Dozen Dozen #1: Auto-Censorship, Manufacturing consent in market driven culture

The first Dozen Dozen exposition will open on the September 2d at 21:30h. The theme is as Auto-Censorship. See below for a short essay on the subject by Constantijn Smit.

Auto-censorship, manufacturing consent in market-driven culture

A photograph of a swimming naked baby. Is it immoral nudity? Child pornography? A private family picture? Or the cover of the album Nevermind by Nirvana, an artistic expression?

According to Facebook, the first. Not willing or able to enter into a discussion on what is art and what is pornography Facebook is avoiding all risk by removing any picture that contains some form of nudity. On the one hand an understandable commercial policy. In order to avoid becoming a platform for sex, violence, racial, religious, ideological expressions and to avoid offending family oriented sponsors, Facebook censors everything that could even remotely fall in one of these categories. As a consequence a lot of historically recognized artworks, for example Gustave Courbet’s ‘L’origine du monde’ , are deemed unsuitable. What is left is a ‘wholesome’, puritan (American) social platform.

This self-censoring is not new; Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman already covered the subject of self-censorship in media extensively in their book Manufacturing Consent in 1988. However, the Internet has since then developed into a platform for ‘uncontrollable’ free expression. It is a pity to see that the most popular social networks, and other online services (like YouTube, PayPal etc.) have restricted themselves for the sake of commercial appeal and do so without a lot of objection of its users. Most users aren’t even aware that they are taking part in a form of western-propaganda.

Of course it is useful for the Arabic revolution to be able to bypass the local heavily censored communication-channels and broadcast the cyber-uprising into the world seemingly without interference. But if something threatens the ‘western’ status quo, for example by Wikileaks, these same media are quick to block access to accounts, even when there aren’t any criminal charges. All for the sake of avoiding the risk of aggravating the ‘market’.

You could wonder how this self-censorship is going to evolve, as digital media is becoming the major outlet for both organizations and people alike. The digital offers possibilities of censorship automation, as automatic text and picture analysis is becoming more and more advanced. This will probably become necessary to use, as the amount of data is too large for a human moderator to control. Google’s PageRank algorithm is an example of an automated process that decides which links and information is the most relevant for a search request, partly based on popularity. However a computer cannot detect the difference in conceptual content between artistic expression and expressions with different goals. This auto-censorship (understood as both self-censorship and automated censorship) could therefore develop into a crude judge of art and moderator of ideological and/or confronting expressions.

But perhaps digital automation is not even needed for automated self-censorship. As the Dutch government is pressing the cultural economy to become more commercially viable and market-driven, artists could (subconsciously) develop a tendency to conform to what is accepted by the largest group. The dictatorship of the masses asks for paintings that fit nicely above the couch. These paintings sell. So this is what the (beginning) artist will make to be able to pay the rent. Who is going to buy a hangar full of junk from Cristoph Büchel or a room where the lights go on and off from Martin Creed? Only the most famous and already accepted artists can risk a non-commercial project. Is auto-censorship already affecting ‘beginning’ artists?

The first show of Dozen Dozen likes to explore this subject through the works of the participants. Or is the questioning of self-censorship as a concept for a public exposure already a form of self-censorship?

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