A Virtuous Interlude

Sunset BirdsIt is time once again for my autumnal social media break, a chance for me to exercise my cyber-restraint, pay less attention to my pocket robot’s distractions, and peer more deeply into the world around me. When I come back in early December, I have a small handful of blog-letters to share before the Winter Festival hits – mostly on or around game topics, and following on from discussions that have already happened here or at events I went to this year. I have room for one more that I haven’t started yet, so if you want to write a blog-letter to me while I’m away it would be more than welcome.

Then, as the Gregorian New Year comes around again, it will only be two months to the release of The Virtuous Cyborg and I will be gearing up for the book’s launch events. I will be touring, so if you would like me to come for a guest lecture or other speaking gig please get in touch through the contact link at ihobo.com, or directly if you already have my email address. So far, I am focussing on the UK but a US trip is always on the table and Europe is only a short trip away even if the current political climate makes it feel more distant.

To everyone who has continued to support the discussions here at Only a Game, my unlimited love and gratitude. Enjoy the silence, and we shall speak again soon.

The Game resumes in December.

Ecologies of Play

Over on ihobo today, an extended comment replying to some very interesting challenges raised by Bart Stewart in connection with Are Videogames Made of Rules? Here’s an extract:

For a tabletop game, the rulebook this set of practices eventually becomes can be seen as a static snapshot of the player practices of the design team in respect of the game, discussing how their game is played. That each group of players will inevitably vary those player practices is one of the reasons I am suggesting we treat player practices as constitutive of games rather than rules, because the rules as written remain the same but the games being played with those rules can be quite diverse – even if all you take into account is the differences in interpretation and not greater variations like house rules. I don’t think any two groups of players engaging with a Fantasy Flight game are playing the same way, as the rules often leave open a certain number of ambiguous points that the players have to negotiate and settle on their own.

You can read the entirety of Ecologies of Play over at ihobo.com, although if you haven’t already read Are Videogames Made of Rules? you probably ought to begin with that.

Prime Time: A Dialogue

Prime Time was a five part dialogue between veteran Nietzsche scholar Babette Babich and ‘outsider philosopher’ Chris Bateman, looking at the relationship between music and priming, Nietzsche’s books, and life within social media.

The dialogue originally ran from October 3rd to October 31st 2017. Each of the parts ends with a link to the next one, so to read the entire serial, simply click on the first link below, and then follow the “next” links to read on.

The five parts are as follows:

  1. Nietzsche in Hypertext
  2. An Analytic Lamp-post
  3. Prime Time Culture
  4. The Hallelujah Effect
  5. Your Brain on Social Media

If you enjoyed this dialogue, please leave a comment!

Babich and Bateman: Your Brain on Social Media

Last week, a discussion of media control span into the Emmy Awards. This week, philosophers Babette Babich and Chris Bateman pick up the discussion where they left off. Contains one word some readers may find offensive.

AmygdalaBabette Babich: Last week’s conversation ended with Alan Rickman, which happens so regularly that I should add a specialization to my CV. However the reference was not to a philosophical theme, say, Augustinian eternity – Rickman’s Snape uttering the word ‘Always’ – but to analyse the 2016 Emmy Awards ‘In Memoriam’ segment, which included only one verbal eulogy (for a producer, and as the Weinstein scandal reminds us, they are hugely important).  The ‘Hallelujah Effect’ corresponds to the magic of the ‘silver screen’ mediated by or through the music. The actors offered their own tributes to themselves, in very recognizable vignettes. Thus, including the pauses that made Rickman irreplaceable, from the 2004 film Something The Lord Made, we hear Rickman in an American southern accent above the Hallelujah refrain: “I think we should remember not what we lost … but what we’ve done.” (2:06)

Chris Bateman: Less an act of grieving than a final publicity event from ‘beyond the grave’...

BB: Exactly and alas! The movements of each vignette, each memory, evoke, (this is the way priming works), recognition, and that recognition calls forth, thank you Proust, thank you Freud, if Adorno (always the killjoy) does complains about this, emotion: that is, both delight and pain, capturing the eye and keeping the viewer’s attention while Cohen’s song and Tori Kelly’s performance captures the ear and entrains the mind. The Hallelujah Effect is that kind of slam dunk.  And we are moved.

CB: In the aesthetics crowd, there was the example (I think Kendall Walton gives it, but I might be mistaken) of the philosophy professor who had gone to a sappy B movie, and still found himself welling up with tears at the conclusion, despite utterly detesting the terrible quality of the film in question. This was raised in connection with our emotional responses to fictional events, but that particular example is almost certainly Hallelujah Effect... the use of the music in the finale almost certainly provoked a response above and beyond what the fictional storytelling had managed, or rather, failed to manage.

