Authorial Presence Within Facebook

AUTHORIAL PRESENCE WITHIN FACEBOOK

Facebook is a signifier for modernity, and is comparable with the literature of the modernist movement in terms of expressionism through dictating character. In the way that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a layering of characters from the reader to Marlow to the depths of Kurtz and the darkness of the Congo, Facebook consists of a layering of narratives that starts with the photo and peels down to the text, which is written upon the millions of walls across the globe. The authorship on Facebook reads as a neo-post-modernist mimicry of that of the 1920’s and 30’s, as expressionism is entirely free to the writer. Facebook is a vehicle through which individuals can communicate topics of their choosing through media of their choosing, and stands as a means of entirely innovative authorship.

When first opening a website or a Facebook page, what do we see first? Outside of the headline name within the URL, I would argue that the first thing that we look at is the individual, or author’s photo. We look at what they’re doing in their photo, is it bright? Is it black and white? Does it appeal to our idea of what “beauty” is? Our desires? If it’s a girl, is she hot? Is she semi-naked in a bikini after just coming home from Cabo, sun-kissed and glowing? If it’s a guy, what is he doing in his photo? What is he wearing, what is his “accessory”— the photography he took, his boat, car, a shot from skating with the Denver skyline in the background, something involving alcohol? How’s his hairline…his shoes?  What type of statuses are people posting? What is their “bio”, political orientation, and religion? What pages do they “like”? What are they commenting on the walls and photos of others…is their grammar correct? Do they talk in slang?

Ultimately we digitally construct a persona within our Facebook page that enables us to depict who we are, all on a single page. We pick things to “like” based on popular culture, what’s in style now, what’s “in”, what’s “out”, what was cool months ago but now is oversaturated, and what is classically connoted as being cool. We brand and promote ourselves through our Facebook pages as a means to tell the world, “Here I am! Look at my Photobooth photo where I’m pouting while wearing ALL of my clothes that I just bought at Urban Outfitters, and look how many friends I have!” …So says the cynic. Facebook is a vehicle for us to promote ourselves where, without the Internet as a medium, we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to share, with the rest of the world, our selves and our interests. It is means where we can further expand our personalities–a reservoir of depth that allows even our friends to see corners of our souls that they wouldn’t ordinarily see. When we “like” a page, comment, or photo, our eyes may be opened to seeing something within a friend or colleague that we never knew before, ultimately bringing us closer together.

Facebook is a medium that collectively creates a place of which visual, auditory, and textual learners can unite. Videos can be posted, music can be shared, people can share excerpts from blogs or texts. Authorial presence within Facebook is present not only in what we write or “like”, but in the photos we tag ourselves in. We are actively creating an online persona, as Facebook demands engagement with the profile, promoting for us to creatively express ourselves in the click of a button. “The images—the profile pictures and other posted images running through the News Feed—bring the page to life. The stream of images combined with the text creates an interactive framework that displays aspects of identity specific to the page’s creator,” states Jeremy Sarachan in chapter 5 of Wittkower’s book, Facebook and Philosophy.  In Sarachan’s article, “Profile Picture. Right Here. Right Now.” he states that that the profile picture claims everything about the person, as with the modern age, photography has become more available and has taken on different forms, thus depicting different categories for consideration. Sarachan quotes Roland Barthes’s Six Categories of Photography, and aligns them with Facebook, stating that each of our profile photos fits into one of the following labeled categories: The Pose: Just the Computer and Me, The Reconsidered Pose: Hiding in Plain Sight, Living Objects: I’ve got Real Friends and Places to Go, Trick Effects: Manipulation and Popular Culture, The Past is Present, Photogenia: Movies as Motivator, and Aestheticism: Facebook as Art Gallery (Wittkower 56-61). Photos align within each of these categories, states Sarachan, as a means to metaphorically personify the text-based profile. Upon glancing at a profile, one first sees the profile picture and subconsciously sums up the individual as based on their chosen category of self-expression. Sarachan, again quoting Barthes, acknowledges our immediate concern with the “punctum” of a profile picture, or “what strikes us about the photo at first glance, what emotional impact it makes…” (52). A photo’s punctum is a type of authorial presence, as we chose to present ourselves in a specific way through our photos, thus, creating a sort of authorial presence. How much initiative we are taking in making our photos of a certain extreme adds an authorial authority to our Facebook pages, as we dictate what we wish to convey ourselves as through simply our photo.

