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Monday, February 3, 2014

On Contingent Self-Esteem

Over the past January, I  found myself in an unfamiliar position: as a dumbass. Now, some of you may argue that this is quite normal for me, that I am quite the dumbass quite often, but in terms of being one in a class at USD, it is for me rather different.

I took an intersession course in Logic, and quickly learned that I am far from logical. As an English major, being near twenty-four and an avid reader, in the classes in my major, I'm usually - to be honest - at or near the top of my class. I'm the kid who speaks up too often, tries to answer all the questions, and knows the professor on a first name basis.

In Logic, this is not the case.

I came into the class self-conscious to begin with, as I knew a girl I used to date would be in it. I walked in, loathing the moment, and sat in the very back, far from my usual front seat.

As the professor began to speak, he explained the class was essentially one of the study of argument. As most of you know, arguing is probably something I consider to be one of my things.

I took the first test, confidently, and enjoyed the professor's perspective in class. He's liberal, thoughtful, and believes in Obamacare as well as gun control. In other words, he's my kind of guy. Did I mention neither attendance nor homework is mandatory?

I felt awkward, seeing as I didn't know anybody, and I'm shy to begin with. Soon, the professor asked the class questions in the way of a survey after the first few days, and I figured I'd weigh in.

"Who here believes healthcare is a right?" Mine may have been the only hand raised. Perhaps, I thought, others were just demonstrating apathy.

"Who doesn't?

Hands shot up, including the three gorgeous blondes who sat still surrounding me. I'd say "still" because no longer is this the case.

I began thinking about the effect this place - USD - has on kids like me, introverted, liberal, male, a place where the prettiest - objectively speaking, in terms of the status quo - girls had opinions anathema to mine, including the belief that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry. Is there no justice? That same day, the professor quoted Voltaire, saying "life is a comedy too tragic for any of us to laugh." I've been trying to remember this.

After the first test, I felt even more like an outsider. I got a C+, far from what I expected, and now in addition to being stridently different, I was also, relatively, fairly idiotic. Many of the class got Bs and As. 

My self-consciousness got worse. One of the pretty blondes in the class that had been sitting in front of me directly now had moved an additional desk forward, perhaps fearing me contagious. To be fair, she wears glasses. I shouldn't take these things so personally. Regardless, I found myself one day having squandered nearly an hour or so getting ready for class, indecisive as to what to wear, frustrated by my bowl-ish hair and clothes ten or twenty years beyond my age, may of which with my new found weight don't fit. I was self-conscious.

For me, it begged the question: how does one configure their worth, their self-esteem? I got a haircut, this helped, but my appearance's value was still contingent upon the reception of other's whose opinions I can hardly control. Usually, this isn't as much as a problem. Usually, at least, I'm one of the smartest in the class.
Here, this was not the case. Without the ego of my intellect or confidence upon my looks, either of which I can at least at times comfortably rely, I found myself floundering.

How then am I to define myself? How then do I define my worth?

I've thought about this before, and only once in my life been able to live comfortably, able to define myself beyond the contingency of others: when I was briefly a Christian. When I was living with the ethic of WWJD, when all I had to do was know that I ought to act as if a benevolent god was watching, it was simple: be selfless, absolutely. No matter what, someone knew, He was watching. If I error'd in the spirit of this ethic, I could not be unfavorably judged. Or so I thought.

Instead, as I read other things and came to really question the ethic of absolute selflessness, the ease with which I acted fell apart. Some here might say something about the beauty of ignorant bliss.

I've long known the problem of defining yourself in the mirror - it's the burden of Facebook. It's the problem of seeing yourself through the eyes of the other. But I'd always been able to fall back on my smarts, or my taste.

However, looks, smarts and taste are all still contingent: your value - and their value - depend, and upon your company.

The question then is "How can you define yourself non-contingently, without resorting to an ethic of absolute love?"

For Hemingway, this meant defining oneself based upon a moral code of one's own definition: Be a man, which means x, y and z, and judge yourself accordingly, regardless. This helps, and I think he's on to something, but it's also fairly narcissistic and does not provide an ethic, only moral positions. Perhaps, looking outside contingency and then writing off a personal moral code is hypocritical, or silly. But it doesn't really allow for judgement, unless you hold everyone to your own code, which, I've learned, is foolish, and very Christian, the terms not necessarily exclusive.

For Nietzsche, it amounts to being strong, in spite of it all: judgement, adversity, suffering. This is probably the best I've found, but doesn't allow for community, in terms of a collective will. In other words, while it allows for an ethic of individuality, it does not take into account other people, which Nietzsche would admit joyously and readily. I, however, have in me some Marxist blood, and I tend to side with liberation theology: to the extent to which my brother or sister suffers, and I can help, I am obligated. Nietzsche, I think, doesn't touch this. Also, problematically, it involves Platonic idealism, to an extent, and a healthy heaping dose of guilt, pity and shame, which Nietzsche's position allows us to escape. 

What it seems I'm looking for then, is some kind of Nietzschean communitarianism, which seems clearly a contradiction of terms. Thus, my dilemma. 

I think the answer lies in trusting my gut, my intuition, and checking it with my reason. If I was Kant, I'd put reason first, but this is sexist, and I think I've proved that before here: Monkeys, Lions and Taylor Swift: Nietzsche's "Twilight of the Idols"

I think we have to be brave enough to be different, and willing to think and feel what's best for us and the group, something akin to Nash's Equilibrium. Finding that in life, in the moment, is difficult and troubling, but probably only because of the diversity of moralities and ethics dancing in our heads: those of capitalism, of Christianity, of egoism, of Buddhism... the list goes on.

We need to define ourselves to the extent to which  we are "good" people, but good luck finding any agreement on defining that term.

Perhaps we ought to agree to disagree. And perhaps I need to get the hell out of the University of San Diego. Which, begs the question: to what extent would a change of scenery help, as well as to what extent do the places we inhabit affect us as individuals? Especially when we are so much different than the herd? How does one maintain one's difference in the face of the will to community, the will to conform?

I've long fantasized semi-facetiously about how my life would be if I did conform. What would this mean? 
- having joined a frat freshman year.
- wearing the surf clothes of other men my age.
- would have picked a major where I'd make the most money, most easily.
- I'd go after hook ups instead of relationships.
- I'd stop being ruthlessly genuine, practice being fake, not wear my heart on my sleeve.
- Vote Republican, say fuck gun control, welfare and affirmative action.
- Not believe in the rights of gays, include "faggot" or gay as lame in my vernacular.
- Believe in the absolute truth of my beliefs, including that America is always right and exceptional.
- Believe in God, Christian morality.
- Listen to country.
- Find racial stereotypes hilarious.
- complain about rather than befriend my teachers in class.

In other words, I'd have to be other than I am. I'd have to George Costanza this shit: whatever I'd normally do or be, the opposite.

I think then, the temptation would be, to define oneself in opposition then to the anti-Nick caricature I've created, or, in other words, to rebel in definition against the so-called "herd." But there is a problem: Enter the Hipster.

I am not a hipster. I say this even though some would say saying this means I am one, but I truly believe it is not the case. Browse my music collection, and you'll quickly see I am not cool. Also, I don't ever try and be cool, nor do I ever feel cool.

Defining oneself against that which you despise is a bit like hating your ex: it still shows you care, it's still dependent upon the ex, the other. Being the opposite of something is still a reflection of that something you hate. Apathy, then, seems the higher value. (But only if its real, not intentional. Is this possible?)

Here is where Nietzche's appreciation of the Buddhist ethic is interesting, for it amounts to an appreciation of, for lack of better words, "going with the flow." Nietzsche's problem with Buddhism, I think, is like Tyler Durden's demand that his alter ego played by Edward Norton not go to his "happy place" and abstract from the pain of the chemical burn given to him. It's a problem of asceticism.

But what Nietzsche does appreciate is the ability to live in the moment, to dance to music that is ever changing. He criticized Beethoven for his music "sweating," that is, for too much effort. It lacks what the Italians call spezzatura, or "effortless style."

Sports are useful with which to think here, so I will use them: Phil Jackson, Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and John Wooden all advocate the same method: don't give a shit about winning or losing, about consequences. Just do your job, the best that you can. Saban calls it "The Process." It means not looking at the scoreboard, and living play to play.

