Tag Archives: video

Old Fame and Insta-Fame

First, let me begin by introducing a quote for our times from David Bowie, dated 2003, published in Performing Songwriter.

“Fame itself, of course, doesn’t really afford you anything more than a good seat in a restaurant. That must be pretty well known by now. I’m just amazed how fame is being posited as the be all and end all, and how many of these young kids who are being foisted on the public have been talked into this idea that anything necessary to be famous is all right. It’s a sad state of affairs. However arrogant and ambitious I think we were in my generation, I think the idea was that if you do something really good, you’ll become famous. The emphasis on fame itself is something new. Now it’s, to be famous you should do what it takes, which is not the same thing at all. And it will leave many of them with this empty feeling.”

Thirteen years on, and just a few days following Bowie’s tragic death, his words on fame remain startlingly appropriate. We now live in a world where fame can be pursued, manufactured and curated without needing any particular talent — social media has seen to that.

This new type of fame — let’s call it insta-fame — is a very different kind of condition to our typical notion of old fame, which may be enabled by a gorgeous voice, or acting prowess, or a way with the written word, or prowess with a tennis racket, or at the wheel of a race car, or one a precipitous ski slope, or from walking on the surface of the Moon, or from winning the Spelling Bee, or from devising a cure for polio.

It’s easy to confuse insta-fame with old fame: both offer a huge following of adoring strangers and both, potentially, lead to inordinate monetary reward. But that’s where the similarities end. Old fame came from visible public recognition and required an achievement or a specific talent, usually honed after many years or decades. Insta-fame on the other hand doesn’t seem to demand any specific skill and is often pursued as an end in itself. With insta-fame the public recognition has become decoupled from the achievement — to such an extent, in fact, that it no longer requires any achievement or skill, other than the gathering of more public recognition. This is a gloriously self-sustaining circle that advertisers have grown to adore.

My diatribe leads to a fascinating article on the second type of fame, insta-fame, and some of its protagonists and victims. David Bowie’s words continue to ring true.

From the Independent:

Charlie Barker is in her pyjamas, sitting in the shared kitchen of her halls of residence, with an Asda shopping trolley next to her – storage overflow from her tiny room. A Flybe plane takes off from City Airport, just across the dank water from the University of East London, where Barker studies art in surroundings that could not be greyer. The only way out is the DLR, the driverless trains that link Docklands to the brighter parts of town.

 “I always wanted to move to London and when everyone was signing up for uni, I was like, I don’t want to go to uni – I just want to go to London,” says Barker, who calls David Bowie her “spirit animal” and is obsessed with Hello Kitty. But going to London is hard if you’re 18 and from Nottingham and don’t have a plan or money. “So then I was like, OK, I’ll go to uni in London.” So she ended up in Beckton, which is closer to Essex than the city centre.

It’s lunchtime and one of Barker’s housemates walks in to stick something in the microwave, which he quickly takes back to his room. They exchange hellos. “I don’t really talk to people here, I just go to central to meet my friends,” she says. “But the DLR is so long and tragic, especially when you’re not in the brightest of moods.” I ask her if she often goes to the student canteen. I noticed it on the way here; it’s called “Munch”. She’s in her second year and says she didn’t know it existed.

These are unlikely surroundings, in some ways. Because while Barker is a nice, normal student doing normal student things, she’s also famous. I take out my phone and we look through her pictures on Instagram, where her following is greater than the combined circulations of Hello! and OK! magazines. Now @charliexbarker is in the room and things become more colourful. Pink, mainly. And blue, and glitter, and selfies, and skin.

And Hello Kitty. “I wanted to get a tattoo on the palm of my hand and because it was painful I was like, ‘what do I believe in enough to get tattooed on my hand for the rest of my life?’, and I was like – Hello Kitty. My Mum was like, ‘you freak!'” The drawing of the Japanese cartoon cat features in a couple of Barker’s 700-plus photos. In a portrait of her hand, she holds a pink and blue lollipop, and her fingernails are painted pink and blue. The caption: “Pink n blu pink n blu.”

Before that, Barker, now 19, wanted a tattoo saying “Drink water, eat pussy”, but decided against it. The slogan appears in another photo, scrawled on the pavement in pink chalk as she sits wearing a Betty Boop jacket in pink and black, with pink hair and fishnets. “I was bumming around with my friend Daniel, who’s a photographer, and I wanted to see if I could do all the styling and everything,” she says. “We’d already done four of five looks and we were like, oh my God, so we just wet my hair and went with it.”

“Poco esplicita,” suggests one of her Italian followers beside the photo. Barker rarely replies to comments these days, most of which are from fans (“I love uuuuu… Your style just killing me… IM SCREAMING”) and doesn’t say much in her captions (“I do wat I want” in this case). Yet her followers – 622,000 of them at the time of writing – love her pictures, many of which receive more than 50,000 likes. She’s not on reality TV, can’t sing and has no famous relatives. She’s not rich and has no access to private jets or tigers as pets. Yet with a photographic glimpse – or at least suggestion – of a life of colour and attitude, a student in Beckton has earned the sort of fame that only exists on Instagram.

