New York Magazine recently published a profile of BuzzFeed’s founder Jonah Peretti which details the Peretti and his viral media success. Within the lengthy article is one point of interest, Jonah Peretti’s published work on advertising and Deleuze.
BuzzFeed is a site dedicated to aggregating lists of lolcats and cute pictures of puppies. The New York article describes the whole thing as a “reverse mullet” business. Party (lolcats) in the front, business (real content) in the back. It’s a great place to kill time and brain cells if you’re into watching the world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 become a reality. Among today’s articles are: “Thirteen Reasons Shakira Should be President of The World” and “23 of the Best Sloth Tattoos of All Time.”
So you might be surprised to know that the genius behind it all once wrote an article about Gilles Deleuze, Fredric Jameson, queer theory and the commodification of the internet. New York’s Andrew Rice describes the surprise of the viral mastermind’s background
Peretti makes for an unlikely adman. He was raised in an atmosphere of East Bay liberalism, the son of a Berkeley professor and a criminal-defense attorney, and in his twenties he was something of an armchair anti-consumerist. He read Adbusters and Harper’s, and published a dense academic treatise about advertising and “resisting the logic of late capitalism” in a journal called Negations.
It reminds me of the Dr. Pepper 10 ad campaign, which I’m convinced was made by a gender studies student gone awry. You see, advertisers realized men thought diet drinks were feminine and for girly men. So they came up with this:
So that begs the question, did the creator of BuzzFeed get his inspiration for a viral marketing machine from philosophers like Gilles Deleuze? In his article published in Negations, Peretti writes:
My central contention is that late capitalism not only accelerates the flow of capital, but also accelerates the rate at which subjects assume identities. Identity formation is inextricably linked to the urge to consume, and therefore the acceleration of capitalism necessitates an increase in the rate at which individuals assume and shed identities. The internet is one of many late capitalist phenomena that allow for more flexible, rapid, and profitable mechanisms of identity formation.
And he said this:
Peretti goes on to deride MTV for its “rapid fire succession of signifiers.” Not so unlike those GIF-loaded posts on BuzzFeed.
In many respects the media culture of the late twentieth century simulates schizoid experience. The rapid fire succession of signifiers in MTV style media erodes the viewers sense of temporal continuity. To use the same words that Jameson uses to describe schizophrenic experiences, the images that flash across the MTV viewers’ retina are “isolated, disconnected, discontinuous material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence.”
The real genius of BuzzFeed, according to New York, is its ad model. BuzzFeed has no banner ads. Rather, sponsored content is merged seamlessly into regular content. That “13 Reasons Shakira Should Be the President of The World” could very well be a paid advertisement by Shakira’s record label. Peretti writes:
In order for an advertisement in GQ to be successful, it must provoke an ego formation that makes the product integral to the viewer’s identity. This fragile ego formation must persist long enough for the GQreader to purchase the product.
And then this:
Could this have been his starting point in his plan to make his millions? Has the integration of social networks, sharing, and advertisement created this ego formation for the sake of capital? Or, is Peretti a subversive genius who is using Buzzfeed to destroy our mode of production. Even the New York article begs the question: does this Buzzfeed ad model create sales? Peretti’s article leaves open the possibility that Buzzfeed is one giant resistance.
One example is the “Slacker” phenomena. These media-savvy youth consume the accelerated visual culture of late capitalism, yet do not develop ego formations that result in consumer shopping. It is as if the light and sound from the television is sufficient to satiate their desire. Actual products become superfluous the media itself is the final object of consumption. This refusal to consume defuses the capitalist media’s efforts to accelerate the process of identity formation/ dissolution and capital accumulation.