On a slightly different end of the spectrum lies Pete Carrol: his mantra is to act as if you are always being watched, and to compete always, the best you can. Here, I think, we can see how the role of an imagined gaze - like God - can be useful. It means living life as spectacle.

As much as I love Pete, his Seahawks are very Christian, and I, for many reasons, am not that way. I think then, the approach of Saban and others works, amounting essentially to Hemingway's code: define what it is you do, do it, hold yourself accountable against this, no one else's scoreboard. Relax, play, try not to think - at least while the play is happening. Coaches like these don't' care about their opponent as much - especially John Wooden - so it's more about "you doing you" regardless of what you're facing.

It involves a lot of trust: in yourself, in the process. Nietzsche would like this. He hates guilt. He doesn't believe in free will in the Christian sense. He believes in us as products of our nature. Be your nature, then. Unless, of course, you find yourself after the fact, that it leads to distasteful consequences. Everything has a price, especially, at times, you being you, or me being me. 

But being an individual shouldn't be easy. Non-conformity by its nature means appreciation certain consequences.

And here, I suppose, is where we must fuck in the bed that we make. If we are by nature different, so be it. But if we do so self-consciously, with effort, it's pretty cheap. Being yourself should not necessarily require effort, though it may in the face of adversity. But let us not sweat, then. Let us be ourselves effortlessly. Let us be aware of who it is that opposes us. And if it's the douche frat bro who voted for Romney? fuck it. Even if they get the Alpha Phis, I'll take it. Integrity has its price.

For even in the divesting of one's purpose into another through love - the great selfless act - definition of self, and one's esteem are still contingent. In other words, defining yourself and self worth through love puts you at the mercy of another's control, whim or fancy. This, one can argue, is the whole point, its beauty; it is not, however, a trusty source of confidence. Love is perhaps by its very nature fickle, and moving beyond contingency in esteem is the goal.

I mean, I understand the temptation. I myself am, unfortunately, a wholly different person when I'm in love or doing well with members of the opposite sex than I am when heartbroken or on the lonely side of single, of course. Even recently, after a short lived something that seemed promising, I promised myself I still would appreciate the beauty of the bay while tossing the football with my bros, as the winter sun falls behind light leafed trees and the shadows rain in slanted slivers over our gridiron. But, try as I might, i had a pit in my stomach not even a perfect spiral could lift. Women are more powerful than even football, at times

Without love, or God, or Agape, or simple egoism, a morality of self-interest, as Ayn Rand offered... shit is complicated. How do we define who we are? By our innate, unchangeable characteristics? Do those exist? And how many are there of those, if so? Are we always to be defined by what we do? Is action the defining thing? Am I any longer making sense? Am I lost? Is it that obvious?

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Senior Project: On Social Media, Subjectivity and Kanye West