“That sounds so weird, saying that, stop it!” she says when I ask if she feels famous. “No, I’m not famous. I’m just doing my own thing, getting recognition doing it. And I think everyone’s famous now, aren’t they? Everyone has an Instagram and everyone’s famous.”

The photo app, bought by Facebook in 2012, boomed last year, overtaking Twitter in September with 400 million active monthly users. But there are degrees of Instafame. And if one measure, beyond an audience, is a change to one’s life, then Barker has it. So too do Brian Whittaker (@brianhwhittaker) and Olivia Knight-Butler (@livrosekb), whose followings also defy celebrity norms. Whittaker, an insanely grown-up 16-year-old from Solihull, also rejects the idea that he’s famous at all, despite having a quarter of a million followers. “I don’t see followers as a real thing, it’s just being popular on a page,” he says from his mum’s house.

Yet in the next sentence he talks about the best indicator of fame in any age. “I get stopped in the street quite a bit now. In the summer I was in Singapore with my parents and people were taking pictures of me. One person stopped me and then when I got back to the hotel room I saw pictures of me on Instagram shopping. People had tagged me and were asking, ‘is this really you, are you in Singapore?'”

“I get so so flattered when people ask me for a picture in the street,” Barker says. Most of her fans are younger teenage girls. Many have set up dedicated Charlie Barker fan accounts, re-posting her images adorned with love hearts. They idolise her. “I feel like I have to give them eternal love for it, I’m like, oh my God, that is so sweet.”

Read the entire article here.

Video: Fame, David Bowie. Courtesy mudroll / Youtube.

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SPLAAT! Holy Onomatopoeia, Batman!

Batman fans rejoice. Here it is, a compendium of every ZWAPP! KAPOW! BLOOP! and THUNK! from every fight scene in the original 1960’s series.

I think we can all agree that the campy caped crusaders, dastardly villains and limp fight scenes, accompanied by bright onomatopoeiac graphics, guaranteed the show would become an enduring cult classic. Check out the full list here, compiled by the forces for good over at Fastcompany.

My favorites:

FLRBBBBB! GLURPP! KAPOW! KER-SPLOOSH! KLONK! OOOOFF! POWIE! QUNCKKK! URKK! ZLONK!

 

Video: Batman (1966):Fight Scenes-Season 1 (Pt.1). Courtesy of corijei v2 / Youtube.

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The Man With No Phone

If Hitchcock were alive today the title of this post — The Man With No Phone — might be a fitting description of his latest noir, celluloid masterpiece. For in many the notion of being phone-less distills deep nightmarish visions of blood-curdling terror.

Does The Man With No Phone lose track of all reality, family, friends, appointments, status updates, sales records, dinner, grocery list, transportation schedules and news, turning into an empty neurotic shell of a human being? Or, does lack of constant connectivity and elimination of instant, digital gratification lead The Man With No Phone to become a schizoid, feral monster? Let’s read on to find out.

Large swathes of the world are still phone-less, and much of the global population — at least those of us over the age of 35 — grew up smartphone-less and even cellphone-less. So, it’s rather disconcerting to read Steve Hilton’s story; he’s been phone-less for 3 years now. However, it’s not disconcerting that he’s without a phone — I find it inspiring (and normal), it’s disconcerting that many people are wondering how on earth he can live without one. And, even more perplexing — why would anyone need a digital detox or mindfulness app on their smartphone? Just hide the thing in your junk draw for a week (or more) and breathe out. Long live The Man With No Phone!

From the Guardian:

Before you read on, I want to make one thing clear: I’m not trying to convert you. I’m not trying to lecture you or judge you. Honestly, I’m not. It may come over like that here and there, but believe me, that’s not my intent. In this piece, I’m just trying to … explain.

People who knew me in a previous life as a policy adviser to the British prime minister are mildly surprised that I’m now the co-founder and CEO of a tech startup . And those who know that I’ve barely read a book since school are surprised that I have now actually written one.

But the single thing that no one seems able to believe – the thing that apparently demands explanation – is the fact that I am phone-free. That’s right: I do not own a cellphone; I do not use a cellphone. I do not have a phone. No. Phone. Not even an old-fashioned dumb one. Nothing. You can’t call me unless you use my landline – yes, landline! Can you imagine? At home. Or call someone else that I happen to be with (more on that later).

When people discover this fact about my life, they could not be more surprised than if I had let slip that I was actually born with a chicken’s brain. “But how do you live?” they cry. And then: “How does your wife feel about it?” More on that too, later.

As awareness has grown about my phone-free status (and its longevity: this is no passing fad, people – I haven’t had a phone for over three years), I have received numerous requests to “tell my story”. People seem to be genuinely interested in how someone living and working in the heart of the most tech-obsessed corner of the planet, Silicon Valley, can possibly exist on a day-to-day basis without a smartphone.

So here we go. Look, I know it’s not exactly Caitlyn Jenner, but still: here I am, and here’s my story.

