Everyone sees their social media feed differently. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of guillotines. Granted, my feeds lean very hard left, so my average reader is probably not seeing a daily stream of guillotine memes on Facebook. However! I plugged all this into my structural theory of the internet, and here’s what popped out.
First, a guillotine is a very specific type of terror image. It is class based, and revolutionary. It is an idea. From Wikipedia:
But more than popular entertainment alone, during the Reign of Terror, the guillotine symbolized revolutionary ideals: equality in death equivalent to equality before the law, open and demonstrable revolutionary justice, and the destruction of privilege under the Ancien Régime which included separate forms of execution for the nobility. As such, the guillotine was considered a positive force for progress by the Parisian sans-culottes, the popular public face of lower-class patriotic radicalism in the French Revolution.
Class is how images of a guillotine survive today’s internet, whereas other such images of execution (say, a noose) do not. Think of today’s internet as the primordial ooze of life 4 billion years ago – churning constantly, producing ideas that either survive, or don’t. Darwinian survival is how a guillotine image proliferates online today. (geek speak alert) In the Deutschian cybernetic ooze of the internet’s constant discourse, billions of normative interactions every second have decided one image of execution will survive, even thrive, online – the guillotine – while other images of terror can’t, and won’t. In this way, the internet is enforcing a structural norm; that’s the theory anyway.
At some point (according to the theory) such a structural norm will leap from the virtual to the physical world, enforcing itself. Structural norms of this type are called epistemic, meaning that we enforce these norms ourselves because we adhere to them and expect others to. For example, wearing clothes. Not prancing around naked is a structural norm, because it will enforce itself, through us.
So. Will The Guillotine Norm make the leap from virtual to reality and begin enforcing itself offline? If so, what norm is being enforced? The idea of displaying the image? Or the idea behind the image?
All I really know is there are a lot of guillotines online lately. Merry Christmas!