Cannibal capitalism is the mediated consumption of other people’s suffering. Usually someone gets paid for this. In the NFL players and owners get money while viewers watch men exchange ritualized interpersonal violence. Traditional televised sports are ripe with injury moments and the moral judgement that soothes and justifies the suffering.
Slightly less visible is the suffering that happens in order to bring us the entertainment. The New Yorker has a nice essay on video game streamers who broadcast their games to gigantic audiences of semi-interactive fans. Taylor Clark describes the harm that many streamers face from the occupation.
“At this summer’s PAX West–a yearly convention that inundates downtown Seattle with gaming fans–virtually every streamer I spoke with voiced concerns about the health risks of overwork. “My doctor told me I was going to die if I kept doing it like this,” a young broadcaster who goes by Bria Leigh said. ‘You spend ten hours a day in the chair. And you don’t even want to get up to use the bathroom, because you’re afraid you’ll lose viewers.'”(43) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44
Clark’s article contains reference to a gamer who died during a 24-hour charity stream (Brian Vigneault) and a opens with the description of Roberto Garcia AKA Towelliee, a popular streamer. Clark describes the impact on Garcia from his years of grinding out gaming for fans.
“Game streaming, Garcia discovered, required non-stop work. The only way to attract viewers, and to prevent the ones you had from straying to other broadcaster, was to be online constantly, so he routinely streamed for eighteen hours a day. “That’s what I had to do to grown the viewership,” he said. His ankles swelled from sitting at this computer. his weight grew to four hundred and twenty pounds.” (38) – Taylor Clark, “Revenue Streaming.” The New Yorker. November 20, 2017. P. 38-44
There is a lot to unpack in the representations of video gaming and new media. My interest is to note that this new genre of entertainment has consequences for the producers. Streamed live, viewers get to watch and comment on (consume) the streamers with a kind of interactivity that has seldom been seen before. The invitation is there for viewers to chat directly with the producers and create community.
But the expectation is that the streamer is there for the viewer and in some ways is entitled to the viewing. In this relationship where the streamer depends on the views to make a living there is a certain incentive to grind through moments of suffering in order to keep viewers.
This relationship is cannibal capitalism where viewers consume the suffering of someone else through the media. It is visible through the twitch comments and the representations of streaming participants. It is also in the bodily cost that is above-and-beyond other lines of employment. (No doubt that people who cut down trees for a living have swelling feet and high blood pressure from their job, but few arborists have 10,000 people watching their successes and failures live).