Mark Ames, who along with Matt Taibbi ran the satirical newspaper The Exile in Russia, moved back to the US in 2008 and comments this week in Pando Daily about what he calls the "horizontal censorship" practiced here (as opposed to Putin's vertical, top-down variety). The social media and blog environment that initially promised a break from elite-managed discourse, Ames argues, has become an intellectual dystopia of earnest "outrage addicts" mobbing up on comedians and satirists.* It's a form of censorship because it doesn't respect satire or comedy as a bounded, socially useful activity, and applies the standards of political responsibility to a type of work that is inherently anarchic and disruptive. A comedian, satirist, or, let's add, performance or conceptual artist, concerned about a loss of reputation or livelihood, has an incentive to self-censor to avoid a personal smear based on deliberate or ignorant misconstruing of work.
Art F City's recent campaign to blemish the reputation of an artist, Ryder Ripps, with the help of Rhizome.org and anonymous Facebook groups, perfectly exemplifies what Ames describes. That campaign came to a head last week with a tweet and a headline crowing that Ripps' current show was his "death knell." Besides the complete loss of critical objectivity in Paddy Johnson citing her own predictions about a show as evidence of its failure, the campaign depended on misreading two separate projects, which were both humorous in context, as unethical and "offensive," and linking them together with a kind of running innuendo about their alleged "misogyny."
Ripps has attempted to correct some of the factual inaccuracies and wrong assumptions in Paddy Johnson's review of his Postmasters show. No artist should have to do this. Thousands more people will see Johnson's attack pieces than will ever see the defense.
*or in Ames' case, a muckracking journalist whose past satirical works were treated as scandalous truth by his detractors