A Walk Down Memory Lane

March 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

chasin ducks

Today –among other things? my focus is hovering at about 25 minutes per task– I am revising an essay on humor, and why it is difficult to talk about similar. In it, I discuss Gabriella Coleman’s analysis of humor within Free and Open Software circles as well as my own work on trolls. Specifically I consider the staggering variety of ICP/Miracles memes, which I discuss and have already linked to here, and which are stone cold not funny to anyone who doesn’t already think they are funny. This is the thing my essay is about, explaining humor to outsiders!

But something was missing from my original Miracles account, so I dug around my Documents folder looking for this one presentation I gave once for a political economy class. That way I wouldn’t have to write something new.

And what I found was well worth the effort. Or maybe it wasn’t, from your persecutive. Like I’m worried about that, though! So with no further ado:

How DO they work????

A Political Economic Analysis of ICP’s “Miracles” Video and Subsequent Meme-cluster

Basic background:

  • Insane Clown Posse is a “horrorcore” rap/metal act from Detroit. The group releases albums through Psychopath Records, an independent label which also markets ICP-related merchandise, videos, and professional wrestling events. ICP consists of rappers Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope and has sold 6.5 million albums (per Nielson SoundScan) in their nearly 30-year history together. Their fans are known as “Juggalos” and wear beautiful makeup.
  • Fun fact: they are secret evangelical Christians.
  • The “Miracles” video off their 2009 release “Bang! Pow! Boom!” received over 6 million views on YouTube. The album itself sold over 100,000 copies and debuted at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
  • Juggalos are the natural enemy of trolls.

First question: What exactly is being commoditized, here?

The video?

Sure, the video functions as an advertisement for ICP (in theory generating capital for ICP/the record label) and for YouTube (advertising $)

The audience(s) of the video?

Sure, because capital is being generated, though it matters who watches and why

  • Juggalos who watch the Youtube video

-Commoditized by ICP/Psychopathic Records, if they go on to buy the album/merchandise

                   -Commoditized by YouTube as eyeballs for ads

  •  Users who watch the YouTube video for the lulz

-Not really commoditized by ICP/Psychopathic Records, because they’re not buying anything

-Commoditized by YouTube as eyeballs for ads

The meme-cluster? In themselves, the images are not commoditized, certainly not by ICP. They may be commoditized if eventually posted/reposted on a website with ads, though in that case content is severed from source (the producers of content no longer benefit from the labor of the producer/consumer—shifting economic beneficiary to host of content, not creator or appropriator)

The audience for the meme/cluster?

  •       Anons who encounter macros of/references to the video

          -Not commoditized by ICP/Psychopathic Records

-Not necessarily commoditized by YouTube, if memes encountered off-site

-Not necessarily commoditized by off-site host, depending on whether or not there are advertisements

  • Anons who share macros of/reference to the video

-Walking a fine line between producer and consumer; not exactly commoditized (necessarily), not exactly commoditizing (necessarily)

-Walking a fine line in terms of labor—is this “leisure” activity, or are the anons working for someone (indirectly or otherwise)?

Second question: Where does the value go, i.e. who benefits from all this? (“benefits” used in the loosest sense possible)

Hint: The answer depends on which commodity you mean, and which market model you’re working under.

The video itself:

*If you’re talking about the market economy—the record label, the musicians, associated handlers, and YouTube benefits.

-Discussions of labor are relatively straightforward (people are employed by other people to make stuff that’s sold/marketed)

*If you’re talking about the gift economy (i.e. hybrid market economy, in which commodities are freely and reciprocally traded among users)—individual users benefit, since association with and subsequently sharing of the video/images generates social capital for the sender. Depending on the intent of the individual user (pro-Magnets or lol-Magnets), the producers and/or host of content stand to benefit, since interest might generate page views which might translate to advertising dollars which might result in an uptick of legal/illegal downloads which might carry over into merchandising, maybe.

-Labor, here, is a little trickier to pin down, since it’s not always the case that “consumer” behavior really does benefit the producer or even the host of whatever content (depends on what is hosted where and when). The question then becomes, who’s working for whom?

The emergent memes:

*The market economy doesn’t have much to say about memes themselves, unless these memes are snatched up & commoditized by outside parties (Hello Anonymous! Old Spice ad; Hot Topic FUUUUUUUU- rage t-shirt). In other words, unless someone figures out how to make money off a given meme, only the host site(s) can be said to benefit (and even then, the money trail can be nearly impossible to track, since content is cross-linked on so many sites and often appears/disappears without warning).

*Likewise, the gift economy can only say so much about individual meme(s), since the very concept of “gift” is predicated upon interpersonal, reciprocal relationships, which simply do not exist throughout vast stretches of the internet (trolldom)—although images/links are often shared from person to person, thus buttressing a system of accrued/accruing social value, these images are just as frequently passed around between anonymous strangers. And anonymous strangers cannot have relationships with each other; they merely dump and/or take images and run.  This is not to say that a healthy, vibrant (sub)culture can’t emerge—it can, and often does. But this is a mutually-sustained, anonymous and weirdly incentive-free endeavor (except insofar as participant contribution inheres within said mutually-sustained, anonymous and weirdly incentive-free community). There is very little in the way of interpersonal give and take, here, which doesn’t entirely fit within traditional gift exchange models.

Moral of the story:

We need a new market model! One which isn’t designed to supplant the market or gift economies (neither of which should be ignored or downplayed in this sort of analysis), but rather which seeks to augment the discussion, specifically by using theory that directly engages the challenges and possibilities of anonymous memetic transmission. I vote for something along the lines of an ecological market model, which would look at circulatory flows of information and could assess “value” from a holistic subcultural perspective, since so much of these behaviors accrue social (but very rarely economic) capital for a diffuse collective and not specific individuals…



Now remember, I wrote this in early 2011; the world is a very different place these days (Karen I just tipped my hat at you). But whateva I still stand behind some of this, and anyway will be talking about THIS VERY ISSUE later this week at the 2013 SCMS meeting in Chicago. So how does anything work, and god I have some weird shit in my folders.


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