THE XYZ OF NET ACTIVISM
by Luther Blissett
"It's time to create the pop stars of activism, the idoru of communication guerrilla, it's time to threaten and charm the masses by the ghosts coming from the net, to play the myth against the myth, to be more nihilist than infoteinment!"
0. LUTHER BLISSETT AND THE NET.ACTIVISM
In this contribution I want to introduce Luther Blissett Project into net activism debate. For those who don't know about it: Luther Blissett is a pop myth, a collective "open" pop star, which name is the same one of a Watford soccer player. But virtual LB has a computer-made face. LB is a multiple name: whoever can become LB and use his/her name for whatever purpose. Who uses the name increases and takes part of a collective fame. In Italy, where small groups promoted this project, multiple name strategy triggered a chain reaction. By means of multiuse name a mass myth was built and used for political campaigns. The concepts underlying LB [multi-use name, open pop star, political avatar] can be a powerful tool to build a mass movement, as well as to spread in a popular way the net.culture and the net.criticism of inner circles like Nettime or N5M, ejecting the networks out of the Net.
1. EDT AND LB: TWO MODELS OF MEDIATIC SIMULATION
In the current debate about net activism a leading question is the "simulation" vs "real action" opposition. I think it has become a vicious and rhetoric question. Lovink & Garcia, in "the ABC & DEF of tactical media" are too patient with those who are skeptist about importance of "mediatic representation" issues. On the contrary, I'm going to point out the most radical thesis and strategies expressed about simulation: in my view, Electronic Disturbance Theater and LB/a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe.
Both of them think activism and counter information must learn to simulate on the mass media stage, i.e. in the infoteinment. But these projects are completely different. Electronic Disturbance Theater is the name of a *group* of actvists. They use the "net strike" to protest istitutions and mass media about political questions. EDT's "actors" don't hide their names. On the other side, LB is just a name, a mark adopted by thousands of people who often don't know or communicate each other. LB is not a group or a movement but a collective pop star. All the activists have the same name, all the activists *are* the same multiple pop star. LB usually don't protest establishment directly. S/he works inside mass media producing fake news, urban legends, trying to "short-circuite" spectacle's inner contradictions. LB's name is used for artistic works, political deeds, phranks, etc. LB have got no world wide fame like EDT, but s/he could get it.
- Electronic Disturbance Theater
The main question against EDT is: which is the risk of threatening and provoking media by simulations? How to control feedbacks and bakcklashes? How to avoid being coopted or starting moral panic? According to Stefan Wray, activists must become aware that politics is a teather and must learn to play: "we are manipulating the media sphere, we are creating hype, we are cultural jamming, we are simulating threats and action [...] we are actors! this is political theater! a glorification and tranformation of the fake into the real, at least in people's mind". How to present activism on the stage? With an image and a name that work on the media. It's deal with building simulacra: "How do we invent an international cyberspacial army? First by naming".
EDT's simulacrum is very simple: it presents itself as a protest against istitutions, media, corporations. It can be defined as a first level simulacrum, since it challenges the System in a direct way. Mediatic effectiveness is given by simulated threat: "Floodnet's power lies in the simulated threat." The aim is to draw attention to particular issue, to attract some degree of media coverage by engaging in actions that are unusual. The question for EDT is to have made up a negative, destructive simulacrum. Media system coopts these antagonistic simulacra, it demonize and criminalize them, it uses them to starting states of emergency, moral panic. The "state" plays the same game of fear. That happens when yuo play at the "first level" of mass media game.
- Luther Blissett
If EDT targets a direct fight, LB wants to raise the challenge at an upper logic level. As a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe wrote: "Guerrilla communication doesn't focus on arguments and facts like most leaflets, brochures, slogans or banners. In it's own way, it inhabits a militant political position, it is direct action in the space of social communication. But different from other militant positions (stone meets shop window), it doesn't aim to destroy the codes and signs of power and control, but to distort and disfigure their meanings as a means of counteracting the omnipotent prattling of power." Baudrillard quoting Wilden: "Each element of contestation or subversion of a system have to be of an upper logic kind."
