I. Commodity and new media
Why would the new media commodify as opposed to the old? Why assume an inherent malice or even simply a tendency towards commodification in media of any type? Does “media” imply “commodity?” Can we use media to communicate without creating an opportunity for money to be exchanged, or for profit to break the essential circularity of the gift, of credit, of production–consumption?
Can’t I consume a YouTube video without buying anything? Can’t I, in fact, consume more new media, more quickly, than I ever could consume old media, without paying a damn thing? (And what is our definition of the “new media?”) The internet, if anything, makes commodity infinitely mutable and often self-erasing. (The internet, viewed one way, is money under erasure—commodity made “liquid” to the point of becoming gaseous, impossibly to contain.)
What about, say, the use of smoke signals to communicate? Here we have an old medium that is difficult to commodify—a semi-public, visible assemblage used to communicate one-way, in bursts. This sounds to me like the tweet.
Or take Tumblr—the unconscious of the internet. What the hell is the point of 99.9% of the reblogging of bizarre but—I admit—absolutely indispensable phantasmagoria of Venn diagrams and high-art fashion photography and scans of out-of-print books and images of baby animals and porno (“whore writing,” lit.), ad infinitum, &c., &c.?
Here’s the essential first point: The people generating what critics will examine in and via new media are not, for the most part, generating said content in hopes of commoditizing it.
It is true: At some point in the life cycle of said content, it was created for a moneyed reason; some art photographer had hopes of making loot off of blurry heels and half-stockings and a parade of skinny women. But then the art–commodity was repurposed, reinvigorated, made without-organs and without-faciality (without author, without pretense back to a “real” signified) by its use as a vessel for some new, almost unimaginably vague or juvenile or beautifully ambiguous (double-purposed, self-erasing) signification. A picture of a heel, in Vogue, is old media, a commodity made and bought and sold and viewed along lines of moneys-spent, sexuality monetized. The same picture on Tumblr has been freed of the money-lines and sent flying in a new direction. (And what the hell does it mean? We must decide. We are each the critic when we view it…)
We must invest the new-media assemblage—in fact its whole frame, in fact ourselves—with a new politics, the politics of a new self, oriented suspiciously toward the simulating world of the internet but even more suspiciously toward (andso against) the world of the supposed real, which belongs on the one hand to the brutal violence of the lower brain and on the other hand to the financier, the psychopathic–vulpine capitalist.
Ultimately, insofar as criticism survives at all or is not democratized down to an unconscious, constant, molecular state (see: art production, distribution; novel-into-tweet, opus to bursts, Wagner to stillicide), the critic must become less concerned with the notion that “new media” platforms are simply somehow more insidious ways to capitalize on even younger, more “tuned in,” less “real” individuals.
The critic must adopt a new political stance in which the locus of the polis is not the “real” townhall but the digital one—not the thirty-second television spot (“I approved this message”), but the offhand remark caught by dozens of cameras and protected on Wikileaks.
Said again: The place where politics happens has been democratized. It is no longer the elitist law review or the good-ole-boy backroom: It is Facebook.