Reality Jamming: Beyond Complex Causality in Mediated Cultural Systems

Karen Cham

It is clear through experience that there is some significant relationship between media representations and cultural effects; advertisements increase sales; targeted consumers adopt and inhabit the brand and sometimes, unpredictable behaviours emerge. Whilst human agency plays a dynamic part in these processes, experience outstrips theoretical understanding of the relationship between the sign and the signified, the simulation and the social, the model and the real, as practice consistently leads theory through the sheer velocity of technological change.

For example, the international crisis provoked by the publication of a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, a 'communications event' (Qvortup, 2006) which was an emergent property of the interaction between the real and the representational in the complex system of networked global media. Or the pre- mediated violence of the 'trenchcoat mafia', who carried out the Columbine High School massacre, where signification is a direct and intentional precursor to reality, as for the perpetrators, the value of the virtual reality of signification systems were understood as greater than the value of the physically enactive domain. The trajectory of 'celebrity' too demonstrates a communications event with a feedback loop between the real and the representational. Here, the signification is designed, acted out, consumed and fed back in a co-evolving eco system of signification. How can we realistically describe a type of causal representational system where the 'celebrity', whether semiotic, metaphoric or simulated, seems to eventually become their own avatar, often suffering an extreme, sometimes literal, loss of self ?

Whilst it is important not to confuse the meaning of useful new terms for addressing digital media phenomenon, it is also important to acknowledge how the virtual presences of systems of significations, that we are only just beginning to be able to describe, interact with enactive reality. This paper argues an artists perspective that all representational systems have a performative capacity for transformation of the real and that signification is a dynamic intermediate realm between the real and the imaginary which must be understood in its own terms as a realm of invocation.

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