The videos are an infamous genre unto themselves: “Mother Punches Her Daughter Dead in the Face for Having Sex in the House!” “Dad Whups Daughter for Dressing Like Beyonce.” “Son Left In Bloody Mess as Father Forces Him to ‘Fight.’” Their images stream from Facebook timelines and across YouTube channels, alternately horrifying and arresting: burly fathers, angry mothers, lips curled, curses flying, hands wrapped around electrical chords, tree branches, belts, slashing down on legs, arms, buttocks and flesh as children cry and plead and scream out in agony.
Tens of millions have clicked “play,” becoming voyeurs of this new form of child punishment — what some observers call “digi-discipline.”
Rather than sticking to the time-honored tradition of physically disciplining their children behind closed doors, parents, many of them black, buoyed by the instant gratification and viral fame that social media provides, are increasingly uploading videos of the corporal punishment they mete out on their kids, sparking intense debate on the usefulness of this particular form of public shaming.
The Politics of Vaporwave - Part One - A Brief Taxonomy of Vaporwave and a Thesis on Its Implications
Vaporwave is a lie put into musical form. It is the sound of the evaporated American Dream, manifest destiny, corporate identity, the sound of the future as described by a venture capitalist in 1989. It is an emphatic nothing, or a pointedly meaningless something, a reclamation of the corporate and the soulless into a compelling audible satire.
But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Before we talk about the stakes of vaporwave (which remain, in my opinion, fairly inalienable from the actual machinations of the form), let’s delve into its identity. This introductory post will be centered around the central characteristics and origins of vaporwave: firstly, what it is; secondly, where it began; and finally, what I believe it to be doing/why this is important (without giving too much away).
Formally, vaporwave seems to be an essentialization of the things that old men and angry 15 year olds in YouTube comments deem to not be “real music” (easily as dubious and misguided a point as arguing about what, indeed, is “real art”). However, anybody with some degree of knowledge of the form can tell you that these claims are not as unfounded as, say, disgust for hip-hop: the stereotypical vaporwave song consists of a song from the 1980s slowed down (to the extent that it remains recognizable as a degradation of an original work), given a liberal application of reverb and echo, and affixed with artwork typically incorporating a few of the following images/styles: outdated video game system logos/box art, ESRB ratings, marble busts, the colors pink/teal, poorly rendered 3D graphics, computer-generated clouds, fountains, palm trees, stock photos of skylines, mirroring, faux-futuristic architecture/computers, inexplicable Japanese text, and/or old OS graphics (cough cough). As such, it has become incredibly easy to classify vaporwave as a “meme genre”: I’d imagine that no video of vaporwave with above, say, 5,000 views, does not have a comment deriding the genre as being nothing more than, well, vapor.
This brings us to the first aspect of the genre that begins to shed some light on what I think it’s trying to accomplish: the name “vaporwave”. The name is a clear reference to the concept of “vaporware”, i.e. software/hardware that is announced to the public but never released; a digital metaphor, at least to me, for the unfulfilled promise inherent in the world of vaporwave. The name gives us our first hint as to what vaporwave, I think, is attempting to accomplish: by engendering a musical atmosphere of 80s capitalism, of the new promise of the digital, and then slowing it down, the genre forces us to concentrate on the pointed nothingness at the heart of this media, and by extension, capitalism.
But before we go into the theoretical machinations of vaporwave, I think it’s important to discuss the genre’s genesis. Vaporwave is a relative baby when it comes to music genres, having sprung up in 2010 around Daniel Lopatin’s (currently known as Oneohtrix Point Never) album released under the name Chuck Person, Eccojams Vol. 1. While this album is incredibly interesting (I consider it beautiful), I don’t think it matters to the claim of the genre as much as a few other founding works; namely, James Ferraro’s Far Side Virtual and Macintosh Plus’ (Ramona Xavier, otherwise known as VEKTROID) Floral Shoppe, both released in late 2011. These albums, I feel, really introduce vaporwave’s political and social claims.
To wit, let’s go into the claim now: I believe that vaporwave, as a networked art form, is Marxist in its approach to the cultural values of capitalism; it takes the claims of capitalism at its most rampant and renders them ironic and warped, tactically edited to expose them for what they are: vapor. As a genre founded on samples, it is inherently reclamatory, and as such it is simultaneously postmodern and an act of rebellion, resisting usual capitalist values of musical “property”. In short: vaporwave is what happens when a network transforms and ironizes many major political concerns of the 20th/21st century. The question that I will be asking in this essay series (and hopefully answering) is, then: Why is vaporwave a form that networked, politicized art has taken, and how does it embody politics?