Maybe induced celebrity worship is just a trojan horse for the all-around surveillance society. Maybe always-on, always-reachable communications technology has dulled our respect for privacy, even our own. Privacy has all but been invalidated by our society’s all-consuming fascination with personal attention. Where once we cherished being left alone, now we thrill to be noticed by strangers, even if its because we are doing something criminal, stupid, embarrassing, or trivial. Social recognition is important, but the crisis our culture faces stems from the way that currency has been devalued into attention.
That was the impression from this PR email I received yesterday that invited me to “do a ‘write-up’ on it.” (Your wish is my command—and no, I don’t know why write-up is in quotes either. Maybe it perfectly suits this ironic account I’m in the midst of providing.) Here’s the bulk of the email:
Site Aims to Make Everyone a Paparazzi
Los Angeles, CA. October 2006 – Eyesawit.com - deemed “One man’s quest to find out what’s happening in his own backyard”
From Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes caught sneaking a peek at audience reactions to Tom’s MI:3 premier to everyone’s first Myspace friend the former owner Tom Anderson partying in Las Vegas to Ben Affleck stopping for a burger in Pasadena, EyeSawIt.com has turned regular people into Paparazzi. And celebrity sightings are not only what EyeSawIt’s users are reporting: crimes, auto accidents, stray animals and more.
The brainchild of entrepreneur, J. Kenneth Ezra, Eyesawit.com was born when Ezra realized that an alleged attempted Los Angeles kidnapping, which occurred last year, was receiving minimal news coverage. The incident prompted Ezra to create a social blogging community that would allow residents to report about what takes place in their neighborhoods.
With 17 categories ranging from serious incidents such as, auto accidents and domestic violence, to entertaining and unusual spectacles such as, celebrity and UFO sightings, Eyesawit.com exposes its visitors to a new reality of their environment. The portal additionally provides a comment section where visitors can confirm or deny postings.
“The difference with our site, at its core its user-generated content creates community interaction rather than sightings written by our staff. I was amazed at the amount of information people on the street were able to provide me compared to the Internet” said Ezra. “As we know already, the community knows more than any individual. I set out to harvest that information. It’s true we as a communal intelligence can paint a much clearer picture of actual on-the-streets sightings. Everyone is a Paparazzi in their own neighborhood.”
Whether privacy is an issue or not, owner Ezra explains, “Information should be shared and free-flowing as long as the community is served and no one gets hurt”.
When asked about how the site is generating money or his financial goals with the website? Ezra answers: “Right now I’m concentrating on listening to my website visitors and achieving the goal of informing you about what’s happening in your own backyard.”
It’s no longer enough to walk around with your eyes open to know “what’s happening in your backyard.” Now you need a distributed network of eyes creating a virtual panopticon to let you know what’s “really” going on. Aided by technological surveillance and data-aggregation tools, the real now transcends what we can apprehend through the senses and not so because a stratum of Platonic ideals supersedes it. I don’t think this website aspires to bring us out of Plato’s cave; if anything it hopes to roll a rock in front of it and seal us forever in the echo chamber of faulty impressions, slanderous reports and competing observations. Nothing opens a person up to taking in the spendors of the world like the paranoia of being constantly observed (and the certainty of knowing how much attention he’ll get for tattling on others). Paranoia is, as they say, a heightened form of awareness, after all. The Stasi, I’m sure, made East Germany a pretty exciting place to live, with a heightened sense of neighborliness and connection. I’m sure everybody felt comfortable with the level of “community interaction” going on there.
