Stronger Loving World

A Cultural Criticism WeblogE-Mail Murdervision

Friday, August 20, 2004


My brother recently received two cease and desist letters in the mail from Cablevision and from MGM entertainment regarding his downloading of the television show "Dead Like Me". I have never seen Dead Like Me. The first letter is from Cablevision (addressed to my father, whose computer he used) informing him that optimum online customers have signed a user agreement barring him from illegal downloading.

This is the letter from MGM with the specific violations:

This is a show on HBO. We get HBO at home, and I'm pretty sure that videotaping the programs one by one as they appeared on television is not illegal. Is it? Like the ads say: It's not TV, it's HBO. I would like to write them a letter back but I'm not sure what I would say.

MGM suggests here that it holds copyright over several movies and television programs. Another question: If Dead Like Me aired on broadcast television, would it be illegal to reproduce it on a cassette tape or digitally? I've never heard of broadcast radio or television distributors having trouble with copyright violations, as their programming is presumably already free.

The letter also suggests that Cablevision is liable if it does not discontinue the user's account upon MGM's request, due to the fact Cablevision's service was used in the downloading. This is an important area where digital copyright differs from analog recording-the Supreme Court ruled years ago that Sony was not liable if users recorded programming illegally with their VCRs. Yesterday's court case involving Grokster is a step towards amending this, as the judge ruled that P2P software creators are not obliged to included policing software in their programming. If you follow the link, you can download an MP3 of the judge's ruling.

One thing is certain: "MGM believes that the entire Internet community benefits when these problems are solved cooperatively." So please, pile on.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Urbanism and Ludology

"We are bored in the city, there is no longer any Temple of the Sun. Between the legs of the women walking by, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench and the surrealists a crystal cup. That's lost. We know how to read every promise in faces--the latest stage of morphology. The poetry of the billboards lasted twenty years. We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the sidewalk billboards, the latest state of humor and poetry"

-Ivan Chtcheglov, Formulary for a New Urbanism

One reason I prefer urban environments is their interactivity and their level of participation with their occupants. I like physical spaces where information takes the front seat and “speaks”, where it has no choice but to manifest in bright symbols in order to penetrate our brain’s coding and “play” with us. Picture, for instance, vast deserts, plateus. A radiant sun, heat beating on the skin, waves and waves of heat curling the horizon. With “organic” and “natural” environments like this, information engages the body infrequently and with a lower resolution. There is less variation of experience, but more of it. Visually, the sand is glasslike and frozen, ceaseless and formless, without ruptures to allow enunciation, without differences to mark information. The subject relies on his own symbolic codes to read into the environment, creating it from the inside out. If your reaction is “this is fucking beautiful”, the subject projects the emotion of poetic fulfillment, which it arbitrarily corresponds with vast, ceaseless visual tedium. Grains of sand communicate with our skin, gradient and metered; they endlessly signify nothing but presence. Sliding between your toes in a tactile feast, it is admittedly a rich and falsely exaggerated presence. Therefore, all sand has to say is “I am really, really here!” We can not play with the sand—we mold it and project onto it, we build castles from the sand, or vast Egyptian statues that emerge erotically and ostentatiously, declaring their infinite presence until Percy Shelleycomes along and makes fun of us for it. Ozymandias is the masturbatory splitting of the Self, Narcissus stares into the pond and sees his own reflection, then promptly wanks off into it.

In the density of man made urban environments, physical spaces are forced to engage and co-author our adventures, giving back to us as much as we give to them. A city is ready to play, streetsigns and traffic signals can not be invisible or indistinguishable, they must be highly charged with specific and definitive meanings, even if the only message is “stop” and “go”. They have at their disposal a near endless spectrum of colors but the only ones that reach us are the most dynamic and recognizable, blues and reds, blinking on and off, endless clicks and whirrs. Like the 0 and 1 of binary code, I believe a streetsign can say anything if only we give it enough time to speak.

Urban environments, intensely populated with people and their signs, create a space whose only useful tropes are found in ludology—the study of play in human behavior. So filled with crevices and crawlspaces, with paths that intersect and reconnect in long since forgotten ways, the city breaks down and creates itself again restructuring like an artificially intelligent dance partner. Brooklyn comes at me like a Nintendo game, platforms constructed, hovering dangerously around me specifically for me to jump across them. Adventures pre-coded that I can move through, Brooklyn can make you feel like a superhero.

"The principal activity of the inhabitants will be the CONTINUOUS DÉRIVE. The changing of landscapes from one hour to the next will result in complete disorientation...."

On the other side of my fence is an unfinished home, three stories tall, it has not been worked on in months. Plywood covers the floors, a plank allows you to enter the house, bricks and ladders let you climb to the higher floors. In its state of becoming, this space is more engaging than it will be when it is a finished and habitable residence. The hollowed out building stands in between homes with large, barking dogs. It's standing alone like a haunted mansion. I'm reminded of Cory Archangel's art piece in which he hacks a super mario bros. cartridge and eliminates everything but the clouds. (The instructions to which can be found here) Strange, haunting and peaceful, the clouds fly by endlessly, like a separate reality where video game characters retreat to after the end of a game.