Unprofessional: The Abject Bodies of Social Media

In conditions of total surveillance and sales of personal data to marketers, privacy is a luxury item, accessible only to the super-wealthy. It is also a powerful aspirational value. Professionals strive to maintain an aloof and clean online persona, in hopes of participating in a pale shadow of the old bourgeois public sphere that no longer offers influence on political life. It is a regime of self-policing that preserves the neoliberal socioeconomic order. Yet in spite of this, exploration of social media quickly uncovers abundant sexual and scatological jokes, compromising photographs, emotional outbursts, and other traces of “unprofessional” behavior. My paper speculates on the possibility of applying Bakhtin’s terms of authoritative discourse and carnivalized language to the new public spaces generated by social media, focusing on the presence of “grotesque” (which I also translate from Bakhtin’s Russian as “abject”) bodies in digital texts and images, a theoretical approach informed by Bakhtin’s own elision of the difference between bodily function and verbal utterance. My paper explores these ideas through an analysis of Ryan Trecartin’s Re’Search Wait’S  (2009-2010), particularly its playful, parodic use of stock photography and corporate jargon.


Brian Droitcour received a B.A. from Carleton College in Russian Language and Literature in 2002, then spent the next five years in Moscow, where he worked as a translator, writer, and editor. He has contributed to Artforum and worked as a curatorial fellow and staff writer for Rhizome at the New Museum in New York. His interests include Soviet cultural and intellectual history, theories of media and the everyday, contemporary art and visual culture.