A few weeks ago, Extreme Animals kicked off their “Internet IRL” tour, where they, along with some other “net artists” and “super-users” traveled from city to city to perform for an audience that knew their work from the internet, and to meet the people that they might otherwise only know from their Likes and @replies. I didn’t really understand the idea, and when I saw them, at the start of the tour, it didn’t seem like most of the people on the tour did, either. Extreme Animals are a band, but many of the people traveling weren’t really performers, and didn’t know what they were going to do. Molly Soda showed a video that had not yet made it to YouTube. I talked to a guy named Ben Aqua, and he discussed the idea of not knowing what was going to happen on tour as being in keeping with the improvisatory nature of the internet, at least in the social media era. I also wondered about how these people would coexist in the same van together- it seemed like an odd mixture of different personas, but maybe everyone would be kept united by a quiet defined mostly by looking at smartphones and laptops anyway. Another reason I was skeptical about the tour is that I sort of hate the internet, at least when viewed as its own end, and the narrative of digital-triumphalism that the tour seemed to present just by its very being is one that makes me uncomfortable.
Matthew Thurber is a dude who I think understands my anxieties perfectly. His new book, Infomaniacs, was serialized at least in part, but discusses forthrightly how the internet seems to be changing our brains, how addictive it seems, how weird it is, the feeling of being distanced from reality. Other fears, about a world controlled by the ultra-wealthy, climate change, oil pipelines, and drones are tangled up in the story it tell. It feels like an act of resistance on the part of its maker, even as it is aware of its own culpability, and makes the reader aware of how weird it will feel to respond to it, using the internet, to tell the author “I know what you’re saying” and to alert potential readers “Hey, if you feel weird about the internet, this weird book about the internet knows how you feel.”
The book’s logic is an odd one. Matthew loves surrealism and prizes the intuitive, and a good gag, but Infomaniacs- being something of a spy thriller, rife with double crosses and misinformation, and thematically about alienation from a reality that prizes the simulacra, in the end, does not really make coherent sense from a plot standpoint. 1-800-Mice likewise took advantage of the fact that comics don’t really need to make sense, with its exploration of identity confusion. The most important thing to know, really, is that it’s about conspiracies. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: When people talk about “literary comics,” most of what they’re imagining is domestic fiction, short stories, while Thurber’s digressive sprawl is more akin to Thomas Pynchon. As timely as Infomaniacs deliberately is, being so consciously about the internet, it nonetheless feels predictive, even as it uses cyberpunk-type imagery of an immersive cyberspace, as characters are offered the chances to become spies, I couldn’t help but think of Edward Snowden. This sort of prediction, this sewing together of threads of internet addiction and real-world threats of surveillance, demonstrates how clear-headed and airtight Thurber’s dream-logic actually is. I think his work is vital and valuable, and I hope this work can succeed in a world and marketplace where the internet has devalued such things as life and work.
-Brian Nicholson (@ownyouryogurt)