The new popularity contest
Have MSCHF’s “Satan Shoes,” released in 666 units and priced at $666 been a success?
The sneakers were sold out in under one minute, but the question is N/A.
The biggest impact of MSCHF is its refusal to participate in the performance culture.
The performance culture is a culture that is shaped by performance metrics. Performance metrics are measures of engagement, like followers, likes, views, and comments. They are business metrics, like market performance of a company. Performance metrics are also social metrics, like environmental footprint or charitable donations. They are individual metrics, like one’s work performance, physical fitness, emotional satisfaction (how far along one is on their bucket list), or social status (she/he/they are a 10).
Our culture is so deeply shaped by performance metrics because that’s how we navigate through it. When it comes to cultural goods we choose — fashion, songs, posts, TikTok videos, movies, memes, books — we look for bestsellers, “most followed,” “most streamed/downloaded/liked,” top 10, most innovative, most influential …Ranking and scores are useful in sorting through the massive overload of content, products, ideas, and people: they speed up and simplify our decision-making and affiliate us with others, giving us identity.
We use ranking and scores to orient ourselves, but performance metrics are also a filter through which we experience the world and our position within it. They are a measuring stick that we use to evaluate and judge ourselves and others.
The meaning we give to the world is filtered through a massive popularity contest in which everyone participates but the prize is unclear.
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This popularity contest is ran by algorithms. We are not competing with other people for popularity, but with algorithmic preferences and scoring systems. In sociology, performativity happens when the use of a model improves its predictive powers. A model is performative when it creates the reality it describes.