Media Acts: The Trickster, the Prankster, the Hoax and the Hack

One of the defining attributes of Tactical Media, that quasi-movement of the 1990s, is that it continually sought to propel itself beyond the confines of the semiotic landscape, setting out, not so much to describe things, as to do things. Tactical media’s preferred modality is that of “media acts”, which we could see as having a relationship to the concept of “speech acts” in which utterances have are performative and active rather than descriptive or propositional.

Given this emphasis on the performative; we might ask whether it is even possible, let alone useful, for the legacies of Tactical Media, to be framed within the context fiction? In this paper I will argue that it can be. But that in order to do so we must recuperate the role of media tactician as trickster. employing the hoax, the prank and the hack. This is not so much, fiction as narrative, as fiction as event, and pseudo-event.

This trickster aesthetic was very much present in Tactical Media’s original statement of intent. The ABC of Tactical Media, (Garcia, Lovink) a short manifesto-like text from 1997, in which we drew heavily, on Michel de Certeau’s seminal exposition of the tactical aesthetic as one of “poaching,… desiring, clever tricks, the hunters cunning, maneuvers, polymorphic situations, joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike.”

We did however depart from de Certeau, in one important respect, when he was writing, at the beginning of 1980s, the tactics of every day life he identified were, almost by definition, invisible, as there was no direct means to recording them. The shadowy culture of subterfuge de Certeau celebrates, was, in large degree, making a virtue out of a necessity. It was not until the mass availability of cheap and powerful media tools and mass internet access that these practices emerge from the shadows to become a force to be reckoned with.

It was above all this new visibility that triggered the reflexivity and exponential growth that transformed, for better and for worse, a tendency into a movement.