On Social Media, Subjectivity and Kanye West
     A buzzing alerts you: you reach into your pocket or purse, and pull out your smartphone; maybe it's Samsung, maybe it's Apple. A red number over the symbol denoting your Facebook application lets you know that you have a new "notification" : it could be a comment on something you have posted; a remark on a picture you've newly selected for your profile; a new friend, asking to be accepted. Wherever you are - on the runway as you get set for your plane to disembark, at the mall, in your sociology class - you are available, able to be informed, ready to be notified. You can turn off your phone, but that won't stop the notices: your older platform of social media engagement - your laptop - will notify you as well, as soon as you log on to Facebook, Twitter, etc. Awake, asleep, in a drunken stupor or in the middle of an exam, your online "friends" are able to reach you.
     What might they have to say? Go through the "newsfeed," Facebook's equivalent of a scrolling front-page of your social news. Ashley may have posted those pictures from the party you attended this week (do you look good in them? is there a potential new "default profile picture?") or perhaps your sister updated her status, complaining about a bad grade (should I call her? what could I comment to make her smile, laugh? should I be concerned?) or even news of a new relationship: finally, Jimmy and Sarah are going out. It's official. It's on Facebook.
     Social media provides a constant source of validation, attention and intrigue for the interconnected millennial generation. Gone are the days of waiting for your friends to call you with news, or seeing them in the halls, for the halls have become virtual: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram provide a virtual topography for participants to have liminal experiences; But those liminal experiences are increasingly blurring the lines and dimensions of experience, real and virtual, of internet and the every day. 
     To understand how this works, it may suffice to say a little on the basic aspects of the primary and dominant form of social media today: Facebook. No other site has achieved as much notoriety or attention than Mark Zuckerburg's creation, founded in the dorm room of Harvard and mythologized in a Hollywood film. To participate on Facebook, one needs a picture, an email address, and friends to add (so as to ensure that the newly created account does in fact belong to an actual person, a stipulation of use on the site, save those accounts created and devoted to celebrities, movements or fan pages). You have to create yourself in this way, attaching a name, image, location, and network to the account. Your network consists of those friends you add as you create your account: friends of the same school you attend, your coworkers, people from your town or community. These people in turn can then add you, allowing you and them to become friends, and to further authenticate your existence as yourself on this site. It helps prevent people from creating fictional accounts. 
     With your account functioning, you can begin. "How are you feeling today?" you are asked, by Facebook, in text that prods you to update your "status." Already, the minutiae of your existence, your mood of that day becomes not only publishable, but you are encouraged to do so, to enter into the discourse of social media that increasingly centers around the ordinary and mundane. Ironically, the presence of the everyday, of the exigent realities of daily existence - "gee, my Cheerios were great today!" or "ran out of gas on the way to school :/ " - become "news" by virtue of the "newsfeed." What is the effect of this?
     According to scholars, the effects are multiple, but most agree that Facebook and other forms of social media have lead to what is now called "Facebook Envy." This phenomenon, commonly taken up on NPR, The New York Times and in articles elsewhere, stems from feelings of inadequacy by virtue of comparing oneself to others online, to others' avatars and pages. 
According to Harvard Medical School instructor and clinical psychologist Dr. Craig Malkin, despite being in what amounts to the early stages of social media use as a society, already, particular "themes" are emerging in terms of the effects it has on individual users:
     We're really just in the infancy when it comes to this research, but there are some themes that are emerging. And one of the clearest themes is when people go on Facebook, they're often crafting a persona - they're portraying themselves at their happiest. They're often choosing events that feel best to them and they're leaving out other things. (Shea "Facebook Envy: How Social Networks Affects Our Self-Esteem")
     In this way, the effect of what Jaques Lacan referred to as "the mirror stage" can be seen occurring in the tension between how we wish to be seen online, and how we are in our daily lives, between our preferred interpretations of ourselves in the liminal world of Facebook, and in the exigent reality of our lived experience (Lacan 442). As Lacan writes, "we have only to understand the mirror stage as an identification, in the full sense that analysis gives to the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image". On Facebook, subjects quite literally and directly transform themselves into images, placing themselves into an economy of photos and profiles. Like Plato's difference between Forms and Appearances, between things as they truly are, and things as we experience them, Facebook as a mirror realm provides a space in which to create a reflection oneself, one that tends to be idealized. As an interview subject in the article in which Dr. Malkin speaks, teenager and sophomore Chloe Miller explains "You can literally airbrush your pictures online, for free. I know, I've done this. You can upload your picture and you can take out all the little pimples and stuff to make it look like your skin is perfect, your hair is perfect" (Shea). This, to me, is Lacan's mirror-stage in action: we internalize an image of ourselves as othered in the presence of the mirror; we compare ourselves to this idealized, imagined notion of wholeness; we gaze into the mirror, reflected, and dwell in the uncomfortable intensity of the difference between the wholeness we imagine, and the self that we see. 
     None other than Comedy Central's own Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the masterminds behind television's South Park, dealt with the complications that our current social media driven subjectivity has driven. In the episode from two weeks past, Season 17's "The Hobbit" focuses on the power that social media has over women, in particular young girls, by virtue of the pressures exerted against them and the tensions between their online, avatar photographic representations, and them themselves. To prove her point, to demonstrate the strange and awful power of Photoshop and the ability to alter images - such as magazines do - and the effects it has on young women,  she takes Butters into the computer lab to demonstrate just how easy it is to manipulate your image online, to let the pressures to conform to beauty ideals take over, and lead to what amounts to disinformation, and misrepresentation, at least according to Wendy. She takes the photo of Lisa Berger, a girl who apparently has a crush on Butters, one that is unrequited up to this point, to show just how effective Photoshop can be. She starts with Lisa's homely personage, explaining:
    "This is Lisa Berger's class photo, right? Now the first thing we do is just photoshop the bulges on her sides. We select the eyes, make them a nicer shape, take off any blemishes on the skin. Lengthen the neck, add more to the hair. Select the lips, make them fuller. Take out any puffiness on the skin here. Add fullness to the breasts, length of the torso - take away that fold of skin - streamline the   shoulders, put highlights in the eyes, and there. (Matt Stone, Trey Parker, "The Hobbit")
     Butter's cannot believe what he's seen, asking "That's Lisa Berger? She's pretty!" while Wendy explains that this is how women like "Kim Kardashian destroy the self image of little girls everywhere." The irony, though, lies in Butters' reaction, "she wants to go out with me? And I said no?" He then runs off to buy her flowers, chocolates, etcetera. The laugh lies in the sad reality that, perhaps, for some of us - and for women like Kim Kardashian - it's more important how you look online, in photos, or on the covers of magazines, than it does is the lived realities of non-digital existence. Ironically and hilariously enough, in the episode, Ms. Kardashian's husband, one Mr. Kanye West, repeatedly denies accusations that his girl is a hobbit. The significance of this is that Kanye wants her such that she is attractive to society, and if she were deemed unattractive, he'd be embarrassed, less powerful, emasculated. The irony though is that what matters most is how she is viewed by people who cannot actually gaze upon her, by those who see her in print, or online. For some like Kim, their worth is how photogenic they are. And like some major league ballplayers, they have some unsightly help, Photoshop instead of steroids. In either case, young people grow up attempting to emulate them, despite the innate deficiency they face when competing with someone who is cheating.
     Unfortunately for Wendy, and for most of us, we don't pose for Playboy, our visages don't adorn Variety Fair or GQ. But, as social media begins to play an ever more important role in our individual lives - especially in those of the internet connected youth - our online representations, by virtue of their ability to be manipulated, have growing power, that of an idealized mirror self, driving insecurities, leading to ever more demanding beauty ideal standards and pressures. The mirror has become digitized, and shared, online. However, in contrast to the dilemma we experience in the mirror as we get ready for school, this tension between our desired idealized self and our actual self is made public, and compared against other subjects online. By virtue of being able to "like" or "comment" on a respective image or individual on Facebook, the name of the game soon becomes who can obtain the most of either of these, which, by virtue of the economy in which the game exists, has an incentive structure: remove the pimples, suck in your cheeks, learn to stand for photos in such a way as to flatter your figure (the infamous "sorority squat" comes to mind: bent knees, hips turned inward, outside hand on outside hip, free arm dangling behind). 
     Some argue that all of this is making us more narcissistic, more self-centered, more egocentric and ego concerned. As Dr. Eleanor Payson, psychotherapist and author explains, Facebook and Social media provide "the Perfect Stage" for just such these tendencies. Since narcissistic disturbance involves an intense need to gain recognition and admiration through some form of exhibiting one's self, social media allows for an endless opportunity to gain both the superficial attention that a [narcissist] may crave, as well as an easy avenue for manipulating one's image. (Payson "The Perfect Stage")
     This disturbance of which Dr. Payson speaks can only lead to our sense of our own subjectivity being heightened, by virtue of our sense as individuals, relative to others, experienced through the liminal world of social media and Facebook. However, Facebook isn't the only culprit: there is Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat... the list goes on, aside from these heavy hitters. Each of these platforms requires an account, a log-in, a password, and an identity. In this sense, our subjectivity is being shaped by who we are on each of these social media platforms, each with log-ins and usernames attached to our real self. As Althusser writes in Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, "The category of the subject is constitutive of all ideology," and, "it is essential to realize that both he who is writing these lines and the reader who reads them are themselves subjects, and therefore ideological subjects" (Althusser 699). Furthermore, "all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects," whereby interpellation "or hailing" can "be imagined along the lines of... 'hey, you there!'" In  many ways, and by virtue of the aforementioned "notifications" that come with these social media applications, we are being hailed constantly just along the lines of "hey, you there!" Hey! - someone made a remark on one of your photos, but you're in class. It could be that cute girl - what could she have said? If your phone is on, it is connected, and if connected, you can be hailed, a taxi cab on a highway in the internet sky, with patrons each and every few steps.
     Interpellation has a use value, as does subjectivity writ large, for our techno-capitalist ideology is that of accountability and attribution: by attributing words, arguments or photos to concrete individuals, ideology is able to hold individuals accountable. In a capitalist system of private property, competition and ownership, words - subversive or otherwise - become privatized themselves. Social media, as it fragments our sense of self across multiple mediums, allows for a self that Snapchats, a self that Instagrams, a self that Facebooks, while at the same time unifying these fragmented individualities under the subjectivity of our real existence: regardless of the Twitter handle or username, attribution to a single self, a single author, occurs. 
     There is a use-value to this attribution, as Michel Foucault notes in his essay, "What is an Author?" First, he begins by discussing the difference between one's proper name, and that of the author, as well as the tension between. The two different names "are situated between two poles of description and designation; they must have a certain link with what they name, but one that is neither entirely in the mode of designation nor that of description; it must be a specific link." (Foucault, "What is an Author?"). This gray area between designating an authorial presence and describing it, between attributing, claiming and illustrating is much the same for questions of subjectivity relative to the works of an author of fiction, as well as that of the authors of their own social media profile. As Foucault continues, he points out  that "it is here that the particular difficulties of the author's name arise - the links between the proper name and the individual named and between the author's name and what it names are not isomorphic and do not function in the same way." Because they are not isomorphic, and because they are different - even while using the same signifier - Joe Schmoe, Nick Dilonardo, Matt Damon - there lies a tension between the two. It is unfair or at the least inaccurate to attribute the exactitude of features of Nietzsche the author to that of him as a subject - just as it is unfair to assume that the self that writes is the same as the self that shops for bread and bananas at the store. Fiction, journalism or authorship writ large allows for the creation of a public, performed self, in addition to the private self; social media takes this, fragments and expands it. There is the self that posts photos on Instagram (with captions to illustrate, to inform, to direct interpretation) as well as the self that Tweets, the persona that Facebooks. In this way, authorship as we know it is expanding in previously unattempted ways, by virtue of the possibility of self-publishing through blogs, forums as well as social media profiles. 
     In this way, we can see a subject self that is being fragmented, in the post-modern sense, subjectivity on the decline, the words of works standing on their own; but also, by virtue of their unification under one private self, the individual that is named, accountability and sense of individuality is also on the rise. The use-value of all of this is quite like Foucault describes, for "such a name permits one to group together a certain number of texts, define them, differentiate them from and contrast them to others," acting in a "classificatory function," under which these different works fall into "a certain mode of being of discourse." 
