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3/31/2004

not class related. or is it? no.  

I just read a most amusing article from vice magazine. There's some stuff about copyright and the manipulation of the american dream, which is why I thought to put it on the blog, but mostly it is just funny. You should read it.

And to be even less class related, check out this band, they're called money money (not to be confused with mony mony) mira and jer may recognize them from le swimming last thursday. They really wanna be rock stars. Help them out. And check out the picture gallery.

3/27/2004

The Men who say Ni…I mean Yes. 

As cited in the Cultural Resistance Reader, "electronic methods of protest are becoming more and more important". From fax jamming to phone zapping to subversive website imitations, activists are getting over their supposed collective technophobia and using new technologies for ‘electronic civil disobedience’. Ricardo Dominguez, co-founder of the Electronic Disturbance Theater, has helped to create a space for "direct non-violent use of the Internet, pushing it away from the paradigm of just communication and documentation".

The Yes-Men (aka Andy and Mike) have similarly chosen such a venue for their own, unique version of electronic activism: Identity Theft Redux. While identity theft commonly refers to the borrowing of an identity in order to falsely misrepresent a given person, the Yes-Men impersonate others in order to expose the true, deceptive nature of those who they pretend to be. And not just one person at a time, either, but entire organizations.

How do they accomplish this, you ask? Well, they create almost identical web pages for the official sites of the evildoers they are hoping to target, but the content of their site reveals the subjects dark side, which the real website conveniently omits. (See gatt.org instead of the actual World Trade Organizaztion site wto.org, georgewbush.org instead of Dubya’s official georgewbush.com)
Granwyth

At first glance the Yes-Men versions of the sites appear to be authentic, some more so than others. So authentic, in the case of their GATT site, that they have sometimes been contacted and invited to speak at lectures around the world as representatives for the WTO. And, being the Yes-Men, how could they say no?

But what they have found time and again at these lectures is that people rarely respond to the outrageous speeches they present. Hoping to get people riled up at the notion that cheap, child labour is the natural successor to slavery and hence the key to successful trade? Think again.

Yes
From the Yes-Men site FAQ page:
-"Why are you called the Yes Men?"
-"You know how a funhouse mirror exaggerates your most hideous features? We do that kind of exaggeration operation, but with ideas. We agree with people—turning up the volume on their ideas as we talk, until they can see their ideas distorted in our funhouse mirror. Or that's what we try to do, anyhow—but as it turns out, the image always seems to look normal to them."

Strange times indeed.


*Look for a new film by Chris Smith and Sarah Price (American Movie) documenting the many adventures of Andy and Mike, aptly titled The Yes-Men. Coming soon to a theater near you.



The Management Leisure Suit of the Future 

CULTURE JAMMING: the act of using existing mass media to comment on those very media themselves, using the original medium's communication method. It is based on the idea that advertising is little more than propaganda for established interests, and that there is little escape from this propaganda in industrialized nations. Culture jamming differs from artistic appropriation (which is done for art's sake), and from vandalism where destruction or defacement is the primary goal.

Culture jamming is funny.



It is most definitely trickery at its best. Take The Yes Men. They pose as the WTO on their website www.gatt.org and are occasionally mistaken as the real WTO and invited to speak at conferences, on satellite television news programs, and the like, as representatives of the WTO. And they do their very best to show up and speak about very absurd and ridiculous ideas, in an attempt to be questioned or booed by their audiences, and very often find themselves subject to an audience who politely claps at the end of a presentation where the presenter rips off his 3-piece suit to reveal a skin-tight golden one-piece with an enormous blow-up penis/television monitor, and suggests that this suit be worn by managers everywhere.

To quote Matt Soar... "We are living in strange times."

There is something oddly appealing about culture jamming ... the satirical humour that makes you feel like you're in on some good joke ...
The idea that maybe someone out there is making some small difference.

The Yes Men have received international news coverage of their WTO talks. They are creating a stir and getting the attention of the media ... they have put out a film with United Artists (which was previewed last Thursday at Cinema Politica), they have a book deal. And they think it's funny.

For a comprehensive list of links, as well as a detailed explanation of the term 'hacktivism', click here.

3/15/2004

Objective Journalism vs. Journalistic Activism 

According to Journalism.org, a journalist’s first obligation is to the truth. Readers want to believe that they can trust their news sources and so a good journalist must aim to be as balanced and honest as possible. Readers must be aware, however, that pure objectivity and absolute journalistic truth are near impossibilities. Sure, every one can agree that 200 people were killed in Madrid’s bombings last week, but when it comes down to the more interesting questions like why this has happened and what it implies for the future, there are a myriad of likely responses, all of which are at least somewhat subjective.

