BuzzFeed is a Commie Plot

Or maybe courses in critical theory are business school. Or both.


My kinda clickbait:


The Alt-Text Did Not Take Place


Vox's Dylan Matthews reports that in 1996, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti published an essay in the journal Negations titled "Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Contemporary Visual Culture and the Acceleration of Identity Formation/Dissolution." Peretti's paper, which draws heavily on the Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson and the post-structuralists Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, explores "how identification functions in the media saturated world of late capitalism and, more importantly, the issue of how identities can be fostered that resist the logic of commodification."

Hey, it was 1996. They say if you weren't engaging radical critical theory in the '90s, you weren't really there. What's great about this find is that, in Matthews' words, the paper "more or less lays out (and critiques) Buzzfeed's entire business model—a full decade before the company was founded." In the young Peretti's view, Matthews writes,

But where is Fat Freddie Engels?
Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective

Capitalism needs people to have moments of schizophrenia, where their personal identities are in flux, but it also needs them to be able to recover from those moments with new identities, which can fuel new consumption so as to realize the identities in question. "Capitalism needs schizophrenia, but it also needs egos," he writes. "The contradiction is resolved through the acceleration of the temporal rhythm of late capitalist visual culture. This type of acceleration encourages weak egos that are easily formed, and fade away just as easily."

So you may, say, identify as someone who went to summer camp, but that's not a durable identity, so you'll soon need to pick up another, like, say, someone raised by conservative parents. And the way this identification will happen is through images and video, through "visual culture." Presumably, in this late capitalist world, someone who creates a website that can use pictures and GIFs and videos to form hundreds if not thousands of new identities for people to latch onto will become very successful! Especially so if they allow brands to create and channel these identities themselves by, say, hosting a "Which Barbie Doll Are You?" quiz from Mattel or a video of "Awkward Things We All Do In Our Teens But Would Never Admit" from a company selling acne cleanser.

The cat is a lie.

There is more, which you can read here. And if you really want to get into the weeds, you can read this year-old post by Eugene Wolters of Critical Theory, which is where Matthews picked up the story. Wolters raises the possibility that Peretti is "a subversive genius who is using Buzzfeed to destroy our mode of production," making BuzzFeed "one giant resistance." When Matthews asked Peretti "whether he saw Buzzfeed as embodying the trends described in the paper or as subverting them," the cagy commie replied "lol." I think that means "Lacan Our Lord."

So this story is doubly useful. First you can deploy it to persuade your parents that the advanced degree in critical theory that they're financing is the first step toward becoming a successful Internet entrepreneur. Then you can use it to convince your old comrades that your Web company is a cleverly camouflaged weapon against neoliberalism.

For further developments, follow @MarxFeed on Twitter.