I will use my thesis to investigate the artistic value of spam emails. I will argue that spam messages have cast a language of their own, and as a result deserve to be inscribed within the larger field of Digital Folklore. In order to prove my point I will begin to give an overview of spam: where it comes from, who writes, with what intentions. And will follow with an analyzes the language, grammar, structure, and narratives present in spam email messages.
My thesis will focus on spam. Spam, besides being a brand of canned salted meat, is also a synonym for unsolicited emails, sent to large number of address, with the underlying intention the extortion of money from its recipients. Beyond its simplistic reading as malevolent scams, spam puts literature to use as a making money device, which I find fascinating. And the ways in which literature is put to perform those scams, the resources used, are to the say the least unexpected. Once one has gone below its surface, a very diverse, colorful and inventive landscape can be found.
I intend this essay to be a journey of close-reading of spam. I will divide the journey into three parts. Firstly I will approach spam as global cultural phenomena that defies geographic and cultural barriers. And while it might be considered a precarious activity, due to is fraudulent and usually unsuccessful nature, it plays an important role in the imagination of both senders and recipients [++]. I will base my discussion on the theories of globalization of culture and human migration of Arjun Appadurai, as well as the work on West African contemporary urban culture by authors Jenna Burrell and Harvey Glickman. Secondly I will describe the anatomy of spam. I will argue that although permanently evolving and adapting, spam is characterized by the persistence of its elements, being its language, structures, or described narratives. These constant elements give spam a distinct and recognizable character. And although they can have a homogenizing effect,a diverse and colorful [literary] landscape can be experience throughout these texts. In this section I will mainly focus on the work of authors, who have previously analyzed spam, such as Hito Steyerl, Theresa Heyd and Harvey Glickman. Lastly, I will ask whether spam forms a language of its own, with a strong enough character to be inscribed and recognized a sub-genre of digital folklore.
Literature, Porn, and Toilet Paper
[TO INCLUDE ELSEWHERE]
I would like to start by telling two stories
The first one can be found in Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions. On of the novel's main character is called Kilgore Trout. He is an science-fiction writer. Although incredible prolific, and considered by another character as the greatest living American novelist, Mr. Tout struggles to see his writing published or receive the deserved recognition. The only company interested in his texts is World Classics Library, a publisher specialized hardcore porn. As some bulk content was needed to go along with the images, Kilgore Trout's sci-fi stories were found suitable for the job. And although Mr. Trout found it slightly strange to have his texts sharing pages with photos of women exhibiting their genitalia, it was definitely better than nothing.
[The latent and hidden qualities of text: in both Trout's text, and spam.] [Abundance. Abundance of texts renders them banal]
The second is a story told in Chuck Kleinhans' article: Creative Industries and the Cold Hard Facts of Global Capitalism. In the it Kleinhans writes about a friend of him who had been an editor for a few cheap porn magazines, probably the same ones that published Kilgor Trout's texts along-side pictures of naked babes. At unexpected and particular fruitful moment in her career as editor, the publications she worked for went out of business. There was no longer a need for that much porn in the market. The publications stopped being printed and so stopped her career as porn magazine editor. But there was something more to this plot: later on she found out that the publisher she had been working for was owned by a large international corporation, whose main business was not porn, but the exploitation of forests in the Philippines. Chopping down tree and turning them into paper. As it was first profitable to turn trees into pornographic publications that's what the company did. As publishing naked babes became less profitable, they decided it would make more money by turning trees into toilet paper. Toilet paper?? Well, yeah there seem to be a constant need it and that didn't seem to be case with porn. So they changed they their product.
From literature becoming a filler for pornographic magazines to pornographic magazines becoming toilet paper. Are these two stories telling us something? Can we, infer from them how abundant and devalued literature has become? We go on and place literature alongside pictures of naked ladies in acrobatic positions, and then we decide porn is no longer a profitable thing, so we better have it turn into toilet paper. Is there something that we can do to fight back this devaluation of literature? To stop it ending up wiping our sensitive behinds? Spam, the unsolicited emails messages one often receives, might constitute a serious movement against this degradation of literature.
Put plainly, 99% of the spam email messages we receive try to extort us. They ask for our personal information, such as account numbers, a money transfer, or for the purchase of some item or service. These bold requests aren't put forward that plainly. They are surrounded by an elaborate, enticing and realistic (or out of this world) narratives. I cannot stop myself from being perversely fascinated by the inventiveness, and literary devices put into practice in these stories. They constitute literature with value, literature with an aim, literature that wants to make money!! "Make some money out of that damn literature degree, for Christ's sake!", you can nearly hear the angry mom shouting to her twenty-two years old, recently graduated son.
[Latent [Spam Lit]
Vonnegut, Kurt. (1973) "Breakfast of Champions". RosettaBooks LLX, New York.
Kleinhans, Chuck (2011) "Creative Industries and the Cold Hard Facts of Global Capitalism", in: Jump Cut, A Review of Contemporary Media,No.53. Accessed 12 January 2013, http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc53.2011/kleinhans-creatIndus/index.html
- Burrell, Jena. 2012. 'Invisible Users: Youth in the Internet Cafés of Urban Ghana'. MIT Press. Cambridge / London. - Annotation
- Heyd, Theresa. 2008. 'Email Hoaxes: Form, function, genre ecology'. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Amsterdam / Philadelphia.
- Goldsmith, Kenneth. 2011. 'Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age'. Columbia University Press. New York.
- Murray, Jannet. 1998. 'Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace'. MIT Press. Cambridge / London.
- Propp, Vladímir. 1929. 'Morphology of the Folk Tale Society and Indian University'
- Fuller, Matthew. 2000. "ATM". ShaKe Editions. London.
- Lialina, Olia; Espenschied, Dragan. 2009. "Digital Folklore Reader". merz & solitude.
about transmedia narratives
transmedia narratives, that not only remain on a fictious realm, manage extrapolate to real world.
Considering spam stories as transmedia narratives, which extrapolate the fictious realm and can both challange and change reality. As a spam narrative is often based on real events, which has been previously accounted by other media, the spam messag becomes one more medium where the real event is narrated. By introducing new characters and pieces of information to the narrative, and the fact that it arrives to us as an email, which we tend not to associated with fictional narrative.