Screenshot of WebCam Tears

Screenshot of WebCam Tears

CHICAGO — I cry, you cry, we fuck each others’ feelings, we broke up, we got back together, and somehow it all ended up on Tumblr. What is crass and private is public and affective, considered just another aspect of affect, of gaining likes, retweets, and reblogs through sharable, likable emotions. Internet culture workers, whose source of currency is emotion and who are paid in thought provocation, acknowledgment, and attention, know this all too well. As in any relationship, the more you give, the more you get. But when you are giving to the internet, where consumption is never-ending and needs are ever-increasing, the emotions are endless. The internet is a goldmine of creative capital, but this currency doesn’t always pay dividends, and often times it’s not something one can cash in at the local exchange.

Two embodiments of this sort of affective labor can be found in the tumblelogs Webcam Tears and Marina Abramović Made Me Cry, in which moments of extreme emotion are mediated through the internet, appearing cleanly curated and sterile, yet erupting with bodily sensations, feelings, stuff that makes you want to stare and do something, maybe even get off. In this affective space, the body is fragmented yet the feelings remain. If you, the internet, fuck my feelings, there’s nothing I can do to get you off.

Webcam Tears is a collection of videos and GIFs of mostly white young women crying in front of a webcam, most likely toward or about the human who is receiving these images on the other end. The images are anonymous; names do not appear.

This woman only made it 5 minutes before Marina made her cry. Date: 2010-06-05.

This woman only made it 5 minutes before Marina made her cry. (photograph by Marco Anelli)

Anyone on the internet is welcome to submit videos of themselves crying (sorry, no more photos or GIFs). As the statement for Webcam Tears suggests, the Tumblr collection becomes a project about voyeurism, exhibitionism, and loneliness, but also considers the idea of emotional porn. The majority of these videos aren’t recognizable. We did, however, notice a video of Maja Malou Lyse crying, which we recognized from a similar work of art that appeared in Illuminati Girl Gang, Volume 3.

In an age where connecting or reconnecting is but a click, like, or message away and our emotions are easily transmittable through fluid spaces such as email, Tumblr, Facebook, and iMessage, emotional connectivity might be even easier to find than we realize. Bodies become fragmented, afterthoughts of feelings and internet pornography. Feelings are immediately exchanged and activated, but once they’ve been “sold” to the internet they cannot ever be refunded. And like porn, they’ll get you off and you won’t have to do anything in return except watch and enjoy. You may feel gross afterwards, but that’s the price to pay.

The man also only made it 5 minutes before he broke down in front of Marina.

The man also only made it 5 minutes before he broke down in front of Marina. (photograph by Marco Anelli)

Marina Abramović, who is quite possibly the convergence of two sides of a coin — both the death-toller and “grandmother of performance art” — invoked tears in the eyes of many visitors to her MoMA exhibition Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present (2010). Her ability to make complete strangers cry just through sustained human connectivity calls into question ideas of “real, authentic emotions.”

Abramović’s performance at MoMA, easily memed and tumbled, presents an extension of performance in late capitalism, where emotions are currency, pornography, and readily available for consumption. Despite this shift, we still lack the bodies that connect us physically, a trading of physicality for pure affect. Webcam Tears and Abramović’s performances operate first physically, and only later affectively on the performance-driven space of the internet. Crying, whether it occurs alone in front of a screen or with a stranger at a museum, is still always connected to the body, regardless of how fragmented it appears online. Emotional currency is still first and foremost only dispensible through the body. Turning on the tears, however, isn’t quite as simple as a faucet, and doesn’t always resemble an easily replenishable well.

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED Magazine and the Chicago...

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