WyrdPatchwork #2: Patchwork Genealogies

You lonely of today, you withdrawing ones, one day you shall be a people: from you who have chosen yourself a chosen people shall grow — and from them the overhuman.

I was gutted to miss the second #WyrdPatchwork livestream on account of being on holiday the other month and I’ve only just gotten round to catching up.

The first session, which I was involved with, jumped right in at the deep end, showing us some of the many directions that patchwork thinking has been taken over the last 12 months — and many of these directions were wonderfully distinct from each other.

I’ve been working my way through this 6-hour(?!?!) video very gradually over the last few weeks and what I have been struck by is just how brilliantly genealogical this second session is. The vast divergences of the first session may have seemed random to the uninitiated but here I think the dots are joined brilliantly.

Go give it a listen.



In the aftermath of Grimes’ ode to Roko’s Basilisk, Holly Herndon’s new track “Godmother” feels like something of a necessary course correction.

Grimes’ joyous slice of propaganda was certainly entertaining but will our AI overlords really be all that receptive to nu-metal guitars and industrial cyber(pop)punk? Herndon — with her new track, made in collaboration with Jlin and an AI created by herself and Mat Dryhurst called Spawn — is here channeling a more appropriate AI response.

This new track feels very much like a continuation of a line of thought that Herndon has been evangelising for years, making us reconsider just how things can and should “sound” in our present moment.

I’m reminded of a part in her brilliant RBMA lecture with Emma Warren in which she discusses her work on the sounds of electric cars:

HOLLY HERNDON: Electric cars don’t have the same kind of natural engine sound that non-electric cars have. A lot of car companies have been putting recordings of actual, like physical mechanical sounds in their cars because you have to tell people… There’s been a huge problem with people who are visually impaired or older people not hearing cars.

EMMA WARREN: Or perhaps people who are just on their phones.

HH: Or people on their phones, which is me often. Yes, so they’re trying to figure out a way to let pedestrians know that cars are coming and so a lot of sound design companies are basically coming up with spaceship sounds, because I guess that’s what it’s like…

EW: So your car when you’re driving to the shop is supposed to sound like a spacecraft?

HH: That’s what the idea has been, that was the grand idea but I think that’s a really boring solution to what could be basically any kind of sound. So I was working with this company called Semcon, and we presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show last year, which was a really unusual venue for me to be showing stuff. [laughs] Basically, we came up with some different options for what an electric car could sound like and when you turn your wheel how could you play your car, and how your car could be an instrument in that way. One of the ideas that we came up with was to have a microphone system that would pull in the sound of the city wherever you were. Then it could process that, and then that could be a part of it, so it wouldn’t just be like a one-fit solution for every city. I think urban sound planning and things like that are really interesting.

EW: If you were in charge of the way the electric cars sound when they’re driving down the street, they would sound differently in the city than they would in the countryside?

HH: Yes. In short, yes.

With the increased marketing push towards cloud-based voice services like Alexa and Echo, Spawn seems to encapsulate this idea in a way that is, quite literally, parental rather than commercial. Spawn won’t order your shopping like a WiFi-enabled dumb waiter, but she’ll listen, learn and talk back — even, “sing” back — to you.

This is precisely how Herndon talks about Spawn in a statement released on Twitter alongside the single, giving an insight into Spawn’s gestation from embryonic code to sponge-brained AI child thirsty for sense-data.

She is being raised by listening to and learning from her parents, and those people close to us who come through our home or participate at our performances.

Spawn can already do quite a few wonderful things. ‘Godmother’ was generated from her listening to the artworks of her godmother Jlin, and attempting to reimagine them in her mother’s voice.

This piece of music was generated from silence with no samples, edits, or overdubs, and trained with the guidance of Spawn’s godfather Jules LaPlace.

This feels like a natural next step for Holly — a logical next step in a trilogy of records that shows the fascinating progression of not a single idea but a whole host of interconnected socially embodied implications concerning our relationships with technology.

Right now, it feels like things have come full circle. From the recursive body-mediating laptop-relations of 2012’s Movement through to the inhabited online worlds of Platform, “Godmother” sees Herndon’s deep gazes into the interiorities of our laptop lives turned around. Now, the code is looking back.

