The Chickens Have Come Home to Roast

Organizing Attention (with Matthew Fuller)

Technological supremacy is rocking humanity’s dreamboat. Millennial forces are cued up the tape head of history to shake up all existences. According to Arthur Kroker, impulsive responses to these planetary forces are of spasmodic nature. One such discursive belch is the Question of Trash. Confusion is spreading. Are we forced to take sides here? Against the McDonalds-AOL-Disney junk, in favour of independent artists? Or rather rollercoaster amongst the wastelands of empty HTML-structures? Were will the division line between hi and low be drawn? What do the Third Way officials find truly disgusting, besides their PC-tolerance? What are aesthetic ideals of the new middle classes? A second modernism of clean, open digital spaces? Or rather a more personal style, reflecting the individual and historical ups and downs of, (say it softly) emotional intelligence?

Vast areas of the Net lack even basic levels of interactive vitality. Lonely servers are either busy with themselves, or decay, neglected, forgotten, see their tragic counters. At best search engines reach a maximum of 15% of the content. What about the other 85%, the ghost towns of the Web? We cannot even audit their questionable substance. Wisdom 2000: Internet = Mir.

Power ignores garbage. This is why trash is becoming invisible, filtered out by algorithmic consumer choice. The more refined the options, the less rubbish one encounters. That is what is the prize of most immaterial commodities is indicating: it’s navigation quality to route around the inferior. Cheap means crap. Value on the other hand is indicating the ‘quality’ of filters. The more users go to a site, the higher it’s value. See here the silent return of the masses as click-through count in the Age of Attention. A stunning dialectics takes places before our own screens. Finally cultural studies strategies have reached their historical aim. ‘Most information is trash to most people’ has been finessed into: ‘the Popular no longer has to be associated with the shabby and shoddy’. Instead, by ray-tracing your way to success, the invisible infotainment class is generating golden vapour value. And payola for all.

What is style today? To go with the bitflow, indulge oneself in the flow of information, or rather personalise your settings and put the input on hold, thereby risking to get disconnected, and distracted from the (under) currents? Both in- and output have to be regulated, negotiated. What would it mean to identify with gigabytes of chicken shit? A society of positive trash? The useless is no longer to be found in the bin. Reject all forms of recycling? All deleted files contain valuable information? What is the strategy of confrontation here? To transform into the not yet defined Inferior? Trash needs to be identified as such. Only those agents equipped with the correctly sensitised tools can browse through the multitude of channels and reveal the excluded elements of global culture. Thus the search for trash depends of course on the notion of quality. You have to be locked into the mechanisms of taste with a brutal thoroughness to feel that authentic shudder of recognition. Every strand of bowel mucus gathering on the top of a cooling cup of hot chocolate has its afficionados. The undifferentiated matter in the cracks of your keyboard has a certain forensic je ne sais quoi. The downside of ecology means that there is no real trash – just molecules in the wrong place. This is the bane of those hungry for a renewal of the avant garde, for a happy homestead on a new landmass of unconquerable disgust. Holism will have always gotten there first and made it all a simple problem of logistics or of misplaced psychic repression. Coming centuries will look down on the 21st century and wax nostalgic when browsing through the images of dumping grounds, wastebins, dirty streets, and those chimneys with clouds. What a luxury they must have had, back in the 19th and 20th century, to have thrown away so much energy and resourses.

Trash attempts to subsume the radically exogenous position previously held by Science, God, Leninism or Aliens. Anything that comes from outside the system becomes its nemesis or at least a good chance for a little didactic instruction. If true trash is seen as the yet unknown excluded element which is to be situated outside of common value systems, how then would we judge existing streams? Take for instance the discourse of mixing, which is operational both in hegemonic and subcultural circles. Strictly speaking they do not deal with trash. The mutants, cyborgs and hybrids of the real existing multi-cultural society are actual entities, and very visible ones. The same can be said of noise. Gone are the days that the cultural elites were easy to disrupt with the technical negation of ‘classical’ music. Noise has gone a long way of emancipation, starting with Richard Wagner, and Nietzsche’s response, culminating into Berlin’s Love Parade.

Trash is a way of automating the abject, putting it on-stream. A thousand channels of liposuction fat. Old tickets. Information on sealed up hacks. Vestigial tails. Entire languages. Pizza leaflets. Splashed cans. Cobol code.Forgotten Hotmail accounts. The vast swathes of the internet interpretable only by the human appendix. There are countless acceptable ways of bringing all these strays back into the mainstream of society; fetishisation; irony; retro-whatever; competitions for the most piquant dreck and after a while you notice that everything becomes a candidate or vilification in “Web Pages that Suck” and the opportunity for some ledge-gut guru to expound on his vision of clarity in design. Perhaps what remains is for trash to become predatory. Metastatic sign machines clogging up bandwidth; chewing their way through the throats of their host celebrities; obscure branches of government rendering their occupants into street-preachers, all the better to love you with; the three-dee interface to Quick Time 4 capturing the display fauxganicism of Jonathan Ives for a new even more pointless life in post-script; survivalist data that erupts years later from a steganographic bunker onto a wiped drive; ten thousand million kilometres of pixel-shims; added value. Will the landfill sites of the web ever leak?

Where is the new geography of trash? Is everything unproductive automatically turning into an object for touristic desire? A key figure for its understanding is the global climate. Maintaining limits on economic excess via spectacle or war has its moments – after all, what would be left of European Culture without bullshit and murder? Ernst Friedrich’s still extraordinary ‘War Against War!’ has, under a blurred image of putrefying trench corpses of the First World War, Pflanzer-Baltin, an officer of the Austrian Army, proclaiming, “Leave it to me to teach my men how to die.” The contemporary ruling class has no such educational aspirations. The interests of Capital and the glory of the Monarchy have no such overt intent, victimised by the self-induced trash tautologies of permanent humanitarian war, they remain trapped between the professional mimicking of the operation of political will and the collapse of the Great Chain of Being. Something that leaves them equally powerless and without a care in their workaholic world. As the Arctic melts, corals die off in over-heated waters, millions become refugees due to environmental damage, and the entire planetary atmosphere on its way to being turned to petroleum jelly in order to maintain the seperation of the individual from trash, the dualism has to give.

Trash in art has become an impossible topic. Not just outdated and outworn. Exit trash. Is it really still possible to identify oneself with the excluded, worthless other? Sympathy for the excrements of society, of our bodies? Special educational software to promote ear-wax sex? What is the deal here? Where is the anti-utopia? Not in the exhibitionist strategies of the coming out as trash, nor in negation when we rework garbage onto a higher level in something useful. And no third way either, which would be besides the usefull and useless. Does democracy do a Pagemill on the mind? Or, is the cannibalistic devouring of graphic design as so much clip-art the revenge of trash seizing power on the web? In the flesh it becomes a Moral Panic. Teenaged babies. Eager dogs. Hungry rude fuckers swarming rampant over a machinery they got a feel for. Trash becomes an irrelevance. It is not ready made for conspicuous display by accredited artists to cosset and snicker over, but instead vehicles, a circulatory system. Transportation and navigation tools (or bicycles) which neither sink entirely into the mud of meaning, nor fly too high. Just touch the surface here and there. Homocult had a slogan for it: ‘Everything you make a freak will infect and make you weak”. Strength excercised not by any particular action but by the generation of feedback onto imposed meaning – the figure of ‘trash’ first.