Being Guilty in War

Most countries still commemorate their soldiers that have been killed in the wars they have fought. Even though in Germany, this is done less openly, there are still monuments for the soldiers killed in the First World War in almost every town and city and quite a few graveyards for the soldiers of the Second World War. A couple years ago, the German Army opened a new memorial site for those who have been killed since the foundation of the Federal Republic. Other countries are far more open about that and some, like the US, even celebrate their veterans on special holidays.

Maybe the most famous war memorial is the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. It bears the names of 58000 soldiers who had been killed during the Vietnam War – on the American side. These soldiers are named. Not named – at least not on this memorial – are the two to four million others who have become victims of this war. At least half of them civilians. That is a strange ratio. 58000 to 2 Million.

What if every war memorial would read something like “To the brave soldiers who died fighting for their country and to the people they have helped to kill.”? Of course, that would cause a huge outrage. People tend to look at some wars as something justified and therefore at some soldiers as fighting for a just cause. Others believe that many soldiers had been forced into fighting and were just following orders. And the soldiers, by giving their own life, made the biggest sacrifice possible and that should be admired. Right?

I think that defeating the Nazis during the Second World War was the right thing to do. But innocent people were killed on all sides of the war. And some of those, who did the killing should be looked at as criminals. And that is true for fighters and soldiers on all sides. We seem to have this very black and white view on some historical events. The things, the Nazis did, seem so outlandish, that many people believe, that this serves as an excuse, for everything those fighting them did. But that is just not true. Even while fighting the devil, you are still able to commit crimes yourself. This is even true for some actions that could not be avoided. Maybe, while fighting for his own life, a soldier just had to kill some bystanders or another soldier who did not really pose a threat to him. Maybe there was just no way to avoid it. Still, as a society, we should never be able to find a real excuse for his actions. Killing always has to be outside the norms. It should never be overlooked.

I understand, that this is difficult to cope with, since in a society that still lends many of its moral codes from the Bible, we expect there to be some kind of a clear distinction between good and evil. One has to be able to choose good and avoid evil – how else would one be able to enter Paradise? But this clear distinction might not exist in real life. You can be forced to serve in the Army. You can be morally conscious while fighting and always take the utmost care not to harm civilians. You might be able to avoid killing anyone. You might serve in a unit far away from any fighting. And still, you participating in war means that you are aiding in the killing of innocent people. As long as your side wins the conflict, you seem safe from any prosecution. This is not the point I am trying to make though.

Justifying some forms of violence against certain groups or individuals is precisely what has fueled war for millennia. Some killings seem justified, while others seem outrageous and call for revenge. Countries and societies try to find justifications for their actions, but maybe there are some things that are just not justifiable. And at that point we might want to rethink our culture of remembrance.

To those graves and memorials for soldiers, we might add memorials to all these unnamed widows, families, orphans, parents, friends. Memorials to those merely wounded, those who were not willing to participate and those who lost their sanity while fighting. And we might add memorial sites to those killed in our name, no matter if the war seems justified or not. No matter, if we won or lost.

War should be considered outrageous and inexcusable. We should not attempt to look at it merely through a single perspective. It is too easy to fall for certain justifications and excuses. After September 11th, America did a lot of harm all over the world. American soldiers killed many innocent people. Yet this should not prevent us to approach these American soldiers with compassion. Many of them have become victimized themselves. Even those who became killers. There are many people who are just victims. Pure and simple. And then there is a whole greyscale of people who are in part victim in part perpetrator.

Maybe each and every society, participating in armed conflict, must question its own role and responsibilities. I am not calling for a toothless democratic system. I am myself willing to protect the values I associate myself with, even with violence. I am calling for a more open approach in our attempt to understand the reasons for conflicts and what makes people kill one another.

The Metrics of the Art World and why Art Schools resemble a Cult

When it comes to the importance of a contemporary artist, two different metrics seem most important. The first metric deals with financial success, this tries to take into account sales through the primary market (sales directly through the artist and through a gallery or agency), and through the secondary market (mostly sales through auction houses). Since most participants in the primary market are quite secretive, when it comes to business details, measuring financial success relies heavily on published auction results.

The other way the success of an artist is measured is by looking at how widely his or her work is presented. But not every exhibition is equally valuable, and the field is extremely diverse. Is it merely participating in a group show at a small privately organized off-space? Or is it a solo show at a major museum, curated by an important curator?

