Robots, Romance & Religion

Robots, Romance & Religion: Losing Ourselves in Each Other.

(A paranoid rant about technology’s warp of communication, sporadically punctuated by four short films.)

It is fashionable to suggest that cyberspace is some island of the blessed where people are free to indulge their individuality. This is not true. I have seen many people spill out their emotions – their guts – online, and I did so my self until I began to see that I had commodified myself.” – Carmen Hermosillo [11]

Idealised and foggy as it may be, there is something which binds us together, an existential consciousness that counters our biological selfishness to generate empathy and community. Whether this subjective notion is credited to society’s institutions, to law or religion, artistic creation, nationalism or establishing our presence on the internet, it is a common desire to be part of something greater than ourselves. We may aspire to project our identity outwards and hope to be accepted by those likeminded during or after our time, in an effort to take root ourself in the fleeting earth. The sensation may be called spiritualism by some, while others see it as a more sophisticated war for air, whatever it is, human interconnectivity and the longing for acceptance is a universal feeling which has evolved with our socially constructed consciousness. Our current leap in social evolution is guided by technology, acting as a watchful robotic lighthouse to our network of lives.

To talk about my love for the internet would exceed the word count even further, so while trying to simply portray my admiration for the data haven, my one-sided discussion will focus on the more unpleasant aspects of new communication, unity and how we cope with the technology of our time. To fuse together my scatterbrained thought-bubbles on the digital age, I present four short entertaining videos in an attempt to illustrate this vital reaction to our new social template. The videos I have chosen literally show romantic depictions of humans and/or robots, because I see this concept as a representation of humanity lost within a technological, self-aware culture.

In Sherry Tuckle’s book Alone Together [1] she talks about how the real year 1984 stood in contrast to George Orwell’s novel of the same name, in that the genesis of technology was imbued with hope and optimism. However the holding power of technology in this excitement was a precursor to a coming culture and lifestyle under the machines, as a second self:

Some people found computers so compelling that they did not want to be separate from them. I am worried whether losing oneself in worlds within the machine would distract us from facing our problems in the real – both personal and political.”

Decades later, we see that technology has spread so far into our lives that it defines our structures of entertainment, news, politics, economics and, more specifically what I would like to attempt to discuss, communication. Writer and critic Charlie Brooker, discusses early in his Guardian [2] career the changing state of TV under the rapid wing of the internet:

Eurotrash simply doesn’t outrage anymore, and not just because it has reached season 13. No. The trouble is that in the years since the programme first spurted onto our screens, everything else on television has steadily degenerated into a slew of dead-eyed, opportunistic, utterly heartless quasi-porn, which leaves Eurotrash’s recipe of cheerful, cheesy smut looking positively archaic.”

Internet sensibilities had already penetrated the media by this time, saturating its membrane and rendering shock-TV tame and irrelevant. I consider myself more or less desensitized to gaudy mutant entertainment having witnessed through the interweb some of mankind’s darkest hours, but having stopped watching TV for a number of years now, and experimentally watching a morbid marathon of Coach Trip followed by Embarrassing Bodies, followed by Sexetera, reduced me to a foetal state. This is entertainment of the dark part of the soul easily catered for on the internet. For the viewer it appears that a synthesis of morbid-curiosity web browsing and channel hopping through car-crash TV has replaced and physically sedated both our eros and thanatos drives. In another article, Brooker dubs a rising hybrid-genre:“masturmentary: programmes which exist solely to assist masturbation… yet is forced to adopt a flimsy documentary guise in order to appease the broadcast authorities.”

