DIGITAL LOCAL: Prehistory of Viral Media
Posted by <Jak Ritger> on 2022-10-15
In October of 2022, Abbey Pusz and I traveled to Kraków, Poland to present a two-part lecture series titled “D I G I T A L - L O C A L” at Unsound Festival. The theme this year was “BUBBLES” so, I decided to focus my talk around Viral Media and the way stories bubble up and pop. In the past couple years, “memes” have become a category of analysis all their own. And yet, we still don’t really know a whole lot about what a “meme” really is. Writers and researchers are blinded by the novelty of these images, trends or fads and often jump to conclusions about how “memes” function. For instance, is it the quality of an image that is a “meme” or is it the context, language, style and speed of the image that qualify it as a “meme.” These questions become even foggier when memetically propagated images become recontextualized into fine art galleries.
In my talk, I broaden the scope of inquiry around “memes” by considering “Viral Media” - media that travels horizontally through information space and is imbued with a sense of populism. I ran the clock back 100 years to look at how the viral media shaped politics, pop-culture and fashion. From there, I highlighted underknown or under-considered artists, movements as well as developments in economic models that contributed to today’s aesthetic landscape. The aim was to establish a basis for understanding and a historical lineage for what we call “memes” today. In the end, this study is really just the beginning of a much longer and in-depth research project that I imagine will take up even more years of my life. I can only fit so many images and stories into a one hour presentation!
I was extremely pleased with the feedback to my talk. Many artists told me that it was invigorating for their practice and helped them to think through the difficulties of making art post-social-media-domination. This is the best outcome I could have hoped for. Below are a collection of links for further reading, looking and watching around the topics and stories I raised in the talk. This list will be updated as I publish more work in this vein (stay tuned!) Thank you so much to everyone who has supported my work, sent me references, asked questions or engaged with models, it really makes this research possible. And a mega thank you to Unsound Festival for giving such a warm spotlight to stand in, the festival's commitment to screaming edge music and discourse is truly an inspiration.
PART 1 - ANALOGUES
The Seánce Fad & Spiritualism - Read Ada Calhoun’s investigation of the Fox Sisters here: https://narratively.com/the-sisters-who-spoke-to-spirits/
Listen to Benjamen Walker’s thoughts on True and Fake news: https://theoryofeverythingpodcast.com/2018/08/second-time-as-fake-false-alarm-part-x/
Cottingley Fairies - Sir Author Conan Doyle’s profile in The Strand 1891: https://archive.org/details/TheStrandMagazineAnIllustratedMonthly/TheStrandMagazine1920bVol.LxJul-dec/page/n483/mode/2up
Pixiliation - Watch El Hotel Eléctrico (The Electric Hotel) by Segundo de Chomón
Elsa Schiaparelli - More on the Skeleton Dress collaboration with Salvadore Dalí https://fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu/1938-schiaparelli-skeleton/
Edward Bernays’ Freudian marketing techniques, as told by Century of the Self by Adam Curtis: https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s?t=1085
Surrealism - Lobster Telephone listing at Tate London: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/dali-lobster-telephone-t03257
Analysis of automatic writing and drawing in art, making connections to Outsider Art: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4149290
Henry Darger | Outsider Art - again, Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything podcast is crucial: https://theoryofeverythingpodcast.com/2016/05/transformers-r/
Along with comprehensive catolog by Klaus Biesenbach: https://prestelpublishing.penguinrandomhouse.de/paperback/Henry-Darger/Klaus-Biesenbach/Prestel-com/e561687.rhd
Buckminster Fuller, Geodesic Dome - Listen to the rise and fall of one of his dome projects: https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/episode-64-derelict-dome/
Whole Earth Catalog, Stewart Brand - Watch Nora Khan & Fred Turner discuss the legacy and current situation of the utopian project in California: https://www.thelab.org/2021/2021/9/25/the-forum-nora-khan-amp-fred-turner
Ray Johnson | Mail Art - Watch the excellent documentary about Johnson “How To Draw a Bunny” dir. John Walter 2002, my favorite scene is a home video of Johnson crashing a suburban garden party - https://vimeo.com/110857936
RUSTMARX - There is no online or print presence for the tiny mail art collective my parents were involved with, but look up the “Duplex Planet” zine by the amazing storyteller, David Greenberger. He was a very proactive member of mail art community that RUSTMARX existed in and has carried on the playful, offbeat art tradition of the scene: http://www.duplexplanet.com/
More on using the postal service for cybernetic distributed art; look up the “Brain Cell Repulsion” collective and Ryosuke Cohen, another foundational mail artist who is still sending out new work.