BB: We are prime-able, manipulable: we can be played, and Edgar Allen Poe writes about this when he tells us, play by play, the technique he used to write The Raven, inasmuch as all of it can be done on cue. Of course, in the case of poetry, one has to be a reader for the techniques Poe emphasizes to really work. Today we read less, focusing more and more on our screens: we live in them, as I repeat these days, we are soaking ‘in’ them. Everything, especially our brains on social media, Twitter but not less our anxious attention to our cell phones, not just for the tweets but tricked out with apps in place of the weird but accurate terminology that Adorno used to speak of the “physiognomics” of what he called the “radio face”. Today we can talk as much as we like about ‘screen ontology’ but the phenomenon is more complex and more entrained than the simple augmentations that McLuhan and Ihde and recently Floridi suggest. We still need a little more phenomenology (beyond what some, following in fealty to Don Ihde, tend to brand as ‘post-phenomenology’) and a lot more hermeneutics and, of course, we also need a lot more discussion. It was to try to start discussion on some of the more complex details that I sought to add a few easy to miss questions about the nature of desire, male and female, just to highlight a certain material nature of ontology, in this case on the nature and working of objectification. Which is where Leonard Cohen and k.d. lang come in.

CB: With respect, that isn’t ‘all you did’ in your book, since you also packaged the entire conceptual apparatus in a way that made it easily accessible by building it around this one song, Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – and that is a significant task, and one that should not be overlooked. I am always looking for these ways to take philosophical ideas and present them in a way that breaks down a little of their inaccessibility to a wider audience... I would count this as a significant contribution.

BB: But if you ask, as you rightly do, hey what is the Hallelujah Effect? Isn’t there a spare and sweet definition, a WFF [Well-formed formula], if we like, the answer is as clear and distinct as it is likely to be disappointing. Thus I tried to avoid simply appropriating Adorno’s laconic two-word definition: standardized ubiquity.  But that standardized ubiquity is still the answer.  What is on offer all around us today is only the same thing, presented in various ways.

SunsetCB: Obviously I work in a commercial entertainment medium, videogames, so I see this over and over again in the marketplace for games... and it’s funny, because gamers are wont to ask for originality and inventiveness – and do indeed have a taste for it – but the numbers that would go out of their way to buy that originality, that inventiveness are so few (if there are any) that this whole underside of the market, the videogame equivalent to arthouse cinema or off-Broadway theatre, is reduced to a lottery. Because the big games are the games that sell precisely because of their standardized ubiquity. 

BB: That is intriguing – and I recall when Pokémon GO appeared wondering if this would spawn a range of Pokémon alternate realities. I just joked with my students that an app to dress one’s dates for the evening, especially useful I would think on blind dates, or better said: social media or dating app mediated dates, would liven things up: one could date a knight in shining armour or tweak one’s companion so that she would look like some Hollywood starlet, or, we could even bring back Alan Rickman as I argue elsewhere. I am not entirely serious because, of course, and as you have also argued, with our phones to distract us we are already retuning our virtual surround whenever present company is not captivating enough by checking our phones, clicking, seriatim, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on. I am worried about the coming corporate branded version of my more role-playing, aesthetic idea, because virtual reality already exists in a minor way anytime one uses Google maps.

CB: I would argue that even paper maps were enough for virtual reality – there is not, after all, any kind of straight line to find in the space between Montana and Saskatchewan, or Indonesia and Papua New Guinea...  

BB: I was also suggesting that we might gamify reality – taking off on my former student Jane McGonigal’s powerful insight that ‘reality is broken’ – Mark Zuckerberg just channelled her point by saying that reality is ‘limited’ – at least on the level of the gamer who prefers a grander, better, she would say ‘super-better’ reality. But where I am keen on the aesthetic possibilities (these are hardly realized) we are often limited to contest-style gamification, and this is one of the worries I have with some of the suggestions Ian Bogost makes, adding agonistic elements, red team vs. blue team – and now we are back to elections or again, and more uncomfortably, Brexit. Trump’s America First (which of course means Trump and his 1% buddies first and foremost as the disaster capitalism currently in play in Puerto Rico and elsewhere doing relief efforts and ‘clean up’ and privatizing utilities as they go all too obviously illustrates) is part of this competitive spirit.

