Friday, March 20, 2009

Pop Quiz

I’ve noticed pop-ups consisting of “IQ Tests” seem to have become ubiquitous on the web lately, an interesting phenomenon that I cannot let go unremarked. For behind every pop-up window (every advertisement) there’s a product pleading for an avid consumer, inviting him or her to participate in a process that Louis Althusser called interpellation, the process by and through which individuals are constructed as “subjects” when they are forced to respond to the solicitations of ideology: “the individual is interpellated as a (free) subject in order that he shall submit freely to the commandments of the Subject, i.e. in order that he shall (freely) accept his subjection.” Pop-up windows frequently contain requests for individuals to respond to a question or questions, that is, they contain a quiz (a form of entertainment based on questions and answers). Quizzes function “phatically,” to use linguist Roman Jakobson’s term, by which he meant a type of (verbal) communication that implies nothing more than a simple willingness to converse (for instance, talking about the weather with your neighbor). Hence quizzes select, establish, and ultimately decide the kinds of knowledge (“bodies of knowledge”) that any particular culture, or subculture, considers “important,” marginalizing as irrelevant other kinds of knowledge. Determinations of importance, in turn, enable people to perform comfortably culturally symbolic gestures such as the expression of (preferred) taste; in turn, preferred tastes serve to enable (support and encourage) consumption and consumptive patterns—watch HGTV sometime. Or better yet, open the pages of any popular music publication. You are likely to find within its pages a quiz—which serves the same interpellative function as a pop-up window. Hence the quiz and the pop-up window are parts of the same communicative network that channels communication into consumption. Quizzes are simply pop-ups in disguise.

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