As of January , over 5 million individuals have seen The Meatrix , with 5, new viewers every day. Currently, the count has exceeded 20 million viewers.
Meatrix -based merchandise has also been made available in response to a considerable number of requests GRACE. The unusual popularity of The Meatrix has not gone unnoticed. Internationally, a U.
The fact that an animated spoof garnered such a wide audience and was featured in worldwide media reports certainly warrants consideration by those interested in contemporary rhetoric. The Meatrix joins a growing list of popularly disseminated computer animations circulating on the World Wide Web. This is because The Meatrix is not just a clever movie spoof, a humorous piece of cultural kitsch to spread around the workplace; The Meatrix also maintains significance because, along with its humor, kitsch quality, and cultural status, it has also been carefully crafted to spread an explicitly pointed message.
The Meatrix produces just what every non-profit activism organization, not to mention every for-profit corporation, wants: public attention. Like the image events described by DeLuca, The Meatrix generates its rhetorical impact by appealing to the norms of mediated culture to attract the attention of its audience. This being the case, texts like The Meatrix can offer insight into the creation of publics, show us what qualities are present that attract public attention, and help us to understand how such forms of discourse are functioning in the world.
Creating The Meatrix. The Meatrix is a Flash file that plays automatically when a user opens the website. The page www. Although the connection between The Meatrix and an increase of traffic on the associated websites listed on the action page is plain, the rhetorical function of The Meatrix itself should not be limited only to the role of intermediary. This is evident in their move to take The Meatrix to non-internet audiences. The Meatrix has been screened in film festivals, shown at county and State fairs, and aired as a public service announcement in movie theatres.
Indeed, even independent evaluation of The Meatrix focuses on the importance of the animation itself, as opposed to the possibilities it offers for increased web traffic on associated sites.
As uncomfortable as some readers—as I am—may be with crediting PR executives with insight into an interconnected populace, I use their analysis here to point out that changes in the dominant forms of communication are not only being surveyed in academic circles, but are evidently being considered by, and applied to, rhetors as varied as small nonprofits and companies creating worldwide advertising campaigns. Publics and Counterpublics.
A public associated with a text like The Meatrix clearly falls within this third sense, a public; more precisely, a counterpublic. It should be made utterly clear, however, that a counterpublic does not simply oppose the public, or act as a singular opposition to a singular dominant public.
As Phaedra Pezzullo notes, in agreement with Robert Asen and Daniel Brouwer Asen and Brouwer , public and counterpublic should not be taken as binary oppositions, but as multiple. Pezzullo writes, " When public dialogues reflect a multi-faceted negotiation of power, it is particularly important to recognize the complexity of various public spheres without reducing conflicts to mere binaries" In other words, the counterpublic is at once a multiple composition of texts in circulation, a product of the same social processes inherent in all publics, and simultaneously a particular type of public that is at once subordinate to and in conflict with a dominant public.
The Meatrix has a public, a general group created through interaction with the text. Second, I will look at The Meatrix as a means for producing a counterpublic, reading the text closely and attempting to show how The Meatrix functions by appealing to, and contradicting, resonant cultural fragments. The Meatrix as a Public. There is little doubt that The Meatrix can be read as a text, so too are the millions of individual viewers translatable as readers of the text.
What is more significant to consider is the work being done to make a public. How is it that The Meatrix has a public? In this case The Meatrix addresses a public, and that public consists precisely of those who have been addressed. Warner writes:. The idea of a public, unlike a concrete audience or the public of any polity, is text-based — even though publics are increasingly organized around visual and audio texts. Often the texts themselves are not even recognized as texts — as for example with visual advertising or the chattering of a DJ — but the publics they bring into being are still discursive in the same way.
Once we recognize the textual quality of something like flash animation—and come to realize that, although it is released to an indeterminate possible public, there must be a public that is formed when viewers are drawn to the text—then it is an easier step to see that the public is indeed text-based, generated through association with text.
To clarify this situation in relation to The Meatrix , one only need look at the means of distribution and viewership. The so-called viral distribution of Flash activism translates into creation of a rhizomatic viewership of the text. Re-casting the viral as the rhizome, we move from distribution—as in dispersal of the viral—to creation—in the making of a public. Deleuze and Guattari offer the rhizome as an alternative to the constricted, arborescent forms of Western thought: the root and the radicle, or fascicular root.
Such a perspective is incalculably useful in thinking about a public for The Meatrix because the formation of such a public appears in a historical model only as a chaotic whirlwind, a random distribution rather than a specific public creation.