Though different from most literary communities, Facebook’s authorial presence is present more than ever, as the author’s ability truly defines who they are. There is no editing button of what people display, writing isn’t in MLA or APA format, we write in the manner of which we verbally communicate…or do we? Are our “Facebook personalities” different than how we behave in reality? The role of the “author” upon a Facebook page is to foremost create a clear description of what the page stands to promote, and then to proceed from there by standing as an advocate for their cause as a means to further promote their page with absolute consistency. Effective pages (such as musicians like Lady Gaga or games such as Texas Hold’em) are simplistically contrived and reach out to thousands of followers. They stand in staunch advocacy for themselves, backing their brand with a resonating ability to reach viewers everywhere, and promote themselves through similar pages.

As we all stand as equal users of the Internet, I would argue that Facebook, more specifically the Internet as a whole, is a democratic realm in which we all have equal access to brand ourselves. Take for instance Tila Tequila, or Perez Hilton. Both of these Internet superstars found a means to brand themselves on MySpace or personal blogs in a way that appealed to the public. Though most of America’s population would argue that there exists some idiocracy to what they promote, whether it be nudity or Hollywood gossip, both of these now well-off individuals have tapped into a means of defining themselves and redefining what it means to make money in America. With enough fame comes fortune. Panopticism and the Lacanian “gaze” are a most fascinating topic when discussing the Internet, as the gaze is can stand in a dualistic position, both directing itself outward from the web, yet concurrently positioning it upon an individual’s Facebook profile, as people such as Perez or Tila did in placing themselves at the center of spectacle.

In this research, I Googled “Top Visited Facebook Pages” out of curiosity of what people today “like” and to see where culture is trending. To the right, you can see the results, which make me somewhat sick in terms of what people like most, as they are far from literary (unless you count Twilight as a literary source). I suppose YouTube is applicable to education and Academia, as people are using the site as a means of researching things they find interesting; when you Google “Top YouTube Videos 2011”, a link for “top 10 original movies of 2011” pops up, however out of fear of spam, or disinterest, I didn’t click further. Each of the top 10 “liked” pages on Facebook are highly American, as Coca Cola and Lady Gaga are high on the list. Perhaps Lady Gaga is the next sartorial maiden, as she has tapped into a marketing outlet that allows hundreds of followers to reach her on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube. In 1983, PBS released a documentary called “The Merchants of Cool”, which analyzed the way in which trends are effectively marketed.

To further submerge myself in the world of Facebook and research just how people are aligning themselves within it, I analyzed the authorial presence within the following two profiles, both of which are somehow connected to one another, possibly unknowingly, in the online literary community: Prick of the Spindle, Black Warrior Review. Upon scouring each page, I found surprising results as to how each journal is received in the online community, as both appear to offer very well-planned pages in terms of content and design.

In a recent endeavor to promote a local literary journal, I’ve realized that many aspects go into creating an “effective” and “popular” profile upon Facebook, as having an interactive page that offers a dialectic, let alone gaining actual followers, is much more difficult than one would think. I think this challenge is most effectively displayed on Twitter, as one stands witness to fluctuations in followers, and can see when people follow their profile, as it often occurs after certain tweets with certain trends. If we look at Facebook’s #3 most popular page, that of Lady Gaga, and then look at her followers on Twitter, she has over 9 million followers, which is a mere third of those who follow her on Facebook. This is understandable, as Twitter is a lesser form of Facebook, however, still both numbers are incredible, as to me, a mere 500 friends on Facebook appears as a lot. Upon opening a Twitter account, I had the goal in mind to tweet at least once each day, offering articles of interest or personal anecdotes…I currently have 67 followers, most of which I am unfamiliar. Gaga, whose tweets include similar topics, tweets only once a day, and she has 9 million followers. Yes, this comes her from fame and status as a pop culture and fashion mogul, as well as my non-status as a student residing in a relatively small city, however, her active involvement within the digital community shows how helpful social media is in creating a persona in today’s modern age. Gaga has effectively marketed herself in appropriate “authorship” upon these pages, writing songs, her Facebook profile, and her Twitter (though the latter two most likely are done by PR employees and not the diva herself) in the way that her fans desire to read her the most. Turning from a pop culture icon to a more literary subject, it is somewhat comical to read the above chart, as well as Gaga’s followers in numbers, and then compare them to the numbers of fans of literary journals that are producing work that, though “less popular”, is highly prolific and, I would argue, more creative and moving than anything produced by Gaga.