This was article was written eleven years (over half my life) ago from the date my digits tap these digits. By date-dropping, I have inevitably made this essay subject to the flinching you receive when reading an outdated article that thinks of itself as the raconteur of the cutting edge, proclaiming from the time-cliff: ‘everything was leading up to this moment!’ only to be heckled by the merpedant in the future ocean with jeers of ‘you naïve prehistoric simpleton how did you live without your hoverbikes?’ Surreal digressions aside, you can’t help but be aware of how integrated technology is into the present (or past-future) and contract at least mild whiplash from how accelerated the exchange of information and invention has become today. Sometimes I lament for the days unprobed by constant email and while simultaneously rejoicing the surge of fleeting factoids. I can’t be the only person who suffers nano-heart-attacks when their phone vibrates or barks rhetorical rage at their jammed printer or who lies awake paranoid that I might not survive without them, and succumb to the inevitable zombie apocalypse, due to de-evolutionary domestication. The more you immerse yourself in the abstract realm of information, the more you become lost in what isn’t real. You spend more time looking into screens than another person’s eyes, and often more time stalking through someone’s profile pictures than actually asking them about their day. Quite simply, technology has changed the way we interact with each other, and constantly growing is the idea of an online presence, a network of representative avatars existing as a projection of our physical essence, an electronic snail trail which becomes tangled in code. I suppose I should state that “closeness” is a human concept, something personally relative and normally unrelated to physical distance. Our day can be brightened by a Skype conversation but we ultimately alone in the room in front of a screen.

Essentially, this unavoidable culture of convenience and knowledge comes at the price of detachment, short attention-spans and square eyes. I wonder if we are able to keep up with our own creations, our culture being so saturated with screens we feel atomized and ever-incresingly trying to run from the society of the spectacle. Plato ominously foreshadows our fixation with the techno-continent in The Republic [3]: “Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.”

I find myself occasionally envious of my free-range facebookless friends who find more joy in the outdoors, interacting with the substantial world, but then I refuse to regret many of the hours I have spent online due to all that I have learnt, seen and shared with the democratic free reign of information. There is an infinite archive of thought resources with insufficient life hours to digest. Discovering music and art you may never have known about, exchanging with relatives at a geographical distance, surveying the news, donning nostalgia goggles to appreciate old things with others. I consider so many of my interests and defining factors being brought to me through the internet. No doubt the influx of the digital world is a good thing, it doesn’t take much time to trawl through the net and find news of someone being granted a bionic replacement hand or stumble upon the first ever footage filmed of a snow leopard or dragon shark. But watching the I.C.U.B robot mimic the movements and cognitive patterns of a toddler is a discomforting example of the effect technology and media have made on our awareness of life.

I recently read a ragecomic [4] written by an 86-year-old man (which can be assumed true only as much as anything anonymously posted on reddit) in which he summarised his life story with rage faces. Having missed out on his 20’s due to drafting in the Second World War and subsequent alcoholism, he retired at 65 in the 1990’s feeling “more alive than ever” growing with computers, games and films those of us who have grown up in this time without the comparative decades, we are bred to take communicative ease for granted.

I grew up in a world of face-to-face communication. You had to walk places. You had to mail things. Information was always second-hand via newspaper… We stayed active and challenged our minds throughout the 2000’s, a decade during which nothing much happened. Do you disagree? Well imagine the decades I have to compare it to. Our friends started passing on, and a few started going senile. We felt sharper than ever, though, and I chalk that up to our activities and games.”

He kept up with the burgeoning internet to reconnect with his estranged daughter of 24 years and her family of whom he never knew. True or untrue, it is a touching story of human contact shaped through history’s mutation of communication. It’s a nice thought that someone who struggled through life eventually found happiness and ease with the world growing around them, content to anonymously 1HKO kids a fraction of their age in online games with his wife. My own grandfather of the same age has just started his second ipod and having retired from his industrial world, he still marvels at new machines. My parents contemplating retirement too have their electronic distractions, and most of my work involves the use of computers. I cannot shift in my inbox amongst the spam and animal videos sent from my mother.