The rhizome as a model is appropriate in its characteristics of free connection, linear dimensionality, and circulation. Deleuze and Guattari summarize the rhizome:. Unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature. It is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle milieu from which it grows and which it overspills.
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It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions. Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relations between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions, the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterrioralization as the maximum dimension.
Let me return to the description of distribution now but revisit it as a rhizomatic creation of a multiple public. Although we could historicize the process from an original email distribution and press release, we would soon discover the rhizomatic qualities of this public formation incoherent to the genealogical project.
From a small distribution of individual emails and press releases to , viewers in one week simply cannot be reasonably traced. From one freestanding website to 27, webpages linking to The Meatrix in a single month cannot be traced. Projected as a map, the rhizome creation of this public can be better observed. Rather than a beginning and an end we draw instead on middle.
At any given moment The Meatrix public grows in innumerable directions with varied lines of dimensionality. One dimension of line connects individuals through the viral distribution of email. One sends to many, others receive and resend forward , individuals email individuals, some ignore, others persist, resending, re-forwarding. In true rhizome form, however, the medium is never singular: some individual receives several forwards and post to a blog, others will read the blog, some will activate the link.
Another line might connect a newspaper article to a viewer. Such is certainly the case of a public constituted rhizomatically through flash activism. While some lines would connect friends and co-workers, and others might connect better-known publics like distribution lists or readership, The Meatrix itself is not expressly created or distributed with these individual people in mind. The text cannot anticipate the movement of the rhizome; not even after its publication can we trace the development of its public—we can only map.
Not only is The Meatrix created without a predetermined public, other features of the public are similarly indeterminate. Warner notes, " The existence of a public is contingent on its members' activity, however notional or compromised, and not on its members' categorical classification, objectively determined position in social structure, or material existence" "Publics and Counterpublics" This is discernible in the variability seen in some of the perceptible lines of flight in The Meatrix public.
Because a public exists only by virtue of address, it must predicate some degree of attention, however notional, of its members. The cognitive quality of that attention is less important than the mere fact of active uptake. Attention is the principal sorting category by which members and nonmembers are discriminated. Cognition, understanding, and depth of consideration are not the defining characteristics, however, only the attention. While this seems incongruous with the intentions of a politicized text like The Meatrix , it is nonetheless very much a condition of our contemporary society.
It is in this light that we must also consider that The Meatrix alone does not create a public, for a public remains a space of discourse, not a space of singularity. Superficially we may not recognize The Meatrix as a concatenation of texts through time. Again it is clear that there is no singular historicity to this commentary; one is not entering into a conversation in the usual or expected sense, but texts are circulating throughout a public; the public is communicating.
There are other texts involved in creating this public too: they include emails and forwarded emails, websites linking to and from The Meatrix, news reports, web reviews, "Hot Clicks"-type listings, word of mouth, and word of academic publication. It is the way texts circulate, and become the basis for further representations, that convinces us that publics have activity and duration.
A text, to have a public, must continue to circulate through time, and because this can only be confirmed through an intertextual environment of citation and implication, all publics are intertextual, even intergeneric. While it may seem at this point in the discussion that The Meatrix public is remiss of political agency, removed from definitive direction in its discourse or too loose in its creation to show signs of social movement , I believe that two important points need to be considered before we jump to such a judgment.
First, we must keep in mind that this is not a read of a social movement per se, nor is it a read based on an idealized vision of public discourse.
Rather, this is an attempt to understand textual circulation as it happens, to map out the distribution of a text in its creation of a contemporary public. This brings me to the second point of consideration: The Meatrix has a public, and that public is reading a text. While we have explored the creation of the public, we have yet to even begin to contemplate the text itself. The Meatrix as a Counterpublic. Much of our contemporary discourse is based on texts, or fragments of texts, which inundate the social individual in a deluge of signs.
Given that much of our contact with contemporary texts involves the act of looking i. The glance within white-noise-like arrays of signs, fragments filtered through the stream of piecemeal messages, sound bites, and spectacles have created a need for ways of reconceptualizing the public sphere. DeLuca and Peeples write:. The public screen is a constant current of images and words, a ceaseless circulation of television, film, photography, and the Internet. While DeLuca and Peeples choose an analysis of mainstream press coverage of the World Trade Organization WTO protests in Seattle to demonstrate the possibilities for alternative rhetors to enter into discourse with the public, a study of The Meatrix and the public screen can show how an alternative text generates its own public, a public.
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