Friday, May 8, 2009

We’re Nearing the Grand Finale of Co-Modify, Did We Make a Point? By Jennifer Ng

With all the interesting dialogues, fascinating multimedia, and creative endeavours going on since Co-Modify began on Sunday May 3rd, this seems to be an obvious question with an obvious answer. There were many thoughtful commentaries on various topics, such as social advertising and consumerism, and here are some themes and concepts that stood out as I observed our wonderful performers presented their “sponsors” across social media networks.

Advertising the Fail

What commercial advertising never talks about, are their products’ downfalls and disadvantages. With Co-Modify we see performers creating parodies of the same messages that these products present, but in an ironic light addressing the failures that we encounter on a regular basis.

@cmonstah embraced this theme as the core of her Co-Modify performance. In the midst of her regular tweet stream, we see “sponsored” commercial breaks from Microsoft Vista. The latest (as of time of writing) reads, “This Twitter message is brought to you by Microsoft Vista: ‘Not responding’.” Along with other familiar lines such as “Restart to continue” and “An error occurred while creating an error report”, @cmonstah offered a hilarious yet realistic perspective of what Microsoft fails, and will not want, to bring to the limelight.

A Snippet of tweets from @cmonstah

The sense of frustration was definitely not limited to computer products. One early morning, @canker vented her disappointment of having to work out in order to fit in tiny American Apparel shirts, "5am, time to work out I guess. BLAHH. I blame American Apparel, their Small is often uber-tiny. They should rename it Anorexic Dwarf."

Commodifications ‘R Us

In contrary, a majority of Co-Modify performers endorse their products with a pronounced love and enthusiasm, at least seemingly so. I for one considered most of my sponsored tweets for Pringles belonged to this category. Under this theme we see a lot of purposely excessive and flowery language, with many amusing puns and anecdotes to highlight the so-called quality of our products.

On Twitter as @jenniferwyng, I used deliberately the most exaggerated expressions that I could think of to describe individual Pringles flavors, treating the chips as if they really are the gourmet cuisine that the names depict and blurring the lines between reality and artificial flavors. I think that an earlier tweet on Pizza Pringles best illustrated this attempt, "Want a taste of Italia? Pizza Pringles gives u the refresh'g aroma of tomatoes, mozzarella reminiscent of fresh cow's milk, and warm bread."

@whore_hay began his Q-tips campaign with a classic advertising plot - the damsel-in-distress, with the hero(ic) cotton swab that came to the rescue. Once he told of his troubles with the keyboard, "This keyboard is awfully dusty. I wonder what I could use to clean it...Q-tips of course!! Nothing like a gentle cotton swab for the job." With successful rescue, of course came praises and the bliss of being saved. In a subsequent dialogue with @joanie_s_c, he wrote, "...And did you know, @joanie_s_c, that the Q stands for 'Quality'? Quality tips! I'd have to agree."

Profile Picture of @whore_hay

On this note, it was interesting to see the reactions that we have received for our "sponsorships", especially from those who were not performing in Co-Modify. From direct approval such as facebook status "likes", to confused audiences asking whether we were sponsored, to downright feeling offended, responses were greatly varied and indeed projected diverse attitudes towards different commercial products and consumerism in general.

These performances highlight the fact that even though commercial products and messages of consumerism are virtually inevitable, we simply do not talk like the sales pitches we hear in our daily lives. For the times that we do, we become easily labelled as "weird" or being "paid". The discourse reflects advertising like a mirror, mocking its lines with sarcasm, simulating the symbols that corporations created for us, the ones that make no distinction between reality and representation, and voicing our awareness that such messages are only simulacra that attempt to alter our perceptions.

A Social Network Carnival

As Joanie and Inny mentioned in previous posts, much cross-pollination happened as the Co-Modify performance progressed, and even up to this day, it continues to be the trend and morphs into an exciting constant collaboration of commercial products.

Taking up the role of spokesperson for, @remaerdyaD presented the sponsored products of other Co-Modify performers as deals on the mass spending portal. One of the best lines comes from a conversation with @runefox, who was sponsored by Twinings tea, "Don't forget Breakfast - n while ur @ it why just buy 1 box wen u could hav 2 for 13% off from Amazon." Interactions as such generated a lot of response and inspired some rather creative inventions, such as an Amazon-themed Lego creation in honour of @clockity, and a series of photographs in which he posed as models for various Co-Modify sponsored products such as Samsung, Microsoft, Q-tips and Sharpie.

