Originally posted at The American Sun
I was enjoying the show at the Capitol the other day, however like so many others I simply viewed it as a performative act. Not one that’s meaningless, but out of desperation. Nonetheless the Capitol building is a symbolic space of power. There’s optics to be spoken of, all kinds of perspectives that will surely be more revealing than anything I have to say about it as someone who viewed it as a noble but ultimately tragic attempt at a desire that people really need. It was pleasant to see how weak the nobility was, cowering on the floor as their candy drawer got raided and some guy took an empty envelope, though ultimately it ran out steam, they became the dog that caught the car, and in a relatively orderly fashion (and with respect to the velvet rope), they walked out. It was a wonderful spectacle, but outside of cracking jokes with my dear friends on Twitter, nothing really electrified me in any serious manner until something rather silly happened— Twitch released the following statement:
Yes, they removed the PogChamp emote, and for the explicit reason of what was happening at the Capitol building.
Let me be clear about several things. The first of which is that I’m not trivializing the despair felt by the base that stormed the building, you’ll see soon enough in a few paragraphs that this is directly related to that. Secondly I understand a woman was killed by a hideous gunshot wound and that there’s potentially more serious injuries or fatalities that are unclear at the time of this writing. These things are serious to me, so despite how seemingly silly this might seem, please continue on to see how I genuinely think that this “emote” being banned is not only potentially of equal consequence, but eerily parallel.
It’s likely not necessary to go into detail about what Twitch is, but for anyone that hasn’t kept up with the platform, it’s a streaming website in which “content creators” stream typically video games and engage with their viewers, however you may not be aware that recently Twitch’s largest category is their newer “Just Chatting” category, in which people do real-life streaming of any mundane thing like eating or doing makeup, or chat about topics— in their room or out in the world.
Twitch is largely the home of a lot of teenagers, however it’s truly an all-ages platform. Their main squeeze is the eternally-coveted 16-24 demographic by advertisement that has been elusive until recently. The largest streamers will have thousands upon thousands of viewers, with their chat (the viewers) essentially developing their own culture as a hivemind. So vast and so rapid are the memes and essentially chains of fragmented communication, that Twitch has developed a new type of syntax that’s permeating throughout the internet, with PogChamp essentially being a universal show of excitement, whether it be ironic or not. It’s an utterly beloved sign, but my interest here is Twitch as a medium— an environment.
Twitch in my estimation is absolutely within the realm of McLuhan’s understanding of “the medium is the message”, or that the virtual environment that is an extension of our conscious body is paramount more so than the content that moves and inhabits its space. Twitch in a lot of ways is an Island of Misfit Toys. While there’s an innocence in just watching your friend playing Zelda or something on it, Twitch is effectively a cult-leader driven environment. They fully control their small shard of the environment, and within the terms of service, they fully foster and cultivate a following that loyally becomes a member of a perceived ingroup— at scale being a parasocial relationship in which thousands of viewers are shards assembling an esoteric collective message that is within the syntactical parameters that is cultivated by the streamer, the cult leader.
A lot of these quasi-environments within Twitch have leaders that are quite damaged people themselves, but ultimately still fulfill the role of being a friend simulator for people— predominantly young men— that are totally and absolutely alienated from society. Note that I’m not trying to pull the Gamergate move of portraying all these people as loser incels, but for the Twitch power user, they are typically alienated young men that feel like they have no voice and no place— spending countless hours integrating themselves into an esoteric pool of sharded communication moving too fast to even read, just intuit.
This obviously has cascaded out into other platforms (environments) like Twitter and Youtube, but its home was on Twitch. So when we see people fighting their way into the symbolic nexus of power that is the Capitol building (walking in more so), it revealed something to me, that the esoteric-virtual syntax in combination with the coding of people’s archetypes moves within the digital-control matrix so quickly that it’s totally without friction.
Work backwards to Gamergate— an event that at its core was tuned-out zoomers/millennials perceived what they thought was an intrusive, clandestine, and corrosive subversion of their medium— their environment, with agents that seemingly had the levers of media, academia, and various organizations behind it in order to evangelize their space. Whether or not this is fully the truth, this is the general perception of that group of people. This led to several things, which are webbed together:
- Incel coding – that these people are virgin losers with no friends and in their incel rage, are lashing out at (largely) women entering their medium.
