I’ve never actually read any Nin (though I listened to some NIN in high-school), but this quote popped out at me once again for the hundredth time, as being entirely related to the hyperreal [found this time via]:
We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.
I’ve been watching & interacting with the phenomenon of conspiracy videos lately (some example selections here). This is kind of a hyperreal stew when you get right down to it. Or maybe like the offal from a slaughterhouse might be more accurate. It’s messy. It’s chaotic. There are bits and bobs of disembodied parts of stories floating around in it. Many of them putrid or toxic…
Conspiracy as an online subculture is of course remarkable, despite & because of all that. So much is wrapped up in it. A lot of really dark & bad, to be sure, but the kernel of something if not always good in its outcomes, then at least true as a human need is in it somewhere too. The desire to seek and ask questions, and seriously look for real answers. That’s actually noble at its core, and can be harnessed in more or less productive and impactful directions as a human or groups of humans. However, in actual practice, the art of online conspiracy artifacts is usually just this sort of weird & sometimes dumb thing of unqualified assertions and free association that people get into.
Which, don’t get me wrong is sometimes fun. I’m a writer & an artist. I love to free associate and see where things take me. To go along for the ride, as a maybe what if type thing.
How much of ourselves we put into it, I guess is the thing. How does belief even work? When we talk about projection, what is it we’re projecting? Conspiracy theories and fantasy are cut from the same cloth. Conspiracy is just like a very stilted and predictable subgenre of fantasy whose narrative mutates really rapidly as it gets networked.
It’s shitty, but it’s our modern folklore, to some extent. To ignore it or dismiss it out of hand, without gaining a real understanding of the dynamics or the needs that drive it would be a mistake for me as a writer operating already on the fringes of reality. I make my own projections into all of this. Have my own reactions and reads, my own deep dark weird needs and dreams that drive it all. I don’t know what to say about it all, and it really doesn’t matter. Because no one will read this far who isn’t carrying with them already their own assumptions, assertions, and associations about all of this. And most likely they made up their mind already.
One thing I’ve noticed at the platform level is viewer comments on YouTube within the same conspiracy subculture, and on TikTok are extremely different. YT commenters seem far more often out for blood. Hyper-critical and weirdly demanding at times, and eager to see through the veil as presented to them. Or so they seem to see it. TT commenters seem more like they want to see the veil. They are more along for the participation mystique aspect of things as presented, perhaps partly due to the rapid fire pace of browsing very short videos. At the same time, I feel less frequently that YT commenters are “playing along” in a sort of suspension of disbelief (rather than active belief) relative to TT viewers who very much do seem to be playing along. Probably due both to content & format differences, along with user base and other factors. Who knows.
Anyway, my emotional reaction, my gut feeling, after having seen a lot of activity on both platforms is that people online like & need to criticize each other. I am no different, I’m sure. One tried & true way to get engagement in a hyperreality campaign is to take the road of triggering the critics. Getting people to speak up, to correct. Directed provocation is as old as the hills. Counter-engagement is still engagement. Traffic is traffic.
To sum it all up, I guess I would say that the art of crafting a hyperreal conspiracy is, you want to leave plenty of room for the audience to speculate, to criticize, to question, to believe, to feel wonder, etc. To leave room for the broadband spectrum of human experience that makes up this hyperwebbed interworld we all live in now. And the algorithms will bring it to the people. And the people will basically do the rest. They will project any and everything into it, any which way they can. They will free associate, make assumptions, and state unqualified assertions as facts. Rinse repeat as a fractal. This is simply how online communication functions. You read something. You “like” it, you share it, you pose with it for status, etc. People reinforce each others likes. And that starts to count for more than anything. As it should be. As it shouldn’t be. And everything in between. In the future there are few answers, and also immeasurably more. We just have to ask the right questions, and undertake the right quality of investigations. Bring of ourselves everything we can, bring it to light, and examine that too. The conspiracy isn’t just outside. It is within. The hyperreal continuum.