Critique of Josh
Posted by <Alexander Quiquero> on 2022-02-15
Reading Josh Citarella early Friday morn...
This guy sucks. If he’s this premier internet historian/sociologist, then the field could use some better writers. Maya or myself could do a 100000x better job than this man. He sounds like he has never truly been on the internet, and observes and assimilates in the way only a true colonialist anthropologist could in the 21st-Century.
The problem is that he fundamentally doesn’t understand how the internet hivemind works. He may understand or reveal some objective affects of the internet as they leak into reality, though he does not understand the logics that actually create the substance which leaks and from where it spills.
The way Josh Citarella writes is very... academic to the say the least. I would go as far as to say colonialist. He comes from a position of superiority. He is the civilized human while his subjects are primitive savages to be observed, to pity rather than understand their realities. There is a shallow, cordial acknowledgement of divergent realities in his writing. I say cordial because this understanding is formal at best. It meets the necessary requirements to ‘appear’ academic in nature (or maybe I should say IS academic in nature) to signal the writing as something worth intellectual review and respect, but does not in any way relate to an actual understanding of the realities that Joshua writes about. Ingenious really, he does not even have to acknowledge this little trick, because it is most likely the unconscious act of a brain-dead nihilist loser who thinks his thoughts are worth anything at all.
As a final note, I will say that if Josh Citarella’s writing is in an academic format, following academic logics, then it presents a poor version of that.
All this being said, I am being a hater.
At the end of the day, this man is writing about something important. The content, I mean. And what am I doing? Reviling at the way this man understands and writes about a narrow subject I wish to be expanded upon. What am I doing?
One does not necessarily need to be the utmost 100% best person ever at summarizing, relaying and interpreting sociological data to do something of value (a net good in whatever narcissistic understanding of what ‘good’ means to me).
Maya described it best: his writing is insular. Yet, his subject is still interesting;. His writing got a rise out of me. I sat down to write all of this in a fury after reading only 15 pages of his tiny sample PDF of “Politigram and the Post-Left”.
I suppose a big part of the bitter taste in my mouth (and fingertips) comes from the idea that I assume Josh to be this premier internet sociologist figure in the mainstream, and that people (others) who do not understand are building a theoretical understanding of the internet off the irresponsible and shallow understandings of this guy.
Though, this does disregard the critical thinking of his audience, which is irresponsible on my part.
My main critique of Josh’s writing is in the previously mentioned “colonial” attitude and inflection in his writing. An attitude that disregards any greater reality, as he writes from a position of superiority, rather than pure curiosity of the realities of the subjects he writes about.
And as Josh Citarella is one of the few (any others aside from YouTube video essayists, I could not say) internet sociologists, he is a “pioneer” (for lack of better term) of the field. Of course he is going to go into it with an outdated approach if he comes from the previous sociological tradition.
And he is not so completely conventional. His writings have a sort of casual tone to them, not completely academic drivel. His writing is also relatively easy to read (though understand...?) so is accessible to many who do not have such a background.
I also do not like that this man engages with the public using an active social media presence that emulates this sort of contemporary, waning conception of “coolness”. I hate to say ‘cool’ because it is an easy way to say ‘something-that-I-don’t-like’,, so I will try to explain what I mean.
On his Instagram page, Josh posts eye-catching memes that either he created for marketing purposes, or found and used for marketing purposes. These memes are utilized in a vapid way, completely disregarding the context of their inception and growth yet signalling a false-flag of engagement and integration (understanding) on Joshua’s part to his audience who might use this to discern trust. “They’re from the internet bro... and I’m writing about the internet”.
As a so-called sociologist (realizing maybe it’s only me calling him that), I find this very irresponsible... maybe that’s not the right word...
It does not account for the complexities of his sociological subjects that I would like to be considered by someone who is a sort of ‘figurehead’ of a burgeoning field of study (at least in the public eye), and acts to trick those who engage with Josh’s work into believing in his credibility as a writer.
I got a bit off-topic...
There is this emphasis on aesthetics before anything else. As I said above: marketing using the aesthetics of the internet, while disregarding the ethics and metaphysics of the internet. His social media presence transforms his writings into yet another content stream of 1’s and 0’s to be consumed and discarded as opposed to engaged with critically.
I also think it’s detestable that this man in his mid-30’s pairs his writings with selfies that emphasize his attractive qualities on camera.
(although, this is a personal detest that does not necessarily indicate anything about his work. I am the type that thinks ‘what kind of man posts flattering pictures of himself online?’ So that people think he’s sexy or something? If his writing was good he would not need to do this/// I say as I deep down want people to desire me for my physical looks as well, but feel as though I am being too obvious if I post some well curated selfies online for the public to see)
Back on track though:
My fear is that this man’s vagrant disregard for the realities of his sociological subject, paired with a marketing campaign drenched in what I would call ‘nihilist-aestheticism’ (using the aesthetics of his subject without proper credence given to the context of those aesthetics to draw attention to his ideas which makes his writings of a some-what esoteric subject appear more-so fleshed out and representative of a greater whole than the reality: the guy has a narcissistic fascination of the subject) will misrepresent the reality of the sociological subject for those introduced to the subject through his works. Again, this is also a narcissistic critique from myself, rather than a full reality. This urge disregards the multiplicities and critical thinking skills of the readers. Though, it also signals that I think the content Josh writes about IS worth talking about, and the fact that I have qualms with his mode of denotation comes from my desire for this information to be disseminated in a responsible way! Especially when talking about so called “others”.
So what would make this ‘responsible’?
How should the form and approach materialize to best suite the subject? A.K.A. how would I do it differently?
Before I continue forth, I have an update. Hours and hours have gone by since I left my typewriter to collect dust. I managed, in that time, to finish reading his sample of “Politigram and the Post-Left”.
Now, there is more to this PDF that is missing (which I have neither the energy or the desire to seek out at this time). That being said, formally, I swear I’ve sniffed dog shit that read better than this.
I expected some form of argument, some point he is trying to make in the article. There is none. He presents information as objective... then he gets the hell out of there. No conclusion. No point whatsoever. And the information he provides? It’s like he just read a few “Know Your Meme” pages and threw in a couple of completely ignorant takes.
Let me explain what I mean.
At a certain point in the article (around the introduction of the ‘post-left’), the long-ish paragraphs of descriptions that claim to understand the situation of young teenage internet-dwellers begin to dwindle in the face of pages upon pages upon pages of political memes about (and referencing in a disjointed way) the vague concepts he attempts to explain (and at times claims not to understand).
I suppose the purpose is an attempt to shed light on the subject in a “post-modern” way...
A.K.A. instead of making an honest attempt to summarize the concepts he is trying to document (?) he lets like 15 memes that vaguely reference the poorly described concept do it for him.
Somehow we are supposed to believe his objectively defined interpretations of internet culture and the way these teenagers interact with these concept through memes and a poor (and when I say poor, I mean it’s as though he skimmed the first few paragraphs of a few Wikipedia articles) summary of a concept that relates to his intimate knowledge of radicalized teenagers. Yes, I know that memes play a large part in developing the understandings of these concepts for the teenagers that make up his subject, though the memes, still, are supplemental to the concepts themselves and do not achieve what I think Citriella wanted from them.
All you have to do is look at:
Stirner - p. 25-29
Nick Land - p. 30-39
Egoism - p. 25-39
Now look at the Wikipedia page for each of these terms and tell me how much he actually shares an understanding of what these terms mean.
Okay, so Josh does get the gist of each of these, though the gist is insulting to the subjects. Much like his Instagram presence, Josh deals with his subjects in aesthetics only. He throws around buzzwords as if everybody understands them, but his audience is obviously not those of his subjects, those who would readily understand what these words mean outside the context of maybe some alarmist news articles about white supremacists (spook, ancapistan, kekistan (?) green pill, I can’t think of any more). He literally presents his teenage subjects as brain-numb pathetic idiot kids. Maybe that is a projection, but Josh does claims that these teenagers wholeheartedly believe in these radical ideologies that they make memes about. I argue this is not the case. But more on that later. Either way, there is little for an outsider to understand or learn from Citarella, save for the existence of these things. The reader would have to do their own research. This might be a good thing if there was any indication of where to begin searching. Or if Citarella had any confidence in the subject he writes about.
And the form of his text melds perfectly within the information stream of Instagram. And off of Instagram, a treat to make a doomscroller feel as if they learned something.
Also I hate his name so much. Fuck this guy.
Anyway, what would I do differently?
I have identified the only positive thing I have to say about his writing, which is that it brings a niche internet corner into the sphere of normies. Potentially, this leads to further investigation of these hyper-contemporary artifacts.
What if instead of using the “hyper-” prefix we...
OKAY NOW WHAT WOULD I DO DIFFERENTLY
Documenting, studying, writing about and understanding the internet is not so straightforward. Obviously. I achnowledge that even though I think there are some formal traditional elements in Citarella’s writing (e.g. letting the reader in on what he is explaining) that are lacking, non-traditional formal tactics are also required to handle a subject so... ectoplasmic. And Citarella attempts to use some of these non-traditional formal tactics. He at the very least understands that internet subjects should be treated differently. Ladies, he uses memes in his text.
The mere use of memes is insufficient. Memes are something that is a forefront product and biproduct of the internet, but they only account for a small fraction of the copious internet affects that lay under maybe two or three grains of sand. I’m not here to identify those things, I’m saying that its true that the subjects of Josh’s writing are more complex than deserving of a short summary (or even, maybe, a long summary). I hear he has some interviews with people, I should give them a listen.