Around the time of Movement‘s release, I remember Herndon supported Cosey Fanni Tutti for a couple(?) of shows. So much was made of the novel ways she was treating her “laptop” at the time, her work still somewhat novel to its new audience. The music press, making sense of her performances, would nonetheless ground their analogies in the familiar, with her virtuosity being likened to that of a violin player for the way that she “embodied” her playing of the instrument. Watching a violinist play is certainly to see someone engaged in a full-body exercise. But so is playing the drums. Or brass. Or whatever…

Music-making is essentially an embodied activity. Even when made on a laptop. The combination of Herndon and Fanni Tutti was inspired, I thought, in this regard, because both artists have built careers on exacerbating the centrality of the body in their work. This embodied nature isn’t unusual in and of itself, but you, as an audience, noticing it — particularly in such overly mediated contexts, whether that is being a person (but especially a woman) in a band in the 1970s or online in the 2010s — very much is

Then, on “Godmother”, the embodied body is left behind — now the laptop plays me — and the tables have been turned. What is exacerbated is less the presence of the body in the technosphere, now what is exacerbated is its absence. As Herndon later writes in her Twitter statement: “In nurturing collaboration with the enhanced capacities of Spawn, I am able to create music with my voice that far surpass the physical limitations of my body.” And not just herself, but her peers. 

Going through this process has brought about interesting questions about the future of music. The advent of sampling raised many concerns about the ethical use of material created by others, but the era of machine legible culture accelerates and abstracts that conversation. Simply through witnessing music, Spawn is already pretty good at learning to recreate signature composition styles or vocal characters, and will only get better, sufficient that anyone collaborating with her might be able to mimic the work of, or communicate through the voice of, another.

Are we to recoil from these developments, and place limitations on the ability for non-human entities like Spawn to witness things that we want to protect? Is permission-less mimicry the logical end point of a data-driven new musical ecosystem surgically tailored to give people more of what they like, with less and less emphasis on the provenance, or identity, of an idea? Or is there a more beautiful, symbiotic, path of machine/human collaboration, owing to the legacies of pioneers like George Lewis, that view these developments as an opportunity to reconsider who we are, and dream up new ways of creating and organizing accordingly.

I find something hopeful about the roughness of this piece of music. Amidst a lot of misleading AI hype, it communicates something honest about the state of this technology; it is still a baby. It is important to be cautious that we are not raising a monster.

In my own experience, intent is irrelevant in trying to intuit an AI child with a ‘good’ conscience never mind a consciousness. Being fed on a diet of Jlin is certainly a good start but to what extent does this aesthetic valorisation allow it to remain true to itself

We shall have to see what Spawn spawns next…

Xenogothic Radio #4: The Sounds & Silences of Llansteffan

This is old. Almost four years old. Posting this as Episode #4 of Xenogothic Radio might be cheating a bit but I’ve been revisiting this recently as I find myself in that cold, sad December mood of nostalgia for brighter climes, trying to take my mind away to somewhere other than London on a miserable Tuesday morning commute.

This was initially made as a CD for the population of a small Welsh coastal village, around the bay from Laugharne, the adopted home of Dylan Thomas. In hindsight, it’s basically just a radio show. It’s about time I gave it the chance to exist as such. 

In 2015 I did an artist residency programme in Llansteffan, a tiny coastal village in Carmenthenshire, West Wales. It was my first and only residency after I graduated from my undergraduate photography degree in 2013 but I had decided I wanted to swap my camera for a microphone.

I came across this project again today and, whilst it was initially presented in a very different format, it is essentially a radio show and one which still warms my heart so, for Xenogothic Radio #4, we’re going for a dip into my archive.

I was living in Cardiff at the time and, at the National Museum, at some sort of art event in the depths of winter, I ended up chatting to an artist called Lauren Heckler.

A residency whizz, having already travelled the world making site-specific work, Lauren had just recently moved to Cardiff and was looking to return home, organising a residency in Llansteffan where she had grown up.

It sounded really interesting and so did she so, still unemployed at that time, when we said goodbye, she gave me the details, and, later that week, I applied to be a part of it.

In March 2015, I joined a group of four other artists and, together, we would spend a number of weekends throughout March and April in the village making work before putting on an exhibition in the village hall.

The ethos of the residency was to bring contemporary art to a rural community but, in truth, this community was no stranger to artistic flirtations. Llansteffan was already home to the artist Osi Rhys Osmond, a renowned Welsh psychogeographer — “graphic psychogeographer”, as he’d call himself — who occupied the old dog pound in the village square.

Osmond was a psychogeographer in quite a literal sense. His artworks were made up of layers of maps and photographs and drawings and text. His abstracted cartographies resemble a sort of pre-digital deepdream of landscape and memory that didn’t quite resemble either — free-floating signifiers of time and place. 