CB: I’m not sure if you aren’t misreading some of Ian’s sarcasm, since he is staunchly anti-gamification, and indeed complained that ‘gamification is bullshit’. It’s funny, since despite a lot of noise being made about ‘gamification’ (both positively and negatively), my chief concern in this regard is with the gamification of games. Huizinga and Caillois were concerned about the decline of the play element in culture within the twentieth century, and Caillois is explicit in terms of this happening through the cultural deployment of competition… in my lifetime, I’ve witnessed a disturbing decline in the play element of games. Yet players seem unperturbed – anything (perhaps) to alleviate the boredom of not having something to do.

BB: Even the ways we might avail ourselves to hack our boredom, make uninteresting tasks more interesting (I am still holding out for the chance to spice up social interactions by adding Alan Rickman in our visual surround here and there as opposed to random Pikachus), still leave us – and here we are back to Nietzsche – needing to learn to speak with one another.  I find it instructive that Nietzsche defines this common compact, this very social contract, as the necessity to deceive one another according to fixed convention.  Not any lie will do as a polite or genuine or friendly or collegial (take your pick according to any given situation) reply to the question “How are you?”

CB: I often take people aback by actually answering that question, which is not what is expected, although so often there is not time. Our familiar social rituals become ephemeral handshakes... I acknowledge that you are there, and that will suffice because it always has.

BB: And yet Sherry Turkle, we talked about her in an earlier dialogue, and she is hardly the only one although she does get the lion’s share of attention (or once upon a time she did) points out that we ‘acknowledge’ one another less and less. We look past other people as we look past the world hunting Pokémon and just this excluding capacity of consciousness or focus will be a boon for Augmented Reality.  AdsWe have been playing with GPS and Google for so long that we automatically play their game their way, decoding the ‘augments’ superimposed upon the world: this locale features shirts this one serves lattes. But, because this advertising, only corporations that subscribe will be featured.

CB: One of the factors leading to me giving up Pokémon GO next week is the way it is encouraging me to hide from the local community in my park because I want to take control of an in-game Gym situated within that physical space. The game has on occasions brought me together with strangers, which I value, but the intrusion of Turkle's ‘alone together’ is something of a deal breaker for me.

BB: Turkle sees this (as do other social anthropologists and psychologists) by looking at children interacting with their parents. There are microbids for attention, micromoments of bids for acknowledgement, which are neglected in fractions of a second with consequences that last a lifetime. Thus The Hallelujah Effect looks at a phenomenon that we know, one that works on us, one to which we are abandoned and which we ourselves use, but which – such is the nature of corporate advertisement and industry interest – mostly uses us. I try to read that complex effect via Adorno and thus to raise in a fashion apart from Roger Scruton’s massive animus anti-Adorno, the question of Adorno’s insights as these are also on offer in Marcuse, in Anders, in Benjamin, and articulate them for us today as I find it striking how very loyal we are to the effect of the effect as it were. In a decidedly late-capitalist and stubbornly we’re gonna prop it up no matter what the market does, pro-capitalist era, we love what manipulates us and will swear with our last breath that we have complete free will in everything. Thus the biggest effect of the Hallelujah Effect seems to be our loyalty to branding as such; that’s why the ads are so important to VR/AR.

Disney Star WarsCB: Hence my questions and issues with the fact that ‘All Roads Lead to Disney’ (in boardgames, it is ‘All Roads Lead to Hasbro’)... I find myself quite troubled by Disney’s acquisition of The Muppets, Marvel, Star Wars – and no doubt more popular brands to come. And it is not that I do not respect the work that Disney does in the medium of film, incidentally, since there are a great many films to have come from that corporation that I admire and continue to admire. Some artworks (and videogames prepares you for this realisation) require considerable investment to even happen. But Star Wars, for instance, means something different as a corporate brand whose raison d’etre is to make money than it did when it was a personally-owned brand (with corporate backing, of course – else we would not have found it in the first place!). In the prior arrangement, the brand made money as a side effect of being what it was, which was at least three things: a tribute to the adventure media of the mid-twentieth century, a clever reworking of Joseph Campbell’s insights into classical mythology, and a political allegory. Now, if Disney-branded Star Wars movies manage to achieve any of these things (and I’ve no idea, as I do not wish to participate with the surrogate franchise) they do so in spite of the conditions of their creation. And that troubles me. It troubles me that critique of the US as an empire is now unlikely to come from one of the places it once did. It troubles me that entertainment value seems to have become one of our highest values. And it troubles me that nobody else cares. What’s more, that concern is in no way limited to Star Wars... I am just as troubled by our relationship with social media.