There are multiple magazines and websites that offer their own rankings. Some rely more on the first metric, some on the second. Even though there are many intersections, some artist feature more prominently in one metric, while others shine more brightly in the other.

Very often, the artist CV, the paper trail that keeps track of exhibitions and collectors, seems almost more important than the work created by the artist. In most months, the CV available on my website is downloaded dozens of times. Many of the projects on my site receive far less attention than that. To be honest, when visiting the website of another artist, I frequently look at their CVs myself.

The importance of these metrics is deeply enshrined in the art world. Pretty much on each level. Even at art school, people frequently discuss, whether a certain artist deserves his position in a certain ranking, or if his work might be over- or undervalued. Every library of every art school is filled with books on precisely those artists who rank highest in these metrics. It seems quite natural to accept all of this, since every available piece of evidence seems to point to them being extremely important. But the whole thing is complete nonsense.

The art market is precisely that – a market. And an extremely manipulative one. Gallerists and investors push certain artists. Curators follow the pack and show those artists who seem to get more attention than others. Museum directors expect blockbuster shows and choose blue-chip artists. And the audience fells hip, when attending a show of an artist whose name they have heard before. There is little real development involved, it feels more like a mixture of a self-fulfilling prophecy and blatant manipulation.

Thinking about it, I find the way these metrics make their way into the academic setting of the art school troubling. Let’s face it, a vast majority of graduates will never make it in neither of the two metrics. Hardly any artist makes his or her living from selling art. And almost no young artist is ever going to have a huge solo show in a museum. This is true for the most brilliant and talented of the graduates. Only a handful ever make it and when judging their work, the whole thing seems extremely random. And yet, these lists and metrics – consciously or unconsciously – shape the debate on what artists one should look at and emulate. Even though the chances are quite slim that students at art schools will make it in these metrics, this is precisely what these institutions ask for, when recruiting their teaching staff. Imagine a business school that is only able to get five percent of their graduates in business positions, but their teaching staff looks as if everyone is going to make it. This is absurd.

By surrounding students with teachers that made it in these metrics and by constantly referring to artists that made it as well, it becomes a promise. I have spoken to quite a few art school teachers in the past and they all claim that they are trying to address this issue with their students. They also tell me that they are frequently confronted by students who tell them that they try to be rich and famous. It seems as if the way they address this bears little fruit. I also remember my own ideas and dreams, while studying. Now, I feel ashamed of how naïve I was, but no one really showed me an alternative approach.

Like a cult, there was only one possible way for salvation. Just look around you. Everyone you see has found the promised land. You had to hope and to try to emulate the path to success already taken by others to make it in the end. If you are not sure of how the whole system works, don’t be scared. No one understands the system, so just try to blend in and emulate the people that came before you. Maybe you are one of the chosen few.

I am not saying that there are not always a few artists who are going to make it this way and that their work should not be looked at. But focusing on these few seems odd.

Trying to look into the future, things seem somewhat bleak for the classical role of the artist. Everyone nowadays carries a camera around and, oh my God, do people use them. What was once a certain style, a handwriting, developed by artists over a whole career, has now become Instagram filters. Simultaneously, publishing your creations and sharing them with the world is now built right into the tools you use for their creation. These things were long two separate steps, but today sharing has become the driving force behind creation. Everyone creates, and everyone shares – and the world is drowning in images. But the ability to share with others is not limited to people who use the camera, built into their phones, as their creative device. Being creative in general has become part of a modern middle-class lifestyle. And who might blame them? Trying to express yourself is nice, and this is precisely what drives young people to apply to art school. At least that is what most applicants tell during their entrance interview.

I know so many artists who feel miserable, since they have neither made any financial success, nor is their work presented in exhibitions. Many even stopped producing art, since the whole enterprise seems to be entirely pointless. Even though all of them were once praised at art school for their talent and creativity. Even I myself quite frequently feel the need to say, “fuck you all” and stop doing whatever it is I am doing. Judged by cult standards I am a failure and salvation seems out of reach.

The art market is, in its current form, highly unpredictable and seems to care about art mostly as something that can generate revenue. While in art school, having a B-ranking gallerist visit your class, should definitely not be considered the most important day in the semester, but the way I remember it, many people do. The same is true for curators. There are many curators who are doing a wonderful job, nevertheless they have to follow their own agenda. Some feel the pressure of market forces who partly dictate their work, others are driven by other factors beyond their control. And even the most open minded and careful curator will never be able to detect each and every talent, let alone be able to give every talent ample space in upcoming exhibitions, to make their voices truly heard.

