Is this for print? Or online only? As a new-millennium journalist in old media, I’m running out of unsarcastic ways to answer publicists. Online is the opposite of only: Its limits almost do not exist. Online, when potential readership is realized, it’s exponential.
Still, I know the publicists aren’t thinking quantitatively. Generally, the public assumes that what is printed or pressed or somehow physically produced is of better quality, or is just better, or realer, than what’s left floating in cyberspace for free. This goes for writers, rappers, painters, for anybody who makes the culture.
As for the culture’s critics, we often practise a paradox: We disdain artists who aim to make money, but don’t call it “art” until someone pays for it.
Last month, outsider rap star Kreayshawn released her debut record, the name of which will never matter – because it sold 4,000 copies in a week. That’s .002 per cent of the views her video for last year’s Gucci Gucci accumulated in one month. I could sell more copies of The Second Sex at a Reddit convention.
Even on blogs, there had been repeated notes of “real artist” triumphalism, as though the world of vinyl and guitars and comprehensible lyrics had righted itself, and this con-arty Kreayshawn would slide straight off the map. Except, nope. Kreayshawn – in all her weird, asymmetrical celebrity – is a product of the Internet, and the last 25 times I checked in five minutes, the Internet is still right here.
Kreayshawn is a lot like RiFF RaFF, the controversial, contra-“old school” rapper who could be either her cousin or her boyfriend (or, more likely, both). She was almost cast on the reality show Bad Girls Club, but says she changed her mind; he did time on MTV’s From Gs to Gents, but doesn’t like to talk about it any more. It’s too literal: the Internet, by which I mean its communicative, social side, is the greatest reality show. It’s the real Real World.
Because on the Web we perform our most clickable selves, academics and the writers who read them have segued from discussing “Internet fame” to saying the Internet makes us all famous. Progressive observers, like Alice Marwick or Rob Horning, are concerned with the commodification of self via social media and “microfame.” Whether micro or macro, the trade-off for fame is privacy, and – particularly in the case of Facebook – we’re sacrificing wider and wider swaths of it for (usually, relatively) narrow public recognition.
But this much-discussed “commodification of self” isn’t the same as “self-commodification,” because who’s capitalizing? The social networks, mostly: They call us “users” so we will not suspect we’re being used.
Classical Hollywood created stars to sell movies.
YouTube creates stars to sell ads.
What has changed is who can be a star, and how.
“We are in a moment of Artists Without Art,” proclaimed an article in DIS, the least definable of New York’s zillion and a half culture mags. They were referencing e-flux founder Anton Vidokle’s idea, “Art Without Artists.” They continued: “We live in a time when young artists look at each other’s Facebook pages more than each other’s art.”
If that’s true, it will soon be true that Facebook pages are the art.
I don’t worry about that because it’s “only” Facebook, or whatever social network you’d like to sub in, but because Facebook owns everything you author there to a degree that renders authorship almost meaningless.
Of all the artists now referred to as “Internet artists” or “social media artists,” those who will outlive the lifespan of a tweet are those who use said media as material, not just medium.
Grimes has succeeded – in album sales and award nominations – where Kreayshawn will not, even though the two musicians are alike enough to have recorded a superstoned Internet single together (it’s called Don’t Smoke My Blunt, Bitch). It’s not just that Grimes makes music that’s more beautiful, more complex, and more understood to be genuinely weird. It might be because she’s from neighbourhoods in Vancouver and Montreal where being weird is normal, whereas Kreayshawn comes from poor, back-state America, making Internet fame perhaps the only kind accessible to her.
Importantly for now, though, it’s because Grimes succeeds both online and offline, because she uses the Internet as inspiration. She understands it the way Surrealists understood their dreams.
I think of Jeanette Hayes, the New York artist who’s blond and smart enough to have been famous in any New York era, but who consciously both (a) positions herself as famous on the Internet and (b) positions the Internet in art history. Google her sort-of-Situationist paintings of classical figures in banal, digital contexts, or go see them – if you’re in New York – at Half Gallery on the Lower East Side. At the opening, there were more people outside than inside, proving there’s no “only” in online-based art, or, when you play it right, in fame.
Hayes elides the alt politics of ’00s “tactical media,” since evolved by An Xiao Mina’s praxis, to make art that imitates life because the Internet is life. She’s more a fashion insider than a Kreayshan-style outsider, but that’s another story. She’s going to be a major, art-world, forget “real world,” success.
For artists, especially, the only way to not be used by the Internet is either to not use it, which is ridiculous, or to make something out of it. Later, you can worry about what it makes you.