Archive for the ‘culture jam’ Category

Is Virtual Suicide even Possible?

May 25, 2010

Can there be a better example of the seemingly inescapable nature of digital culture, of the house-of-mirrors logic of simulation inherent in social networking sites and the internet in general, than the false promise of freedom offered by advocates of virtual or “Facebook suicide”? The site Seppukoo (a phoneticizaiton of the Japanese word for the form of ritual suicide practiced by the Samurai) claims to counter what its creators see as the commoditization of our social and private lives online by offering an application that will deactivate one’s Facebook account and redirect friends to a personalized memorial page. The contradiction inherent in this process is revealed in the manner that the Seppukoo virtual “community” is modeled after Facebook itself, with a user’s status increasing according to how many of his former friends are convinced by his act to commit virtual self-destruction themselves. The act of removing oneself from the narcissistic web of digital culture thus instantly re-inscribes one in the selfsame logic of simulation, with the ability to re-activate one’s Facebook account always present as a means for resurrecting one’s online presence.

Despite the Seppukoo site’s flaunting of the cease-and-desist order it claims Facebook has issued, it would not be surprising to this author if the application were revealed to have been issued with the tacit approval of Facebook itself, as a means of negotiating its current controversies over privacy settings. In this context, the opportunity for Facebook suicide (and an equally dramatic resurrection, when loneliness sets in) becomes just another spectacular, digitally public event–a kind of pressure release valve that will allow disgruntled users to rediscover just how much they need social networking sites in their lives.

What would be truly subversive is the application a friend of mine described, which would use one’s Facebook account to eradicate all postings, pictures and traces of activity recorded in triplicate on the three separate databases that I have been told Facebook uses to store its data. After accomplishing this uprooting of one’s online presence, the account would be permanently shut down, and the digital equivalent of a “do not resuscitate” order inscribed on the Facebook servers. According to my source, this application existed, for a time, but was promptly suppressed by Facebook, as its’ providing a true reversibility of one’s digital existence ran contrary to the interests of Facebook to accumulate, and capitalize upon, the masses of personal data gathered about its users.

This type of application, whether it ever really existed or not, seems to approximate the violent removal of the subject from the hegemonic field that Slavoj Zizek describes in his paraphrasing of Badiou’s idea of “subtraction”. In this theory, the subtracting of oneself from the field of constantive power relations has the dramatic effect of revealing the hidden reciprocities between seemingly contradictory subject positions, thus exposing the usually hidden tensions in the totality of the ideological framework (see First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. p.128). But perhaps this, also, is too strong a claim: the logic of simulation upon which social networking sites are based quickly fills in any “holes” in the fabric of hyper-reality with its nigh-limitless supply of content, and it would take a critical mass of users to “drop out” for this to have any noticeable effect.

Perhaps the true “third way” out of this predicament is to performatively embrace the logic of simulation itself, while undermining it from within through, say, simply not participating in divulging any actual information about oneself. “Friending” perfect strangers, creating bogus accounts and false online identities and disseminating false or trivial information via these networks exposes the simulated nature of our reified online identities, though these tactics could have unintended and unwanted effects in one’s realworld life. To this extent an “account swap” tactic whereby users exchange passwords and impersonate other users, if performed by enough people, would have the effect of destabilizing the entire system. But why mess with a good thing? We love the attention, and the ability to attend to our friends and acquaintances. And without these sites, where would we be able to find and share funny stuff?


Pride & Prejudice & Service Charges

April 3, 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledge that one should never disclose one's PIN number.

In the midst of writing a paper on Quirk Book’s literary mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was happy to stumble across a six video VHS version of the A&E television serial of Pride and Prejudice from 1995. Having suffered through the zombified version, I’m not feeling inclined to re-read the original in its entirety, but the videos will help provide another angle to the theme of popular adaptations of Austen that my paper explores. And if you haven’t had time (or the inclination) to pick up the best-selling P&P&Z, never fear; in 2011 the world will be treated to Natalie Portman playing Elizabeth Bennet in the movie version of the zombie version of Austen’s tale.

The problem was, when I came across the A&E videos, I didn’t have any cash on hand. The thrift shop didn’t take interac, so I had to run down the street an use the bank machine of another bank than my own. I fully expected the $1.50 “convenience charge” they slapped me with, but what I didn’t expect was the “IT HAS BEEN A PLEASURE SERVING YOU” message that the screen flashed when the transaction was done.

the pleasures of instabanking

This last truly added insult to injury. Just whose pleasure had it been to “serve” me? Surely there was no pleasure coursing through the circuits of the bank machine itself. The people who install and service the machines likely couldn’t care less either, and the tellers at the counter certainly weren’t getting any richer off the spoils of service charges. So it could only be the bank owners and shareholders themselves who took pleasure in skimming the price of a large coffee at Tim Horton’s out of my bank account.

I only wish that they would program those machines to perform the pleasure that they claim is inherent in the act of taking my money. I would really appreciate if, say, at each press of the machine’s buttons, moans of pleasure emanated from a speaker somewhere. These lustful utterances could mount in intensity, culminating in my pressing the “OK” in consent to paying the announced service charge. For someone with the technological know-how, installing such a machine could be an interesting exercise in hacksterism.