In the spring of 2012, I moved to the San Francisco bay area with my wife and two young sons. Rachel was then a senior executive at Google, which involved a punishing schedule to take account of the eight-hour time difference. I had completed two years at 10 Downing Street as senior adviser to David Cameron – let’s just put it diplomatically and say that I and the government machine had had quite enough of each other. To make both of our lives easier, we moved to California.

I took with me my old phone, which had been paid for by the taxpayer. It was an old Nokia phone – I always hated touch-screens and refused to have a smartphone; neither did I want a BlackBerry or any other device on which the vast, endless torrent of government emails could follow me around. Once we moved to the US my government phone account was of course stopped and telephonically speaking, I was on my own.

I tried to get hold of one of my beloved old Nokia handsets, but they were no longer available. Madly, for a couple of months I used old ones procured through eBay, with a pay-as-you-go plan from a UK provider. The handsets kept breaking and the whole thing cost a fortune. Eventually, I had enough when the charging outlet got blocked by sand after a trip to the beach. “I’m done with this,” I thought, and just left it.

I remember the exact moment when I realized something important had happened. I was on my bike, cycling to Stanford, and it struck me that a week had gone by without my having a phone. And everything was just fine. Better than fine, actually. I felt more relaxed, carefree, happier. Of course a lot of that had to do with moving to California. But this was different. I felt this incredibly strong sense of just thinking about things during the day. Being able to organize those thoughts in my mind. Noticing things.

Read the entire story here.

Video: Hanging on the Telephone, Blondie. Courtesy: EMI Music.

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What If You Spoke Facebookish?

The video from comedian Jason Horton shows us what real world interactions would be like if we conversed the same way as we do online via Facebook. His conversations may be tongue-in-cheek but they’re too close to becoming reality for comfort. You have to suppose that these offline (real world) status updates would have us drowning in hashtags, over-reaction, moralizing, and endless yawn inducing monologues.

I’d rather have Esperanto make a comeback.

Video courtesy of Jason Horton.

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Texas Needs More Guns, Not Less

Nine dead. Waco, Texas. May 17, 2015. Gunfight at Twin Peaks restaurant.

What this should tell us, particularly gun control advocates, is that Texans need more guns. After all, the US typically loosens gun restrictions after major gun related massacres — the only “civilized” country to do so.

Lawmakers recently passed two open carry gun laws in the Texas Senate. Once reconciled the paranoid governor — Greg Abbott, will surely sign. But even though this means citizens of the Lone State State will then be able to openly run around in public, go shopping or visit the local movie theater while packing a firearm, they still can’t walk around with an alcoholic beverage. Incidentally, in 2013 in the US 1,075 people under the age of 19 were killed by guns. That’s more children dying from gunfire than annual military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But, let’s leave the irony of this situation aside and focus solely on some good old fashioned sarcasm. Surely, it’s time to mandate that all adults in Texas should be required to carry a weapon. Then there would be less gunfights, right? And, while the Texas Senate is busy with the open carry law perhaps State Senators should mandate that all restaurants install double swinging doors, just like those seen in the saloons of classic TV Westerns.

From the Guardian:

Nine people were killed on Sunday and some others injured after a shootout erupted among rival biker gangs at a Central Texas restaurant, sending patrons and bystanders fleeing for safety, a police spokesman said.

The violence erupted shortly after noon at a busy Waco marketplace along Interstate 35 that draws a large lunchtime crowd. Waco police Sergeant W Patrick Swanton said eight people died at the scene of the shooting at a Twin Peaks restaurant and another person died at a hospital.

It was not immediately clear if bystanders were among the dead, although a local TV station, KCEN-TV, reported that all of the fatalities were bikers and police confirmed that no officers had been injured or killed.

Another local station, KXXV, reported that police had recovered firearms, knives, bats and chains from the scene. Restaurant employees locked themselves in freezers after hearing the shots, the station said.

How many injuries had occurred and the severity of those injuries was not known.

“There are still bodies on the scene of the parking lot at Twin Peaks,” Swanton said. “There are bodies that are scattered throughout the parking lot of the next adjoining business.”

A photograph from the scene showed dozens of motorcycles parked in a lot. Among the bikes, at least three people wearing what looked like biker jackets were on the ground, two on their backs and one face down. Police were standing a few feet away in a group. Several other people also wearing biker jackets were standing or sitting nearby.

Swanton said police were aware in advance that at least three rival gangs would be gathering at the restaurant and at least 12 Waco officers in addition to state troopers were at the restaurant when the fight began.

When the shooting began in the restaurant and then continued outside, armed bikers were shot by officers, Swanton said, explaining that the actions of law enforcement prevented further deaths.

Read the entire article here.

Video: Great Western Movie Themes.

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Electric Sheep?

I couldn’t agree more with Michael Newton’s analysis — Blade Runner remains a dystopian masterpiece, thirty-three years on. Long may it reign and rain.

And, here’s another toast to the brilliant mind of Philip K Dick. The author’s work Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, published in 1968, led to this noir science-fiction classic.

