This week: A quick peek at the ethics of Michale Haneke’s films, Žižek on the instability of nature, geeking out on a nifty hardware prototyping kit, and on Instagram and the inadequacy of current attitudes towards Intellectual Property.
Michael Haneke’s Cinema: The Ethic of the Image. “Introduction” | Catherine Wheatley. Berghahn Books, 2009
Wheatley’s book on Michael Haneke’s powerfully (emotionally) violent films has been on my to-read list for the longest time. I first came across “Shame and Guilt”, a chapter from the book, in the Advanced Film Theory Course at NTU HSS (it was one of the more straightforward readings in that course). Wheatley’s writing has stuck with me since.
I’ve just managed to power through most of her introduction, where she manages to articulate the distinction between critiquing the morality of the filmic content (which I feel is often overly didactic and serves only as a means to put oneself on a high horse and feel good about it) and critiquing film as an ethical and ideologically loaded medium. She writes:
The content of each of [Haneke's] films presents us with a series of ethical problems which echo or mirror a set of ethical problems that Haneke sees as inherent to the viewing situation. These problems revolve around the spectator's complicity with the cinematic apparatus and their tacit acceptance or denial of this complicity, and the key focus of Haneke's films is on the spectator's responsibility for their own involvement in the spectator-screen relationship. (Wheatley, Catherine. _Michael Haneke's Cinema: The Ethic of the Image_. "Introduction". Berghahn Books, 2009, P 4.)
This distinction, I believe, is helpful when we consider questions such as “Do violent video games/films/tv shows cause increased violent behaviour?” because apparently violent content is not at fault, but “violent” mechanics are: 1. “Video Game Frustration, Not Content, Fosters Aggression.” Rick Nauert, reviewed by John Grohol, PsychCentral. 8th April 2014. 2. “Aggression from video games ‘linked to incompetence’ “ Dave Lee, BBC News. 7th April 2014. 3. “Study: Gaming more likely to cause aggression when controls are frustrating.” Eddie Makuch, Gamespot. 9th April 2014.
(Granted these are all from the same study, but it’s one of the few ones that refuse to lazily correlate or force causation between violent content and violent behaviour.)
Wheatley’s book is a good starting point from which we can begin to rethink several of the ethical and ideological assumptions that are ingrained in us, setting up a foundation that would allow for an understanding of the ins-and-outs of structural critique.
The idea is a very simple one here. Traditional nature, in medieval times and later, was considered a kind of a regular repetitive system. Our idea of nature is in nature things repeat themselves. You have seasons, day/night and so on. Nature is a kind of a circular order. Now, it’s clear that at all levels, in theory but also through experience, we can less and less rely on such a stable notion of nature. Nature is more and more in this sense denaturalised. But I don’t think we already are at the extreme level. I think there are still worse surprises.
Slavoj Žižek on why the apocalypse seems so near. Žižek is one of the few characters that intrigue me to no end. I’ve probably spent more hours watching him on Youtube while not understanding a single thing that’s going on over the last year or so than five years of watching cat videos. That being said, one must understand that Žižek comes from the position of what could be technically called a sort of neo-radicalism — where he speaks to deconstruct our understanding of the world as it is, constantly taking apart and putting back together what we hold on to dearly as our reality.
In this short interview with The New Idealist, Žižek gives a commentary on the state of the world as well as insight into how we process disaster (natural and otherwise, macro and micro) and the importance of this process.
“I’m giving them art that is ready to go, in a form that is familiar to them, and instilling a collecting mentality,” he told me via email. “I’d rather have these images on walls and in people’s hands than in these zombie boxes we stare at all day. Prints make the world a better place. Period.”
Instagram is a strange creature in a professional photographer’s eyes. On the one hand, it is a glorious flattening of barriers for getting photographs seen and — virtually — put in the hands of as many people as possible. You’re following an AP Photojournalist’s feed, and a few times a day you’re holding a photograph of what it’s like in Afghanistan right there and then. On the other, a flattening of barriers also means that nobody has to pay for this stuff anymore if they don’t want to. Following an Instagram feed costs almost nothing (sans Internet and Device costs), while visiting a gallery or owning a piece of work (whether it be a magazine page or a signed print) would cost time, labour, and a significant amount of money.