Richard DeVos, MLMs - Listen to The Dream podcast breakdown DeVo’s political influence - S1 E10 “The American Way” https://www.stitcher.com/show/the-dream/episode/s1-e10-the-american-way-200144175
Then read my analysis of MLMs along with a personal story by Anthony Simmons about MLMs on DNR as part of the “The MLM Project” https://donotresearch.net/series/the-mlm-project
Patrick Kelly - Read “Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love” by Laura L. Camerlengo and Dilys E. Blum from Yale University Press: https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300260236/patrick-kelly/
Or try to catch the traveling exhibition of the same name. I was lucky to catch it at Peabody Essex: https://www.pem.org/exhibitions/patrick-kelly-runway-of-love
Here are my IG Story reactions to the exhibit: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17899152113574497/
H.R. Giger - Watch “Jodorowsky’s Dune” by Frank Pavich https://www.sonyclassics.com/jodorowskysdune/
And then read my analysis of H.R. Giger’s legacy & art as seen at Schinkel Pavillon in Berlin and Lomex Gallery in NYC: https://www.punctr.art/xenomorph-xenofeminsim/
PART 2: DIGITALISM
Clock Time - analog to digital shift, read Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff https://rushkoff.com/books/present-shock/
KONY2012 | Invisible Children - Watch the original viral hit on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/37119711
Read an analysis as part of Anthony Simmons research on DNR “Attention Bubbles” https://donotresearch.net/posts/plotting-attention-bubbles
Celebgate | The Fappening - Read the press release from the sentencing the hacker: https://www.justice.gov/usao-ct/pr/north-branford-man-who-hacked-more-200-apple-icloud-accounts-sentenced-prison
Gender Reveal Parties - Watch my IG Stories collection and analysis here: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17849513306291660/
Gender Reveal Party spark El Dorado Wildfire: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/21/couple-gender-reveal-party-wildfire-charged
Drought stricken town falls prey to Gender Reveal waterfall dying stunt:
#FlauntYourWealth Challenge - Read Insider scoop: https://www.insider.com/viral-flaunt-your-wealth-challenge-weibo-instagram-2018-10
Streisand Affect - Read and Request motions from the court case against Pictopia dot com: https://www.plainsite.org/dockets/2zd3hv14c/superior-court-of-california-county-of-los-angeles/barbara-streisand-vs-kenneth-adelman-et-al/
The Wikipedia on this one is a wild ride: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
U2 Album auto-download - Bono recently spoke on this story as part of a PR campaign around a new album and memoir (maybe he watched my talk??) - https://consequence.net/2022/10/bono-songs-of-innocence-apple-memoir/
Deepfried Memes - Read this recent piece by Günseli Yalcinkaya on the phenomenon. https://www.dazeddigital.com/life-culture/article/57422/1/deep-fried-memes-surveillance-capitalism-instagram-reddit-censorship
Günseli was already researching Deep-Fried Memes and then we chatted a bit about it after my talk and our panel together the following day. They then interviewed via Zoom in a Paris airport during my hellish 24-hour return trip from Unsound. I was really excited to see my delirious post-rave-week thoughts make it into the piece.
Parasocial Address “Hey Chat” - Easter egg, the still from this slide is from DNR builder, Tomi Faison’s debut feature dealing with this new phenomenon titled “Transformers: Terminal” https://transformersterminal.com/ expect to see a lot more about this film next year
Cringe NFT Wealth Flaunting - Read my analysis of NFTs through an art historical lens here: https://donotresearch.net/posts/towards-crypetournement
Gategate | Surfwave - I am going to write something about this, check back soon for an update!
Interdependent Ecosystem | Eddy Model | Sticky Friction Model - The models presented throughout the talk are taken from a recent study published on The Hmm. Read it here: https://thehmm.nl/models-for-culture-producer-communities/