fishgape is the new duckface
After talking with a friend about Taylor Swift’s mouth style, and noticing an increasing number of photos of very awesome people with their mouths slightly open, I stumbled across an article on “Fish Gape.”
I have long been interested in Bourdieu’s habitus, both as an embodiment of affect and as a structural framework within which such embodied modes of being are enacted. The cultural milieu and its inhabitants mutually reinforce the evolution of an ecosystem. However, the raw animality of this metastable equilibrium has added to it an informational layer, which is itself a participant in the ecology. You might have access to the information, the environment might supply this information, but the informational process industrial culture itself deserves to be understood as a creature in this ecosystem. Folklore evolves through environmental change, individual and social creativity, and interactions with new environments and organisms/organizations. But consumer culture is not folklore (in the same way that a mountain is not a coal mine, but that it can become a coal mine), it acts upon folk practice and transforms it into a resource, and this development process is directed by an industrial logic… we send sounds underground to find minerals that we can refine and extract and combust, we send satellites into orbit to visualize terrain for organization under systems of communication and transport, we mine social masses for insights that can be mobilized to produce wealth. And here are our personal masses, our subjective states, our social behaviors that await incorporation into commodity flows. Yet we live unable to see the forest for the timber, or the timber for the trees. As Baudrillard explained, it’s all virtual now.
A second point in relation to habitus that is worth considering is the biological definition of the word, which refers to the bodies suitability for infection by a specific kind of disease. This vectoral susceptibility is something that becomes more meaningful if we talk about consumer habits and the expression of being in daily life as formed by memes, gestures, and infectious media. Habitus is less an expression of being than it is an availability to organized modes of expression. Here might be a place where the “schizophrenic” character of life under capitalism that D+G note as a kind of becoming-other, which on its own can be taken as a decentering of the self in late capitalism. However, with the culmination of consumer culture in digital media, such that popular imagery eventually arrives to find itself incorporated into technologies of self, this can be understood as movement towards an aggressive form of incorporation–reterritorialization. Or the interval between deterritorialization and reterritorialization, or even Haussmann rationalizing the chaos of Paris, but it is “disruption” itself that is the culmination of the “civilizing” force in the age of digital media, with the reterritorialization occurring in real-time by way of metadata and analytics (think of it as the difference between the assemblage of author+book+library+librarian+catalogue+patron vs. user+google+content, in which google represents a black box of knowledge practices).
“Schizophrenia” is used in D+G to denote a particularly fortuitous counterpoint to the model of the stable self that is the object of psychoanalysis and mental health. However, the fast transmission and incorporation of affect offered by the cultural movements in the 21st Century might be better thought of as a materially expressed “Paranoid Schizophrenia,” not diffusing attention outward along the circuits of desire, but fixing attention to memes and a general valorization of propaganda strategies even where none exist.
Duckface is a thing that we can incorporate into our habitus, that we can grow tired of, that we can supplant. Fish Gape, apparently, is, too. But so is “the Roc,” the covered eye, the hand on the heart, and a host of other gestures. Much of the attention given to the Internet (and now social media) and conspiracy theory tends to focus on the role that unmediated communication plays and uncontrolled networks play in the cultivation of deviant epistemologies, as if the problem with networks is the freedom, autonomy, and resistance of their users. But such critiques typically fail to acknowledge that the database itself is conspiratorial, with metadata and algorithms providing occult coordination of semantic linkage and database structures equalizing the distance of discrete elements by eschewing the tree-structure of obsolete taxonomies. Here, all things are interconnected, what you read is tied to what you will be told, what you think is connected to what you will do. The network itself habituates us into a conspiratorial mode, and the logic of the market collapses the distance between desire and reality.
Similarly, brands shroud themselves within affective frameworks that are meant to suggest that the financial markets themselves are now responsive to our social needs, and that the metaphysical quality that a specific brand can supply over its competitors is its moral quality. This is not meant to discourage corporations from being responsible, but only to say that it is based on the assumption that the contemporary consumer needs a narrative structure within which daily life can be reterritorialized against anomie. This trend in branding and marketing and corporate communication exists alongside the new conventional wisdom of self-branding. And where the personal strategy connects to the institutional strategy is in the feedback loop that exists in social media space within which one boosts their personal brand by attaching themselves to corporate content. (And, of course, compete against other personal brands.) In this milieu, even the most casual interactions gain significance in relation to the economics of the social. (If you have moved from Duckface to Fish Gape, good for you, but 2017 could be the year of “Spinach Tooth,” so you might want to plant your flag on this before it becomes yesterday’s news.) What begins as a fairly fluffy sounding guide to the “Good Life” in the 21st Century slips towards a web of interconnected significations and competing strategies for meaning, in which “everything is connected” (a feature of contemporary culture that is anticipated in the rise of conspiracy fictions, like those of Pynchon, Dick, Eco, Gibson). My comment might be an assault on your personal brand. Your success might compete with my messaging. You’d be wise to figure out which brands are trending, which popstars have the biggest following, which campaigns fall flat and adjust yourself accordingly.
But even if you don’t, how am I supposed to know that? Your “authenticity” might just be another part of your strategy, your kind heart might be a sound marketing concept. (Millennials, if the conventional wisdom is to be believed, want something they can believe in, brands they can be friends with.) Of course you would deny it. Who do you work for, anyway? Or maybe I should be asking, who are you trying to work for?!
No, I should calm down…. everybody is doing it. I’m not. But everyone else is or could be. And maybe that makes me a sucker. Or maybe that makes you a sucker. Or maybe it’s just systemic, a part of the world now that we are all connected. My face is an emoticon. Maybe you and I can join forces against this. Maybe it is all in my mind. Did I even write this? Am I just repeating the historical script? The 20th Century is full of examples of media panics, against which capitalism stands vindicated. Maybe nobody is even reading this. Maybe I am just a bot…
Jeff T. Johnson