If a photo in all its simplicity can never be objective, then how can we expect a much more complex person with inevitable opinions and subjective ideas to be so? Especially when the papers or stations who employ them are either owned or sponsored by corporations with very specific interests in mind. If our postmodern society has really rejected the notion of an absolute truth and replaced it with a diverse and pragmatic perspective, then why should the news be considered exempt from the rule? It is time we stop viewing journalism as a vessel through which the all-mighty Truth may pass and begin questioning the sources and foundations of our knowledge.

If you follow the advice of Paul Shore, Canadian representative for the Guerrilla News Network (GNN), the best way to get accurate and unbiased world news is to read from as many sources as possible and to think critically about the information they present. Cross checking facts is always a good way to see if you’re being duped. But with so many news sites available to us through the Internet, how can readers assess the reliability of any given source?

As Shore himself admits, the GNN is not free of its own biases. It has a distinct, leftist slant in order to counter balance the biases of mainstream news. Now, to me, this is completely acceptable because I happen to agree with the majority of their ideas. But what differentiates ‘slanted news’(one way or the other) from propaganda? Is it just because the GNN’s values are, for the most part, in sync with my own that I consider them a reliable source? If so, is that really any better than someone with more right-ist tendencies who considers Fox and NBC to be accurate sources?

Wendy M. Grossman’s article Guerrilla Journalism raises similar questions: "if we call one journalism and not the other, aren't we saying that it is journalism as long as we agree with the purpose?"

To a certain extent, yes, and that may be problematic. However, one important difference remains which this statement does not address. A site which practices a certain 'Activist Journalism' like the GNN seems more open with its bias or slant, if you will, and therefore more open to critical thinking as opposed to most mainstream sources which make no apparent distinction between their news and the "truth" and are thus more deceiving towards their audience.


sometimes everybody cries. 

Right now someone is wondering about the validity of music videos.

Music videos and graphic design, when used in conjunction with one another, will be my demise. I quote poet Jack McCarthy from his 'Careful What you ask for'

Oh, I don't cry any more,

I don't sob, I don't make noise,

I just have hairtrigger tearducts, and always

at all the wrong things: supermarket openings;

the mayor cutting the ribbon on the bridge.

In movies I despise the easy manipulation

that never even bothers to engage my feelings,

it just comes straight for my eyes,

but there's not a damn thing I can do about it,

and I hate myself for it.



If you replace supermarket openings with long-distance telephone commercials ("I'm in Normandy, Grandpa. I just called to say....Thanks.") Jack McCarthy would have me pegged. Music videos are the worst. The juxtapositions..... The implications..... It's just too much for me. "God is taking Moms and Dogs because he has to" superimposed over a golden retriever? Honestly. Never allude to the death of an animal or parent around me. Just don't.

Right now someone is wondering if this is going anywhere. Someone else insists that it is.

So graphic design is art, of course, but the objective of projects like movie credits and music videos is to make some money. So it is commercial art, then. But music videos... that's promotion masked behind an air of artistic expression. And I wonder if it is ever anything deeper than promotion? When has a music video ever changed the world, or helped anyone? Well, there was Band-Aid. And there are plenty of angst-y videos that throw up the Kids Help Phone number when they're told that their video may cause mass youth suicide. But really, music videos are just... empty. And Van Halen can say that right now there are ten thousand injustices but they aren't going to do shit about it. And you're going to watch and it's going to make you cry and you aren't going to do shit about it either. Maybe you'll download the video. Maybe you'll buy the album. Maybe you'll be happy when they win the MTV award. But people are still going to work too hard for minimum wage, dogs are going to die, blacks and whites aren't going to eat together very often, and Ed is still going to play piano.

Right now someone is wondering if they still want their MTV.


They do.

3/08/2004

Fensler Film 

This is just a link to a series of fun cartoons by some creative genius at Fensler Film. By reworking the audio track, he turned cheesy G.I. Joe public service announcements into hilarious short videos. This is what fair use is all about, or should be all about at any rate. Enjoy!

I tend to agree with Stephen E. Weil, author of 'Fair Use and the Visual Arts: Please leave some room for Robin Hood', on the necessity for a certain amount of copyright leway when it comes to art. He quotes federal judge Pierre N. Leval as saying that copyright's initial purpose "was to be an incentive that would stimulate progress in the arts for the intellectual enrichment of the public".

As the fair use law now stands, an artist can use copyrighted material if the work they are creating is a parody of the original, but who is to determine what can be considered parody and what falls just beyond?

