robertogreco + entrepreneurialself   1

Suey Park and the Afterlife of Twitter | Yasmin Nair
"For better or for worse, depending on whom you talk to, Twitter has become an integral part of how social discourse is conducted today. To date, analyses of Twitter have fallen on a familiar axis: It is, for some, fraught with revolutionary potential and allows previously marginalised communities to have a voice. This perception greatly enabled the first part of Park’s career as a spokesperson for Asian American identity. Her initial campaigns were all built on the premise that Twitter would allow Asian Americans, particularly young Asian American feminists, to amplify their voices online in ways that were not possible in real time given the many institutional barriers they face in real life.

For others, Twitter is a toxic wasteland, filled with the jarring cacophony of voices launching screeds and defamatory tweets at each other, becoming incapable of sustaining real-life relationships in the pursuit of internet fame and, possibly, profits. This French video darkly illustrates this perspective.

Both views, broadly described here, sustain a common liberal perception that Twitter inhabits a public sphere that can be made better with a multiplicity of voices debating key issues of the day. We have convinced ourselves that the main issue is whether or not its users deploy Twitter in fit ways. The question is always of modulation and tone: Can we be better, do better in how we express our views?

But Twitter is more complex than simply a medium on which multiple voices express themselves with greater or lesser degrees of toxicity. To take Twitter seriously, we have to see it as as a staging for neoliberalism’s injunction that everyone should now make and remake themselves in order to survive.

Neoliberalism insists that we are all responsible for ourselves, and its prime characteristic is the privatisation of resources — like education, healthcare, and water — once considered essential rights for everyone (for at least a relatively brief period in human history so far). Within this severely privatised realm, choice emerges as a mantra for all individuals: we can all now have infinite choices, whether between brands of orange juice or schools or banks. This reverence for choice extends to how we are continually pushed to think of ourselves as not just rewarded with choices in material goods and services but with choices in how we constitute our individual selves in order to survive. The contemporary emphasis on “monetising” and “branding” oneself emerges from this neoliberal sphere, where people are required to craft themselves into investment commodities. Twitter and other forms of social media play a role in this construction of the self as a money-making enterprise, with millions hoping to become profitable brands.

In all this, neoliberalism engages in a classic bait and switch: the choice is not a choice but a demand. You have no choice but to choose. In education, for instance, neoliberalism first decimates public schools, then installs charter schools as the only alternatives, then convinces parents in those decimated neighbourhoods that choosing charters is a right. You have no choice but to choose, and the choices are always tilted in favour of the entity that most profits from your “choice.”

Arun Gupta’s critique of Park points to one aspect of this commodification of the self:

Suey Park is the Bitcoin of activism. Her hashtag movements are a digital phenomenon. Her value is determined by how much others buy into her. The lack of institutional backing allows her to disrupt the status quo. And just like digital currencies, hashtag activism is vulnerable to shadowy intrigues and corrupting influences.

Gupta’s essay is the fullest account of the #CancelColbert matter, and he spends considerable time tracing these intrigues and influences in terms of Park’s many dubious political alliances, including her most notorious one with Michelle Malkin. Park was so terrified of losing her brand recognition that she teamed up with and implicitly endorsed Malkin’s xenophobic politics, even as she launched a purportedly anti-racist campaign against Colbert. Suey Park’s career and her “monetising” of herself, even at the cost of her own espoused political agenda, marks what philosophers and theorists have called the neoliberal entrepreneurial self.

Following the work of Michel Foucault, Andrew Dilts and Philip Mirowski have theorised the neoliberal entrepreneurial self. As Dilts puts it, this is an “entrepreneur of himself, being for himself his own capital, being for himself his own producer, being for himself the source of [his] earnings.”