When talking about this issue with friends, I encounter resignation. The common remark is that there is just nothing one might be able to do. Some start to talk about all the stuff they have tried to kickstart their career. But maybe all of us try to tackle the issue the wrong way. When talking about raising a certain amount of money to buy a stand at an art fair or when talking about this new concept for an exhibition someone is planning. Even when talking about novel ways to get the attention of a collector/gallerist/curator… we are always merely talking about how to play the metrics game. But these metrics themselves are the issue. And the system they represent.

Maybe at art school it might be possible to teach students that these metrics are actually not that important. I truly believe that the role of the artist within our society will change in the coming years. It must. As mentioned, almost everyone now has the potential to express him- or herself on a public stage. I am not even talking about creativity expressed by AI systems. How long is the aura granted by art schools able to stem against this development?

Art schools should take their role as research institutions far more serious than today. Some schools have programs implemented, but all too often these are focused on an MFA or postgrad level. This does not go far enough. I believe that research should be a key element from the very beginning of one’s studies. And this should aim very high. When a student manages to better understand a certain issue or topic through his or her work, that should be the metric for success. No matter whether the respective work is ever shown or not. No matter if it is ever bought. Damn, no matter, if there results actually a tangible thing from the research. A real object or image. If something is better understood, that alone should be counted as success. Everything else, shows, sales, interviews, should be a mere byproduct. Maybe this way graduates find it easier to define their role within society, without having to rely on the unreliable art market.

I take research as a given term that can certainly be found in many of founding documents for art schools on a university level. But this should not be understood as a call to bring established research structures into the art world. Classical academic research certainly carries its fair share of systemic issues. Research papers need to be written and peer-reviewed in a certain way. Dissertations focus on miniscule sub-issues, take years to write and no one ever reads them. A whole new set of frustrations. No, this is not worth being copied at art schools.

I have no clear vision of how exactly something like this might look. It certainly includes an interdisciplinary approach, that tries to work with as many other fields as necessary. Maybe young artists would have to give up some notion of freedom and liberty. I say notion, since the liberty experienced at art schools quite often is an illusion. For once – as mentioned – the whole system operates under the vague influence by outside forces anyway. And what is this idea of liberty truly worth, if it leads most participants to frustration? It is not as if one would have to give up all freedom and liberty, but once in a while one should let others determine the direction a certain project takes. Personally, I have spent some time as an exchange student in Chicago. The system there was very different from the system in Berlin. Very much like a school, with classes one had to attend, courses that could be failed and homework that had to be made. Quite an extreme contrast and maybe too extreme. But while there, it didn’t feel like I had lost all my liberties. On the contrary, personally this was the most productive time I have had while being a student. And to me that felt extremely good.

Being more school-like isn’t what I mean, when calling for a more academic approach. It rather has to do with each artist’s own approach in creating his or her work and how this is being taught at art school. Schools should put more emphasis on the question how artists might find success once they have graduated and how this success might be defined. Reading all these statistics about how few artists will make their living through art after graduating just does not help. True, there is little we will be able to do about the financial success or about the path into big museums, but then why should we care about these metrics? I am not saying we should ignore them and merely conclude that the ship is sinking and that there is nothing we can do about it. This seems to be the current approach.

In engineering, failure is something most people can agree upon. If a rocket blows up during launch, we might derive some knowledge from the event, but overall it clearly looks like a failure – Elon Musk’s PR department might attempt to spin it otherwise, but let’s discount that. Success or failure in fine arts on the other hand is something that is mostly defined by how every single artist feels about it. Sure, you will find an audience that tells you how pretty things are or journalists who praise your approach. In the end though, one has to believe them to make it count. And I am arguing that we are all trained to look at the wrong things, when it comes to outside evidence for the failure or success of our works.

With this we also have to rethink the role artists play within society. Most higher education in Western Europe is founded by the public. This is true for art schools as well. Naturally society expects something in return. Right now, this comes in part in the form of established artists who have graduated from these institutions. There is a lot of finger pointing going on. Young artists point to the institution that has trained them as proof of some kind of quality and once an artist has established himself, art schools refer back to show what kind of quality and success they deliver. Little to no pointing is ever done towards the nameless hordes that might have graduated in the same year as the important artist. The idea seems to be, that the overall success rate might seem bigger, if you only mention success and no failure.

