[iDC] response to M. Goldhaber's response to Julian Kücklich

Jonathan Beller jbeller at pratt.edu
Sun Jun 14 02:43:31 UTC 2009

To continue the conversation:

First of all, writ large, the structure of the celebrity is a  
fascistic one -- the accrual of social power by individuals via the  
captured attention of the masses, exactly parallels the accrual of  
social power by the capitalist via the captured labor of the masses.  
This is not an accidental correspondence but rather an intensification  
of the very processes that created new forms of recognition and  
personality nascent in bourgeois capitalism. And, by personality, I do  
not only mean the exterior trappings that allow a face to be  
recognized, I mean also the intense elaboration of subjectivity and  
interiority associated with the richly textured experiences of high  
bourgeois culture. In the case of the capitalist, the celebrity and  
the fascist dictator, the individual in question is a creation of the  
masses even though s/he is not representative of the masses. The  
charismatic leader, as Gramsci taught us, was a Ceasarist, a kind of  
master power-broker, who was capable of doing the work of the  
hierarchical capitalist state precisely by utilizing populist  
discourse (and today we could say the technologies of populism -- what  
was Hitler without the loudspeaker? etc.). The Fascist dictators from  
Mussolini to Macapagal-Arroyo to Bush  were also, in the most literal  
sense -- cyborgs,  "individuals" created in symbiotic relation to the  
technical and economic apparatuses of his/her time. These mechanisms  
were/are driven by the sensual labor of the masses. The celebrated  
individual(s) constitute, in Debord's famous words regarding the  
spectacle, the diplomatic presentation of hierarchical society to  

Benjamin recognized the co-optation inherent in the celebrity-from  
already when he spoke of the fascist corruption of the film medium by  
capitalist industries/nations giving workers the chance not the right  
to represent themselves. One person is elevated, literally made from  
the subjective labor of the mass audience, and stands in as a point of  
identification for all those who will remain forever unrepresented.  
The celebrity becomes a kind of compensation for the disempowerment  
and castration of the masses. We regular folk will never accomplish  
anything, never achieve universal recognition by all humanity, but,  
not to worry,  the celebrity does this in our stead. Of course, as  
with the dictator or with the capitalist monopolist our disempowerment  
is the condition of possibility for his/her elevation. Just as the  
wealth of the capitalist is the obverse of the poverty of the worker,  
the hyper-representation of the celebrity is the obverse of the non- 
representation of the rest of us.

In order to show the historical relationship between the social order  
denoted by celebrities and fans on the one hand and owners and workers  
on the other, I  will not recapitulate the entire argument of The  
Cinematic Mode of Production here (my apologies :)) : suffice it to  
say that cinema brings the industrial revolution to the eye and  
introjects the social relations of industrial society into the  
sensorium. In other words, the rise of visuality and subsequently of  
digitality does not happen in parallel to capitalism but is in fact an  
extension of capitalist relations deeper into the body -- into the  
viscera and, as is better understood, into cognitive-linguistic  
function. The logic of cinema, the chaine de montage, etc., extends  
the logic of the assembly line from the traditional labor processes of  
the factory to the senses and to perception. This movement of  
production into the visual/cognitive vis-a-vis the cinema is the  
material history of the emergence of the attention economy; cinema is  
the open book of the contemporary econometrics of attention.

All of which is to say that with due deference to various forms of  
subversive fandom, we may want to think twice before we celebrate  
celebrity and pitch our brilliant insights to investors. Must we still  
ask why?

When referring to the possibility of "social media" to bring about  
social change Michel Goldhaber writes below:

While I would not rule out the possibility that some such media could  
tremendously aid  a move toward fuller equality, that cannot be taken  
for granted, nor would the resulting equality necessarily be so  
complete as some might hope.

it seems to me that there are at least two dangerous omissions: One is  
that media do not stand apart from us -- they are made out of us and  
they are us, no less than say, as Fanon reminded his readers, it was  
the labor of the Third World that built the European metropoles. The  
logic of celebrity, which is the logic of reification, has taught us  
to conceptually resolve media technologies as if they were free  
standing entities and not products of centuries of expropriation put  
to use by and large to continue and intensify those processes. We  
would do well to remember that today's planet of slums, with its 2  
billion people (population Earth, 1929) in an abject, completely  
modern and utterly contemporary poverty, is also the product of  
whatever socio-technologic matrix of relations we find ourselves in.  
It is important also to recognize that the media, in and of  
themselves, are not going to progressively alter these relations. They  
are these relations! Here I recall Chomsky's response when asked if he  
thought internet would bring about greater democratization: "That  
question is not a matter for speculation, it is a matter for  
activism." In other words, the fight is also here and now. We are  
being called by the o/re-pressed that lies both within and without  
"us," to activate the vectors of struggle against domination/post- 
modern fascism/platform fetishism/capitalist technocracy/neo- 
imperialism/globalization/certain brands of "fun," etc. that already  
inhere in every atom of the status-quo.

The second omission in Goldhaber's statement may well be more self- 
conscious than the first appears to be -- in saying "nor would the  
resulting equality necessarily be so compelete as some might hope" he  
appears to omit himself from those who still have hope or want to  
hope. When referring to those who hope for equality and presumably  
social justice, some of us would have said "we."