I liked Osi’s work and I liked how he wrote about it too. I hadn’t heard of him before starting to plan for the residency and I was quite looking forward to meeting him. (There was a plan to have a somewhat formal meeting with him to discuss our approaches to this new — for us — space.) Unfortunately, shortly before the residency was about to start, Osmond lost his battle to cancer. I remember Lauren, who had been mentored by Osi, was heartbroken and considered calling the whole thing off. Instead, we went ahead with the residency in his honour.

The first day — a Saturday in early March — also happened to be the day of Osi’s funeral. We stood outside the church with other members of the overflowing crowd, listening to some wonderful eulogies. I think we mostly felt like we were intruding, but it felt only right to pay our respects to Osi before proceeding to make work in his substantial shadow.

The implicit influence of Osi on our thinking was hugely important for all of us. We each tried to map the space and its people in our own ways. I wanted to work with sound rather than photography — taking only one (proper) picture (not simply for documentary purposes) the entire that I was there. I’d previously, as a student, made photography installations that were soundtracked by mix CDs that I would pump into a space and give away, as a sort of soundtrack to the work and its making. 

I wanted to find a way of exploring the experience of photography itself. That’s what I loved: taking pictures, not looking at them. Everything after that experience of walking around and clicking that shutter was admin. I started to make field recordings of my photowalks, the sounds of the country or the city, punctuated by camera clicks. Then, after a while, the camera became altogether redundant. I wanted to capture that experience, not hide it behind the romanticism of Photoshop and big white spaces.

I started to make guides instead, inspired by the works of Janet Cardiff. I made aural accompaniments to the experience of photographing, retaining the aural experience that was so important to me but that was, most of the time, exorcised from the final “representation”.

That’s what I ended up putting in the village hall: a little hub, reminiscent of a half-forgotten tourist information centre, all cork board and pinned up bits of paper, maps, local info… And then, on the table, a Walkman and a stack of CDs. I only made 50 copies but they all went on the first day. I hope the people of Llansteffan still listen to it sometimes.

I wanted to share it here too. It’s not particularly Gothic, but it certainly contains all of my interests: consciousness raising, sound, the political potentials of mediated experience, mythologies, humour, new futures out of lost pasts, etc. It’s a project that I look back on so very fondly — mostly because Llansteffan is one of the most beautiful and relaxed places I’ve ever been — and sometimes I still listen to this to take myself back there.

I never shared it around that much because, being so site-specific, I wasn’t sure it would survive outside its immediate context. But now, I think maybe there’s something there…

See what you think.

A Further Note on Emotional Labour & Woke Capital

@ParallaxOptics didn’t like my previous post, which made reference to their interview with the @WokeCapital Twitter account, declaring:

This is pretty weak. If you write something more substantial @WokeCapital might be tempted into responding… [1]

I don’t think there is anything substantial to be said — that was sort of the point — and I’m definitely not interested in a back-and-forth. That would be very tedious.

That being said, a clarification on what I think is the central point of that post: capitalists are as upset about capital’s promiscuity as anticapitalists are. 

@ParallaxOptics offered up a summary of their own position that was supposedly contrary to this statement:

Capitalists dislike the caging of capital via regulatory threat / favour by the State.

R/acc wants to see the Alien Virus, auto-catallactic GodHead formation process, reach completion. [2]

To be clear, and to frame the point more clearly in these terms, it seems to me like both capitalists and anticapitalists wish capital would stop paying attention to the wrong stuff.

Anticapitalists — more specifically understood as, for example, people critical of homocapitalism, as was discussed last time — wish capital would stop coopting their politics to sell flags, reducing their desire for radical social change and new freedoms to an opportunistic PR stunt. Capitalists, on the other hand, wish capital would stop slowing itself down through the coopting of leftist politics and just get on with deterritorialising itself and us along with it.

Both dislike capital’s promiscuity.

For further reference and clarification, I think my argument of that last post should be read as having an explicitly U/Acc undercurrent. I am personally very sympathetic to a queer politics that wants an exit from state subjection (perhaps like capital itself, a la G/Acc) and so a distaste for a right-wing “hey hey look at me!” is probably very predictable. Whatever.

You can call it what you want: all a concept of “Woke Capital” has done is confirm that the “other side” of the political divide is also soiling itself over capital’s adulterations. If it has taken this long for you to realise that that is what is happening — that, even if you imagine yourself as Master on the scale of master-slave morality, capital still looms over you — you’re very late to what is, by the numbers, a historically leftist party.

Capital only cares what you want if it can grow from it. It is defined by its own self-interest. Complaining that it doesn’t care about your politics is just embarrassing.

That is not making yourself worthy of the process.

