as that of a Watford soccer player. But the virtual Luther Blissett has a computer-generated face. LB is a multiple name: anyone can become LB and use his/her name for whatever purpose. Whoever uses the name increases and takes part of the collective fame of LB. In Italy, where small groups promoted this project, the multiple name strategy has triggered a chain reaction. By means of the multiuse name a mass myth was built and used for political campaigns. The concepts underlying LB (multi-use name, open pop star, political avatar) can be a powerful tool in building a mass movement, as well as for a popular spreading of net.culture and the net.criticism of inner circles like Nettime or N5M, thereby ejecting the networks out of the Net.
1. EDT AND LB: TWO MODELS OF MEDIATIC SIMULATION
In the current debate about net activism a leading question is the opposition between "simulation" vs "real action". This has become a vicious, rhetorical question. Lovink & Garcia, in "the ABC & DEF of tactical media" are too patient with those who are skeptical about the importance of "mediatic representation" issues. On the contrary, in my view, the most radical theses and strategies about simulation have been espressed by Electronic Disturbance Theater and the LB/a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe. Both of them affirm the need for activism and counter information to enact simulations on the stage of mass-media, i.e. in the infoteinment. But aside from this conviction, the projects are completely different. Electronic Disturbance Theater is the name of a group of actvists. They use the form of the "net strike" to protest against institutions and the mass media by interjecting political questions. The EDT "actors" don't hide their names, they do not operate under the veil of annonymity. By contrast, LB is just a name, a mark adopted by thousands of people who often don't know or communicate with each other. LB is not a group or a movement but a collective pop star. All the activists have the same name, all the activists are the same multiple pop star. LB usually don't protest against the establishment directly. S/he works inside mass media, producing fake news, urban legends, and trying to "short-circuit" the spectacle's inner contradictions. LB's name is used for artistic works, political deeds, pranks, etc. LB has not achieved world wide fame like EDT, but s/he could get it.
The main question against EDT is: what is the risk of threatening and provoking media by simulations? How to control feedbacks and bakcklashes? How to avoid being coopted or starting moral panic? According to Stefan Wray, activists must become aware that politics is a teather and must learn to play: "we are manipulating the media sphere, we are creating hype, we are cultural jamming, we are simulating threats and action [...] we are actors! this is political theater! a glorification and tranformation of the fake into the real, at least in people's mind". How to present activism on the stage? With an image and a name that work on the media. EDT builds simulacra: "How do we invent an international cyberspacial army? First by naming". EDT's simulacrum is very simple: it presents itself as a protest against istitutions, media, corporations. It is a first level simulacrum, since it challenges the System in a direct way. Mediatic effectiveness is achieved by a simulated threat: "Floodnet's power lies in the simulated threat." The aim is to draw attention to particular issue by attracting media coverage to unusual actions. EDT has produced a negative, destructive simulacrum. Media system coopts these antagonistic simulacra, it demonize and criminalize them, it uses them to start a moral panic and produce the hype of a state of emergency. The "State" plays the same game of fear. The structure of the negations are identical--EDT mimicks the State: this is what happens when you play at the "first level" of a mass media game.
If EDT engages in a direct fight, LB wants to raise the challenge beyond a first level simulacrum. As the a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe has written: "guerrilla communication doesn't focus on arguments and facts like most leaflets, brochures, slogans or banners. In it's own way, it inhabits a militant political position, it is direct action in the space of social communication. But different from other militant positions (stone meets shop window), it doesn't aim to destroy the codes and signs of power and control, but to distort and disfigure their meanings as a means of counteracting the omnipotent prattling of power." Baudrillard quoting Wilden: "Each element of contestation or subversion of a system have to be of an upper logic kind." Contrary to EDT's pratice, "communication guerrillas do not intend to occupy, interrupt or destroy the dominant channels of communication, but to detourn and subvert the messages transported." This means not playing as innocent actors on a stage, but imitating the spectacle and its deceptions: "against a symbolic order of western capitalist societies which is built around discourses of rationality and rational conduct, guerrilla communication relies on the powerful possibility of expressing a fundamental critique through the non-verbal, paradoxical, mythical". This non rational strategy is, in fact, very rational: becoming spectacle, becoming myth, using infoteinment weapons against themseves. Traditional simple counter information no longer works. LB wants to explode the struggle into the realm of pop culture, by building "intelligent" simulacra, spreading fake news, using irony to withdraw at the right moment.
2. THE POP TURN
Roland Barthes said in 1957, "it is to be strongly established, from the beginning, that the myth is a communication system, is message." The myth is what is beyond the Spectacle, in back of the media landscape. The myth unifies what is opposite in spectacle and overcodes any subversive meaning and deed. Barthes: "To destroy the myth from inside was then extremely difficult. The same move to get rid of it falls at once a prey to the myth: the myth can always, in the end, signify the resistance made to it." The title of the intro of the nettime bible 'read me!' is: "nothing is spectacular if you aren't part of it". I don't know if this is a quote or where it comes from (Debord..? it's pure Debord philosophy!), but it is quite rhetorical, politically correct, and puritanic. We should say: nothing is spectacular if you are part of it! Activism has to perform a u-turn: let's call it the 'pop' turn. Barthes: "The best weapon against the myth is to mythicize itself, is to produce an artificial myth: and this reconstituted myth will be a real mythology".
