Know this: Tintin, rich idiots, apocalyptic London, Jolie's wonky debut, dying online, music damage
Halfway through February came the news that Herge's Tintin in the Congo had not been banned by a Belgian court. The case had claimed the text was too racist to circulate freely today. But the court disagreed. Hurrah! Free speech! Or, maybe not? Lawyer, novelist and intimidating intellect China Mieville offers a sobering, thorough critique of the judgment and the media's response. In a lot of the comment around the case, it was clear that people thought the decision correct because Herge was only a reflection the era when the book was composed. But that's not even true -- Belgians had been hearing voices critical of its colonial adventures for years at the time of publication. And, anyway, "even if these attitudes do ‘reflect their time’ in the sense of reflecting a then-more-mainstream agenda, so the fuck what? The point about attitudes is that they change, in response to struggle, to a battle for ideas. The question here is whether or not Tintin au Congo is racist. Which it is. That may perhaps in part be because white supremacism was less contested back then - just as well we’re not back then, then, isn’t it? & that instead we live in now, when the resistance of those [Africans] deemed unable to add 2 & 2 [as the book makes out] has forced the recognition that this kind of shit is shit. These days a ‘collective synapse’ should kick in ‘forged by mass movements … that have forced a lot of people, particularly white straight men, to have a clue.’"
It's been a good run for Mieville. He also wrote this piece for the New York Times magazine, depicting a London that is crumbling and fraying. An apocalyptic London. A "drama queen" London: Olympic extravagance, riots, police brutality, government cuts, kids on nightbuses, a housing shortage. "The Olympics are slated to cost taxpayers $14.7 billion. In this time of 'austerity,' youth clubs and libraries are being shut down as expendable fripperies; this expenditure, though, is not negotiable. The uprisen young of London, participants in extraordinary riots that shook the country last summer, do the math. 'Because you want to host the Olympics, yeah,' one participant told researchers, 'so your country can look better and be there, we should suffer.'" How to secure that good image via the Olympics? "The Games’ security plans grow ever more dystopian and surreal. There will be snipers in helicopters; jets; warships in the Thames; more British troops on duty in London than in Afghanistan."
Speaking of helicopters and jets: what can you tell me about drone journalism?
I missed this last month, but Brad Nguyen has an excellent take on the souls of successful men, using the tepid film Any Questions for Ben? as his starting point. "What the film actually turns out to be is a fairly well-trodden tale of existential angst from the perspective of a successful white male with financial security and a hedonistic lifestyle. Whether it’s Ben in this film or George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air or Don Draper in Mad Men or Marcello in La Dolce Vita, these characters are model citizens of capitalist society, efficient in their jobs and good consumers." But the angst rarely leads anywhere -- certainly not in this film. "In AQFB’s happy ending, Ben retains his unfulfilling job having resolved his existential crisis by committing himself to a Serious Relationship with a woman (a human rights lawyer, no less!). After the film ends, one is left wondering whether Ben will return to his high school the next year and tell the students that he still has a boring job but it’s okay because he has a hot girlfriend."
Angelina Jolie's directorial debut has been divisive, mostly for revealing ignorance about the former Yugoslavia. "So when Bernard-Henri Lévy claims that the film is set in a 'blind spot in twentieth century history' he is right – only the 'blind spot' is not the Bosnian war as such," writes Srecko Horvat. "Srebrenica is not only being used a propos of Syria as justification for 'humanitarian intervention,' but has been (mis)used for the last two decades all around the world."
And speaking of Jolie, here are Africa's current celebrity hotspots, handily presented on an interactive map. M.I.A. = Liberia. Leonardo DiCaprio = Mozambique. And so on.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, historic Amsterdam, depicted in 3D through its paintings for a project at the Amsterdam Museum. More about this here. Here's the segment on Revolt Against King and Church:
Treasurer Wayne Swan's reliance on Australia's most tedious myths of the "fair go" is galling. But good on him for his eat-the-rich invective in "The 0.01 Per Cent" essay for The Monthly. "Australia’s fair go is today under threat from a new source. To be blunt, the rising power of vested interests is undermining our equality and threatening our democracy. We see this most obviously in the ferocious and highly misleading campaigns waged in recent years against resource taxation reforms and the pricing of carbon pollution. The infamous billionaires’ protest against the mining tax would have been laughed out of town in the Australia I grew up in, and yet it received a wide and favourable reception two years ago." Maybe the government needs to install a copy of Liquid Feedback, as German's Pirate Party has done?