Prick of the Spindle is  an online journal of the literary arts that was begun in 2007 out of Pensacola, Florida, with the mission to publish poetry, fiction, drama, creative nonfiction, lit reviews, interviews, and various forms of digital and e-poetry. Along with literature, the site promotes contemporary artists in a pairing of art and literature through various themes in each issue. Each issue offers links to read full stories and articles, something that I find is important in online journals, as many don’t offer the full text without a subscription or a log-in. The articles vary in topic, and each creative non-fiction piece is highly engaging. The site as a whole, appears to promote its contributors through one another, offering vast gratitude for contributions, yet, at the same time, bearing arms of professionalism in content, staffing, and graphics. When jumping to Prick of the Spindle’s Facebook page I was highly anticipating a reservoir of other literary outlets, however, to my dismay I found a page with a mere 642 fans. On such fanpages, Facebook users are unable to look at exactly who is a fan of the page, and seeing that Prick of the Spindle lies stagnantly in this status, further research is impossible to see if the journal is engaged with other literary outlets on Facebook. The “info” portion of their profile reads with only a link to their website. This lacking fan-base reads highly odd, as the page has quite a few photos, as well as post updates that are frequent and current (the most recent is from 10:00 this morning). For having a staff totaling nine in all, you would expect a highly active journal; however, perhaps this is just a small local endeavor out of Pensacola that is actually thriving in its local arena. Regardless of the minuscule fan-base, the writing upon the actual site is beyond creative and in dire need of further attention.

Black Warrior Review stands in a higher and more well-known journal within the literary journal world. The journal is extremely elaborate, has a graphic appearance that is less crafty than that of Prick of the Spindle and more modernist/digitally oriented, and offers not only the literature offered on PotS but also includes art. BWR’s masthead consists of only six people, however it looks as if they are consciously and effectively manning the deck of the Review, as the page stands highly organized. The journal was founded in 1974  as a graduate at the University of Alabama (which, as compared to PotS, might account for much of its professionalism due to experience over time). In excitement for what BWR might have to offer on Facebook, I searched BWR only to find, once again, a “likeable” page with only 884 “likes”. Again, like PotS, the page is covered in artwork from issues past, and offers a glimpse at their featured writers, artists, and videographers. If these pages have such few fans, their actual journals must be getting relatively low visitor statistics, which seems odd to me,  as they offer far more interesting material than Lady Gaga’s website. I can’t help but wonder why these wonderful journals aren’t getting more views, for one can see the hard work put into both graphics and solicitation on the staff’s part, and the hard work of the contributors on the part of the writing.

Foremost, I turn to the  aesthetic form or visual appeal of each page, wondering if either page’s form is reflecting poorly on viewers. This doesn’t appear to be the case, as the design of both pages is aesthetically pleasing and thoughtfully contrived. Turning, then, to the content of the page, I scoured either page for reasons as to why they would be failing in promotion, and found not a single reason why the page wouldn’t have viewers, as both demand an authority of great heights through their writing that is of literary prestige, yet still understandable to the beginner reader. Looking at Boulder’s own Shadowbox Press, the Facebook associated with it has a similar viewership of only 116 friends. Perhaps these small presses are too small for the global sphere; perhaps they are too literary. Their authorship is pointed in the right direction, towards fellow literature fans, yet, these fans aren’t accessing the pages, as both pages exist in a sea of other websites, and hundreds of other online journals. The next question I have to ask is, how do we effectively market a highbrow concept, such as a lit-journal, to a community obsessed with Texas Hold’em Poker and Lady Gaga, and more so, is the lit-journal a dime a dozen? It holds more depth than the average website, however sites that are trending are less literary and more editorial. Has the world always been this reader-resistant, or has the digital age made us more visual learners, as opposed to textual?

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