Notes on Emotional Labour & Woke Capital

There’s a great article on The Atlantic this week from Julie Beck on the current murkiness surrounding the term “emotional labour”.

In the article, Beck interviews Arlie Hochschild, who originally coined the term, and explores how its generalisation — to include forms of “emotional labour” that are, at the end of the day, just examples of good old-fashioned normal workaday labour — undermines attempts to raise consciousness about unnecessary emotional duress endured for the benefit of capital. 

At the start of the interview, Hochschild sets the record straight:

Emotional labor, as I introduced the term in [1983 book] The Managed Heart, is the work, for which you’re paid, which centrally involves trying to feel the right feeling for the job. This involves evoking and suppressing feelings. Some jobs require a lot of it, some a little of it. From the flight attendant whose job it is to be nicer than natural to the bill collector whose job it is to be, if necessary, harsher than natural, there are a variety of jobs that call for this. Teachers, nursing-home attendants, and child-care workers are examples. The point is that while you may also be doing physical labor and mental labor, you are crucially being hired and monitored for your capacity to manage and produce a feeling.

[Today, the term] is being used to apply to a wider and wider range of experiences and acts. It’s being used, for example, to refer to the enacting of to-do lists in daily life — pick up the laundry, shop for potatoes, that kind of thing. Which I think is an overextension. It’s also being applied to perfectionism: You’ve absolutely got to do the perfect Christmas holiday. And that can be a confusion and an overextension. I do think that managing anxiety associated with obligatory chores is emotional labor. I would say that. But I don’t think that common examples I could give are necessarily emotional labor. It’s very blurry and over-applied.

The most frequently deployed logic and understanding of emotional labour I’ve heard, unfortunately, is that it is hard to maintain interpersonal relationships sometimes… It’s not just been moved to the home from the workplace, as is argued in the article, but, in my experience, it’s a term that is used to generically refer to all kinds of social interaction that someone would just rather not do.

The main issue I have with this, as Hochschild goes on to point out for herself, is that when the term is deployed loosely like this, it is done so without any attention being paid to the specific class relations that are being twisted and often exacerbated in the process.

Hochschild highlights one particularly egregious example: 

One thing that I read said even the work of calling the maid to clean the bathtub is too much. It’s burdensome. I felt there is really, in this work, no social-class perspective. There are many more maids than there are people who find it burdensome to pick up the telephone to ask them to clean your tub.

Part of this is, perhaps, due to the term being so deeply gendered and becoming increasingly more so, which Hochschild sees, in many respects, to be a problem. She did not originally analyse emotional labour as an inherently feminine affliction and she seems to suggest that to readily associate it with women is a sort of back-handed sexism. There’s no denying that it is a term of particular use to a feminist politics under a capitalist patriarchy, of course, but any feminist politics that seeks to undermine class politics in the process of its analysis is not an adequate form of feminism at all. 

That being said, I’m aware that popular feminisms are an unfortunately easy target these days but this must be said and said more often. Identity politics, properly understood, obviously has its uses but the danger is that it is reduced to nothing more than a Woke Libertarianism which achieves nothing — boosting the bourgeoisiego and failing the classes who are actually afflicted.

At this point you might be thinking, “You’re a dude” — yeah, I know, I know, “so shut the fuck up” — but I start here mostly because this article is great and what is being described here is a symptom of a larger problem; an endemic one.

Many other strands of popular progressivism have focused intensely on the intersectional lines of race and (non-essentialist) gender politics in recent years — to their credit — but class nonetheless remains a consistent oversight — and a telling one. Whilst battles are won in the diversity wars along these other lines, class diversity remains years behind the rest, and our political thinking is also considerably less nuanced on this issue than on other issues of identity, despite all the apparent waffling that goes on about Marxism. [1] Perhaps most just assume that class is an integral ingredient in all other forms of social relations — which it is — and is therefore included by default, but this is not the case. Its persistent absence from populist discourses despite its structural centrality illuminates precisely who continues to control a lot of these debates on the left today.

The watering-down of “emotional labour” is a case in point. Properly deployed, it has the potential to be an excellent weapon in anybody’s theoretical arsenal. But not if, in generalising the forms of labour that the term is most usefully applied to, we continue to overshadow the particularities the term was coined to critique in the first place, especially when there are many companies that we could be challenging but don’t because they’re bastions of wokeness in other ways.

All of this takes me back to 2015, when I saw, first-hand, the harsh reality of my girlfriend’s experiences of working at LUSH. (I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for years because this has been a bugbear of mine for a long time… So excuse this rant-interlude.)

