February 02, 2024

At Least I Should Make Some Fucking Media Out of This

For those of you who 1) aren't obsessed by uber-personal blogs, 2) don't think that raw personal blogs can approach art, or 3) don't maintain an extensive online persona that is probably more interesting than your analog self, you may have missed the spectacular breakdown of Justin Hall, a sort of demi-god to the three types of people mentioned above, who for eleven years has been publishing his life on line [here's a smaller, quicker, creepier version].


In mid-January, Justin's blog was replaced by a simple, ten minute video clip, sans explanation, that showed him in the throes of a mental breakdown. In his rants, he confesses that the online hobby of sharing his life with strangers has become more than a past time, and indeed has left his real life away from the computer rather bereft:

What if a deeply connective personal activity you do that’s like religion that you practice with yourself, that’s a dialogue with the divine turns out to drive people away from you?
There's a girl he likes, whom he can't have, or he doesn't think he can have. "I publish my life on the fucking Internet!" he screams at one point, followed by, "I have nothing to write about!"


On the surface, it's a narrative of imbalance--self worth draining from one mode to another, a constant shifting of a veil over the self to cover the bald spots. I'm not sure what drives Justin to post a version of his life online, but doing so is obviously an incredible investment for him. I could guess that he began to do so out of need to form connections--though, he admits, the connection he has formed has been with himself. If he's a congregant in a religion he practices with himself, the "dialogue with the divine" he's engaging in can only be with himself. And when your life is your life's work, not having anything to write about is a serious crisis.

It's also pitiful--and I don't mean that as a dismissive. Justin holds his head in his hands and bemoans the girl who, upon seeing this video that he will still go ahead and post, will not want to be with him. It's wallowing and deprecating as a means of self-aggrandizing. "Look, I'm a fucking wreck / don't you want to date me?" he says to her, mockingly. It's a test, you see--for us, to be the better person, and look beyond the shattered self.

Unlike many breakdowns, this one requires an audience, because it's performed by someone who can only be assured of his own existence by seeing it reflected in the hits, emails, and comments of those who visit his website. "At least I should make some fucking media out of this," Justin says at one point. In other sections of the film, he turns his head, revealing the microphone that's recording every word of this soliloquy.


But this isn't a personal video diary to be kept private. Justin has filmed himself, edited the video to provide fade ins and fade outs, and even gives us text overlays that set the scene. What can we say about someone whose personal breakdowns require a symbiosis with an audience? Couldn't he have kept this to himself? Did he really just say "at least I should make some fucking media out of this?"

Of course, to some this is so very revolutionary, one might even call it art. Is an edited film of a performed breakdown art? That would mean it's inauthentic, right? It makes certain cultural theorists salivate:

Is not the line between fiction and actuality problematized for the viewer/reader whether it is the self (mirror) or the other (veil) that is addressed? Both fiction and the actual are part of reality. The is a temporal lag between the telling and the told that can give the teller space for recallibrating the telling, the told or even the teller. Indeed it is because acts of narration and narratives do not coincide that questions about the ontological status of the entites accessed through the narrative. The breakdown video is only one remarkable case of the mundane exercise of reading signs as evidence or symptoms. Leading or misleading signs. Mirrors can be broken; veils rent. Signs spin; narratives weave.
Maybe it is revolutionary. Maybe Justin Hall is a hyperself.

Justin Hall is no Jonathan Couette, though both are involved in the same project--constructing an autobiography through a mediated collage of images and text, arranged with an audience in mind. Not that there's anything new to this--does the private diarist who writes with quill pen and ink in books with locks really wish that their words never find an audience other than themselves?

With new forms of media--faster internet connections, cheaper digital cameras and recorders, the emergence of video blogs--I bet we'll find this visual mode of autobiography grow. Instead of daddy filming you opening your presents, you'll turn the camera on yourself--and there will only be space within the frame for you.

Personally, I'm a fan of video blogs (vlogs). But only if no one breaks down on them. Better that they show only random strangers. Or better yet, no one at all. Utterly banal.

So here's my contribution. I woke up the other day at 5:45 am and couldn't fall back to sleep. It was snowing outside, so I filmed this from the window above my bed. I was totally thinking of you when I did it.

Update: okay, so I have no idea why my little vid ain't playing.

Update: okay, so my little vid should play now.

Posted by jason at February 2, 2024 12:38 AM

Before you mentioned Caouette, my comment was going to be something along the lines of "I bet he's waiting for his movie deal now." Barf. I have no interest in this whatsoever. Call it a matter of taste, whatever. Wait, no, I have a mild interest. It is in the audience. Why would anyone want to read every excruciating emotionally overwrought detail of some art school milquetoast's pathetic excuse for a life? Actually, I'm sure the psychology of the answer to that question is pretty banal, too. Yawn. I'd rather watch snow falling.

Posted by: Brian at February 2, 2024 09:26 AM

it's fascinating in a watch a big car pileup kinda way.

also .. i'd much rather watch your vid of the snow ... something we rarely see this far south.

Posted by: myke at February 2, 2024 07:38 PM

i watched more of it and gotta say ... what a narcissistic melodramatic bore. ... had it been more raw ... maybe a little empathy mighta creeped out of me ... but damn, editing and subtitles??

Posted by: myke at February 2, 2024 07:44 PM

I saw this before and I don't know if I was impressed by his effort or just stunned by the implications, which you so clearly point out. You both have such huge intellects.

Maybe you missed that, but he was talking on the phone to a buddy through much of it -the head phones. I think his break down was much more than the film, much more happend before he started to film. Perhaps filming it calmed him. Like placing a tantruming kid in a room to chill.

He reminded me more of a sci-fi character, The mom in Fahrenheit 351 or the Mom in Brazil who are completely oblivious to the analog world, as you call it.

Like children, people do crack up in public, in psych wards on the street corner. When you do it in your bedroom, and you turn on the camera, is that any different than pounding the ceiling with a broom?

I think his editing was trying to pull a diamond out of the ashes and to understand, to understand.

Posted by: robt. at February 3, 2024 05:17 PM