Infodemics: Going Viral, or Undead Media

Do you feel that? Oh, shit.
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Get up, come on get down with the sickness
Why can’t you just buck up and die?
Get down with the sickness
Here it comes
Get ready to die
Get ready to… die

Dawn of the Dead (film, 2004)

N ot long ago, everyone dreamed of going viral. Every share or post desired to trend. Every insta-image wanted to get to Cloud Heaven riding the streaming mega-meme. Nothing could be better than becoming undead media. Every link demanded to be clicked hard, over and over until dead-link did we un-part. It did not really matter if it was click-bait or the CDC’s Zombie Center (as wild pedagogical informatics détournement) or the journal of post-policy forensics, or Fox fake-outs. We all got down with the screenal sickness of undead media.

Now I find that I am seeking solace from the uncontainable spread of SARS-CoV-2 that produces COVID-19, to be virologically specific, swimming the massive tsunami of infodemic waves. I, as part of the pandemic-privileged, exist in my virtual cocoon, a state of privilege first offered to us at the dawn of the materialization of neoliberal dreams in 1981 by Faith Popcorn, a trend forecaster and marketing consultant for Reagan and Thatcher. These two were always down for the sickness of austerity and precarity, and would no doubt be gleefully watching the Trump Administration’s policy of don’t come to the government for any support. Just buck up and die! So we can get that Sick-fil-A down the street opened again.

Now back to the center of my telematic tale of our current infodemic condition and the rising concern that it mirrors and amplifies, how the virus spreads and also how it might be contained on planetary scale. A hyper-real medial pharmakon. The World Health Organization worries that in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, they must also combat an infodemic which it defines as “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” We are now facing not only the issue of animal to human transmissions, or vice-a-versa. We can add to the feedback loop the contagious socio-technical virality that circuits systems of synchronized affective noospheric-zoonotic disease that attaches itself to the body, to bodies, to data bodies, to panic bodies, to contagious conspiracies, and to the economic condition of hysterical males on Wall Street screaming about the losses and pain of the 1%. The infodemic condition shares endless selfies with empty “just-in-time” shelves and pics infected by “We Are Now Closed” signs on Instagram, that then create even more states of feeling anxious and lost. The virus has infected all commodities from meat to IKEA. They are all down with the sickness. Even the very deep post-9/11 “New Normal” is being dumped into the mass graves as we will never have a “normal” or post-“normal” here-after. COVID-19 will long haunt us by crowning the spiked “new abnormal” as its novel strain.

If we must go viral, let it be with counter-infections towards the arc of justice. Not at the speed of infodemics, but at the speed of dreams shared and made real.

So what choice do we have but to seek out clear and transparent answers, timelines, models and simulations, the atomic facts in the face of the indeterminate condition of infodemics? While the viral logics of the Fox fake media links up and un-links with false flags: that Bill Gates controls the virus, or that a secret bioweapons lab in Wuhan did it, or that the U.S. sent a human bioweapon to Wuhan, or that God is punishing us again because we do not buy enough. During the current lockdown a growing number of people are seeking hard data by clicking into non-partisan knowledge center sites (a bit of good news) like the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on a daily basis. At the same time, the CORONA Zombies movie came out last night and roasted the calls for “Liberate Michigan!” and “Liberate Texas!” The Z-grade flick made it clear that these super spreaders were the ones down with sickness. They are more than ready to buck up and die for the Orange One. These Trumpoids are all infected with a deep fascist virus that has taken over their mindless bodies and forces them to shamble and gather in front of hospitals armed to the teeth in order to blockade the sick from getting in to receive whatever limited treatment can be found—reversing the zombie narrative. Those wearing the MAGA hats are the undead and those dying are more than human.

Meanwhile, glimmers of social networks and sensibilities are being circuited and looped. We can see individuals and communities breaking out of the outbreak narratives. Outbreak stories that are consistently full of racial targeting and only seek to protect the heteronormative cismen. The virus is mutating and creating new potential socio-technical zones of care and bubbles of agency. Impossible social shifts are blooming where the virus reveals the gaps and fractures of our inadequate global infrastructures. Some nations, like Portugal, are offering full citizenship and rights to immigrants and refugees. Some nations are depopulating prisons. Mexico is giving 2.5 billion dollars to those communities stuck at the border. In the U.S., movement towards delinking insurance from one’s employment via a national single-payer healthcare plan is being proposed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and UC Santa Cruz COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) students strikers are calling for the end of rent. In Japan, people voted to move the houseless into the new Olympic village hotels. We can see the light of mutual aid rising and pushing the administrations of fear out. The hot zones are calling for total anti-anti-utopian concrescence, calls that were always-already blocked by the zombies of impossibility. 

Under the waves of COVID-19 and its infodemic double, novel cultural vaccines are being manufactured that will create planetary shifts away from capitalist realism(s) (yes, more than one version is walking dead). They are producing a transversal call for universal pay, universal education, and universal health care. We will have to double tap undead capitalism(s) and make sure they don’t reactivate big pharma or re-animate the DOW or resurrect the only-for-some insurance scam, or re-direct the Apple-Google beast from using our need to track COVID-19 to then track us to the grave of data capture for profit. If we must go viral, let it be with counter-infections towards the arc of justice. Not at the speed of infodemics, but at the speed of dreams shared and made real. Can you feel it?!! Shit yeah!!!

—San Diego, April 12, 2020

Ricardo Dominguez is a cofounder of the Electronic Disturbance Theater 1.0 (EDT), a group that developed Virtual-Sit-In technologies in 1998 in solidarity with the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, Mexico. With Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0 (Brett Stalbaum, dr. micha cardenas, Dr. Amy Sara Carroll, and Elle Mehrmand) he created the Transborder Immigrant Tool, a GPS cellphone safety net tool for crossing the Mexico–U.S. border. He was a Society for the Humanities Fellow at Cornell University (2017–18) and a Rockefeller Fellow (Bellagio Center, Italy) during the summer of 2018. Ricardo is also an associate professor in Visual Arts Department at UCSD.


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