The Luddites were early nineteenth-century people who feared that mechanization would rob them of their jobs. They were right insofar as those who clung to their anti-mechanization stance were screwed.
In 1848, Barthelemy Thimonnier, inventor of the first true sewing machine, had his working machines burned up by an angry mob of tailors who claimed that women could never do the job the tailors did at home, nor could machines ever produce clothes as they had. According to their narrative, the machines signaled the downfall of civilization as we spiraled downwards into ill-fitting clothes with weakly sewn seems. Tailors here in Canada shared this view, and their protests delayed the introduction of sewing machines into factories by two years.
Fashion-wise, they were right. Today, as a whole we do dress in ill-fitting and depersonalized mediocre clothing. I hate it. But in the early Victorian era working class people only had one or two outfits and these were indeed stylish but inevitably threadbare. Only a small minority could afford a tailor, so an overwhelming majority of people were excited at the prospect of cheaper and more readily available clothes.
The tailors were screwed. They are still around, like vestigial creatures, to let out our trousers after a winter of Dunkin Donuts breakfasts. You can find them in the Starbucks-free neighbourhoods awaiting extermination via gentrification.
Viacom’s billion-dollar lawsuit against YouTube is like the burning of the sewing machines. It is, as Google asserts, irrelevant even if they succeed in destroying YouTube. Singer stole Thimmonier’s idea, and while only a few eccentric historians like me remember him, all of us wear clothing made on machines.
We don’t need YouTube. But Viacom needs a billion dollars. Not because they have been damaged by all of their entertainment being posted for free on YouTube, but because of their objectum-sexuality. They are in love with the physical expression of their corporate powers. Their monuments to empire, like their Manhatten headquarters, so dark and handsome. If Viacom management wants to protect their beloved buildings and homes and cars and retreat centres, then they need money to stave off their vestigiality. Because, like the tailors, their “poor us!” narrative is meaningless no matter how factual or cogent.
Culture, in the Stuart Hall sense, is the sum of available descriptions through which societies makes sense of and reflect their common experiences. And the values in the equation have changed with the invention of YouTube technologies. Viacom used to represent common experiences and now they merely represent themselves. Their lawsuit is a final missive relegating them to the past. But fear not, Viacom! In one hundred years the eccentric historians will remember you, even if no one else will.