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The Data Dandy and Sovereign Media

An Introduction to the Media Theory of ADILKNO

Geert Lovink
E-mail: geert@xs4all.nl

Paper presented at the Fifth International Symposium on Electronic Art, Helsinki, Finland, 24 August 1994.


The alternative media strategies which I would like to present here are related to developments in Amsterdam in the last five years. This self-willed free state, international home and operations base of hippies, queers, the unemployed, artists and tourists, sits in the shadow of great upheavals on the European continent. Since Amsterdam has no noteworthy industry, is home to neither the government nor the national media, and cannot be called a high-tech center, there is enough space to experiment without anyone breathing down one's neck. The oft-mentioned tolerance which serves as the city's hallmark, and its flipside of noncommittalness and indifference, make it possible for numerous media initiatives to build up a sound tradition relatively independently of one another, without deteriorating into a closed scene. In the fields of free radio, magazines, computer communication, video and (live) cable television the experiments exceed the character of one-time events. Certain patterns reveal themselves, a few of which I would like to discuss here.

Theory and practice in Amsterdam are only indirectly connected. The anti-intellectual attitude of the punks' and squatters' movements, which have been important breeding grounds for many media initivatives, embroiders on the general attitude that people should not chatter, but get to work. Discussion, criticism and self- reflection are lacking and this is not experienced as a deficiency. The combination of practical tinkering with a healthy dose of cockiness ensures that projects people elsewhere only dream about are set up and continued without a lot of money from authorities or businesses. The Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge (ADILKNO), founded in 1983, of which I am a member, is one element of this phenomenon.

What many of the media experiments in Amsterdam have in common is their hybrid character, the mingling of high and low tech through linking them together: records found on the street, telephones, old computers, amplifiers, camcorders and ramshackle cassette decks. There is great interest in the hype which rises from the high-tech laboratories on the US west coast. Yet their experiments are too clean, too healthy, too spiritual. We need not lapse into antiAmericanism, but the pretense that American technoculture would lead the rest of the world should be refused. Their virtual reality is not the only one and need not be copied. There are many cyberspaces. The European variant will surely be polyglot and filled with a deep melancholy. Amsterdammers enjoy polluting the concepts of others by stirring in a portion of their brilliant dilettantism. Hardware might well be global, but the connection of hard-, soft- and wetware, on the contrary, is always tied to the regional particularities of the culture. The techno-cultures on the various continents cannot and need not move in synchrony. In techno- culture on a global scale there is no longer talk of an edge over others. From the point of view of hybrid practice the differences among the US, Europe and Asia are not so great. Differences exist only if one assumes that only media experiments done with the latest high tech are interesting. But high tech is also the waste product of the military-industrial complex and its corporations. A select group of electronic artists is allowed access only with their approval. The mixers of high and low are not bootlickers, and they accept the waste-character of technology.

The data dandy, who I wish to introduce here, falls under ADILKNO's category of "potential media figures." In The Media Archive, which ADILKNO published in Dutch in 1992 and in an expanded German edition in 1993, a series of potential media and potential media figures are collected under the denominator of "Unidentified Theoretical Objects," or UTOs. These compact texts are purely speculative. ADILKNO does not practice media archaeology, hermeneutics, media criticism or cultural studies. The genre of ADILKNO, the media text, describes no reality or ideas outside the text. Its material is the media itself -- not the equipment or programs, but their possibilities. In the electro-sphere there exists a multiplicity of potential media and media figures. Their present or future existence is indefinite, though it can definitely be tested. The insight the media text yields about them is irresponsibly rash. The media text speculates with chance, danger, dream and nightmare. It challenges potential media to become real; in the first place, in the media text itself. It provokes language into taking on these forms. Potential media exist only as options, but once they are described you run across them everywhere. This also holds for the data dandy. Although ADILKNO members emphatically deny being data dandies, or propagating any similar decadent, outmoded, postmodern consumerism, many people claim to have data dandies in their circles of friends, and this notion is difficult to counter.

ADILKNO's second book, 1990's Cracking the Movement: Squatting beyond the Media, has recently been published in English by Autonomedia (New York) following Dutch and German editions. The book describes the squatters' movement in Amsterdam in the 1980s. It shows how the many big street riots in 1980 and 1981 turned into an advanced, subtle game with the media. It proposes that in the beginning there were only overwhelming events. The pattern that people discovered later was called a "movement." "In the beginning was the event. Time was compressed, space concentrated into one point -- and a metamorphosis took place. Movement is born out of this first impulse. It seeks a way to consolidate the last stage of transformation, to give it substance." But a movement cannot metamorphose; it can only go on: "It lacks the mobility to easily become something else. It will endlessly branch off, get stuck, scheme, resprout, be exploited, write about itself, see itself on film."

Media are never just tools you can work with at will. The transformation of an originary rage and subversion into information is a painful process. The crystallization of a movement is accompanied by fragmentation, selection and exclusion. Once taken up into the media sphere, the now virtual movement can never again return to street level, however hard it tries to force its way back via the staging of spectacles. In Cracking the Movement, ADILKNO speculatively divides the reaction to the mediatization of the squatters' movement into three parts: the antimedia movement, the extramedial, and sovereign media.

Anti, Extra, Sovereign

The antimedia movement is in a certain sense a UTO, which doesn't exist but is nevertheless an evergrowing movement. "There are individuals who have undergone the extramedial experience and are left upon return with an immense anger. They experience being turned into information as an assault on their lives. They go on the offensive. The antimedia movement they unleash fights hard, but wants nothing to do with powers that oppose the freedom of the press. They demand that democracy breaks its ties with the media. They do their part by literally cutting the connections. Not out of fear of contact, but for the chance to meet someone again. The antimedians wrestle with the problem of how to meet others without bringing the media into play."