BB: These are powerful points, and I am as concerned, oddly, with the hijacking of Marvel characters which are flattened when made into films, exactly the opposite of what one would expect. The same thing, more powerfully, holds true of DC characters, not Batman but Superman, which is perhaps fine because the figure twisted out of control even in the comic book medium. As for social media, nobody finds it the least bit paradoxical, not philosophers and certainly not Facebook users – and apart from Facebook, think of Google – that one is invited to work on one’s own ad experience, giving conscious feedback in addition to the standard tracking already at work, so to ensure its best tailoring to one’s interests and concerns.  One can be asked for input on the kind of ads, Twitter does this as well, that one would ‘like’ to see. But, it seems to me, one would like not to see any ads at all. One would, as Žižek’s Bartlebyesque T-shirt of the moment says, prefer not to. But Bartleby (and Žižek) have turned out not to be enough. Thus to say that one would like not to see any ads might require a new Alice — perhaps a Through the Looking Glass of the Matrix — but we are lacking an author capable of writing that Alice today, and to echo one of Alan Rickman’s last blue caterpillar lines, to us, his Absolem: “Do mind your step.” Indeed, minding one’s step is the least of it. It is a long way down… 

CB: The trouble with the analogy with The Matrix, and Žižek says this explicitly in The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, is that it was never just a choice between the red pill or the blue pill, between accepting the illusion or escaping it ‘into reality’... the phantasy of escape from Plato’s cave – which in India had never been a plausible dream, because amongst the Dharmic traditions was the wisdom to recognise that ‘all is Maya’. Thus Žižek says:

The Matrix is a machine for fictions; but these are fictions which already structure our reality. If you take away from our reality the symbolic fictions which regulate it, you lose reality itself. I want a third pill... a pill that would enable me to perceive... not the reality behind the illusion, but the reality in illusion itself.

And here again, my concerns are less with the possibility of our biology-psychology being hijacked by the Hallelujah Effect – because as a game designer these kinds of legerdemain are part of my own stock-in-trade – but the question of what we are allowing ourselves to notice, Spice Must Flowand what is beyond our ability to become aware of, and to what extent those with the commercial power and influence are committed to merely ensuring that ‘the spice must flow’, as Frank Herbert expertly allegorised capitalist empire in Dune.

BB: Brilliant! And Žižek himself brings Lacan to bear on this, rightly so, filmic imaginary. And here notice that rather than a film adaptation of Dune such as we might have had years ago (or perhaps there was one and nobody noticed rather like the terrible adaptations of Bradbury and the nonexistent adaptations of Ursula LeGuin that I am still waiting for) all we got were film after film of videogames on screen, i.e., Star Wars. But part of the point you are making is that we do not mind, and that we are more than we think ‘ensuring’, as you say, that ‘the spice must flow’.

CB: There was a Japanese anime made of Earthsea by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Gorō, although LeGuin was merely polite about it, and it’s safe to say that it was one of those adaptations – like Peter Jackson’s reinterpretation of The Hobbit as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings – that rather sadly erases the identity of the original material.

BB: To my mind, we ought to find this paradoxical, we ought to be up in arms against the commandeering of our consciousness precisely because of the small, the very tiny requisite needed for the purveyors of the Hallelujah Effect to effect the effect as such is a fraction of a second of our time. That is all they need and still they take minutes and hours, to control the way we think, while urging us to think that our will is utterly at our disposal, utterly free. Which we buy. Thus we live daily the very first line of Herbert Marcuse, who was like Günther Anders a student of Heidegger and who wrote about nothing other than the ways and means of purveying and living a “comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom” in his to-date still unbettered book on Western consumerist society (folks find Baudrillard’s The System of Objects tough going, after all), that is, and you really only need the title: One-Dimensional Man.

My thanks to Babette for all the correspondence that went into these dialogues, and to you for reading them.

Babich and Bateman: The Hallelujah Effect

Last week, the culture industry. This week, philosophers Babette Babich and Chris Bateman turn to the psychological effects of contemporary media.

