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Life and Death on the Content Farm

It was an important time last December, when the frogs made their splash in the art world. Well, at least it was big for a fascinating cadre of social subversives loosely known as FrogTwitter; and later, with great fury, their many menacing “anti-fascist” antagonists. With the debut of its so-called “alt-right art exhibit,” a heretofore little-known East London gallery called LD50 thus quite accidentally thrust itself into the center of a cryptic memetic war simmering between the self-deputized street fighters for the prevailing global order and the loathsome little content creators that dare to provoke it.

Snapshots of the exhibit quickly filtered into the only feeds that could make sense of it, which amounted to maybe a few dozen anonymous social media accounts. A wild conspiracy diagram slashed across the room’s bright white walls, linking obscure images with text and tweets. There, a smug Southern Pepe sat fanning his seersuckered self on a grand porch, moonshine in glass, as his harvesters toiled on the sunbaked plantation in the background. “CONTENT FARMING,” read the caption.

Random comments etched in glass were scattered about—“the normies are not ?woke?,” indeed—among other signals and references only intelligible to the unfortunately initiated. This was staged around an ad hoc altar to “Kek,” the awakened Egyptian trickster god said to animate that rascally Pepe and his “meme magic,” candles still smoldering, ashy Neoreactionary trading cards strewn here and there, all tokens offered in petition for the all-mighty dubs of the Internet.

The whole thing was spot-on. It was called 71822666—a reference to a post on the anonymous message board 4chan that had correctly predicted the Trump presidency. The creator clearly had a keen read on the weird and wild world of post-conservative online organizing, warts and despair and all. Here was an interpretation of the deep alt-right that eschewed the same old adjective-laced wow-just-wowing in favor of an aesthetic exegesis in the budding culture’s own semiotic terms. The critical post-capitalistic and techno-dystopian elements that distinguish the avant garde of the alt-right from the free market fundamentalism of traditional conservatism were palpable, as was the general sense of spiteful gloom saturating a generation of young white men who mourn both a glowing past that might as well have never existed and a creeping future too horrible to accept.

Lucia Diego was intrigued indeed. The bold curator of the LD50 Gallery is a young woman of Spanish descent whose raw curiosity and perhaps fatalistic faith in the rational capacity of our modern marketplace of ideas drew her to venture into the oddest underbellies of contemporary online discourse. I’ve been there myself, and our cast of characters is much the same. Her gallery had hosted a series of talks last July featuring such noteworthy un-people such as “neo-reactionary” philosopher Nick Land and former National Review editor Peter Brimelow. The talks went off without a hitch, receiving little mention or notice at the time, and were preceded by several uncontroversial showings of mainstream artists in the previous year—most recently by John Russell and Joey Holder’s occultist TETRAGRAMMATON in May.

Then the art scene got wind of the Pepes and all hell broke loose. It’s difficult to piece together the early timeline of events as an observer, since the drama largely percolated through a series of passive aggressive social media messages, but apparently the most ambitious among the undoubtedly unbearable London art striver scene sensed one of their own straying outrageously far from the bounds of acceptable content and resolved to nip this one in the bud sometime in February.

The brouhaha followed the standard anti-fascist script: an anonymous blog called Shut Down LD50 meticulously catalogued all of the target’s supposed sins—from an insufficient denunciation of the devil Trump, to Land’s random (and very liberally interpreted) writings, and most notably the unrelated comments that exhibit participant and blogger Brett Stevens had previously made about the political assassin Anders Breivik.

This litany of infractions was copied and pasted from article to article, status to status, picking up steam and mindless outrage until finally the cultural gatekeepers at the New York Times took notice, officially cementing the debacle in history. Outlet after outlet piled on, offering free advertising to the supposed (and perhaps funded) “enemies of international power” that surrounded the small gallery in the streets, with nary but a half-hearted (yet still roundly condemned) defense of “[art’s] right to disgust” from the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones. Their cheerleading paid off: A swarm of hundreds mobbed the LD50 Gallery for days in February, defacing the building and smashing up windows. Diego fled for her safety and temporarily shut down the gallery.

And so the good little anti-fascist girls and boys and non-binary genderqueers slept soundly at night, proud of destroying another iconoclast sticking out in our sickly totaling world. A sad rain cloud appeared on the gallery’s website, seeming to admit defeat. “As a result of this [incident], we are able to witness in real time how reality empties itself out, reconstellating in a structure of fears and lies that grows bigger and stronger to the point there is no return,” its parting message read, “and we are now inhabiting those new truths/ or so called ‘post truths.’”

How could Diego have proven to the violent mass outside her door that she was not a racist or a Nazi or a xenophobe—just an open-minded artist? She couldn’t. But she could channel their censorious rage into a meta-commentary on the hierarchical motivations of contemporary expressive suppression, which is precisely what she did next.

Unfazed, LD50 Gallery re-opened on May Day with a new participatory show, CORPOREALITY, put together by several of the subjects of the first controversial exhibit. Twitter users @Kantbot10K and @Logo_Daedalus—both of “Donald Trump will Complete the System of German Idealism” (Google it) fame—pitched in, along with satirist @Menaquinone4 and YouTube surrealist TV KWA.

CORPOREALITY casts the viewer as the latest hire of an “exciting new business venture” known as KWALY. This revolutionary new social media start-up promises to professionalize (and monetize) the nasty business of sanitizing synthetic spaces by ceding control of ideas to “a morally superior enclave of progressive thought leaders.”

“No rank fascist tweet or hateful crypto-Nazi anime post will be left unblemished, and all will be defaced by the hands of a loving, caring human being.”

