Michael Betancourt (b. 1971- ) is a theorist, historian, and artist concerned with digital technology and capitalist ideology. He has been working on the links between media theory and media practice since 1989 and is concerned with the convergence of digital technology and capitalist ideology. He is the author of The ____________ Manifesto, and has exhibited internationally since 1993. His writing has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish; journals such as Leonardo, Semiotica and CTheory have published his essays; he has edited five books on visual music technologies invented by artists such as Thomas Wilfred, Mary Hallock-Greenewalt, and Oskar Fischinger. In the course of this research, he discovered the oldest surviving hand-painted abstract films, done in 1916 by inventor and artist Mary Hallock-Greenewalt.
His theory of digital capitalism is the first materialist analysis of how globalized financialization, digital technology and the autonomous production of the internet have converged in the past 40 years; his book The Critique of Digital Capitalism was published by Punctum Books on January 7, 2016. The theory proposed in this book is the description of how digital capitalism as an ideologically “invisible” framework realized in technology. Originally a series of articles published between 2003 and 2015, it provides a broad critical scope for understanding the inherent demands of capitalist protocols for expansion without constraint—regardless of social, legal or ethical limits—that are increasingly being realized as autonomous systems no longer dependent on human labor or oversight and implemented without social discussion of their impacts. The digital illusion of infinite resources, infinite production, and no costs appears as an “end to scarcity,” that digital production eliminates costs and makes everything equally available to everyone. He was interviewed on The Keiser Report to discuss his work on digital capitalism (episode 130, episode 199, episode 894 [Part 1] and episode 895 [Part 2]).
As artist, he has exhibited his movies, site-specific installations, and non-traditional art forms in unseen, unusual, or public spaces since 1992, and he has used digital failures and technical glitches in his movies since 1996. He has collaborated with a variety of film makers and musicians in producing his movies, including Charles Recher, Rey Parlá, Dennis H. Miller, The Poison Arrows, Sa’eed Ali and FsLux. His movies have been shown in galleries, film festivals and art fairs internationally. A book about his working process, Structuring Time came out in 2004 and was revised in 2009.
He began producing guerilla interventions in public spaces in 1996 with The TrueLife Ad Campaign, a project that assumed the form of a newspaper ad. Since then, he has produced a series of interventions in public spaces designed to provoke an active engagement with the viewer—his Non-Art Object sticker was included in the book Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap—From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art.
Betancourt was a co-curator of the independent video series The Experimental Show that ran in Miami from 2000 to 2003. In 2006, he produced The iota Center’s Visual Music From Iota DVD anthology. He has written extensively on contemporary artist Jose Parlá, including on his collaboration with photograffeur JR in Havana, Cuba.
He spent his childhood summers at the Kommos archaeological excavation, in Pitsidia, Crete, Greece; starting in 1986, he worked for several years as the Staff Photographer on the Pseira archaeological excavation, in Crete; this excavation was run by his father, Philip Betancourt, and Costis Davaras. In the early 1990s he worked as an Assistant Editor, then as Art Director for a revived version of Weird Tales started by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and his brother, John Betancourt. During this same period he began screening his movies and showing in art galleries.