by Thom Kiraly
I’m not sure why but every time I hook up with my friend Marco what happens is that we brake out into a pop culture bonanza with references being made and names being dropped all over the place. Comic books, movies, music, philosophers, videogames, previous discussions… You name it – We’re talking about it. To be honest, it’s fuckin’ ridiculous sometimes. A bit like a cock-measuring contest where we’re both winning all the time.
It’s as if what we’re talking about is not legitimate if we don’t have some mediated experience we can relate to back it up. Of course, these discussions spring from our mutual interests and the fact that we’re in the same program at the same university (which happens to include a lot of culture and media studies), but I can’t help hearing the Saul Williams quote on repeat in my head:
“[…]I can’t get beyond this shit
I could use someone to talk to
but most of my conversations with men seem to revolve around music”
(See what I did there? Namedrop AND quote!)
This is what we do. We regurgitate.
Today, we met at the café 3Gs in Karlskrona – The Innsmouth of Sweden, and within a couple of minutes we were at it:
“This reminds me of this movie I saw the other day…”
“Have you heard about this guy who…” (’cause it’s always a guy)
“I’m reading this book about…”
I don’t think that we even asked each other how the other one was feeling, what he’d been up to etc. So in a final blow of cultural referencing I told Marco and Veronica (who’s unfortunately all too often a bit excluded in this macho pool of babbling about blahääui) about this passage in a book written by the Interacting Arts collective; “Deltagarkultur“. In it they describe what’s fucked up with the simple, modernistic one-way culture of spectatorship that we live in and how participatory culture is friggin’ awesome.
I agree, but seldom get to live out those ideals. Most often the opportunities for such culture do not present themselves unless you create them (otherwise it wouldn’t be very participatory, would it?). I specifically remembered a passage at the very end of the book (p.135 for those of you looking for specifics) wherein the authors present some examples of social experiments in participatory culture. One example in particular describes a trip they made to an island. On this island, they decided, they were not allowed to talk about anything “[…]mediated, things we had only read, seen or heard but had not experienced ourselves. Nor did we speak of anything outside the island” [my translation]
After joking around a bit about it, and after I had chucked three cups of coffee down my throat (NB, I usually don’t drink… coffee.), we all decided that once we stepped outside the café we would try to do the same thing during the evening. It went… pretty well ackshully. Though the first slip-up came 20 meters outside the café the real point of the experiment was to keep the conversation away from the constant referencing and imagined validation of our opinions through these references. An unmediated evening proved to carry a much more personal air with it and there was never any problem including everyone in the discussions. We did however have some trouble deciding what was off limits and what kind of referencing was OK. Of course we couldn’t just look it up in the book, could we? When, after the six hour experiment, we looked it up the big difference turned out to be that we had put no restrictions on ourselves as far as geographical referencing goes. Now I can definitely see the point of this isolation and we’re already planning on setting aside a whole week during the summer to go to a cabin in Småland and repeat the experiment with more people and during a longer period of time.
I recommend everyone trying this experiment for at least, like we did, an evening and seeing what kinds of effects it has on the social situation. Perhaps you’ll find that it’s sometimes enough that you feel a certain thing or think something without you having to confirm it by saying that Big Gay Al in South Park thinks the same thing.
Finally, I know that some people would suggest that even language, speaking, is a form of mediation, especially so, maybe, since none of us talked our mother tongue, but if they bring it up here they’re clearly missing the point and are probably not the kind of people you’d invite to your new years eve party anyway…