So intones the video message from a balaclava’d TV KWA, stark among the cloying neon greens and pinks of a Vaporwave hellbeach, welcoming the viewer to the new gig. Apparently, the automated “anti-harassment” algorithms that social media companies have rolled out over the past year just haven’t been all that efficient at destroying as much hate as everyone would like. This is where KWALY and its irate army of small-souled bugpeople come in. The fresh recruit will be toiling side by virtual side with some unnamed hundreds of migrant workers on temporary visas and unpaid college graduate interns, scouring the net for any hateful content, which will be “plucked like sick fruits from the tree of hate” and brought to us “like the grapes of wrath to be trodden on beneath the boot of freedom” to produce a “sweet and delicious wine of human liberation.”

Liberation is to be found in the many drab cubicles that line the room, outfitted with all of the scissors, shredders, whiteout, and markers needed to purge physical hate from the global safe space to come. An assortment of printouts are available at each station, ranging in content from journal articles on autism and race to the banned Twitter feeds of the artists. CCTVs capture the participants hunched over at work destroying data as they see fit.

This too is life on the content farm, but it is one of hidden exploitation rather than winking self-deprecation.

KWALY is the gamification of serfdom, an IPO for radical politics. It is not clear whether its “employees” receive much monetary compensation beyond psychic karma, but the higher-ups have a crackerjack toolkit to get their worker bees buzzing—harnessing the power of the crowds through “micro-transactions,” “group psychology,” and fun incentives such as eyeball injections of ethically-sourced heroin for each 36-hour shift worked and “the sweet release of death” upon each member of the KWALY family’s one-year anniversary.

Somehow, the screwy accounting of Silicon Valley will see this venture make money for someone. But wrapping an errant tweet up in duct tape does not delete it from the Internet. Our friendly masked mastermind breezily tell us that it’s just like carbon off-sets, because it “off-sets hate with the symbolic destruction of offensive content.” And in each case, the monied “disruptors” will get richer and more powerful by doing basically nothing while rest of us are left to struggle against the tides. But who has time to think about all that when there are cliodynamic trends to fight?

It is grotesque, as are the hundreds of distorted female Tinder avatars that adorn the KWALY office. The photos have been collected and fed through a Deep Convolutional Generative Adversarial Network, or DCGAN, which spits out collages of eerie, ghost-like prize pigs which perhaps serve as one of the many incentives doled out to KWALY grunts. Are they employees? Clients? The pin-up girls of our algorithmic age? These distressed damsels are everywhere and nothing, pulled into spiritual contortions by the competing Apollonian and Dionysian forces acting upon them, the zonked-out benefactor-enforcers of the clown world quo. “An alien, machinic mating ritual written in our language of slime,” Menaquinone4 calls it in his artist statement.

CORPOREALITY simultaneously evokes both the physical manifestation of the gallery’s five minutes hate as well as our own “corpo-reality,” the now-ubiquitous managerialization of social control as notably elucidated by James Burnham. Censorship of the LD50 Gallery and other conceptual targets is no longer limited to the hazy pixels of digital reality but becomes literal and material through the viewer’s coaxed defacing of printed texts. And the chirpy start-up jargon of our imaginary cubicle farm lays the current content harvest fueling the global disenfranchisement of the Western middle all too bare. After all, says TV KWA, the alt-right trolls who have called KWALY a “make-work slave farm” are “just the kinds of people we are here to do battle with, and these are the kinds of criticisms we are here to destroy.”

The exhibit thus cleverly embodies how its subjects and similar groups are demonized as a kind of distracting whipping boy for the ultimate benefit of a detached elite. Like the virtual sea of unmarried women, sexual obsessives, third world strivers, and soy-fed male allies that dutifully clock in at one of the acres of KWALY cubicle blocks, the debt-laden MFA students who were riled into weeks of oppositional identity to an inconsequential London art gallery unknowingly further the objectives of the progressive plunderers of our world. These mercenary armies level society for next to no pay so that some multinational concern out there can more easily sell a product or idea to a controlled conceptual body. Any element that is perceived to hinder this dream of opened societies is labeled hate, and hate must be stomped out. Fear not, the managerial elite is here to direct the soul-starved masses to properly tailor their own realities in the most salient and somehow profitable manner. And there’s plenty of Soylent to go around.

The extent to which the LD50 Gallery’s former foes will be induced to contribute more free content to CORPOREALITY, which is open through May 22, remains to be seen. My bet is it will all go sailing over their troubled heads. As of this writing, only a few indignant comments about the gallery’s shocking re-opening have materialized—Shut Down LD50 has issued a new blog post and a few statements to the local media, but their hearts just don’t seem to really be in it. Still, the Chief Innovation Officers at KWALY are doing their best to evangelize their cause by “calling out leftists in Dalston for complicity in fascism if they don’t turn up to shred objectionable material,” as TV KWA told me.

Alas, the real KWALY’s of the world—the well-capitalized news platforms, socially-responsible corporate marketers, university-massaged filter bubbles, and multitude of billionaire-backed non-governmental organizations that socialize our rotting reality—have not yet decided to direct their gaze back to the tiny art gallery in East London. In any event, LD50 Gallery can claim a victory: it either overcomes its censors to operate again with impunity, or it makes its enemies prove its point. I like their style.

One can see CORPOREALITY as a deeply pessimistic post-modern commentary on the progressive corporatization of culture and reality. I  find it uncommonly invigorating. Here is a group of creators who refuses to lie down and accept the suffocating homogeneity that the world’s most well-funded HR departments force upon our brightest through the dumb golem of controlled radical politics. There is a needed new vitality on the content farm after all, sprung forth from the death of a useless ideology. Would you kill it, or help it grow?