Honestly, there are so many things that are deplorable about this web site, that I hardly know where to start. (1) Just because you witness something, that doesn’t make you important. It makes you a spectator, a rubbernecker, a clogging, traffic-jam-causing impediment on the highway of life. (2) The amateur reporter is almost certain to get things wrong and misreport whatever it is he thought he saw, while importing ideological bias and received ideas about what is supposed to be “important”—just look how bad real reporters are at this (John Kerry tells a stupid joke and everybody reports it; the president proclaims Rumsfeld will never be fired, it gets barely reported, the Republicans robocall voters in the middle of the night and pretend to be Democrats and it’s reported pretty much not at all). (3) No one aspires to be a paparazzo. When one is a snooping busybody, it’s because of a personality flaw, not a long-held ambition. This site hopes to exploit the flaw and transform our impression of it into an achievement—“look at me! I’m making news!” (4) Leveraging the already contentious problem of neighborly spying and small-town gossip mongering over a global network seems like a really bad (if inevitable) idea. The idea that “no one gets hurt” by free-flowing unverified information is beyond naive. And there’s nothing free about this flow of information; it’s designed to be managed so as to direct a free flow of profits into Mr. Ezra’s coffers. (5) Tell your friends what you saw—most likely, no one else really cares, and if they do, then the news you bear has made you an insignificant messenger who will not be remembered. People like gossip, but they generally don’t like gossipers. And no one but the state likes anonymous snitches. (6) If you care that Ben Affleck bought a burger in Pasadena, you really need to assess your priorities in life.
Believe it or not, there are only seven full shopping weeks before something called Santa Claus teaches the wee ones of the world a lesson in misguided materialism and hope-crushing gift disappointment. Of course, this means DVD marketers industry wide are stuck trying to find creative ways of pushing the same product back into your already bloated gift sack. As you venture into your local technology center, wish list gripped firmly in hand, you will have to navigate shelves filled with box sets, special editions, limited releases and the always aggravating double dips. Still, if you look closely, you’ll see some very worthy fare out there – as well as a horrid comedy from three months ago that, hopefully, will die the oversized death its undersized storyline so richly deserves. With such a diverse selection to choose from, the only advice SE&L can supply is select wisely – oh, and anything from Criterion or Something Weird Video is always welcome under the blog’s bountiful Yuletide tree. The possible prizes awaiting your wampum for 7 November are:
Why, exactly, did critics pick on Pixar and this latest example of their anthropomorphic expertise? Is it all just a matter of success-based jealousy, or was there something really wrong with this story about a spoiled stock car who learns valuable life lessons at the hands of some backwater automobiles. For all the claims that this ‘only average’ entry in the company’s creative canon could not match the magic of Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc., for SE&L’s money, this was some unbelievably fun stuff. Besides, the computer animation bar is set at right around The Incredibles for us, and all other offerings more or less pale in comparison. Still, Cars was a solid, sensationally realized effort that may have poured on the schmaltz, but still delivered an array of dizzying visuals that made the basic narrative explode with invention and wonder. If this is supposedly run of the mill animation, what does one label the frequently lame offerings from other cartoon creators?
One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s more inventive and evocative musicals, this forgotten gem gets frequently overlooked (along with the unworthy Flower Drum Song) when classic song and dance showcases are considered. And that’s too bad, since it features some of the duo’s more ambitions tunes and a pair of compelling performances from Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow and Shirley Jones as Julie Jordan. Granted, the subject matter here is much darker than in your standard Broadway show, and the operetta approach can throw some artform aficionados off their game, but this is still one of the best combinations of story, performance and melody the pair ever attempted. Long available on DVD, this new 50th Anniversary presentation promises commentary, cut songs and an overview of the production. Even better, you can round out your collection by picking up the Box Set edition which includes other timeless masterworks like The Sound of Music and South Pacific.
What exactly, has happened to Giuseppe Tornatore in recent years? A look at his IMDb resume reveals a string of films since this 1989 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, but after the solid follow-up, Everybody’s Fine, his efforts have never really made an impact outside his Italian homeland. While his 1998 movie The Legend of 1990 is plastered all over some pay cable channels, few of his other productions have made it over to our discerning shores. And that’s too bad, since this love letter to cinema is one of the best nostalgic narratives the medium has to offer. Tornatore, using a flashback style storyline, expresses everything that’s magic, maddening, and moving about motion pictures, and does so with limited sap and just a small amount of pap. Previous DVD editions have revealed differing cuts of the film, as well as limited supplemental elements. This newest presentation promises to include all available versions, as well as a few complementary surprises.
