Joy Of Missin’ Out
Laura Owens, Untitled, Giuseppe Iannaccone Collection, Milan
Text Mario Schiani
Welcome to the sixteenth minute. Andy Warhol was right with his fifteen minutes of fame for everyone, but he hadn’t considered the sixteenth of those minutes. Today, with celebrity status readily available for all—namely the possibility we all have to be public, diffused, ubiquitous—someone (avant-garde, cunning or snob?) is probing that sixteenth minute, which, unlike the fifteenth and its light, exposure and presence, means darkness, discretion, and absence. The anti-Warhol prophecy of the twenty-first century is already here: in the future we will all be famous, busy seeking our fifteen minutes of anonymity.
Warning. Continual, widespread exposure is a powerful habit, one that will be difficult to give up. After years spent opening accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Klout and FourSquare, in the name of what acronym lovers have dubbed FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), those who have seen the light are now beating their retreat. The buzzword is JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out): the beauty and joy of not taking part. It all starts with a recall of those airborne particles of ourselves that we blithely sent out into the Net, that part of our being that, ahead of our soul, has gone before us up to iCloud heaven.
Deprivation, apparently. Luxury, in reality. The sort enjoyed by those who manage to organise their lives with no heed for the constant and ubiquitous presence today required by social relationships. Healthy deprivation because the urgency of being always on line has turned us into curious creatures. One example? England. Manchester city centre and a service company called Purple that installs wi-fi networks for retail companies like Legoland, Outback Steakhouse, and Pizza Express. Networks made accessible to the businesses’ customers who can then access internet on the premises. Which might sound like a distraction, but in actual fact is a necessity: no internet access, no customers. Otherwise how will they tell their cousin in Sydney that they have just ordered a pineapple pizza?
Free unlimited access. As is the norm. Purple requests users to agree to a contract, which appears on the screen and must be okayed, or nothing will happen. Twenty-two thousand gave their ok, and we now know that not one of them read a single line of what was on their screen while they were on Instagram, posting the latest Lego creation: a brick version of Lady Gaga in concert. None of the twenty-two thousand read the contract, otherwise they would have found out that they were legally obliged to carry out a series of community services including, but not limited to, cleaning portable toilets at rock concerts, scraping chewing gum off pavements and manually relieving sewer blockages.
Twenty-two thousand declared that they agreed with all this, without knowing, without wanting to, only because, as far as they were concerned, a page of small print is just the final obstacle to be removed before gaining access to the Big Brother that lets them be constantly in company, never alone, active, participants. Purple has said that it will not be enforcing the rights it acquired in this way, it was just carrying out a social experiment, a litmus paper dipped into the living body of the online community.
The act of withdrawing is a brave one and, in its contempt for the conventional, even an artistic one, faced with this demonstration of indifferent irresponsibility. The melting-pot of a network, which every day at every hour publishes, argues, derides, insults, sides with and incites is a homogeneous body that justifies and accredits itself on the basis of opposite forces. Refusal, shadow, communication blackout—these are the real gestures of rebellion, the call to revolution of our times. Instead of a photo on your Facebook profile, a black square: Alice.com doesn’t live here anymore. Time to update Giorgio Gaber perhaps? The ‘libertà’ or freedom in his song no longer means participation. On the contrary, it stands for disappearance, isolation, and new-found solitude.
There is no such thing as solitude any more. It has been celebrated in novels and poems, serenaded and filled by music. We have spent hours and hours smoking and shedding tears into glasses of whiskey: all in the name of solitude. We have hugged our pillows and vandalised telephone boxes in exploration of its limits. Dammit, we even bought records by Simply Red! We have turned solitude into a romantic enemy and, out of too much love or too much hate, we have killed it. There is no more solitude if every tiny mood change ends up on Facebook, if a photo of our slippers is honoured by the filters of Instagram and if even a clumsy proverb is framed imperiously in a tweet. All that is left of solitude is that dreadful, anguish-filled moment—the instant that passes between publishing our post and the arrival of the first like. Minutes, often seconds, (nobody actually reads our posts, in the same way that we never really read theirs), during which we measure the absence of love, of others’ thoughts, of elective affinity: then, there it is, that red sticker ‘Giacomo likes your photo’ and everything returns to normal, sorted, healed. The virtual blood once again flows in our veins and we are cheered. We are alive, after all. Dead people don’t get likes. Or do they?
Disappearing. Evading. What a rebellious idea. We would not be completely honest if we did not verify that there is no trace of truth even here. Together with solitude, spontaneity disappeared years ago: today everything is calculated, image, marketing. The dark shape that certain public figures use instead of their virtual silhouette is well defined, it has the sharp outline of a brand, it meets the golden ratio set by the sales office. By evading, by playing with the contrast, the artist, the celeb, often sends a team ahead and turns his or herself into a trademark. Into a kind of Marchionne: one who appears every now and again, infrequently, with whatever he says ending up on the front pages—and unlike all the others, what he says is true, genuine, independent and wise. He talks little and therefore every word must carry its own weight, have high prophetic and perhaps even protein content. Opening your mouth every two minutes is something left to us, humble inhabitants of the global beehive.
It is time to bring Quentin Tarantino into this. Why him? Because a while ago, together with the Coen brothers, he realised that films had got to the point whereby they had said it all, they had taken all that reality had to give. All they could do at this point was draw on themselves, and therefore Tarantino’s films, like those of the Coens, became films about films. Each situation, every sentiment is borrowed from other films, because spectators are more familiar with the reality of images than they are with reality itself. The audience is made up of people who, just like civil pilots, have under their belts hours and hours of TV and cinema flight time. There is no point telling them about reality: you need to (re)tell about cinema and TV, because these are what they recognise and these are what they relate to. It was (and is) a public that cried for Rutger Hauer when he died in Blade Runner but not when their grandfather died. From the cinema we have moved onto the entire body of communication. There is nothing to be said that has not already been said. If someone were to come out with an original thought we would probably not even recognise it as such. To understand, we need references, quotes, clips on YouTube. Material that any competent communicator knows how to exploit and manipulate only too well. Even disappearing ends up being similar to the rest of the jumble and cannot therefore be classed as revolutionary. In establishing an elite it is rather an inevitable anticipation of mass behaviour. There is still time: at the moment, playing at hide and seek still manages to surprise. Then, naturally, even the sixty seconds afforded to the sixteenth minute will run out. So we might as well start looking for the prophet of the seventeenth.
From The Fashionable Lampoon Issue 11 – Magnifico