Add this to the problem of having practically no control over how your image gets shared (or “shared”) over the web, and the monetary value of that photograph you made diminishes by virtue of it being basically un-ownable because it is already “owned” by everybody else.
Recently, Getty Images announced an image embedding service for their archive of photographs, a move probably meant to communicate that they were doing some forward thinking in the wild west of digital rights management (DRM) but was taken rather as a snub to the photographic community. Other services such as IMGembed sought to do the same (meaning, they meant to improve DRM for photographs by loosening restrictions a little).
Whether this is the right way to go for DRM has yet to be seen. DRM itself carries plenty of baggage from early flawed implementations of various attempts to keep software out of software-pirates’ hands. It has come a long way since then: less of the long and arduous processes where you had to verify your original purchase over telephone, fax and email in order to replace a lost license key (or get told to buy a new one altogether). We have App Stores where software, music, movie etc. purchases are made without so much as batting an eyelid. Gigabytes of data are streamed in minutes over significantly broadened internet connections, making digital distribution of high definition audiovisual content and downloading that digital game that weighs a whopping 30GB a cinch. At times, it seems more difficult and tedious (and risky) to illegally download digital goods. Pay $4.98 and you get the app and all its automatic updates, plus cloud connectivity. Had your computer accidentally wiped? No worries, sign in to your account and all your apps are waiting to be restored, settings and all, to your now-barren machine.
But all these have been mostly considered and reacted to according to the costs it inflicts on current industries as they stand. Anti-piracy campaigns seek to stamp out piracy by blocking the IP addresses of offending websites, while totally (oblivious) unable to comprehend that torrent sites and torrents are one of the most effective ways to distribute content over the Internet. I’ve been buying so many games on Steam and DRM-free sources because it is so much simpler than cracking software and because the games themselves have found a way to value-add in such a way that I find myself so much more willing to part with that $20 instead of illegally downloading it. And finally, illegally downloading your software does not preclude any future purchases from me. Remember Shareware discs from the ‘90s? Trying and sharing software for free isn’t new and has always been part of the Digital Intellectual Property mess, just that it was embraced then and should still be (but isn’t really) embraced now.
So, coming back to photographs: there has to be a better way to make your photographs do something for you, of being a Professional Photographer. And it doesn’t include adding locks to your ivory tower. Bercovici may have unearthed part of the solution in his article, but we still have a very long way to go.
Remember that asshole kid with the $5k Nikon D3 whose portfolio was better than yours? Guess how much that camera is going to sell for in say.. five years. Would you believe $300? $500, maybe? That's all that body will be worth, if it's in good condition. And that's if Nikon decides to keep repairing the shutters that will inevitably die by then. Have you played with a D3? That is a sweet goddamn camera. That can do everything you need to do, right now. Even ISO 6400 is beautiful. A lot of cameras are like that. Right now. Imagine what will be $300 in ten years. Everything is getting better. Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, everything is fantastic. All of the future's crappy old stuff will be today's awesome new stuff. And that means more people are going to be able to afford really great cameras that can do amazing things and we are going to see some amazing photography come from surprising places. It's going to be awesome.
Stumbled across this curious DIY electronics kit which brought back memories of trying to get overly-expensive lego robots to work with unwieldy software and an utterly inadequate understanding of how software and hardware mesh. But this kit has greater ambitions than a simple lego kit — Arduino puts itself forwards as a sort of a rapid hardware prototyping kit, which is a really exciting idea in itself. Only possible downside I can see in this is having to learn the Arduino programming language.
The best part about this is the sheer number of distributors across the globe that you can get this from [SGBotic and Robot R’ Us are the official Singapore distributors], along with a huge number of other robotics supplies that tag onto the Ardiuno system.
A basic kit goes for about SGD$140 and gives you, among other things, a kit with an accelerometer and a motor. /geek.