“Post-Figurative” Legitimacy in Internet Culture

AIDS 3D, Free Internet

“If a group is aiming to eliminate class distinctions, pre-figurative politics demands that there be no class distinctions within that group, nor should that group’s actions reinforce classism. The same principle applies to hierarchy: if a group is fighting to abolish some or all forms of hierarchy in larger society, prefigurative politics demands they individually and as a group adhere as closely to that goal as possible.” — “Prefigurative politics,” Wikipedia article

Through much of the first half of the aughts, focus was placed on how business might monetize the internet. Up until this point, websites allowed users to read about, discuss, collaborate, and stay connected with one another without any real way to effectively capitalize on these structures. Attempts to solve this problem came in waves of transformation, like the dot-com bubble and later, the ushering in of the ‘web 2.0’ concepts of user-profiles and social media. Eliminating the prismatic nature of our online selves, and attaching dedicated usernames and information to our web-personas helps businesses pinpoint what we consume, when we consume it, and how often. These are quite obviously the goals of business and we should suspect nothing less. But does this migration of business to the web mirror a shift in the ideology of web-nativists?

As cultural production on the web gains the legitimacy of outside sources, the internet begins to reflect the power-structures of those outside sources. This is a kind of “post-figurative” politic, in conflict with an assumed common goal to “build a new world in the shell of the old” as defined above. The current circumstance of art and the internet is that we hear less about the Beige Programming Ensemble and more about Cory Arcangel. We hear less about AIDS-3D and more about Keller/Kosmas. These shrouds of anonymous collaboration are either an obsolete garb, donned during the infancy of internet-aware art, or we have outgrown them due to prospects of greater cultural validation.

There seems to be a binary of legitimacy in internet cultural production; as internet nativists, we seek non-hierarchical structures in hopes of adjusting norms outside of the web to reflect norms within the web while still desiring the validating force of established media. Though, at this point I will claim that there is in fact a unique politic to the web, this politic is often discarded for a moment of legitimization in traditional hierarchical structures.

Hand Motions is a blog column on DINCA continually featuring writing from Louis Doulas, Wyatt Niehaus and Ria Roberts.