In the 1990s many squatters have renounced belief in any media, their own included. The realization that all information, including one's own, is subject to media laws and is just one part of a gigantic selection, has resulted in a healthy media-relativism. Autonomists no longer wish to justify or express themselves. Squatters move from one house to the next like nomads and no longer believe in defending a place with words and bricks. Information as such has no healing or subversive properties. People no longer harbor the expectation that others will be "turned around" simply by reading a pamphlet or manifesto. Although the radical refusal of new technologies as instruments of control over humanity has largely disappeared, skeptical pragmatism is widespread.

Hakim Bey writes about this in similar terms in his essay on "Temporary Autonomous Zones." Opposite the Net he places the Counter-Net and the Unofficial Web, which consists of "the marginal zine network, the BBS networks, pirated software, hacking, phone-phreaking, some influence in print and radio and almost none in the big media." The TAZ exists in information space as well as in the "real world." But "the Web does not depend for its existence on any computer technology. Word-of-mouth, mail, the marginal zine network, 'phone trees' and the like are sufficient to construct an information webwork. The key is not the brand or level of tech involved, but the openness and horizontality of the structure." The TAZ, according to Hakim Bey, is not out to simulate resistance or to resist spectacularly. "The TAZ desires above all to avoid mediation, to experience its existence as immediate. The very essence of the affair is 'breast-to-breast,' as the Sufis say, or face-to-face." The TAZ cannot be for or against technology; it does not wish to be utopian or nostalgic. "Because TAZ is an intensification, a surplus, an excess, a potlatch, life spending itself rather than merely surviving, it cannot be defined either by Tech or antiTech." Hakim Bey no longer believes in well-intentioned anti-information spread via the radical networks. "Frankly, I already had plenty of data to enrich my perception." What he wants is "marvelous secrets." "Most of all I want computers to provide me with information linked to real goods -- 'the good things in life.' "

ADILKNO's second alternative is an enigmatic category, about which there is little to say: the extramedial. "Extramedial figures view painful wrestling with the media issue with something like pity. When asked to participate, they don't answer. They do not wish to be spoken to. They appear to live in another universe. They are occupied with all kinds of things, but their purpose remains invisible through the media lens. They seem never to know what they want. But this dismissive attitude is not merely indifference. They are intently concentrating on 'the right thing'; their silence comes from this. They answer only unasked questions. Their attention is focused on the approach of an event. And when the time comes, they are the ones who move into action without hesitating. Then they are together in extramedial space. Metamorphosis occurs."

The third alternative is that of sovereign media. Recognizing and living with the media's omnipotence does not always lead one to happy destructivism. The laborious strategy of antipublicity or total absence can be avoided. Instead of being employed in an alternative way, the media can be raised to ecstatic heights. This, the media's supreme self-experience, has passed the stage of information absorption and transmission. The point is to cause media effects without references to an outside world. This is achieved through sovereign media.

Vague Media

Sovereign media make no clear statement; this is not their intention. This they have in common with one of their colleagues: vague media, another of ADILKNO's unidentified theoretical objects. Vague media do not go in for success. They do not achieve their goals. They do not follow the model of argument, but that of contamination. Once you tune in to them you get the attitude. But that was never their intention; vagueness is not an ideal; it is the ultimate degree of abstraction. The ability to avoid concrete questions is combined with the giving of answers which lack any depth of field. Thus vague media still manage to appear diplomatic and polite.

Their social critique is troubled by an unsteady image of the world. For them crisis does not lead to a new beginning, but gradually ends in the evaporation of the problem area. Doubt does not arise; it is a sixth sense. The senselessness of existence renders everything a sensible activity which can be stopped whenever desired; so nothing ever gets finished. Here no one works; rather, one devotes oneself to taking apart and putting back together undefined objects and projects. The liquid Dasein of vague-media people never crystallizes into definite forms. When beginning and endpoint have disappeared from view, existence can be experienced in peace.

The vague ones have obliterated the factor of time, and distribute their concentration out over an x number of years; their broadcasts only appear on a homeopathic frequency. They are no less present for this. Vague media are not on a constructed network in need of maintenance. The lines of the net are dissolved in an astral mist. Instead of distribution, there is a random selection, which gets eagerly snapped up. In this post-atomic business culture, uncertainty is the foundation of efficiency. The untrustworthiness of agreements is not a result of other activities, but a sign of good will. The field of possibilities is left open at every moment, in every situation. There is a willingness to get caught up in anything: a meeting, a party or an accident. Parallel to the transparent society there unfolds a cloud of vague structures through which the subject moves forward in a Brownian manner.

This nonlinearity defies the rhizomatic dogma that prescribes endless switching. These hard-luck pilots do not wander; they stumble from one discontinuity to the next. In vague spheres one thing does not lead to another; after one thing comes something totally different. Nor are trees or roots visible here. A veiled belief in continuity is replaced in vague media by steam on the window to eternity. Undirected recreational activities form temporary compressions in the random distribution of particles which roam about in the vague ether. No order anyone discovers in this chaos will impress the insiders. The brilliant conspiracy will be heard out for a while and then forgotten again. Vague media are impossible to follow. Their fuzzy logic frustrates meaning-makers in search of uni- or multivocality. The result is a fluffy sign with an information value of 0,34 or 2,74. Nothing is concealed or intentionally distorted. One simply doesn't exactly know; and this is obvious.