But what if artists start to redefine success in a way that does not deliver tangible results of that kind to society? There are already quite a few politicians that continuously question the amount of money spent on educating people in fields like fine arts. The return already seems quite limited and, in the future, it might diminish even further. Here, a more active role taken by art schools in contemporary debates might certainly help. I was talking about some of the looming changes earlier in this text. These changes, like the developing creativity within AI systems or the fact that everyone nowadays publishes his work on the same platforms as professional content providers – just to mention two -, are not just going to have an effect on fine arts, but on society as a whole. Many professional fields just come to realize how vulnerable their position actually is.

To me, the strongest selling point for fine arts was always its position slightly outside established structures of communication. Over time, society seems to struggle constantly to develop the right way to approach certain topics and ideas. The changes in speech are quite obvious, certain words come into fashion or fall from grace. But underlying these changes in language are changes in perception at a very fundamental level. Art was always playing a role in these developments. This might have to do with the role of the artist as the jester in society. While everyone had to speak and think in the agreed upon fashion, the artist was able to look beyond the limits of the accepted and poke around. Art can therefore provide a testbed for new ideas and developments. But as long as art stays focused mostly on itself and tries to fill in the nonexistent role of the “avantgarde”, arrogance might spell doom.

I am having issues with the idea of the “avantgarde”. It is the claim that art might storm ahead and open up new fields for society. This is not what I meant, when talking about poking around. Society does not move in a straight line, nor is art able to predict further developments. All art can do is to try things out. If there is enough poking, some of the stuff discovered might even become relevant, but that is mere chance. Most of the claims artists have made in the past, have left little traces beyond the inside of books on art history. Avantgarde feels like “told you so”, by people who make every possible claim beforehand.

It seems difficult for many fields within academia to open themselves to other fields. Sometimes there seem to be common interests and a cooperation seems sensible. But more often it is unclear what the direct benefit of a cooperation might be. Often, funding leaves not enough space for experiments. In countries like the UK, it has become relatively normal though, to open big research projects to artists. This is precisely what art schools should actively try to develop further. Artists as mediators between different fields.

But the way I have experienced German art schools, this might mean that one has to overcome the internal pressure from art students themselves. If you ever wish to see a human hornets nest in action, you should try to give art students the idea of limiting their creative freedom in any way. Best not to disturb an art student in its natural habitat. That is sarcastic, but that might in part be what makes it so difficult to prepare art schools for the future and help young artist cope with their shitty existence. Only working on the stuff, you feel like working on (the students) and not trying to come up with stuff for young artists to work on (teachers) is the path of least resistance. Maybe even the path of no resistance. The last time a professor at an art school ever told me to do something particular was on the day I did my entrance exam. After that no one ever gave a shit. That was absolutely not what I had expected. To be honest, I felt offended. I really expected people to teach me things. I was eager about that. But no. After some acclimatization I managed to blend in by becoming lazy.

I get the call for freedom to some extent, when talking about grad students. They should be able to try out the real live after graduation, while still being in the protective environment of the art school. But this call goes beyond that and seems to include everyone from the first semester on. Art school taught me almost nothing of value for my live now. I have realized that by now. Did I have a good time? Sure. I had a space to work, the tools to work with and no outside pressure to come up with plan-B, since I was already attending one of the most prestigious institutions. But I constantly doubt that this was in fact the right decision. In retrospect, I would have loved someone forcing me to learn stuff and find my role in the structures of society outside the narrow art world.

Since having students take care of themselves is so convenient for the teachers, it might be a lot for them to simultaneously come up with stuff to teach and face the uproar by students who think you try to limit their liberty by actually force them to do something. But someone should try it.

Interview with Arte Tracks

This is just a video still. To watch the video, please follow the links below.

Last month, the team of Arte Tracks came for a visit to my studio. The short piece they have produced has been released to YouTube. Unfortunately embedding the video is blocked, so I just post a link to YouTube.

The German version is here
https://youtu.be/gAwQTnK9OxY

There is also a dubbed version in French
https://youtu.be/uM1SbbVyVTA

Sorry, no English version available.

