Ludibria

Wikipedia defines a ludibrium as “an object of fun, and at the same time, of scorn and derision, and it also denotes a capricious game itself: …. This conception can function as a technique whereby mental projections can be cast into the social imagination.”

Amongst other examples it includes the Situationist International, though there is perhaps enough evidence that this really existed and took itself seriously enough. By contrast, the London Psychogeographical Association seems to have consisted of one man (Ralph Rumney), at least unitl it was revived in the 1990s. (Psychogeography was possibly invented by Ivan Chtcheglov, whose name alone sounds like a ludibrium, although he seems to have been real enough to try to blow up the Eiffel Tower. See his essay Formulary for a New Urbanism.)

Other ludibria include the Priory of Sion affair, which may arguably have been a deliberate construction for propaganda or joke purposes. Many organisations invent heroic histories for themselves and create their own myths. Occultists (like the Golden Dawn) are an obvious example.

Government agencies do the same thing – eg to persuade people that they are omni-present and all-knowing. (See examples in Ian Cooks book, M – which is admittedly a rather fanciful book.) A better example is perhaps the Gestapo: as Wikipedia says, “…Contrary to popular belief, the Gestapo was not an omnipotent agency that had agents in every nook and cranny of German society…. the Gestapo was for the most part made up of bureaucrats and clerical workers who depended upon denunciations by ordinary Germans for their information. Indeed, the Gestapo was overwhelmed with denunciations and spent most of its time sorting out the credible from the less credible denunciations. Far from being an all-powerful agency that knew everything
about what was happening in German society, the local offices were understaffed and overworked, struggling with the paper load caused by so many denunciations.”

You could also argue (and Baudrillard would) that a lot of advertising amounts to the same thing: creating an unreal image. (As Wikipedia says, “Careful brand management, supported by a cleverly crafted advertising campaign, can be highly successful in convincing consumers to pay remarkably high prices for products which are inherently extremely cheap to make. This concept, known as creating value, essentially consists of manipulating the projected image of the product so that the consumer sees the product as being worth the amount that the advertiser wants him/her to see, rather than a more logical valuation that comprises an aggregate of the cost of raw materials, plus the cost of manufacture, plus the cost of distribution.”)

Returning to modern new media art, there are the examples of
1. Cornelia Sollfranks Femal Extension. Upset by the fact that male artists always won art competitions, Cornelia Sollfrank created an overwhelming number of spurious femaile identities (each with website and email address, etc.) and entered hundreds of automatically generated art works in a net.art competition held in February 1997 by the Galerie der Gegenwart (Gallery of Contemporary Art) of the Hamburger Kunsthalle (Hamburg Art Museum). (Althgough two thirds of the entries were now from women, surprisingly, men still won.)
2. a recent corporate hoax involving Dow Chemicals by the Yes Men.
3. see also this posting about corporate spoofing.

(For the record, theres a computer game involving a town called Ludibrium and ludibria.com is a games site.)

The common theme is that, by one means or another, you consciously create mental projections and cast them into the social imagination, either widely or within a specific group.

But it seems to me that ludibria, if only because of the latin roots of the word, have to have an element of playfulness. Sollfrank and the Yes Men have a serious purpose, whether you agree with them or not. Military deceptions like FUSAG are too serious and deadly. Politicians and confidence tricksters who create elaborate fictons about themselves are also acting seriously.

Perhaps the best modern example is the dyhydrogen monoxide website. Another is SciGen which automatically generates academic papers, some of which have been accepted by journals and conferences.

I have to say I think that the world needs a few good ludibria right now.

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