Last.fm


I just found this today while nosing around mySpace. For a person who has read a bit Foucault, this one is obvious. The purpose of this site is to upload links to the songs you listen to most often, displaying them for other users or visitors to your websites. It uses a program that reads the Recently Played list off your media player or mp3 player and posts what you have just heard. Clearly a form of automated surveillance; i can see you listening.

This is particularly an age of hyper-surveillance: Patriot Acts, presidentially-ordered spying, video camera speed traps, electronic credit reports, omnipresent cell phones, and, of course, blogging, myspacing, and now Just.fming. What is interesting to me is that people freely submit to these intrusions, literally signing up for some. Foucault says that Power works so well because its dictates are internalized and behavior is self-monitored, self-confessed. In other words, individuals are simultaneously jailor and prisoner, priest and confessor, viewer and viewed both towards others and towards themselves. So, it would make sense that people would post intimate information on their blogs, list their sexual orientation on their mySpace, etc. But, with these internet services like blogger, mySpace, and Last.fm, there doesn’t seem to be a sense of paranoia, self-consciousness, or reluctance at all.

Rather, people seem to rejoice in being surveilled.

My girlfriend just got back from a conference at which she saw a speaker trying to come to grips with mySpace both theoretically and personally. She said both she did not understand why people give themselves up so freely to self-confession and that she wants to figure out how to protect her son from it. The question underlying this is “where is the danger?” Why aren’t people concerned? How can we protect ourselves?

My question in response is, do we need to protect ourselves? Even better, what if this kind of submission was a form of protection? I haven’t read much late Foucault, but I think his idea of “care of the self” is applicable here. I remember something about maintaining motion under immobilizing pins of Power through self-creation. This may be a better way to describe these electronic offerings of identity, not confession but creation, a confession that creates.

V for Vendetta


Yesterday I went to see V for Vendetta , the new movie by the Wachowski Brothers of Matrix fame. It was not a bad movie, certainly an entertaining two hours. Plenty of people will say it causes them to, you know, really think . And with good reason; after all, here I am.

The movie exhibited the same central quality that ultimately ruined The Matrix Trilogy for me: it takes a really interesting and complex idea and makes it beat-you-over-the-head simple. In the Matrix, it was the Jesus theme. Now I have no problem with intelligently wrot allusions to religious themes and Bibilical personages; this can be done really well to great effect. The only similarity between Jesus and Neo, however, is that they both die to save humanity. That’s it. Perhaps that is why, sensing the lack of similarity, the Wachowski brothers thought it was necessary to have a white light in the shape of a cross glow from Neo’s chest as he dies. Thanks for the hints, fellas. If it weren’t for your subtle guiding I’d never understand The Matrix, what with all the witty dialogue.

Anyway, there is a similar simplification and a similar heavy-handedness in V for Vendetta . So, V, the main character, sees himself as a modern day Guy Fawlkes, orchestrator of the “gunpowder plot,” and so plans to blow up the British Parliament in an act of rebellion against a tyrannical government. We learn that this government has conspired in various plots, creating, testing, and distributing a nasty virus that kills 80,000 and blames it on religious extremists, in order to inspire fear in the masses, thereby allowing them unilateral control. They perpetuate this fear through by instituting a police state complete with panoptic surveillance and carefully spun media, a paranoid and brain washed citizenry.

Now, here is where the simplification happens.

In the face of this oppression, V is established as the hero revolutionary, killing various heads of state apparatus he has a personal beef with, rallying the republic, and blowing up some statues. He is cast as a victim, a suave dilletante and lover, a passionate, stead-fast defender of human rights, and, of course, a savior. In short, he is good, the state is bad. But revolution is not that simple. My girlfriend brought up the point that V’s ultimate plan, blow up Parliament, was equivalent to the current regime’s atrocity in that both work though fear. As I think of it now, who knows how many died in the explosion of Big Ben, all that schrapnel, hunks of big building, no one was standing well clear, not army not crowd of V impersonators. Other of V’s methods are suspect as well. Kills plenty of military personal, several ‘baddies’ for whom he served as judge and jury. But what I found more complicating was his treatment of Evey (try to look past the name connotations if you can).
SPOILER COMING UP.

He kidnaps her, tortures her, and manipulates, some might say brain-washes, her. Then we get the scene of cinamatic genius in which the Wachowski brothers have to spell out the comparisons between V and Evey for us by splicing their ‘birth’ sequences together. As an audience member, I am insulted. The worst part, however, is still to come. After all that brainwashing, steeling her to his side, he puts her in charge of pulling the lever that sets off the bomb, stating that he has learned that he can’t make decisions for people and he wants ‘the people’ to decide. And this is supposed to be the scene that makes V a concrete character. His ‘change’ or ‘development’ is to allow the person he has ‘made’ in precisely the the same way he claims he was ‘made’ by the current government, the person in whose arms he dies while saying he loves her, to represent the people in her decision to throw the switch.

