Rear Left

Degamification

I have scarcely begun to make you understand that I don’t intend to play the game.” – Guy Debord, Critique of Separation (1961: film)

It’s been about six weeks since I submitted my dissertation, and I think I’m almost ready to read through it and begin thinking about making revisions to spruce it up for submission to publications.

Writing this piece was difficult for a number of reasons. I work. I have a young child. I also don’t find the act of writing easy. The ideas are there, and I enjoy research, but putting sentences together is hard. Let alone 5-figure word counts. I blame television. And videogames. So I write about videogames as television.

From the outset I was pretty sure that I’d be writing something about machinima, but it took me a good 6 months to nail down a topic. Just when I thought I had a pretty good idea of where I was going, the academic-publishing complex went and dropped a bunch of new publications on machinima in the last month I was writing. In the end I settled on using one video as a case study of the form’s potential to disrupt the immersive spectator-position of videogames.

Paolo Pedercini(of Molleindustria)’s Welcome to the Desert of the Real is far from representative. Not of machinima. Not of Molleindustria’s other work. That said, I argue that this piece demonstrates the capacity of machinima to promote a critical spectatorship position by disrupting the immersive characteristics of its videogame source, America’s Army.

The thrust of my argument is that machinima can be read in film/video studies terms, but that the spectator mode triggered in a game-literate audience by the low grade 3D animation of videogames and other visual cues demands a syncretic analysis that incorporates both film and videogame studies. Moreover, this piece speaks to both Alexander Galloway‘s notion of countergaming, and the concept to which it refers, Peter Wollen‘s description of Jean-Luc Godard‘s later work as countercinema. Amidst clamour for the gamification of everything, this instance of machinima offers the possibility of speaking within games against the dominant and oppressive logic of gaming.

I’m going to revise it and send it out to some journals. If it’s not accepted anywhere I’ll post it here and elsewhere. Hit me if you really want a look.

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Cute Cats in the Age of Digital Reproduction

The Cute Cat Theory of Digital Activism (Ethan Zuckerman) goes something like this:

  1. Web 1.0 was designed for the exchange of scholarly research papers. Web 2.0 is designed for the exchange of pictures of cute kitty-cats.
  2. Repressive governments face massive backlash from broad segments of their population if attempts to control online activism impinge on access to pictures of cute kitty-cats.
  3. Therefore, platforms that facilitate the publishing and access to cute kitty-cats on the web are highly suitable sites for digital activism.

Of the many famous cats in the internet cat star system, the work of Maru is perhaps the most nuanced, disciplined, and as a result, enduring contribution. Maru’s latest video, A big box and Maru. Super Slow ver.- pushes the audience to consider the value of cute cat videos in their own right, rather than simply as a cover for more other more clandestine or didactic online art and activism.

In seeing Maru spring from the box, seemingly hang in the air if only for an instant, and land with the grace of … a cat, the viewer is presented with a powerful prompt for the contemplation of the nature of art and culture in the era of digital reproduction. The cat is in the box. A computer box, no less. And the cat is alive.

Walter Benjamin, referencing the work of master Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, pointed to the filmic-mechanical technique of slow motion as one of a number of ways in which the newly developed technology of motion pictures and the evolving conventions of cinema opened opportunities for a radically new perspective on existence. Vertov described his films as employing two distinct modes: “life as it is”, and “life caught unawares”. Maru’s latest offering is a pure slab of life caught unawares, a videographic manipulation of time and space that invites the viewer to see with new eyes the world around them. Since the video’s upload to YouTube on August 8, 2010 (one week ago at time of writing), nearly 400,000 views have been recorded, although it should be noted that many viewers (like myself) are responsible for many multiple views. The sheer magnitude of this ability for images to simultaneously reach audiences in every corner of the world suggests a need to revisit Benjamin’s work on the effect of mechanical reproduction and to consider the effects of networked digital communications on our very perception of existence.

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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.

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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A Ghetto is a Ghetto

Posted in Media & Movements, War & Culture by rearleft on November 17, 2009

بدم Bidam (With Blood), a documentary on the impact of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza on Palestinian public health, co-directed by Juliana Fredman and yours truly, is screening on December 10 at the Marchmont Community Centre, Camden, London UK. The event is organised by the Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, and proceeds benefit the Shehadeh Mosen Diabetes Clinic in Abu Dis.

I can’t be there, so help me out by passing the info on to your London folks who can.

Here’s a clip: