Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Social Media and Pagan Residue

So, earlier this semester, we discussed Camille Paglia's magnum opus, Sexual Personae, in my graduate class at Fordham University, and in that book she argues that a strong pagan residue can be found within western culture over the past two millennia, underneath thin patina of monotheism. Further, she draws on the binary opposition of the Apollonian and the Dionysian as constituting two faces of paganism (at least of the Greco-Roman variety), with special attention and emphasis on the often overlooked or purposefully suppressed, or repressed Dionysian.

Among the many characteristics that line up within this opposition are Apollonian as order vs. Dionysian as chaos, Apollonian as male vs. Dionysian as female, Apollonian as technology vs. Dionysian as biology, and Apollonian as literacy vs. Dionysian as orality. This is not to say that all of these characteristics were necessarily connected to Apollo and Dionysis in pagan culture, just that the terms Apollonian and Dionysian are used to refer to themes and traits that parallel, reflect, and are analogous to these other binary pairs. Paglia emphasizes order vs. chaos and male vs. female, while I have added on technology vs. biology and literacy vs. orality.

So that got me to thinking, and it occurred to me that the binary opposition of paganism could be applied to social media. This relates back to a previous post here on Blog Time Passing, About Face(book).

Clearly Facebook is Apollonian. It's all neat, and clean, and orderly. Named after a print medium, it very much reflects the biases of literacy, of the literate and well-educated, middle class and affluent, the technologized (but not the do-it-yourselfers) and consumerized, and the patriarchical and paternalistic (and perhaps patronizing) male-imposed, bourgeois, safe environment.

MySpace on the other hand is pure chaos. It is organic, relatively lawless, and altogether messy. And it reflects the oral tendencies that go along with working class culture. It is open, as space is open, rather than closed and kept captive like a book. And in this sense it is an archetypal great mother of a social network, a matix, a womb, the feminine force at its most threatening.

So then, where does that leave Twitter? Well if Facebook is Apollonian and MySpace is Dionysian, that means that both are pagan. And that, I would think, makes Twitter monotheistic. Paganism is, from a monotheistic point of view, idol worship, an image-centered communication system. Monotheism, on the other hand, is logocentric, word-centered, as God is identified by his speech acts (beginning with, Let there be light!) and in certain respects as the divine logos, as the word (either in spirit or in flesh). Images, on the other hand, were prohibited by the Second Commandment, and there is a clear polemic against idol worship running through the Bible. It follows, then, that if Facebook is Apollonian, and MySpace is Dionysian, then Twitter is monotheistic.

To be clear, I don't mean for all this to be taken literally. Rather, I am employing these categories as an exercise in critical thinking, and as a means to unleashing further insights about the nature of social networks.

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