Net hype is a myth that activism must parasite and overcode. As the a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe writes: "Increasing attempts to police the net, to establish state and corporate control will, paradoxically, increase its attractivity as a field of operation for communication guerrillas: Possibly, even those of us who until now have not even owned a PC will get Wired. Fakes and false rumours inside and outside the Net may help to counteract commodification and state control - after all, the internet is an ideal area for producing rumours and fakes ... Communication Guerrillas are fascinated by possibilities offered by the internet also in a quite diferent sense: Beyond its reality, THE NET is an urban myth, and perhaps the strongest and most vital of all. Social discourse conceives THE NET as the location where the people, the pleasures, the sex and the crimes of tomorrow already take place. Go Internet, learn the Future! Fears and desires are projected onto THE NET: this is the mythical place where we can see the future of our society." The mass media stage is inglobing the net step by step. The Spectacle is hybridizing itself within the net. Activists have to attack and parasite the collective imaginery which has already penetrated cyberspace. The mass media imaginary is becoming increasingly interactive, or "democratic". The Old Left's theories about media manipulation have long ago become obsolete.
3. POP INTERFACES FOR THE MASSES: A POLITICAL IDORU
The ''Pop Turn' means that activists have to become less boring and learn to speak the language of the masses. Like all interfaces, it's a compromise. Some puritanical activist, some anarchist or eco-raver will disagree. But the only way to face infoteinment is to become more nihilist than it itself. The 'pop' turn is not only a strategic choice, it is also a way of building a communicative link to the masses.
Pop avatar. Pop culture is like hindu pantheon where gods and semigods fight without end. It deals with making up pop simulacrum, controlling them, and withdrawing them at the moment they begin to produce unwanted reactions. Activism has to construct virtual pop stars, collective avatars transposed from the net directly to acting within the infoteinment, as LB or the idoru Kioko Date. Through this metaphor of "mass avatar," I want to explain the open pop star model to net users and net actvists who don't know about multiple name project. The avatar metaphor can be transposed very easily from the net to the traditional media and used in the media activism. By "mass avatar," I mean a virtual idol who can play on media stage and not a simulated identity engaged in a one-to-one communication on the net. The anthropomorphic features of the "mass avatar" lead the public to identify itself with it. As Ballard and Gibson know, within media society the Icon is the direct way to access people's nervous system. Franco Berardi aka Bifo defined LB as 'The Antichrist of information'. This definition explains the LB strategy of linking counter-information and autonomous pop mythology.
Gateway to the media. Hacktivists have to organize gateways between the net and the "traditional" media. This net-media gateway should be an interface to feed and control the spread of news media. It includes contacting and cooperating with on-line staff of TV and newspapers, and making up idiot-friendly interfaces for journalists. The history of EDT demonstrates this necessity: without making the NY Times front page on October 31, 1998, EDT would have a merely on-line existence.
Pop modules. If hybridization was just about connecting the virtual and the "street," we would risk remaining rhetorical and predictable on both fronts. We have to hybridize and to contaminate the forms of pop culture and create pop modules for activism. The net scene is a tank of odd and useful ideas. Think of a mediatic subversive use of the most iconoclast net.art works, before they can be coopted by Nike or Adidas! The pop module can be defined as a multi-platform program that works in different social environments and political frameworks, in both old and new media. An example is the LB name, which has appeared many times in Italian media, signed books, novels, performances, shows, counter information campaigns, hoaxes, and urban legends. The multiple name can become a really hybrid module, since it works both on the street and on the net.
Composing theories... We don't need the easy abstractions and oppositions of Western philosophy that are embedded in grassroots criticism: simulation vs. real action, alternative vs. mainstream, pop vs. avant-garde, molar vs. molecular, "take to the street" vs. "the streets are dead". A theory (or strategy) is not a weapon set up against another theory, many theories can be composed together on the same level. "Compositionism" is a Deleuzian method suggested by Italian authors, like Bifo. Look at the beast of the spectacle and its internal movements. It is infiltrating the net, burrowing in the new forms without giving up the old ones. Capital can infiltrate any interstitials. The net is not opposed to mass media, hypertext cannot destroy Spectacle, but new hybrid forms can materialize. As Spectacle branches out into the hypertextual net, it becomes more shifty. Since it is already hybrid, we can learn from it.
... and integrating activism. Activism does not need to give up old strategies but must learn to integrate them, and to connect them with each other. The convergence of media means the convergence of different strategies and multiple "activisms". We have to stop producing new theories. We simply have to connect one strategy to another, to make hybrids of activism. Learning from the phenomena of the hackers, we can integrate net.artists and designers into activism. I mean an euphoric, subversive, iconoclast, prankish activism! If net.artists began to design pop interfaces and strategies for activism, they surely would be more spured, inspired, and useful. We don't need to become a "rhizome". Deleuze & Guattari once asked: "how can we distinguish between subversive schizophrenia and capitalistic schizophrenia?" Capitalism is schizo and rhizomatic as well. The rhizome myth is not only dangerous for this proximity, it has reached such a level of saturation, that everything today is proclaimed a "rhizome."
5. THE REVOLUTION OF '99
The net-media-art activism scene is fragmented in a lot of groups, close sub-networks, alternative culture ghettos, avant-garde loners, and hyper-egos. Jodi's map is an effective bird's-eye view of "our" network. This scene can migrate overground only through the interconnection of each group of artists, activists, writers, theorists, designers, journalists, moderators, organizers, etc. This network could become a mediatic icon--the next sub-cultural movement, after punk, techno, cyberpunk! We should find a quite pop and stupid name: "the revolution of '99"?
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