The Commenter: A Lament

This post was composed in one hour in front of an online audience for the Rhizome Internet Telethon 2014.

Tom Moody, Double Buckyball (detail of work in process), 2004, mixed media, approx. 60 x 40 inches.

Nearly a year ago, and not long after I started working at Rhizome, I published a post called "Breaking the Ice," inviting the community to leave their thoughts about our curatorial and editorial direction. It took a while to get started, but eventually some of the Rhizome old timers latched on and got the ball rolling. As my introduction to the Rhizome community in my new role, it painted quite a picture. Heated opinions were debated, n00bs were put in their place, and frustrations were vented. Despite a sometimes negative tone, I was excited by the energy that people brought to it. And the fact that, y’know, people were commenting on, a non-profit website that serves as an important cultural archive, rather than on a for-profit site that will sell your data to the highest bidder.

Zachary Kaplan often makes fun of me for being a fan of internet comments. He's our Community Manager, people. When he was on his honeymoon, he wrote a nice comment on a Brendan Byrne piece, and he described this as a "gift to me." This is a longstanding and firmly entrenched debate in our community, at this point, and one which is divided along generational lines: participate avidly in highly commercialized, highly populated social media, or confine oneself to the less populous sidelines of open comment forums and listserves. 

My affinities here are probably clear, but I think there are arguments in favor of social media participation. What Zach understands is that while Rhizome's communities are real, while the discussions rage as fiercely as they did in 2008 or 1998, they generally don't happen on our site, on our infrastructure, but in the world of social media and, yes, in real life. I really appreciate how avidly Zach follows and participates in these conversations, even though they don't end up as a part of our institutional archives. He sees his job as Community Manager to require that he go to where our community is.

The other interesting argument for social media participation comes is articulated by people like Jesse Darling. A while ago on Facebook, she shared a screenshot from her text in the forthcoming edited collection You Are Here: Art After the Internet, edited by Omar Kholeif; in it, I think I remember that she made the argument that being a social media user was a way of identifying with the affectively laboring masses. She uses the phrase #usermilitia, I like that idea of being in solidarity, because there is something elitist about the social media refusenik postion.  Brian Droitcour has made a similar argument around his use of Yelp and other lowly forums for serious critical art writing.

So, I get it. But, I still feel a twinge of regret over the decline of commenting culture on good ol' And this is, in part, why I'm so excited about the next segment of the telethon, following my live composition of this article, in which Tom Moody will read his Rhizome comments aloud. Tom is our most avid commenter. His comments are often acerbic, he's hurt all of our feelings at one time or another, and he's been described as a troll. Still, I'm always impressed with his reasoning. The writing is clear, and he has a strong critical framework--which I respect, even if I disagree with it.

So I want to end this post by saying, Tom, thank you for the hours of labor that you've devoted to writing on Rhizome. I love that you do it as a commenter, and I will (for that reason) probably never commission you to write an article. But you're here now, so we can just continue this discussion face to face.

This post was made possible by the support of Mark Matienzo.