The biggest problem I had with Citarella’s writing was the colonial attitude. The mocking nature of these historical documents, carnivalesque in their depiction of zoomers. His understanding of these Politigram frequenters is like a Dutch anthropologist visiting South Africa for the first time and basing their entire conception of the local culture on the festivities of a holiday that the locals happened to be celebrating on that day. Citarella does not account for the whole of a life.
Not in a vacuum
Similarly, there is a fundamental understanding of the internet that is not present here.
Joshua describes himself as one who ‘researches internet politics’ and political movements. While some of my criticisms brought up involve the way he makes shallow claims about these movements and the people within them based on an equally shallow understanding of their details, the way he describes and summarizes these movements (less, or much less) follow somewhat of an objective historical ethic that removes the terms from their historical context, only to be brought back into accurate(ish) descriptions of their context.
An aside: his take on their context is also shallow, but I’m trying to get at something here.
That was unnecessary...
Anyway, I can see the logic of his form.
Though, this form is not up to MY standards of how one should document internet artifacts.
Citarella presents the internet and its going-on in an insular manner. Any connection to life outside the internet is paid little credence, and when it is, it is to conjure a brief parallel between reality and the internet goings-on for historical context.
There is this idea of the internet and reality as separate entities.
This is only half-true.
I believe that the internet and reality are completely separate realms of existence, however, the two bleed and intermingle with one another in unholy incest. A history of the internet that is any iota close to the insane reality of the 21st century must jump back and forth between internet-reality-internet-reality in a formal cycle that mimics the way the two realms copulate with one another.
And just as the internet and reality exist in separation from one another, so too does the internet inhabitant and their personal relationship to the two.
While this is not always true, I believe that for the most part, the radical subjects of Citarella’s article live split lives between the internet and reality. With little to no place for a pubescent neo-monarchist anarcho-cunnilinguist, that aspect of their lives are pushed into the online realm while they live out their day-to-day life as a typical American eenager. By typical, I mean lost. But they cannot be completely compared to that of a flagrant aesthetic zoomer who’s personality is a coincidence of internet and reality. Typically, these people are unwise to the inner machinations of the d33pW3B.
The average subject of Citarella’s text is torn between their domain, the internet, and reality: the domain of no one.
As opposed to the zoomer who treats both realms as one and the same, at the sacrifice of socially abject behaviour. Socially in relation to their peers, mostly, and their parents’, second.
Though, it makes sense that Citarella assumes his true subjects as zoomers, as his realm deals in “mainstream” social media use. And his audience consists of mainstream social media users. The migration of the social center from the malll to Instagram and Twitter means the majority of their inhabitants are not abject subjects like these radicals. They are normal. They are engaging with THE social center of America and beyond. If the social center exists outside of an internet//reality dichotomy, then it logically follows that once that dichotomy is introduced, the dichotomy ceases to exist. The social center as BIG social media does not bring the internet into reality,
it incites the consummation of the internet
and reality’s unholy incest.
This spectral fornication shrouds the reality with a cloak of unreality. The internet and reality are two separate entities and continue to be. They just be fuckin non stop bro. Like a couple who’s friends begin to refer to them as a single entity. It is only true as it has been willed into existence.
So... with that being said.
A subject that exists and interacts with the social center, A.K.A. BIG social media, may be studied in the context of the unreality of the internet and reality’s mixture (though I think it still best to consider its existence in the context of all that I just wrote), however, the inner machinations of the deep web, all that exists outside of mainstream social media, is best examined as separate from reality, but not unaffected/affecting. These inner machinations deserve a careful, delicate uhh examination of the duality of those two realms. Because they still affect one another, though not in the same way as the affects of BIG social media.
I believe that the subjects in Citarella’s texts should be handled with this same delicacy, lest you insult them by treating their abject situation as existing within the social center, even if it is played out on BIG social media like Instagram.
This same goes for:
Artist and freelance sites
Small business sites
Niche file sharing sites
Domain hosting services
The Dark Web (spooky)
I’d like to add, I do not see all who operate outside the social center online as having fully compartmentalized personalities, but that this naturally lends itself to occurring more-so in those areas on the internet outside the social center. The internet and reality are separate domains → the internet offers alternative logics to reality (in its incitement) as it grows outward from its alternative beginnings, the logics of which are not easily integrated into the realm of reality. Because of this, heavy internet users are more likely to compartmentalize their internet personality and real personality, especially because uhh duh teenagers are self-conscious and angsty. This does not change as the social center migrates to BIG social media. BIG social media is an intentionally sanitized internet domain that attempts to impose the logics of reality onto the domain of the internet.
The vaping of the masses // the crackhead others
the vape conceals reality
under the guise of what is acceptable
when it is really the logics of
societal acceptance and security
concealing the hidden crack rock
at its center
I’m not sure this thought is complete, but I’m moving on.