NewsBabette Babich: Noam Chomsky basically rewrites this theme of culture industry [the subject of last week’s discussion] in his own book Media Control, in which he defines the same thing, again and again. I don’t think it matters whether one reads Horkheimer and Adorno or Bernays or Benjamin, much less Anders or Marcuse, and most recently Chomsky.  For me it is telling that Chomsky could not break the point down any more than he did, complete with semi-insulting allusions to things “any teenager” should be able to grasp.  People read Chomsky’s book and remain persuaded that they are not affected by “media control.” And where David Berry remains very sensitive to the Frankfurt School, just as he might be, as author of Critical Theory and the Digital, Alexander R. Galloway is much less so, mixing Agamben and Rawls, to come to same literally take or leave it conclusion in The Interface Effect, arguing that leaving it, just leaving it, can be an option, and although his closing “whatever” is drawn from Agamben one can also hear it California-style, and that works too for fielding “no questions” and leaving “very little to say.” If I’d like a little more rigor, the persistence of the conviction that such a leaving is actually an option – one assumes one is not affected by media control – renouncing “predication” remains appealing. For me the appeal of such a conclusion, the very conviction that one can stand down and return to being what one is, “whatever that may be,” is worth noting.

Chris Bateman: I would suggest there are at least two reasons why people remain convinced of their immunity to these issues. The first is our power to narrativise: our very capacity as beings is to be a story of ourselves, one that we edit as we go. I open Chaos Ethics with the horror that is my ‘paper time machine’, that is, diaries going back thirty years to 1984. When I revisit what past-me wrote, it doesn’t tally with the story in my head – because maintaining the narrative of our own ‘I’ is not the same as remembering all our prior events. We simply cannot do this. The other reason is we have become more consciously aware of things like advertising tricks and ‘spin’, and assume that this awareness immunises us... but of course, this is not inoculation at all but merely acclimatisation. Do you think any philosopher has the capacity to make this point about ‘media control’ or ‘culture industry’ or ‘the Hallelujah Effect’ sink in?

BB: Slavoj Žižek comes closest maybe but even he, spitting and all, with all of his wonderfully Slovenian in-your-face charm, has no effect on these many and several ‘effects’ either. Thus if, in The Hallelujah Effect, I point to the phenomenological and hermeneutical how of the same, some inevitable (but nonetheless to me, as author, disappointing) part of the point of what I say about it is that it will, rather by definition (which I do give!), make little difference to the reader.

CB: Perhaps... but despite already having a variety of general concerns in this area (as a producer of commercial cultural artefacts who is actively involved in decisions that manipulate people’s behaviour) I would say The Hallelujah Effect brought me back to questioning the use of music in media, and widened the scope of my concerns. I had, for instance, been struck with the sense in which nature documentaries had come to use music to ensure the story they tell is the one they have chosen. This is not an ‘objective’ form at all; no audio-visual media could be. And your reflections on the Hallelujah Effect radically expanded the scope of my concerns here, and situated them significantly in the context of online content aggregators like YouTube.

BB: As Adam Curtis’s 2002 documentary shows (if one prefers a film to a book) in The Century of the Self — it is important to watch all the episodes and remember the bits as one goes along — the efficacy of ‘The Culture Industry’ that I unpack with reference to music and YouTube and Facebook, in particular, in The Hallelujah Effect is its comprehensive power: this manipulative technique or effect beats fascistic tyranny and violence as even Joseph Goebbels saw this: because one votes for it. And Britain weirdly voted for Brexit, and although I was sure that America would have elected Hilary Clinton, Trump was elected instead, not quite as the kick in the pants Žižek suggested it might be (although its financial benefits for Trump’s own investments do seem alarmingly plain). The choice was between one bad candidate and a worse candidate but this notion of electoral choice should not blind us to the long ago and still present reality of election manipulation and one does not need to imagine, though this may also be true, that we need the Russians to do this for us.  This is old news in the US as political theorists happily reflect, meaning that no secret conspiracy theory is required. In fact, there’s a movie about it, not The Manchurian Candidate but rather a 2004 HBO documentary, HaHacking Democracycking Democracy, a documentary that should have gotten more attention than it did but won numerous awards. It can, I believe, be seen online, though thanks to the soft censorship of supposed privacy laws, not everything one can see in the US can be seen in the UK, much less in Germany (as I know from experience). Citizens got admirably involved in exposing the failure of an election, it got a blip of attention, and then, in effect, nothing was done so that, of course, the same thing continues to happen, with modern and yet more effective technology, ever more ‘undetectable’ the more enmeshed in our technology we become.

CB: One could argue that technology has been ‘hacking’ elections since at least the newspaper – which would suggest that there has never been an election where technology has not been embroiled in the outcome, since modern democracy is not older than newspapers. I’ve called our time the ‘Age of Distraction’ and the election is a clear example of why.

