Friday, May 23, 2003

Like many others, I recently discovered 'The Star Wars Kid' (see One commentator stated that viewing the video clip was like watching a train wreck; it's horrible but impossible to look away. I was fascinated with the clip primarily because that could have been me! That's exactly the sort of thing I would have done.

Many people felt the same way. There was an outpouring of support for the Star Wars Kid resulting in a very successful electronic 'passing of the hat':

" Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to the Star Wars Kid fund! In only seven days, 421 people donated an unbelievable $4,334.44." (, May 21 2003)

This phenomenon fascinates me for two reasons: 1) it's grass roots phenomenon i.e., no network execs to be found, and 2) a real community has emerged around the new cultural icon and it has all been driven by Internet technology.

Does this new community represent the rise of "species being." In an essay entitled 'Sim Capital: General Intellect, World Market, Species Being and the Video Game', Nick Dyer-Witheford reintroduces this Marxian concept:

"Species Being is the term Marx uses [to refer to] humanity's self-recognition as a natural species with the capacity to transform itself through conscious social activity."

Does $4,334.44 offer a glimmer of Species Being? Perhaps only for the uber-geek but it's a start.

To extend the Star Wars Kid phenomenon to other areas (labour activism? environmental issues?) we should look at what begat this phenomenon.

Using Malcolm Gladwell's analysis of epidemics (from his book 'The Tipping Point'), we can analyze the Star Wars Kid. First of all, the content is sticky. We can all relate to the poor kid on screen; The video has subjective value for all of us (see Luckman and Berger's 'Social Construction of Reality').

In addition, based on viewer responses on various blogs and user groups, the video represents different things to different people. For some it is just entertainment but for others it is nostalgia. In this capacity, the video appears to be conforming to Greisemer and Star's concept of a Boundary Object i.e., an object that serves to communicate concepts between various disparate groups. Although groups may have different interpretations of the Star Wars Kid, the response has been fairly uniform: sympathy and a donation of cash. Is this how 'Species Being' starts?

Gladwell maintains that epidemics require three actors: mavens, connectors, and salesmen. In Gladwell's descriptions of these characters, however, each has great deal of charisma. Charisma, however, was not an issue with the spread of the Star Wars Kid. The network managed to replace these actors and hasten the transfer. The required charisma was the kid's; he offered us something we can all relate to.

Where does this get us with respect to species being? It seems that we require subject meaning (stickiness), inter-group subjective communication (boundary objects), and a network --electronic or analog.


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