January 17, 2005

I Just Wanna Be Linked By You

by Andrew Stern · , 12:35 am

Justin Hall’s having a breakdown. I saw it on today’s installment of Justin’s Links.

opinion ahead — watch the video first before reading

I don’t mean to suggest that Justin isn’t really having a breakdown. He probably is, poor guy, even though the video of it kind of just seems like bad acting of a breakdown. Or a grad student’s art project.

Or, the footage is totally authentic — and it’s simply that reality sometimes seems oddly fake. (Has someone coined a term for that yet?)

A more likely explanation is somewhere in the middle — since Justin knows he’s going to be putting this footage online as he lives it, it turns the experience of his real life into a simultaneous performance, that he’s surely conscious of as he lives/performs it. Which exactly seems to be the problem he’s dealing with.

Clever! And impressively gutsy. And pretentious, but that’s okay. It’s another flavor of fusing of fiction and reality within the computer medium, I suppose. Reminds me to write another blog post on the similarity between reality TV and interactive drama.

18 Responses to “I Just Wanna Be Linked By You”

  1. andrew Says:

    Jill’s ahead of me already, with some analysis.

  2. scott Says:

    I think it’s real, authentic, self-conscious, arty agony that might also function as an art project. “Breakdown” might be a little strong — I’m guessing that the act of doing the video was cathartic enough (and probably generated enough support from his friends) that he’s no longer in breakdown mode. It is an interesting problem — Justin has self-consciously chosen to live in a public, self-conscious way that probably does make some kinds of personal relationships impossible. It would be interesting to see what would happen if he took a year or two off of blogging, or announced that for a year he would be using the blog to fictionalize reality, and began making up people and events, while keeping his own life under wraps. That would an interesting gesture in the context of his decade-long experience.

  3. Jill Says:

    There have been some suspicions that he makes some of his stuff up. For instance, his debate as to whether or not he wanted to apply for film school happened after he must have already been accepted, according to some commenters. Actually the whole comment thread’s a laugh, especially Justin’s response. Or non-response or whatever it is.

    So maybe he already IS fictionalising? In any case, his blog’s a good read.

  4. roBin Says:

    I can assure that Justin is not fictionalizing.

    He recorded himself that weekend… almost as an afterthought. Later, when he was less upset, he debated the value/use/meaning of posting the footage.

    I think he was clear that posting had ups and downs. I think he made a decision that reflects his interest in the communicative properties (and burdens) of the web. Given his past as a self-sharing web confessionalist and writer, I think it makes a lot of sense.

    At this point, it remains to be seen what he’ll do to move forward from this crisis. But really, the crisis itself was (and remains) genuine.

  5. nick Says:

    Andrew, I know we’re all cynically tuned to expect art projects and reality TV, but you should keep in mind – these are the people who invented being honest about your life on the Web.

    Sometimes Justin says he’s having a breakdown, and he is. Sometimes Carl says he’s homeless, and he is. I hope Justin’s life gets better. I hope Carl’s doing well and has a place to live, or will soon. Not everything you read on the Web is true, but some of what you read records bad personal situations that can’t be analyzed into anything clever or nice.

  6. andrew Says:

    As I said in my post, I’m assuming Justin is truly feeling and experiencing the things we’re seeing and reading on links.net; he’s not “overacting” for effect. Those experiences are genuine — well, as “genuine” as they can be when you know (or are pretty sure) you’re going to be posting it online shortly thereafter; I think it’s safe to say that that knowledge changes Justin’s experience as it’s happening. All I’m suggesting is that he would probably act and experience things a bit differently if he weren’t conscious of the fact that people will be reading about and/or watching it. I called it clever not because I’m cynical that it’s fake, but because it works on multiple levels — it’s simultaneously Justin’s courageous personal experiment, his artmaking, possibly his graduate school homework, and most significantly, a major way he attempts to connect and communicate with others.

    It shares something with reality TV, and fiction, because the content is edited — we’re only seeing/reading a selected portion of Justin’s life — and because the footage is not candid, as I just described. btw, I happen to “believe in” reality TV (at least some of the shows) more than the average media critic, I’d bet.

    All that said, it’s interesting to me how the footage *seems* sort of fake, even though it’s real. It’s not because of cynicism; I think it’s a mixture of the fact that I’m picking up on Justin’s hyperawareness that others will be watching him, which subtly alters his behavior, and also because I’m hyperaware of how actors would create such a performance, and it occasionally, strangely aligns with what I’d characterize as “bad acting”. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

  7. scott Says:

    Shannon posted a bandwith-conscious remix of Justin’s dark night (via Jill) that simultaneously seems to parody the original while getting across much of the same emotional content.

  8. greglas Says:

    Is being authentic/genuine a question of intent or is it an empirical fact? Can a people think she is being authentic, but be wrong about that, and later realize that the behavior was inauthentic?

    Andrew seems to be saying that a person can be fully genuine, yet have behavior modified by an awareness of audience. That’s true (see, e.g., authentic stagefright). Are we talking about anything more than that?