In spite of everything, the other gets plenty of room to voice her revolutionary message. There is no fear of data here. The historical excursion is a heavy exertion which is gladly undertaken, although the history of vagueness is still waiting for its author. One can unearth a mass of shadowy Greek philosophers and less obvious theologists who didn't quite get around to making their statements, or brilliant Renaissance painters who never came into their own. The B film rose above pulp and started being taken seriously a long time ago, and there is no reason this ought not to happen to B thinkers (i.e. Russell), B literature and the rest of culture. Certain historical figures have found their natural milieu in vague media: Mao, Gysin, Manson, Reich, Jesus, Debord, Meinhof, Fromm, Hitler, Hendrix, Castaneda, Goldman, Marley and Longstocking, but also cookbooks, weapons, children's drawings, witches, blood, death's-heads and always animals. As long as it's cut up, overloaded with text, full and dark, with illustrations heavy and in black and white.

Vague media are not especially obsessive or passionate; but they keep coming back to the same point. While sovereign media are on a perpetual journey of discovery, the vague channels might pitch their tents for an indefinite time or stick around forever. For them the universe can be found anywhere; mobility is not necessary. The biggest mystery for vague media is their own functioning. Because of this existential moment, individual expressions will take no definite and immutable form, though they will always have some point to make. The[se] travelers of the terrain vague can find their way in wastelands where even the hot-spot tourists du moment get lost. Vague media are not concerned with forms, but for the space between the forms, and these are timeless. This is why they will long outlive the rising and setting of other media.

Sovereign Media

Sovereign media insulate themselves against the hyperculture. They seek no connection; they disconnect. This is their point of departure. They leave the media surface and orbit the multimedia network as satellites. These do-it-yourselfers shut themselves up inside a self-built monad, an "indivisible unit" of introverted technologies which, like a room without doors or windows, wishes to deny the existence of the world. This act is a denial of the maxim "I am connected, therefore I am." It conceals no longing for a return to nature. They do not criticize baroque data environments or experience them as threats, but consider them material to use as they please. They operate beyond clean and dirty, in the garbage system ruled by chaos pur sang.

Their carefree rummaging in the universal media archive is not a management strategy for jogging jammed creativity. These negative media refuse to be positively defined and are good for nothing. They demand no attention and constitute no enrichment of the existing media landscape. Once detached from every meaningful context, they switch over in fits and starts from one audio-video collection to the next. The autonomously multiplying connections generate a sensory space which is relaxing as well as nerve-racking. This tangle can never be exploited as a trend-sensitive genre again. All the data in the world alternately make up one lovely big amusement park and earn five stars in the paranoia category, where humor descends on awkward moments like an angel of salvation and lifts the radio program up out of the muck.

Unlike the "antimedia movement," which is based on a radical critique of capitalist (art) production, the sovereign media have alienated themselves from the entire business of politics and the art scene. An advanced mutual disinterest hampers any interaction. They move in parallel worlds which do not interfere with each other. No anti-information or criticism, politics or art is produced in order to start up a dialogue with the authorities. Once sovereign, media are no longer attacked, but tolerated and, of course, ignored. But this lack of interest is not a result of disdain for hobbyist amateurism or political infantilism; it is the contemporary attitude towards any image or sound that is bestowed on the world. Sovereign media are equipped with their own starters and do not need to push off from any possible predecessors or other media. They are different from post-1968 alternative media and from the autonomous "movement" media of the 1980s.

Alternative media still work with the priciple of "antipublicity" and mirror the mainstream media, which they feel need to be corrected and supplemented. This strategy aims to make the individual aware of his behavior as well as his opinion. This process aims to change public opinion. These corrective media have no general claims but work with a positive variant of the cancer model, which assumes that in the long term everyone, whether indirectly or through the infected big media, will become informed about the problem. They presuppose a tight network streched around and through society, so that in the end the activism of a few will unleash a chain reaction among many. Until that time, they direct themselves at a relatively small group, in the certainty that their info will not stay stuck in a ghetto or start feeding back in the form of internal debates. This "megaphone model" aims in particular at liberal-left opinion leaders, who have no time to accumulate information or invent arguments and get politically motivated specialists to do it for them. Movements in the 1960s and 1970s gave themes like feminism, the third world and the environment a wide range this way. Professionalization and market conformism in those circles, however, have caused people to switch to the "real" media. The laboratories where information and argumentation get tested are currently an inseparable part of the process to "manufacture consent," now that their movements have become just as virtual as the media they figure in.

At the end of the 1970s, radicals who had gotten tired of waiting for the other's change of consciousness founded so-called "movement media." At precisely the moment that the official media started emancipating themselves and terms like "press" and "public opinion" vanished from the scene (together with the rise of satellite-broadcasting and cablesystems), a group of activists gave up believing in their deaf fellow citizens and got to work themselves. Although to unknowing outsiders their work seemed a continuation of alternative media activity, they let go of the cancer model and, like the official media, went floating. The mirror of the alternative media was crushed. It had become pointless to keep appealing to public responsibility; they needed to look for a different imaginary quantity to concentrate on: "the movement."

Although these media were only locally available, they had no concern for the regional restriction which the ascending local media impose upon themselves. They no longer wanted to be alternative city papers. In form as well as content they became transnational, like their global peers. They wanted nothing to do with growth. Their brillant dilettancy turned out to be a childhood illness, but an essential component. As a leftover product of vanished radical movements, which flare up every now and then, their continuity and staticness in design and content remain breathtaking to this day. It cannot be reduced to dogma. They turn away from the brevity of media time and create their own space-time continuum.