     Our avatars, our selves as we exist online, "[manifest] the appearance of a certain discursive set and indicates the status of this discourse within a society and a culture." Because "discourses are objects of appropriation," we can see quite clearly the role of private property and ownership coming into play. Social media as defined here does not allow then, for what would amount to texts without authors, anonymous works in this sense. As Foucault notes, "discourses really began to have authors... to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourses could be transgressive." Our avatars then operate to attribute our words, our arguments, our transgression for purposes of policing, and of punishment. And we've already seen it in action today.
     Within the last month, a member of the Obama administration was relieved of his duty after critical Tweets he wrote of his bosses were found to be his. He'd initially hid behind the guise of a "screen name." But in the end, he was found out, his words attributed. In an article from two weekend's past New York Times, an article ran with the title "We loved your GPA, and then we saw your Tweets." The point was clear: anything you tweet can and will be used against you. 
     And as social media goes public - as it opens itself up to private investment, the need to monetize finally too overwhelming to continue without ads in order to maintain it's coolness - this kind of accountability and discursive punishment works to increase feelings of subjectivity, and the importance of the subject itself. Capitalism requires consumers who make choices, individuals who express their agency through the power of their purse. As such, the powers of techno-capitalism seek to monetize this subjectivity through the identities of avatars' relationship to their purchasing selves. If you "like" a brand or a product on Facebook, you will soon see ads to that effect. As Facebook explains itself, "Ads on Facebook are unique. They're shown to specific groups," are "well targeted" and "get more likes, comments and shares," according to its advertising webpage. Because Facebook is privy to the likes, dislikes and preferences of its customers, it can target possible consumers for brands and companies with great ease and specificity. One's social media profile amounts to a conglomeration of particulars which create the whole self: I like these films, these bands, this religion, drive this car, work here, shop there, live in San Diego... Through this information, the capitalist powers at be seize the opportunity to market their product directly, and uniquely, to just as unique an individual as you are. 
     But this attribution goes into much more heinous territory when it comes to policing. Facebook and social media have been shown to create feelings of envy, jealousy, insecurity and low self esteem by virtue of comparison to the idealized created avatar selves of others. But its truly mendacious nature is revealed through the panoptic gaze that its subjects internalize. Much like the patriarchal gaze internalized through looks into the mirror after scanning the headlines and covers of magazines on display at the super-market check out line - lose ten pounds in twelve days, have better sex NOW!, clearer skin and a better life can be yours - social media's gaze has a similar policing effect. 
     As Foucault notes in Discipline and Punish on the nature of the panopticon, its "gaze is alert everywhere," and "this surveillance is based on a system of permanent registration" (Foucault 450). Facebook, Twitter and Instagram each require users to register, to identify themselves as individuals, with an email address, a name, a password. Not only that, but with Facebook, one is encouraged to register how one looks (pictures), where one is (checking-in), how you are feeling (status-updates) and who are your friends (friend requests). Instagram and Twitter encourage users to register the minutiae of their day, how their meals look, their sunsets, etc. which seems fairly innocuous enough, but when one considers the integration of #hashtags into both systems, the capitalist nature of this subjectivity can be alarming, intriguing: careers have been made through the use of #hashtags, through the publication of photos on these systems. There is an audience, and there is money to be made: just ask the author of Shit My Dad Says, Justin Halpern, who started a Twitter feed, got follows and retweets, turned it into a book and then even a television show staring William Shatner.  Instances of otherwise non-public individuals - non-celebrities - engaging and responding to popular Twitter and TMZ personalities allows for an entrance into the larger public discourse that is usually only the realm of talking heads on TV, of accredited journalists and columnists. In other words, this social media game has stakes, and they quite clearly can and often are financial or related to status.
     In this way then, the expectation of audience reception with the possibility of fame and even fortune behind it - or at least of increased popularity within the network of your friends, of kids at your school - plays a fundamental role in this new form of authorship. But with this possibility of monetization that the internet and social media provides, with the stage it offers, the chance for your voice to resound, it offers too its inverse effects: shame, vitriolic criticism and silencing.
     One need look no further than the so-called "most hated man on the internet" for just such an anecdote for the policing effects of an all-seeing internet gaze, as well as the unworldly riches monetization of that gaze can create. This "most hated man" is none other than Hunter Moore, founder of, which according to his Rolling Stone profile piece is:
    A so-called revenge-porn website that allowed jilted lovers in possession of an ex's compromising photos to send said photos to Moore, who first verified that the unlucky subject was 18 or older and then posted them online to the delight and mockery of the roughly 350,000 unique visitors he says prowled IsAnyoneUp on a robust day. (Morris)
     This, in of itself, might sound awful enough, but "alongside the photos, Moore Included the ex's full name, profession, social media profile and city of residence, which ensured that the pictures would pop up on Google." In this way, we can see moral and pseudo-religious perspectives and values being integrated into the gaze of the internet, by which so-called "slut shaming" can occur, wherein particular activities - sexual, photographic, intimate or otherwise - were exposed for no other reason than cruelty, and to embed fear into the hearts of prospective other exes. In particular, and because the site was founded by a man, for the purposes of exposing ex-girlfriends, the effect is that of a male, patriarchal gaze, policing and shaming women into conforming and being controlled. Bizarrely enough, he was able to monetize the site, earning as much as "$30,000 a month" and earning the Rolling Stone profile from which I quote, which his Twitter profile prominently mentions. 
     What this story demonstrates is the tension that exists between virtual selves and lived subjectivity, between one's representation online and the body that exists in real space. Our society today is one in which privacy as we know it has fundamentally changed. Many of the photos that landed on Moore's site were not photos sent in private from women to now jaded lovers; instead, many were photos taken by women of themselves, in their own rooms, for their own purposes, but hacked by one "Gary Jones" of, in a strange twist to the tale. Who we are, what we do online, in cyber space, whether shared or simply sitting in an email account can and will be used against us, in particular because there is the possibility for monetization. In cyberspace, the unsuspecting bodies of women - in particular those that could be the girl next door (or the girl whose door you can find with help from Hunter Moore) - have value, and it is the domain of techno-capitalism to find and exploit it. 
     In this way, even as we see our subjectivity fragmented across a multitude of sites, Facebook, Twitter - even revenge porn sites - at the very same time, the power of these avatars and the means by which they are interpreted are dominated by the categorical nature of the author-function. This in of itself is a form of policing, and of censorship, for it forbids and deters particular actions, or at least fairly well establishes their consequences. As individuals online, it seems, we have a choice, much as we do as consumers. Celebrities like Geraldo Rivera, the Fox News personality - former Fox News personality - who Tweet images of themselves, late at night, shirt removed - in this instance - can admit to the decision being influenced by imbibing in the morning, but that won't necessarily get them their job back. Cyberspace, as a topography, isn't the liberating, anything goes place that it once perhaps was, or is cracked up to be. Instead, what we find is a tightly regulated system of control and surveillance, operated and dominated by a panoptic gaze, real and internalized. 
     This gaze, is much like that of the one W.E.B. DuBois describes when he speaks of double-consciousness, as in his work "Strivings of the Negro" in which he writes of "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity" (As cited in Ciccariello-Maher). Whereas the difference between the gaze of social media or cyberspace and that of a white world gazing upon a colored individual is clear, the significance lies in the sameness of the white, male patriarchal perspective, wherein women - as in the case of Hunter Moore's site - or any individual - in the case of Facebook profile pictures - are aware of themselves as reflected in a mirror, and judged by the standards of a community of people, an audience over whose judgement the subject has no control. Moreover, there is a conscription to conformity, wherein the number of "likes," "reposts," or "comments" are demonstrable of value placed within this audience's community. It is the internalization of this judgement, however, that is especially mendacious, for in that moment surveillance moves into control. 
     But whereas this veil of double consciousness was once considered the realm of African-Americans, dually black and American, a foot in each world, this sense of duality of the subject can only be increased through social media, wherein subject selves are able to view themselves othered, judged by others, in a community of others in a public cyberspace. 
     Dr. George Ciccariello-Maher in his work "A Critique of Du Boisian Reason: Kanye West and the Fruitfulness of Double-Consciousness" writes of the effect of this sense of being a dually subjected self in particular regarding the creative work of artist Kanye West. As he writes of "Kanye West's first album, College Dropout" it "can be understood in many ways as a direct expression of the anguished, divided self, torn apart by the 'warring ideals' of the Black American" as seen in lines from the album that speak to Kanye's "prevalent manifestation of double-consciousness" wherein "economic materialism and the constant temptation to validate one's humanity through conspicuous consumption" come up against Mr. West's desire to "say somethin' significant" but where he finds himself "rappin' bout money, hoes and rims again" (Maher 388). This is perhaps most vividly demonstrated in his song "All Falls Down":
"man I promise, I'm so self conscious, that's why
you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollies and Pashas done drove me crazy
I can't even pronounce something, pass that Versaysee [Versace]
then I spent 400 bucks on this
just to be like nigga you ain't up on this
and I can't even go to the grocery store
without some ones that's clean and shirt with a team
it seems we livin the American dream
but the people highest up got the lowest self esteem
the prettiest people do the ugliest things
for the road to riches and diamond rings
we shine because they hate us, floss 'cause they degrade us:
we trying to buy back our 40 acres
and for that paper, look how we a'stoop
even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe."
     Here, Mr. West clearly refers to his sense of self-consciousness in public, speaking to his desire to wear jewelry in order to demonstrate his wealth, and therefore worth, because "they made us hate ourselves and love their wealth" which is "why shorties [women] holla 'where the ballers at?" In these lines, Mr. West negotiates both his guilt about subscribing to the hegemonic ideology of the white, patriarchal ruling class, while at the same time wishing to establish his worth within those same terms, for the purposes of attracting women, who presumably have internalized this same gaze, and who value wealth in prospective mates. Furthermore, the dominating nature of this system, its inclusiveness, the inability to stand outside of it is evoked in this lines "Drug dealer buy [Air] Jordans, Crack head buy crack, and the white man get paid off of all of that." Here, Mr. West evokes the despair of his position, on in which he finds himself in a system, subject to values and judgements which he cannot control, and which he finds distasteful, but at the same time desires that status that he finds so elusive. In this way, Mr. West finds himself subject to the overwhelming interiority of the socio-economic political system in which he lives, straddling both lines, between subversive and culpable. In other words, Mr. West and others seek "desperately to buy back their 40 acres, but in this verse, West begins to recognize the impossibility of such a task" (Maher). 
     The contradictions of Kanye's position were highlighted in the nervous speech he made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on NBC's telethon to support charitable contributions, with celebrities:
      I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a Black family, it says, 
'They're looting.'You see a white family, it says, 'They're looking for food.'
And, you know, it's been five days [awaiting federal aid] because most of the 
people are Black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to 
watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm 
calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I 
can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people 
down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help, 
with the way America is set up to help the poor, the Black people, the less 
well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they 
can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, 
fighting another way, and they've given them permission to go down and 
shoot us ... George Bush doesn't care about Black people. (Maher)
     Here, Kanye straddles the contradiction of his position, calling himself a "hypocrite," evoking his typical self-awareness, pointing out the conflict of both "shopping before even giving a donation" while at the same time criticizing George Bush for not doing more, for his people. While at the same time he points out America is not adequately "set up to help the poor" he stands in the subject position of one who has made tens of millions of dollars himself, a lot of money for a man who once rapped that working his "grave shift" was like a "slave ship." 
     This awareness of the contradictions of one's position in the post-modern landscape of techno-capitalism goes beyond just the racial veil that exists for subjects like Kanye West, as a result of ourselves being refracted and reflected, othered online and reproduced, this sense of a veil, this sense of dual judgement and contradiction is being found in otherwise unlikely places. Take for example the growing movement towards compassionate capitalism, products like Ethos water, which, according to its website was "created to help raise awareness about this terrible crisis [water insecurity] and provide children with access to clean water." Notably, profit is nowhere mentioned, but instead an ethos of social concern and the welfare of the world's great unquenched young hordes. Furthermore, "Every time you buy a bottle of Ethos Water, you contribute $.05US to the Ethos Water Fund, part of the Starbucks Foundation," which speaks to the manner in which the pathos of pity has been co-opted by profit driven, shareholder determined capitalist corporations. Now, even corporations straddle lines between materialism and consciousness, between profit and purpose. Or rather, they would like to appear to be.