  9. nick Says:

    I agree, Greg and Andrew, it is possible to be both authentic and affected by an audience. I guess I should have just reacted to Andrew’s detached and not very sympathetic tone, rather than sounding like I was disputing his take on the video. When Carl asks for donations to Plastic.com by mentioning that he’s homeless, that might indeed be clever, but I would feel bad putting it that way if I did think he was being honest and I wasn’t trying to cynically challenge the authenticity of his post.

  10. a looking-glass book Says:
    couple of articles
    this creates some sort of weird feedback loop i feel like. i hope this isnt too tasteless (and that if it is, that justin can forgive me). but the comments made below relate so well to things about my thesis,…

  11. greglas Says:

    Actually, I wasn’t trying to be critical of your reaction, Nick — I was just trying to figure out the mechanics here. Andrew’s title for this suggests that Justin was trying to get links, to get attention, to create a scene, I guess.

    Which implies that we should treat him like an actor performing — which implies that if we take the performance at face value (after the show is over) we’re being duped, right?. So we detach ourselves from belief, like the New Critics tell us to do, and treat the video as an independent thing, and the author as dead.

    People who know Justin say, no, you can’t do that. He’s not performing, this is true — so if you treat this as a text and a performance, you’re being callous.

    Is that a good reading of the dispute?

    If so, maybe there is a link here to questions about how to treat “The Terrorist as Auteur” (link below) or how to speak about the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos. Can we take a critical aesthetic vantage on terrible events, or is that type of maneuver (perhaps due to the way modern criticism happens) somehow wrong?


  12. nick Says:

    Greg, I think your reading is pretty close (speaking for my part in the discussion), although I should clarify: I think Andrew is right that, in general, someone can be performing (addressing an audience consciously) and at the same time be genuine. I just felt like the tone of his comment denied the reality of the personal situation that was there. Also, I don’t really know Justin, and have only met him a few times.

    I think it can be legitimate to consider the Abu Ghraib photos from an aesthetic standpoint, and to present an aesthetic comment on a video or a blog entry detailing a personal calamity.

    But I think you have to do that while acknowledging the reality of torture (in the first case) or the personal situation (in the second), and I think there’s an appropriate time for that discussion. If someone posts a blog entry about the probable death of her daughter’s friend, it doesn’t seem appropriate for your immediate comment about this to only mention the beauty of her syntax or the cleverness of her metaphors. That would signal that you consider her post to be only an aesthetic object, not a personal communication. If someone really sort of had a breakdown, in his own words, posting an immediate comment about the qualities of his video documenting it doesn’t strike me as the right reaction. To provide another analogy: It would be like replying to a email that said “I just got fired” with “Your message was a marvel of succinctness and clarity…”

    Now, some people might think that the placement of the video on Justin’s links strongly invited that type of response right away. Perhaps Andrew and I interpreted the context of the video differently. Still, I feel that before we move to discuss the aesthetics of Justin’s video, we should deal with or at least acknowledge the underlying personal situation that the video is trying to depict, this situation that exists in the social world that we live and communicate in.

  13. andrew Says:

    The extensive comments thread about the video on Justin’s site is a pretty good read, and echoes some of the debate here.

  14. scott Says:

    That is a fascinating read. If I were him, I’d be sick of my fucking fan base, analyzing my every move, setting up rules for my writing, and furthermore my personal life, that I never agreed to. I think I agree with Rushkoff. Justin wrote the original blog, and exposed his life in a way that inspired thousands of people to do the same, or to do the same differently. The guy can do lots of things, he’s demonstrated that. Ten years of personal life is more than enough to give the internet. I think the video is a great end-note, not to his life or his sanity, but to his experiment in that particular mode of writing. It was a successful experiment. Hats off.

  15. Jill Says:

    Oh Nick, you’re a cunning, let’s say it without exactly exposing her sort of a man you are. Lovely obliqueness!

    I take your point, but… Well, yes, the video was deeply personal and emotional, but it was also an explicit entry in the debate on what blogging is and what writing one’s life online is. He states that he sees this as art, and he offers an artistic, emotional expression of his take on personal publication as art and truth.

    When I wrote about my daughter’s friend’s probable death, I wasn’t offering a critique of an artistic tradition or a subjective yet theoretical discussion of the nature of the internet and personal publication. I suppose people could still discuss the aesthetics of the post, sure, why not, but it seems less relevant than discussing the theoretical or artistic meaning of Justin’s video.

    Surely if we take Justin seriously we should see his video as far more than personal distress.

    Btw, he’s still publishing his life on flickr.

  16. nick Says:

    Surely if we take Justin seriously we should see his video as far more than personal distress.

    Jill, I agree. Do you think we should do that without acknowledging or dealing with the personal distress that the video communicates?

  17. Jill Says:

    No, but I don’t think anybody has done so?

  18. andrew Says:

    A month later, Justin still hasn’t posted anything new; it’s now a mainstream news event.

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