I have a monthly image blog in which I post hundreds of images of art, comics, photographs, anything I find inspirational, informative or funny and yet I keep a backup of everything because the internet is so immaterial that if tumblr were to go down forever, so would the scrapbook of myself. I don’t imagine being able to reflect on my 20’s when I’m 86 because the website will probably be long-gone and all information will be made of radioactive rainbows beamed directly into the retinas. That is if I’m lucky enough to live that long, the race of technology may have slowed with the recovery from the undead war. I feel as though I have become less materialistic (if not egotistical) through my lust for online knowledge, yet we must remain aware that even though online content is written in ink, not pencil, its terrain is not that of a stable world which will last forever. But then again, neither is our own.

A machine that becomes defective dies, when did we decide that we too were machines?

Many mediums throughout time have explored the connections between man and machine, from ancient Hebrew legends of guardian golems to the cyber-Sartre Matrix trilogy, tales of our own creations have replaced the tales of our creators. I have selected four short films which I feel explore the concept of connectivity, shafted apart by technological abundance. The first piece of film I have chosen to exhibit is the music video for All is Full of Love by Bjork, directed by Chris Cunningham.

The image of two identical artificial humans engaging in tender acts of love subverts the socially alienating vibes that technology can present us with, but the video can also be interpreted as a dark representation of mechanised masturbation. In the making-of video [5], Bjork says how the designs remind her of porcelain dolls, artefacts of Japanese erotica and undoubtedly there plenty of sexual implications in the video, sparks flying, robotic insertions, etc. The designs of the robo-Bjorks are reminiscent of the pearly sheen of Apple hardware, and predate the similar looking automatons of the I, Robot film by a few years. I interpreted this as a comment on the growing obsession with product cult-status but stylistically, Cunningham shows a minimalistic use of colours, noting that he wanted a distinctively retro feel to video.

Not only did I find the image of robot lovemaking a striking piece of computerised choreography worthy of projected display, but the themes of the video also strongly reflect on the ideas that have captivated me. Simply put, the act of giving machines a defining human trait, love, is in stark contrast to the monotonous detached voyeur that technology can potentially make us. By sitting, glaring at code, are we watching machines live in an environment we have created. During technological disillusionment we can feel robotic and distant, yet these robots are living and capable of love.

The song is the original mix of the closing track on 1998’s Homogenic. I first became aware of Cunningham through his Aphex Twin music videos, Come to Daddy [6] being burned in my mind at an early age, I found the shrieking gangly figure reminiscent, if not more powerful than Edvard Munch’s The Scream, bearing in mind that the actual song is a death metal piss-take. Cunningham is a connoisseur of the grotesque, Robber Johnny is another traditional freak-out piece whereas Windowlicker [7] is a surreal Spitting Image puppet take on booty-shaking bling culture. I got into Aphex Twin (along with Boards of Canada and Brian Eno) through David Firth’s Salad Fingers [8] internet flash films, which similarly explore a concentrated viral creepiness. Most of Cunningham’s work utilises prosthetics and camera mastery, but in All is Full of Love he ventures into the use of CGI which was growing in realism at the turn of the 21st century. In the making-of film Cunningham claimed to be initially dismissive of special effects but found that most of the striking movements and visuals could be created and enhanced in post-production. Technology has played a huge role in the inception, growth and distribution of edited and animated art. Even David Lynch became a fan of strange internet animations and created his own webseries Dumbland [9]. With previously established bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails turning to the internet for free distribution, the realm of information is expanding beyond commercialism.

The series Futurama [10], developed by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen, houses some very profound ideas. As both a satirical comedy and piece of speculative fiction, it has the freedom to discuss present-world issues mirrored in a future fantasy reality. 20th century slacker Philip J. Fry is accidentally cryogenically frozen and wakes up in the year 3000, initially happy to leave behind his drab prior existence. A Fishfull of Dollars comments on the estrangement of wealth and class, and the all-consuming power of advertising. In this episode Fry learns that products manifest themselves in your dreams, through gamma radiation:

Leela: Didn’t you have advertising in the 20th century?

Fry: Well sure, but not in our dreams, only on TV and radio… and in magazines, and movies, and at ball games and on busses and milk cartons and t-shirts and bananas and written on the sky but never in our dreams.

