Central to the transformation of contemporary media production and consumption has been the logic of affect both economically and libidinally. The sharing of traditional media content, personal stories or viral videos is contingent upon affective resonances. Affective media is not simply shorthand for “social media”, a term which obscures the intersection of technology and capital in creating a particular concept of the social world. Personal affects, emotional responses and the tracking of moods is now the stuff of profits and data for new media companies. Affective media is a space for the production, performance and quantification of affect. There is a convergence of libidinal and political economies as our lives become enmeshed in the ‘pleasures of communication’. With the rise of new media and tech companies as centres of economic and political power discourses of affective media have become the hegemonic ideal of capitalism, labour and play.
The predominate theories of affect in new media contexts privilege a Deleuzian reading of affect as inherently social, connective and productive. The promise of user empowerment and new social worlds is what drives the affective labour of posting, sharing and consuming the lives of others as well as our own. The metaphor of the rhizome is key here. Decentralised networks are held to coalesce affect, connect bodies and create critical potential for resisting power and capitalism. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street are supposed to define this potential of affective networks.
My own contribution to this scholarship relies upon Jodi Dean and a Laconian-Marxist framework. Rather than this optimistic reading of affect I believe we are drawn into circuits of drive and desire which are repetitive, frustrating and ceaseless. The Laconian subject of affective media is insular and wracked by the presence of the other. “Why didn’t she like this post?” “Was he being ironic?” “Why do they have more followers than me?”. Its in this context that trolling represents a symbolically efficient form of online engagement with the other. Trauma is turned into obscene enjoyment.
It is in this way that we can see the inheritors of the political meaning of affective media, not Occupy, but Trump an the alt-right. I have written Donald Trump’s embodiment of affective media values for Boundary 2 Online. Trump’s eliciting of alt-right conspiracy and channeling the energies of troll online subcultures was key to his success. I have further written about the libidinal politics of the alt-right for Overland and published an article in tripleC tracking the origins of the alt-right in cyber-libertarian politics.