It’s no wonder that Disnovation.org called the video element of their Online Culture Wars project The Persuadables. When it comes to opinion making of any kind, persuade can seem to be the sheep’s clothing of the manipulative wolf in online cultures. Creating and plotting their own version of a Political Compass, we see how closely they map Donald Trump, King Kong and Paris Hilton.

Cultures and socio-political thinking can often be swayed by the psychological influences of a cool Nike campaign, a social media celebrity or even the charged chants from a local football team. More and more these days, the online world is playing an important role in the way many people choose to understand civil society. Instead of policies and trade we are more fixated with understanding the political and social positioning of Barbie, our childhood cool-girl influence, or the endearingly slow-witted opinions of Winnie the Pooh. We end up forming our own social and political bubbles depending on how good the skinny-mocha-decaf Frappuccino from Starbucks we just ordered is. There is a slow burning, yet highly flammable “over-politicization of seemingly mundane topics, products, practices, and cultural elements”.

In Online Culture Wars, Disnovation.org (initiated by Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska, who work with a number of collaborators and in this project collaborated with media artist Baruch Gottlieb) navigate this convoluted world of “ubiquitous social networks” through the lens of a “Political Compass meme”. This is an existing type of meme that allows its creator to arrange their own political views on a diagram in two dimensions (Authoritarian <—> Libertarian, and Economic-Left <—> Economic-Right). Sometimes these memes are created as a joke and other times they provide a more authentic portrait of their creator and contemporary society.

The single compass that Disnovation.org has developed is, in their own words, “the result of an overlay, an average and the collation of hundreds of existing memes”. Maigret and Roszkowska don’t go into much explanation about how they chose to compose their compass. From the outside, it seems they scraped their resources from a range of existing online sources in order to create a visual discussion point, showcasing how almost everything from politicians to cartoon characters have become a point polarization. “The result is not supposed to be a scientific truth. It is rather a way to offer a visual representation of the ongoing frictions, and the culture wars that are going on online.”

Disnovation.org are aware of the fact that the placement of each element is derived from the orientations of the Political Compass meme creators’ own political and social alignments. This means that every placement is based on a certain bias and therefore is open to debate. They explain that the structure of such a compass “also reveals some type of dissatisfaction with the two classical directions of this compass that are not able to fully represent contemporary political frictions and challenges”.

Studying the compass map of Online Culture Wars, a viewer may be prompted to try and understand why certain characters are where they are. Is King Kong (G20) presumed more economically right because he is iconic for the billionaires of Manhattan, or do his shackles represent the shackles of the workers bound to big businesses? Then a viewer might also wonder why someone would place Vice magazine (O11) as a libertarian leaning company – is this because they themselves believe in maximizing personal freedom or is this placement justified by the company’s own social standpoint? It is also interesting to think about why #MeToo founder Tarana Burke (J7) is positioned (right next to Bernie Sanders, but a good distance from Stalin) in the quadrant for The Party, and then move on to debate black hoodies (Q9) close placement to both cannabis (Q10) and Edward Snowden (R10). Each inquiry into understanding an element’s placement seems to come with two main branches of questioning, one into the orientations of the creator and the other into the background of the element.

Understanding this cartography of Online Culture Wars and the placements of recognizable online phenomenon permits a pondering of the map that is both nuanced and basic: who are the winners and who are the losers? It exposes how social media affects the ecosystems that keep our societies functioning and, in some respects, exposes a manipulation of public opinion by platform biases. Disnovation.org themselves have said: “The work graphically interprets how brands, celebrities, and symbols become linked along an ideological spectrum.”

by Emma Singleton

You can download a PDF version of Online Culture Wars at disnovation.org

Video link: disnovation.org

This article appeared in DAM76. Order your personal copy.