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New Left Review 74, March-April 2012

julian stallabrass


On Mute and the Cultural Politics of the Net

How do new media technologies affect politics and culture? Views about those effects, always deeply divided, have been further polarized by the financial crisis and the opposition it has engendered. At the extremes, social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, are seen as at least necessary conditions for the Occupy protests and the revolutions of the Arab Spring; alternatively, those same technologies are viewed as the agents of intrusive commodification and dumbing-down, deployed against people’s deepest subjectivities, which they have been duped into displaying in a privatized space where everyone’s every move is spied upon. Mute magazine, based in London, has been examining the interconnections between new technologies, politics and culture since 1994—that is, from the moment when the internet was revolutionized by the introduction of web browsers that unified its interface, and rapidly brought large numbers of users online. It was founded by two art-school graduates, Simon Worthington (who had studied at the Slade) and Pauline van Mourik Broekman (Central St Martins), who took up the name from a periodical published through the Slade between 1989–92. The formation of Mute’s founding editors not only ensured that art was discussed on equal terms, and in its complex relations, with technology and politics, but also that the magazine had a strong design, conceived as a visual object with a conceptual dimension as well as a set of ideas. [1] The editors published a book on the subject: Simon Worthington et al, Mute Magazine: Graphic Design, London 2008.

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Julian Stallabrass, ‘Digital Partisans’, NLR 74: £3

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