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NPCC, Memetides, Incels, Rute Merk, Deanna Havas, Sven Loven, Black Dean Kissick, Angelicism Film01
Last month when Tai was still in town we went to this film screening in Chinatown put on by the NPCC crew (the anti-woke film fest people), and the film was a compilation of Vine and TikTok videos curated by a bunch of downtown-and-adjacent Instagram meme accounts. “Me, Me: An Art Show for the Internet Age,” it was called, and the flyer listed all the collaborators who sent in their favorite clips of viral video content, some of them real deep cuts, but all of it essentially just internet detritus. There was only one true “host” on the flyer, and that was Peter Vack, or rather his Instagram handle, TheMasterOfCum. I was interested in seeing Peter because I hadn’t run into him at all since publishing “Spring of Narcissus,” and I had some morbid curiosity about his reaction to that. But Peter didn’t show up, only his phantom likeness at the beginning of the film, his face ghost white, upside-down in a straightjacket like he’s the Joker in prison, reciting a poem in this robotic computer voice, head and lips moving in uncanny AI-generated movements. The poem was full of inside joke references to scenester meme artists, “shoutout to Memetides,” “shoutout to Brad Troemel,” shit like that, a lot of talk about the libidinal economy of internet clout, and there was this one line that was like “when Dimes Square beat the fascism allegations” and Tai and I both cracked up at that, which I guess was supposed to be our own shoutout. I remember that Memetides guy (real name Forrest, and he’s the guy introducing the “Me, Me” film at this screening) was a participant in the humiliation ritual last year and wrote his own Substack post in response to my account. I think the Peter poem went on for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, and then the rest was Vine/TikTok videos, which is sort of like just the normal experience of scrolling TikTok, but rather than seeing an arbitrary algorithm mashup, we see an exquisite collection hand-picked by some of New York’s most clouted internet experts—we can be sure that this is only the finest and most sophisticated content, for the city’s most exclusive and discerning tastemakers.
Afterwards Tai and I were smoking outside on East Broadway and we met some writers for the communist online magazine Cosmonaut who were visiting from out of town. They seemed to be the only other “leftists” there. They told us that the previous night they had seen a bunch of DSA kids in Brooklyn put on Brecht’s The Measures Taken. All around us was the usual indifferent hubbub of Chinatown.
“Well, you just got a pure, undiluted look at some primo downtown scene bourgeois ideology,” I told them, “this is it, the decadent reactionary avant-garde happening in New York you’ve heard so much about.”
“They don’t look too bourgeois to me,” said one of the writers, looking at the crowd’s typical assortment of greasy hipsters, “more like lumpen-bourgeois. Some vanguard this is.”
Hardly an unusual dismissal, especially among the few other leftists I cross paths with in these scene spaces, but it’s also ironically one that manages to restate the simplest defense of this scene’s art—that none of this really matters, that nothing’s at stake, these people are powerless, just a bunch of kids with personality disorders who went to RISD or Parsons or Bennington and now live in New York and they’re just having fun, it’s just a little innocent fun, just a little celebration of our shared enthrallment with the spectacle of social media, an idle whimsy, just our favorite viral videos (no, not those videos, not the edgy videos, the snuff videos of cops murdering people that incite mass action in the streets—we mean these videos of googly-eyed twinks biting their lips and looking coy at the camera…), we’re actually self-aware, we’re poking fun at how narcissistic we are, a narcissism that happens to be emblematic of society in general, so yeah it’s a social critique but it’s not that deep, first as tragedy then as farce and we’re at the meta-farce by now, don’t take it so seriously, it’s actually ridiculous to historicize it all in such a way that makes it sound so grand, that it represents “the bourgeois ideology” and whatnot (seriously, how can we be the ruling class when we can’t even keep our dicks hard?), that it retroactively validates the existing order of things (the exalted garbage-curator who sneers at the possibility of a different world), that it has an underlying message of bourgeois class consciousness, that it has any underlying message at all.
