TRUTH IS A VIRUS: Meme Warfare and the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)
April 24, It's on the radio, in the newspapers and on TV: the I tell them all the same thing: "Relax, it's only April. But if you miss the 5-planet gathering between May 1st and 7th, you'll have to wait 58 years to try again. [first published in: Cultural Resistance, Ed. Steven Duncombe, Verso, April ] Like real genetic material, these memes infiltrate the way we do business, “I' ve gotten a bunch of folks together and we're going to meet him at the airport. .. Then again, what is good social theory if not a robust and serviceable metaphor. This entry has been rejected due to incompleteness or lack of notability. Is a meme that is used when the only quality available on a Youtube video is p, which is the lowest quality available. Usually videos would have at least p which looks decent, but p is crap, hence.
The Billionaires virus was virulent partly because it was a carrier on the mega-virus of the Presidential campaign itself. It was designed to appeal to the media: It was familiar yet different: Content and humor were tightly meshed. Not only did the humor help carry the content in the way that laughter makes it easier to bear the truthbut if the media wanted the humor and they didthey had to take the content too.
The materials were catchy and accessible and the action model was easy to DIY.
There was a deliberate effort to keep the core ideological code stable, while allowing wildcat chapters and interested DIYers to adapt the various code-carriers as well as outer layers of code to fit their own circumstances and creative inclinations.
The hub was a meme arsenal, here we designed the core ideas and launched the call to action. Once things got rolling, several mechanisms helped us steer the campaign. One was the website. Another was the Million Billionaire March, which modeled the kinds of actions people could do in their home cities.
So p, we meet again. | Know Your Meme
Finally, it was the shtick and the materials themselves. Jokes were funny, content was thoroughly researched, graphic production values were high. People liked the package and were naturally drawn to stay on message.
With a strong central concept and tight message discipline across all the materials, the mutations that developed in the field generally tended to be extensions of, rather than departures from the basic framework.
In most of these cases, even when the wildcat DIY actions got scrappy and somewhat tangential, the core idea came through, and the whole campaign was of a piece. They are united less by strict ideology or affiliation and more by a loose set of ideas and a certain way or style of enacting these ideas. The cultural practices of these micro-movements spread virally, often via the internet, but also via other media—both grassroots and corporate.
The Critical Mass bicycle rides are a good example. The format is simple, fun, and easy to replicate. On the last Friday of every month, bicycle activists and enthusiasts gather for a mass unpermitted ride through the city. With a combination of moxie and sheer numbers they take the streets. The rides are celebratory, self-organizing, and open to all.
Viruses are also made to happen. Some radical viruses cultural formations such as Reclaim the Streets and Critical Mass evolve more or less organically out of communities of resistance, while others media campaigns such as the Billionaires are more consciously designed and injected into the mediastream.
For activist viruses, the viral shell is often a model of participatory action. For RTS the ideological code was a utopian demand to resist capital and liberate public space; the action model was a militant street carnival.
It was the RTS action model that drove its viral explosion. People across the world grabbed onto the carnival, replicated it, and mutated it in their own way. By doing the action, participants live the code themselves as well as deploy the code for others to reckon with. In the Billionaires campaign, the action model, though an important component, did not drive the campaign; it was more the sly and funny propaganda packaging of the ideological code.
For the Billionaires this was primarily accomplished through the Million Billionaire March. For the movement against sweatshops, it was the Kathie Lee Gifford scandal—the revelation that a popular female celebrity was having her personal line of designer clothing produced by young immigrant women working under sweatshop conditions.
However it is launched, a truly successful virus must eventually take on a life of its own, demonstrating self-sustaining and self-evolving properties. Either it must infect the code of mainstream discourse and permanently change the habits of mainstream institutions as the Kathie Lee sweatshop scandal did or it must create alternative ongoing institutions that carry and reproduce the living meme.
The Billionaire campaign was time-delimited by the Presidential campaign. RTS and Critical Mass were more universal and more fostering of community—a community that has sustained and spread the meme.
TCOM 2002 - Group 3 - College Finals Meme - Michal Rubacha
Out of control is a mixed blessing: This seems to be the case with the mysterious and controversial Earth Liberation Front. The ELF is an underground movement of autonomous groups who carry out economic sabotage to protect the environment.
A bookstore owner in Oregon who is unconnected to any of the clandestine actions acts as the legal spokesperson for the group. While ELF and other political activists have adapted viral structures to grow their resistance movements, media activists have pioneered a new form of hand to hand viral combat: Like the pranksters who creatively deface billboards, culture jammers hack into the genetic code of a corporate media virus and turn it against itself.
Advertising imagery is the ultimate stealth virus. It has long been post- or pre-rational, operating by subconscious association, by veiled promise and threat, by mobilizing our longings and our dreamworld. Adbusters magazine, the Vancouver-based anti-commercial glossy well known for its sly reworkings of corporate logos and ad campaigns, understands that culture jamming can stick where rational discourse slides off.
Culture jamming fights virus with virus.
Over the last decade it has itself become a virulent mem, spreading far and wide and encompassing a myriad of new sub-cultural forms. On selected action days Tax Day, July 4, etc. The website displays the posters in easy-to-download-and-print PDF format, and facilitates the setting up of teams.
TRUTH IS A VIRUS: Meme Warfare and the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)
Not only does the message spread virally, but the project does as well: Once launched and nurtured past a certain point, the project becomes largely self-organizing and almost infinitely scalable. New structures such as posternation. All viruses are not created equal. Some happily co-exist, some compete, while some are carriers on others. The dense complexity of networks within the infosphere cause it to operate much like an ecosystem: Viewing the overall media body as an ecology can help activists switch focus from the hard boundaries of commercial vs.
But a movement must also exist physically and institutionally, not just virtually. There is a spectrum. Successful, long-term social movements will always include both types. These opposed tendencies are an expression of the eternal dialectic between movement building and organization building.
But while there was tension, there was also a great deal of synchronicity. UFE provided a campaign framework, funding, infrastructure, research capacity, media contacts, and mainstream legitimacy. The grassroots injected energy, street smarts, and creative elaboration of the core ideas.
The Billionaires campaign suggests a model for how hub and node can work together to invite open-ended DIY participation into creative actions and yet maintain artistic cohesion and a focused message. The planets will begin to disperse during the second week of May. Mercury and Saturn will move toward the Sun where they will disappear from view -- Mercury first, then Saturn by month's end.
Venus will move in the opposite direction, away from the Sun and toward Jupiter. Those two bright planets are destined for a dazzling close encounter in early June, but that's another story. On May 10th -- mark this date on your calendar -- Venus has another rendezvous. As the sky fades to black that Friday evening, Venus and Mars will pop out of the twilight a mere one-third of a degree apart.
TCOM - Group 3 - College Finals Meme - Michal Rubacha - Album on Imgur
The tip of your pinky held at arms length is about twice that wide. It's a rare opportunity to peer through a telescope and see two planets at once! Glaring white Venus will shine about times brighter than butterscotch Mars, but no matter -- both will be visible. Another date to remember is May 14th. That's when Earth's moon will glide by Venus with less than a degree between them at closest approach.
By itself the Moon would seem remarkable: