[Reader-list] Desire, Commodities, Media and Hacking (fwd)

Ravi Sundaram ravis at sarai.net
Wed Sep 5 00:37:40 IST 2001

from nettime


Desire, Commodities, Media and Hacking 

David Cox, September 2001 

d.cox at mailbox.gu.edu.au 

Images are themselves a lens on the culture which makes them. Walter 
Benjamin was both right and wrong about art in the age of mechanical 
reproduction. He was correct in stating that as images proliferate, their 
overall commercial value in depreciates. He was wrong in assuming that 
manufactured images are worth less than their 'real world' referent. 

As manufactured goods accelerate away from the decade in which they were
made, they themselves gain a kind of new cultural value. Some commodities
seem to accrue more cultural gravitas than others. The dodgiest of global
trade in junk, the antique market bears testimony to the ways in which
even the most trivial of manufactured items can become obscure objects of
desire once made to enter the domain commodity relations. 

Culture is What I Say it Is 

If desire is expressed through the commodity, and the commodity is that 
which is supposed to stand in for desire, to desire an end to commodity 
society is the desire to embrace that which consumer society deems no 
longer useful or valuable. Alongside this is the desire to re-inscribe 
certain specific things with new and unauthorised types of cult value. The
culture hacker collects things which seem to have no value. She makes of
the   world around her a quilt of emblems of her own desire. She
anticipates a world in which control and governance have shifted away from
the surrogate mercantile type of economy to an economy of desire itself.
The act of deciding what will become a cult item to oneself personally, is
the first step toward emancipation from the Empire of Signs. Surely,
others will come to see the significance of the enshrined emblems of
personal liberty as self evident tokens of a broader idea of libertarian
social and cultural possibility. 

Desire is Free 

The hacker society is one which values desire above commodities, it makes
the search for pleasure the same as the rejection of the mainstream culture
itself. It is anti-suburban, anti middle class and pro urban. It yearns
for experiences, which affirm the centrality of the creative act as a
social relation between people of like mind. Where ideas, pleasure and fun
and mystery and desire fuel the work of the media hacker, her world is one
of constant uncertainty. Intertextuality, the migration of meanings from
one context to another. is the catalyst of social change for the media
maven. Play with them long enough, and you'll see that meanings arrive on
the back of shots and sounds as stowaways. You stow away with those
meanings too, a refugee from the Society of the Spectacle. 

Choose (a) life 

In culture jammer cinema, its the selection which makes the shot. It is 
both choosing and looking but not just the act of choosing, rather the
noble decision to make choosing the centre of ones life. The decision to
make looking for elements to play with results in the media hacker viewing
problems facing her with curiosity, a sense of experimentation. No barrier
should be taken seriously. No limit to access to the principle of free
expression. You find some old films, you make a new film out of them. You
find some old cassettes, you chop up the bits and make a new work out of
them. Old media are windows on the times they come from. Images are like
lenses onto other times and other places. 

History Speaks While the Guy Holding it Drinks a Glass of Water 

Media speak as if the ventriloquists doll of history. Looking at the sea
of ancient images which constitute the western imagination, it is easy to
see why so many museums are becoming theme parks. In a corporatised urban
space, the notion of a civic use for cultural memory is potentially
subversive. Implicit within the old-school idea of the museum is that the
centre of civic life lies with local governance. Sponsorship and
theme-parking does away with such troublesome notions of government in the
service of a population, for its own sake. We must construct our own
museums of cultural memory. If we don't remember the period before the
Dark Times, nobody will. Bradbury at 451 degrees knows more than you do,
honey. We're burning up to tell you like it was, like it is, like it may
yet be. 

The Worm Hole Theory of Collage 

William Burroughs insisted that his cut-up works of writing had properties
of prediction about them. Implicit within this idea is that collage is a
kind of dimensional travel, where intended meanings become disrupted so
radically that the act of reworking words in a newspaper article or shots
in a film actually disrupts the time/space continuum. Try showing a
collage work to anyone not up with radical postmodernism and just sit back
and wait for the questions about authorship, ownership, copyright and
other methods of psychological police torture in the service of the State
and Capital. 

Assembly Instructions - Read Carefully 

Jamming is more than a sytlistic technique. It is more than a simple set 
of artistic practises. It is for its most central practitioners, an entire 
philosophy of life. It means looking at the world as a kit of parts. The 
beatnik sensibility is one in which only the relation between images and 
sounds makes sense, not the parts themselves. The relationships, the
moment between notes, the silence in a jazz riff, the double splice and the
katchink sound it makes as it moves through the projector. The distortion
on the tape, the hiss, the crackle. The hole damn pop sensibility. 

Text is Picture is Sound is Authority is Negotiable. 

William Burroughs knew of the power of words as images. His ideas about
the provisionality of meaning, and the dependence ideas have upon the
cultural contexts in which they emerge have yet to be fully Understood,
dealt with let alone let loose sufficiently widely enough to overthrow

The intensity of a shot well cut with a sound also well selected will rock
audiences for a long time to come. Hacking is the spirit of play the
spirit of letting the material speak to you. Listening and looking for
patterns hidden in the material. OKAY BUBBA, SQUEEZE THAT MONKEY!!! To
quote Ren 'n' Stimpy before they went commercial. 

