Thursday 17 December 9:15-10:45


Broadcasting Boredom: Boredom and the Attention Economy of Media Culture

Tina Kendall, Anglia Ruskin University

Boredom has come to occupy an intensely ambivalent position in twenty-first century media culture. On the one hand, the ‘profound’ existential type of boredom theorized by Heidegger and others in previous centuries has been put under increasing pressure in a digital network culture, whose ubiquitous electronic devices and real-time streaming technologies ensure that distraction is only ever a click or a swipe away. Indeed, as N. Katherine Hayles and others have argued, in an era of ubiquitous media and ‘hyper attention’, boredom is framed as the bad object par excellence—that which can no longer be tolerated or endured (Hayles 2012: 12). On the other hand, digital media platforms rely on bored subjects to seek out distraction; they lure us with the promise of excitement and novelty, while at the same time sustaining and reproducing boredom as an affective residue that clings to us as we refresh our social networking feeds, cycle through YouTube videos, or binge-watch on Netflix.

This paper will investigate the role of boredom in extreme times by focusing on a range of recent media trends that foreground the affective pulses of excitement, novelty, boredom, and tedium, which reverberate across our digital networks. Drawing from a range of media trends, including ‘#boredom’ and ‘#boredomkills’ Vines, YouTube ‘boredspiration’ videos, and Buzzfeed ‘boreductivity’ lists, the paper explores how the affective pulse of boredom is captured, broadcast, circulated, managed, and put to work in a digital network culture. Focusing on the sociotechnical affordances and temporal flows of these different media platforms, I argue that although these formats seek to manage the experience of boredom by converting it into entertainment and distraction, it is vital to acknowledge the opportunities that these sites might also open up for recognising and tarrying with boredom in a context that seeks to eradicate it. My paper will draw from Vernallis (2014) and Berry (2014) to ask how the temporal and aesthetic dimensions of the loop and the list can work to capture and displace, or alternately to intensify and encourage different responses to, boredom in a digital network culture.

Tina Kendall is Senior Lecturer of Film Studies at Anglia Ruskin University. Her research addresses questions of negative affect, materiality, and ethics, with a particular emphasis on contemporary ‘extreme’ cinemas. Her edited publications include The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to Europe (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), Film-Philosophy’s disgust issue (15.1, 2012), and a forthcoming In Focus on speed in Cinema Journal (55.2, 2016). Her current project focuses on boredom and the attention economy of contemporary media.

The performance of boredom: Practices in Russia’s other new media

Sudha Rajagopalan, University of Amsterdam

Much of the scholarship on Russian digital media has as its focus online engagement and rational debate as a sign of an absent or growing public sphere. Pronouncements that are explicitly political and are to do with regime change form the focus of many studies of post-socialist media. The sensational, the loud and the eminently tweetable image and catchphrase grab scholarly attention. Yet, much of what is out there on the Russian internet defies any kind of rigid categorisation – these are expressions, views, pronouncements and artefacts that are hard to classify, seem to be about nothing in particular, and therefore considered insignificant. Posts about the everyday, visual images that convey bleakness or routine, and tweets that suggest boredom are the stuff of everyday internet conversations and practices in Russia.

This paper looks at boredom that is self-proclaimed, given aesthetic form through a variety of tropes, and organised as such through tags, categories and hashtags on various platforms on the Russian internet. As an exploratory paper, this presentation will encompass a range of examples from the Russian internet that include personal diary entries, visual and textual tweets and social media posts, each of which helps us investigate boredom as a proliferation of digital activity, an aesthetic, and a genre of expression, rather than an emotion that signifies ‘absence’ or disengagement.

This is the ‘other’ new media, one that has made an aesthetic and a virtue of stillness, monotony, inaction, and the absence of focus, at odds with the shrillness and stridency that is celebrated as the promising potential of Russian new media.

