fifth column

A Christmas Gif(t)

By Benedict Seymour, 21 December 2013
Image: Stilled gif


The world of animated gifs is 'another nature': a land of cockayne in which something crazy is always happening, business people walking down up escalators, children roaming about on their luggage, cleaners and commuters playing on the travelators. It is 'soviet russia' (to quote one gif tag) where 'luggage carries you', a topsy turvy world of reification extended and corrected, work is play, and the deadly reign of encrusted habit and surveillance is broken down by sudden dancing 'neath the scanners. Like a lowfi, lonelier Singin in the Rain or molecular ornament (we have been broken down and renarrativised out of Kracaeur's choreographed nihilism), in the gif, human fragments of fragments compose brittle little deviations from the script.

The only other thing that figures in this goofy world of low-jinks and parapraxis is the disaster, bringing us apparently the sole dynamic image of an airport exterior in existence in gifworld: the tsunami or tornado or cyclone sweeping in over the parked up jumbo like the wrath of god or a digital effect. Things are 99% ridiculous in gif world, and 1% unmitigated sublime.

As in the land of cockayne, in the realm of the animated gif labour, too, is enchanted, made into a game. Gangs of men compose themselves into human bicycles and  pedal down the transparent screen of the travellator like figments in those magical pens of tourist destinations, a worker wipes the glass clean for an effortless eternity, the logic of the conveyor belt turned on its head, à la Jacques Tati's Playtime; the airport becomes the locus of the holiday. 

But nothing like an establishing shot, or unpunctuated architecture, ever happens. Heaven is a place where nothing is not allowed to happen, to rephrase David Byrne.

Only in the poshest gifs, those sedulously reworked classic movie moments on IWDMR, do we see stasis unfold in all its glory - as if the carnival existed by grace of a ban on cessation, making all this festal mummery look a little scared of something. 

Is gifworld haunted by the fear that things could just be permanently boring, as if, beneath the looping transgressions and regressions and candid camera stunts and fails with an adult zooming headfirst naked into a kitchen cupboard forever (gifs are Orwellian, too), there were one greater loop - the loop of reproduction of the means of one's reproduction? The bad infinity of capital accumulation, the loop that underwrites and informs all others - until it too is somehow broken (one loop to rule them all, one loop to find them, one loop to bring them all and in the [insert low end end shit work job] bind them...?).

Tying the mundane into a knot, the gif is like christmas: by scheduling and precisely repeating the moment of exception from the imperative of work and routine, this escape itself risks becoming routine. But the gif's ambivalence, its yearning for a greater loop that might break what is broken in the very act of breaking the routine, means it contains an irrepressible utopianism, beyond its own dull compulsion. Like Blanqui's clockwork eternity, in which everything that has happened is doomed to go on happening, forever, the space-time of the gif also implies the existence of comets, of tears across - within and against - the sky.

Christmas is a gif that keeps on giving a glimpse of a cessation that would not be the deadly repetition of a contained escape but the messianic annhilation of all the loops existing.