Carol Reed, the British director responsible for several of cinema’s more outstanding milestones (The Third Man, Oliver!) delivered one of the most devastating takes on hero worship and shattered expectations ever attempted. In this classic coming of age tale, a young boy looks up to the family butler, a secretive man whose life appears both purposefully enigmatic and oddly clandestine. When a murder forces the child to confront his issues of loyalty and adulation, the truth becomes more difficult to decipher than the mixed messages from the adults around him. Long lost to the occasional revival by a classic film channel, Criterion steps up and gives this minor masterwork the preservationist’s polish it so richly deserves. With a brand new black and white transfer, and a documentary about the filmmaker and his fascinating career, there is more to this release than just a chance to own a remarkable motion picture. It’s a chance to celebrate a forgotten artist as well.
SE&L is sick and tired of every review of this film pointing out that the so-called story for this anti-comedy atrocity is lifted directly from the Warner Brothers cartoon “Baby Buggy Bunny”. Granted, this horrible hackwork by the used to be talented Wayans Brothers did lift a few of its fetid gags from the 1954 animated short, but there is a far more disturbing source for much of this movie’s Apocalyptic awfulness. In 1932, the Our Gang/Little Rascals starred in “Free Eats”, a slapstick send-up of poverty and the orphaned featuring – you guessed it – a pair of midgets pretending to be babies. Their ruse? To rob a rich matron of her fancy jewels. Since the dowager is throwing a party for the star unfortunates, the crooks come along for the toddler carriage ride. All manner of racially insensitive, but still quite hilarious, hi-jinx ensue. It’s the only thing that separates the humorous efforts of the past from the laugh-free lameness of this Summer of 2006 cinematic hate crime.
Oh! What a Lovely War!
Political satire usually comes in one of two distinct packages: outlandish and obvious, or subtle and subversive. Oddly, this 1969 British effort – clearly timed as a rebuke of the US involvement in Vietnam - wants to be a little bit of both. With an approach that’s more like a musical M*A*S*H* than an actual attempt at lampooning the events of World War I, Sir Richard Attenborough follows the infamous Charles Chilton play rather faithfully. He also gets magical performances out of UK staples Maggie Smith, Ian Holm and John Mills, among many others. There was a lot of behind the scenes intrigue during the making of this movie, and with its absence from the DVD domain, the newly minted special edition promises to address some of the scandal. In this time of war, where questions are being raised regarding the nobility of dying for an unjust cause, this ripping roast of the insanity of armed conflict may finally find an eager and accepting audience.
It’s a hobby that can count such diverse persons as Bill Clinton, the Indigo Girls and Bob Dole as participants. It requires a knowledge of language, a skill at problem solving, and a mind that can strategize and extemporize equally well. Indeed, everyday, millions of people around the world sit down with their morning paper and don’t feel fully awake until they’ve had a crack at the crossword puzzle. This delightful documentary centers on the 28th Annual competition for “professional” solvers, and yet it’s the testimonials from the famous and the faithful that really resonate throughout. Watching people describe their ‘addiction’, admitting to themselves for perhaps the first time that their lives are undeniably linked to discovering a five letter word for “frequently indifferent” is truly enlightening. Bolstered by a wealth of added content, and a chance to see who actually wins the final round of the 2006 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, this terrific title is enough to make you grab a pencil and start deciphering for yourself.
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 7 November:
Francis Ford Coppola Presents William S. Burroughs’ The Junky’s Christmas*
If you’re fed up of all the syrupy, saccharine holiday specials that seemingly clog up your TV screen about 30 seconds after Halloween ends, Francis Ford Coppolla and famed Beat author William Burroughs have the perfect antidote for you. This stop motion animated treat, based on the Burroughs’ story of the same name, centers around a recently incarcerated dope fiend desperate for a fix. When he finally scores, he’s forced into a position of either fending for himself, or helping out another in need. The work by director Nick Donkin is amazing, a kind of anti-Rankin/Bass approach where reality and surrealism are mixed together to form a unique combination of fact and fairy tale. Of course, Burroughs narrates this excellent adaptation, and his cracked, croaking voice adds just the right amount of seasonal cynicism. Presented along with a pair of short films that are equally evocative, here’s the perfect stocking stuffer for those who’d like to see the entire commercialized celebration blown up.