Jonathan Beller
Humanities and Media Studies
and Critical and Visual Studies
Pratt Institute
jbeller at pratt.edu
718-636-3573 fax

On Jun 13, 2009, at 4:13 PM, Michael H Goldhaber wrote:

> Hi Julian and everyone,
> I disagree that the notion of dyadic classes never made much sense.  
> On the contrary it was an is analytically of great value, even if it  
> ignores some intermediate positions. The dynamics of societies are  
> considerably clarified by the concept. '
> As for whether Facebook, twitter  and other means of social  
> networking aid the attention economy as I use the term, we need not  
> only think in terms of huge attention absorbers like Oprah. There  
> are after all small capitalists as well as big ones, and there are  
> small stars as well as big ones. to be a star, at the limit you only  
> need to take in more attention than you pay out.
> If you choose to define a star as someone who takes in several times  
> as much attention as paid out, I still suspect that many of the  
> participants in this very discussion would qualify, and more might  
> well want to. It is critical that we remember this as we discuss  
> issues such as exploitation. It is also important to consider this  
> possibility when we discuss the apparent equalizing trends of social  
> media. While I would not rule out the possibility that some such  
> media could tremendously aid  a move toward fuller equality, that  
> cannot be taken for granted, nor would the resulting equality  
> necessarily be so complete as some might hope.
> Best,
> Michael
> Juliann wrote:
> Hi Michael & all,
> .....
> You write:
> > I argue we are
> > passing from one dyadic class system (capitalists and worker)  
> [...] to a new dyadic class
> > system of stars and fans
> I think we all agree that the old dyad of capitalists and workers
> never made much sense to begin with (and this is one of the reasons we
> have so many communist -isms), while the new dyad is neither new, nor
> does it make much sense in the context of the oh so tautologically
> named "social media." I think what we see evolving there (and by
> extension everywhere) is a system of microstardom and tactical fandom
> that calls into question the classical power relationship between fans
> and stars.
> This is obviously preceded by alt.fan communities such as the ones
> Jenkins writes about, but I am not interested so much in slash fiction
> etc., but rather in the microfame that exists on myspace, facebook,
> twitter, flickr, etc. The recent influx of "real celebrities", such as
> Oprah Winfrey, into the twitterverse provides a good example because
> it draws attention to the difference between a mass media attention
> economy (in this case, TV) and a multitudinous media attention
> economy. Oprah barged into twitter, expecting that people were
> actually willing to pay attention to the mundane details of her life,
> but as it turned out the mundane details of non-celebrities' lives are
> actually more interesting (Oprah of all people should know).
> In numerical terms, Oprah and Ashton Kutcher may be the "stars" of the
> twitterverse, but they are stars only in the sense that they provide a
> kind of background radiation for the real action. While indigenous
> microfame is rare, twitter often amplifies attention capital acquired
> elsewhere, and consolidates distributed and fragmented microaudiences.
> At the same time, however, the agency of microaudiences is heightened
> in multitudinous media such as twitter, and they can use this agency
> tactically as well as strategically, and often do. In this context, it
> is significant that while "friending" is the basic unit operation (to
> use Ian Bogost's term) of facebook, the basic unit operation of
> twitter is not "following" but "blocking". So if someone is perceived
> as abusing their microfame this is sanctioned not just by a denial of
> attention but by a reduction of that person(a)'s sphere of influence.
> So I think we are not dealing with a dyadic system at all, but with
> something much less structured and, for lack of a better word, more
> fun (fun also being the mechanism underwriting new forms of
> (self-)exploitation). Let's not forget, however, that achieving and
> maintaining microfame is a form of labour, and one not so dissimilar
> to the kind of work described in the MechTurk presentation sent around
> by Matthew yesterday: it's affective and relational labour, much of
> which consists in maintaining a good relationship with the
> "requesters" (or "followers").  It seems to me that the decisive
> difference between mass media fame and microfame resides in the fact
> that the former is systemic, while the latter is endemic. In other
> words: in mass media stars are made, while in multitudinous media
> stars make themselves by performing their virtuosity across different
> registers.
> This does not mean that MechTurk workers are in the same boat as
> "social media entrepreneurs" but it seems evident that menial labour
> is increasingly informed by entrepreneurial ideology while
> entrepreneurship now requires a much more labour-intensive
> micromanagement of audiences across a range of different terrains than
> the relationship management (schmoozing, corruption, collusion, etc.)
> engaged in by "capitalists."
> So, yes, the terrain we are dealing with is "complex and changing,
> with alliances and antagonisms springing up in every possible
> permutation," but I would contend that the binary oppositions of
> stars/fans and capitalists/workers have been replaced by contextual
> unit operations that follow a multivalent rather than a dyadic logic.
> Julian.
> _______________________________________________
> iDC -- mailing list of the Institute for Distributed Creativity  
> (distributedcreativity.org)
> iDC at mailman.thing.net
> https://mailman.thing.net/mailman/listinfo/idc
> List Archive:
> http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/
> iDC Photo Stream:
> http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/idcnetwork/
> RSS feed:
> http://rss.gmane.org/gmane.culture.media.idc
> iDC Chat on Facebook:
> http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2457237647
> Share relevant URLs on Del.icio.us by adding the tag iDCref

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: http://mailman.thing.net/pipermail/idc/attachments/20090613/00dc8592/attachment-0001.htm 

More information about the iDC mailing list