Peter Weibel


Any protest, any insurrection, any indignation, any revolution faces today a new situation: the global web of social media. Anything, what in former times, has been restricted to be only a local event, nowadays, by the nearly simultaneous dissemination, can become a global event. The social media function as a magnifying glass and as an amplifier at the same time. What in former times happened in a local horizon and seemed to be of only relatively small importance can today be blown up to a stress situation of global scale by the media. Not only fear and anxiety can be multiplied but also rage. Menace and power can be magnified but also minorities. In summary, the media are not the map anymore, which depict the territory of reality; the media construct the territory. The media of today create reality. The media shape and simulate reality in a way that we can no longer tell the difference between the map, the medium of representation, and the land that is reality. The map creates the land like the media create reality. We experience not only “a structural transformation of the public sphere” (Jürgen Habermas, 1962) but in fact the fall of public sphere altogether. But there is still a reality below the public sphere that is conveyed by the media. This reality is the origin of protest. But the question today is: Is there anything beyond the media? In view of the fact that media have become “a manufacture of consent”[1] and therefore univocally construct reality classical critical sociology has difficulties to differentiate between media, reality, and politics. Because this is precisely the aim desired by politics and the transnational companies to achieve a diffusion of reality, in which all news, be it false or true, every kind of observation, be it false or true, any kind of message, be it right or fake, has its irreversible effect in reality. We are living, metaphorically spoken, in a quantum world of information: any message be it wrong or wright, be it true or false, has its effect on the status of the world. The mechanisms of the social construction of reality are increasingly replaced by the mechanisms of media construction of reality. The global media erect a world without an exit. Reality becomes a reality show (The Truman Show, 1998). Since the late 1980s the rise of Neo-Liberalism is inseparably linked to the establishment of the global media network. The agents of capital are increasingly coming to recognize the significance of a global media culture: Mass media serve the mass market. As a result, social criticism and media criticism can no longer be divided. In the print media only residuals of critique and protest remained. Therefore the protest found exile for a while in the social media. Especially in the beginnings of network society, utopian and anarchist movements believed in discovering a new land of individual freedom in the social media. But slowly we discovered that big companies, which make enormous profits out of using our data, colonize these media. Therefore again we ask the question: Is a revolt beyond the media possible today – and what would this revolt look like? Maybe one answer is that the new revolution can only take place within and not beyond this very media. In the early 1970s we have experienced Guerilla Television (Michael Shamberg, Raindance Foundation, 1971) and many attempts of alternative television broadcasting. But all these attempts failed.

Is it enough to reflect media construction of reality and media fiction in the media themselves? Is it enough to reflect one medium by another medium, e.g. television by newspaper critique and films by television critique? Is it possible to criticize media outside of media, is such a protest not locally bound and therefore in vain when the media do not disseminate this critique themselves? Therefore our critique must not only have a special effect on reality but also on the media themselves. These effects on reality acted out by individuals and minorities must be disseminated by global media. This new strategy I would not call revolutions, but rather »cultures of repair«. The famous book by John Dewey The Public and Its Problems (1927) must in this horizon expand into »the media and their problems« in order to solve the problems in reality. This is the new task. Because we live in what many critics call ‘a post-democracy’ or a ‘defect-democracy’ or ‘simulated democracy’.[2] And now we can paraphrase the question: Is it possible to criticize media outside of media? into the question: Is it possible to criticize democracy outside democracy? Naturally, our answer should be: only within democracy we can criticize and change democracy. Only within a defect democracy we can repair democracy. At the very historic moment in a limited slot of time it seems possible to repair defect systems. A man, an astronaut, in a space shuttle orbiting the earth can only repair a defect in the rocket system by himself, but he can have contact with ground control to support him. The situation is that the astronaut is alone and imprisoned in the spaceship. There is no reality beyond and beneath his spaceship. This is the parable for the situation of everybody in the age of media. Everybody is wrapped in a media environment, which he cannot escape from like the astronaut cannot escape from his shuttle. But the crew on the planet earth can send information and instructions, directions to the astronaut to help him navigate, steer and renovate the defect part of the spaceship. The people on the ground, the underground people, can help him to solve his repair tasks. The people on the ground are locally separated from the astronaut, they communicate through immaterial messages via satellite, with the help of tele-media. This is the new situation on the spaceship earth that two parties, which operate in two distant local environments, can disseminate valuable information to each other. This was originally the idea of social media before corporations capitalised them. The idea was a peer-to-peer communication, a global network of individuals. This utopian goal can still be achieved by sharing tools and cooperation. It seems that at the historic moment a radical change of systems, which are dysfunctional by the inability of politics to take action, cannot be achieved. Maybe radical change can only be achieved today by radical totalitarian regimes. But then the system becomes more self-destructive than the dysfunctional system itself.

Therefore, I propose a culture of repair as a new way of exit from the global crisis, the climate crises, the financial crises, the democratic crises. From North Korea (Kim Jong-un) to the United States of America (Donald Trump) we realise that planet earth needs a lot of repair.



[1] See Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Manufacturing Consent. The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York, Pantheon Books, 1988.

[2] See Colin Crouch, Coping with Post-Democracy, London, Fabian Society, 2000; Wolfgang Merkel, Hans-Jürgen Puhle, Aurel Croissant (Ed.), Defekte Demokratien, Vol. 1+2, Wiesbaden, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2003/2006; Ingolfur Blühdorn, Simulative Demokratie. Neue Politik nach der postdemokratischen Wende, Berlin, Suhrkamp 2013.



Peter Weibel, Chairman and CEO of ZKM | Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe and professor of media theory at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, is considered a central figure in European media art on account of his various activities as artist, theoretician, and curator. His career took him from studying literature, medicine, logic, philosophy, and film in Paris and Vienna and working as an artist to head of the digital arts laboratory at the Media Department of New York University in Buffalo (1984 to 1989) and founding director of the Institute of New Media at the Städelschule in Frankfurt/Main (1989–1994). As artistic director, he was in charge of Ars Electronica in Linz (1992–1999), Seville Biennial (BIACS3, 2008), and of Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011). He commissioned the Austrian pavilions at Venice Biennale (1993–1999) and was chief curator of the Neue Galerie Graz (1993 to 1998).