My girlfriend loves LUSH. Even now. With Christmas approaching, I know I’ll be popping into the hellscape that is their flagship Oxford Street store on some future lunch break to pick up some bath bombs. And their bath bombs are good. I’m partial to one myself if I’ve had a manually laborious week at work and need to decompress with a book and some multicoloured bubbles. The irony, however, is that the respite their products provide to people wholly contradicts the way they treat their staff.

Many people don’t seem to think of LUSH as being unethical in this way. They know the shop for its olfactory assaults and political activism — its corporate veganism, environmental and sustainability policies, campaigns against animal testing and for animal rights more generally, etc. etc. These are all good things to champion and the company seems to put a lot of money into raising awareness about these issues. It’s also obviously something of a marketing ploy — this 2016 article in The Guardian explores the impact of their politics on their market share explicitly — and sure, why not give people something to believe in, but if you’re going to sell your customers the illusion of ethical consumption, the very least you can do is extend it to your own shop floor.

When my girlfriend worked at LUSH she would so frequently come home in tears. She’d be emotionally exhausted after a fraught shift of adhering to the shop’s draconian regulation of staff emotions. If you’ve been to LUSH, you know this — the intensity of their staff, how they swoop down on you, beaming manically, welcoming you and positioning themselves as your own personal shadow. I think many would be forgiven for thinking you just have to be naturally wired and extrovert to work there but this is not the case. This behaviour is enforced and it blatantly and negatively impacts the mental health of those who work there. It is the direct result of workforce training and shop floor indoctrination. It is something that is actively policed.

ForAs long as LUSH continues to make its staff to work in this way, enforcing unnatural and often creepy expectations regarding their staff’s actual emotional labour, I can’t take any of their woke campaigns seriously at all. This is precisely the sort of situation that “emotional labour” — understood as Hochschild intended it — was made for but I’ve never seen anyone say a bad word against them.


On a lighter note, after working at LUSH, my girlfriend got a job at IKEA.

IKEA shifts were, I learned, manually intensive. You’d walk a lot and move a lot of stock, traipsing around your assigned department keeping things in order as customers streamed through like salmon, slapping stuff about all over the place.

People on the shop floor, despite appearances and expectations, are not employed as “shop assistants”. It’s simply their job to keep things flowing and in order. All onus to shop is left to the customer, collecting what you want and paying for it at the end.

IKEA apparently has its own draconian management problems but, because of this shop floor dynamic, being polite to customers was not enforced — at all. In fact, she’d tell me there was an employee subculture of grumpy solidarity. If someone gave you shit, as was a frequent occurrence in IKEA’s labyrinthine layouts, you didn’t have to take it. You couldn’t insult or verbally abuse, of course, but you weren’t being paid to smile so you didn’t have to. You were being paid to keep order and you could do that however you wanted. She’d come home on many occasions with stories about one particularly bolshy manager who had very little time for customers who took the piss and made their job harder than it already was.

That’s not to paint IKEA has some sort of gold standard employer, but I still laugh about these stories: how, post-LUSH, free disgruntled expression was a much-needed emotional outlet and, physical labour aside, it helped her recover.

Writing about all this, I feel a prickle on the back of my neck as I hear my own words resonating with a number of recent articles about so-called “Woke Capital”.

It is frankly embarrassing that things can get this bad; that this sort of cynical analysis, bastardising years-old leftist critiques, is seen as innovative. (It often feels like no political movement these days has any self-awareness. The left lacks any awareness of its own bastardising of right-wing self-interest and the right-wing lacks any self-awareness of its own (nonetheless inhumanist) progressivism.)

It’s notable, I think, that Woke Capital twists the same issues of “emotional labour” for its own similarly disingenuous aims. In particular, emotional labour seems analogous to the pressure of being “Made To Care” which the @WokeCapital Twitter account decried in a recent interview with Parallax Optics.

The Twitter account takes it upon itself to cynically highlight instances where corporate entities enforce progressivism on their staff for the sake of market survival. Whilst the contamination is derided from the other side of the political divide, the argument is effectively that of a libertarian “homocapitalism“. This could not be clearer than in the way the concept of “Woke Capital” is defined in the opening question as “the nexus connecting orthodox state progressivism to large ‘capitalist’ corporations.”

The interview even goes on to address “homocapitalism” for itself, seeming oblivious to the fact that it is parroting the critiques that LGBTQ communities have been making about themselves for years.

I think Shon Faye put it best, in this video from 2016 for Novara Media:

The problem with [Gay Pride’s] fixation on inclusion at all costs is that it’s something of a Faustian pact.