- Right-wing reactionary coding – that since these people are against proclaimed-progressive elements trying to exert influence in their medium, they must be in total opposition to all ideas by those who launched the media campaign. (This was seen as cynical at the time and part of the nefarious perception).
- General SJW awareness and the Jordan Peterson phenomena – this is such a wide topic that you’ll need to consult your memory. I was largely ask you to be aware of Peterson adding a kind of spiritual understanding of young alienation for this group concerned with Gamergate. (Peterson has his problems, at least with me, but nonetheless this is the genealogy)
- Comics and Film – This suddenly became the next battleground, with the same kind of Gamergater, which is now firmly coded as an incel, brought up the same concerns from the prior
- General political activation and MAGA – This group woke up to the world outside
This could be better listed but it’s the needed points for this piece, you can surely add several of your own. The key point here is that within the giant web of political affiliations and ideologies, there is a line with the explicit telos of incel gamers and MAGA people in terms of battlegrounds for cultural discourse. Since so much of this takes place in virtualized spaces, it immediately found its way home to the alienated gamer pool at the Island of Misfit Toys. What was the vessel?
It’s not a performative act of petty power that Twitch, owned by Amazon, removed the symbol for showing excitement and the unifying sign of triumph. On some level outside of just liability for their emoji being used in some weird political spectacle, they understand that this symbol is a sign of power for the disillusioned. It doesn’t have to be a serious one that goes back thousands of years like a Roman salute, it’s simple and has levity in its power. When thousands of PogChamps flood a sea of undecipherable noise, it is more powerful than language and directs the attention of all witnesses towards the action warranting the excitement and the triumph. Thousands of broken shards immediately part in way of a stream of PogChamp when an act of exciting triumph has been achieved. It was silenced and taken as a form of suppression and punishment from what many today see as the catalyst for the discourse of the last several years, warranted or not. They took their magic from them. They crumbled the tower of Babel and condemned them to not have a common tongue. It’s back to endless babbling and sharded spam, because it removes them of power.
I’ll let the dear readers of this to use their own judgement in considering how important this actually is and what it really signals in terms of content, but we’re returning to environment, and friction within that environment— more specifically the lack of it.
If you think all this is silly, so be it, but know this— it is the content that’s silly, but the changes within the medium are not. If you take away one thing from this entire piece then have it be the following:
That the institutions which are the superstructure of our virtual environments can impact and control the vast memetic syntax across several mediums and demographics almost instantaneously. This is typically something that would have trickled down over time. Culture is likely downstream from power (a debated statement but my position), and after this symbolic interruption of power, we would typically expect there to be consequences over time. There was no time, it was simultaneous.
When I say friction, I mean a type of resistance. Friction in that it takes time to get there, and not only that but the friction in terms of communication would typically, over time, morph and be a cascading impact. The way it went down is that even something as silly-seeming as Twitch is still FULLY integrated both within the institutional-control matrix and with mass discourse, and both were affected and acted accordingly.
This is a demonstration in how fast that line I drew above in the coding section moved backwards to its point of genesis. The Twitch element in this isn’t all that important, what’s important is that if you understand it as a large environment for the disillusioned, you can extrapolate the same results across all other environments that they inhabit, all with different contexts and consequences. Twitch, and thus Amazon, funny enough IS the real house of power more than the symbolic one the Capitol building is. Go take down an Azure or AWS Datacenter and watch how fast you’ll get fucking annihilated. Data centers are a real nexus of power in which the means of production would be interrupted, and heavily.
You need to visualize this as the doctor using the little rubber hammer on your knee, except the leg is the size of the globe and has thousands of feet that kick up. The hammer is the catalyst, but the feet are the environments that are affected. I showed you the results of one foot that kicked up immediately, and though you might find it silly, pay attention to the others that kick and have more dire consequences.
Personally I’ll say a little eulogy for PogChamp, I’ve posted a few in the channels of my fellow TEKKEN players. Watch the reaction to the zoomers on this thing. On some level, they’re going to associate the fact that they are in a total matrix of control from this just a little bit more, and if you don’t think that’s meaningful, then that’s pretty WeirdChamp.