Contrary to EDT's pratice: "Communication guerrillas do not intend to occupy, interrupt or destroy the dominant channels of communication, but to detourn and subvert the messages transported." This means not to play as innocent actors but to imitate spectacle and its deceptions: "Against a symbolic order of western capitalist societies which is built around discourses of rationality and rational conduct, guerrilla communication relies on the powerful possibility of expressing a fundamental critique through the non-verbal, paradoxical, mythical".
Indeed, non rational strategy is very rational: becoming spectacle, becoming myth, to use infoteinment weapons against itself. Traditional simple counter information doesn't work anymore. LB wants to bring the struggle in the realm of pop culture, to build "intelligent" simulacra, to spread out fake news, using irony to withdraw at the right moment. According to Critical Art Ensemble the enemy is invisible, the power has become a nomadic electronic flow. If it's easy to understand this, it's more difficult to understand how mass media system coopted, neutralize or demonize subversive forces. The net has made democratic simulating and faking information. But where is the myth in mass communication, today?
2. THE POP TURN
Roland Barthes, "Mythologies", 1957: "It is to be strongly established, from the beginning, that the myth is a communication system, is message." The myth is what is beyond the Spectacle, the back of media landscape. The myth unifies what is opposite in spectacle and overcodes any subversive meaning and deed.
Barthes: "To destroy the myth from inside was then extremely difficult. The same move to get rid of it falls at once a prey to the myth: the myth can always, in the end, signify the resistance made to it."
The title of 'read me!' intro is: "nothing is spectacular if you aren't part of it". I don't know if it is a quote and where it comes from [Debord..? it's pure Debord's philosophy!], but it's quite rhetoric, politically correct, puritanic. We should say: nothing is spectacular if you *are* part of it! Activism have to u-turn: let's call it 'pop' turn.
Barthes: "The best weapon against the myth is to mythicize itself, is to produce an artificial myth: and this reconstituted myth will be a real mythology".
For example, Net hype is a myth that activism must parasite and overcode. As A.f.r.i.k.a gruppe writes: "Increasing attempts to police the net, to establish state and corporate control will, paradoxically, increase its attractivity as a field of operation of communication guerrillas: Possibly, even those of us who until now not even own a PC will get Wired then. Fakes and false rumours inside and outside the Net may help to counteract commodification and state control - after all, the internet is an ideal area for producing rumours and fakes."
"Communication Guerrillas are fascinated by possibilities offered by the internet also in a quite diferent sense: Beyond its reality, THE NET is an urban myth, and perhaps the strongest and most vital of all. Social discourse conceives THE NET as the location where the people, the pleasures, the sex and the crimes of tomorrow already take place. Go Internet, learn the Future! Fears and desires are projected onto THE NET: this is the mythical place where we can see the future of our society." Mass media stage is inglobing the net step by step. The Spectacle is hybridizing itself with the net. Collective imaginery is penetrating the cyberspace. Activist have to attack and parasite the collective imaginery fed by the net. Mass media imaginery are becoming more and more interactive, "democratic". Old Left's theories about media manipolation are obsolete.
3. POP INTERFACES FOR THE MASSES: A POLITICAL IDORU
'Pop Turn' means that activists have become less boring and speak the language of the masses. Like all interfaces, it's a compromise. Some puritanic activist, some anarchist or eco-raver will disagree. But the only way to face infoteinment is to become more nihilist than it. The 'pop' turn is not only a strategic choice, it's also a way to build an access to the masses.