The sovereign media are the cream of all the missionary work performed in the media galaxy. They have cut all surviving imaginary ties with truth, reality and representation. They no longer concentrate on the wishes of a specific target group, as the "inside" media still do. They have emancipated themselves from any potential audience, and thus they do not approach their audience as a moldable market segment, but offer it the "sovereign space" it deserves. Their goal and legitimacy lie not outside the media, but in practicable "total decontrol." Their apparently narcissistic behavior bears witness to their self-confidence, which is not broadcast. The signal is there; you only have to pick it up. Sovereign media invite us to hop right onto the media bus. They have a secret pact with noise, the father of all information. And time is no problem -- there is room for extended versions as well as sampled quotations.

This is only possible through a lack of profile. Without being otherwise secretive about their own existence, the sovereigns remain unnoticed, since they stay in the blind spot that the bright media radiation creates in the eye. And this is why they need not be noticed as an avant-garde trend and expected to provide art or social movements with a new impetus. The reason sovereign media are difficult to distinguish as a seperate category is because the shape in which they appear can never shine in its full lustre. The program producers don't show themselves; we see only their masks, in familiar formats. Every successful experiment that can possibly be pointed to as an artistic or political statement, they immediately expose to contamination. The mixers inherently do not provoke, but infect chance passers-by with corrupted banalities which present themselves in all their friendly triviality. An inextricable tangle of meaning and irony makes it impossible for the experienced media reader to make sense of this.

The atmosphere inside the sealed cabin conflicts with the ideology of networking. As a central coordination machine, the computer subjects all old media to a digital regime. The sovereign media, conversely, make their own kind of connections, which are untranslatable into any universal code. High tech is put to the test and turned inside out. But this trip into the interior of the machine does not result in a total multimedia art work. Disbelief in the total engagement of the senses and technically perfect representation is too great for that. The required energy is generated by short circuits, a confusion of tongues, atmospheric disturbances and clashing cultures. Only when computer-driven networks begin to break their own connections and scare off potential users will it be time for the sovereigns to log in.

Free Radio in Amsterdam

Since the early eighties, Amsterdam has boasted an extensive collection of free radio stations. These pirates work noncommercially out of squatted buildings and are grudgingly tolerated by the authorities. Along with independent and world music, radio plays and shows with drop-in guests, the mix shows provide the most distinctive sound of the Amsterdam stations. The mixture is an expedition to the innermost recesses of radio. Mixers create their own universes of sound, infinite in length and breadth. They collect and examine material for its alienation potential. Trash is taken along on the trip and treated with a certain respect. Processing is not an act of violence for them. The point is not to ritually drive out some demon believed to reside inside the media. The mix shows us that we must travel through an immense empty space before we arrive at a new meaning. Sovereign media are hybrid through and through. Old and new, popular and obscure, trivial and heavy, all is forged together into a stunning total mix. The mixmasters connect discarded tape recorders to high-tech samplers and lace a cut-up Clinton speech with a language course, an Italian TV show, barking dogs and a dance orchestra.

The punk and hardcore station Radio Death, with its credo "Listen or Die," was the forerunner of Radio Patapoe, on which I now wish to focus. Patapoe's slogan is "Stand up better to a young world." Unlike other radio stations, Patapoe likes to veil itself in mystery about its existence and its intentions. But there is a manifesto, part of which I would now like to read.

Radio Patapoe: Stand Up Better to a Young World

The media are unbearable. What to do? Some people express their righteous democratic rage by interfering with the regular media. They bring the lie machine to a halt. Others disappear behind the curtain, conscious that the media mill will pervert their good intentions. They leave behind no traces in the media; they simply perform important works. Radio Patapoe is behind them all the way, but would like to draw your attention to a third path.

Information incites a Pavlovian reaction in many. It has to be passed on, actualized, commented on -- fast! The pace at which the info streams in and the shock value of the latest report determines the relative attention accorded the item. Remember Tiananmen and Desert Storm. Because of the live requirement and the craving for images, people are easily satisfied with dubious sources. The power of a media event is that it pushes other items out. Every medium automatically chases the ideal of the worldwide live report. No one thus escapes selection and the multiplication of complex background information. Only children can still make sense of it all. The more coverage, the less truth content and practical usefulness.

Radio Patapoe is an obscure, illegal, homemade station which doesn't wish to measure itself by adult criteria. There is enough information that hasn't yet been spread. It might be 10 days or 15 years old and can be dished up with elan, with nary a reference to "their" news. Information is always new and surprisingly timely. It is never historical because next week it will be the center of attention. And the cases never close; they keep plodding along. There are already so many data recorded that one needn't even have to look for them. They're there for the taking and they're there to be distorted. Just selectively reading from a newspaper (recent or not) rakes up so many mysterious details and pronouncements that it can be more exciting than a professional newsmagazine, which naturally never has quite the right correspondent in the right place.

Patapoe rummages in others' audio and video archives and makes amazing discoveries. Humanity is in the possession of a universal archive that the officials maintain may be unpacked only in an historically responsible way. Someone might pick out a pattern and send it around one more time as a fashion. But you never get the banal groundswell of foolishness dumped on you that a comprehensive representation would entail. Old material is meant to figure as a citation or an ornament in the contemporary scenery. Documents are not sacred objects for the Doggie Patapoe; they're there to be used.

