Art and Cult – Ojazz

The transmission of culture argued by Debray brings to mind the Art World and social dimensions we’ve been working with in previous weeks. What’s notable is that the distinction between traditional communication and transmission is that transmission is intended to embody the message through time. Of course, this message is dynamic and changes as recipients of the message change, which ultimately changes communicative infrastructures of the communities that preserve them. However, the reinforcement of the immaterial abstraction, whether or not it has changed throughout time, is such an interesting phenomenon particularly in cultural reception. What one person might call an organization, a company, a religion, a club, another might call a cult (drawing from Benjamin’s definition here a bit). But it is ultimately whether you are an in-group member or not that will define your experience with a particular community’s cultural transmissions.

The documentary Beware the Slenderman accounts the event in which two middle school girls killed a mutual friend because a character from an online fiction community told them it was necessary. It was later found, during the court case, that one of the girls suffered from schizophrenia, inherited from her father. Though this example is a dramatic outlier of the community that supports Slenderman, there were other people who believed in Slenderman, a horrific 8-14 tall man in a black suit with no face. People began posting edited videos as “Slenderman Sightings:”

A whole community contributed to the lore of Slenderman. In the lore, Slenderman had a mansion where he invited his proxies, or servants, to live, and people started doing tasks as ways to be initiated as a proxy. While the killer’s inclinations for psychosis led her to believing killing her friend was okay to do for Slenderman, what is more interesting to me are the people who still pass as contributing members of society. At what point do we consider the belief in Slenderman a delusion? At what point do we consider this a cult? And then at what point can we call it a valid community? We certainly don’t refer to the Art World as a cult, even though undergrad art students at University can behave like one in their faux pas idiosyncrasies. All the Slenderman narratives and footage can still be found in the hub that created it – creepypasta – and YouTube. I’m not sure if there are currently any initiates, but the artifactual network that reinforced this odd phenomenon is still accessible.

Another documentary and odd community I’ll talk about through the lens of reproducibility is that of Unarius, the inter-dimensional scientific community based out of El Cajon, CA. Part of their artifactual cultural transmission is what functions as documentary films (how you define these is definitely determined by whether you’re an in-group member or not). The documentary Children of the Stars follows members of a community who follow the teachings of their archangel Uriel, someone who claims to be clairvoyant.

They purchased a plot of land on which extraterrestrial folks will come and land their UFOs to build an interdimensional university. The role of film in this context is to build a tone of the spiritual or magical. Even their website has cosmically inspired illustrations and rhetoric to support their beliefs: The way that the principle of reproducibility affected this group is this idea of the “aura.” The aura of art lost its value in authenticity and moved into social and political realms. In this case, the aura of Unarius is supported by digital artifacts. Though Benjamin talks about how the actor loses their aura in the process of being mediated by the camera, in the world of Unarius, the archangel Uriel is actualized in film.


Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technological Reproducibility”

Debray, Régis. Transmitting Culture, trans. Eric Rauth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Excerpts from Chaps. 1-2 and 7.