Kyoobur deserves credit. Logo editing, everywhere, bears his mark. I mean this both in that it’s been greatly shaped by his influence and, more literally, because many of the big-league logo editors brand themselves as subsidiaries of the Kyoobur9000 company. But this thing, logo editing, is more significant than the output of any one editor— or for that matter, the sum of all its editors. It’s one of those weird cultural extrema that so distills the traditions from which it emerges (in this case: memes, shitposting, hyperculture more generally) that it starkly clarifies their inner forces and contradictions. Take memes, for example. Who would deny that memes are a defining form of the past decade? Memes are so powerful, so seductive, that non-memes struggle to escape the pull of meme-ification, particularly when it comes to online cultural production. But what’s the source of this power? What’s distinct about it? It’s not the individual meme. It’s not what you see on your screen: a “humorous or relatable pairing of image and text.” This has been a template of popular forms like comics, posters and illustrations long before mankind ever learned to shitpost. The power of memes, we’d probably all agree, lies rather in their crystallization of certain networks, both social and technological. However brilliant the individual meme (and there are some sluggers out there), we all recognize that they are but replies within a much larger, longer conversation. Despite the occasional watermarking of “original content,” we know— and can straight up observe— that this originality draws upon huge reservoirs of previous posts and efforts. Much of the real “content” of memes, the thing that makes them really hit, has been produced, aestheticized, and propagated in advance by an army of untold number.
In other words, memes make evident something that has always been the case: that culture is primarily social. It’s socially produced, socially circulated, socially evaluated, and always responding to a certain social understanding. Yet when push comes to shove, or when the histories get written, this social reality somehow gets suppressed by the codification of culture as a form of private property or the work or expression of the lone private individual. And I’m not just talking about NFTs or copyright infringement, about legal or institutional codification. It’s something that creeps into our instincts. It affects how we think about culture, reifying its production and mythologizing its producers. It’s not just about whether something is literally owned or not. It’s about a certain metaphysics of culture. Meme-making, as well as our more casual, daily meme-appreciation, partly undoes this privatizing instinct. The social reality of it all is just too undeniable, too inviting. Nevertheless, other parts of meme culture can dull its edge pretty quickly. The relatability of the content (and even the “contentiness” of the content) makes memes easily put to service for lame or nefarious ends, and if we’re talking straight percentages here, most memes are either rank propaganda or chucklers your aunt posts to her Facebook wall, or both. And then, while in one sense the meme-content flows freely and the love is real, the actual semio-technical networks that they’re crystallizing could not be a more literal, disturbing example of privatization and systematic enclosure— and in ways only opaquely understood even by memelords and ladies.
With these two weakspots exposed, enter Kyoobur9000 and company. As the name implies, logo editing has two primary obsessions: the contours of intellectual property— emblematized by the logos they borrow or make— and a formalist concern with video-editing itself. Unlike a lot of other memetic and shitposting traditions, the “content” has been almost entirely twisted or hollowed out, usually consisting of cherished logo-tropes like the Klasky Csupo intro, station idents, defaults, or logos of their own design. Logo editors make or take logos as content, which from the vantage point of intellectual property, is a bit like throwing away the gift and keeping the box and wrapping. They also approach their edits with the same rigorous formalism that you’d expect from turtlenecked mid-century painters and sculptors, noting the slightest changes in color, sound, or arrangement. And it shows. Logo editing hardly deserves comparison with the shitposting of jokey predecessors like YTPMV (YouTube Poop Music Videos) which for the most part, I find pretty bad, if still amusing. Logo editing is drossless and precise, yet free of the pretensions associated with so many other formalisms. Sebastian remarked that even at its most maximalist, it has an almost soothing, therapeutic quality to it, and I agree. But then on its back end, logo editors also delight in aggressively testing the ownership of the networks they’re crystallizing— the YouTube networks hosting their output, the television networks that aired the original programs or commercials, and even the meaning of authorship inside the network of the logo editors themselves. Videos get copystricken, deleted, saved by others, copied, vandalized, desecrated, re-edited, and re-uploaded, and the resulting battlelines mark off the otherwise vague limits of use and ownership on these platforms. It’s as if logo editors, by some unerring instinct, located and then summarily lopped off the remaining deadweight of meme culture. They’re still memes, only ultralite. It’s this same instinct that has them swapping out their own usernames and blurring provenance faster than anybody can keep track, or de-mystifying their own production process by taking requests in the comments or posting tutorials with step-by-step instructions. What you get, in the final result, is this odd platypus of a cultural species that combines a Hans Haacke-ish critique of platform with an exacting, avant-gardish formalism, but counterintuitively, is wildly popular on YouTube and, by and large, made by teens who are just riffing and trying to make something that looks cool or scary.
