They’ll Make a Lovely Pair of Earrings

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

Oh wait, you mean metaphorically? Damn, and I just bought a new mellonballer.

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (1979; 2007)

Basically in today’s society there are two economies, the gift economy and the market economy. The former is gendered female and is predicated on eros (i.e. person to person intercourse, not necessarily of the sexytime variety), the latter is gendered male and is predicated on logos (i.e. unambiguous impersonal exchange). Art is a gift, not a commodity. Gifts are bestowed, not procured. “True” gifts can’t be commoditized. Nor may they be nailed to any one place, as gifts are always on the move. Gifts sustain communities. They are transformative and connective. It is very difficult for artists to navigate the economic market, which is driven by exchange value.

brb I’m giving a gift card

I’ve argued elsewhere that the (well one of the) really cool and seriously significant things about internet culture (“internet culture” referring to that particular roffly neighborhood including trolldom as well as its moar SFW boroughs) is the challenge it poses both to gift and economic market models. It partakes of both, couldn’t avoid either if it wanted to (more on that in just one second) — but that there exists a sliver on the Goatse Venn diagram particular to internet culture which, through sheer weight of content and influence, popped right out of place and formed its own contiguous memetic federation.

Of course, internet people continue to extract raw materials from both coasts of the mainland, and internet culture continues to export a dizzying array of remixed content, prime both for (re)gifting or commoditizing or both, depending on the community. In other words the borders remain highly permeable. But this is a new thing, since what internet culture does is not quite what the gift economy does, and is not quite what the market economy does. Internet culture, which again, couldn’t be what it is without strong structural support from both markets, functions as a cat-infested island ecosystem, complete with its own set of evolutionary rules and cultural practices. In my opinion this is the best and, really, the only way to describe the indescribable (at least, indescribable to outsiders). Trolling, for example, thrives on anonymity, is predicated on emotional distance and precludes individual reciprocity; as a result it makes little sense when run through the gift economic model. Similarly, given that lulz –the closest thing to a trolling commodity– are only valuable in and of themselves, trolling makes even less sense from a market perspective. On the island that is internet culture, however, the behaviors take on new meaning. In that they start to take on meaning. Meaning that. This little sliver is an important little sliver, and shouldn’t be lumped in with traditional accounts of anything.


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