On Bacon Index"Determining whether something is a threat or challenge to your identity on the internet can be a frustrating game."
Bacon-Index is an Independent Japanese Brand which makes and sells streetwear, amongst other things. The locus of the Bacon Index is its blog, through which a group of DJs, designers and artist disseminate mixes, adverts and shoots of their products. All of this is complemented by another practice, a dedicated feed of imagery relating to Kevin Bacon, which echoes through the design of their products.
This Japanese brand seems fundamentally informed by its unlikely mascot. Kevin Bacon is a significant figure outside of his acting. In the 1990s, he made an off-hand comment on a TV talk show professing he’d worked with everyone in Hollywood. A group of comedians picked up on this arrogance and plausibility, creating a version of the association game Six Degrees of Separation but geared towards the actors statement.
Over the years Kevin Bacon’s prowess has diminished but what came to be known as the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon has developed beyond the actor’s remit, to the point where Google has an add-on that indicates any given actor’s “Bacon Number”. It’s clear Kevin Bacon acknowledges and adopts the phenomenon for his own ends, often appearing in adverts related to connectivity and relationality.
Bacon Index makes their user/consumer aware of Kevin Bacon through an archive of imagery they post through their Tumblr alongside candid shots of their minimal yet bold designs. The performance of this archive comes across as absurd and excessive, something a driven fan might do. Bacon Index is a sophisticated fan-form, where the hysterical adulation of fandom is then siphoned into the beautiful objects and mixes they produce in tribute.
Streetwear, Fandom and Data
It’s possible to identify many levels of the fashion industry ironically appropriating branded and cultural iconography in a manner which celebrates the knock-off or the counterfeit. Creating and distributing a forgery is a criminal act in and of itself, but it also functions to erode or test soft power- the influence a nation has on others through its ideals/culture as opposed to hard power being its infrastructure, military, resources. While it may seem close, Bacon Index keep an intelligible step away from creating products that might unlawfully use the actor’s image or name. Their professed love for movies and actors of Kevin Bacon’s heyday also make it hard to write-off Bacon Index as a wholly ironic enterprise.
Similar in some way to Bacon Index, Streetwear brand C.E take a wry stance on the economic trade standards of Europe by using the symbol designated to authenticate products, as their name/logo. Streetwear brands are an emergent, DIY, localized form of fashion, that exist at a relative distance from high fashion and commerce. However these concepts/industries are increasingly diluted and cross-pollinated.
Streetwear has been greatly elevated by e-commerce and proliferation of identity expression online, but the internet is also an arena in which authenticity can get quickly muddied, where security of identity and autonomy is subject to relentless abstract threat.
Determining whether something is a threat or challenge to your identity on the internet can be a frustrating game. There isn’t much hope for the casual user, whose data, unlike the crops of their old farmville account, is being harvested by the services they occupy, and this is no doubt within the terms of their user agreement. To what extent and cause that data is exported and implemented is often unclear to the user too.
Bacon-Index’s seemingly indiscriminate archiving of Kevin-Bacon imagery, would if it weren’t for the actors fame seem like a form of open surveillance, or just plain creepy, but in this context, its playful fandom. The tireless work of fandoms, their fanart and fiction are a legal grey area and at the same time, innovative, empathetic pools of creativity, a potential resource for the production forces behind the subject of the fandom.
Bacon-Index’s fan-archiving extends to the entire Kevin Bacon entity/celebrity- almost any image, whether poor quality or tenuous can be seen in the archive. It’s doubtful but not impossible that the actor is aware of these machinations and it’s viable he’d be chill with it like the whole Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon deal.
A Hysterical Index
The most likely place to encounter Bacon Index is online as a Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram user. Although your timeline may feel banal, a consumer/user is constantly caught in traumatic or ecstatic negotiation of possible and existing contexts, just beyond immediate cognition, shifting all the time in minimal degrees, according to other users and the systems they populate.
While their identity may seem firmly fixed, Bacon Index’s actual creative process seems to treat the actor as a lens through which they read and respond to the world, and that lens has an adjustable focus. To the point where you can buy designs featuring artistic renderings of Kevin Bacon, like the cap produced with artist Pon Chan, or a less overt item like the BCN Junior hooded sweater or Bacon socks.
Their Tumblr evokes a ‘hysterical index’, where indexing is exuberantly performed but doesn’t provide a stringent indexical function. It even satirizes the kind of usefulness and functionality that users have come to expect from digital services. A hysterical index isn’t necessarily technophobic, but a different way to encounter, collect and distribute data than ones optimized for quantitative efficiency.As a user you expect efficiency from the services you engage with, and services expect you to surrender access to personal data in exchange. Your ongoing actions and updates provide information to that service too, which may ultimately improve its efficiency.
Brands rely on users to share and advertise their products for them through social media, and users, particularly younger ones who’ve known nothing else, feel comfortable with this. The way Brands want to interpret their relationship with other users is decided and monitored by numerous people, and even though you may have the same interaction skill-set, they wield more knowledge, power and influence in these contexts, aside, of course, from exceptional users. And those users themselves are often singled out to be vehicles of authenticity through which brands can associate themselves and ultimately capitalize from.
The idea of a hysterical Index is hard to realize when a user has to maintain and surrender an increasing volume of personal data, for purposes beyond their comprehension, in order to express themselves. Users who don’t fancy themselves hackers or feel confident with encrypting their activity online but can’t bare to log off, find themselves in a predicament that pithy Tumblr HorribleGif sum up nicely:
‘Like the metaphorical clone being tortured somewhere else, we cannot feel any direct sting related to data harvesting.’