If in fact copyright is meant to stimulate creativity, artists should not be restricted on the sampling of other art works or pop culture references in their own work. Perhaps they should just be obliged to cite the original authors/artists and leave it at that. See the Creative Commons initiative as a step in the right direction.



The News 

Do you watch the news?

I do. I've been watching it all year, I never had before. And I've been learning some interesting things about journalistic integrity and objectivity (or lack thereof.) For instance, about two weeks ago, Global News Montreal did a piece on graffiti in the Plateau district (where I happen to live). They showed several examples of particularly ugly tags, after which they interviewed Nicolas Tetrault, councillor for the Plateau/Mont Royal district who said he was doing everything in his power to ( and I paraphrase) "stop tagging and clean up our neighbourhoods" .

Last week Global News Montreal did another story on graffiti. This story was about 10 local graffiti artists who were chosen to attend a conference/workshop in Mexico. And how would they be paying for this $20 000 trip? Well, *some* of it *could* be coming straight from YOUR pocket! Global News then proceeded to show the exact same footage they had used a week earlier, showcasing the ugly tags. Then, they did another interview with Nicolas Tetrault in which he stated that the money would be better spent getting rid of graffiti than supporting these artists.
None of the artists were asked to comment.

Why?

Paul from the Guerrilla News Network talked about the right-ist point of view taken by major news networks and their refusal to do any stories which could negatively reflect their corporate sponsors. He also mentioned that these networks only carry stories which they believe will give them increased viewership.

I suppose the sponsors of the Canwest Global Corporation are anti-graffiti and anti-taxation, typically conservative, but this story was so very obviously flawed that I decided to go ahead and become an electronic activist. I sent Global Quebec an e-mail, berating them for their bias:

To Whom it May concern,

This is in regards to a story which was aired on Global News Montreal last
week. The story was about Montreal Graffiti artists who had been chosen to
attend a conference/workshop in Mexico this summer. I believe that the story

you presented was incredibly biased and uninformed. The footage shown with the
story was pictures of tags in the Plateau/Mont Royal district, not serious
works by the artists who were chosen to go to Mexico, none of whom were named
or interviewed.

Graffiti art is widely recognized as a valid artistic pursuit, which your story did not reflect at all.

Global Television should be ashamed of its lack of objectivity and journalistic integrity in the presentation of this story.

Sincerely,

Allie Caldwell

Communications Studies
Concordia University


I am yet to receive a reply.

I never was an active media consumer. But I think it's a very good idea indeed.

3/04/2004

Free Flow 

As a modest music downloader, all this talk of intellectual property and copyright has started me thinking. Can I realistically consider myself an ethical music fan when a significant portion of the music I listen to is "stolen" off the internet? Or is the whole guilt-trip attached to music downloading a mere result of the 'Big Five' record companies' attempt to hold on to their billions in profits?

According to the Recording Industry Association of America ( RIAA ), CD sales in the US only brought in 11.2 Billion dollars in 2003, that's approximately 2 Billion less than in 2000. That's a shame. Really. How are those poor studio executives going to get by?

Of course, it's not really that simple. When CD sales suffer, the artists suffer too. You need only look at the RIAA’s artist testimonials to know that:
Napster is "robbing me blind," says the lead singer for Creed.
"Artists, like anyone else, should be paid for their work," says Lou Reed.
Indeed they should.

The conclusion we’re supposed to draw from these quotes is that systems of digital distribution that don’t compensate artists for their work are unethical. But just how ethical are the record companies who are profiting off the creative work of their signed artists? According to Money for Nothing, a documentary examining the ugly nature of the pop music industry, successful artists are often bankrupted and manipulated into paying the bill for their own promotion while their record company reaps the benefits.

The real problem that the ‘Big five’ have with digital distribution is not that their artists are being ripped off but rather that the new media ethos perpertrated by Napster and friends is one which calls "into question the basic logics of capital"(Thomas), undermining ideas of intellectual property and ownership of information. This is a scary thought for an industry whose profits are based on those very notions.

So by claiming that Internet music theft alone is responsible for their drop in CD sales (of course it couldn't have anything to do with the struggling American economy or a rise in CD prices), record companies are hoping to gain the same control of the on-line market that they already enjoy off-line.

Their motives seem so transparent, and yet somehow they're still getting away with it. And what are we doing about it? ...


Sources:
Thomas, Douglas. "Innovation, Pircay and the Ethos of New Media". The New Media Book. British Film Institute, London, 2002, p 82.


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