Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.

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April 6, 2010

6-4-10 Expansion/Implosion

Here’s Matt and here’re OKGo! They’ve ‘gone viral’.

In old money, YouTube stars are like generations of pop musicians who converted an appearance on Top Of The Pops into pthousands of sales and maybe a year’s worth of business. I just went to look up Jeffery Daniel’s shockwave performance on Shalamar’s Night To Remember appearance on TOTP. Looking at the clip now I was surprised how much right-out mime was involved but the talk of the office next day was that bloke’s dancing. Hard to imagine, now we are post-Jackson, the impact that little demonstration made. A glance at the studio audience demonstrates the era’s typical cool moves, tinged here with shock and awe.

Currently you half expect someone to see the 3D movie potential of Matt’s global shuffle. Some ad exec ought to pick up an OKGo! track for an ad soundtrack as a pay-day and a round of applause for the band.

When I was at college there was a lecture about the role and mechanism of reputation, which introduced the idea of Expansion>Implosion cultures. The idea seemed useful at the time; briefly it was that historically an artist’s reputation spread out from his home town, transmitted in single unique canvases; word-of-mouth rippled out ahead of the works.

In Implosion culture the individual is the object of ubiquitous TV, radio, press and advertising and is informed of the events and personalities elected important by those media: what’s worrying, what demands outrage or compassion. The more the directions from which matching information comes, the more its importance is defined and reinforced. Ready-made reputations implode on us.

I’m not so sure this holds true now, when the internet has become the definitive word-of-mouth medium. Broadcast TV has lost its authority and its common audience. Internet communities may be thinly globally dispersed but quite large and cohesive. Is the bane of the spam I get a prime example of Implosion Culture or no more modern than a walk through the souk of the WordPress conurbation, where hawkers and hicks shout their wares under stall awnings or stood behind open suitcases?

Matt and OKGo! are but two examples of what must count as Expansion Culture. As word spreads punters pitch up from near and far just as Victorians took advantage of the cutting edge of steam locomotive technology to see the exotic and scientific marvels of The Great Exhibition. YouTube records the audience turnstiles.

Actually it’s quite easy to imagine the 1851 counterparts of OKGo!’s Musical Comical Illustration of Newton’s Laws Of Motion! The Forces that Govern the Stars harnessed to Highly Risible effect! *Instructive and Suitable for Little Folk*.

Matt’s Peripatetic Terpsichorian Expedition could take to the Crystal Palace stage as a succession of Ethnic Types in their Native Costume: Major Matthew Harding’s Wild World Review with musical accompaniment by the Deep Forest Consort.

This entry has taken an unusual three days’ mulling. It’s thought I can’t conclude. The theories that sounded smart in the last century depended on an assumption that media content would be a corporate commodity made available to a defined demographic sample of identifiable market sectors. Now all the relevant definitions are shifting, the old metaphors won’t work.

Does the flood of information form a Suspension Culture, where we are cultural particles whose decisions are jostled in a kind of Brownian motion caused by collisions with randomised alerts and entreaties, or maybe an Osmosis Culture…?

Anyway, this is now five days from the first paragraph. I’ve kept popping this open and realised that I’ve either painted myself into a corner or left myself in such a wide open field of speculation that I’ve barely pegged out the groundplan to begin digging the foundations of this topic.

I’ve been reluctant to join the chorus that agrees that the internet has changed the world, because so many of its functions are quite traditional in all but presentation. It’s the virtually instant global reach that makes the difference.  It was a Shakespearian fantasy that Puck could put a girdle round the Earth… in forty minutes! We haven’t yet caught up with the reality. Models of community and cultures in cyberspace are actually not helped by comparison to those describing geographic location. Maybe it’s time to adopt Kurt Vonnegut’s vocabulary and think in terms of Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons.

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