Rear Left

Gone Troppo

Posted in The Society for the Appreciation of Audio-Visual Culture by rearleft on April 18, 2010

Now see this: Bananaland, a freshly tightened up video mashup by my VJ alter-ego Ghostleg.

This piece is a new edit of a much longer, more club-visual friendly version that was originally commissioned by Geko Jones of Dutty Artz for their New York Tropical parties. Uproot Andy & Geko Jones are hosting the Que Bajo?! dance party EVERY WEEK at Santo’s Party House in Lower Manhattan. That earlier mix was about 35 minutes long and silent, built to be played as an accompaniment with DJs for dancefloor/lounging consumption. This is what I’m considering the web edit, paired with tropical bass anthem La Vida Vale la Pena which features heavy sampling from a track by Petrona Martinez, remix by Uproot Andy.

All images are drawn from 3 sources:

  1. Journey to Bananaland (1950)
  2. Chiquita Banana (1947)
  3. Cantinflas y Sus Amigos aka Amigo and Friends (ep. “Cantinflas Meets Simon Bolivar“) (1969?)

Dedicated to the countless people across the Americas killed and enslaved by Chiquita Brands, formerly known as the United Fruit Company.

Special thanks to Rodrigo “Pollo” Martinez for translation/interpretation.



Posted in Gaming the System, Media & Movements by rearleft on March 29, 2010

As someone who thinks that games (video and otherwise) have an important role to play in promoting positive change in the world, I am dismayed when I look at some of the work that is being touted as making breakthroughs in the development of games as a “serious” medium. As with much other work that describes itself as promoting social change, “serious game” is too often a label that is attached to projects that reinforce the status quo of power relations.

Latest in a long line of edutainment games that work to consolidate power under the guise of change is the World Bank Institute‘s augmented reality game, Urgent Evoke.

The project’s creative director, Jane McGonigal espouses a worldview where gaming is a panacea for the world’s ills:

Evoke began on March 3, and will end on May 13. Subscribers receive an email each week for 10 weeks, alerting them to the availability of a new chapter in an online graphic novel and a new task to complete IRL and blog about on the Urgent Evoke site. Each week focuses on a critical social issue and asks participants to consider how these problems could be solved through “social innovation” (read as: neo-liberal intervention).

CNN reports that the World Bank Institute funded the project to the tune of USD$500k, with the purported goal of encouraging young Africans to develop solutions to the problems facing their local communities:

Bob Hawkins, senior education specialist with the World Bank Institute, said one big reason people in African countries aren’t as entrepreneurial and innovative as those in the West is that they don’t feel as empowered to create change. That’s largely why his international development group is funding McGonigal’s project to the tune of $500,000.

“There have been studies, for instance, in South Africa that the public investment in universities isn’t producing the types of new ideas and innovation that industry wants,” he said. “What happens is that industry is importing ideas from outside the continent and outside of South Africa.”

Yes, I can see how that would frustrate Industry, when the universities don’t come up with the answers that they’re expected to in the pursuit of profit. Better intervene with a serious game.

Following a recurring theme in these pages, the video contains an interesting example of blackface (blackvoice?). Alchemy, the shadowy leader of the Evoke network, is voiced by Adam Behr, white voice actor. If this is about creating employment opportunities for Africans, and there’s a half a million bucks to throw around, they couldn’t even find a black man to voice the lead black character? So what we have is a project created by funded, developed, and voiced by white folks behind a digitally generated black mask. (fishing for the ghost of Fanon to contribute to the comments section)

Thankfully, the webisphere provides the opportunity for concurrent critique of projects like this, and a group equally as shadowy as the Evoke network calling themselves Invoke has offered an alternate augmented reality game (AARG?), Urgent Invoke. The parallel story unfolds:



The time has come for the development of games and games studies that are not only serious, but critical. Gonzalo Frasca has done some of the foundational work in this aspirational field, but there is a lot of heavy lifting to be done before it takes any sort of real shape. I hope to have an opportunity to do my share of that work.

The Tal Afar Tophy

Posted in War & Culture by rearleft on March 22, 2010

An excerpt from my recent essay on remix technique in war trophy videos:

As an artifact demonstrative of the use of digital audio-visual recording technologies by Western militaries, and their remixability by veterans of the US-led wars of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the Tal Afar video points towards a set of historical and social conditions which demand reflection.

On one level, this production demonstrates the deep permeation into our culture of the logic of remix. The video’s producer (or producers) have taken materials from whatever source that they see fit, apparently without concern for copyright (in the case of the music), classification (of military documentation), or social norms (regarding depictions of killing), and remolded them into a form that they are able to share with everyone in the world. Moreover, judging by the volume of views, re-postings, and comments on the various instances of the video appearing online, a sizable audience exists for this particular type of remix. An amateur media producer’s ability to represent their experience and perspective on war, and to do so by working with some of the very materials of war-making itself, is a powerful notion.

At another level, this remix exposes the contemporary conflation of war and media, and the horrific normalization of this situation. In his influential essay “All But War is Simulation: The Military-Entertainment Complex”, Tim Lenoir (2000) outlines a network of collaborations between the military, government, academic researchers, and the entertainment industries. Remix war trophy videos can be viewed as a feedback loop in the Military-Entertainment Complex, the weaponised image reaching back out from the battlefield through the computer networks, confusing the viewer’s sense of materiality with its hyper-real representation of enemy cities being obliterated as if in a video game, complete with HUD interface. But ultimately this representation of war becomes, to draw on the notion of “the spectacle”, ‘not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.’ (Debord 1977). When we watch the Tal Afar video on our screens it is easy to be taken by the skill of the editor, the wonder of the spread of digital technologies and remix culture across social sectors, the voyeuristic thrill of witnessing such destruction from the perspective of the destroyer, and it is easy to forget that what we are watching is clip after clip of humans killing humans.

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