Sunday, 30 March 2014

There's a live Twitter feed and stuff

‘Catch a little downtime and do some important networking,’ said the brochure for the 'Digital Futures' arts festival. ‘Chill out, catch up on important info. Network.’

On a shitty piece of grass, downtime and networking was in full swing: a handful of cold, weary people wandered around a couple of flimsy caravans in the drizzle; ‘Interns’ for the arts festival glanced at their mobiles; a few tragicomic families attempted to look like they were enjoying themselves.

‘There’s a live Twitter feed,’ one of the interns explained to me, pointing to a high tech booth set up in one of the caravans. ‘You can share your tweets.’

‘Why?’ I said.

‘I dunno,’ he said. ‘So you can network and stuff.’

I looked at the screen. A couple of people had tweeted all the stuff we weren’t doing to other people somewhere else who weren’t doing anything either. Nobody had replied.

‘Network about what?’ I asked.

He brushed the drizzle from his fringe.

‘Dunno,’ he said. ‘About what’s happening.’

I looked around. ‘What’s happening?’ I said.

There was a long pause before he answered.

‘I don't know,’ he said, gazing into the drizzle. 'Stuff.'
One of the caravans was a live GPS updated map that relayed in instant time and by means of colour maps the strength of the Wi-Fi signal around Western Europe.

‘It’s App-enabled,’ the girl said, as she explained it in the empty caravan. ‘You can share it on Facebook.’

‘Why?’ I said.

She gazed at the map, which was currently displaying interference in the bit-rate around Hamburg.

‘Dunno,’ she said. ‘In case you want to share it.’

I glanced at the map. ‘Why would I want to share information about the strength of the Wi-Fi in another country?’ I asked.

She hesitated.

‘Dunno,’ she replied. ‘For networking. You can tweet about it, too. There’s a live Twitter feed.’

It was 6.01, which meant that according to the festival program, ‘downtime and networking’ had just finished. I scanned the shitty piece of grass; actually, I couldn't really tell the difference. Interns for the arts festival glanced at their mobiles with relief; the last tragicomic family had given up trying to look like they were enjoying themselves and had gone home. Nobody had replied to the live Twitter feed. Nobody was doing any networking. It was getting dark. 

I went home. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Muslamic rayguns

It was Wikileaks that did it. Their sublime parody of a MasterCard commercial, one of the companies that had blocked transactions on their account, hilariously recast a cosy advert in the cause of the world’s most notorious fugitive dissident. A year later the leader of the UK Liberal-Democrats who sold out on election promises to jump in bed with the government woke up to find himself an accidental pop star after his grovelling apology speech was autotuned and sent viral around the country. Whatever you might think of Nick Clegg or Julian Assange, there was no doubt this was cultural ju-jitsu, call-and-response heckling of the highest order: never before has the ‘voice of the people’ hit such perfect pitch. Scan the US viral charts and you’ll come across countless ‘Autotune the News’ and ‘Songify the News’ hits in a similar vein, many of them employing not only jump-cuts and audio remixing but clever compositing to create musical ensemble numbers satirising, among other targets, pro-gun lobbies, Joe Biden and a Republican media bias. That was when it struck me: the YouTube mashup isn’t just a bit of clever fun – it’s a satirical folk art for the twenty first century. 

We’ve reached the point where public figures act in the knowledge that any speech, slip-up or appearance they make may be subject to the mashup treatment, and where a successful film, pop video or movie game character almost certainly will be. But can we credit this as ‘satire’? It’s a grand claim for a medium whose most famous output features karaoke teens and a finger-biting baby. But perhaps a society’s jokes tell you a lot more about it than its national anthems do. Mashups – those Fraken-clips patched together from other sources, and distributed on video-sharing sites like YouTube, Vimeo or DailyMotion – are often complex creations, requiring time and skill to assemble. And some of them actually have something to say.

Muslamic Rayguns
Take the flurry of parody responses to Robin Thicke’s notoriously mysognist ‘Blurred Lines’ pop video, which provoked responses such as ‘boylesque’ troupe Mod Carousel’s video which reversed the genders so that this time the girls are fully clothed. Or the ‘Muslamic rayguns’ montage where the incoherent stutterings of an anti-Islamic protestor are re-fashioned into a catchy song to reveal them in all their bigotry. These virals may be jokey but they are also politically charged, like William Shatner’s hilarious reciting of Sarah Palin’s Twitter feed as beat poetry...

Read my article for Culture Counter here