     Look no further than Toms Shoes, or their beautiful website. Click on "one for one" - their motto - and you will see an image of three smiling black children hailing you, with the caption "it's a big job, and we don't do it alone. "With our customers and Giving Partner, we're transforming everyday purchases into a force for good around the world" through a program by which for each pair of their shoes purchased, their donate one of the same to a needy child in a third world country somewhere on the globe. It is pertinent to note that the shoes in question are originally those of indigenous Argentinians, cheap to make, simple in style, but now hot consumer items, sold in Nordstroms and surf shops around the United States and the world. It appears it's not just Kanye West feeling guilty about his materialism, his desire for profit - even hipster corporate types like Toms founder Blake Mycoskie seek to straddle that line of dual subjectivity. And, it is fitting enough that the company be founded by such a hipster, a figure of plastic framed glasses, skinny jeans and eco-conscious coffee, the perfect embodiment of capitalist choice masquerading as originality, of freedom.
     The prevalence of these operations like Toms speaks to a hyper-self consciousness that is product of the reflexive nature of the internet. Toms' began in 2006. Flex Watches - which claims for each watch sold, they feed five hungry children (stock up!) - by donating 10% of their net profits to ten different charities, began in 2012 and came to fame on the heels of MTV's "The Real World." Even the University of San Diego's stated mission to create Changemakers dances in the same step with social concern and capitalism aspiration. As greater awareness of the third world comes to the first world through reality television and internet access, corporations have cornered the market on making money off of inequality. 
     As Slavoj Zizek notes in his lecture "First as Tragedy, then as Farce," it has become incredibly sexy to use donations as a means to attract customers, wherein he says "our economy currently is no longer charity idiosyncrasy of some good guys here and there but the basic constituent of our economy" (Zizek, RSA). In particular, he points to the same duality aforementioned, similar to the one which Kanye straddles, speaking of "two dimensions" in which the "opposition between consummation" wherein "you buy, you the morning [George Soros] grabs the money... in the afternoon he gives half of the money back to charities and supporting things and so on" which demonstrates this new "anti-consumerist duty to do something for others or environment and so on." He cites the Starbucks example as well - like I did with Ethos water, a Starbucks brand - where in one can "walk into any Starbucks Coffee, and you will see how they explicitly tell you, I quote their campaign 'It's not just what you are buying; it's what you are buying into'". As a result of purchasing coffee that is "fair-trade", you are entering into a world of "coffee karma." This, Zizek notes, is "cultural capitalism at its purest," for now, "you don't just buy a coffee" or a skinny vanilla latte, but "you buy your redemption from being only a consumerist. You do something for the environment; you do something to help starving children in Guatemala." 
      This form of conscious consumption of capitalist goods could only reach the overwhelmingly present level it has today in a society in which the guilt of people who "find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty" could be commodified. It only works if there is an awareness of this gross economic inequality; the internet and media help perpetuate this. No longer are images of atrocities brought to us by grainy black and white photos on the daily periodicals of our major cities, tucked into the World sections, B-12, page B-16 or something to that effect. Now, Anderson Cooper or Wolf Blitzer can bring the atrocities of Somalia, the starvation of Yemen or the bare feet of Argentina into our living rooms, in full high-definition on our LCD or plasma screen TV.  
     Which leads to more self-conscious art - torn between artistic creation for art itself, and the desire to create capital, by which to survive, or wildly thrive - is straddles the duality of the position of today's techno-capitlist subject: I am aware of the world and its inequalities more than ever, for they are beamed into my home, through screens, no longer just grainy images on newspapers I may or may not read. Now, even the frat boy who always talks about keggers on Friday nights can wear a Flex watch, can post an article about tragedy in Uganda, and third-world exploitation - the history of it, the pressing present of it - is brought to our attention, is signified to us. With this self-consciousness comes choice: how can I justify my making exorbitant sums, while at the same time, living as an artist, authentically? 
     For an answer, or for at least a demonstration of how this self-reflexive subjective consciousness is driving artistic creation in our current techno-capitalist post-post modern moment, we can again, look to Kanye West, for more. My interest in this very project began by reading an interview in bed one day, as I lazily avoided getting up, scrolling through articles on my phone, combing the New York Times for a reason to continue to read and avoid starting my day. I came across an interview with my hands down, no question, favorite current working artist: Mr. Kanye West.
     In that interview, the infamous and controversial artist was discussing the ethos for his latest album "Yeezus" that dropped this Summer. He began by explaining his intentions for the album previous to his most recent, one titled "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." This album, dating back to 2010, came just after Mr. West had infamously stormed the stage of MTV's 2009 Video Music Awards, taking the mic from a young Taylor Swift, and saying, despite the blond star's best efforts, that she did not deserve the award which she had just stepped onto the stage to receive. Drunk, he yelled that Beyonce was the one with the true video of the year, and he felt that the powers at be did not appreciate this. He was roundly criticized; Our president referred to him on a hot mic later that week as a "jack ass." Kanye was humbled, if ever he was. And it was in this moment that he came out with his plan.
     Mr. West said in this interview with the New York Times that his album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" was his "long, backhanded apology." Mr. West said that the message behind was to "Let me show you guys what I can do and please accept me back. You want to have me on your shelves" (Caramanica).
     Mr. West then set out to make an album that he knew would appeal to the ears of his mass audience, get onto the airwaves and even make it onto the soundtracks of several major motion pictures in following years, including "The Social Network" as well as "The Hangover." It was well-received to mass play on FM  and Satellite radio stations, and brought Mr. West back into critical acclaim. But, his heart was not in it. To this day, he speaks of it in terms of compromise. 
     The backlash that Mr. West received in the press, but more importantly over social media in the aftermath of his ill-fated Taylor Swift debacle, directly lead to the creation of a compromised album. Mr. West knew the face of the patriarchal capitalist music making machine that he wanted to appease, he got onto his knees - as much as he ever has - and asked for forgiveness. His response to this effort is an album called "Yeezus," and it couldn't be farther than away from his past in terms of a departure.
    The significance of this for me, as I read the interview, was an ethos of apparent aggression towards his audience. In his newest album, he took a deliberately different tack, charting a course towards offending his audience, and refusing to give them what they want, what he knew they wanted. He'd already done that. His singles from "Dark Fantasy" included "All of the Lights," "Power," "Monster," and "Runaway" which were each international Billboard hits. To this day, over half a year from the drop of Yeezus, his most recent album, and I still have yet to hear one of its songs played on the radio, in a bar, or frankly, anywhere, outside of my own home, my car, my private listening, though "Black Skinhead" has made its way onto the soundtrack of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street as well as a Motorola phone commercial, and "Bound 2" has been released as a music video now, and quickly and infamously spoofed by none other than James Franco and Seth Rogen. That video, as critic Jerry Saltz writes, "was ridiculed as clueless kitsch. But I dig it, and I think it represents a part of a collective cultural fracturing, via an idiom that I call the New Uncanny." (Saltz "The New Uncanny"). 
     According to Saltz, "When performers like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian... try so hard to showcase and communicate how sincere they are, instead they reveal how out-of-touch they are - from each other, from themselves, from us" which demonstrates the complicated nature of the tension between their media, photographed, Twitter identities, and their lives as citizens, as lovers, as actual people. According to Saltz, "Bound 2' represents a psychological fissure whereby stars give us exactly what we ask of them - a glimpse into their inner selves - and then are shunned and mocked for it." What ends up happening, it appears, is the mirror, idealized, social self subsumes the expressive possibilities of the individual. Fame and fortune, have their price, it appears, and it can be hard to break outside of the expectations an audience may have when listening to music, by virtue of the hyper-publicized representations of the artists that exist in society.
     In an interview with Zane Lowe of the BBC, Mr. West explains that on his new album, he sought to make music that was "three-dimensional." The reason for this was that he felt that music has gotten to a point in our lives today that it functions primarily in the background. In our ever more distracted lives, he sought to create music that is "like on Star Wars and the hologram [where it will] pop up out of R2D2" that "jumps up and affects you, in a good way or a bad way" where it's him "going into a scream in the middle of a track because that's just the way he feels" (Lowe). With this aesthetic effort, Mr. West is deliberately challenging the listener to listen, for better or worse. The album, in effect demands to be seen as well as heard, to grab the listener's attention, to shake them out of their twenty-first century techno-capitalist cultural haze. In a world in which we set playlists to the mood of our day, in which we sit at home with the TV, texting, checking Facebook, never really fully paying attention, we have an artist who is deliberately trying to pull us out, to engage us. And like he said, for better or worse, in a good way, or in a bad way.
     What interests me most about this exchange is the effect of criticism on Mr. West as an artist. As a result of social media, artists - forgive me if you feel I am using the term loosely - like Ms. Miley Cyrus - also now infamous for a stunt pulled at the VMAs - are more readily and more easily and more rapidly criticized in a more dramatic, public fashion than has ever been able in the history of our world. Within seconds of Miley Cyrus's provocative and controversial performance at this year's Video Music Awards - one in which she wore a mouse costume, danced up and against her male performer, slapped the rear end of a black dancing little person and repeatedly stuck out her tongue at the cheering fans - she was already the most popular topic in the world. On Twitter, she trended for days, weeks. Her popularity - and controversy - became intermeshed, as she dominated the popular culture and news discourses of outlets as varied at The New York Daily News, The LA Times, TMZ and even NPR. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of Miley. For her part, she did her best to appease them. 
     This is significant because now the very expectation of reception - positive or negative - is not just a possibility, but an expectation. Whether one is an unknown artists, writing ranting blogs on the internet to a site of his own creation, or a pop culture celebrity, followed by paparazzi and TMZ, the effect of social media is the same: criticism has found a whole new arena, a topography of anonymity and vengeance. Without one's name attached to one's words, it can get truly vile. But even on sites like Facebook and Twitter, where "real" people stand behind these accounts with some attribution to their person, the criticism continues. What we have is an ongoing discussion of the cultural zeitgeist in real time. No longer does news spread from the East, back across, or even through the daily handing out of our newspaper. Instead, it is instantaneous. Not only that, but it feeds upon itself: the more others Tweet about Miley, the more she trends. The more she trends, the more CNN and Fox News pick up her tale, encourage their viewers to tweet back with their opinions. The lesson here is simple: Controversy sells. And Ms. Miley knows this:
    In an interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Matt asked her if she was surprised with all the attention she was getting in the aftermath of her performance. Her response: "it's kinda what I want. I'm an artist, I hope I get a little attention. Otherwise, my record sales might be kinda sketch." 
     Here, we have America's former Hannah Montana darling, explaining quite clearly the state of the production of popular music in America today: it's about getting attention. It seems to be working. With a cover of Rolling Stone in the basket, interviews and performances galore, the attention she seeks and covets is paying her bills, and leading to the adoption of an ethos not unlike that of Mr. West's attempt at a three-dimensional album: it's an ethos of antagonism towards the audience and possible critics. 
    Is this any different than Elvis and his shaking hips? Perhaps, perhaps not. But what is certainly different is the way in which criticism from social media - and the awareness of it - is directly shaping the construction of these artists' works. 
    These works and these artists exist fully aware that they produce outside of a vacuum. Their work, their art, is reproduced and distributed across the globe faster than has ever been possible in the history of mankind. From New Delhi to Detroit, Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, love them or hate them, are watched and listened to. Whether it's a video posted to Youtube, or watched from a link Tweeted on Twitter and linked to Facebook, the globally interconnected world wide web allows for the dissemination of content in an unprecedented manner. 
    We live in the most self-conscious age of human existence, by virtue of social media and our internet connectedness. Art, as a result, is affected, by social media just as it is capitalism, or by our emerging techno-capitalism, one in which the provinces of the world wide web are being annexed and integrated into late capitalism writ large, paving the way for a new society, one in which subjectivity and the sense of self is on the rise, serving a consumer economy as well. Between guilt and purchase, between dreams of yachts, champagne and the ability to instantly and immediately view the impact of years of exploitation of the third-world through media reports, clips of uprisings or Youtube videos of the Civil War in Syria, we as individuals live in strangely conflicted times, those in which the demands of subjectivity - of choice - are more muddled than ever, by virtue of the plethora of options we face, as well as the self-consciousness with which we make them. The mirror, once banished merely to the bedroom and bath is now carried with us, in our pockets, on our laptops, projected across the web, where we are also one vibration or message beep away from being hailed. We are always available. The mirror is always there. But as Kanye shows us, we can play with our knowledge of how we appear in the mirror. Social media makes self-conscious signifiers out of all of us. 