From the Guardian:

It’s entirely apt that a film dedicated to replication should exist in multiple versions; there is not one Blade Runner, but seven. Though opinions on which is best vary and every edition has its partisans, the definitive rendering of Ridley Scott’s 1982 dystopian film is most likely The Final Cut (2002), about to play out once more in cinemas across the UK. Aptly, too, repetition is written into the movie’s plot (there are spoilers coming), that sees Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) as an official bounty hunter (or “Blade Runner”) consigned to hunt down, one after the other, four Nexus-6 replicants (genetically-designed artificial human beings, intended as slaves for Earth’s off-world colonies). One by one, our equivocal hero seeks out the runaways: worldly-wise Zhora (Joanna Cassidy); stolid Leon (Brion James); the “pleasure-model” Pris (Daryl Hannah); and the group’s apparent leader, the ultimate Nietzschean blond beast, Roy Batty (the wonderful Rutger Hauer). Along the way, Deckard meets and falls in love with another replicant, Rachael (Sean Young), as beautiful and cold as a porcelain doll.

In Blade Runner, as in all science-fiction, the “future” is a style. Here that style is part film noir and part Gary Numan. The 40s influence is everywhere: in Rachael’s Joan-Crawford shoulder pads, the striped shadows cast by Venetian blinds, the atmosphere of defeat. It’s not just noir, Ridley Scott also taps into 70s cop shows and movies that themselves tapped into nostalgic style, with their yearning jazz and their sad apartments; Deckard even visits a strip joint as all TV detectives must. The movie remains one of the most visually stunning in cinema history. It plots a planet of perpetual night, a landscape of shadows, rain and reflected neon (shone on windows or the eye) in a world not built to a human scale; there, the skyscrapers dwarf us like the pyramids. High above the Philip Marlowe world, hover cars swoop and dirigible billboards float by. More dated now than its hard-boiled lustre is the movie’s equal and opposite involvement in modish early 80s dreams; the soundtrack by Vangelis was up-to-the-minute, while the replicants dress like extras in a Billy Idol video, a post-punk, synth-pop costume party. However, it is noir romanticism that wins out, gifting the film with its forlorn Californian loneliness.

It is a starkly empty film, preoccupied as it is with the thought that people themselves might be hollow. The plot depends on the notion that the replicants must be allowed to live no longer than four years, because as time passes they begin to develop raw emotions. Why emotion should be a capital offence is never sufficiently explained; but it is of a piece with the film’s investigation of a flight from feeling – what psychologist Ian D Suttie once named the “taboo on tenderness”. Intimacy here is frightful (everyone appears to live alone), especially that closeness that suggests that the replicants might be indistinguishable from us.

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This anxiety may originally have had tacit political resonances. In the novel that the film is based on, Philip K Dick’s thoughtful Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), the dilemma of the foot soldier plays out, commanded to kill an adversary considered less human than ourselves, yet troubled by the possibility that the enemy are in fact no different. Shades of Vietnam darken the story, as well as memories of America’s slave-owning past. We are told that the replicants can do everything a human being can do, except feel empathy. Yet how much empathy do we feel for faraway victims or inconvenient others?

Ford’s Deckard may or may not be as gripped by uncertainty about his job as Dick’s original blade runner. In any case, his brusque “lack of affect” provides one of the long-standing puzzles of the film: is he, too, a replicant? Certainly Ford’s perpetual grumpiness (it sometimes seems his default acting position), his curdled cynicism, put up barriers to feeling that suggest it is as disturbing for him as it is for the hunted Leon or Roy. Though some still doubt, it seems clear that Deckard is indeed a replicant, his imaginings and memories downloaded from some database, his life as transitory as that of his victims. However, as we watch Blade Runner, Deckard doesn’t feel like a replicant; he is dour and unengaged, but lacks his victims’ detached innocence, their staccato puzzlement at their own untrained feelings. The antithesis of the scowling Ford, Hauer’s Roy is a sinister smiler, or someone whose face falls at the brush of an unassimilable emotion.

Read the entire article here.

Video: Blade Runner clip.

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Humor Versus Horror

Faced with unspeakable horror many of usually turn away. Some courageous souls turn to humor to counter the vileness of others. So, it is heartwarming to see comedians and satirists taking up rhetorical arms in the backyards of murderers and terrorists. Fighting violence and terror with much of the same may show progress in the short-term, but ridiculing our enemies with humor and thoughtful dialogue is the only long-term way to fight evil in its many human forms. A profound thank you to these four brave Syrian refugees who, in the face of much personal danger, are able to laugh at their foes.

From the Guardian:

They don’t have much to laugh about. But four young Syrian refugees from Aleppo believe humour may be the only antidote to the horrors taking place back home.

Settled in a makeshift studio in the Turkish city of Gaziantep 40 miles from the Syrian border, the film-makers decided ridicule was an effective way of responding to Islamic State and its grisly record of extreme violence.

“The entire world seems to be terrified of Isis, so we want to laugh at them, expose their hypocrisy and show that their interpretation of Islam does not represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims,” says Maen Watfe, 27. “The media, especially the western media, obsessively reproduce Isis propaganda portraying them as strong and intimidating. We want to show their weaknesses.”