This American Life: Stories of Hope & Fear
Stream “Fears of Your Life” in Windows or Quicktime.
by Michael Bernard Loggins, read by Tom Wright
Also check out…
Stream “So a Chipmunk and a Squirrel Walk Into a Bar” in Windows or Quicktime.
by David Sedaris
The Letter [MP3]
from The Way You Shine on Transit of Venus, released: 17 October 2006
I Know That You’re High [MP3]
from The Trolleyvox Present The Karaoke Meltdowns on Transit of Venus
The Trolleyvox - Just You Wait
Full album: One Time For All Time [stream]
Parts & Labor
Stay Afraid [MP3]
Sometimes I have to cast about for topics to write about, but sometimes they come right to my door in the morning, giftwrapped. In today’s Wall Street Journal is this story about how real rock stars enjoy playing the game “Guitar Hero,” which allows them to pretend to be rock stars. In other words, they prefer to play the video-game simulation of their life rather than live life itself.
For many rock musicians, the game’s virtual stage would seem to be a pale, unsatisfying facsimile of what they experience every night. The music they’re playing along with usually isn’t even an original recording. Most of the songs in Guitar Hero have been re-recorded by studio musicians.
Many professional rockers, however, say the game lets them act out a fantasy that their real lives don’t quite match. Sometimes, pretending to be a rock star for a few minutes can be more fun than being one.
Rock stars escape from the pressure of their actual lives to a simulated version of the very same life. Is this just a tragic lack of imagination? Maybe by escaping into an idealized form of your own life, you reinforce the ultimate desirablility of the profession you’ve chosen or fallen into. It is akin to athletes who enjoy playing the EA Sports versions of their profession, and anyone who has spent any time playing the Sims. You want to remind yourself that whatyou do is so important that other people have taken the trouble to meticulously replicate it.
Perhaps the impulse to play a simulation of one’s own life comes from a desire to simplify the variables involved and achieve a greater sense of control over that life as it is regressed into fantasy. The mediated simulacrum of life experience has defined the pleasures of experience in such a way that actual experience can no longer live up to it. The experience of fantasy is more pleasant than actually doing anything you might fantasize about, because so many more elements of the fantasy ultimately remain under the dreamers control, and having control has become the ur-pleasure, perhaps because society celebrates autonomy and mastery while undermining our chances to achieve it. Even for rock stars and athletes apparently it’s not enough to demonstrate their unique skills for massive audiences; this still pales in the face of the total systematic mastery games promise hints of (and use stimulus-reward inducements derived from behavioral psychology to deliver). The unambiguous success of the game world is preferable to the compromised ambivalent successes avaiable to us in real life (where we must share the credit and acknowledge luck’s role for the partial victories we can secure). The pleasures of shopping—if sociologist Colin Campbell is correct—have a great deal to do with the ability to foster elaborate fantasies about goods. Perhaps as we become habituated to ths method of producing a sense of value for things, we seek to apply it to the particulars of our own actions. We look to apply it to the course our entire lives and not just the stuff we buy.
Still, you don’t have to be Baudrillard to note the peculiarity of this shift away from the real into hyperreality. But in Simulacra and Simulation, he gives the classic explanation of this phenomena when discussion Disneyland: You can produce an astute analysis of how Disneyland “represents” America, “but this conceals something else, and that ‘ideological’ blanket exactly serves to cover over a third-order simulation: Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the ‘real’ country, all of ‘real’ America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral).” The video-game version of rock stardom conceals how much of a synthetic, contrived game actual rock stardom is. The Simsprotects from seeing how regimented and manufactured our own lives are by putting us in control of radically simplified versions of those constitutive elements.(Not that profound an insight, I guess, but worth noting.)
As fun as it might be to play yourself in a video game, the awareness of your own simulation potentially creates anxiety, because it seems to suggest that life can go on without you; that anyone can be put in your shoes and make you essentally superfluous. Baudrillard suggests as much, anyway: “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death.” Even if the guys from Korn and My Chemical Romance should die, we can still access the crux of their experience through this PlayStation game (and videos and recordings of them and through the ways their image has been consrtucted and mediated in all of society’s various disseminating structures, etc.). Perhaps these games make rock stars feel as though they have been cloned; maybe this makes them feel a touch more immortal.