Sunday, November 25, 2012

Viral Slacktivism

First, my (ironic) slacktivism for this week: I posted a tweet about how, at the rate things are going, maybe we should all hop on the Kony 2013 bandwagon now. I chose to be ironic in my slacktivism to point towards the cynicism that many people express about such methods of political action. Sure, we can get Kony eventually. Let’s just revise our goals. At the same time, though, my tweet does bring attention back to the interest in Kony that was so prevalent earlier in the year – perhaps someone will see it and be inspired to act this December so that my “2013” sentiment doesn’t come true.

I want to quickly air my grievances about the Fung and Shkabatur piece. I felt like they were never truly convinced one way or another of the democratic potential of slacktivism and viral engagement, and made many contradictory and shortsighted remarks. But perhaps the part of the piece I took the most issue with was when they argued that “[s]tructurally, [discourses stemming from viral engagement] cannot dominate” because “the entrepreneurs who seek to spark a viral campaign compose only one actor in a much larger political system” (17). And yet the authors point to numerous other things that contradict this statement. Some examples: the existence of gatekeepers, the fact that viral engagement is being co-opted by capital, the fact that people who engage with viral media might be less likely to engage with other types of media in which these competing discourses might be playing out. Saying that viral videos and the like do not dominate discourse on the subject they address assumes that people who engage virally then go out and do other forms of research into the subject at hand. This seems to be a fallacy. How many 13-year-old girls who watched Kony 2012 went out afterwards to read up on the history of African politics? How many instead assume that the Kony 2012 is the extent of what they need to know on the subject?

It seems that my “quick” grievance took up a bunch of space, so I will just pose a few final questions/thoughts about some of the other stuff from this week. First, I really hope we can delve more into the ideological stakes behind the promotion of bare life that comes from humanitarian discourse. Fassin discusses this a bit, but I’d hope to go over it in class even more. Also, I wonder if Lisa Parks’ piece can be read in conjunction with some of the ideas of viral engagement that Fung and Shkabatur propose (however much I might have issues with their article). For example, both pieces seem to point towards the question of objectivity and believing what one sees – with Parks noting that such an ideology should be avoided, as interpretive frameworks are always already in place, and Fung/Shkabatur, beginning to point towards how viral engagement creates affective links of trust that bring objectivity in the discourse as a presupposed “good” object alongside them.

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