[Air-L] the case for critical commons

Charles Ess charles.ess at gmail.com
Thu Feb 4 23:20:30 PST 2010

Hi all,

While I appreciate a number of elements in the essay, and am genuinely
grateful for some of the elucidation it offers - I still think it misses
some important points.
There are some nits to pick, if we had world enough and time (e.g., while
the general case seems to me to be strongly made, I'm not at all sure every
quote supports the interpretation/claim made along the way) - but let me
rather return to what I took to be the larger focus of the thread.
1.  While I recognize and appreciate Alex's effort to be charitable when he
characterizes my response to the meme as "somewhat misinformed" - I think a
more accurate characterization would be "differently informed."
Perhaps I'm stuck in seeing things through the lenses of hermeneutics, but
it seems to me that part of the discussion here is how we interpret what
amount to texts.  From my perspective, one of the values of the thread was
that it made abundantly clear that there are (at least) two very different
sets of interpretations of this material - one that understands it as deeply
embedded in a long and very complex cultural history, and a second that sees
it disconnected from that language and history. As rather thoroughly rooted
in the former perspective, I can understand the reading offered and defended
by those such as Alex and others who inhabit the second perspective.  I
don't take their perspective, however, as "somewhat misinformed" - just
differently informed.
2.  Is the video funny or not?
Again, my hermeneutical viewpoint says that it clearly depends on
That said, perhaps I can make it somewhat clearer as to why I, and a least a
few others of us (though I don't claim to speak for them, of course) - while
understanding (I think) the perspective of those who do find it funny - just
can't bring myself to laugh.
If I have the Danish right (no promises there), a recent theatre piece in
Copenhagen includes the portrayal of a gang rape of a young girl.
(Danish readers can find this under the title of "Perversionernes hus byder
indenfor: Sexslaver bliver bevogtet af militante vagter i mystisk villa på
Østerbro" / <http://ibyen.dk/scene/anmeldelser/article892024.ece>)
There is an accompanying video which shows some of the less appalling scenes
(depending on your tastes, I suppose - how funny is apparently forced anal
intercourse?) - but they leave out the scene described by the author who
Hvorfor skal jeg gå ind og se en ung pige blive massevoldtaget af syv mænd,
så hun til sidst ligger tilbage som en jamrende klump med blodigt underliv?
Roughly: Why should I go in and see a young girl violently raped by seven
men, until she at last falls back as a crying lump with a bloody lower body?

I wonder: if we had the video of this scene - could someone take it and turn
it into a funny meme along the lines of the Hitler video?
For anyone who has been touched by violence - or the threat of violence -
including sexual violence, against women, I doubt that there would be much
way to do so.
FWIW: my reaction to the Hitler meme is somewhat close to what I imagine my
reaction to such a potential meme would be.  Pardon my limitations, but I
simply can't separate out the complex of Hitler from the complex of mass
atrocities, etc. - any more than, after having discovered how many of my
women friends have been the victims of male violence, I can laugh at jokes
that involve such violence.
That's just my perspective, of course.  For those who can make such a
separation in the Hitler case at least - terrific.
3.  But finally - and Alex, if I'm missing something in your article, please
correct me - all of this misses what I thought was the central point. The
entire thread began with the subject heading "the case for critical
Perhaps it's just my silly, old-school training in logic, but "case" implies
for me an argument - and as I reiterated, I thought the bloody thing failed
Christian Fuchs elaborates on this nicely - but Alex cites Jeremy who argues
(!) that this is not the way to read the meme. (So, again, we seem to be
having a discussion (which will, of course, entail more arguments and thus
logic, whether good or bad) about how to read/interpret the production,
i.e., a discussion about hermeneutics.)
Insofar as my interpretation of the thread - that the meme is an intended
argument - can be defended, then I repeat the point: for me, at least, it
fails as an argument.
Not only, in my view, does the meme work only by way of making false
analogies - it further only works, so far as I can tell, as an exercise in
ad hominem, i.e., an attack against the person, not (as would be needed), a
critique of any argument.  Only crazed dictators would believe or seek to
defend the claim that there might be something of value in what is now
dismissed as old-school, print-based scholarship and learning.
Just to be clear: whatever the merits of the _case(s)_ to be made here -
i.e., whether or not good arguments can be made either in favor of or
against print-based learning and scholarship, or, for that matter whether or
not good arguments can be made either in favor of or against
electronic/digitally based approaches -
however funny it may be (for some, perhaps many) to compare the bearer of
those arguments with Hitler, the humor itself does not tell us anything
about the in/validity of those arguments.
FWIW: I in fact am willing to argue that print-based scholarship and
learning have certain strengths and affordances that are missing in their
digital counterparts - just as I'm willing, for what it's worth, to argue
the same for the digital counterparts.
But as the thread unfolded, whatever arguments might have been made one way
or another didn't get made. Perhaps it was in part because we got distracted
by the question of humor - perhaps it was in part because the video was
indeed effect, as ad hominem arguments often are: anyone who wants to make
an argument in favor of print-based scholarship and learning now starts as
enframed as a ranting dictator.
Won't slow me down ... But it does strike me as worrisome that we don't ever
seem to have gotten to the case for critical commons in genuinely
argumentative terms.
Those arguments are important - indeed, I think they're among the most
crucial we can be examining at this juncture.  Please, let's have the
argument - the case - instead of getting  distracted, if not entirely
misled, by a meme that otherwise makes it so easy to simply dismiss any
arguments contrary to such as case as merely the rants of a crazed dictator?

Hope this helps - again, thanks to Alex for his work and to all for your
contributions to this thread.
- charles

On 2/3/10 3:10 AM, "Alex Leavitt" <alexleavitt at gmail.com> wrote:

> Wrote up an essay about this thread and the Hitler Meme phenomenon. Goes
> through the history of and reactions to the video, as well as the
> implications of memetics outside of online subculture:
> *Memes as Mechanisms: How Digital Subculture Informs the Real World
> *
> http://www.convergenceculture.org/weblog/2010/02/memes_as_mechanisms_how_digit
> a.php
> http://bit.ly/9aCdry
> Would love feedback if anyone has some.
> Alex Leavitt
> ---
> Alexander Leavitt
> Research Specialist, Convergence Culture Consortium
> Comparative Media Studies, MIT
> http://doalchemy.org
> Twitter: @alexleavitt
> On Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 3:43 AM, Ren Reynolds <ren at aldermangroup.com> wrote:
>> Hitler finds out about the iPad:
>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQnT0zp8Ya4
>> ren
>> Ren Reynolds FRSA
>> --8<--
>> web: www.renreynolds.com
>> Think Tank: www.virtualpolicy.net
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>> m (UK): +44(0) 7778 285 273
>> m (US, only when I¹m there): +1 646-417-0641
>> Skype: RenZephyr
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>> twitter.com/RenZephyr
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