Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Over A Week Ago

On 5 November 2012 I received a text message from a good friend: “Happy Guy Fawkes Day.”  At the time I was unfamiliar with the reference, and did a little research on Google search.

I came across an article in Time about “Anonymous,” and their plan to take down Facebook on Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, if a certain number of demands were not met regarding workers wages/rights in related corporations (such as Farmville).  Watching “Hactivism” on Monday night I was reminded of this article, as a testament to the progress of “Anonymous” in the time since the production of the documentary.    

Having now familiarized myself more fully with "Anonymous" and also "V for Vendetta" I am most  fascinated by the connection between anonymity and power.  Anonymity as power is manifest in the digital world (online), and, perhaps causally related, the online domain is regarded as the new axis of "freedom".  The visual representations of "Anonymous," both in the documentary's interviews and in the "real" news footage, maintains a level of anonymity through the use of Guy Fawkes masks, which cover the faces of the activists outside of their online domain.  While the anxiety regarding participation of members of Anonymous in protests was located almost exclusively in the physical manifestations of the protests, all of the legal repercussions of the hactivist efforts discussed in the film were actually results of online protest.     

The difference between the affective responses of the participants to the protests in the online versus the physical domain, coupled with the difference in the reaction of the legal structure to the actions, takes my mind in two directions:

1. Are Guy Fawkes masks manifestations of passive or active anonymity? What about the "mask" of the online domain?  
2. To what extent is the anonymity of the online domain a false anonymity?

While I have not fully been able to answer my own questions, they seemed to relate to two readings, in particular.  Nigel Thrift in "Turbulent Passions" discusses affect and atmosphere; he explains Brennan's argument that affect is a mutation off the convergence of the individual and the collective, based neither entirely on the drives of the solo entity nor on the motivations inherent in the atmosphere of the given space and time (221).  While this is fairly straight forward in terms of a concrete space and time in a physical reality, it is perhaps more troubling within the scope of the online domain.  In an online space such as "4chan," it appears as though a certain number of "norms" of behavior are lost by way of the anonymity of the space; as a result, perhaps the idea of "atmosphere" is lost, or at least drastically shifted.  Or, perhaps the "atmosphere" remains that of the physical space in which the subject witnesses the screen, although this final answer seems most unlikely.  

These thoughts led me back to some ideas that Ahmed presented in The Cultural Politics of Emotion, particularly those relating to 'queer theory' and perhaps its relation to shame, or 'discomfort.'  Shame, as an emotion that requires a witness of some sort, seems to be lost in the vast span of anonymity; with the loss of such shame there seems to be a simultaneous loss of the sort of 'discomfort' which Ahmed argues is the building block to the growth of society through shifts in moral paradigms.  Simply put, the discomfort of an individual in a single atmosphere can lead to the growth of the collective within that same space.  From this standpoint, perhaps the (perceived) anonymity of the online domain is hazardous to collective moral development, and as such, conversely the opposite of what members of "Anonymous" argue when they equate free access to the internet to freedom as a generalized concept.  

In the end, it simply seems that the idea of "masks" in public or private, physical or online, spaces holds ramifications far beyond what I would have expected when I first looked up "Guy Fawkes Day" online a couple of weeks ago.  

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