After the Glitch


A parable is a short story imbued with moral principles, a cautionary tale, a vivid illustration of difficult choices and a sharp reminder of the power of virtue. The ancient sages often used parables as a teaching method: Jesus spoke of the lost sheep to exemplify the need for redemption, Muhammad told of the frosty wind that chastised the unbelievers, Confucius compared the flowing of water to the untiring integrity of the wise.

2012 is over. It was a happy, troubled, complicated year. There were many key events to remember, and the countless considerations of their causes and ramifications now slowly ascend in relentless networked evolutionary fashion to the pantheons of individual and popular memory, but there was one symbol, among the endless flow of information, that for me stood out as a significant link to the contemporary zeitgeist: the pixelated glitch.

The glitch is the error sign, the century's expression, acknowledgement, and acceptance of noise: digital noise. Much like its predecessors, contemporary sub and counter cultures have embraced this noise both as weapon and as a demand, reclaiming the accidental and autonomous outputs of the matrix as their own playground and manifesto: glitch politics.

First hailed as the obvious synecdoche for the daring cultural politics of the New Aesthetic, the glitch has since then become commonplace in every corner of mainstream avenue. In fact, it was the glitch's overwhelming ubiquity in 2012's pop culture that  got me thinking about what could happen next, now that James Bridle is an academic, now that Rihanna killed seapunk. Where do we go from here, after retrofitting the 80's dead landscape with the network's pixelated qi, I kept wondering in the final stretches of last year, getting ready like most of us to celebrate the faux-Mayan apocalypse with the appropriate and required post-hipster ironic disbelief.

And then, like a faint whisper from a half-remembered dream, there came an answer.


In the late 1990's, infatuated with French art theory and other intellectual adventures, many a European youngster sought to establish a clear distinction between real events and their mediated representation, what one used to call the organized and diffused spectacle of everyday life. Mind you, these were the early days of the network, and we had yet not realized, or lived through, the extent and reach of global media machines.
The matrix was still a child, before 9/11.

Of course everything changed since those days of now seemingly unending naiveté: mass self-communication is now the name of many games, and power is now inextricably linked to image-making so as to render any attempt at old-school reality a futile, or elegant, exercise in private and unknowable action. Of such twists is made the evolution of politics: this decade's revolutionary status quo involves multiple profiles, real-time feeds, mobile everything.
What next, I kept asking.

The answer came  from a surprising and, in hindsight, obvious place. It came from those who had already understood the necessity of a mediated coincidence of local and global, those who had always known that hyper-reality is all we have. On December 21st 2012, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional EZLN emerged from years of self-imposed invisibility onto the streets of Chiapas and Southern Mexico, in a massive demonstration of what a post-glitch aesthetic might look like: 40 000 masked women, men, and children, marching in silence.

Broadcasted globally, instantly youtubed, unparalleled in their mastery of contemporary media language: the Zapatistas speak in parables. They speak of community and history, of the nameless and the interchangeable, of the power of silence: a struggle that happens at the same time in the space of places and in the space of flows. They speak the language of now.

This is not a glitch. Welcome to 2013.