Medusa and the Taint of Child Pornography

In ancient Greek mythology, Medusa is a monster that looks so terrifying that gazing at her face turns everyone into stone. This even works when once her head has been cut off and is utilized by Perseus as a weapon. I find this story quite fascinating in that it envisions something that is so terrible that even gazing at it briefly taints you beyond hope.

In a way, I would like to draw some parallels to the concept of child pornography in our current cultural environment. I have mentioned this in an earlier post, but child pornography is almost the only thing on the Internet, where merely looking at it is something that is illegal. Maybe it is the only thing, where this is true. There are quite many things, like gore, violence or racist acts, where looking at it might not be too good for your career, but looking at it is more classified as “bad taste”. So, there might be consequences for you, but maybe not direct legal ones. Currently there seems to be a push to move images and videos from certain terrorist groups into a category similar to child pornography, but we are not fully there yet.

But what is it about a certain image that could be so tainting? Please note that I am not talking about the terrible acts that are perpetrated while creating these terrible images, but rather the gaze that looks at them. This is the issue that baffles me. Especially, once we look at the laws that cover it more closely. In Germany, for instance, there is no need for the image to be a photograph of a real person to be classified as child pornography. It could be a fully fictional drawing and the law would regard it as similar to photograph that documents a rape. But the drawing would be the perfect example of a victimless crime. Right? There is no victim that could be associated with such an image and therefor the incriminating aspect must lay within the image itself.

Currently, there are other examples that point in a similarly strange direction. In the US, for instance, teenagers have been prosecuted for having nude images of themselves on their phones, taken by themselves, while they were still underage. Again, I find it quite difficult to point out the victim here.

Under these rules, sharing this image here might be illegal. By the way, that wonderful little Adonis would be me. Normally I would believe that I have every right to decide if an image of me can be shared or not. But oddly, the law seems to believe that there is a gap, that separates me from my underage-me, that cannot be bridged. Somehow the image of me seems to be closer related to this earlier self of mine than me myself.

Wikipedia taught me that, for some time in the US – until the Supreme Court invalidated the law –, porn was considered child porn, when the actors looked too you. For instance, by dressing younger or having braided hair. Again, something that can not easily be explained with a certain victim in mind. It is as if the depiction of violence in Hollywood would not be seen fully different from the real violence it might refer to.

I am not writing about this, because I believe child pornography should be easily accessible. There is far too much suffering involved in these images for me to request that. But I find the way our society deals with these images very fascinating. There seems to be an odd power associated with images themselves. Even some people I was talking to, argued that the reason why these images are buried under so many layers of taboo, might stem from the “fact” that looking at them might tempt pedophiles into committing more of these horrendous acts. But this is the argument that is almost always been used. Violent computer games are supposed to bring you closer to the violent acts. Watching porn might make you a sexual pervert. And so on. I believe that watching sports on TV does not really help with your general fitness. Maybe on the contrary.

To be honest, so far, I have not put too much effort in researching the whole issue, but until this point, I don’t think I have encountered a study that supports the “fact” my friends were stating. Maybe there is extensive research done in this field that points to precisely this conclusion that I am just not aware of.

Sure, the issue that differentiates this topic from others, is that it is children we are talking about. Terrible things are done here to some of the most innocent members of our society. At least that is the wording that is normally been used. But almost all victims of crimes are innocent. So, how can a child that is been raped be more innocent than a woman that is been raped? Maybe cruelty towards children is something that creates easy political consent. Something I have learned through Bill Bryson is that the first organizations working against cruelty towards animals predate similar organizations against cruelty towards children by many decades. Just as a side note.

But to me that still does not fully explain the unique role images play in this very special field.

What bothers me though is the fact that this level of illegality keeps me from researching some topics I am quite interested in. Quite a few of my projects deal with visual environments at the fringes of our visual culture. Surveillance and terrorism, for instance, both react to the developments within the broader visual language, but remain somewhat distanced. The images terrorist groups use for their propaganda want to become as visible as possible, but society fights to keep them secret. On the other hand, the images that are the result of surveillance operations, very often try hard to remain inaccessible. This is a very simplified summary, but maybe child pornography is something of both worlds. It has its niche audience, for which it tries to be as accessible as possible, while at the same time it has to remain perfectly invisible.

