That Wasn’t an Insurgency: It Was a Tantrum

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Flappybird start screen. Even this bit looks shit.

Has every1 heard of Flappybird? No? Allow me to elaborate then. Flappybird was a video game released for iOS & Android. It was fairly shit, basically consisting of a slight variation on the age-old Helicopter formula: “player flies through an endless stream of obstacles in a limited 2-dimensional space”. In other words, it was nothing new. The only reason that Flappybird became as ridiculously popular as it did – its creator making roughly $50,000 a day from advertising revenue – was because of how bloody difficult it is. Countless YouTube videos will attest to this fact. Any1 following my Twitter might have noticed that I’ve played a little of the game. To be honest, the difficultly isn’t really that bad, nor the game interesting enough, for it to be receiving anywhere near the amount of interest that it has been. The reason that Flappybird has recently been in all of the press actually has nothing to do with the game itself. Rather, it has been reported because its creator, Dong Nguyen, withdrew the game from circulation:

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The reasons for this can be found simply by searching Flappybird in Google. We aren’t going to discuss them. They aren’t particularly interesting either: I’m certain it’s a tragedy that iPhone screens got broken & that Nguyen has genuinely struggled with his decision, despite still making the same amount of money from the game. I’ll look forward to the film. 

The issue bubbling beneath the surface of this, the 1 which we’re going to discuss, has to do with the role of artists. Nguyen’s reaction, although it might seem disproportionate, is a perfect example of the personality-type most often associated with the artist in our society. 1 of the reasons that he has given for his withdrawal of Flappybird from the public domain is that his consumers are not using the game in the manner he intended. In other words, the work that he has produced is not being used as he had pictured, which comes into conflict with his own individualistic view of how the art should be used. Nguyen’s response to this is to withdraw from the situation, to reject it & to reject society.

This is an a-typical individualism, 1 which is very clearly seen in a great deal of artistic works, manifestos, theory etc, etc. This kind of individualistic rubbish is, in fact, so prevalent it has been able to spawn parodies like this. It is used to fuel the bourgeois understanding that it is the individual, not the collective, who moves forward history. I could go on to talk about the absurd variations upon the concept – T.S. Eliot’s ‘continual self-sacrifice [&] continual extinction of personality’, Fernando Pessoa’s ‘most agreeable way of ignoring life’ – but there isn’t much point: the essence of the argument has not changed. The artist is still the Übermensch of the dialogue.

The 1st way to approach the problems presented by this – that the artist becomes a human-being separate from the mass from sheer egotism – is to approach the ideology behind it. The bourgeois-idealist stance is very simple when it comes to understanding art. 1 can reduce it to an almost disturbing sophism: “mind over matter”. This presents us with a realm where the individual mind, provided that it is possessed of some undeniable brilliance, might command material reality, might have ideas beyond its material reality, might assume a role of supreme importance. This is obviously fallacious when we boil it down to its most basic essence. Ideas, inarguably, stem from the mind’s material circumstance & reality: ‘mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc’[1]. However, if you really think about it, I bet that you actually think like this. You can’t not because you are taught to do so, by everything. That’s right, I’m talking about hegemony again.

‘In one of the stories in The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling shows discipline at work in a strong bourgeois society. Everyone obeys in the bourgeois state. The mules in the battery obey the battery sergeant, the horses obey the soldiers who ride them. The soldiers obey the lieutenant, the lieutenants obey the regimental colonels; the regiments obey a brigadier general; the brigades obey the viceroy of the Indias. The viceroy obeys Queen Victoria (still alive when Kipling was writing). The queen gives an order: the viceroy, the brigadier generals, the colonels, the lieutenants, the soldiers, the animals, all move in unison and go off to the conquest. The protagonist of the story says to a native who is watching a parade: “Because you cannot do likewise, you are our subjects.”

Bourgeois discipline is the only force which keeps the bourgeois aggregation firmly together.’[2]

I fucking love this guy.
I fucking love this guy.

The point of the above quotation is to illustrate the reality of hegemonic ideas & ideologies. When a class has controls the state, the ideology most suited to its rule becomes hegemonic. A Marxist analysis tends to conceive of ideas of abstract; the contrary is true. An actual human being is concrete; their ideas are concrete: abstract & concrete exist at once in tandem, in constant motion. With hegemonic ideas, this is doubly true. The hegemonic ideas of a class are concrete both insofar as any idea is concrete, but also in their very nature. They are concrete as they are backed by every form of coercion & violence that may be exercised by a state.

To return to the artist: in line with the hegemonic nature of bourgeois-idealism, the personality of the artist is necessarily individualistic: it is made so. Psychologically, this translates to the assumption of a protagonist role, where the artist is more important than any of their “Others”. This is reflected in a self-obsessive nature to the artistic product: a decadence. This, as we can see, results in tantrums. A Communist artist must always seek other means of expression, those based upon the collective, rather than the divinely inspired individual. In a word, Flappybird would be Flappybirds.

Note, added 12 February, 16:22: I posted this on Facebook & was informed that Nguyen may have suffered some serious stress from the press attention & legions of abusive Twitter users. Sincerely, I do not wish the man any harm & hope that the comments on here can be taken as illustrative of a wider trend. I have edited the article accordingly, removing any jokes made at the man’s expense. They were ill-judged in light of this information.


[1] Friedrich Engels, Speech at the Grave of Karl Marx (1883), reproduced on Marxist’s Internet Archives.

[2] Antonio Gramsci, ‘Discipline’, The Gramsci Reader, pp.31-32: PDF.

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