Familiarity and Defamiliarisation through Detournment of Everyday

Encyclopaedias are often surrealistic juxtapositions of things organised 
alphabetically, imagine a film whose sequence of events matched that of 
the encyclopaedia! Aardvarks, to Zoetropes, that's all she wrote. 

Jamming Retail: Shops as Museums of the Present. 

You search for things as if you were in the biggest thrift store in the 
world. The world is a bit thrift store. K-Mart is no longer a shop to buy 
things in. It is the museum of the present, for the archaeologist of the 
below $40 consumer item. Everything is on special, and in all but price 
itself, is free. You look at the world as if it were some other place at 
some other time. You turn your alienation into an asset. Suddenly the 
culture of the lower middle class becomes an urban toolkit of survival and 
of anti-boredom. Things on the street, in gutters, behind fences, thrown 
away packaging become the fuel for a free imagination, accumulating in the 
growing database of ways to be free, as well as on the mantelpiece at

"Price Check, aisle four, hardware, manchester and adult males!!!"
Store detectives are too busy masturbating while looking at security
camera monitors to really stop desire in its tracks. 

Database vs Narrative: Complementary Philosophies of Media 

Database is about the connections between related but separated elements.
Searches provide lists of elements. Narrative is about linearity,
sequential series of events, it is about organic growth, root like from
the bottom up, from the top down, any which way but loose-lipped. 

A culture jammed event is a combination of database and narrative.
Database provides the navigational basis for searching for things,
indexing, cross indexing elements, while narrative provides the structural
framework for those database philosophy inspired found elements. The web,
search engines, videogames are databases of experience you navigate

Narrative, by contrast is about hearing events out, having them unfold in
a predetermined sequence. When you combine the logic of database and apply
them to narrative you have a potent combination of forces. Look at all the
videotapes on your shelves. All the books. Go to your cd collection. Now
imagine that they were all in a database and you were able to combine
every track of every cd, every scene of every film, and every chapter of
every book into new works, determined by say, your favorite bits of each
type of media. As the entire lot is now able to be reworked into new
combinations, cultural reworkings become not only possible, but necessary.
As we move toward a database culture in which all texts are made available
to all others, the empire of signs starts to crack as surely as the Berlin
wall. Twas booting killed the beast. 

To refine texts into fragments for later recombination is the philosophy 
and working approach of the idea hacker. To see all the world as a sea of 
samples is the privilege of the free. Academia tries hard enough, but is
stymied by its own working methodology, its own beurocracy. A cultural
studies department with no time tables in a permanent Burning Man would be
the closest thing yet to New Babylon. 

Database as non sequentialism for its own sake 

Database offers the technological means as well as the methodological 
basis for searching, indexing, seeing patterns between media elements. 
Narrative offers the moral container within which those elements can be 
organised in such a way that they reinforce the broader moral standpoint. 
Hacker culture is about living ones life as if authority had already been 
done away with, as if ones own liberty were a birthright and access to all 
things were not only possible, but to be expected. The ultra rich and the 
ultra poor are both familiar with what it is to be on the outside of 
society. With a database, you know about ways in which search criteria can 
be applied, for example by key-word, by date, by numerical index and so

Database is a natural extension of the quality of computers, but only
hackers can redeem computers from the shackles of work, and all that goes
with it. Where the provisionality of meaning proliferates, there you will
find the possiblity of life beyond commercial society. The mainstream world
meanings, like people themselves, to remain behind the counter, within 
boundaries, within their pre-determined cultural office dividers. In the 
early 1990s when a nightclub in Melbourne screened ultra-realistic ads 
warning people of the dangers of drink driving in the context of sado 
masochism, the shit hit the fan. Infuriated that their social realist ads 
depicting supposedly real traffic accidents were being detourned to
satisfy the desire of a cultural minority. 

Napsterising Everything, For All Time 

Guy Debord insisted that plagiarism was a key to liberty. He even went so 
far as to to say that progress implies it. If the future of our world lies 
in the belief that all meanings should be stripped of any claim to 
authenticity then museums, universities, and other last remaining bastions 
of modernist essentialism whould allow students to copy texts freely, 

Copying music, films, books, indeed any type of media can only ultimately 
assist in the eventual devaluation of ideas as commercial entities. What 
if suddenly the Napsterisation of all ideas were made possible. All films, 
all music, all books, all texts became enterable within the realm of 

Once made database elements, the constant generation and regeneration of 
meanings could technically at least, be enterable into a kind of Nelsonian 
Xanadu realm in which all films and all texts could be perpetually 
reworked and recombined. 

You might have noticed that when downloading files from Napster, you would
often get cut off. This would result in most files being only partial
songs, or sounds. We have a generation emerging who are Quite happy to
have only bits of songs, bits of films, bits of texts. The fragments are
horny! They want to get it on and procreate. 

All I am saying is give the pieces a chance! 

David Cox. 

 David Cox B.Ed, Grad Dip (Hons) 
 Lecturer in Digital Screen Production, 
 School of Film, Media and Cultural Studies 
 Nathan Campus 
 Griffith University 
 Queensland 4111 
 Telephone: ph: +61 7 38755165 
 Mobile: 0438 050863 
 Fax: +61 7 38757730 
 Email: d.cox at mailbox.gu.edu.au 
 personal web site: http://www.netspace.net.au/~dcox/dcox.html

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