By Cody Rapley
Theodor Adorno talked about how the structural standardisation of popular music and the music industry induced ‘standard reactions’ in listeners. Adorno was specifically referring to the way capitalist modes of production flowed on to popular music, producing a formulaic approach. Certain chord progressions and devolved holistics created the foot tapping melody of empty lyrics that serve only to ease the listeners mind about that very system that they work within.
Applying this theory to the content purveyed on the web, it is not a standardisation of content structure (there is no planned economy of the web), but instead the way in which content is found and consumed: the infrastructure, that creates standard reactions. Someone once told me “if you search hard enough, you can find anything on the internet”, but what I guess he meant to say was that if it isn’t on the internet, it doesn’t exist. It would seem the full gamut of imagery and combination of pixels are available online in both the high and low key of emotions. Desensitisation to imagery, both to the recesses of the dark web, and to beauty a la Stendhal syndrome has taken place, to quote Gomez Addams “I have seen evil! I have seen horror!” There is now a pessimistic rendering of the once enlightened man as an agent for creation and philosophy, because these days someone else has probably already done it, and blogged about it.
My attempts to use the likes of DeviantArt or Pinterest to catalogue my personal visual taste becomes a soulless task, in the knowledge that one cannot conclusively taxonomise even the most esoteric of imagery. The concept of beauty or love, mediated through the visual becomes increasingly diluted. The highways of communication, as Baudrillard described in The Vanishing Point of Communication, increasingly bypass each other as seamless cloverleaves, never quite touching. The point where we no longer communicate, whether through spoken words or images has come about, with only the fein of a connection, a simulated meaning. There is so much content that the value of each meme or image is reduced significantly, fundamental supply and demand economics. It is no longer the last remaining photo of the ancestral matriarch which spurs the imagination, but instead a wash of photos and news through Facebook. It is not the missing four frames of the Zapruder film, which have every grain of their form scrutinised, but instead we find a wiki and YouTube channel dedicated to any and all topics.
Delving deeper of course there is a more rarefied level of imagery available, the web of hidden, non-indexable content that one has to trawl for. But the relationship between the plethora to the individual has the same effect, it dilutes the experience. The connected individual, in their cloud mind is losing the ability to create new images or to be moved by them. The postmodern argument has already derailed the concept of meaning and creation in this sense, but take a moment to think whether Adorno might have really had a point. Importantly the change that has taken place is the admission that everything has been done. When I was a child I would often go explore the riverside around my house, I sometimes wondered as if the step I was taking or the leaf I touched had ever been done unto the same by another person. It seems that with a glut of the visual, true inspiration will again come from within, from de-stimulation of the mind to outside influence. The incubation of local stimuli, a removal from the homogenising interface of the ever present mediascape, or as a design lecturer of mine once said, “turn off the machine”.
Adorno | On Popular Music
Jean Baudrillard | The Vanishing Point of Communication