Anyway, here is my point. Revolution is not as simple as blowing up a building and killing the ‘baddies.’ That was, in effect, what the regime had done, killed people in a symbolic event and brainwashed with fear to create unity. If V’s revolution goes down and the government is overthrown, in this system the next government will suffer a central and important similarity, it will be built on an organizing binary that casts otherness, however it is constituted, as inferior or evil. Note that V quotes almost exclusively Shakespeare, the font and symbol of Western civilization and culture, and never once refers to any theorists of revolution like Marx perhaps. There is a good reason for this, besides the Red Scare. Marx knew that revolution can’t happen with an explosion; it happens gradually, dialectically, emerging from the structures of capitalism itself. But, of course, no one wants to watch that, so we blow some shit up, makes some appeals to common sense, and keep our logocentrism in place. Going just a bit further, i find it hard to resist drawing a comparison between the puppet media the movie tries to criticize and the all-too-present and insistent hand of the Wachowski brothers, guiding us through critical points in the plot. Zizek is drooling as he watches this movie.

fan appreciation

Tonight I went to watch Washington play California. The game was great for Husky fans, Roy again demonstrating that he is the Pac-10 player of the year and one of the most complete players in the country. But it was not the game that I found the most awe-inspiring.

Tonight was Washington’s last home game of the season, which of course means it was senior night. Now, i have been impressed the entire season with how Coach Romar involves the student section in the games. Student season ticket holders receive a t-shirt, guaranteed admission, seats right at center court, invitation to pre-season practice sessions and the like, all pretty standard. But Romar take special care to include the student section, walking down the line of people waiting to get into the Gonzaga game and shaking hands all around, sending a personal email to the DawgPack listserv, very professionally and seriously composed explaining the role he sees the student section playing in their success. It is no wonder then that the crowd chants his name when he walks on the court, refer to the arena as Romarville, and are ranked the 8th best student section in the country by Sports Illustrated.

So what happenned after the game should not have surprised me.

“At the end, Roy hugged every one of his coaches and teammates at the bench. After the final buzzer, Washington coach Lorenzo Romar invited the senior students out of the stands and onto the floor. Roy was the first of five Huskies seniors to greet them with hugs and high-fives.”

Roy is a really calm player, almost Tim Duncan or Tracy McGrady like. He shows little emotion and has the quitest 23+ average I have ever seen. But tonight you could see he was anxious; he rushed his first jumpshot and got a charge trying to force a pass within the first 3 minutes. He calmed down and had a fantastic game, basically carrying his team through a rough openning to the second half. Then, after the game, the generally smooth, stoic-faced Roy was all smiles, chanting back to his fellow students “thank you seniors” as they had done for him and his classmates earlier. He was more exuberant in thanking his fans than he had been at any other time I saw him during the season.

Tonight, and all season, really, real, sincere care was exchanged between fans and players. The Dawg Pack are not simply supporters; they know the players, have special chants for each one, they camp out to watch UW play unranked California, and really want them to succeed. And the players and coaches really care for their fans, sharing an understanding with their fans of mutual dependence, common purpose, and shared success. What I found so remarkable is that the fans remain essentially nameless, undifferentiated, and unfamiliar to the players and, likewise, for all the fans know of the players, their style, stats, and whatnot, they generally have no relationship with them outside the arena. Players and fans are loyal, devoted, supportive, and reliant on people who are essentially strangers, caring about each other with pure and honest sincerity and appreciation. It really is amazing and touching to see what little it takes for people to be truly meaningful to each other.

face to face with chaos

My friend made me aware of this passage from Ortega y Gasset. This feels just about right on to me. The only question, really, is why the chaotic reality is any better than the fantasy that hides it. In other words, would facing the chaos make you any less lost. Expanding from that, one needs to ask whether it is even possible to avoid erecting scarecrows or whether the chaos is just as much of one. Anyway, something to keep me thinking today. Enjoy.

What is really confused, intricate, is the concrete vital reality, always a unique thing. The man who is capable of steering a clear course through it, who can perceive under the chaos presented by every vital situation the hidden anatomy of the movement, the man, in a word, who does not lose himself in life, that is the man with the really clear head. Take stock of those around you and you will see them wandering about lost through life, like sleep-walkers in the midst of their good or evil fortune, without the slightest suspicion of what is happening to them. You will hear them talk in precise terms about themselves and their surroundings, which would seem to point to them having ideas on the matter. But start to analyse those ideas and you will find that they hardly reflect in any way the reality to which they appear to refer, and if you go deeper you will discover that there is not even an attempt to adjust the ideas to this reality. Quite the contrary: through these notions the individual is trying to cut off any personal vision of reality, of his own very life. For life is at the start a chaos in which one is lost. The individual suspects this, but he is frightened at finding himself face to face with this terrible reality, and tries to cover it over with a curtain of fantasy, where everything is clear. It does not worry him that his “ideas” are not true, he uses them as trenches for the defence of his existence, as scarecrows to frighten away reality. The man with the clear head is the man who frees himself from those fantastic “ideas” and looks life in the face, realises that everything in it is problematic, and feels himself lost. As this is the simple truth- that to live is to feel oneself lost- he who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look round for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce. He who does not really feel himself lost, is lost without remission; that is to say, he never finds himself, never comes up against his own reality.