Tag: Trojans

4 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

The Imperfect [Viral] Crime

We might say that viral marketers try to make their Trojans out of the same kind of stuff we experience when glimpsing strange cloud formations.


To be sure, the marketer must endeavor to be the trickster insofar as he tries to sustain the hallucination long enough to fleece those idiots still caught out staring into the sky. This is nevertheless the “imperfect crime” of viral marketing Fuller and Goffey discuss so well in their Evil Media chapter in The Spam Book: as they put it, the problem with viral marketing is that “the identity of the criminal needs to be circulated along with the act itself.”

So what makes something go viral? Well, isn’t this the elixir of marketing and political strategizing? It’s certainly not something that can be easily grasped. Aside from engaging with the imperfect criminal act, the viral marketer must also take into account the accidental environments in which phantoms exist. See, for example, the work of network market researchers like Duncan Watts who point to the accidents of influence. As Fuller and Goffey argue, as soon as the viral is pushed “into the [uncertain] realm of experiential communication [and] material affect,” the marketer can no longer rely on an encoded message to ensure the virus’s trajectory (p. 155). There are no assurances that things will go viral. The cloud might eventually become dispersed or get heavier and fall from the sky.

Forget the meme theory of viral marketing. It is in these uncertain realms of communication that the accidents of virality seem to persist irrelevant of how much memetic seeding takes place. Importantly then, the creativity of the idiot does not belong to the idiot-subject or the idiot maker, it would seem. The idiot is not simply created; he also creates himself and those idiots around him. Marketers have to bide their time, keep their distance, and wait for their phantom event to spread out. Nevertheless, with enough added idiocy, the attention of the collective hallucination will eventually be drawn to this or that point of distraction and the virus might just catch on.


Jon Ronson’s viral video: Thank God it’s Tuesday http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/video/2012/may/18/jon-ronson-viral-video-tuesday

Olga Goriunova, 2010 ‘Digital Media Idiocy’, Thinking Network Politics conference, Anglia Research Centre in Digital Culture,Anglia Ruskin University.

Gustave Le Bon, The Crowd, 16.

Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense (London: Continuum, 1990), 241–57.

Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey, “Towards an Evil Media Studies,” in Parikka and Sampson, The Spam Book, 155.

Clive Thompson, “Is the Tipping Point Toast?” Fast Company Magazine, February 1, 2008, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/122/is-the-tippingpoint-toast.html

3 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

The Phantom-Event


The problem however with Le Bon is that he never really explains how his mechanism of hallucination produces such idiots. Rather than figuring out how these subjects are made, he simply describes what he sees. Here again though, like Goriunova, I find Deleuze useful. His notion of the phantom event in The Logic of Sense provides something more to add to the idea that idiots are volatile to Trojans. Like this, in the phantom events of both Belle Poule and Lonelygirl15 a relation is established between social corporeality (bodies) and the incorporeal event (the imitative encounter or passing on of the event). This hallucination is not a hypnotic paralysis resolved solely in the depths of a repressed mental unity (as Le Bon’s proto-psychoanalysis would have it), or for that matter is it the hardwiring of an evolutionary meme code. It is rather an event that affects the crowd on the surface. As Deleuze puts it, “[the phantom-event’s] topological property is to bring ‘its’ internal and external sides into contact, in order for them to unfold onto a single side.” At the surface, the hallucinatory event disengages from its source and spreads itself. Like this, phantom-events are surface effects that can appear as spontaneously intersecting simulacra like the figure of a giant or a mountain range that materializes in the ephemeral formations of clouds in the sky.


Similar to the floating branches and leaves of Le Berceau, a religious apparition, or the sudden appearance of a pouting teenage blogger on YouTube, these surface effects can, albeit briefly, become detached from direct experience and autonomously spread their affective charge. Indeed, it is the hypnotized subject’s distance from the phantom-event that makes him evermore prone to variable appearances of the real and the imagined.

This is the logic of sense apparent in the spreading of Trojan viruses, chain letters, and contagious false rumors. These are not simply preprogrammed units of imitation but emergent forces of contagion in the social field that function according to an action-at-a-distance. The phantom-event is a surplus, or excess, of the nonconscious. It contaminates those who are caught somewhere in the loop between the imaginary and the real events encountered and believed in.