BB: Indeed, the culture of distraction, where politics advances in an oddly fractured twist on Clausewitz, literally proceeding via ‘other means’ just while we are concerned with other things, continues apace. Thus in the midst of unprecedented hurricanes and earthquakes we ignore the underpinnings of extreme weather as if geoengineering were only a Buck Rogers fantasy. The only philosopher who pays any attention to this is Peter Sloterdijk and although I try to teach this in my digital media class, the little concise book that I used just last year, Terror from the Air, is now out of print.  Still the text from the third volume of Spheres has been available to scholars since 2009 as it is published in the fairly obvious journal title, Environmental Planning D: Society and Space, under the title “Airquake,” it may be of interest to some hence a link may be useful. Beyond these sad and more than inconvenient truths – be it those of hacking elections or hacking the weather – when it comes to the Hallelujah Effect, there is no way (and I hope there is no desire) to take the reference to music out of the discussion.

CB: Indeed not! The musical focus is precisely what drew me into your book, in so much as my time as a musician did not take me very far into music as a form, and I think mostly because I was demonstrably lacking the depth of talent shown by others I knew for whom music was a way of life, and I always manage to duck those things that I cannot excel at. And that nags at me, because I have felt for some time now that music’s power has ended up neutering itself. In the Sixties, music was the revolution. And then by 1977, we have the late and sadly missed Joe Strummer of The Clash admitting that there is already a move towards “turning rebellion into money.” Now, don’t get me wrong, music retains its power to bring together large crowds – but with an utter lack of social effect, beyond the gate receipts.

Tori Kelly EmmiesBB: Wow, that is an extraordinary point and my work researching and writing The Hallelujah Effect led me to similar insights. Tori Kelly’s performance at last year’s televised broadcast of the 2016 Emmy Awards is a good illustration of what we are talking about. What made, to an astonishing degree, Tori Kelly’s performance was what I call the ‘Hallelujah Effect,’ and not only because she happened to have been singing the late Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Thus the video excerpt offers an object illustration of the ‘Hallelujah Effect.’ Tori Kelly herself recommends that one watch it and she posted it for just this reason on her Facebook page, which is literally (and this is no accident, unless you were tuned at that moment watching the broadcast and knew in advance in advance to do a video capture) the only place on the net where one can see more than a snippet or excerpt of her performance – with good monetized reason, and her Capitol records webpage also links to the video on her FB page. To see what blew the audience of viewers away, including such sophisticated viewers as Rolling Stone critics who wrote about it (among others), one has to see the video. At issue, driving the effect as such is not the song alone or the voice alone. The ‘Hallelujah Effect,’ however paradoxical this may appear, is not produced simply by singing “Hallelujah”, however beautifully or stunningly one does so, whether one is k.d. lang or John Cale or Jeff Buckley, or, to be sure and in the ‘hit’ of last year’s moment, Tori Kelly.

CB: I’m afraid I have no idea who Tori Kelly is, but I imagine this has something to do with the relatively recent bizarre situation whereby a newcomer singing a cover version of a song on television generates vastly more media attention than whosoever wrote and performs the original; shows of the form popularised by Simon Cowell...

BB: Yes, Tori Kelly has the ‘Voice,’ this is how she came to fame at 14, as Wiki will tell you (and I know you know what that means...) by successfully – this is true by definition or she wouldn’t have gained the fame in question – by posting YouTube videos of herself, and then through American Idol (albeit not by winning), and she gives a lovely performance of the song. But what makes it work, the effect of the effect, is that same priming you have admonished me for its insufficiency as a word. But priming is a complex phenomenon that works retrospectively as it were, coming into consciousness by the backstairs. It works with triggers not at all coincidentally the same term that politically sensitive educators like to use, along with marketing psychologists and ASMR artists (like asmr zeitgeist, SensorAdi ASMR, and see, e.g., Mickelous ASMR). Such triggers are not merely acoustic but also visual and for the visual one needs movement and, just as with the acoustic, one needs repetition. YouTube is a perfect medium for this, and Twitter features GIFs and little videos for fairly the same reason. Tori Kelly’s Emmy performance is not just Tori Kelly  – it is the whole production: nothing is left to chance but it is brought together via music and video and ultimately broadcast production: once again, the videography behind the scenes, front and centre and completely coordinated with her singing; this is a little music video that takes us, her viewers, with her through and into Cohen’s song and into our own minds, our own associations — that is the beauty of priming: it’s both individually targeted and universal.

The dialogue concludes next week: Your Brain on Social Media