Why the hankering for serious anti-information? So there you sit; you're right about something, but no one's told you so yet. And the chances of anyone doing so are exceedingly grim. So you scrape up all your courage and bring the truth to the fore. Everyone ignores you; but God records everything (including your program), so later your integrity will be proven. You can speculate about the long-term effect of information: in 6 years you meet someone who was really happy with your message. Or maybe not. Patapoe isn't waiting. The trouble gone to must be matched by the pleasure got from the broadcast. When your show is going haywire and you've made a mess of everything in sight and you can't hold back your laughter, it is a delight to the ear.

And fun for the listeners as well. The dialectic of boredom and fascination is ruptured for a moment. The desecration of Information, to everyone's surprise, does not lead to disbelief. You can test your rock-solid principles without having to sell them down the river. Only those who are tired of thinking and have firmly determined their values long ago will fear this.

At Patapoe information is corroded, thrown to the winds and shaken out. Many see such an attack as a physical threat. You betray comrades who feel that their position as information provider is endangered, and you are either heralded as a decadent art movement or dismissed as an amateur. The world situation is so precarious that no static may be introduced. These voices mute themselves at any overwhelming success. The approach ensures a blurry listener profile. The shady format opens ears that had been closed.

The theory of relativity applied to the phenomenon of information is the supporting foundation of every sovereign medium. The listener need not be served, and decides which medium he or she will consume. When one news item has a lock on 20 channels, there's no reason to become the twenty-first. You then run a great risk of reiterating rubbish. It is impossible to give an objective view of the world. To suggest otherwise is what prevents official as well as alternative media from drawing their own conclusions. In our business, opinions and facts freely intermingle. Sovereignty in the ether means nothing more or less than daring to determine according to your own taste what will be on the agenda. Without paying heed to an imaginary (movement) audience, editorial board, ideology or formula. This sounds logical, but is practiced nowhere. This rule should be made part of the universal declaration of human rights! Everyone is a broadcaster and a potential radio personality who can communicate across the spectrum. Paternalistic media that know what is of General Interest need to be shouted down and drowned in an all-out din.

Patapoe and multirationality -- one future. People know what's in their best interest. Multirationalism is a vote of confidence for the listeners. After all, information can be filtered out of any sound. The message might be unequivocal, but everyone will interpret it differently regardless. One will hear a sloppy microphone technique, a whiny voice, a detail that pricks up the ears. Another will hear only the sensational highlights; a third fixates on the idea behind it all; the next waits for something that never comes. How many fellow creatures are listening in the way that the radiomaker imagines they are? Precious few. Multirationality implies that the other cannot be fathomed, or reduced to a submissive receiver.

A message generally consists of many layers of information which affect interpretation. The Multirat medianaut is unfailingly aware of the following laws and sees through every camouflage:

  • The fact that there is air time for the message (or not). By scanning other channels you can figure out which topics are neglected or fall entirely out of the picture. A news story from two weeks ago turns out to have no follow-up, though things have been in no way resolved.

  • The length of an item (the importance attached to it). The more attention the better, one would think. The most important news of the day takes the most time and squeezes out other topics. The question is: did this cover story really belong on this day? Wasn't squeezing out other things really the point of all the hot footage? Be suspicious whenever there's a major event that may occupy public opinion.

  • The choice of words (the news provider's ideological freight). The faster news travels over the world, the less deviation there will be from the original wording. Live broadcasts cannot be simultaneously stamped in an ideological mold. That can only be done later. In fact things are copied out and parroted more and more. The terms that the Turkish government uses for "the" Kurds get universally adopted. For the "race riots" in Los Angeles the phrase "multicultural bread riots" would have been much more applicable. The German police call antifascists "leftist anarchists." Behind every word hides an ideological universe. Not once does a term get used by accident. Here is a job for hermeneutic anarchism that will set a never-ending analysis in motion (which will be interrupted by the sampler resistance).

  • The tone in which things are read. This determines believability. Every report can be made ridiculous through the use of speaking techniques. A scoffing intonation or the repeating of sentences is almost demagogic and can make a story quite chilling. And then there are the subliminal techniques for keeping the unconscious busy.

No wonder information does not flow linearly from one brain to the other. The usual channels treat information only as text to be transmitted. Though the other layers of information are not recognized, they definitely influence the listener nonetheless. Behind the daily ration of de-formation one might suspect a conspiracy. You could also see it as a ritual, or as helpless fumbling. Patapoe researches these layers and plays with them; which is not to say anyone can escape them. A good program is just as manipulative as a bad one. How convincing a program is depends on the degree to which you have knowledge of the laws. A well-meaning mistake on one of the levels can be enough to undermine the whole thing. Placing your own good name and the listeners' listening habits in doubt is a rewarding business.

Another aspect of multirationality is excessive lies and promises. The audience has no problem with this and is not offended if the truth comes out or the promise is not fulfilled. The grand gesture is valued, but no one really expects to get anything out of it, as is usual in advertisement, love and politics. Lunatic radio, in contrast, does not live for unmitigated appreciation. This turns most listeners off, but the chance few extract fruitful information from it. Previous knowledge or interest makes them able to appreciate the nonsense for what it is. These eccentrics have nothing in common with each other: when you put craziness on the air, you transgress boundaries of age, scenes, ideologies, because the message is not put into the familiar codes. This can deregulate group behavior quite a bit.

