Sunday, November 20, 2011

NOTES TOWARDS AN ESSAY ON DRAKE AND BAUDRILLARD

No, I'm not dead. And no, I haven't given up on this blog. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much time over the past month for me to write things here. I'll try and get back into the regular swing of things over the next week as I'm on a break for Thanksgiving. This post will be kind of piecemeal, something of a scattered collection of fragments that I hope to have time to revisit and turn into something more coherent over the next week or so.

Let's start with this: Drake's take on Tumblr and online life for "his generation" (which I guess would include me. I'm assuming we're roughly the same age--and after looking it up, I'm a little over a month older than him). From his October's Very Own blog:
I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become. Because it like, it reminds me of those clique-y girls in high school that used to make fun of everyone else and define what was cool, but in five years, when you all graduate, that shit doesn’t matter. No one gives a fuck about that shit. Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate. It’s scary man, simulation life that we’re living. It scares me.
When I first read that, particularly the second half, my initial reaction was "someone mail Drake some Baudrillard." His statement is shot through with postmodern anxiety of the kind that Baudrillard was so good at articulating--the obsession with the image, the screen, the simulation, all of it suggests that for Drake the hyperreal is the real (or at least the reality of his experience), and this realization, coupled with the ongoing attempt to live within the hyperreal, is not just disturbing, but frightening. And really, who better to live out these anxieties than someone for whom the internet has played a key factor in his successes? The fact that he originally gained fame for his acting, and so references to him for the unfamiliar are prefaced by "the guy who played Jimmy on the new Degrassi..." makes it doubly interesting: has Drake himself ever been anything other than a simulation, the simulacrum of Aubrey Drake Graham? Is this the specific anxiety of the hyperreal subject whose persona is constructed on a foundation of "being real?" His guest verse on the Weeknd's "The Zone" features his advice to a female (whom one could charitably call a groupie) to "Be you." Ambiguous at the best of times, the source of the advice--a musician who has generated heated online debate about his authenticity even as the very complexity of that questions has generated praise for him--renders it all but impossible to parse.

Perhaps even more interesting is the specific target of Drake's fear: Tumblr. The internet itself does not scare him, nor do Facebook or Twitter, but Tumblr does. Of course, five minutes browsing through Tumblr is enough to suggest some possible reasons. For one, it is the consummate form of online culture as curating: Tumblrs, by an large, seem to be about the careful development of an aesthetic (and possibly a persona in the case of more personal Tumblrs) that is reflected through content shared with the public. Crucially, the content is rarely annotated or captioned. The context for the content is generated by the content itself, through the interactions of the various elements selected for display and especially through the juxtaposition of high culture-low culture objects. When commentary is present, it's usually either ironic or bathetic. Memes, and riffs on those memes, feature heavily. This is not the rough and tumble, anything goes world of 4Chan, but the pristine and immaculately manicured lawns of the digital suburbs. It certainly seems like a short jump from Tumblr to "The Mold of Yancy." Of course, Drake's own carefully manicured persona, the self-consciousness, the realness of him, is very obviously reflected back by Tumblr. I'll leave you to draw the pretty obvious and reductive Freudian conclusion this seems to be heading toward and instead suggest that the anxiety stems from the as yet imperfect simulacrum revealed by its reflection in Tumblr. A reminder of the hyperreal's failure to totally triumph over the real. I haven't given Take Care enough of a listen to see how this all plays out in the music yet, but I'll try and get to that before the end of break.

For now, though, I'll do my own curating. Some Baudrillard that seems appropriate in light of Drake's comment on Tumblr. From The Ecstasy of Communication:
Today the scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and a network. There is no longer any transcendence or depth, but only the immanent surface of operations unfolding, the smooth and functional surface of communication. In the image of television, the most beautiful prototypical object of this new era, the surrounding universe and our very bodies are becoming monitoring screens. (12)
The private space undergoes the same fate. Its disappearance parallels the diminishing of the public space. Both have ceased to be either spectacle or secret. The distinction between an interior and an exterior, which has just what characterized the domestic stage of objects and that of a symbolic space of the object has been blurred in a double obscenity. The most intimate operation of your life becomes the potential grazing ground of the media. . . . The entire universe also unfolds unnecessarily on your home screen. This is a microscopic pornography, pornographic because it is forced, exaggerated, just like the close-ups of sexual acts in a porno film. All this destroys the stage, once preserved through a minimal distance and which was based on a secret ritual known only to its actors. (20-21)
We no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication. And this ecstasy is obscene. . . . It is no longer the obscenity of the hidden, the repressed, the obscure, but that of the visible, the all-too-visible, the more-visible-than-visible; it is the obscenity of that which no longer contains a secret and is entirely soluble in information and communication. (22)
The uncertainty of existing, and consequently the obsessions of proving our existence, prevail over desire that is strictly sexual. . . . What matters above everything else is proving our existence, even if that is its only meaning. . . . The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning. As a result, sexuality is relegated to a position of secondary importance, to an already luxurious form of transcendence, of a waste of existence, while the absolute urgency is simple to verify existence. (29-30) [This makes particular sense if the simulacrum is thought of as reproducing via the image, the point of its existence]
The solicitation of and voraciousness for images is increasing at an excessive rate. Images have become our true sex object, the object of our desire. The obscenity of our culture resides in the confusion of desire and its equivalent materialized in the image [Zizek's commentary on Occupy Wall Street, its purpose and the dangerous temptations to which it could succumb (i.e. settling for being the image rather than the manifestation of the desire of the 99%) seems interesting in this context]; not only for sexual desire, but in the desire for knowledge and its equivalent materialized in "information," the desire for fantasy and its equivalent materialized in the Disneylands of the world, the desire for space and its equivalent programmed into vacation itineraries, the desire for play and its equivalent programmed into private telematics. (35)
This withdrawal, which we know well, is that of the subject for whom the sexual and social horizons of others has disappeared, and whose mental horizon has been reduced to the manipulation of his images and screens. He has everything he needs. WHy should he worry about sex and desire? It is through the networks that this loss of affection for oneself and for others has come about, and it is contemporary with the desert-like form of space engendered by speed, the desert-like form of the social engendered by communication and information. (42-43)
That's it for now. I'll come back to this, though, and hopefully tie this (to a certain extent) to some of my thoughts on Facebook.
 

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