Genealogy of Talent Time

“There were of course bonus systems in factories, but businesses strive to introducea deeper level of modulation into all wages, bringing them into a state of constant metastability punctuated by ludicrous challenges, competitions, and seminars. If the stupidest TV game shows are so successful, it’s because they’re a perfect reflection of the way businesses are run.” Deleuze, Postscript on Control Societies, Negotiations, pg 179

Young Talent Time was a show that was meant to last for 13 weeks in 1971 and went on for 18 years. (US equivalent would be something like Mickey Mouse Club.) I can’t remember if the talent was chosen after a cut and thrust gladiotorial duel like the contemporary ‘reality tv’ talent quests? Regardless, the virtuosic dimension of the ‘talent’ performance has shifted from one principally organised around a core group of young performers to one of atomistic combat. Viewers have become SMS voters. This has changed what is demanded of the ‘spectator class’. Once upon a time was ‘Be Entertained’ (so we can extract surplus value from the rent produced by way of the labour of looking). Now it is ‘Be Enthused’ (so we can extract surplus value from your performative display of your enthusiasm). The SMS vote is meant to quantify the level of enthusiasm produced in an audience. The notion of ‘talent’ has shifted from the capacity to entertain — ie the labour of performance — to the capacity to produce enthusiasm — ie the performative dimension of the labour of performance.

The producers of these shows are very aware of tapping into the contemporary spirit of precarious labour (via):

The voting aspect has been labelled by one academic as no less than a “reclaiming of popular culture” and is cited by the show’s executive producer, Stephen Peters, as a lynchpin of the show’s success. “Survivor is voting people out, Big Brother is voting people out. This is aspirational. You vote for people … to say ‘I want you to continue, I like what you do and so I’m going to vote for you.’ For people at home, that is really empowering.”

The nature of Australian Idol in particular is determined by the winner becoming a popular culture franchise so the enthusiasm produced and quantified during the ‘voting stages’ of the show can be teased out and extended (cultivated) after the ‘official’ show has ended:

Ian Dickson believes Idol will nonetheless produce a star that shines on. “The person who wins this competition is the person who has engaged the public for the longest amount of time, and has created an impression that has really fascinated the public. A significant proportion of those people will be attached enough to part with $25 for the winner’s album in November.
“Basically this is a fairytale and fairytales exist within a certain logic. You have a journey, you win, you get a No.1 single, you get a No.1 album and you get a lot of these awards and you go on and have a career. There are never any guarantees … but that’s the script we’ve written for ourselves.”
The script also includes an avalanche of merchandise: an audition songbook, a board game, a DVD of the early auditions, a chart-topping cast single (the tautological Rise Up), a finalists’ cast album, karaoke machines and more.

The ‘official’ show is only the tip of the iceberg in this day and age of media saturation, for the media representation of contemporary ‘talent’, as Craig Dixon notes:

 

Does any intelligent minded person really think Shannon Noll holds a candle to John Butler? But sadly, going by record sales, Noll has it completely over Butler, and just about every other Australian artist out there, and it’s completely due to media saturation. Australian Idol contestants are on television three nights a week and are hugely represented in other areas of the media such as gossip and teen magazines. 

The newspaper article also features a quote from Catharine Lumby:

Professor Catharine Lumby, director, media and communications at Sydney University, says Idol has smartly capitalised on the fact people no longer want someone else choosing and handing down pop acts. “To some extent it opens a window to bypass the taste-making and control that a very narrow group of people exercise. I think this might be where we see reality television evolving, opening the door to ordinary people, a platform for real talents.”

All due respect to Prof. Lumby, but the point isn’t giving punters a choice — that is neo-liberal ideological hogwash — but exploiting the punters for their hard earned… which of course is the goal of any capitalist enterprise, with this being merely the latest iteration…

The Random Sabot

“As compared to the work done by machines, the work done by humans is nothing. This working at ‘nothing’, in the special sense that people do it today, which tends more and more to be merely a response to a machine — pressing a red or black button to produce an effect programmed somwehere else — human work, in other words, is only the residue that has not yet been integrated into the work of the machine.” — Felix Guattari, “Machine and Structure”, Molecular Revolution, p 113.

What if you wanted to sabotage the machine? If the effect is programmed elsewhere, then would you necessarily know how to sabotage the machine? Deleuze suggests that:

“One can of course see how each kind of society corresponds to a particular kind of machine—with simple mechanical machines corresponding to sovereign societies, thermo-dynamic machines to disciplinary societies, cybernetic machines and computers to control societies. But the machines don’t explain any­thing, you have to analyze the collective arrangements of which the machines are just one component. […] It’s true that, even before control societies are fully in place, forms of delinquency or resistance (two different things) are also appearing. Computer pira­cy and viruses, for example, will replace strikes and what the nine­teenth century called “sabotage” (“clogging” the machinery).”

The properly machinic sabotage will not know what exactly is happening because of the distribution of control across machinic networks. Does a virus-maker know what damage she causes? It makes me think of those scenes in bad action movies that feature a bomb and someone trying to disarm the bomb who has no idea what they are doing. Which wire do you cut – the blue or the red?

The person disarming the bomb is sabotaging the bomb-machine. These scenes are powerful displays of the arbitrary human-surplus in properly machinic systems. It speaks to the precariousness of the position of the human in the face of the machine. It doesn’t only speak to the stupid ‘heroic’ bravery of taking risks, but to the symbolic recuperation of the human surplus in the face of the machinic.

