Facebook’s unremitting automated ability to keep users posted on the connections happening across its pages has recently produced some interesting results, my two favourite being ‘Franz Kafka likes Franz Kafka’ and ‘many People who like Roberto Saviano also like Pizza’.
Indeed, both of these statements, typical of facebook’s predeliction towards banality, tinged with rare moments of unwitting self deprecating brilliance, are notable, at first glance, for being Kafkaesque. Kafka deals frequently, most memorably in ‘The Castle’, with the senslessness of bureaucracies which aim to administer daily life. Facebook, similarly, is a system so perpetual in its production of inanities pertaining to people’s preferences, whereabouts, etc., that these proclamations occasionally point to its own utter inadequacy for the task at hand; managing social and cultural life.
Roberto Saviano, less well known outside Italy than Kafka, is famed for writing an expose’ of the Camorra, Napoli’s organised crime gangs – entitled ‘Gomorra’ – and is now in hiding for having done so. Unremittingly critical of Berlusconi’s regime, which this week was barely exonerated of its involvement with the Mafia in its formative years, Saviano is Italy’s most outpsoken ‘public’ figure. In a moment of brilliance he responded this year to the violent expulsion of underpaid farm workers from a town in the South of Italy by arguing that Italy’s future lay with its African immigrants, not least as they are uniquely forthright in their opposition to injustice, as opposed to the native population who are famously resigned to the corruption that characterises Italian life. Such a bold statement is maybe decades ahead of even Italy’s most Left/Liberal politicians. People who ‘like’ Saviano on the pages of facebook do so as a political statement. Saviano has over half a million followers on his official facebook page, most of whom, naturally, are Italian.
Amar Lakhous, Algerian born Italy based writer, wrote in his brilliant satire on race relations in Rome ‘Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio’ :
‘…I saw an Italian girl devouring a pizza as big as an umbrella. I felt so sick to my stomach I almost threw up. Thank goodness she got out at the next stop. It was a really disgusting sight! The law should punish people who feel free to disturb the peace of good citizens going to work in the morning and home at night. The damage caused by people eating pizza in the metro is a lot worse than damage caused by cigarettes. I hope that the proper authorities do not underestimate this issue and will proceed immediately to put up signs like “Pizza eating prohibited”, next to the ones that are so prominent at the metro entrances saying “No Smoking!” I would just like to know how Italians manage to eat such a ridiculuous amount of dough morning and evening.’
Pizza is an intrinsc part of Italian identity, the critique of which opens Lakhous’ witty expose of the diffculties face by communities coming together in Rome’s most multicultural district: Even Italians from different regions find it hard to abide one another.
This aside, the critical import of Pizza, in its relation to Saviano, and his fans, was no doubt missed by ‘facebook’ which ploddingly makes its connections like a very bored administrator, counting the hours until an unspecified date of retirement. The trick played by this machine is to be so thorough as to give its owners exacty what they want… all possible informational connections, all of the time. A final revenge by facebook – which really is the collective will of its users – upon those who honestly want it to be used for marketing, or other business and political ends. Facebook is Kafkaesque only on first reflection. Looked at more closely it seems more like a random machine for generating the kind of absurdities associated with 60’s and 70’s British comedy. As in Monty Python’s ‘Is this the room for an argument?’ sketch:
1: Come in.
2: Ah, Is this the right room for an argument?
1: I told you once.
2: No you haven’t.
1: Yes I have.
1: Just now.
2: No you didn’t.
1: Yes I did.
2: You didn’t
1: I did!
2: You didn’t!
1: I’m telling you I did!
2: You did not!!
1: Oh, I’m sorry, just one moment. Is this a five minute argument or the full half hour?
2: Oh, just the five minutes.
1: Ah, thank you. Anyway, I did.
2: You most certainly did not.
1: Look, let’s get this thing clear; I quite definitely told you.
And so on, with the ‘client’ gradually ever more aggravated at the thoroughness of the argument he willingly paid for, though, of course, being aggravated is precisely what he went in for! Similarly, advanced capital, what Mark Fisher calls ‘Capitalist Realism’ may at points be so thorough as to render it ineffective, whilst the consumer (in this case the facebook user) remains entertained despite the inefficiency that utter efficiency brings about, or, rather, precisely because of that inefficiency! There appears to be an inherent resistance to effective commercial control on the pages of the ‘web 2.0’ era internet, and it may, one hopes, be endemic to social networking. Facebook likes facebook’s ineptitude!