@remaerdyaD's ustream live performance with Lego from Amazon, screen shot by @clockity

In the last few days such interaction and cross-advertising has become a full-blown mode of communication among Co-Modify performers, with instances such as @plotbunnytiff proposing a Dr.Pepper-flavored, "bee"-amazing lip balm to @printgirl08, Carse Ramos (@wraithia) presenting the iTickle - "no mind little, anyway. the iTickle. an individual sensory deprivation chamber, fitted with Q-tips. brought to you by Apple", and @sortingtrolley showing off his photography skills in a serie titled Together @ Last, starring Borders and everyone else.

In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin described this phenomenon justly with the concept of the carnivalesque. The basic idea is that with humour and chaos, the carnival overturns social hierarchies and the so-called truths that were produced from the top-down. The carnival is a feast, where people can reverse roles, be lifted from dominant, mainstream constraints and legitimately subvert authority. With the intense clashes, one form of discourse is pushed to communicate with another. In the case of Co-Modify, the popular against the corporate.

Take Me to the Carnival, Daddy. By Jonny Gray (@Bungy32)

The Medium is the Message

The above line is a famous quote and book title from Marshall McLuhan, which essentially argues that the medium is not merely a vehicle, but the manner in which it carries and transmits a message works its way into our perceptions and understanding, and thus is part of the message. In our days of digital communication, McLuhan's words were indeed a prophecy that came true. Without the immediacy of online social media networks, the entire Co-Modify project surely would not be the same.

We were presented with wonderful sponsorship stories that offer real-time updates, such as the ones that Ali Gordon and Christi Nielsen have told. Ali (@AliJGordon) told of her bus ride with a sniffling lady, and how much she wanted to help by handing her a Tampax. We were kept up-to-date almost by the minute of her trip, and for that, at least personally, I could imagine a vivid scene of being on the bus with Ali. She then proceeded to describe her work day with Tampax in her nose, and all the little thoughts about it. One minute she tweeted, "Just did a quick mirror check. I'm intact. Nose clean." And the next she worried about changing the Tampax and wrote, "Will I get toxic shock leaving my tampon in my nose for more than 6 hours. When do I change...I can't find any helpful TAMPAX advice...argh"

Another performance that was made possible by the immediacy of digital social media was that created by Christi Nielsen and her breaking (out) news. Christi decided to test out a mysterious (uh-ehm) beauty cream by the name of C-URCHIN, and while experimenting with it, she would also sponsor it during Co-Modify. A few days in from her trial, she posted a nervous video on, showing off her reddened neck and telling us about her allergic reaction to the cream. Using the video as her medium, she has truly created a sense of urgency that viewers cannot fight. Not everyone was convinced, however, as we can see from the following video that Christi called the best response to her post:

It's Not Over Yet!

Although today is the last day of Co-Modify, there are still plenty of interesting performances happening! I think we can even expect a few spectacular closing acts to boot. This blog post is only a tip of an iceberg of all the fascinating works that the performers have done, be sure to check out the @Platea Flickr pool, the @Platea Twitter Faves, and the @Platea Facebook page if you would like to catch up with the performances or stay up-to-date with the latest developments! The steering committee will try as much as we can to help you keep up with the most current performances, but sometimes amazing things do go under the radar and slip our eagle eyes. If you have noticed something that we really should know about, please do send it our way - simply send an @ or DM to @Platea or a Steering Committee member on Twitter or e-mail

Of course, comments are always welcome too!


  1. I must say, this experience ended up being much more complete for me than I expected. I thought that I would just tweet a couple of random tweets a day, read the rest and be done. It ended up being sort of addictive. All I thought of was what to tweet about next (with that Q-tip jingle stuck in my head all the way through). Then the collaboration between performers started. That just took this to a whole new, even more enjoyable level. It was amazing. My advertising of the product went from the very standard classic ads type to a more personal (maybe slightly deranged) type of advertising by the end. And this was all a natural progression for me.
    I'm far from what you (or I) consider being an artist, as many here self-describe (and deserve to be known) as. I don't take beautiful pictures, or play instruments, or paint, or blog, or do anything else of much relevance except live my life and try to have a little fun. But as I get ready to buy a couple of things for the pictures I'm about to take on this final day of the project, I can't help but wonder if this fun little twerformance has helped me grow another facet in my... I don't even know what I'm saying anymore. Just remember: keep those ears clean with gentle Q-tips Cotton Swabs!

  2. I didn't like co-modify. I didn't participate, but had a couple of participants in my stream and I almost blocked them until I realized they were performing. It was just too spammy, and too much like what some Twitter users do anyhow - marketing the same message over and over again. It didn't look at all like a parody - it looked like a buyout. That's just not how I want my Twitter experience to be. I want to hang out with real people. I think there could be performances that are much more interesting and powerful than that. I thought co-modify was a big yawn.