Irreconcilable Differences; Interrogating and understanding the current aesthetic, form, use and role of online content in the perpetuation of conspiracy theories, misinformation and the radicalisation of people in the UK and USA.
Exploring the aesthetic platforms of counter cultural narratives of the 'alt-right'
Research, Art Practice, Video Curation 2020 -ongoing
The last five years have been characterised by the emergence online of radical content and politically charged conspiracy theories that are reshaping politics, media and society in the UK and USA. Distinct from previous conspiracy theories such as the faking of the moon-landing or the assassination of JFK, these new theories encapsulate not a singular event but instead attempt to explain and reimagine the entire current political, cultural and social situation of the west.
Radical content regarding the rejection of mainstream narratives and news reporting, including associated calls to action to reject mainstream media and thinking, where previously associated with left-wing radicals (often educated or associated with academia or politics) now comes from distinctly right-wing sources. This new, radical content is created, consumed, perpetuated, interpreted and rationalised by a predominantly white, often working class, increasingly right-wing audience, using the internet (social media platforms in particular) as a means of uninhibited communication, free of the checks, challenges, balances or limitations of established epistemology.
A new, radical, amorphous, tribal epistemology has emerged, owned and distributed not by the state, academia or intellectuals, but by 'the people'. The creation and deployment of homemade videos, distributed online, in service of this process of radicalisation and emergent of this new epistemology, should be interrogated and understood.
Once the preserve of 'the left' and more specifically a type of left-wing intellectualism, calls to reject mainstream narratives and a mistrust of mainstream media are now characterised by right-wing, often working class, voices. In this very current incarnation of mainstream rejection, intellectualism itself is found on a list of things not to be trusted. Science, academia, politicians, intellectuals and mainstream media all fall foul of a new epistemology that mistrusts anything validated by established epistemology. Exponents of this new set of rules and values are validated and authenticated by their non-association with previously validated sources; a commentator's lack of connections, qualifications, endorsements or employment by institutions deemed valid by established epistemology can actually constitute their authenticity and trustworthiness as judged by this new framework. It is their lack of official endorsement, qualification or verification that often affirms their authenticity. Their ideas, theories and calls to action (frequently rejections of mainstream news coverage, rejections of anti-racism movements, rejections of accepted medical or environmental science, all underpinned by a strong belief in an overarching conspiratorial threat) are shared online often through recorded video messages; these are commonly direct pieces to camera with a recurrent set of values that visually communicate their authenticity - that is, their lack of connection to the perceived mainstream or any of its associated values. Interrogating these videos, their new production values, their tropes, signs and signifiers is important in understanding what is a radical, new, demonstrably dangerous and incredibly potent form of media communication.
Counter-cultural narratives, once the preserve of the radical and progressive left, have become a characteristic of an increasingly extreme and paranoid neoconservative (or 'alt') right - but how and on what aesthetic platforms are they operating at their most potent? And how, as an artist, might I reclaim some of this mode of communication as a means of challenge and scrutiny?