Much of my work deals with the machinery of algorithms and their place as in the greater systems of human culture.
@hipsterbait1 is a bot that lives on twitter and tumblr, it creates ‘hipster bait’ in the form of post-post-ironic t-shirts, mashing up existing cultural referents into new combinations. It was inspired by a conversation with Rob Manuel, who suggested creating this known (hitherto humanly generated) meme in an algorithmic manner.
It set me thinking, I wondered if it would also be possible to create not only a representation of the t-shirt, but also the actual physical objects themselves.
The premise is a simple one. Take an image and place it with a recognisably wrong label. Offer the resulting t-shirt for sale.
The pleasure in these cognitively dissonant juxtapositions comes from our recognition that they come from the same class of things, but the referent is wrong. One of the most popular examples emerged immediately after the death of Lou Reed, featuring an image of Iggy Pop. It’s delightful because it allows us a moment of smugness as we recognise the ‘mistake’ being made. We wear this pun on a t-shirt as a form of social signaling – ‘Look at this joke I’ve recognised, do you recognise it as well?’ – it allows us to show a particular aspect of our taste to strangers, displaying an glimpse of our inner mental life to the world at large. For this to work, the juxtaposition has to be from the same domain; Lou Reed/Iggy Pop works, but Lou Reed/Katy Perry would not.
If we look closely, there are two distinct outputs to the system – the actual t-shirts (which remain in potentia until someone actually clicks ‘buy’), and the ‘shareable image’ which can be used as a signal of taste inside social networks. You don’t need to actually own the t-shirt to share the joke. The image fulfills much the same function in the ‘online’ world as the actual t-shirt does in the ‘offline’ world.
The entire process is automated – I have no control over the juxtapositions it makes, beyond defining the classes in which it is allowed to play. Whether the combinations are pleasing or not is entirely in the mind of the viewer.
Clicking on the image in tumblr will allow you to actually buy a physical t-shirt. If you should buy one, please send me a picture of you wearing it – you could be the first person to wear an algorithmically generated pun.