Media and the Death of the Author
By catching powerful entities off-guard, you can momentarily expose
them to public scrutiny. This way, everyone sees how they work and
can figure out how to control them.
- ®TMark, Working
People still believe in news media Its a tenacious faith, possessed
by many: the equivalence of "news" and "truth"
in which representation is the product of a thoroughly investigated
physical reality. However, theres the progress of increasingly
consolidated information-centers and the refinement of communication
lines across vast distances. Through this a technological situation
develops which favors the homogenized trickle-down dissemination of
world events, with a media increasingly dependent on internal sources
for information (as factoids pass from the Associated Press, to CNN,
to large networks, to small town papers). Facts are not checked and
new information is not added, as text-snippet are passed intact from
source to source.
Contemporary media, reduced to a game of Operator, cannot provide
the truth of our tenacious faith. It has few, if any, checks against
misinformation and spin, and one of several consequences
is susceptibility to use as mouthpiece for select power centers. In
the lack of multiple viewpoints, ideology and economic alignments
are expressed not through deliberate misinformation, but strategic
(non)coverage. The results are brief and partial glosses of world
news that are identical between sources, balanced out by detailed
car chases, inner city shootouts, and puppy-saved-the-day anecdotes
regional, entertaining stories that reliably dominate the majority
®TMark, aware of the dynamics of contemporary media,
exploited this most effective but capricious method of meaning production.
Their mission, to battle corporate America through "tactical
embarrassment", is dependent upon media dissemination. With it,
®TMark, who targeted high-profile entities such as
George W. Bush, Barbie, Beck/Geffen Records, and the New York Stock
Exchange, rose to the status a David giving the big guy a bad migraine.
Heres a description of an ®TMark event, according to rtmark.com:
In April 1999, ®TMark constructed GWBush.com, a website
that at first glance appeared to be that of Republican Presidential
candidate George W. Bush (his website is GeorgeWBush.com).
version incurred Bush's wrath, and his lawyers sent a threatening
letter. . . . By the time ®TMark's second
version of GWBush.com was published, with much
more content, the Bush campaign had complained
to the Federal Elections Commission.
These attacks resulted in a major
international news story, which was then magnified by Bush's televised
response to a reporter's question about the site: "There
ought to be limits to freedom,". . . . The Bush campaign's intimidation
tactics raised the eyebrows of several constitutional lawyers, who
[argued] that although there ought indeed to be limits to freedom,
restricting free speech and limiting citizens' access to the political
process was not the proper place to draw the line.
Of course, ®TMarks Bush site included some "challenging"
content, like this:
First there was his rambunctious youth, in which he doesn't deny there
was use of cocaine and other drugs. Then, as an unsuccessful Texas
businessman, he was bailed out with millions of dollars from friends
of his Vice-President father. As President, G.W. Bush wants to create
an America in which everyone gets as much forgiveness, and as many
to grow up, as he had.
One of ®TMarks operational strategies was to
piss off the target enough (through intellectual property infringements
like mirror sites and name usage) that legal retaliation was guaranteed.
Then any and all documents of intimidation letters and emails
were handed to news media, in combination with polished press
releases written by ®TMark. Media - print, network,
cable - devoured these newsbites and disseminated enthusiastically.
Retreat on the part of the corporations usually followed, due to the
inevitable friction between their power exploits as publicized and
their long-range PR plans.
®TMark revealed the corporate obsession with the name,
tantamount with image-management and ownership. But more importantly,
®TMark revealed the ways they wield control: through
active suppression, legal intimidation. And media served as the voice.
With that, its possible that medias servicing of these
provocateurs ran into direct conflict with classic Marx & Engels
on media. M & E on the subject: "The class which has the
means of material production at its disposal has control at the same
time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally
speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production
are subject to it." (The German Ideology) How could media
allow itself to participate in the subversion of the kingpins of material
production (Geffen, Mattel) which is equivalent to treason?
If mass media essentially exists to serve corporate interests, were
they fooled by ®TMark, i.e. are they dumb pups wholl
eat whatevers steak-shaped even if its poo? Did
®TMarks mastery of the language/look of the official
press release obliterate medias ability to see themselves as
distributors of "subversive" content? For this to be true,
we must assume that media follows this line of thought: if it sounds
official, it has been allowed to be official in process,
passing through various checkpoints of institutional power, or even
originating in some node of institutional power.
