Arianna Huffington as Parasite

by CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM

It is axiomatic in the United States today that just about any cultural trend which is widely popularized and acclaimed is going to be either contemptible or irrelevant or both – the contemptibleness and irrelevance rising in proportion to the number of people talking about the item in question, especially when they’re talking in the unreality of the Web.   Thus for many years now I have ignored the Huffington Post.

Then, last September, I broke down, and as a favor to my friends in the Vermont secessionist movement, wrote a piece at HuffPo about the secessionist’s (badly losing) candidate for governor, whose main platform was the destruction of the American empire.   Due to the many eyes flitting about on HuffPo, the piece – for which I was not paid, as is the case for the vast majority of the “bloggers” at the website – was widely read and re-posted and Dugg and whatever, and brought some needed attention to the sales pitch of the crazy Vermonters.   

By my own logic, obviously, the more people blathering on digitally about a Vermont secession would render the subject contemptible and irrelevant.   And so it came to pass: The article disappeared after a few days; produced no new converts to the secesh movement that I know of; garnered no campaign contributions for their gubernatorial candidate; and, in effect, made the whole movement look like a hiccup in the digistream.  It may be that the movement is a hiccup, in Vermont itself as in electronic reality, or perhaps my writing wasn’t convincing over the long haul.  

For a brief moment, however, the article was good advertising.   And also a further building block, however small, in the edifice of the HuffPo brand, which, as readers know, recently fetched $315 million in a sale to AOL. 

Jaron Lanier, the reformed computer geek and neo-Luddite author of You Are Not A Gadget, offers a devastating analysis of the “free” information aggregators, such as HuffPo, that masquerade as pioneers of a new dispensation.    His argument is that the dominant trend toward “free” culture is an economic disaster for creators – because, though it is free for those consuming it, it is not at all free for those producing the “free” music, the “free” writing, the “free” art, and the “free” journalism.   Somehow these producerists, when not engaged in the glories of the new freedom, have to suffer the indignity of maintaining a roof, a family, filling all stomachs, keeping the lights on and the rooms heated.   The “new social contract” on the Web, writes Lanier, is that the “hive mind” – the anonymous digital mob of eyes and ears – will make it all work out in the end.   The contract, tacit and unspoken, stipulates that “authors, journalists, musicians, and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind.  Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion” – meaning prostration before the buzzing hive.   “Culture,” concludes Lanier, “is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”  

Indeed, the HuffPo answer to the starving producerist is that he is compensated merely by affiliation with the HuffPo brand, that he is being advertised on HuffPo to its 26 million creatures in the hive – this is the “labor” provided by the website.    An offhand analogy is to the feudal lord and his mass of affiliated serfs, but the analogy fails: the lord at least provided something of substance in the here and now (safety, housing, a meager share in the crop).  The digital content-serf must satisfy with dreams to come.  Somewhere the promise down the line, when the mob on the Web turns to hail the labor of the content-serf, is that he will be made a rich man – or, hell, that he’ll just be able to keep the lights on.  The notion is messianic, and requires foolish believers.  If it has happened, I haven’t heard about it, nor has Lanier.      

The real issue is who controls the technology, the digital interface, by which the content-serf can advertise himself to the hive.  In controlling the interface is the opportunity for wealth that economists would call unearned income; it is earned only in the sense that the tick earns the blood it fattens on.   For HuffPo doesn’t produce anything in itself; it is at best a tollbooth, where the cost of entry is free labor.   I am reminded of a friend in the acting business who is required to employ all sorts of hangers-on who provide “access” to this or that angle in Hollywood.  There is the primary phalanx of lawyers and agents and managers, along with a secondary layer of same, along with the assistants to the lawyers and agents and managers, plus the tertiary assistants who assist the assistants to assist the money out of the pocket of my friend.   None of these people would be involved in productive employment if it weren’t for the host party who goes out and hits the streets and produces the content and gets the wages from which the middlemen take their cut. 

It should not go unnoticed that the financier, the investment banker, the hedge fund guru, the futures wizard, the commodities and the currency speculator, the derivatives trader are also, at bottom, parasitic middlemen, who insert themselves into the real economy – too often getting in the way and obstructing the real economy – while producing almost nothing tangible, nothing of social value.   In this light, when the superbly useless people in lower Manhattan are making off with hundreds of billions of dollars in unearned income, the sell-out of the Huffington Post for a trifling $315 million shows that little Arianna has much to learn.

CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM, a freelance writer who splits his time between Brooklyn, NY and Moab, Utah, is writing a book about secession movements. Contact him at cketcham99@mindspring.com                   

 

 

 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece