Tag Archives: politics

Rinsing Out Fascism

In our censorious times, it’s nice to see a bit of good old-fashioned subversion.

These t-shirts handed out at a neo-Nazi concert challenge the wearers’ politics by changing message in the wash. The campaign was conceived by Exit, an organisation which encourages individuals to leave the far right in Germany. The message reads: ‘If your t-shirt can do it, you can do it too — we’ll help you get away from right-wing extremism.’ According to Bernd Wagner of Exit, the t-shirts not only reached some 250 of their intended target but simulated debate and conversation within both the far right movement and German society at large. Result.

Via The Next Web.

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Chalkbot vs StreetWriter. A Nike Fail?

Nike in ‘cool new robot not cool or new’ shock.

The marketing and communications industry often find its inspiration through outreach to ‘edgy’, street or political artists. Think Barbara Kruger‘s work with Selfridges, or street artist Speto’s posters for Brahma beer. At the occasional cost of some credibility points, everybody wins: artists get funding and exposure, brands get cooler creative executions than agency ‘creative’ teams could dream up unaided.

But sometimes, ideas are appropriated for campaigns without the consent of their creators. Consent can, at first glance, seem a particularly grey area for street art, say, or activist content. After all, if you’ve gifted an idea to the commons without a clearly-stated and enforceable license in place, what right have you to complain if that idea gets spotted by an agency and used to sell, say, soft drinks. Or indeed, sports shoes?

Consider, for example, Chalkbot — a robot which writes messages in chalk on the road as it bumps along behind another vehicle. You can send Chalkbot tweets, you can text it, you can probably email it. And whatever you send, ends up on the road, writ large in chalk. Chalkbot is cool. Geek cool. As we understand it, Chalkbot was developed by DeepLocal, and, via ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, is being used by Nike as part of its brand tie-up with the LIVESTRONG campaign of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, at the Tour de France (yes this can get confusing).

We first heard about Chalkbot on Twitter today. But actually, no — we didn’t first hear of it today. We first saw the technology demonstrated a few years back, at a Dorkbot event in London. The project was called StreetWriter, and its creators were a group of highly technical activists called the Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA). Not just cool, StreetWriter was also political. Watch the video.

Chalkbot isn’t StreetWriter. Although based on IAA’s work, Chalkbot is far from political. It’s commercial. It’s also built, in part, by former IAA members. Nothing wrong with that in itself. DeepLocal present their version of its history on their website [thanks to Nathan at DeepLocal for providing us with that link in response to my earlier shoutout on Twitter].

Crucially, however, Nike and W+K’s press releases apparently make no mention of their robot’s activist ancestry.

Our problem with that? One word: Attribution — a key concern of us commons-loving content-creators. Play, mix, mash-up, create using what we’ve made, but give credit where credit’s due: show respect to those who came before, on whose ideas you build. This is simple: even leaving aside the politics, Nike should be putting some more love out. It seems the IAA shares our views on this. In the past hour or so, they’ve issued a press release which details their dissatisfaction with Nike’s appropriation of their work. Read it. Respond as you see fit.

This story is developing. We’ll keep you posted as and when Nike or its agencies make any public response.

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(Just Say ‘No’ To) Form 696

Running a club night in London will require reporting of all acts and ‘target audience’ to the Met. WHAT?

Indeed that’s the case, under new plans from London Police. Event organisers in 21 London boroughs are requested to ‘co-operate fully’ with police, by completing the new Form 696 before the event, in the interests of ‘risk assessment’.

Requested are not only details of promoters and onsite security, but also the contact numbers and real names of all performers, description of the ‘expected audience’ and the genre(s) of music expected to be performed, the examples given on the form being bashment, R’n’B, garage. No surprise then that many feel the Met is actually planning to use this data to focus police attention on clubs where such ‘dangerous’ forms of music are to be played, as well as for the profiling of the scene(s) and communities who organise and attend.

According to early reports, the form also included questions about the ethnicity of expected audiences. The current version on the Met’s site doesn’t include such information, so we can’t comment on that.

Concerns have been raised by many, including once-Undertone Feargal Sharkey, who now heads up the music campaign organisation UK Music. There’s a petition running on the 10 Downing Street website, a FaceBook group has been set up, and the mainstream press are paying attention.

Simply misguided urban policing, or the precursor of some modern day version of the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill’s rave-busting criminalisaiton of ‘repetitive beats’? Watch and wait. More importantly, act against this.

[Thanks for Helen Noir for tipping us off to this]

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Welcome To The Precariat

The continuation of exclusion, by other means…

Last week, US unemployment jumped to an official level of around 6.8%. But, according to MarketWatch, when you include

…discouraged workers and those whose hours have been cut back to part-time — [the numbers] rose to 12.5% from 11.8%. The number of workers forced to work part-time rose by 621,000 to 7.3 million.

The difference between those percentages offers a glimpse of the scale of the Precariat — those workers with the most tenuous connection to the Experience Formerly Known as Employment. The term Precarity has been kicking around for a while now in leftie Academia and the anti-globalisation movement, to describe

…a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare. The term has been specifically applied to either intermittent work or, more generally, a confluence of intermittent work and precarious existence.

Precarity is most commonly associated with outsiders who compete for low-paying retail and service jobs. Perversely, a similar state of uncertainty falls to the skilled, individualistic young, working their time with zero job security as digital freelancers in the post-industrial economies. A familiar scene at your local coffee-shop franchise is probably the closest the depoliticised members of both groups come to meeting — the one group toiling behind the tills, the other slaving against client deadlines on their MacBooks, making each drink last half a day.

Precariat, meet Digital Precariat. Help yourself to sugar over there, by the door. On the way out.

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Who Watches the (Internet) Watchmen?

Self-appointed internet censors mess with Wikipedia.

Everyone loves a bit of self-regulation. But what happens when world-views collide?

Today it has emerged that a ruling by Internet Watch Foundation — a charity-status QUANGO established to help self-regulate internet content in the UK — has led a number of UK ISPs to block access to a (community-regulated) Wikipedia page for heavy metal band Scorpions.

Why? Because the entry includes an image of an album cover which features a naked child. Internet providers began to block access to the page after the IWF warned them the picture may be illegal under UK law. An IWF spokeswoman said a reader had brought the image to the foundation’s attention last week and it had contacted the police before adding the page to their content blacklist.

The album cover itself is a pretty nasty piece of 70s schlock art but it is widely viewable elsewhere on the Internet.

Censorship is a big issue for the Wikipedia community, and policy is hotly debated. In July 2008, Wikipedia community editors then made a joint decision not to remove the Scorpions cover art from the site. According to the discussion page from that time, “Prior discussion has determined by broad consensus that the Virgin Killer cover will not be removed.” Indeed, the current Wikipedia page for Scorpions explains that in the United States (where the websites of the Wikimedia Foundation are hosted), the image is not considered obscene under the criteria of the Miller test, which requires that an obscene work lack “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (as album art is used to “brand” the album, it is considered to be artistic).

On the other side of the fence, the IWF is a UK-based charity, funded by ISPs and others, and endorsed by the UK Government. It was established in the mid-90s to self-regulate around the issue of USENET porn. Since then the IWF’s remit has expanded to include identification of racist and criminally obscene content, although its focus still seems to be on images of the abuse of children. Unlike Wikipedia, their process and website offers for no community discussion. There is apparantly no way to object to or appeal against their classification.

To us, the message of this story is plain. The kinds of ground-up regulation and consensual decision-making we value on-line only exist — if they exist at all — at the discretion of the State and its possibly-well-meaning but generally opaque proxies. If you want a voice, get out and shout. Yes, you.

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Product Displacement

UK culture minister says product placement “contaminates” TV programmes.

Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, has used his first big speech on broadcasting to voice his opposition to product placement. The minister in charge of what *you* get to watch also indicated he wanted to see self-regulation of violent, sexual and offensive content on the internet, somehow modeled on the 9pm television watershed.

Burnham is clearly living in lala-I’m-not-listening-land. Putting aside his ludicrous suggestions to monitor online content (good luck with that), his apparent dismissal of product placement is a Big Problem. Paid for product placement is increasingly looking like the only hope for beleaguered free-to-air UK TV channel ITV. TV ad revenues in recent years have fallen off a cliff and ITV had sought to make up the shortfall with money from gambling phone in competition lines. We all know how well that panned out.

Burnham asserts that product placement ‘contaminates’ programming. In the UK, many of our prejudices against product placement appear to have been formed from watching movies such as the Bond franchise, where placement is often clumsy and detrimental. This is strange, given that many homes have multichannel TV and are exposed to US programming – laden with placement – on both ITV and the myriad other channels. American Idol on ITV has to fuzz-out the Coke cups on the judges’ desk. But there is no such regulation of Horatio’s Hummer in CSI Miami, Dunkin’ Donuts in Will and Grace nor of the product references on reality shows such as Top Model. There’s simply too much *there*.

Moreover, US imports such as Seinfeld, CSI and Heroes are often held up as archetypes of fantastic TV. All are at least partially funded by product placement. Hell, they probably wouldn’t have been made had it not been for brands bunnying up the cash to be represented. Not that product placement is devoid of problems; script writers in the US continue to (rightly) complain that brands exert undue influence over the creative process. However, with an estimated $7bn to $10bn invested in product placement in the US every year, it’s increasingly hard to discount it as a revenue stream.

To be blunt, ITV and the UK advertising industry need product placement to happen. It’s their ‘get out of jail free’ card. With his ill-advised and ill-informed opinions on the subject, the culture minister may have just slammed the door shut.

Source: FT.

Update: Andy Burnham has also just launched a personal attack on the director of Liberty and leading human rights campaigner, Shami Chakrabarti. Clever.

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BBC Twitters Parliament

A bit more political transparency in the UK

We’re huge fans of the work TheyWorkForYou put into archiving and making accessible the process of British Government. And we encourage you to help them out with a bit of crowdsourced video-tweaking if you can.

Meanwhile, we notice that the august Beeb has started twittering from Parliament. Last time we looked they had under 80 followers (including us!), but give ‘em a chance. A nice simple way to maintain some peripheral awareness of What Goes On in politics.

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InfoGraffiti: Guerrilla Agitprop for the 21st Century

New collective aims to get activist media out on the streets

Activists haven’t been shy in exploiting digital and social media: witness the successes of IndyMedia‘s user-generated street news, and the burgeoning peer-to-peer video distribution community around Miro (formerly the Democracy Player). The message is clear: don’t just have a voice on the street — create content and share it for global benefit. And this message isn’t just for the hardcore: what else is Al Gore’s current.tv, if not a centre-left, normalising riff on Miro’s theme?

Politically aware citizens, armed with video cameras, open source video editing software and BitTorrenting skills, are accessing difficult places and telling important stories, independent of mainstream media agendas. But how to get that activist content out in front of a broader, less engaged audience?

Say hello to InfoGraffiti (positioning: Tell the World What They Need to Know). Coming on like current.tv after a week at the Anarchist Bookshop, InfoGraffiti aims to take activist media to the people, urban guerrilla stylee. The short version of their manifesto reads as follows:

  • InfoGraffiti is a new information distribution service intending on eventually rivaling the mainstream press; we need your help.
  • We want to distribute internet documentaries and information via a CD format that will play on good DVD players or PC’s.
  • Access to a printing press and the large costs involved is what has stopped forward thinking progressive messages from getting out before.
  • Social network and Social news site users are forward thinkers (in general) and most of them have CD burners.
  • Between us then we have the biggest printing press the world has ever seen and InfoGraffiti wants to organise it.
  • You download our ISO torrent (ISO=CD Image, Torrent=FAST method of download) burn it to CD, label it with a logo and then distribute it around our wonderful cities.
  • The CD contains all the best documenataries, virals, and information from the web, chosen by InfoGraffiti users. It works on DVD players and PC’s.
  • Place it on park benches, in lifts, in coffee shops, on bus seats and in libraries for our wonderful fellow citizens to discover.

We think they might be a bit optimistic with their planned weekly release schedule, but wish them luck. Now is probably a good time for InfoGraffiti’s distribution model: urban punters have been softened up by countless lame ‘experiential marketing’ campaigns on the streets, flogging cable TV and shampoo — when they pick up those CDs they’re going to expect trailers for Shrek IV, not Noam Chomsky’s media critique. Hopefully they’ll keep watching.

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Strike Bike

Industrial Action 2.0

News from Old Europe, which goes something like this:

  1. Organised labour has serious problem with management at bike factory
  2. Workers occupy the factory, but rather than sitting on their arses waiting to be kicked out, they hit on the idea of using the resources around them to build their own branded bikes
  3. …and sell them on the internet to fund their struggle.

Fucking brilliant, and an inspiration to those of us in the knowledge precariate as well. Use your internet time at work wisely, fellow workers. You know what I mean.

[OK, this story is pieced together from dodgy Google translations. Not all of it might be 'really' true. However this is such a nice myth/meme that we couldn't resist.]

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Insurgent Media Networks

A new report offers a perspective on the media war being fought by Sunni insurgents in Iraq…

Bruce Sterling points us towards a new book-length study from RFE/RL, entited Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas. The study offers a fascinating insight into the strengths and weaknessess of insurgent tactical media, including an evident technological and organisational sophistication — handy for production and distribution under extreme conditions:

Biographies of the best-known martyrs are sometimes lavish affairs. Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the most famous jihadist to have died in Iraq, was the subject of a downloadable “encyclopedia” that includes not on numerous materials on the Jordanian militant’s life, but also a complete collection of his statements, essays on his beliefs and influence, and statements on the jihad in Iraq by Osama bin Laden. Formatted as a 7.7-megabyte self-contained mini-browser, the “encyclopedia” provides users with a table of contents and a convenient graphics interface.

[...]

The impressive array of products Sunni-Iraq insurgents and their supporters create suggests the existence of a veritable multimedia empire. But this impression is misleading. The insurgent media network has no identifiable brick-and-mortar presence, no headquarters, and no bureaucracy. It relies instead on a decentralized, collaborative production model that utilizes the skills of a community of like-minded individuals. (…)

The study authors conclude that:

The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media [...] reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. A response, no matter how lavishly funded and cleverly produced, will not eliminate this demand. [...] efforts to counter insurgent media should not focus on producing better propaganda than the insurgents, or trying to eliminate the demand for the insurgent message, but rather on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the insurgent media network.

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