I will Not Rest Until Every Coal Car in America is Covered with Politigram Memes.
Posted by <Nick Bird> on 2022-10-15
A friend of mine (who I will not reveal the name or pseudonym of), is an avid American graffiti writer who is quite well-respected within the subculture/community. He said the following once to me when we were chatting about why he does what he does pretty much word for word:
“I know for a fact that will not rest until every damn coal car in America has [REDACTED PSEUDONYM] proudly emblazoned on the side of it. I get nothing back for this other than the satisfaction of knowing that some poor cat in Arkansas will one day be forced to look at my shit pass by over and over again while he waits impatiently at a slow railroad crossing on his way home from work. That’s the funny thing… Graffiti doesn’t give anything tangible back to you. It only takes, and then takes some more”.
When he said this, I could see his face light up with the same sort of passionate fervor that Joe Rogan might describe Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with or something. He made it very clear that this was his thing.
Graffiti writers are not a monolith, but most of them share a fascinatingly obsessive concern with maximizing visibility, both through strategic location choice and through sheer quantity. The freight car is consequently considered to be the ideal, and most prestigious canvas on account of the fact that it is not static, and can thus appear in front of people across the continent, so much so that novice graffitists are warned to stay away from train yards until they have made a name for themselves and reached a certain standard of artistic quality by more experienced elements of the community. Despite all this, they are perfectly content with anonymity. If you paint trains, signs, and buildings, and the world finds out your real name, you cease to be a graffitist and instead become a “street artist”.
In 2022, Joshua Citarella showed quite explicitly in “How to Plant a Meme”, that in the world of online memes, clout is only an advantage for front-end distributors and NOT for producers:
“In this new map of social media, you don’t need followers. (In fact, they’re a liability! more follows = more reports) The meta-game is now to influence the influencers. You want to remain small so that you don’t become a source of competition.” (Citarella, 2022)
Real memetic production is a lifestyle that only takes, and then takes some more. The only thing you get back for this is the satisfaction of knowing that some poor cat on Instagram will be forced to look at your shit about how Jake Paul is a trans-historical courier of Deleuzo-Landian acceleration who will indirectly and unconsciously usher in Neo-Fisher’s arrival from the future through his systematic pugilistic destruction of the enemies of Dark Hyper-Socialism (In Minecraft) while he scrolls impatiently through his feed on his train ride home from work. You know for a fact that you will not rest until every niche internet micro-celebrity in Cyberspace has reposted your dystopian satire meme about Posthuman Andrew Tate-Bot’s Robux-based virtual forex trading course (0.005 BTC).
“Memers” can shape the world of online idea propagation, but they do not do so as they please. If the graffitist is at the mercy of train routes, the meme producer is at the mercy of the algorithm. In both cases, it is an advantage to be in a state of unconscious but obsessive harmony with the fluid dynamics of information, commodities and people within and between social spaces. The substantive difference between the two activities lies in the semiotics of the messaging (And of course the distributive and artistic mediums). Graffiti usually seeks to contribute to a mostly ideologically inert collage of beautifully painted pseudonyms that are content with existing for the sake of headstrong urban decoration while memes often aspire to convey, generate, categorize or even negate specific ideas with intentionality. The mentality of the producers is fundamentally the same though. Create works of folk art semi-anonymously, insert them into traffic, hope for the best. Rinse and repeat.
This is the real free marketplace of ideas. The algorithm does a remarkable job of displaying our collective unconsciousnesses. It generates the weltgeists of digital culture by curating folk media for us and by us with mechanical efficiency. The picture it paints for us, as long as it isn’t fetishized, has immense sociological and political value I think. It is a sacred positive duty to produce memetic input with the same zeal that fuels the graffitist’s never ending quest to paint his city. The tech-companies will sell us the algorithm with which we will meme them. The revolution may not be televised but perhaps it can be reposted.
Seriously though, you will never “meme someone into the presidency” despite the utterly laughable claims that this is what happened with Donald Trump in 2016, but still, as “How to Plant a Meme” proved, digital signs don’t have to simply reflect existing cultural forms, but can actually be their progenitors. If Bird’s can be not real, if a man with a unibrow can be inserted into your dreams, if the Amazon sales for “Capitalist Realism” by Mark Fisher can spike in a way that appears to be random and organic to most, years after the date it was published, then who knows what else can be achieved via semiotic algorithm symbiosis. Maybe pizza can become an officially recognized human right or something. In any case, however positive or sinister the content of the messaging ends up being (Care should be taken to make sure the message is positive of course), it seems like the graffitist mentality of a productive death drive for the sake of folk art is a “major key” as the philosopher DJ Khaled might say. The only way to grasp these potentialities is to responsibly probe and play around more like mad social scientists in our secret labs full of computers with creative softwares installed on them (or at least an iPhone with the mematic app). This is what we will do then. It can take, and then take some more from us as much as it wants and we will nevertheless not stop until every coal car in Cyberspace has Mark Fisher’s face on a Politigram meme proudly emblazoned on its side.