So, what is the visual culture of child pornography? How does it develop over time? How do the perpetrators depict themselves? Since my uninformed idea is that these videos serve as a kind of perverted trophy, I would believe that part of the thrill comes from the self-representation of the preparators in these images. How do they do it? Do they pixelate themselves in certain ways to let everyone else know that they are the creator of a certain video? Do the use watermarks or logos?

I would be interested in finding out, but I might never will be able to.

Islamist Propaganda might be the New Child Porn

Ever time and era in human history had its rules regarding the prohibition of images. And there have always been perfectly good reasons for why these rules had to be enforced. Still none of these rules held true forever and so if we have learned anything, we should come to the conclusion that our own perfectly good sounding reasons might be up for question as well.

I had a conversation yesterday on my work regarding ISIS videos. The two nice guys I was talking to both argued that these execution videos should be prohibited to spread. They even argued that depicting these gruesome acts falls in the same category as child pornography. I think there are quite many things wrong with this argument.

Child pornography is a strange thing indeed. This seems to be the only material that could get you in real trouble on the Internet by just looking at it. I am not talking about sharing, buying, storing, but rather just looking at it. (Please keep in mind that I am writing this from a German perspective.)

So it seems to me, that the two guys I was talking with, are not the only ones that try to throw “beheading videos” in the same basket with child pornography. I believe, I have heard similar attempts from several politicians in the past. They are aiming at islamist propaganda, but call it “beheading videos” – sounds much catchier if you ask me and makes the public easier follow their lead. Of course, no one wants beheading videos and the fact that the huge majority of islamist propaganda does not contain beheadings becomes a mere side note.

I am not saying that this material – child pornography or islamist porn should be treated as any other pictures or videos online. But I would like to question the idea of prohibiting certain images in themselves. Criminal acts should be prosecuted and so therefore should be those people, who produce and share, sell and buy these videos. But merely criminalizing the shear encounter with these images is wrong. They might be breaking any moral codes we have, or do not fit in any of our multitudes of ideas, of what should be considered good taste, but just by making most people avoid looking at something, won’t make it go away.

To me the “child porn” argument seems one of last resort. Something I even learned during the conversation I had. First the two guys I was talking with argued with “bad taste”, something very generic. Later they tried the argument, that decapitations should not be shown, since these videos are violating the privacy rights of those executed. Well, of course they do, but I find the bigger violation to their privacy the fact that they have been executed in the first place. I have yet to encounter a single image from the death camps of the Second World War, where peoples faces are blurred. I find it extremely important to give these nameless victims at least a face. It is hard to look at, but so is this form of brutality in general.

It might not be necessary for everyone to look at these images – child porn or beheadings – but for the society as a whole, it might be important to really know what is out there to fine tune our response. Personally I find the mere idea of child porn so disgusting, that I have no intention to even look at this material. I encountered some in the past by accident and to me this is enough. But there have to be people working on this material and I would definitely want to see a talk or presentation on the way these images look, or how they evolve over time, where they draw their inspiration and if a response to the growing pressure from the criminal justice side can be found in this material.

“New” is a bad criteria for quality

Recently someone complained that my book on the Stasi images was already three years old and therefore might not be of great interest anymore. This is precisely the thinking that keeps me from mentioning any creation dates for my projects on my website. First of all, let’s look at the Stasi project. Many of these images – if not all – are over thirty years old, most of them had been in the archive for twenty year without anyone taking notice and then the three years, since my publication makes them loose their value and importance? That seems strange to me.

We all know the hunt for the new, that might in part be fueled by an ever faster new circle. But it feels wrong to me, if this takes a hold in the art world. I know of course that many art works do not age well and do in fact loose their relevance after some time. But three years seems quite a short life span.

Personally I don’t really care about how old a certain of works is, what matters to me is if it still has relevance for my artistic process right now. How does it go together with my newest ideas? Sure, after some time I loose interest in the things I have done earlier, but still since many of my works share a common underlying topic, an older project might still be valuable to a new one. And sometimes old projects become gain in importance due to the creation of something new.

This is why I do not want to participate in this game of “how old is it”. Sometimes I am forced to participate, but I try to avoid it.

 

The best censorship remains invisible

I had a strange experience today. I did a quick layout for a small booklet I wanted to print, with parts of my works on terror. Nothing special, in fact I am not good in layout work and that is something I do not really enjoy. But I need some printed material with this new stuff, to apply to some things in the future. So I uploaded the PDF yesterday in the evening and this morning I received an email telling me, that my order has been canceled. The email stated, that my content did not comply with the philosophy of the company. Call it what you want, but I think someone thought that this work should be censored.