Some queers — most notably the white middle class gay men in the community — are offered the opportunity to partake in public life: you can get married, you can still rise to the top of your profession, and you can have various legal rights afforded to you. In return, you must not question these institutions any further and you must also shut up the more troublesome areas of your community.

(Note those dumb middle class politics again.)

As a result, the Woke Capital interview reads like an attempt to describe the other side of the bad “emotional labour” woke-coin — which is to say, it takes the side of devilish Capital’s own cynical self-interest in this Faustian pact (although @WokeCapital’s description in inevitably fed through the drunk Thanksgiving screeching of a disgruntled boomer):

Gays have no families, a ton of disposable income, and are incredibly loyal to those who validate them. This works on a few different levels. For starters, no families means they are ideal employees, since they have fewer obligations that could take them away from work. Additionally, the lack of family and stake in the future means more disposable income to spend now, making them ideal consumers of things. Finally, if there’s anything I’ve noticed about gays, it’s that they’re on average more narcissistic and insecure. As a result, anything that validates them and their feels will get them emotionally invested. Corporations have manipulated this impulse via cheap signaling, leading to greater profits and brand value.

This is no doubt offensive to many readers in its generalisations but it’s not hard to imagine that this is the way that many corporations actually think about LGBTQ demographics, strategically marketing their Pride parade floats through a homophobia-infused market analysis. As a result, it’s not a critique of Woke Capital from the outside but one from within: it’s the diatribe of a capitalist who dislikes capital’s promiscuous complicity as much as anti-capitalists do. (As if either side is going to change capital’s mind.)

In essence, the argument being made two-fold, mirroring that of the Cathedral itself: capital and its progressive bourgeois subjects are entwined in a parasitic death-spiral, each cynically using the other to ensure their own survival, but the ouroboros won’t be able to sustain itself forever.

@WokeCapital’s bleak predictions for our futures continue to echo those of a radical leftism:

Corporations are kind of in a bind where they have to play ball or be destroyed, and if they play ball they might still be destroyed anyway. In the case where a CEO doesn’t want to play ball, he can be removed from his position by an activist board. You don’t even have power over what you’ve built. So how does this all end? We will not see an end to this until we’re broke, or get a new religion, or both.

What’s the best-case scenario? According to @WokeCapital, it’s to end up with a capitalistic do-over: “Can’t we just go back to where we were about 100 years ago — politically if not technologically?”

It’s neoreaction, but a neoreaction fed on the trickle-down politics of a 2016 counter-cultural leftism. It’s evidently incapable of neoreacting fast enough.

[1] Sidenote #1: I feel like mentioning Owen Jones’ book Chavs here. A lot of people are cynical about Jones these days, having blossomed into a full-blown media pundit, but when I read his first book, very soon after it first came out during my first year at university, it blew my mind wide open. It was the best book for raising class consciousness in that moment but I remember being frequently ridiculed by middle class peers when sharing its arguments. He may have singlehandedly caused the word “chav” to fall into disrepute but the underlying sentiments remain. Little else has noticeably changed — especially in academia where, as I’ve climbed up the postgrad ladder, things have only gotten worse. People seldom talk about class anymore in the academic circles I’ve passed through and, if they do, they’re hardly ever talked about well (because, duh, academia doesn’t favour working-class people)…

Blob Blob Blobby: Towards a New Blobjectivity

I looked at him, lost in astonishment. There he was before me, in motley, as though he had absconded from a troupe of mimes, enthusiastic, fabulous. His very existence was improbable, inexplicable, and altogether bewildering. He was an insoluble problem. It was inconceivable how he had existed, how he had succeeded in getting so far, how he had managed to remain — why he did not instantly disappear. […] The glamour of youth enveloped his particoloured rags, his destitution, his loneliness, the essential desolation of his futile wanderings. For months — for years — his life hadn’t been worth a day’s purchase; and there he was gallantly, thoughtlessly alive, to all appearance indestructible solely by the virtue of his few years and of his unreflecting audacity. I was seduced into something like admiration — like envy.

Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness”

Mr Blobby has returned to our screens. Out of the wilderness, long thought discontinued, but now back. And I am glad.

Mr Blobby may not be the revolutionary figure that we want, but he is the figure that we need.

On This Morning, ITV’s offensively innocuous breakfast TV show, during a segment about the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, presenters Philip Schofield and Rochelle Humes were accosted by the blob whilst discussing — with Maggie PhilbinNoel Edmonds‘ prospects as he takes part in the Australia-based “jungle” show, in which a group of celebrities must survive in a contrived wilderness by doing gross-out tasks and not being “voted out”.