Sudha Rajagopalan is Assistant Professor in East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam and has special teaching and research interests in Soviet cultural history and new media cultures. Her current research shifts the focus away from the grand event or pronouncement in Russian new media use – the eminently tweetable – to unremarkable occurrences on the Russian-language internet as acts steeped in politics in their very disavowal of the political. Her work engages with debates on new public spheres, citizenship, affect and emotion, celebrity, identity work and memory and can be seen in publications such as Celebrity Studies, Transformative Works and Culture, South Asian Popular Culture and Journalism Studies, among others.

“We did it for the lulz”: The popular roots of Anonymous’ defiance of traditional political engagement

Daniël de Zeeuw, University of Amsterdam

In liberal-democratic states, explicit political motivation can retrospectively legitimate what would otherwise be considered an illegitimate act, as is the case of civil disobedience. As such it can make the difference between the latter being judged (in the media and/or in an actual courtroom) as criminal, or instead as in the public interest, a genuine expression of freedom of protest and association. Some of Anonymous’ most notorious adherents, however, precisely went into the opposite direction, by claiming, against an overtly political reading of their hacks, that they only “did it for the lulz”.1 Their manifestos, banners and video-messages posted on various platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Piratepad consistently emphasized the factor of “lulz” involved, as against – or at least downplaying – the default media and academic reception of its operations as part and parcel of a hyper-politicized (often techno-libertarian) form of hacktivism.

This raises the question: why was the emphasis on the a- or antipolitical character of their operations perceived, by the actors involved, as of the utmost importance and relevance? What was considered so problematic about a moral or political rendering of their actions?

In this paper I will try to provide an answer to these questions by tracing a short genealogy of the genesis of Anonymous, showing that the topic of political motivation has been repeatedly thematized within the movement itself, dividing it into two camps involved in a culture war on the true identity and aim of Anonymous, which both subsequently claim to represent. Given its roots in the popular image board 4chan, but becoming part of a global wave of protest, Anonymous presents a unique example to study the ways in which the popular can become politicized, but also how this process is critically negotiated within.

My paper will reflect on the main questions posed by the symposium concerning the problematic status of political (dis)engagement in contemporary media culture, through a reading of Anonymous’ self-narration as collectively articulated on the Encyclopedia Dramatica, an open wiki-platform where anons document their past by indexing its most canonized cultural artefacts.

Daniël de Zeeuw studied New Media and Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam, as well as Interaction Design & Unstable Media at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, and co-editor of Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy. Having extensively studied the symbolism of hacktivist pseudo-collective Anonymous, his present research focuses on the politics and aesthetics of anonymity in contemporary media culture, art and activism. Other interests include but are not limited to: piracy, privacy, media art, biopolitics, classical mass psychology, surveillance, conspiracy theories and contemporary critical theory.

Thursday 17 December 15:00-16:30


Gambling, Boredom and Cuteness

Joyce Goggin, University of Amsterdam

Gambling and boredom are intimately and sometimes causally connected, however in the last few decades the nature of their relationship has dramatically changed. As Gerda Reith pointed out in The Age of Chance (1994), casino gambling in plush 19th-century-style settings brought with it plenty of boredom as gamblers waited for the roulette wheel to stop spinning or for the cards to be dealt. But whereas in the past down time in gambling represented an irksome pause between highly charged moments of “action,” contemporary algorithmic machine and on-line gambling is all about the boredom. Hence, rather than thrilling to the vicissitudes of chance, contemporary gamblers seek a quiet, predictable, “zone” (Dow-Schull, 2013) wherein one of two things will happen (win/lose), on a long, hopefully slow continuum, until they have finally depleted their cash supply.

