Trendcendence: [trend-sen-duh ns]
Noun: The quality or state of trending that ushers in a sense of transcendence.
Okay, so I made that word up – it’s a neo-logism – but bear with me. We live, publicly at least, in an avowedly secular world. Living in a material world and we are material girls, boys, or a transition between the two.
Yet we’re in a place now, thanks to our technology, in which we can break the surly bonds of our own personal immanence through the process of trending.
Trending ushers in a kind of transcendence that I call “trendcendence” – the state of being in which you move beyond the atomised individual you surely are, to a state of communal consciousness that gives you both god-like quality in terms of reach and longevity.
Case in point: The Christchurch killer and Egg-Boy.
Two more polar opposite actions you could not envisage, yet actions that deliver the same result in terms of their reach. The first action; a cold, heartless killer slaughtering people in a place of worship. The second – and resultant action/reaction – a young man smashing an egg onto the head of a hard right politician conducting a media interview in light of that first action.
One, a murderous action that sent shockwaves around the West, particularly here in the Southern Hemisphere. The other, a fairly innocuous and cheeky action that drew praise for its bravery, and scorn for its stupidity, in equal measure.
Yet both actions linked by this common desire for trendcendence. Both self-consciously recorded by their perpetrators in the very act of carrying them out. And all for audiences that they know either exist, or will exist upon the broadcast of that material.
A gun in one hand, helmet cam on head streaming live feed to a dark social media audience; an audience that has a list of saints and sinners, who’s in and who’s out, what’s right and what’s wrong.
An egg in one hand, smartphone in the other; an action pushed out to the mainstream social media audience that has its own list of saints and sinners, who’s in and who’s out, what’s right and what’s wrong.
And that is not to give moral equivalence to their actions, far from it. But simply to say that both armed themselves with another weapon that day: the self-referential intention to announce their actions to an always watching, always on, never switched off world. And for their actions to somehow live on beyond and above themselves. To be given meaning even beyond what they meant by them, by an always watching world.
Facebook and Twitter scramble to take down the murder video, but realise too late, that the creature has turned on the creator. And Facebook and Twitter scramble to ensure Eggboy is turned into a minor saint (at least for the next few weeks).
No action is an action any longer if it is not seen to be an action. Unless it trends. And trending is a tremulous, jittery creature, hard to raise, and quick to fall. There’s a window, and both killer and Egg-Boy took the chance and went through that window to global super-stardom.
As ISIS showed us so terribly in recent years, it’s not the slaughter of innocents that is the intention, but rather that the rest of us see the slaughter of those innocents. Sure it’s a lonely beach, with kneeling prisoners awaiting their fate – but unless it trends those murderers have not completed the job.
We can barely look away any longer. We don’t know how to look away any longer. Looking away is no longer our reflexive action, which reveals that it is no longer our desired action.
As their conquerors advanced in recent weeks ISIS was not frantically burning files like the Nazis did, in order to hide their crimes. No, they were eking the last bit of trendcendence that they could. And our trendcendent culture has enabled and empowered them.
No room for a Scarlet Pimpernel in this trendcendent world. No actor on the world stage is an actor unless he or she is seen to be an actor.
Right, Left, mass murderer, mass lover, unless you’ve trended – unless you’ve reached trendcendence, – you’re not on the program. In a world avowedly committed to the immanent frame, this is now how we transcend, not to God, but to be like god. How many “likes”, how many followers, how many kudos.
This is how we make an indelible mark, one in which even the most technologically savvy companies on the planet struggle to erase. Forget the singularity, we are rendered immortal by trending.
One of my favourite movies of the past few years is Birdman, the story of a washed up superhero actor, Riggan Thompson, trying to revive his career through art house theatre, and starring in a completely self-referential manner, Michael “Batman” Keaton.
Riggan doesn’t get the new media. Doesn’t get why he needs to have a presence. Yet he desperately craves relevance. In one searing scene his daughter Sam roasts him for destroying a serious acting career in search of fame, yet one who at the same time rails agains the social media world of the day.
Things are happening in a place that you ignore, a place that, by the way, has already forgotten about you! I mean who the @#$% are you? You hate bloggers! You mock Twitter! You don’t even have a Facebook page! You’re the one who doesn’t exist. You’re doing this because, like the rest of us you’re scared to death that you don’t matter, and you know what? You’re right. You don’t! You’re not important, get used to it!
Yet what Riggan can’t achieve through fair means, he achieves through fowl, er, foul.
He ends up having a panic attack and after getting locked out of the theatre back door runs disoriented and confused through Times Square in New York in his pyjamas looking for a way back in. People gawk, stare, and, of course, film and Facebook/Tweet/Instagram him.
And in that moment, albeit a foolish, degrading moment at his lowest point, Birdman breaks those surly bonds of immanence and truly flies.
“You’re becoming a trending topic,” Sam says quietly as a video of his antics reaches 350,000 hits in an hour. And then she nails it with these words:
“Believe it or not, this is power.”
And it so is. It so is.
Trendcendence offers a hand up to the powerless and for a while, just a brief while, tells them that they are powerful. Powerful enough to scare, terrify, amuse. To whatever. It’s the result that, in the end, matters, not the process.
Trendcendence is eternity to the ephemeral; our culture’s refusal to ever get used to the dark, snake-scaled idea that Someone is holding out on us.
To refuse to believe that we don’t matter in the scheme of it all. To transcend whatever surly analogue bonds would hold us, and snarl or smile our digital response to an immanent world, and for one brief moment, to fly.