The films and videos on Watfe and his three friends’ website mock the Islamist extremists and depict them as naive simpletons, hypocritical zealots and brutal thugs. It’s a high-risk undertaking. They have had to move house and keep their addresses secret from even their best friends after receiving death threats.

But the video activists – Watfe, Youssef Helali, Mohammed Damlakhy and Aya Brown – will not be deterred.

Their film The Prince shows Isis leader and self-appointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi drinking wine, listening to pop music and exchanging selfies with girls on his smartphone. A Moroccan jihadi arrives saying he came to Syria to “liberate Jerusalem”. The leader swaps the wine for milk and switches the music to Islamic chants praising martyrdom. Then he hands the Moroccan a suicide belt and sends him off against a unit of Free Syrian Army fighters. The grenades detonate, and Baghdadi reaches for his glass of wine and turns the pop music back on.

It is pieces like this that have brought hate mail and threats via social media.

“One of them said that they would finish us off like they finished off Charlie [Hebdo],” Brown, 26, recalls. She declined to give her real name out of fear for her family, who still live in Aleppo. “In the end we decided to move from our old apartment.”

The Turkish landlord told them Arabic-speaking men had repeatedly asked for their whereabouts after they left, and kept the studio under surveillance.

Follow the story here.

Video: Happy Valentine. Courtesy of Dayaaltaseh Productions.

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Jon Ronson Versus His Spambot Infomorph Imposter

While this may sound like a 1980’s monster flick, it’s rather more serious.

Author, journalist, filmmaker Jon Ronson weaves a fun but sinister tale of the theft of his own identity. The protagonists: a researcher in technology and cyberculture, a so-called “creative technologist” and a university lecturer in English and American literature. Not your typical collection of “identity thieves”, trolls, revenge pornographers, and online shamers. But an unnerving, predatory trio nevertheless.

From the Guardian:

In early January 2012, I noticed that another Jon Ronson had started posting on Twitter. His photograph was a photograph of my face. His Twitter name was @jon_ronson. His most recent tweet read: “Going home. Gotta get the recipe for a huge plate of guarana and mussel in a bap with mayonnaise 😀 #yummy.”

“Who are you?” I tweeted him.

“Watching #Seinfeld. I would love a big plate of celeriac, grouper and sour cream kebab with lemongrass #foodie,” he tweeted. I didn’t know what to do.

The next morning, I checked @jon_ronson’s timeline before I checked my own. In the night he had tweeted, “I’m dreaming something about #time and #cock.” He had 20 followers.

I did some digging. A young academic from Warwick University called Luke Robert Mason had a few weeks earlier posted a comment on the Guardian site. It was in response to a short video I had made about spambots. “We’ve built Jon his very own infomorph,” he wrote. “You can follow him on Twitter here: @jon_ronson.”

I tweeted him: “Hi!! Will you take down your spambot please?”

Ten minutes passed. Then he replied, “We prefer the term infomorph.”

“But it’s taken my identity,” I wrote.

“The infomorph isn’t taking your identity,” he wrote back. “It is repurposing social media data into an infomorphic aesthetic.”

I felt a tightness in my chest.

“#woohoo damn, I’m in the mood for a tidy plate of onion grill with crusty bread. #foodie,” @jon_ronson tweeted.

I was at war with a robot version of myself.

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A month passed. @jon_ronson was tweeting 20 times a day about its whirlwind of social engagements, its “soirées” and wide circle of friends. The spambot left me feeling powerless and sullied.

I tweeted Luke Robert Mason. If he was adamant that he wouldn’t take down his spambot, perhaps we could at least meet? I could film the encounter and put it on YouTube. He agreed.

I rented a room in central London. He arrived with two other men – the team behind the spambot. All three were academics. Luke was the youngest, handsome, in his 20s, a “researcher in technology and cyberculture and director of the Virtual Futures conference”. David Bausola was a “creative technologist” and the CEO of the digital agency Philter Phactory. Dan O’Hara had a shaved head and a clenched jaw. He was in his late 30s, a lecturer in English and American literature at the University of Cologne.

I spelled out my grievances. “Academics,” I began, “don’t swoop into a person’s life uninvited and use him for some kind of academic exercise, and when I ask you to take it down you’re, ‘Oh, it’s not a spambot, it’s an infomorph.’”

Dan nodded. He leaned forward. “There must be lots of Jon Ronsons out there?” he began. “People with your name? Yes?”

I looked suspiciously at him. “I’m sure there are people with my name,” I replied, carefully.

“I’ve got the same problem,” Dan said with a smile. “There’s another academic out there with my name.”

“You don’t have exactly the same problem as me,” I said, “because my exact problem is that three strangers have stolen my identity and have created a robot version of me and are refusing to take it down.”

Dan let out a long-suffering sigh. “You’re saying, ‘There is only one Jon Ronson’,” he said. “You’re proposing yourself as the real McCoy, as it were, and you want to maintain that integrity and authenticity. Yes?”

