3 of 4 What Makes a Video Viral go Viral?

The Phantom-Event

cloud-mountain

cloud-mountain

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.

horse-cloud

horse-cloud

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.

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About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016) and Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, due 2018). He is organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK, a co-founder of Club Critical Theory and Director of the EmotionUX Lab at UEL. He occasionally blogs at: https://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/ Full academic profile: https://www.uel.ac.uk/Staff/s/tony-sampson
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