JOHNNY BOY deals in aesthetics. He speaks the language of aesthetics. In fact, he IS an artist. Though, I think, not a good one. It makes a lot of sense for an artist who deals in aesthetics to write a text that engages solely with the aesthetics of something much more complex, but that is ALSO ALSO ALSO dealing heavily in aesthetics itself.
I’m so god damned tired, it’s almost 3am and I can barely push forward. So this section may not be worth a penny.
The people who make up Joshua’s sociological study, those same teens that decide to engage with and define themselves using terms like ‘anarcho-primitivist quasi monarchist’ (highly individual terms, as Joshua accurately describes) are also dealing in aesthetics.
Their personalities are split between what is acceptable in the social center/the bastards logics of reality and the logics of their niche internet corner. Some, I’m sure, whole heartedly believe they are a tried and tried anarcho-primitivist, say, though it is honestly insane to posture a text in such a way that assumes engagement with such descriptors consumes all facets of their life-being. There is more to that individual than the ‘aesthetic tag’ they apply to themselves in their internet corner that places importance on some alternative collections of signs to the average joe. More-so, these ‘tags’ are only literally conceivable as true political ideologies within the logics of the internet. Sure, Citarella describes Nick Land who tries to at least... talk about(?) these things in reality, though he clearly fails to do anything of substance materially, and is a drugged out whacko. In this way, the logics of a drugged out whacko are more suitable to the ogics of the internet. Makes sense given the internet was conceived by a bunch of techno-utopian hippies.
Anyway, long story short:
Aesthetics. Developed in reaction to the poor conditions of reality. Some, not all, find refuge, escapism in the logics of the internet. Not the social center, which is as spiritually void (actually idk this is not necessarily so true... but) as reality itself. Escapism. Sight is the strongest sense. The words. Tags. Descriptors. Signs. Present a rich imagery of complete domination, dominion, control toward utopian change over society. A fantasy. That society they have no place in. But still, they care. It all comes back to reality. But LARPING as an advocate for bombing a data center as the first step toward re-primalizing and un-domesticating humanity makes you forget that your mom doesn’t have time to make breakfast or teach you to cook, so you eat pop-tarts and cinnamon toast crunch. That your father is an oft-absent success in the business world, who paid your way into private school, but never taught you to shave. An older sibling who acts as a parent to the younger, to protect them from the harsh realities of their disgruntled parents. Or someone with nice, supportive parents that scared them straight, taught to never take a risk in the world, just to hide. They never had to. They’re all confused and sick and do not feel at home with many an other. This can change, but we’re talking teenagers here. Even Citarella says “whoooah, some of these guys just randomly grew out of it... why???”, it’s because they’re lost kids who often times are not comfortable in the realm of the social center, or social life in general. anti-social.
Teenagers grow. They learn. The compartmentalized ones, I think, faster because they must learn to survive in reality, the only true domain of humans. It dictates whether they live or die. Lest, they be consumed into the social center. Or by the esoteric realms of the internet. Like the guy who gave me the two-star dragon ball... no friends, no family. He was consumed into the internet. He did not exist in reality, though all humans are beholden to the logics of reality, no matter what. So long as blood courses through their veins and air fills their lungs.
The human body can withstand so much deprivation.
This is a sad picture I paint. It is realistic. This does not even broach the reality of the matter (abstractly). Yet, I believe that none of this understanding is present in Citarella’s work. And it does not care to include it. This understanding would add great value to anyone who wants to study and write about the internet and record internet history. Because even the most miniscule atom in the history of the internet suffers greatly from an insular looking-glass. The internet is not insular, even if it is separate from reality. An ectoplasmic understanding is required.
I critique how Joshua Citarella writes of the ‘radical’ teen politigrammer from a position of superiority.
These subjects deserve only as much pity as you would grant anyone at all, as we are all subject to the same spectral tyranny. These people are just reacting to it differently than you, the reader, and especially you Joshua.
I really wanted to do a whole critique of this man’s body of work, but as I read through his bio, website, instagram, some articles, I believe that he is not worth my engagement. (written before I was asked to submit this to DNR... lol, mostly unedited)
That being said, I’d like to drum up a more complete treatise on the ethics of internet history documentation. A manifesto (?) because it mains me that someone like Citarella would be praised for the work of a camel.
Though, in this long rant, I have ashamedly played the part of the lion who licks its paws at the camel.
This will not be the case next time
For I wish to become a child
Site is under maintenance, but I’ll be writing regularly at ecto-zone.neocities.org
Also, would recommend joining Neocities if you want to engage in a realm outside of BIG social media. There’s lots of cool stuff there.
Lastly, I owe an acknowledgement to Maya, who inspires me constantly. You’ll have trouble finding a more prescient writer than her: @postmodernmaya