The neoliberal entrepreneurial self operates as if in isolation, but its existence marks the decimation of several collective entities, including neighbourhoods and the economies of entire cities. Consider, for instance, the rise of Airbnb along with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and the promises they have offered — and broken — of letting individuals make money at their own pace, unregulated (read: unprotected) by bureaucratic rules (read: unions). The growth of these economies is tied to the growing gentrification of cities. In the case of Airbnb, for instance, concentrated cities like San Francisco are being taken over by apartment complexes solely devoted to a constantly moving clientele with no ties to the city itself. The prospect of earning extra income prompts people to now rent otherwise unaffordable apartments knowing they can Airbnb extra rooms. As Doug Henwood points out, “Such practices take units off the rental market and grease the wheels of gentrification by making rapidly rising rents “affordable.” Twitter — owned by people who have made billions and constituted entirely by milllions (including me) tweeting for free — survives with many of us hoping that this “free” portal will lead to profitable, monetised selves.

A better Twitter theory enables us to understand that it is not simply the expression of multiple unmediated selves seeking and gaining free expression to either a revolutionary or destructive end but part of a literal and virtual landscape on which several identities — including white ones — are in contestation for chunks of the monetisation pie. In that sense, Twitter is not merely a symptom of a public sphere but a platform that is bound up with the primary dictate of neoliberalism: Make yourself or die.

Both Arthur Chu and Suey Park are prime examples of this neoliberal entrepreneurial self. Chu came to his fame as the first Asian American and first person to win over $350,000 on the quiz show Jeopardy. Shortly following his win and his Twitter fame (he and his wife battled many hostile game show fans who criticised his strategies), he openly asked how to best monetise his new-found status. Parts of his reward for becoming internet famous were regular columns on Salon and The Daily Beast. For his first piece in the latter, he wrote a critique of Park, titled, “An Ode to Angry Asians: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Suey Park.” Park furiously tweeted at him, in capital letters, “DO YOU OR ANY OF YOUR ASIAN DUDEBRO SELLOUTS KNOW WHAT THE FUCK #CANCELCOLBERT COST ME?” She also accused him of being a “tool of white supremacy.”

Park’s anger reflected her fury at the possibility of losing cachet on social media, where there are literally fortunes to be made. Ronan Farrow, son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, without any evidence of talent or experience was signed up for a $650,000 a year gig on MSNBC solely on the basis of his one tweet about his parentage: “Listen, we're all *possibly* Frank Sinatra's children.” The tweet was in response to a media furore caused by his mother publicly suggesting that Frank Sinatra, not Allen, was her son’s biological father. Despite his show business lineage on both — or, as we were led to believe, all three sides of his family tree — Farrow proved to be disastrous on television. But his initial financial success keeps hope alive for millions of others.

Park has repeatedly said, even as recently as March 2016, that she lost her income due to Twitter kerfuffles or because of supposedly having to go underground. While the veracity of that claim to loss of income can be disputed — there are many indications that Park is in fact the beneficiary of significant family wealth — the fact is that it is acceptable by now to consider that one has a career constructed entirely out of Tweets. In one of her Instagram photos, Park was challenged by a reader about her inherited wealth, and her response was that she had made every cent. In short, it is entirely possible, if we are to believe Park, to live in a House Made of Tweets.

The point here is is not to be critical of people like Suey Park and Arthur Chu for making money off Twitter but to consider their money-making as part of a neoliberal framework that fetishises their entrepreneurship, and to consider Twitter as part of that neoliberal framework.

Twitter is mistaken as a form of political action, and the fact that tweeting has the appearance of unmediated immediacy gives it the legitimacy of authenticity, a hallmark of the neoliberal entrepreneurial self. In Park’s case, her authenticity hinged on her being not just Asian American but oppressed on multiple counts. She has often spoken of growing up as an Asian American in the wealthy Chicago suburb of Lake Zurich, of being chased by children who would push their eyes upwards, imitating the folds in hers. In her life as Queen of Asian American Twitter, she has frequently evoked and relied upon her identity as an oppressed Asian American who was and is the subject of racism. The point is not that racism could not have or does not exist for her, but that Park appears to consistently use stories of that racism to advance her own career — not necessarily to work towards ending that racism.

The construction of the entrepreneurial self necessarily involves, particularly for … [more]
yasminnair  sueypark  race  internet  twitter  neoliberalism  sujaykumar  arthurchu  arungupta  socialmedia  presentationofself  entrepreneurship  entrepreneurialself  self-branding  hashtivism  activism  attention  media  2016  freddiedeboer 
april 2016 by robertogreco

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