Blobby was introduced as an old friend of Noel’s — his best friend even — which he undoubtedly is: his infamous partner-in-crime from his 1990s heyday on the Saturday night TV sensation Noel’s House Party. Who better to comment on his jungle prospects than him? However, Blobby was not a mere blast from the past. He emerged from backstage timeless. He hadn’t aged a day.

Confused? Don’t worry. The people and their context are irrelevant. They are mere background noise to the return of Blobby. Although, that being said, it was fitting that Blobby should reappear as Edmonds entered the irreality of the celebrity jungle. Who better to represent the truth of the environ in which Edmonds now found himself? As Rochelle Humes joked, perhaps there is no better preparation for the “Jungle” than spending an extensive amount of time with Mr Blobby.

The spatial intensity of an actual jungle is absent from I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! It is presented to participant and viewer through the enclosed quasi-studio representation of culinary horrors or glorified adventure-playground spelunking. This is not a Real jungle. The “Jungle” of I’m a Celebrity… has rules; boundaries. The celebs exist, supposedly at risk from the elements, but nonetheless protected from the world of the non-famous. The Jungle of the Real has no rules. It cares not who you are. It is a lawless energetic expanse. It is a natural anarchitecture. It is Blobby.

Blobby is the last remaining television junglist. He is a mutant; an anarchic mess of desiring-disruption. His violence is in his ineptitude, his inability to conform to the burgeoning sense of neoliberal propriety that was to take hold of the entire nation in orbit of those years when he was first conceived. As such, we might think of Blobby as the national unconscious of this infamously repressed isle, masochistically let loose on ourselves, at the very moment it was to be neutered — for good? Blobby was the last great cultural horror that our nation produced. And we loved him. We needed him. 

We still need Mr Blobby today. Perhaps now more than ever.

Writing for The New York Times in 1994, Elizabeth Kolbert notes:

Some commentators have called [Mr Blobby] a metaphor for a nation gone soft in the head. Others have seen him as proof of Britain’s deep-seated attraction to trash. Mr. Blobby “is not some aberration of taste but an intrinsic part of British culture,” one columnist wrote in The Sunday Times of London, adding, “But it’s not the part we like to boast about, especially around the Americans.”

Blobby is the spectre of an unconscious not watched over by a globalist superego. He is not “trash” but a working class hero, unbound from the cultural trappings of bourgeois capture. He is a libidinal entity unleashed upon the bourgeoisie. This was demonstrated most clearly in Blobby’s encounter with Hyacinth Bucket of Keeping Up Appearances — a sitcom about the futile pretensions and inauthenticities of the British petite bourgeoisie. Blobby is the one true authentic being, unrestricted by the oppressions of our micropolitical niceties.

Of course Blobby is not the hero that we boast about. He represents everything we seek to repress: our all-too-human nature. And of course it has been the media class that has long sought to repress him. He is their Frankenstein’s monster, birthed to the masses, and they have been repulsed by the love he received for his chaos, pulling down the curtain, the illusion of their over-scripted and airbrushed lives.

They perhaps intended Blobby to be a warning, a caricature, but he has instead become an icon.

In this way, Blobby is a Lovecraftian mirroring of the self with his Cthulhic stature reduced. He nonetheless remains both king and jester in the court of the symbolic order. To look upon him is to recognise the best of our unconscious qualities — our desires, loves, enthusiasms — given reckless autonomy. The fact that we are baffled by his form only marks our distance from our sense of our true selves.

As this most recent television appearance demonstrates, in the quarter of a century since Blobby emerged from the mind of a TV prank writer and proved too unruly to be restrained by the narrative that birthed him, Blobby has not been tamed. 25 years ago, Blobby was a regular feature on This Morning — or, as it was then known, GMTV. The chaos Blobby brought to that live television environment was like an act of self-harm, shattering the illusion of a suffocating state-sanctioned British propriety.

The establishment now displays an incredulity that Blobby was ever a national hero. Cole Morton, listing the 10 most irritating television characters for The Independent, wonders:

Was there something in the water? Did the nation really once fall about laughing at the clumsy antics of a bloke in a big pink rubber costume with yellow blobs all over it?

Yes. Bizarrely, Noel Edmonds’s daft sidekick was so popular his single bumped Take That off the top of the charts in 1993. (And has since been voted the most annoying Christmas number one ever.)

It was not a Blobby aphrodisiac that was in the water but the molecular pollutants of Thatcherism: an individualism that sought to purify our dissident natures. Blobby was resistant for far longer than most could have anticipated. He survived so long that many tried to market him, make him an agent of capitalism by creating a theme park in his honour, but all such attempts failed. Blobby was a figure of the fete, not the ticketed enclosure. And so, in the end, he had to be forcibly put down. 