Ever wondered how body counts are calculated for recent clashes and wars? Journalist Tina Rosenberg interviews American statistician Patrick Ball, aka the Body Counter. "Ball, working for a Salvadoran human rights group, had started producing statistical summaries of the data the group had collected. The truth commission took notice and ended up using Ball's model. One of its analyses plotted killings by time and military unit. Killings could then be compared with a list of commanders, making it possible to identify the military officers responsible for the most brutality.... Ball's accomplishment has been to provide an alternative to guessing: With statistical methods and the right kind of data, he can make what we know tell us what we don't know. He has shown human rights groups, truth commissions, and international courts how to take a collection of thousands of testimonies and extract from them the magnitude and pattern of violence -- to lift the fog of war."
Death and social networking. The internet is increasingly marked by spots once inhabited by people now dead. "When we die, our social networks live on. Sometimes, that's tragic. I had a college friend who died unexpectedly and, years later, continued to receive New Year's and birthday wishes on his Facebook page from acquaintances who presumably did not realize he was gone. On this bizarre, living Facebook page, his memory was degraded into a shell of a social construct, an ongoing feed of meaningless pleasantries that did not even require a pulse."
In an ongoing series called "Collateral Damage," UK magazine The Wire has invited musicians to reflect on the effects of music circulating online. This was set off by UbuWeb founder Kenneth Goldsmith writing his six epiphanies about online sharing: e.g. "I’m more interested in the hunt than I am in the prey. The minute I get something, I just crave more. And so something has really changed – and I think this is the real epiphany: the ways in which culture is distributed have become profoundly more intriguing than the cultural artifact itself. What we’ve experienced is an inversion of consumption, one in which we’ve come to prefer the acts of acquisition over that which we are acquiring." The responses have been mixed. James Kirby (V/vm, Caretaker) was initially enthusiastic, offering his entire catalogue online for free, but he took it down recently. "Everything might be permanently available in theory, but in practice it is increasingly difficult to engage with music shared freely. It becomes value-free in the more damaging sense that its always-available status suspends it in a permanent present tense, cut off from the time and place of its origin." Terre Thaemlitz (DJ Sprinkles) is troubled by the conflation of "digital culture" and "online culture." Terre is challenging the boundaries of online music culture with a new recording called Soulnessless, "contains a roughly 30 hour piano solo filling a single maximum length 320kB/s MP3 file of 4GB (per FAT32 file size restrictions). I think of Soulnessless as the world’s first full-length MP3 album, seeing as the concept of what constitutes an album has always been defined by the playback duration of an era’s dominant media format (vinyl = 18 minutes per side; CD = 74 minutes, then 81 minutes, etc). And because these days enough is never enough, that file is combined with additional hours of new audio, video and texts to fill a 16GB microSDHD card. The sheer bulk of these projects is what makes them both physically dependent upon digital media formats, and completely unacceptable for online distribution." Vicky Bennett (People Like Us) offers a more sanguine take on the benefits of broadband in her life, seeing it as a technology that opened her musicmaking and videomaking to new audiences and global collaborations. On a different front, there's a nice intervention too by Eric Lumbleau, a blogger at Mutant Sounds. Lumbleau has devoted years to uploading rare and out-of-print music (much of it wiped in the Megaupload fallout). Unsurprisingly, he is also more positive about online music sharing, seeing it as offering a kind of aesthetic education: "With the advent of my work on Mutant Sounds, information could now meet artefact with a resounding wet splat and this entire hidden history could suddenly be unfurled like a banner and waved to signal the likeminded, and by likeminded, I mean all those that never subscribed to the ‘punk killed Prog birthed post-punk bred janglepop emerged as Grunge’ chronology that demarcates the eras that we principally cover on Mutant Sounds, and which has up until recently done such a bang-up job of bamboozling the masses with its bogus narrative; those who spent their energies hunting for music brimming with queer and outsider energies; those shrewd listeners that feel themselves aligned with Zappa/Beefheart/Krautrock/Nurse With Wound/Velvets/Residents/Eno/RIO//free jazz/electroacoustic/Prog/psych/fusion et al and find in Mutant Sounds’ aesthetic a perfect (funhouse) mirror reflection of their own sensibility."
And as the new (not-so-good) film based on a Dr. Seuss book is released in the US, The New Yorker has reprinted an essay from ten years ago on his Cat in the Hat and "what it really taught us." Bet you didn't know about its role in education theory and language acquisition...
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