boriswave: Johnson released from truth, sincerity and criticism?

  • November 29, 2019

Culture & Critique

Ahead of the UK general election, the Conservative Party released “boriswave,” a video that marks the meeting point of post-truth and post-irony.

On the November 25, two-and-a-half weeks before the upcoming general elections in the UK, the Conservative Party’s official YouTube channel released a video entitled “lo fi boriswave beats to relax/get brexit done to.”

The 72-minute long video features an image of Prime Minister Boris Johnson sat on a train, cruising through a looped animated landscape of vibrant colors and problematic orientalist motifs. The video is soundtracked by a boring vaporwave mix, which is remarkably layered with excerpts of Johnson’s recent speeches: “get Brexit done,” “end the uncertainty,” and “invest in the NHS” are among the mantras which will be immediately familiar to anyone who has taken even a passing interest in British politics of late.

For those fortunate enough to be unaware of the cultural phenomena, vaporwave is a once-niche style of electronic music underpinned by a nostalgia for the neoliberalism of the 80’s and 90’s. Although the genre has grown in popularity over the past decade, boriswave — the Conservative Party’s appropriation of vaporwave for electoral gain — represents an unprecedented political move, one that immediately and simultaneously makes no sense and complete sense.

I personally felt at once totally bewildered and totally unsurprised — but perhaps there is a buried truth to this contradictory emotional state in which I increasingly find myself these days.

When it comes to understanding contradiction, the thought and method of early 19th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel is foundational. It was Hegel’s great insight that history was ultimately a process in which contradictions arise and are resolved, with the resolution of each conflict bringing us progressively closer to self-consciousness and freedom. Hegel’s dialectical method and understanding would later be appropriated by Karl Marx, for whom the course of history was the product of economic contradictions, which would likewise bring us progressively closer to a classless society.

To the contemporary reader of Hegel or Marx, the basic premise of this dialectic understanding may appear suspect. Many reject their determinism, sensing that the contradictions of our contemporary reality only seem to grow in their stability and extent, as opposed to being subjected to a continuous process of interrogation and resolution.

This observation is not a new one; from the interbellum onwards, the Western Marxists of the Frankfurt School were examining the manner in which false-consciousness served to sustain and extend such states of conflict. However, the forces which serve to warp consciousness and entrench contradiction are ever changing, and boriswave marks the meeting point of two such contemporary online trends: post-truth and post-irony.

Post-truth refers to a political climate in which the significance of facts are in decline. It is instead defined by a calculated and blatant dishonesty, in which political discourse is designed to whip up support by means of appealing to immediate emotional predispositions, rather than the actuality of a political landscape. In 2016, post-truth was elected the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year due to its concerning contemporary resonance. Much has been said of the role of “fake news” in influencing the election of Trump and the result of the UK’s EU referendum, but the tactic of post-truth politics remains evident in the Conservative’s current campaigning.

The very claim that the Conservatives could “get Brexit done” and “end the uncertainty” on the time frame promised by Johnson — both a divorce bill and trade deal agreed and passed by 2020 — has been dismissed as deceptive by commentators and diplomats alike. Meanwhile, the promise to employ 50,000 new nurses as a part of Johnson’s pledge to “invest in the NHS” has rightly come under sharp scrutiny since it emerged that 19,000 of the additional 50,000 were nurses presently employed by the NHS.

Post-irony meanwhile refers to the seemingly sincere celebration of cultural phenomena and artifacts which have previously been the subject of ironic disdain. The trend of post-irony has increasingly permeated the world of “art” in recent years, and is perhaps most visible and prominent in vaporwave. In fact, vaporwave as a genre can be defined by its post-ironic stance; it makes consistent recourse to, and veneration of, motifs associated with consumerism and advertising, those which are more typically the subject of critique or irony in niche musical movements.

The drab aesthetic of shopping malls and the premature utopianism of 90’s internet culture are recurrently treated as objects of beauty and sources of inspiration by various vaporwave artists.

Whereas truth and irony may serve the purpose of illuminating a contradiction — by factual means in the case of the former, and humorous means in the case of the latter — post-truth and post-irony conversely serve to entrench and extend contradiction. Post-truth politics achieve this by either straight-up denying the existence of a contradiction — see Nicky Morgan’s unwavering instance that 31,000 more nurses is equivalent to 50,000 more nurses — or falsely declaring that contradictions can be overcome by unrealistic means, e.g. getting Brexit done within a year, and thus ending uncertainty.

Post-irony on the other hand celebrates a supposed beauty inherent to such contradictions, appropriating that which has rightly been subjected to regular critique, and instead exalting it. Ultimately, both forces serve to induce a false-consciousness, one which is in some way unaware of the reality of contemporary contradictions.

As such, boriswave can only be understood as a worrying and novel case of mystification.

Although politicians have been the subject of the “vaporgaze” in the past — see Moggwave never before has a party purposefully subjected their own leader, and their dishonest discourse, to post-ironic celebration. Rather than engaging in a politics of resolution, the Conservative Party appears to be attempting to release Johnson from the domains of truth, sincerity and criticism, thus stupefying the public, and sustaining a favorable contradiction in the service of their reelection efforts.

With boriswave, it truly feels as if the internet is collapsing in on itself: the regressive online currents of fake news and post-irony merge, leaving us as shipwrecked spectators, drifting further and further from a progressive politics of integrity and resolve.

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Max Bouttell

Max Bouttell is an Amsterdam-based writer and critical theorist. His research-interests tend to exist in constellation around eroticism, Art Nouveau and Western Marxism.

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