Much of it was spurred by the tool itself, a program of choice among logo editors called Sony Vegas. This is a video editing program that allows users to swap out clips even while keeping the structure of the editing in place, much in the way that one can keep a melody in midi while swapping out different instruments. In so doing, Sony Vegas reproduces the logic of memes, only for video-clips; content is swapped in and out of certain formats, which are themselves open to riffing and recombination. The individual logo edits, like individual memes, are but an accumulation of steps or feedback loops created by an army of untold number. And in those many thousands of steps, some of them very tiny indeed, it’s difficult to say when and where they trespass the enclosures of private culture, the sharp differences of mine and yours and theirs. Sure, certain logo editors, like Kyoobur9000 or Trukhin Gleb, stand out and duly receive their glory. As opposed to the “veg-replacers” who simply plug content into the .veg files, these .veg creators are respected as innovators, legends even, as well they should be. But the esteem is never severed from a participation in the community— even if that participation is antagonistic or straight griefing. And judging by the sheer output, it certainly gives the lie to the notion that productivity (cultural and maybe otherwise) relies upon enclosure and private ownership, upon sharp distinctions between mine and yours and theirs.
It makes me wonder how much logo editing could serve as a model for other spheres of culture— for things like philosophy. Ideas belong to no one, we all know. Even the most brilliant thoughts and thinkers are just distillates of much larger, longer conversations. Great thinkers deserve some credit, but not all. Yet philosophy as a codified discipline has nearly always been, in actual practice, the study of “great minds.” You study Plato or Kant or whoever, and all subsequent ideas are treated as if they are just cocktails of these purer substances, Platonism or Kantianism or whatever. Again, we know this is ludicrous, that thought far exceeds the individual thinker, but it’s just how things are done around here, at least in the wings of the North Atlantic. It’s not so much privatized in the sense of thoughts being copyrighted (academic journals excepted), but in that it shares the form of private property or is treated as the work of the lone private individual— a metaphysics of culture in which thought is essentially private. With few exceptions, philosophy online has done little to correct this. Forums still give rise to their own little Platos and little Kants, and philosophy memes are basically namedrops or blurb-joke-clichés. But philosophy could assume other forms online, forms closer in character to logo editing, in which thoughts are shopped and swapped like the Klasky Csupo intro or Kyoobur's beloved Diamond effect. The results would be more like a piece of open-source software than an awing monument to a solitary mind, and as a crystallization of a general intellect, it would be a better reflection of how thought actually works. So why doesn’t this exist? What's holding us back?
We cling to private or enclosed culture for a variety of reasons, some nobler than others. Less admirably, part of this clinginess is bound up with some hope for personal recognition. Maybe we fear that without the metaphorical watermark that says “I did this! It was all me,” there would be no ladder to success or specialness in art, music, philosophy, or whatever— and this is above and beyond the question of actually getting paid for our success or specialness. More understandable is the question of how we relate to culture. When we listen to a “great” song or crack open a “great” book, there’s often a sort of intimacy between you and the author, or you and the musician, that feels if not “private” then personal and dialogical in a way that doesn’t seem relevant when you’re talking about something like Linux. We jealously guard this intimacy, often willfully forgetting the broader social fact of the work as much as we possibly can: we want it to be just the two of us. Hyperculture brings even bigger crowds. So much literature and music, since the earliest records, has been happily acknowledged as the work of many hands, even when given final form by an individual. But with the internet and its ensemble of technologies, and its ability to quickly coordinate multitudes, this sense of the teeming millions can be pushed to new and sometimes alienating limits.
Sebastian makes the credible claim that “Sparta Remix,” a favorite musical theme among logo editors, is the most remixed song of all time, with some tens of thousands of remixes. This is mind-blowing in itself, as a curiosity. But even though the original melody and .veg file is attributable, it’s more accurate to say that “Sparta Remix” is this collection of mixes, the corpus. Here, a difference of quantity turns into a difference of quality. Something sufficiently new is going on. This isn’t just one remix here, one remix there, always calling back to an “original.” This is music and video created fully, directly and evidently as a “crystallization of certain networks, both social and technological.” You feel it, and it’s both exciting and a little disconcerting, if for nothing else than for what it wordlessly suggests. What would it mean for an entire song, including the melody, lyrics, rhythms, arrangement, timbre, to be composed by an army of untold number? Or a novel with ten thousand authors, each adding a line or changing a word or two? Maybe your grandchildren will one day look at you funny when you ask them “who” wrote a certain book or song. Maybe, and probably more likely, this more distributed kind of culture-making will find a place alongside more “personable” works. Or, best case scenario, each individual work or creator will just be loved and understood within the mesh of their networks and social realities. For those worried, there’ll still be plenty of room and recognition for “individuals.” The virtue of logo editing, as I see it, isn’t that it’s some wholly de-individuated enterprise. It’s just one of those rarer internet-corners that promises us some aesthetic autonomy from the very opposite: total privatization, total enclosure. And in the context of hyperculture, where every power vector is becoming increasingly explicit, measured, and directed, and every form of control and compromise more available and swallowed, such autonomy feels like nothing short of a breakthrough. You put on a playlist of a Kyoobur9000 company, let it roll, and think to yourself: “ah, there it is— the pure shit.”