Saturday, August 20, 2005

The affect of Vice. Now, everyone knows I'm obsessed with hipsterism. My relationship to the phenomenon is complicated. On the one hand, I despise it. But I love hipsters' relationship to pop culture, which to some extent I share. And I have realised lately that hipsterism is a key topic within my research projects on 'urban' club culture and street style. It might even be the link. Saige was telling me this week that she has just had one of those epiphanies that ties everything together. And Mehmet was saying to her, "I hate you! I hate you! You've had a breakthrough and I haven't!"

Last week I decided to write my CSAA paper about how hipster club culture balances irony and affect. I have always used the term 'affect' in the same general way I use other academic terminology like 'discourse' and 'interpellation', but I realised that I needed to come to an actual theoretical understanding of affect so I can work out how to incorporate it into my Frankenstein of a methodology, which I have just now decided to call 'corporealinguistics' because I likes me a neologism.

I also want to develop a more theorised understanding of phenomenology, which, again, is something I've been gesturing towards. I have had conversations with Saige and McCrea about this (the latter, which I can't recall at all because I was so very drunk, led to me bounding onto the karaoke stage and saying into the mic, "Sorry, sorry... I was talking about phenomenology!")

So I realised I had to go back. Way back. On campus. It was quite hard to get back into a once familiar groove of academic research, because now I have no library borrowing privileges and am out of practice with the convoluted argot in which the material is written. I was not sure where to start, but decided to begin with Lawrence Grossberg's "Postmodernity and Affect: All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go". I can draw you a little map of the ideas I'm trying to corral, if you like.

I have realised that despite many earnest conversations with Gemma and Vin Rouge, I really had never conceptualised the role blogging would play in my more 'academic' thinking and research. I had never really even thought through how I was going to use my rudimentary theorising abilities outside an academic context. This isn't a research blog, where fragmentary thoughts are posted for feedback. And my blogging practice is completely counter-intuitive to the essay-drafting process. I just sit here and type it all straight in. This means that everything posted here is only ever my first thought, and the connections I make in these posts are only ever the ones that occur to me during the first act of writing.

God, I feel like Homer Simpson referring to a spoon as a "tool used to dig food". Despite these shortcomings, I think it's important to use this space to work through my ideas, even if I can only do that in the spastic, intuitive, groping way that has marked my entire academic career. So I have a few posts up my sleeve about various topics that I've been thinking about lately. The best place to start might be Vice.

I want to explore the complex affective responses that Vice magazine itself inspires. I despise the magazine's politics, its deliberately shocking writing style and aesthetic. Now you might recall that a while back, the Ban Bali website was hacked into and redirected to a well-known site called, which is a picture of a girl lying in a bathtub spurting diarrhoea into her own mouth. I assume Tubgirl is akin to Goatse Man in internet notoriety terms. When we looked at it from work, Misha described it as "the worst thing I have ever seen." And it's a pretty disgusting image. But the thing that struck me was that it was a very Vice image. There was something really over-determined in its abjection.

Then I saw this image in the Dos and Don'ts:

Am I the only one getting hard thinking about this hairy little bitch? Look at those shoes! Can you imagine those next to your ears as you just plowed into her tiny little cat vagina? You could be grabbing her perfectly round pink tits (they protrude out of the fur kind of like a gorilla chest) and she’d be batting her eyelashes and puckering her lips like the dirty little slut that she is. What a tease!
Vintage Vice. I was actually talking about this image last night at the Rabelais launch, but I can't remember exactly what was said. But I remember saying something about abjection. Think about all the pictures you've ever seen of people spewing on themselves and others, passed out in compromising positions, stretching the limitations of their bodies in various 'gross' ways. The Vice trademark is a sense of 'wrongness' that is so outrageous that your defence mechanism is to assume it's ironic.

But it's played so straight that you can't take refuge in irony.

So can you see where I'm going here? For Jameson, irony is characterised by the waning of affect - a proliferation of meanings that ultimately results in meaninglessness. But affect is key to the Vice effect. The magazine aims to provoke, and furthermore this provocation is a tool of distinction. If you aren't troubled by Vice's abject discursive mode and find it funny instead, you are cool. If you are troubled by it, you are obviously a humourless dick.

This is why the line between the Dos and Don'ts is so thin. It's a permanent deferral of distinction. The only way of knowing you're cool is to continue to allow the magazine to provoke these uneasy feelings of wrongness. But those feelings are never affirmed or vindicated. I mean, Vice may joke about cat-fucking. But just look at the Tamarama bunny-fucker - couldn't he just be a hipster who just took it a little too far?

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