Pop culture is like induistic pantheon where gods and semigods fight nonstop. It deals with making up really pop simulacrum, controlling them, drawing them back when they begin to produce unwanted reactions. Activism have to construct virtual pop stars, collective avatars conducted from the net to act in the infoteinment, as LB o the idoru Kioko Date. By the metaphor of "mass avatar" I mean to explain open pop star model to net users and net actvists who don't know about multiple name. The avatar metaphor can be transposed very easily from the net to the traditional media and used in the media activism. With "mass avatar" I mean a virtual idol to play on media stage and not a simulated identity in a one-to-one communication on the net. Anthropomorphic features make public identify itself with it. As well as Ballard and Gibson know, in media society the Icon is the direct way to access to people's nervous system. Franco Berardi aka Bifo defined LB as 'The Antichrist of information'. This definition explains the LB purpose to join counter-information and autonomous pop mithology.
Gateway to the media.
Hacktivists have to organize gateways between the net and the "traditional" media. This net-media gateways should be an interface to feed and to control news media spread out. It deals with contacting and cooperating with on-line staff of TV and newspapers, with making up idiot-friendly interfaces for journalists. Electronic Disturbance Theater experience demonstrates it: without making the NY Times front page on October 31, 1998, EDT would have got only a merely on-line existence.
Hybridisation is not about just connecting the virtual and the "street". We risk to remain rhetoric and predictable on both the fronts. We have to hybridize and to contaminate the forms of pop culture to create pop modules for activism. Net scene is a tank of odd and useful ideas. Think of a mediatic subversive use of the most iconoclast net art works, before they could be coopted by Nike or Adidas! Pop module can be defined as a multi-platform program that can work on different social environments and political frameworks, on both old and new media. An example is LB, which name appeared many times on italian media, signed books, novels, performances, shows, counter information campaigns, hoaxes, urban legends. Multiple name is a really hybrid module, as it works on both old and new media, on both the street and the net.
We don't need the western philosophy easy astractions and oppositions that go on with grassroots criticism: simulation vs. real action, alternative vs. mainstream, pop vs. avant-garde, molar vs. molecular, "take to the street" vs. "the streets are dead". A theory [or strategy] is not to set up against another, but they are to be composed together on the same level. "Compositionism" is a deleuzian method suggested by authors as Bifo. Look at the beast of spectacle and its movements. It is infiltrating the net, rooting in the new forms without give up the old one. Capital infiltrates any interstitials. The net is not oppose to mass media, hypertext cannot destroy spectacle, but new hybrid forms grow up. Spectacle branches in the hypertextual net, it becomes more shifty. It is already hybrid, let's learn from it.
...and integrating activism.
In the same way activism has not to give up old strategies but to integrate them, to connect each other. Convergence of media involves convergence of strategies and "activisms". We have to cease to make theories. We simply have to connect a strategy to another, a thing to another. Hybridisation have to integrated different kinds of activism. After hacker we have to integrate net artists and designers into activism. I mean an euphoric, subversive, iconoclast, prankish activism! If net artists began to design pop interfaces and strategies for activism, they surely would be more spured, inspired and useful. But we don't need to be a "rhizome": rhizome myth has brought damage. Deleuze & Guattari also asked: "How can we distinguish between subversive schizophrenia and capitalistic schizophrenia?". Capitalism is schizo and rhizomatic too. We need to integrate and to be integrated.
5. THE REVOLUTION OF '99
The net-media-art activism scene is fragmented in a lot of groups, close sub-networks, alternative culture ghettos, avant-garden loners, hyper-egos. Let's have a look at jodi's map: -> http://www.jodi.org/map
I don't know in which way it is organized, but it's an effective bird's-eye view of "our" network. This scene can go overground only through interconnection of each group of artists, activists, writers, theorists, designers, journalists, moderators, organizers, etc. This network could become a mediatic icon!, the next [western] sub-cultural movement, after punk, techno, cyberpunk, etc. We have to find a quite pop and stupid name: "the revolution of '99"? Next scheme is not so obvious, it also means to be an interface for "theory":
- it's a bit stupid and too general but clear.
- is it too "hegemonic"? don't mind names such as 'nettime', just for example.
- where is simulation and where real action?