Ryan Trecartin is a Mommy Blogger
You may or may not be familiar with the brilliant, confounding, and now frequently imitated work of Ryan Trecartin. He is perhaps the most important artist of this decade. I’m not the first to say so. Here is one of his popular videos.
In the course of my commercial work, I came accross a video produced by a team associated with the Blissdom Blogger conference, defined in the About section of their website as “the premiere conference for women who find and express their bliss by publishing online.” OK, what?
Organized by a PR company, funded by large corporations making packaged goods targeted at middle American moms, Blissom seems insane. It is a kind of trade show for the typical mental qualities of the mainstream mom, existing in an online space. It is both homelife and 6th Ave. These women represent the largest, most affluent market in the history of the world. Proctor and Gamble – the largest of the companies in this category, did sales close to 80 Billion dollars in 2010. Here is the video I’m interested in:
What strikes me most about this video is how closely it resembles Ryan’s work. There is a kind of low-level performed paranoia that these women are negotiating. The everyday-manic is investigated. The women are displaying their families as P&G would display a package good. They are acting like consumers. They are authoring their own consumption narrative.
What confuses me most: their their level of self-awareness. In Ryan’s work, many of the subjects seem complicit. They lead hypermodern lives and are sketched with a livid pallet of intense digital participation. They are expressionist figures of late capitalist people – and they seem to have agency or a level of control. They seem to be young participants, ready to thrash and kick their way across the digital void, between people and places previously inaccessible. They are web 2.0 icons, 15-second stars.
The women of Blissdom – on the other hand – appear strangely detached. I don’t think it’s the medication. They appear to be Evangelically calm – disturbed only by the slightest desires of their children. And yet, they find themselves in front of a camera, blogging for money. Self-expression has become profitable for them, though it is always focused away from The Self. They are pasted (arts and crafts have everything to do with this) into a kind of media paralysis diorama by a phalanx of social-sexual politics that exploits generational confusion and uneven media literacy. They don’t seem to know how to use the internet. They are not fluent. And yet – they cannot escape the promise of sharing their lives – though nobody has really understood the endgame of that proposition (including people immersed in the politics of expressing and understanding web 2.0). They are failing to grasp their compromised position. Or, they are succeeding in totally becoming consumer objects. Maybe, the context of motherhood makes it nearly impossible to be self-aware. Parenting seems artless and we accept that because we want everyone to be able to hang their work in this gallery: American parenting. Making families, in this blogging context, seems to go beyond technique or politics. It is too important for discourse, too personal. It reminds me of my brilliant Marxist professor who could shift from speaking about biopolitcal power, to talking about how his young children could make him dumb speechless with love.
There is a theoretical blindness around the themes of reproduction, which is also the center of American corporate power. The meaning is missing from the political math of our parenting performance. Having kids is messy for artists and cultural critics, but easy for big brands. Purchasing behavior shifts dramatically when a baby is born to a young family. Corporations understand this. They use this period to reposition their brands and maximize their bottom line. They see reproduction as a growth opportunity. Companies cannot be blinded by love – they are designed this way. They always see money.
Which leads me back to Ryan’s work: the hyperrealistic narcissism of internet fame. The cynical reality star has something to teach the $10k/year mommy blogger: soon, you’ll understand that the most important person to sell something to is yourself. AND: frequently, you loose control of your own consumer fantasy. It can be wonderful and beautiful and it can destroy the world outside. The unreality of American culture is astounding, terrible, and (most thankfully) profoundly optimistic.