All the mechanisms of selection and distortion that are unleashed on information also apply to music. Bands that are not part of the music monopoly are not broadcast. Media attention is directly related to sales figures, except when artists that sell well start making critical noises, which results in structural neglect in favor of their "safe" colleagues. In the economic system of composer, lyricist, performing artist, record label, radio station and record store, the record bigwigs hold the reins. Selling records will no longer make any artist rich; only concerts make money. Composer and lyricist pay dearly to protect their copyrights, but make nothing unless their creations sell in astronomical numbers. Radio stations must pay duties for music, but they can choose not to. Their copyrights are not ours.

We have made friends with the invisible enemy named technology. Playing with the knobs yourself (or even what's behind them) during broadcasts gives insight into the possibilities of the medium and the modus operandi of other media. Dependence on the engineering department is surrounded with much liturgy for us, while elsewhere technicians make their appearance only when there's a disturbance. The do-it-yourselfers are in permanent contact with the vague spheres that surround audio technology, since they have one foot drifting in the air and one firmly on the ground. Technology is not a holy place or a black box; it's an accessory to recreation that nominally enlarges the freedom of what the Japanese call the "convenient life of the new human people." The equipment is fought and vanquished, and then used comfortably in versatile ways. So it needn't figure in a performance concerning the destructiveness and power of technology.

We expect that everyone will become multirational, at least outside the range of Radio Patapoe. But within hearing range Patapoe may only be understood through its transmitter. Publicity does not solve problems; it merely gives you a false feeling of significance. That would be a pity. You'd either get crapped on, or you'd be unable to live up to your own hype. What's left is an alliance with like-minded people. Patapoe does not seek connections or ask for solidarity. This improves our cooperation with driven weirdos from the multimedia mill. In our meeting-free work environment, where the directors must slave away the hardest, consensus is dismissed as imaginary and the free association of sovereigns is allowed to do its work. The organizational model keeps pressure on the workers as low as possible in the interest of good feelings. Multirationality helps us stand up better to a young world.

The Data Dandy

The data dandy, whom I want to introduce here as my final topic, is as a potential media figure a difficult character. Since this UTO was brought into being by ADILKNO in 1993, it has been leading a life of its own as a buzzword. Appropriately, the dandy gives umbrage and can expect deep admiration as well as resolute revulsion and contempt.

Although the dandy shows off his affinity for the wretched and the criminal, his relationship to the underground, the experimental media artists or the remnants of the autonomist movement is absent at first glance. Data-dandyism does not strive for media practice in the strict sense. It is a techno-mask that can be put on and taken off within an information environment like the Net. Information overload is the dandy's natural milieu, and his counterpart is the media ecologist, who cannot bear waste and wishes to prescribe a media diet for the community. The dandy's hedonistic and frivolous manner of dealing with contemporary navigational problems disturbs essentialists, who are in search of a truth or reality within the networks.

The data dandy does not bring about any partial media connections, but dedicates himself to an aesthetic attitude toward the phenomenon of information. The motto of the "User as Artist" is, "La toilette digitale est l'espression de la societe." A dandy always figures in an ambiguous social situation, and in this fin de siecle that is the state of profound confusion and boredom. In the face of an overwhelming assortment of identities, the data dandy concerns himself with the depth of devotion to computerized elegance. Like the splendid heroes of the nineteenth century, he is solely dedicated to his own perfection. Beyond hype or lifestyle, beyond criticizing the corporate character of technoculture, the dandy tries on programs one after the other, with Oscar Wilde's line, "The first duty of life is to be as artificial as possible," as a guideline.

The masquerade in which the dandy takes part on the Net might be a game, a MUD or a MOO, but he can also appear on a newsgroup or an IRC channel or in a chic Electronic Grand Cafe. These spaces might be filled with data dandies, but more probably they have merely been designed by them. The data dandy is not a person, but rather a program. This is not a identity or a role model you can take on at will. The data dandy, like the cyberpunk, is the product of literary fiction. These are not social constructions, as are the Otaku, the Zippie and Generation X. Magic words like these prove to be strange attractors. People quickly wonder what they might be, and how you become one. But that only dulls the figure's shine. They are, at most, digital spirits who suddenly, briefly flicker up on the screen and then disappear again, or never appear at all. Their existence is improbable, and their profile remains blurry and vague since they are fluid phenomena. Only after a long time do these invented figures acquire firm contours and disappear into fashion, where they circulate in a fixed, crystallized form.

This law is easily observed through the example of cyberpunk, which was brought into being by a number of science-fiction writers. Cyberpunk appeared at the end of the 1980s as a projection of the future and has now almost become history. Thanks to Billy Idol and others, it has become an element of popular culture. But cyberpunks will probably actually appear only sometime in the next century. Or they existed only at the beginning of the 80s, even before science fiction made reference to their coming.

The same holds for the data dandy; it remains uncertain whether he is a remnant of decadent 1980s postmodernity or an unproductive troublemaker of the heyday of the Net. In any case, this is impossible to think about outside fashion and media. In the designing of techno-masks it is important to carry negativity as far as possible. In times of well- intentioned positivity, merciless effectivity and overpowering pragmatism, it is important to remain as unclear as possible. Only when the chaos of thought is optimal and complexity is no longer surveyable, out of the gray mist of image fragments, the forgotten discourses of heroic times and third-hand high-tech info will rise the figure of the data dandy.

