Living for the Likes

This past weekend, I attended a larger-scale concert. I was visiting friends in an urban area, and a friend of a friend happened upon some free tickets to a band that I did not hate, but wouldn't have shelled out $35 to go see (I'm not intentionally being cagey about the details, but the band and city are irrelevant, let's not focus on that). The crowd was a mixed bag of suburban yuppies in the city for a night on the town, their young children, wealthy hippies past their prime surreptitiously smoking pot, their young children, twentysomething hipsters that hadn't realized they've already sold out, and me. I've been reflecting on this experience for a while, trying to collect my thoughts to express my sentiments in an understandable way, but I don't know if I've thoroughly sussed it out, so bear with me.

I want to talk about the gross ubiquity of conspicuous cell phone documentation of the evening. Not a single song was performed without someone capturing the moment, inevitably for their social media (I even witnessed one attendee facetime the concert to a distant other). The lead singer brought some concert-goers onto a small stage for dancing and grooving, which they naturally had to document via iPhone selfie. At the end of the show, the lead singer had his PA/photographer/roadie take a selfie with the entire crowd. While I do appreciate and understand the want of documentation to assist with memory, I found the whole experience (which attempted to be a genuine, grass-roots-vibe concert) to be inauthentic. There was an air of performing for social media, not the audience; creating moments for the documentation, not for the lived reality. The act of attending a concert, which was once a way of appreciating art, has become a commodity, which in turn, has become more important than experiencing the art (live music).

In 1935, German cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote an Essay entitled "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." The essay focused on the evolution of technology (specifically the reproduction of art via print and film, remember, 1935) and how reproductive ability has changed the impact of art on the public. He wrote "even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be." While Benjamin mainly referred to the creation of artistic prints, the sentiment can be applied to what I witnessed at the concert. If concerts are a way of witnessing art (music) in real life, in a specific time and space, capturing a concert to share on social media is creating an inauthentic experience, as "the presence of the original is the prerequisite to the concept of authenticity." Your friends and followers are not present at the original, they are receiving a bastardized, inauthentic version of the art (music) you witnessed at a specific time and space. Thus, your sharing over social media is not sharing art (music). It is not a noble act intending to spread the message of the art (music), it cannot be by its very definition; the authenticity and aura of the art (music), the vibe of the concert, cannot accurately be transmitted in reproduction. So then what is it?

Eventually, Benjamin notes, "the work of art reproduced becomes the work of art designed for reproductability," the musician no longer performs for the live audience, but for the instagrammable moments; the audience and artist live for the likes. Attending a concert that is part of a national tour is already a work of mechanical reproduction, each performance, while a little different from the others, is a reproduction of the original music, but each reproduction of that experience lessen the social significance of the work (which I suppose is inevitable in music recording, as the artist's message of the song is temporal, albeit marketable, and transmittable).

Benjamin addressed the double-edged sword of mechanical reproduction, it allows for greater access to art (which had once been exclusively bourgeois), but in creating the reproduction, the work loses it's aura, its je ne sais quoi. Benjamin believed that the political message of the art could replace the authenticity, its parasitic relationship with ritual. However, that is not what has happened. I cynically believe that the void created by the endless reproduction (song -> studio recording -> concert -> social media) has been filled by a polarization, the FOMO inherent in social media (and how political can the art truly be when the means of production [and reproduction] are still owned by the bourgeois?).

You are not posting that image or recording to make your followers or friends feel as if they attended the concert. You are not increasing access or democratizing art. You are reinforcing the binary by creating a dynamic of attended/not attended with your friends and follows in the latter (by means of a commodity [smartphone] over a medium owned by a monopoly- @Zuckerberg).

So next time we go to a concert, let's keep our phones in our pockets and enjoy the semi-authentic aura of the evening. Don't be the girl I saw while leaving the venue, inauthentically posing next to a random motorcycle, attempting to create a false version of herself to perpetuate some stereotype, captured by a device owned by a corporation (smartphone), inevitably for her dating profile on an app owned by a burgeoning bourgeois, however #newmoney they may be.

TL;DR, A waning Luddite attends a heavily documented concert(undoubtedly for social media likes), worries for our future. Plus, we, as a hypokinetic society, need to get #offthegrid more; unplugging is good for self-care and wellness.