In the years since Blobby used to frequently frequent our screens, ITV’s breakfast show has only emboldened itself further, attempting to embody and dictate to the nation a neoliberal moral standing. Arguably, as a result of this, the show has become increasingly Americanised — the studio clinical and over-lit; the presenters the epitome of a soulless straight-toothed respectability. The show’s producers continue to parade guests before the nation who are seen as mutated avatars of their normative values, existing out on the fringes of society. (Most recently, for example, I saw that veganism remains a newsworthy cultural curiosity for some.) As such, This Morning presents itself as a revolving human zoo, under the auspices of public-interest interviews with the nation’s nonconformists.

Blobby is truly antithetical to its nature. He flings himself across the divide; across the delineation between host and guest. The show invites him onto their sofa knowing full well that he’ll flip it over. Why do they do this? In the hope they can defeat him; tame him? Perhaps they too cannot resist the chance to be in the presence of his expenditures. After all, he is their unconscious too. They still do not realise this fact and it is remains their tragic flaw.  

The media class had mistakenly thought they had won, overcoming the nation’s hysteric love for this monstrosity, believing they could write him out as easily as he was written in. And so, the media turned on Blobby, declaring him “unfunny”, a symptom of a national dementia, and, unfortunately, it seems like these panicked rejections of the Blob, who threaten to rupture the internal processes of neoliberal subjection, ultimately won out.

We forgot ourselves. They forgot themselves too. But Blobby remains the last true embodiment of rave frivolity, of impolite abandon, of libidinal excess. Blobby is all that we have repressed given a life of its own.

Attempting to explain Mr Blobby to the American public, in her same article for the NYT, Elizabeth Kolbert also writes that

watching Mr. Blobby at work, his green plastic eyes spinning maniacally, one has to wonder whether his appeal to this nation of Shakespeare, Milton and Philip Larkin isn’t a bit more complex. His frozen smile has a malevolent curve. Blobby is Barney without his medication.

But of course he shares this appeal. Barney is surely medicated — just look at him! He is just another victim of the therapeutic imaginary. Blobby represents something too old and too primal to succumb to the modern politics of individualism. He is Shakespeare’s Caliban; Milton’s Satan. Philip Larkin, too, was famous for his beautification of the national unconscious. Blobby is what Larkin could not contain within the pretensions of an intensely English poetics. Blobby can only be expressed through his own immortal tongue. “Blobby blobby blobby!!”

To bring Blobby back in 2018 is surely to unleash that which was long thought vanquished by the transcendental miserablism of the media establishment. 

We might understand transcendental miserablism, via Ben Woodard, as that “impregnable form of negation which places all negation in one entity”. For Nick Land, for the British left, this entity is capitalism. What is that entity for the capitalist? Surely it is Blobby.

Blobby is useless. Our negative image, as Woodard suggests, which is devoid of utility. Or perhaps the real danger of Blobby was that he is all too useful, too easily captured by libidinal forces, too easily reduced to our political whims. His alinguistic “blobs” too easily filled as false signifiers.

This is the danger of Blobby but also his revolutionary utility.

In Cyclonopedia, Reza Negarestani writes of a “blobjective” point of view which he attributes to the functionality of “petropolitical undercurrents” — the world as seen by and through oil. Blobby may not resemble the material consistency of oil but he is nonetheless absorbent and free-flowing. He likewise interconnects “inconsistencies, anomalies or what we might simply call the ‘plot holes'” of our neoliberal existence. Blobby travels through the wounds of class war. He is the libidinal ejecta of the class war machine itself, levelling all other idols in his burning immanence, a mutation emerging from the molten intensity of sociopolitical flows. He is, as Reza writes, “a manifest degenerate entity for which wholeness is but a superficial distraction.”

It is this irreverence for the whole that makes Blobby such a threat to the neoliberal order — and so, in 1999, he was extinguished. Now, he has returned, perhaps summoned by the calls of a false jungle. Who knows how he might be able to aid us in future…

His philosophy of life will steer him through
And as far as he can see
He’s the same as you and me
There’s nothing in the world he cannot do

No hill too high, no desert too dry
No road too long, no tide too strong
No bridge too far, he’s got a car
No slope to steep, no thought too deep
No star too bright, no squeeze too tight
No tale too tall, no cat too cool
No bass too low, he’ll give it a go
No end to his talents, no sense of balance

Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, when disaster strikes you never get depressed
Blobby, oh Mr Blobby, you’ll always prove that Blobby is the best