Even though it does not really show on the surface of society, there seems to be something present underneath, that almost resembles mass hysteria, when it comes to anything terror related – or maybe even Islam related, since too many people have a hard time to distinguish the two.

If we look at the works in question, we might definitely not be able to agree on the quality or even if the work is interesting at all, but I think that it is certainly not braking any laws. Does it brake moral codes? Maybe. But should that be an issue?

I am certain that the person who had to check this PDF saw something Islamic and that did raise the red flag. But lets be clear, I ordered merely 10 copies of the publication, since that is all I need, and that would be a very shitty propaganda operation. Its like dropping five leaflets on North Korea.

OK, in the end I wrote them an email and some hours later, someone left a voicemail message, stating that they thought about it and would print my booklet. So no censorship in the end. But what if I did not write an email? My material would not have been printed of course. And maybe next time, I would have thought more thoroughly about the content I want to print. That would be the beginning of self-censorship. Even now, I have the feeling, that I would look at my layout differently next time. Sad.

Since I am doing a lot research on this kind of material, I watch and collect a lot of it. When I became interested, at first, I wondered where this material could be found. And how should I go about accessing it? I started researching TOR and other forms of surfing the Internet anonymously. Should I purchase a VPN or not? But the more I thought about it, the more I became angry with myself and the situation. As far as I know, it is not illegal to research these things. I am not involved in the making of these videos nor in the distribution of the material itself. What I am doing is research work. Many people might consider what I am doing bad taste, but I think it is important.

So I decided not to hide my tracks and not to use anonymous services. If I end up on some kind of government watch list, this would proof that the system currently is broken.

Why is society so afraid of propaganda? Propaganda is not too different from advertising and we all would agree that watching an advert does not really make you buy a certain car. Otherwise people in debt could always sue car companies for making them purchase cars, they could never afford.

By prohibiting access to this material, it is not going to go away, it just becomes far more tempting for some people. But the more damaging part is that by removing this material from the common consciousness, you remove it from public debate. And that lets people freak out once they encounter a small glimpse. Most of the ISIS material online is boring or unimportant. And then there is some brutal material and maybe a tiny fraction could be considered dangerous. But by blocking all access to all material, everything is labeled the same way … and it becomes far frightening.

In fact there should be public screenings of this material, combined with public debate. Once you inspect this material closely, it quickly starts loosing its aura and reveals things it is not meant to reveal.

Why some drones make a buzzing sound

While I was watching a documentary about drone strikes in Afghanistan, I noticed that some of the drones shown made buzzing sounds. The sound they make is comparable to the noise of a lawnmower – in fact, when I looked into it, it turned out that some drones use motors that have similarities to the ones used in lawnmowers. At first I did not really notice but then I though, well that is odd, wouldn’t it be much better to have them as silent as possible? Well, they are somewhat advertised as the silent killers that could strike anywhere. Plus it shouldn’t be too difficult to make them silent.

But the more I think about it, the more do I come to the conclusion that the buzzing sound is not due to an accident or due to some technical limitations, rather that this sound is part of the way this weapon system is supposed to work. The noise serves as a constant reminder that the threat created by these drones is real and might strike you at any time. In a way I can see parallels to the footage produced by terror groups that show successful suicide attacks. Uploading a video to Youtube does not make your next suicide attack more successful, but by using this kind of PR channels, you are causing terror beyond the actual reach of your suicide attackers.

This is the aspect that fascinates me a lot, while thinking about how contemporary conflicts are fought. Many of the most prolific weapons used today try to be invisible – like suicide bombers, drones, IEDs, computer viruses -, but their reach is always limited. Therefore there seems the need for them to be as widely publicized as possible. That way they manage to enter our perception. The threat becomes omnipresent.

I think I mentioned this in an earlier blog post, but big brother might be happy if you think he is watching. He could never watch everyone, but once you feel his gaze, you might control yourself.


I wonder if sound designers are involved in the production of these drone engines. Do they ask people to respond to different kinds of pitches? Or do they consider, which wavelength might work best and could be heard farthest? Toying with peoples perception is as brutal as aiming weapons in their general direction.