Well, yes, in part. That much was clear with Barbie Liberation, which
was nothing more than a slick dupe designed for a media that would
look no further than CNN for a reality check. However, Id like
to give media-makers a little credit. True or untrue, ®TMark
events had the same "entertainment hour" ratings value as
any feel-good anecdote. The stories were novel, flashy, and no one
would piss off the powers that be in giving airtime to these quirky
stories about Big Brother getting a touch hot-headed. As Steve Silberman
of Wired News stated on his coverage of Deconstructing Beck,
"it was, I thought, a piquant little item for a Wired News Friday.
I had written much more weighty stories early in the week; every day
can't be the apocalypse." Plus, the public has an unquenchable appetite
for stories of Big Brother faltering in limited, unthreatening ways,
a hallmark of all stratified societies from Zeus to OJ. With
stories like this, viewership increases - which directly impacts leverage
with sponsors - those big time corporations.
®TMark offered media news bites on medias own
terms. This itself starts to destabilize their claims for straight-on
resistance. For ultimately, their attacks on corporations and government
conglomerates, while amusing, didnt even slightly affect big
moneys ability to exact its needs on a global populace. And
of course, the idea that one might control "powerful entities"
by merely knowing "how they work" is willful hyperbole.
The effect they did produce was a media that was able to preserve
their symbiotic relationship with corporate interests, whilst providing
a pressure-cooker vent for the publics frustration with the
powers that be. However, anything other than a hard-line critique
would concede that ®TMark is more than a group of apolitical
opportunists. Theyre tricksters, good at making the big boys
make themselves look very, very bad. In a mainstream art/cultural
climate loathe to touch anything resembling a coherent politic, theyre
an apt model for voicing dissent and dissatisfaction with the economy
of America, preserving baldfaced literalness while striking a balance
between manipulation of and pandering to mass media.
But on the baldfacedness of ®TMark: they turned the
most pomo-chic trick of all: they chose to be anonymous. Is it practical?
Maybe. Its a lot harder for corporations to issue a string of
threatening phone calls and fist boys to front doors, if they dont
know what or who ®TMark is. But what is the link between
anonymity their interpretation of "corporate branding"
- and a critical stance on corporate power? They appropriate a hallmark
privilege of conglomerate power the power to be unknown
why, exactly? Does one have to act like a corporation to fight
a corporation? ( no.) Or in dogging corporate posing, are we
looking at just that posing?
None of us can imagine anything less mysterious, less sexy, than a
bunch of people picketing outside a corporate office - pimpled and
ill-dressed identities splayed out for public viewing. If, just like
®TMark product, anonymity is purported to be an appropriation
towards the end of critique - it also eludes a transparency that would
have marked the death of ®TMark as not just
politics. Who wants to be a po-faced Protester when one can be an
artworld Trickster? Anonymity gives them the sexy air of the secret
agent we imagine corporate mensches by day, politicos by night,
a Batmanned Bill Gates schooled in media spin. This translates as
a slickly packaged subculture, which the art world, like the fashion
world, desires as its meal-of-choice. Anonymity, a pastiche of otherness,
provides the idiosyncrasy that artishness demands.
Death of the Author
The writer is the blind spot on any system, adrift; he is a joker,
a mana, a degree zero, the dummy in the bridge game.
- Roland Barthes,
The Pleasure of the Text
Anonymity speaks to a larger reality of ours of late, a swill of (sub)urbanized
individuation, increasing cultural hegemony, and globalization on various
fronts that strikes at traditional constructions of identity and localized
communities. In an anonymous and atomized citizenry, one is only as
one appears to be, as mediated and produced by various cultural/material
circumstances and these circumstances are often multiple and
partial at any given point. The Sartrean symptom, alienation from a
cohesive sense of self, blossoms as the pre-industrial triumverate of
identity, ownership, and labor is split.
All of this is intimately linked to a classic pomo tenet: the author
is dead. With alienation from ones product, the relationship of
product to authorial point of origin is a tenuous link forever located
in the past. For the present and future existence of the document is
owned by its readership - any and every act of consumption exacted in
variable circumstances. This renders meaning a process of "forever
becoming", the stuff of academic nightmares, but also wet dreams.
With ®TMark, there is an apparent acceptance of this
tenet, and a move to take it further, by unmanning the post of author
altogether. Anonymity and mimicry displace author status. More traditional
models of art or political activism, dependent on polarized interactions,
are replaced by the multiple and contingent. Opposition is preserved,
but its manifested in mockery, and the notion of confrontation
becomes convoluted in a play of invention, mass media priorities, and
corporate methods (on the sides of both ®TMark and real
- Anybody could have performed the
initial offensive acts.
- Everybody talks about it, bringing
each piece to fruition.
- Nobody will claim stake on these
acts, except under the corporate veil of "®TMark".
Anybody, everybody, or nobody,
these are the players at hand.
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