Queues, Traffic, Affect

Been thinking many thoughts about queues recently. They are damn confounding. Gillian Fuller (no relation) from UNSW gave a superb presentation of some research on airport queues at the Autouni event. She has an online paper here. Below is her definition of a queue:

Queues are a distribution technology: they are a resource for sharing, smoothing the striations that form at thresholds and producing a particularly linear and commodified form of justice that perhaps oddly in a time of real time technologies seems to be spreading virally. Queues are a type of strange attractor, a singularity that captures the motion of a multitude and directs it into a sequence.

She also adds there is a moral dimension citing the example of the ‘queue jumper’ and so on. The below is some early stuff of mine after hearing Gillian’s talk and feeling inspired!:

A successful road user is one who becomes a forgotten part of traffic. Traffic is a single, highly complex queue of road users. In a simple queue you move forward when the person in front of you does, and then finally when you are hailed by an open teller or open toilet door you leave the queue. In a complex queue, directionality is not programmed in; instead it is produced through a system of switches and feedback loops and so on. If someone was to speed past you in a bank queue or, worse, in a toilet queue, then you might get angry, perhaps even enraged. Queue-rage seems to be the only rage left; people need to know their place in the queue – be it simple or complex – and they certainly won’t rage against the queue itself, lest they lose their position in the queue… ‘Speeding’ is a performative transgression of the socio-technical mores that enable the production of traffic. Thresholds of movement (speed) for the production of traffic are found as street-sign triggers catalysing the road user mass through notification of changes in the respective ecologies of movement acceptable for a given territory.

Michael Lynch described what he called the ‘linear society of traffic’ (thanks Amazon.com!!) in a short appendix in a book on ethnomethodology. Lynch suggest that “it would be dubious to project the social order of traffic as a general set of power relations” (158). I don’t agree; traffic is an economy of queuing (or ‘dromoeconomic distribution’, for what is at stake is the rate of distribution and access). The linear society of traffic is the visible effect of a localised condensation of a global (ie system wide) distribution of car-drivers in the mass, 24-hour-a-day queue we call ‘traffic’. To extend Gillian’s viral metaphor: Virilio argues the transport revolution was also a communication revolution. The emergence of traffic is not so much a virus, but a molecular-becoming enabled by the meme like spread of a set of incorporeal events that elucidate configurations road user bodies (human or non-human). Think of the trans-local homology between different sites of automobility. (Traffic will be different, of course, but the repetition of the cybernetic relations between street-car-driver is exactly that which allows for the production in differences of traffic.)

To imagine automobile traffic as a complex queue allows one to include and exclude some of the focuses of that have preoccupied the road safety industry for a long time. For example, the road safety industry has a concept called ‘risk homeostasis’. From MUARC:

“[T]he concept of risk homeostasis which argues that road users always operate at the maximum level of risk that they are prepared to accept. This theory assumes that the driver is aware of and desires the level of risk he or she is taking.”

Various studies and theories discuss different registers of this ‘awareness’. Some definitions of this concept require conscious reflection on calculated levels of risk while others rely on something closer to an embodied ‘feeling’ of anxiety. Strangely in the latter approach the nonfeeling of comfort is not addressed. If automobilised space is actually understood as the sociality belonging to a complex queue then the affective dimension of the ‘risk homeostasis’ theory can be complimented by a much more diverse array of affects within the system of automobility. There is shame, potentialised in the sound of a horn. Surprise-startlement potentialised in the distance from the hand on the steering wheel to the horn. There is the joy of the ‘open road’. Of course, there is everyone’s favourite: road rage.

The thing about the risk homeostasis model of driving behaviour is that it is often deployed in contexts regarding speeding. This is pure ideology. To imagine that the only consideration that a driver may incorporate into calculations regarding risk is to do with maximum comfortable speed is to already assume the driver is subsumed by what Virilio calls the dromocratic imperative. If, on the other hand, you think drivers are not all neo-Futurist wannabes and actually participate in traffic as a social enviroment, then you need to have a much more complex risk matrix.

The interesting thing here for me is the overlap between the ’embodied affects’ approach of people like Silvan Tomkins and his followers amongst cultural studies practioners and the Deleuzian approach of affect as ‘non-human becoming’ (Jon has been discussing this recently).

The relationship between the driver, car, traffic, and road environment is a good, if not obvious, example of affects in the sense of them being “non-human becomings”. The paper I am currently writing on affect address something ‘Mr A’ (of Getaway in Stockholm) said in the interview I did with him in Stockholm about “capturing speed on film.” Their films only make sense, that is, the speed capture in their films is only apparent, if the viewer of the film is already sufficiently conditioned by the non-human becomings of automobility.

Bourgie Bags

ecobag 

Bourgie bags, a.k.a. ‘eco bags’, ‘enviro bags’ and so on. These things make me angry. It is a ‘blow off valve‘ for the mass guilt experienced by buying ‘groceries’. Part of the machinery for the seduction/coercion of the masses is the production of guilt (the ‘debt’). Bourgie bags are designed not to make you feel guilty, but to allow you to manifest/release your guilt in a non-revolutionary way. The ‘bourgie bag’-machine is an implement of the spectacle.

In the world of invidualised consumption being the motor for the production of debt — they call it ‘consumer confidence’, confidence in what? Confidence in one’s own subsumption — any tool that allows people to think they are doing the right thing when buying hyper-commodified products from sites of mass-consumption needs to be attacked.

The massive expenditure required to get commodities ‘up to speed’ in the current culture of absolute visibility/circulation is the greatest waste imaginable. Forget the bourgie bags, refuse to buy ‘packaged’ goods! At the minimum, buy bulk; if you can’t buy it bulk, then don’t buy it! It hurts my brain to think about the tremendous waste produced through the multiple series of spectacle-waste produced for the sake of more spectacle-waste.

Don’t only “Say No To Plastic Bags!”, say no to the over-packaged, hyper-commodified products that are placed in them.