The data dandy collects information to show off and not to transmit it. He is well-, too well-, or even exaggeratedly well- informed. Pointed questions are met with unwanted answers. He always comes up with something different. The phenotype of the data dandy is as feared as his historical predecessor, whose playground was the street and the salon. The elegant extravagance with which he displays the most detailed trivia shocks the practical media user. The data dandy makes fun of the gauged consumption and the measured intake of current news and amusement, and doesn't worry about an excess or overload of specialized knowledge. His carefully assembled information portfolio bespeaks no constructive motive. He goes to the greatest effort to appear as arbitrary as possible. One wonders: why did the data-head want to know all that stuff? He zaps not out of boredom, but out of unwillingness to keep abreast of current events and everyone else's latest worries.

In the era of multimedia mass information, one can no longer differentiate between uni- and multiformity. Neither broad overview nor clarifying detail can relieve the mental confusion. Against this background, the data dandy proves what everyone knows: namely, that information may be omnipresent, but it is not readily accessible. Certain facts are very flattering, and one must develop a fine nose for them. Unlike the data collector, the data dandy is concerned not with the obsession of the complete file, but with the accumulation of as many immaterial ornaments as possible. While the otaku withdraws into himself and will never cross the boundaries of his solitary cultivation, it is precisely the most extroverted newsgroups which the data dandy searches out to launch his unproductive contributions. What the data dandy skims off in order to present elsewhere would be only of secondary importance, if the presentation were not so indiscreet. His freakish wit distracts attention from the run-of-the-mill items. The ingenuity of his bon mots has a duration of 30 seconds, after which they disappear from the screen as suddenly as they came. Our data dandy is a broker in giga-wares, with the understanding that your garbage is his makeup, and his substance your fluid.

The screen is the mirror at which he performs his toilet. The buttoning and unbuttoning of textile-dandyism has found its successor in the the channel-surfing of on/off decadence. Wrapped in the finest facts and the most senseless gadgets, the new dandy deregulates the [time-]economy of information/money-managers. He spends most of his computing time on the luxurious decoration of his hard disk and the creation of sophisticated circuits among thousands of heterogeneous software trinkets. The PowerBook-as-jewelry is the pride of many a salon digitalist. He derides with actuality, hype and fashion: just for a second, a self appears that is its own anchorperson.

The data dandy considers his avatar in cyberspace the center of the digital universe. He knows he can only assume this position through the grace of the open structure of the network. His irksome interventions are preconditioned by public access, which he does not view as a means of changing the nonvirtual world. He recognizes the Net as a space to display oneself, not to communicate. Simulation is the fundament of his "General Principles of Digital Elegance," which is dismissed by essentialists, who still believe in the real/unreal binary, as "Lust am Untergang" or "Reinen Hedonismus." The data dandy is a secret democrat waging a relaxed battle for the unbounded expansion of digital human rights. Because if the plug is pulled on the Net, his personality will evaporate.

The data dandy displays a disquieting kinship with the politician, who also forces himself upon us with empty phrases and won't go away. Now that the political classes in their death-struggle have discovered the media, they are impossible to get away from, and their fanatical attempts to solicit support are taking on dandyish traits. The data dandy surfaces in the vacuum of politics which was left behind once the oppositional culture neutralized itself in a dialectical synthesis with the system. There he reveals himself as a lovable as well as false opponent, to the great rage of politicians, who consider their young pragmatic dandyism as a publicity tool and not necessarily as a personal goal. They vent their rage on the journalists, experts and personalities who make up the chance cast on the studio floor, where who controls the direction is the only topic of conversation. Yet they find the data dandy hopelessly difficult, since he doesn't want to play the sporting opponent and neglects to ask politely critical questions. Our bon vivant enjoys all display of banality and takes absolutely no offense at pointless dedication. It would have been useful to be malicious, but the imperfect subversive shows precisely his engaging side. His charm is deadly.

While the no-talent underground goes in search of instruments to cause the establishment trouble, the data dandy lets everything go stylishly haywire. There is no longer any social movement, opposition or undercurrent, nor can one suddenly appear out of nowhere; it can only sink further into the individual. Once empty, the media remain empty forever; no statement can compete with that. Hackers and cyberpunks don't manifest themselves, simply because they do not exist, just like the data dandy. These potential figures can only be conjured up as ghosts. Calling upon fictitious social forces is a desperate attempt at one more way to gauge the enemy. The data dandy is taken for a proto-/neo-/retro-fascist when he briefly appears as an illusory participant in the form of theory-skinhead during the processing-debate about "the rise of the extreme right."

The absolute vacuity of the data dandy greatly resembles the exalted laziness of Douglas Coupland's Generation X, Slackers, McJobbers, Beavis and Butthead fans and vague types. They see themselves as necessarily inextricable from the media and resist the historical mission of being subjects of the technological revolution. They laugh themselves sick over the idea that the mouse, remote control and data glove are revolutionary tools, serving a new creative productivity. The creative potential of the new media lies mainly in their potential for auspicious deception, with which few can earn money. These "cool" products are consumed by X'ers with few illusions and much irony. Their pleasure at the self-referential character of the media results in nothing. We see them, hardly full of abandon, tinkering with the multiplicity of the techno. The garage romanticism of the 80s has disappeared; tinkering with hardware has made way for copying, pasting together, cleaning up and reprogramming others' software. Digitalization in the 90s is taking place at a sub-proletarian level, beyond the crumbling welfare state. Machine-assemblage and data processing take place nowadays in a global context and are displaced, telematically sent, to Asia, the Caribbean, China, India and Eastern Europe. The Net as the nirvana of lost jobs is above all an arena where one can delight in the pathetic, wooden communication of others.