While this paper will address the relationship between so-called “pathological” gambling and boredom, I will also discuss the role that cuteness plays in getting gamers and gamblers into the zone and keeping them there. As scholars have recently pointed out, just as the gambling experience is now less about the highs and lows of winning and losing, it has also become more normalized as gaming and more deeply embedded in narrative and backstory signaled by cute images on EGMs [Electronic Gaming Machines]. In any casino, therefore, one encounters machines boasting a “cutified” connection with “I Dream of Jeanie”, “The Jetsons”, or “Batman”, and the recent development of the OMG Kittensslot machine [VTL] and on-line game now also cements a link between gaming and generalized cuteness as a sort of metanarrative. So not only does OMG Kittens help to get gamers/gamblers into the zone of sustained boredom and serial play by way of backstory, it also intertextually references the endless cute cat videos that have taken over the internet and that help to suture us into an attention economy that keeps us riveted to the screen – and bored.

Joyce Goggin is a senior lecturer in literature at the University of Amsterdam, where she also teaches film and media studies. She has published widely on gambling and finance in literature, painting, comic books, film, TV, and computer games. She is currently researching and writing on casino culture, Las Vegasization and public debt, gamification and the entertainment industries. She was recently appointed to the editorial board of SAGE Publications’ journal Television and New Media, and she is one of the co-editors of The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness. Her most recent articles include, “Opening Shots and Loose Slots,” in Screen, and “Learning finance through fiction: ‘Cecilia’ and the perils of credit”, in the inaugural issue of Finance and Society.

Adult Babies, Tingleheads and ASMRtists: Tracing Infantile Affect in YouTube Communities

Matt Cornell, University of Amsterdam

I investigate how the shift from solid to liquid capitalism and the concurrent rise in affective labor have led to an explosion of infantile phenomena (including preschools and coloring books for adults), the emergence of infantile subjectivities (including the adult baby and the Hollywood manchild) and to new contradictions in gender roles. My talk enters this fraught field with a simple question: what is infantile affect? What does it look, sound and feel like? I offer some tentative answers through analyses of YouTube videos drawn from what Leah Shafer has identified as online “affective communities.”

In this presentation, I will look at clips created by the growing ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) community on YouTube. Critics of Internet culture have argued that social media promotes a culture of short attention span viewing and a hunger for sensational content, but the popularity of this community complicates the picture. ASMR videos typically depict banal activities (such as folding towels, applying makeup or visiting a salon) in long, uninterrupted single takes. While such videos may induce boredom in the uninitiated, the soothing sounds and slow, deliberate movements of the performers (“ASMRtists”) are said to trigger a tingling sensation in some viewer’s heads, helping to induce relaxation and sleep. What can the popularity of these videos uncover about our evolving relationship to time and to commodities? How does the exaggerated gender performance and the emphasis on emotional labor reflect shifts in the nature of work? Finally, how can we trace the flow of infantile affect between the performer and the consumer in these videos?

In addition to the examples shown during my talk I will curate a series of video clips in the exhibition space, which expand on the concept of infantile affect.

Matt Cornell is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. His research focuses on the rise of infantile aesthetics and affects under late capitalism. He recently graduated with honors from the Research Master program in Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. His thesis analyzed cuteness and animality in portraits of ISIS militants posed with cats. He is adapting a chapter of this thesis for a forthcoming anthology on The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness, to be published by Routledge in 2017. His essays have also appeared in Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Jezebel and Overland Journal. In addition to his research, Matt works as a freelance film curator at various venues throughout Amsterdam.

Of Blandness and blending in: Norms, value, and the end(s) of critique

Niels van Doorn, University of Amsterdam

Abstract to come (this will be a public performance of thinking out loud about work in very early stages of progress)

Niels van Doorn is Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. His research traverses themes, disciplines, and settings: from alternative modes of citizenship and black queer worldmaking in Baltimore to the digital configuration of affect, embodiment, sexuality, and value. He has published in journals such as Cultural Studies, New Media & Society, Cultural Politics, and Qualitative Inquiry, and has recently submitted his first book manuscript for review at Duke University Press. His most recent work tries to grasp the different ways in which labor, calculative devices, and value are intermeshed on digital platforms. Together with Professor Ellen Rutten he also chairs the Digital Emotions research collective at the University of Amsterdam, which charts what it might mean for feelings to converge with the form of life that is the digital.