I stared at him.

“We’re not quite persuaded by that,” he continued. “We think there’s already a layer of artifice and it’s your online personality – the brand Jon Ronson – you’re trying to protect. Yeah?”

“No, it’s just me tweeting,” I yelled.

“The internet is not the real world,” said Dan.

“I write my tweets,” I replied. “And I press send. So it’s me on Twitter.” We glared at each other. “That’s not academic,” I said. “That’s not postmodern. That’s the fact of it. It’s a misrepresentation of me.”

“You’d like it to be more like you?” Dan said.

“I’d like it to not exist,” I said.

“I find that quite aggressive,” he said. “You’d like to kill these algorithms? You must feel threatened in some way.” He gave me a concerned look. “We don’t go around generally trying to kill things we find annoying.”

“You’re a troll!” I yelled.

I dreaded uploading the footage to YouTube, because I’d been so screechy. I steeled myself for mocking comments and posted it. I left it 10 minutes. Then, with apprehension, I had a look.

“This is identity theft,” read the first comment I saw. “They should respect Jon’s personal liberty.”

Read the entire story here.

Video: JON VS JON Part 2 | Escape and Control. Courtesy of Jon Ronson.

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Tormented… For Things Remote

Would that our troubled species could put aside its pettiness and look to the stars. We are meant to seek, to explore, to discover, to learn…

If you do nothing else today, watch this video and envision our future. It’s compelling, gorgeous and achievable.

Visit the filmmaker’s website here.

Video: Wanderers, a short film. Courtesy of Erik Wernquist. Words by the Carl Sagan.

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Fourteen Years in Four Minutes

Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester has made a beautiful and enduring timelapse portrait. Shot over a period of 14 years, the video shows his daughter growing up before our eyes. To create this momentous documentary work Hofmeester filmed his daughter, Lotte, for 15 seconds every week since birth. This is a remarkable feat  for both filmmaker and his subject, and probably makes many of us wish we could have done the same. Hofmeester created a similar timelapse video of Lotte’s younger brother Vince.

Read more on this story here.

Video courtesy of Frans Hofmeester.

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Stuff. And Giving It Up

This is the fascinating story of  Petri Luukkainen, a documentary film-maker from Helsinki, Finland. One day he decided to give up all his possessions — everything. He put all his stuff in storage for a year, carefully removing only one item each day. His reasoning: to determine what was really necessary to his daily needs, and what wasn’t.

From the Telegraph:

Like many of us, Petri Luukkainen felt he had too much stuff. Unlike many of us, he decided to put it all in storage for a year, removing one item per day in order to discover what he really needed to live comfortably. The result is the documentary My Stuff, released in Luukkainen’s native Finland two years ago and in the UK this weekend.

The film, an experimental documentary in the style of Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, begins with the 29-year-old naked in his empty Helsinki flat. From there he runs across icy streets to the depot where his belongings are stored, the first of which he takes being a long coat – preserving his modesty and providing a makeshift sleeping bag for the first night. On the second day he takes shoes, on the third a blanket and on the fourth jeans.

Half way through the year he falls in love, leading to a dilemma over whether he should replace his new girlfriend’s fridge – another rule of the project is that he’s not allowed to buy anything new – or to fix it at greater expense. Later, Luukkainen’s grandmother is taken ill and has to move into a care home, meaning he has to go to her old flat to sort through her stuff. The events provide the documentary with such a satisfying narrative that some critics have suggested the film is semi-scripted, though Luukkainen insists it is all real.

The conclusion he comes to at the end of the year is probably what he suspected at the beginning: that possession is a responsibility and “stuff” is a burden. He does, however, provide a couple of figures which may be of help for anyone thinking about decluttering. Luukkainen found he could get by with 100 things (including swimming trunks, trainers, a debit card and a phone) but needed 200 to live with some “joy and comfort” (a third spoon, an electric kettle and a painting).

Speaking from Helsinki ahead of his film’s UK release, the documentary-maker claims the project itself was not something he was particularly proud of. “My problem was that I had too much of everything. It’s not the worst problem and it’s not being noble to give some of it up for a time.”

Whatever the seriousness of the problem, the international interest in the film suggests it is one many of us in the West face, and Luukkainen says he has been contacted by people across Europe who have been inspired to take on similar experiments. “I’d love to be part of a movement but I’m not sure My Stuff is,” he says. “All I want to do is get people to think about what they have and what they need, because it’s not something I thought about at all before I did this film.”

For those who feel like they might have too much stuff, Luukkainen suggests spending some time apart from it, though doesn’t advise going to the extreme of putting it all in storage. Put it in a cupboard, and if its appeal fades with absence, give it away.

Read the entire story here.

Video: My Stuff by Petri Luukkainen.

