>>>…|||>>>|>?… Pop, Geekdom & MAFS

in an interview with Simon Denny, Quinn Slobodian identifies 2 of what Denny calls sub-art worlds, of people “programming at big cultural institutions, and museums especially, rather than galleries”:

  1. “culturally engaged art plugging directly into marginalised identities and oppressed groups”…
  2. another genre which “delves into the intersection of libertarian thought collectives and technologically enabled forms of subjectivity”…

the question I have is, Is that where the money is? or, Is that where the heat, energy is?

…at least, I don’t think it can be claimed that it is where the heart is.

… >>>where is the heart?

Both Denny and Slobodian address the issue of their own work being taken as an endorsement of their subject, the intersection of libertarian thought collectives and technologically enabled forms of subjectivity. In Denny’s case this went as far as Peter Thiel buying work featuring Peter Thiel, in Slobodian to his book Crack-Up Capitalism being adopted in libertarian circles. Perhaps this says more about technologically enabled subjectivities than it does about libertarian thought collectives, subjectivities that would in the first case be fluid than the thought collectives were in the second sticky.

… |||> is this the only option for as Slobodian says “white guys like us”? or otherwise should “white guys like us” accept it as their lot and have their hearts at and be at home in the intersection of libertarian thought collectives and technologically enabled subjectivities?

… >|>and what about the critical attitude that it is assumed art-critically that they have towards their subject?

Is it a question like Hal Foster says about Pop of taking a relatively “uninflected” view of its subject and of this being, this somewhat masculinist objectivity being, a kind of camp take on the sentimental histrionics surrounding, for instance, the Futurist project–which stoked the masculinist assumptions of the post-war avant-garde and the pretensions of serious art, pretensions that Pop would pop?

Or is it more simply in the playing out of these assumptions that this “uninflected” view and attitude of neutrality and position even of objectivity towards its subject consists? Nothing left to pop now but these assumptions …

after-Pop, like an appendix to Camp, surviving, that no longer has an evolutionary purpose so that the attitude it inspired no longer remembers it was Camp?

? … do “white guys like us” have nothing more at stake than being identified with the libertarian host on which their art or writing is parasitic? (particularly when the host seems to like the attention, like sharks enjoying that of remoras).

Foster in the big book Pop!, 2010, talks about, starting in the mid-50s, Pop giving space for the little revelations, the trivial epiphanies of commodity culture and mass-produced objects. It plays off its seriousness with sexiness and humour. A sexy humour is perhaps the essence of Camp, the lie that tells the truth speaking to the fluidity of sexual identity while not-so-much to that of technologically enabled subjectivities and being completely out of sorts with the sticky territories of libertarian think-tanky type thinking.

…> then, isn’t this whole discussion super geeky? shouldn’t “white guys like us” be amended to geeks like us?

|||>… riding on the back of that question: doesn’t technologically enabled subjectivity name the geek? and isn’t it as a result of same technologically enablement, by way of a sort of contagion, by tech vectors, that geekdom spreads out and makes claims for its own seriousness, defending its precariousness, its constitutive fluidity, its flakeyness with a politicised morality that has many similarities with antipolitical libertarianism? staking out a similar sticky territory? … this is one that Naomi Klein will call the Mirror World in Doppelganger, 2023.

…| the trivial, the mass-produced thing, the anti-art and pro-commercial-culture and at-once anti-commercial-culture (generally where the heat has been, generated from the friction between assent to Capitalism-as-it-is-perceived and dissent from it) deserves serious attention = Pop. Serious Attention is what is reserved for Things to be Valued (and priced accordingly). Serious Attention is a reflective surface, a Mirror Stage (surmounting the Void), in which those who pay it are reflected. It’s not really play. … and it’s no longer Pop because it has no bodies, protests its sex but is not sexual or sexy, except as technologically enabled. Funny.

Serious Attention is what participants (or contestants) in Married At First Sight Australia give to the task of ranking the partners’ photos of the other participants (or contestants) in order of “how attractive they are” to them. The men, at least, go about it geekily. They get seriously wound up in the assessment process. Series 2024 has no gay couples, so it’s all men ranking women, women ranking men; and then placing their own newly married partner(-contestant)’s photo according to how they rank against the others.

As a rule the male party goes first. He sets the photos of all the other newly married women in order of most to least attractive to him. He might say things like, she’s my type, which might mean the type he’d pick out and try to pick up in a bar for a prospective sexual partner, but he tends to go no deeper than looks. He ranks all the photos. Once all of them are stuck in the order he’s happy with (and when the ranking is complete, he may make amendments, stroking his chin…) on the wall in a row, he picks up the photo of his new wife.

His eyes dart from her photo to the photos of the other wives on the wall. By now he may be so caught up in his task that he forgets his new wife is there. Then he ranks her. Music builds. This is the denouement.

His new wife takes his Serious Attention, his geeky application to the task, to be honesty.

She is suitably upset at her ranking of third-equal to say, I don’t know if there’s any coming back from this … She is despite herself or because of herself upset. And he either realises or does not.

He does not know why she’s upset. He defends his ranking. His heart is beating fast now in defensive confusion.

M. said watching the show that the men show moral piggishness.

When the wives come to the task they invariably rank their new husbands at the top. To them their new husbands are more attractive than all the others. So, who’s being dishonest?

Is anybody?

Do the wives show more emotional intelligence? Or is it out of consideration for their new husbands’ lack of it that they rank them top? And even in this condescension, taking consideration of their husbands’ feelings, are they not showing more emotional intelligence than the men?

MAFS reserves its statement on the issue for the following night’s episode, when the men we’d been led to think are players, who have “girlfriends on the outside” (of the game), or did when they ought not to have, when they were applying for inclusion in the “experiment” of having an arranged marriage on TV, get to do the task.

The players, the cads, the lying and dishonest men, who may have had girlfriends when the experiment began or who may still, rank their own new wives top. Then they preen.

They show emotional smarts. But is it honest?

The player-husbands, who may be playing at being husbands, are essentially playing the game better than the honest but morally piggish ones. But are they doing the experiment properly?

… there is room (surmounting the Void) for reflexivity for both husbands and wives. Both equally could be calculating. HOWEVER…

the new wives by no means go about the ranking-by-attraction task the same way.

For the men there is a critical space that opens up, giving room for reflexivity whether any occurs or not, a distance, allowing them both to stand back from the task as from the object of their task as much as from the object of their attraction. The women here are objects like the the intersection of libertarian thought collectives and technologically enabled forms of subjectivity was the subject of artistic representation named by Slobodian.

Slobodian asks Denny:

When you’re making works, are you attracted first by the aesthetic of something, and then you find the ideology inside of it? Or are you out looking for an ideology and what that might look like aesthetically?

Denny answers first one way then the other. His practice seems to deal with mirror-effects between what it looks like and what it is that it is trying to hide it is.

The most salient question seems to be, Where do you stand on this?

should it be clear? should it be implicit? should it be disavowed (as a redundant or recidivist question and one anyway that has no bearing on the realities of the day when the name of the game is to win it)? should it be deliberately or strategically muddied?

and, what about when the muddying is already strategically clear, deliberate as well as implicit and disavowed in the subject or object? as with Finance Minister Nicola Willis’s “Address to the NZ Economics Forum,” 15 Feb. 2024, the full text of which is here.

It could be repeated word for word with only an inflection here and there to show it is a fresh skin on a dead carcass.


the risk would be run of repeating it at all.

[cited interview “Fantasy Exit,” Simon Denny and Quinn Slobodian, Art News, Futures special issue No200, Summer 2023, pp. 85-91]