Ah, the internet! It’s democratized the arts, destroyed those evil gatekeepers, and finally made it possible for everyone to be heard! It has allowed people to form communities, to find new friends, to find audiences that they might never have had. Thanks to the internet, all that stands between you and success is yourself. If only you would put the kind of effort you put into a McDonald’s job into promoting yourself, you too could become as successful as the kind of people who tell you these things imagine that they’re going to be.
And if it doesn’t work? Well, then it must be a conspiracy. It’s either the liberal media elite and the nanny state or the institutionalized anti-your-group-ism that has plagued society since the beginning of history. They hate you because you’re the first woman to speak about injustice, or because your radical vision of a society dedicated to free market principles is something that corporate-backed politicians could never accept. It’s the oppressive patriarchal libertarian communist pro-gay anti-trans quasi-brony meta-epistemological sheeple-led brocialist conspiracy of the Federal Reserve, reading your tweets and deciding, based on your dating profile, that you must be kept down.
Or maybe there’s just too much shit.
Maybe the internet is just drowning in shit, because removing the gatekeepers is like opening the sewers onto the streets and letting it all flow. Everyone has the freedom to publish, but no-one has an audience. In fact, everyone is encouraged to publish, as if publishing was somehow inherently good, as if you must produce to have value, as if it’s bad to observe and enjoy. A prison in which everyone is locked in separate cells and communicates by screaming is not a society, it’s social media. It’s not that either cream rises to the top or turds do, it’s that we’re swimming in a chunky, frothy cocktail of both. We value identity over ability and profit over quality, but it’s not just that. It’s not just our values, because even when you know what you want, it’s not easy to find it in the flood of incoherent, unfocused babble that is the internet.
Oh, I’m not complaining. I’m luckier than a lot of people.
But dear God, are we bullshitting ourselves. The internet is like a monument to broken dreams. If you put something out there, even something absolutely fucking brilliant, chances are it will just sink. It is, after all, competing against everything else on the net, from the newest piece of geek-targeted marketing disguised as news on some trashy gaming website to the newest porn extravaganza that will be denounced as the end of morality or celebrated as the height of feminist self-fulfilment. The internet under capitalism is not like a bookshop, it’s like a garbage dump, and we’re the semi-cannibalistic seagulls who live there and have never seen the sea.
How many abandoned blogs are out there? How many of them are brilliant, utterly deserving of a large audience? I don’t know, because finding out would mean having to read a billion pages of mind-numbing idiocy. I can barely keep up with the few blogs I do follow, and sometimes I stop reading a blog because I can already see it bleeding readers, because I don’t want to watch it die.
The existence of the dreaded gatekeepers didn’t stop Mary Wollstonecraft or W. E. B. Du Bois from getting published – what would happen to their work today? Maybe it would be successful. Or maybe it would just be an obsessively-read blog that would peter out after a year or so, to become another buried piece of trash in the great garbage dump.
No, things were not brilliant in the past and they’re not hopeless now. But we’ve really got to be a lot more careful about the ideological bullshit we feed ourselves as we waste away in front of our monitors. The internet is certainly not the best thing that has ever happened to art. It’s not freedom and potential and rainbow-coloured fetish gear for unicorns. Well, it might be the latter. But it’s as dominated by the idiotic contradictions of late capitalism as everything else. It can help you, but it can also eat your babies.