Unlike Generation X, the data dandy veils his cynicism about speculation in the new media branch. The folly of interactivity need not be unmasked as far as he's concerned. On the contrary, carefully-tended negativity, full of paradoxical humor, should be stylishly disseminated. The great Nothing, which is devalued in the yawning digital abyss, should be kept covered. This is the most important mainspring behind his will to illusion and deception. The deep melancholy of the computer and the infinite emptiness of cyber-spaces inspires extra-existential fantasies in the users, which the data dandy tries to exorcise with his humanoid artificiality. He admires the prefab poverty cult of grunge, the hideously fresh and cheerful colors of Swatch and Benetton (fluorescent as well as natural) and the well-intentioned and healthy hallucinations offered by cyberculture. In response to the computer-driven spectacle inside the brain, with its endless navigation through data-masses, the data dandy advances the gracious art of brilliant inspiration. He admires all search systems, the know-bots, agents and other variants of HyperCard philosophy. His seductive attractiveness is based on conjuring up one-time knowledge. The heroic production of data dumbfounds counseling clients and careerists, who begin to ask themselves in aggravation where they can get hold of the data-dandy manual. But they will drift away in frustration as soon as they realize that the media and their theorists are praising hot air after all, and that the chameleon-like data dandy can laugh freely about his own inevitable death.

The Net is for the electronic dandy what the metropolitan street was for the historical dandy. Strolling along the data boulevards cannot be prohibited and ultimately jams the entire bandwidth. The all-too-civilized conversation during a rendez-vous turns up a few misplaced and objectionable data, but never results in dissidence. The point of willfully wrong navigation and elegant joyriding inside someone else's electro-environment is admiration, envy and confusion, and consciously aims for stylized incomprehension. The dandy measures the beauty of his virtual appearance by the moral indignation and laughter of the plugged-in civilians. It is a natural character of the parlor aristocrat to enjoy the shock of the artificial. This is why he feels so at home in cyberspace with all its attributes. Cologne and pink stockings have been replaced by precious Intel; delicate data gloves and ruby-encrusted butterfly goggles and sensors are attached to his brows and nostrils. Away with the crude NASA-aesthetics of cybernauts! The data dandy has moved well beyond the pioneer stage; the issue now is the grace of the medial gesture.

The anonymous crowd in the streets was the audience of the Passagen-dandy; the logged-in Net-users that of the Great Digital Aesthete. He feels forced to employ the other users as the anonymous mass, as the amorphous normality to which he is the sharply outlined deviation. The info-dandy knows he is never more than one of many crazies in the variability carnival of the information circus. He will thus never present himself as the umpteenth retro-identity, remnant of a twentieth-century fashion such as hippie, fascist, punk, modernist or feminist, because he can only play with the rules of the Net as a non-identity. What is exclusivity in the age of differentation? The dandy is not interested in ever more secret passwords for gaining entry into ever more exclusive data salons; he needs virtual plazas for making his tragic appearance. Data dandyism is born of an aversion to being exiled into a subculture of one's own. The dandy's archenemies are camp and cult, which, as opponents of lifestyle and design, need popular culture as a source of tastelessness.

The data dandy, false prompter of the sentimentality of the day, does not mourn apathy, conformism, disengagement, the blurring of values, materialism, individualism, depoliticization and the reappearance of the old left. On the contrary, he repeatedly launches contentless Temporary Common Denominators (TADs), in which every subculture believes it recognizes itself. He manages thus to attract a remarkably large grey mass with which to stage his own spectacles. He creates a fake publicness and tests conventions. Some arbitrary examples of strong TADs with a high vagueness coefficient are the Love Parade, candle and torch demos against the Gulf War and Rostock, a candle in the window for Poland, Europride, a human chain over the Bosporus and other mobilizations of public concern. The data dandy surfs along on the waves of his Temporary Common Denominators and enjoys the fact that so many think they have found content in the signs of meaninglessness. This is why he is so engaged, and does not sit at home cursing that nothing happens anymore. He perks up at every mass display and enjoys the parade of emotion. Hankering for a binding passion is already reason enough to take to the street. The empty protest is a manifestation of collective Anwesenheit which culminates in medial presentation. Political resistance as advertisement for the latest lifestyle brings thousands into turmoil.

On the Net, however, what shows the characteristics of a crowd is not the users, but the information itself. As soon as a new field of knowledge is found, it splits and branches off so that an infinite amount of information flows in and out. Today's new theme is tomorrow's 23 newsgroups. If the data dandy wishes to come across as a real figure, he can only do so in the form of dandy data. These are queer: while the heteroinformative data of the "normals" are concerned with qualification, connection and reproduction, fanning out and thus causing further disintegration, the dandies' homoinformative data are eccentric but not special. Homodata associate with others and are lost in themselves. Like TADs, they attract roughly similar info and achieve a carefree concentration within the information field, where the show can begin. There appears to be an encounter or confrontation with the system, but the contact yields no productive moment, no cause or effect. Dandy data are purely situational, parasitic par excellence. What they leave us with is legend, the fuel of all media and the hope of theory.

ADILKNO has published regularly in Mediamatic magazine since 1988. Cracking the Movement: Squatting beyond the Media (New York: Autonomedia, 1994) is its first book to be published in English. Available in German are Bewegungslehre (Berlin: Edition ID-Archiv, 1991); Medien-Archiv (Bensheim: Bollmann Verlag, 1993); and Der Datendandy (Bensheim: Bollmann Verlag, 1994). The original Dutch texts are published by Ravijn in Amsterdam.

ADILKNO can be reached at

Post Box 10591
1001 EN Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Telephone/Fax: 011-31-20-6203297
email: geert@xs4all.nl

Updated 28 December 2004.

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