When I was an “incel theorist” I was a curator of garbage, and that was what put me on the downtown scene radar in the first place, years before I came to New York. My “incel project” was essentially to gaze at these virtual sites of abject extremity—the Elliot Rodger manifesto, incel forums, the Incel Wiki, the corners of the internet where the outcasts of desire stew in their vitriol, orbiting a paradoxical Freudian truth they themselves can never access—and declare that “this is the world we all live in, the rest of us just don’t realize it yet.” To do what I’m doing now, I had to abandon the incel project, I had to realize that the incels are ephemeral, and that I was doing a sort of gonzo anti-woke PR for the sad illusions of the patriarchy as it buckles under a broader crisis of masculinity (“It’s not that deep, I’m just bored and trying to have some fun talking about this weird extreme stuff with the semblance of philosophical erudition, that’s what draws out the beauty latent in these exotic intensities…”). But had I never given it up, I certainly still could’ve found a home in the downtown scene, and probably a less acrimonious one. The result would’ve been a book: the psychoanalysis of the incels. Look at these freaks, laugh at them and their pathetic jouissance, but just know that they’re on to something that the banal progressive wokescolds can’t grasp (also nobody ever seemed to have trouble grasping what I meant by Lacan’s untranslatable term jouissance when I used it in that context…). It would’ve been much savvier than the way Nina Power is trying to pull that off now with her whole dark Zizekian Compact mag thing. Which way, millennial Twitter Lacanian? There’d be a book launch party, a subsequent gallery opening party for the visual artist collaborator who illustrates it, hyperpop DJ sets, a flyer with a list of clouted party hosts, and so on. It would’ve fit in perfectly with this menagerie of decadent artists—it was a true work of decadent art. But no longer, the incel project has transformed, now the socialite is the incel, the brooding interiority switched exchanged for an exterior world of glamorous surfaces and idle whimsies, but keeping all the same narcissism and vanity, the same self-defeating neuroticism, the same miserable identification with the existing order of things, the same apocalyptic hopelessness…
Back on the beat chasing Dean Kissick around town, I’m at the Tara Downs gallery on Broadway where he’s hosting a talk with two painters the gallery is now exhibiting. The first is Rute Merk (born 1991, Lithuanian, Berlin-based), whose exhibition XP features monumental still life paintings of floating digital fruit, rudimentary polygons like first-gen PlayStation against black turquoise fehlfarben backgrounds (“the backgrounds seem to reference some spirituality, some post-nature melancholy,” one commenter says); portraits, a girl in an Arcteryx jacket pondering the Wikipedia logo she holds in her hand like an apple, half-rendered translucent bodies with aloof faces. The other is Deanna Havas (born 1989, American, Budapest-based), who I first met in 2019 when she and her boyfriend at the time visited DC for CPAC, I remember their disappointment with the vulgarity of it all, they seemed to have expected something more aristocratic… Deanna’s exhibition Messages from the Source, an interpretation of late van Gogh through freeware graphics and stock photos and photoshop effects, canvases with closeup stock images of golden potatoes, wheat plants, the sun’s rays (“the sun’s heavenly rays appears facetuned,” the exhibit program says, “the latest to fall victim to our narcissistic culture”). It’s a full audience but the conversation is uninteresting, the artists speak softly and say so little that even the Q&A period comes as a relief. During the Q&A Deanna says she’s now off Twitter and that she lost followers on Instagram and then bought fake ones.
There’s a portrait of Dean on display in the Sven Loven (born 1979, Swedish, New York-based) “Humiliation Ritual” exhibition at No Gallery on Henry Street, “Black Dean Kissick,” a solarized image of the guy in an oversized cowboy hat, eating something indistinct off a plate he’s holding, cigar-shaped, maybe like a 7-Eleven taquito. The exhibition program tells us this is Dean Kissick’s shadow likeness, a reference to an absurd meme joke playing on his pervasiveness in the scene (people sure have been painting a lot of portraits of Dean lately), an ethereal presence, a symbol for downtown, punished and nigredo-pilled, it’s the evil likeness of Dean that could only come from either myself or from the angelicists. This exhibition suggests the latter, of course, comprising portraits of some luminaries of angelicism: Siyuan Zhao (the Miami Art Basel stabber that they’re always soyfacing about whose mugshot went on to become the face of a “virtual egregore” and symbol of the angelicists, “a notorious symbol for a peculiar variety of online psychosis”), Sierra Armor (e-girl writer who goes to Bennington aka the liberal arts college where they give you Kaitlin Phillips’ phone number upon graduating), Bliccy at the beach in a bikini, Charlie (the original Remilia/Milady NFT guy who ran a Twitter account called Miya that had Siyuan Zhao’s face for its avatar; is this rather inconspicuous portrait “doxing” him?), and the centerpiece: young twink Peter Thiel with literal angel wings.
In the beginning of June the New York angelicists will be screening excerpts of film01, an art project that is supposedly a several-hours-long compilation of “universally-sourced” found footage (that is, yet another form of garbage curation qua aesthetic decadence; sort of like the “Me, Me” TikTok videos?) that aims to fill what it sees as the gaping hole in the history of cinema: “the computation of the number of extinction.” You have to RSVP to get in so Tai and I both did that (she’ll be back in town by then) and we both got emails back saying that we’re on a “waitlist” for the event. They’re only planning on revealing the location just a few hours before the event itself, presumably part of some whole security protocol specifically implemented just to keep the two of us away. Either way, we’re pretty sure we already know the location. “Film01 is a peace zone,” our waitlist emails tell us.
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