Works Cited
Althusser, Louis "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses." Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. N. pag. Print.
Caramanica, Jon. "Behind Kanye's Mask." The New York Times, 11 June 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Ciccariello-Maher, George A Critique of Du Boisnian Reason: Kanye West and the Fruitfulness of Double-Consciousness"Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 39, No. 3
Foucault, Michel. "What Is an Author?" Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Print.
Foucault, Michel. "What Is an Author?" Wikipedia, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Lowe, Zane. "Kanye West Zane Lowe Interview Transcription." LYBIO Reading Skills With Video To Scripted – Text, Words, Quotes And Lyrics. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
"The Hobbit," South Park Studios. Comedy Central, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.
Morris, Alex. "Hunter Moore: The Most Hated Man on the Internet." Rolling Stone Magazine, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
Payson, Eleanor. "The Perfect Stage." The New York Times, 23 Sept. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2013.
Saltz, Jerry. "Jerry Saltz on Kanye, Kim, and 'the New Uncanny'" Vulture, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
Shea, Andrea. "Facebook Envy: How The Social Network Affects Our Self-Esteem." Facebook Envy How The Social Network Affects Our SelfEsteem RSS 20. WBUR Boston, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.

Zizek, Slavoj. "RSA - RSA Animate - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce."RSA - RSA Animate - First as Tragedy, Then as Farce. RSA, n.d. Web. 20 Dec. 2013.