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We Are Part Selfie, Part Voyeur

I would take issue with the Atlantic’s story below: citizen journalist as documentarian. Without doubt filming someone in danger or emergency and then posting the video on YouTube does certainly add an in-the-moment authenticity. The news event becomes more personal, more identifiable. Yet it is more troubling than positive. It removes us directly from the event, turning us all into passive observers. And in legitimizing the role of the observer — through pageviews, likes and re-tweets — it lessens the impetus to participate actively, to assist and to help. Selfie replaces selflessness.

From the Atlantic:

Yesterday, as a five-alarm fire engulfed a new apartment complex in Houston, a construction worker found himself in pretty much the last place he’d want to: trapped on a ledge, feet from the flames. As he waited, helplessly, to be rescued, others waited with him. The construction site was across the street from an office building, and workers flocked to the windows to see the drama unfold. One of them filmed it. You can see some of their images reflected in the video that resulted, above.

Things ended as well as they could have for the trapped man; he escaped, and no injuries were reported as a result of the fire. In the video, the scene playing out on that ledge vaguely foreshadows this outcome: The person whose life is in danger—who is standing, trapped, as flames lick at the walls next to him—seems relatively calm.

What we hear, instead, is the commentary—the exchanges of people who are watching the scene unfold from a safe distance. And that commentary is … banal. Deeply (and almost profoundly) so. In the same way that your commentary, or mine, might well be were we watching the same scene. Here are some of the sentiments expressed by the onlookers of this terrifyingly unfolding drama:

“OMG.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“This guy is on the frickin’ ledge.”

“He can’t get out, ‘cuz he can’t get out the door.”

This is not to criticize the people watching the scene unfold—the people whose commentary, almost literally, upstages the drama of the burning building and the man trapped on its ledge. Again, my own comments, on witnessing the same scene, would probably sound similar. (Though I do like to flatter myself that I’d save the “cheap apartment” hilarity until after the threat of a man being burned alive had officially ended.)

It’s worth noting, though, what the real estate humor here hints at: the chaos of tragedy as it’s experienced by real people, in real time. The confusion that is so aptly captured by a video like this, shot on a smartphone and posted to YouTube. The same kind of caught chaos we saw with that fertilizer plant in Texas. And with that asteroid exploding in the skies above Russia. And with, for that matter, the Hindenburg disaster.

Compare those ad hoc representations of tragedy to our more traditional ways of knowing tragedy as an aesthetic, and video-taped, reality: through moving images provided by TV news, by Hollywood, by professionals who are trained to keep their mouths shut. On YouTube, as shot by amateurs on the scene, our experience of disaster instead features a Greek chorus of “OMGs” and “Unbelievables.” More and more of our portrays of catastrophe—and of the dramas that prevent catastrophe—are now mediated in this way: by other people. People who are shocked and scared and empathetic and, in the best and worst of ways, unthinking. People who, even if they tried, couldn’t keep quiet.

Read the entire story here.

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Comedy Athiest Assemblies

Religion pervades the public consciousness, and events fueled by religion still seem to dominate the news on a daily basis. Yet, atheism continues to make significant inroads — numerous studies show continued growth in non-belief and atheism, especially in the West. But not content in their non-belief, some atheists are organizing local assemblies to compete with the flocks who attend churches, mosques, and synagogues. After all, it should not be left only to the members of organized religions to have some communal fun.

From the Guardian:

It started, as a number of the world’s great religions have done, with a small group of friends and a persuasive idea: why should atheists miss out on all the good things churches have to offer? What would happen if they set up a “godless congregation” that met to celebrate life, with no hope of the hereafter?

Eight months after their first meeting in a deconsecrated church in north London, the founders of the Sunday Assembly have their answer: on Sunday they will announce the formation of satellite congregations in more than 20 cities across Britain and the world, the first wave of an expansion that they believe could see 40 atheist churches springing up by the year and as many as 1,000 worldwide within a decade.

From Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol and Dublin, to New York, San Diego and Vancouver, to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, groups of non-believers will be getting together to form their own monthly Sunday Assemblies, with the movement’s founders – the standup comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans – visiting the fledgling congregations in what they are calling, only partly in jest, a “global missionary tour”.

Though he always suspected he was not the only one to regret that his lack of faith excluded him from a church-style community, Jones admits to being a little bewildered by the speed and scale at which his idea has caught on. “When I had the idea for this, I always thought if it was something I would like to go to in London then it was something other people would like to go to in other places.

“The one thing that we didn’t take into account was the power of the internet, and I think even more than that, the fact that there is obviously a latent need for this kind of thing. People have always congregated around things that they believe in. I think people are going to look back at the fact that it didn’t happen as the oddity, not this part.”

Satellite assemblies will agree to the central charter of Jones and Evans’s original gathering – which still meets monthly in central London – and Jones expects them, initially at least, to stick to a similar format, in which a “host” leads several hundred congregants through songs, moments of contemplation and a sermon-like (but secular) talk.

“If we do it in London and there are 400 people who come, that’s brilliant, but if we find a way to help hundreds of people to set one up then we can have a bigger impact than we could ever dream of,” says Jones. Their vision, he says, is “a godless gathering in every town, city or village that wants one”.