Monday, December 2, 2013

a personal essay from non-fiction on C'est Si Bon

It's So Good
"Be my own for the rest of my days 
I will whisper this phrase 
My darling, my darling... 
C'est si bon!"

"They've got great sandwiches and treats," she said, in an effort to alleviate my skepticism. I was a boy bred on Taco Bell and Happy Meals, devoted to the toys with which they came wound tightly in plastic, and the game pieces that came on the cups. I'd once been certain I'd won the million dollar prize. I'd made plans. I would be skipping the 4th grade.

My grandmother walked me down the hill as I probably pushed Cambria in a stroller she was too big to fit in, but that made me and my grandma less anxious; she couldn't take off running. We'd have to cross one street, infamously one of the most dangerous in Newport, my grandmother would always remind me.

C'est Si Bon greeted us with the smell of what I'd someday learn was coffee, the elixir of undergraduate life. Sugar, the smell cinnamon and sweet bread, hung in the air in a way I'd come to take for granted. I pressed myself close to the pastry case, and picked out a cinnamon roll that I'd later learn would have raisins and sliced almonds. I minded, initially; then, the icing glaze won out.
I think all my memories of C'est Si Bon stem from this moment, for never do I remember it now without seeing it in the scantly crowded late afternoon of long shadows and longer faces, coming in for their last of the day's caffeine fix, like that one day long ago in November. 

In the mornings, it's crowded, bundles of baguettes packaged and picked up to be shipped to all the best restaurants of Newport. Moms in expensive sweats, some in tennis visors and tanned men in khakis and shades of blue dress shirts stand in line, waiting to call out their order for coffee.

The six or so tables in the morning tend to be occupied by Newport's paper reading, slow sipping leisure class, retired or otherwise, spending hours each day as regulars, somewhat amused and slightly perturbed by all the interlopers in what amounts to their living room or den.

But in the afternoons, Marcio, the impolite, cursing and frenzied Frenchman who owns the place isn't there, and the young and hippest members of Newport Beach that tend to the lattes and write up receipts visibly relax, and play their music, a mix of the Walkmen, the Strokes and the Cold War Kids. At C'est Si Bon, I seldom need an Ipod.

The first time I made the place mine was when I got the bright idea to bring grandmother's unused laptop complete with a plug in USB wireless internet adapter and work on a story I was trying to write. I ordered iced coffee and sat at the bar pressed against the floor to ceiling windows that sat sat over the shadows of the parking lot, the sun streaming in from the West. I fiddled with the laptop; I got self-conscious after a few pages; it was my first time as a patron of a coffee shop. 

In the years that passed, it became my first stop in the early mornings after I was legal to drive. I had my first class at seven. I'd pick up a coffee and a chocolate croissant. It got me out of bed in the morning.

But soon I came to share C'est Si Bon. It became a place for long lunches, serious talks and dates of all manner and function. I cannot count the number of women for whom I fell over iced coffee and sandwiches of avocado, turkey, lettuce and tomato between slices of a French baguette. 

If it was a Wednesday and I was eating one of my marathon lunches with Alex Distler, I'd suggest C'est Si Bon because I'd offer to drive, which meant I'd have more time with her, and the park nearby where I played as a kid had vistas with the best view of Newport I've yet to find. It was the place I'd go as I got older, when I was sixteen, when I'd tell me grandma I was taking a walk for coffee, hike the steps to smoke a cigarette and ponder my humanity, my loneliness, or whatever it was I was obsessing over that week.

C'est Si Bon is the only thing I tell people I miss about Orange County when they ask.

When it was 5 a.m. and Monique had slept over and just left, when I couldn't sleep or make sense of what had just happened, I drove down to C'est Si Bon, past the turn I would have taken if I was visiting my grandma, if that were still possible, past Tustin Drive and a right on Riverside, where I'd think of my usual crack about how the streets of Newport are all named after less desirable places in Orange County. I came here when I didn't know where else to go, when coffee and a book or journaling seemed like the only thing I could stomach, when TV, liquor, video games or friends felt like a cheaper respite.

Or when I'd meet Whitney for those long lunches where we met as friends, once lovers, smiling awkwardly and longingly over the memories of so many bagels shared smeared with cream cheese and avocado, laughing when we'd remember the time she awkwardly coughed and spat bagel bits onto my chagrined face.

The place hasn't changed, and that helps. The memories are all set in the same looking scene, the chairs and the tables and crumbs on the floor all arranged how I remember them.

With some girls, I wish for one more time in bed, one last night. With the ones I loved, I wish for one more lunch in the long shadows of a C'est si Bon afternoon. One more time to eat and sip with no thought of what we have to do later; one more sandwich eaten messily on my favorite park bench, the one with the view of where my grandmother would take me to log roll and somersault down that grassy hill; one more coffee stained kiss and smiled goodbye, rather than those so longs said with with held back tears and runny noses. We remember things as we want to, perhaps. C'est si bon makes remembering easy.

It was where my two best friends got their first non-acting jobs, where they'd have to wake up to go in the mornings after staying at my apartment till midnight trying to get me to smoke, to be part of the crew. C'est Si Bon was where the pretty girls worked, like the one who looked like Jean Seberg in Breathless, whose number Gianluca gave me because he said she liked me, she who I could seldom speak to without mumbles or stammering.

It was where Gianluca's girlfriend Lauren would hook me up with free sandwiches and iced coffee, always looking out, even giving me rides to school. It was from here Jake and Gianluca would both be fired, Jake for being late and fucking with customers, Gianluca for telling his boss, eventually, to go fuck himself.

C'est si Bon was sometimes the only time all day I'd speak to another human, the girl behind the counter I tried my best to not look awkward in front of, always failing, the only time I'd speak between rising and sleep, outside of my apartment.

It was where I read Hemingway half-heartedly and started to see myself as a writer, starting stories and trashing them after six pages, disgusted and self-conscious over the trash I'd write. I came there in the mornings before I went to USD, when I'd quit my job, finished coaching and was no longer in school, where I'd sit and write my thoughts in some hope of making sense of them, long before I had a blog or the self-indulgent desire to publish every silly or stupid thought I have, before I thought of others' eyes on the page.

C'est si Bon is where I came of age, somewhere between the oak panels that held back coffee by the pound and the chilled display of cheeses, near the wine on the shelves and by the bottles of Orangina, the place where my name was called and myself met with a sandwich and maybe even a smile. When I die, I want my ashes scattered among the crumbs of croissants and bits of baguettes that adorn the floor, for I know no place I'd rather be.

Until then, I'll return there when I'm brought back home, taking the drive by grandma's house on Ocean View, where she'd take me after picking up enchiladas and Blockbuster, before I drank coffee, after I was old enough for us to watch The Sopranos. I'll pass her place, idle briefly, then roll down the hill and turn onto Riverside, perhaps for one more of those C'est Si Bon lunches, and remember when being happy meant iced coffee, a sandwich, and the girl I loved sitting across from me, with nowhere else to be.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Subjectivity, Social Media and Kanye West: My senior thesis, as presented

The effect of social media in our late Capitalist society is of increasing subjectivity. Our sense of self is broken apart, spread apart various social media landscapes: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr. Even as our modes of communication across these different spaces provides the possibility of post-modern fragmentation, we see something quite different happening at the same time: we are united under one name, through hailing, or by "the process by which language identifies and constructs a social position for the addressee." In other words, an author-function. The self that snaps those quick videos and sends them to friends is literally and virtually attached to myself as I Facebook, as I text, as I email. The same phone number, the same Facebook account - all of these various applications attributed to the same person - me. 
The stakes of this are quite clear. Within the last month, a member of the Obama administration was relieved of his duty after critical Tweets he wrote of his bosses were found to be his. He'd initially hid behind the guise of a "screenname." But in the end, he was found out, his words attributed. In this past weekend's New York Times, an article ran with the title "We loved your GPA, and then we saw your Tweets." The point was clear: anything you tweet can and will be used against you. 
Social media hails us as subjects. On Twitter, we are encouraged to write of the minutia of our day; On Facebook, we are inundated with photos of other's amazing weekends, trips to Bali, parties on the Vegas strip. On Instagram, we see photos of delicious desserts, fabulous Nigronis, impressive sunsets. Everywhere, it seems, our friends are as telling us about their fantastic day, their experience, their moments. Take a scroll through the assorted and popular posts on Instagram today, and I doubt you will see a picture of anyone in their sweats, or of anyone's bad hair day. We instead present our best selves forward, because we want to depict ourselves as most highly valued, in the eyes of the expected other. We represent ourselves as we want others to see. Pictures, or it didn't happen. It is at the point that artists such as Aziz Anzari and the band The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have had to ask that their fans not watch their shows through their camera phones, which to me has a strange significance: audience members are actually willing to suspend their immediate enjoyment of the moment in favor of its redistribution across various electronic channels, preferring instead the simulation of the moment in its aftermath, to the direct experience of the original, the authentic. They are commodifying their experience to redistribute. 
The dominant hegemonic discourse of capitalism interpellates us as subjects, a process described by John Fiske "whereby language constructs social relationships for both parties in act of communication and thus locates them in the broader map of social relations in general." This perfectly describes social media, which operates as a virtual topography. It offers us a landscape by which we can understand our subjectivity in entirely new ways. It is a heterotopia. We post where we were that weekend, who we were with, what we were doing. We comment, we caption. Our lives more and more exist not in our lived realities, but in the liminal experience of digital encounter. I may not be a big deal in life, but I could be huge on Instagram. Take for example the "selfie." It is literally a photo taken by yourself in which you gather "likes" and "comments." You are as valued as much as you are "liked." The more likes, the more follows; the more follows, the more power within that discourse. And rather than understanding ourselves as subjects relative to only our peers, our professors, our family, we instead are able to see ourselves in relation to everyone on Facebook, among all our followers on Instagram. Not only that, but on Twitter, we are a voice among billions. On email, we are addressed each day in a plethora of voices to each of our various accounts, all united under the notion of our self, our author-function, as is all that we will write online. 
This process serves what we ought to now call techno-capitalism. Social media addresses us as unique snowflakes who are a product of all of our photos, all of our interests, our "likes," our hobbies, the things we buy or search for online that are in turn shared with Facebook and Instagram such that they can better target ads to us serve to better instill within us a sense of our abundant individualism, for gone are the days when social media went un-monetized.  I shopped for a coat for my sister's birthday just last week. Now, all I see online are ads attacking me, imploring me to buy women's coats, ads from Nordstrom following me on news sites, blogs, my email. Facebook knows where I've been shopping, what I've been doing. It addresses me as an individual consumer, as unique, as particular. These ads remind us that we must have the newest Iphone, Ipad, the latest digital device. The cheaper Iphones come in colors, whereas the newest, most elite literally comes in gold. Class relations, through products and through our experience in digital life, are being reproduced endlessly. 
The great irony of social media is that even as it proposes to connect the world, inspire change, lead revolution in China or Egypt or whatever - at the very same time, it increases subjectivity and fractures community, in the name of capitalism. In a world in which the dogma of "personal responsibility" and "individual accountability" are continually espoused by the Tea Party, social media plays an important part. We know that it is the nature of hegemony to be in constant struggle against contending ideas and movements. What better way to trumpet the American Dream and capitalism writ large than a digital platform in which one is encouraged to post their best selves forward?  Social Media in this sense polices us as subjects through an omniscient gaze, what Michel Foucault would refer to as Panopticon. It is an all seeing, all knowing gaze that we internalize within ourselves, constantly aware of the criticism of the dominant ideology. This leads some of us to act dually, to wear a mask, or to think in terms of a dual consciousness. Facebook and social media only intensifies this state of being. We must be careful Tweeters, thoughtful bloggers. Anything we say can, and will be used against us. 
Twitter and Facebook have tried to fashion themselves as great powers of democracy. Some are brazen enough to have even called the Arab Spring the Twitter Revolution. The irony lies however in the subjectivity inherent in both social media and democracy: both want us individuals, accountable. If we don't like the president, isn't that our fault? We could have voted. We had a choice. Nevermind that the frame, when expanded, reveals essentially a choice between which two big banks we support rather than which politician, it was still our acts as individuals that lead to our present day situation. We are accountable for our actions, as we are told.
Walk into Starbucks today, and you'll see the effects of all of this increasing individualism in action. It's not enough to order coffee anymore, the black bitter drink of the working masses. Instead, they ask "what's your name" and "what's your drink?" Do you want whip cream with that? How many shots of espresso? Vanilla, or caramel? You are unique, as much as your drink.
This subjectivity extends into the greater economy. We are no longer a culture of mechanical production, but of digital and theoretical speculation. We don't invest in cars, we invest in applications. We are commodifying not just lumber, or ore, or gold, but now even athletes - this is true, you can buy stock in Arian Foster. As Zizek writes, the only universalism is struggle; but we have commodified even that: food & water are sold, as is education and healthcare. We must invest in these things. They are bought and sold. It's up to us as consumers to make prudent decisions. 
All of this is affecting art, and its creation. As Nietzsche once asked of Nihilism, "from whence did this most uncanniest of guests arrive?" I'd like to ask the same question of Miley Cyrus and Kanye West. It is fitting that in a moment of increased subjectivity, of hyper-awareness of selfhood and of a panoptic social gaze, that we have two artists who are both doubly conscious. If we were to unpack the word "uncanniest" we would be brought to remember that what is so fear inspiring about the uncanny is its doubling, of ones inability to differentiate between the original and the copy, the presence of the double. This double consciousness takes the form of signifying, as Henry Louis Gates Jr. would explain. Kanye West and Miley Cyrus are both essentially "punk" artists, whose punkness stems from their appropriation of signifiers from dominant discourse, and appropriating them for their purpose, their Revolt. How else does one make sense of young Miley Cyrus, formerly Hannah Montana, a figure once very much like Taylor Swift, who has traded her country music Disney existence for diamond encrusted grills? As Dick Hebdige writes of the punk rock subculture, he speaks of it in terms of Refusal, as a "tendency towards willful desecration and voluntary assumption of outcast status." I think many of us can agree that Kanye West fits into this category. He is the same artist who drunkenly stormed the stage during MTV's 2010 Video Music Awards to denounce the popular consensus choice of video of the year going to Taylor Swift - the white, angelic, only seventeen singer - instead explaining that Beyonce deserved video of the year. He was vilified. In response, he released an album with the intention of reminding his fans "that they want him on their shelves." The album was a great success, only to follow the effort with what he calls a more honest effort, one made with less "compromise," the album Yeezus.
In our culture of hyper-subjectivity, simulation and appropriation, figures like Ms. Cyrus and Kanye West demonstrate both the critical self-awareness that these artists must have in order to reinvent themselves, in order to propagate their art, to make it new, to make it controversial, while at the same time reflecting the utter lack of awareness that the appropriation of these symbols represent, and the sad, uncomfortable reality that in order for a formerly virginal and pure sweet sixteen ballad crooning pop princess to become "punk," she must adopt black iconography in the name of originality, and of being obscene. Like Elvis popularizing black music, like Justin Timberlake making a career out of establishing the legitimacy to sing black music through the use of African American figures to render him "authentic" - be it Janet Jackson or Jay-Z - we can begin to see the face of The Censor form, the inverted face of techno-capitalism, of what is offensive today and now. To be offensive, Ms.Cyrus has demonstrated, is to unabashedly present oneself as hyper-sexual, as defiantly so, hip-hop listening, twerking and tattooed, while being female and white. The controversy of Ms. Cyrus is a controversy of her dressing against her gender, and her race. At her performance at this weekend's European Music Awards, she literally wore a leather skirt upon the rear of which were painted visages of Tupac and Biggie Smalls. 

In the case of Mr. West and his infamous storming of the Taylor Swift's stage, what was being policed was Kanye's honesty. In the aftermath, few disputed that Beyonce did not deserve the award that Ms. Swift somehow won. Instead, they disputed his audacity. We must be careful what we say online, and we must be aware of how we are received in public. We must not rock the boat; we must not upstage the young white virginal starlet. Especially if you are Mr. Kanye West.