Stuart Balkham is one of a small group of Brighton unbelievers who next weekend will hold their inaugural assembly – the theme is beginnings – in a disused church in Hove.

He and his partner went to the London gathering where, he says, “there was just something that clicked”. Part of the appeal was the style of non-worship: “It’s unashamedly copying a familiar Church of England format, so it’s part of the collective consciousness.”

Balkham says he has envied churches the sense of community they can offer, and thinks atheists can learn from the social good that many churches do. “It’s naive to deny that there’s a lot of good that comes out of organised religion, and I think helping in the community is another thing that Sunday Assemblies should be aspiring to unashamedly copy.”

Nick Spencer, research director of Theos, a thinktank looking at religion’s role in society, says the growth of the movement may appear striking but it is not necessarily new. “This contemporary idea of people who are not religious but wanting to maintain some kind of church-like existence has got form. We’ve been here before.”

Spencer, who will publish a book next year on the history of atheism, sees echoes of the late 19th century, when hundreds of “ethical unions” were founded in response to the growing atheism of the times. The movement, he says, similarly concentrated on good works and community around a recognisably church-like liturgy, but petered out within a generation or two.

“The reason for that was because you need more than an absence to keep you together. You need a firm common purpose. What you can see in these modern-day atheist churches is people united by a felt absence of community. I suspect what brings them together is a real desire for community when in a modern, urbanised individualised city like London you can often feel very alone. That creates a lot of camaraderie, but the challenge then becomes, what actually unites us?”

Read the entire article here.

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What is art? The answer, from a little bird?

I’ve been pondering a concrete answer to this question, and others like it for some time. I do wonder “what is art?” and “what is great art?” and “what distinguishes fine art from its non-fine cousins?” and “what makes some art better than other art?”

In formulating my answers to these questions I’ve been looking inward and searching outward. I’ve been digesting the musings of our great philosophers and eminent scholars and authors. I’m close to penning some blog-worthy articles that crystallize my current thinking on the subject, but I’m not quite ready. Not yet. So, in the meantime you and I will have to make do with deep thoughts on the subject of art from some of my friends…

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The Vogels. Or, how to become a world class art collector on a postal clerk’s salary

I’m missing Art Basel | Miami this year. Last year’s event and surrounding shows displayed so much contemporary (and some modern) art, from so many artists and galleries that my head was buzzing for days afterward. This year I have our art251 gallery to co-run, so I’ve been visiting Art Basel virtually – reading the press releases, following the exhibitors and tuning in to the podcasts and vids, using the great tubes of the internet.

The best story by far to emerge this year from Art Basel | Miami is the continuing odyssey of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, their passion for contemporary art and their outstanding collection. On December 5, the documentary “Herb and Dorothy” was screened at Art Basel’s Art Loves Film night. And so their real-life art fairytale goes something like this…

Over the last 40-plus years they have amassed a cutting-edge, world-class collection of contemporary art. In all they have collected around 4,000 works. Over time they have crammed art into every spare inch of space inside their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. In 1992 they gave around 2,000 important pieces – paintings, drawings and sculptures – to the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C. Then, in April of this year the National Gallery announced that an additional 2,500 of Vogels’ artworks would go to museums across the country: fifty works for fifty States. The National Gallery simply didn’t have enough space to house the Vogel’s immense collection.

So, why is this story so compelling?

Well, it’s compelling because they are just like you and me. They are not super-rich, they have no condo in Aspen, nor do they moor a yacht in Monte Carlo. They’re not hedge fund managers. They didn’t make a fortune before the dot.com bubble burst.

Herb Vogel, 86, is a retired postal clerk and Dorothy Vogel, 76, a retired librarian. They started collecting art in the 1960s and continue to this day. Their plan was simple and guided by two rules: the art had to be affordable, and small enough to fit in their apartment. Early on they decided to use Herb’s income for buying art, and Dorothy’s to paying living expenses. Though now retired they still follow the plan. They collect art because they love art and finding new art. In Dorothy’s words,

“We didn’t buy this art to make money… We did it to enjoy the art. And you know, it gives you a nice feeling to actually own it, and have it about you. … We started buying art for ourselves, in the 1960s, and from the beginning we chose carefully.”

More telling is Dorothy’s view of the art world, and the New York art scene:

“We never really got close to other people who collect… Most collectors have a lot of money, and they don’t go about their collecting in quite the same way. My husband had wanted to be an artist, and I learned from him. We were living vicariously through the work of every artist we bought. At some point, we realized that collecting this art was a sort of creative act. It became our art, in more ways than one. … I enjoyed the search, I guess. The looking and the finding. When you go to a store, and you’re searching for your size, don’t you get satisfaction when you find it?”

And Herb adds the final words:

“The art itself.”

So, within their modest means and limitations they have proved to be visionaries; many of the artists they supported early on have since become world-renowned. And, they have taken their rightful place among the great art collectors of the world, such as Getty and Rockefeller, and Broad and Saatchi. The Vogels used their limitations to their advantage – helping them focus, rather than being a hinderance. Above all, they used their eyes to find and collect great art, not their ears.

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