The episode shows Fry acquiring the wealth to escape to his own time by surrounding himself with 1990’s relics. There is exploration of how culture is misinterpreted by future generations (“Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot being reassessed as “stuffy classical music”) and how ultimately our possessions own us, with Fry resigning drunken to a darkened room watching ancient videotapes of Stanford and Son.

The second video I have chosen to exhibit is an “educational” film from the episode I Dated A Robot which explores illegal downloading and online relationships.

‘DON’T DATE ROBOTS!’ presents a hypothetical (or implied actual past version of) Earth in which people downloaded celebrities into blank robots as subservient sexual partners. The video boldly proclaims “all civilisation was just an effort to impress the opposite sex” and hence, society crumbles. As well as being very funny, it analyses what happens if we are given unhealthy objective control over our sexual desires, much in the way that we can wade through internet porn with little difficulty and arguably, this is obstructive to our social and professional lives. Civilisation collapses because humanity grants itself the freedom to return to a selfish animalistic state of retirement. The video is a parody of propaganda exploitation films such as Reefer Madness and its episode pokes fun at the controversy over (kid)Napster and illegal downloading.

Robot (as well as sewer mutant and alien) rights are exercised throughout the series – not all robots are worker drones, a large percentage are equal citizens and the episode Proposition Infinity follows up the issue with the campaign for “robosexual” marriage, mirroring Proposition 8, and the changing public attitudes of non-heterosexual relationships and secondary ‘human’ rights. It veers into absurdity when announcing that in the future a horse and a ghost also have the right to wed, illustrating that the concept of marriage is perhaps not a sacred or logical thing. The anthropomorphised automatons are given human freedoms, pleasures and guilts, so a Robot Hell exists for followers of Robotology.

In Adam Curtus’ profound and charmingly despair-inducing techno-socio-political documentary series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace [11], he starts by addressing how the objectivism of author Ayn Rand influenced the boom of Silicone Valley entrepreneurship during the infancy of the digital age, and the notion of a society composed of “free” individuals. In these aspirational 1990’s, the internet was still a romantic idea for an abstract plain where one was free to express their individuality. Yet even this early on some were struck by an utterly atomizing sensation, having our identity reformatted so that we become a cog in a machine. Disillusioned Rand circle member Carmen Hermosillo spoke:

Cyberspace is a black hole. It absorbs energy and personality and then re-presents it as an emotional spectacle. It is done by businesses that commodify human interaction and emotion, and we are getting lost in the spectacle.”

Objectivism can be thusly summarized by Rand’s regards towards death:“I will not die, it is the world that will end.” I think this might-is-right attitude stands neatly in contrast with a line from Christopher Nolan’s Memento [12]:The world doesn’t disappear when you close your eyes, does it?The egocentric view can be seen simultaneously as a fighting against your system whilst very much remaining in it, in such that you are looking out for your own interests, because your contemporaries are your genetic enemies. This relates to the internet in that you have the freedom to voice your thoughts, but are competing against a tide of rival voices for the loudest, the most up-votes, likes or views. You are still reliant on others for your success, but only you can be responsible for your own happiness.

In the second part of the series, Curtis discuses life’s ecosystems, the equilibrium of society and the flaws of viewing life under this hypothesis. Rand’s Objectivism is broadened into a systematic computer’s-eye-view of the world and this is a simplification which tends to overlook the fundamental idiosyncrasies of everything, the economy is an example of life being viewed as a cybernetic system. Computers have shown us that we work in networks, and it’s not nice to have your individuality boiled down to non-endearing data. Stability is not necessarily natural – in fact, evolution and natural selection illustrate an existence of constant change so we may not always be nature’s favourite species, at least not in our current state. H.G. Well’s The Time Machine [13] looks at the descendent of mankind and theorises that one race immunized itself to the dangers of life through genetic modification of food and extinction of disease, so much that it has become weak and docile and is therefore watched and farmed by a savage cannibal underclass. Underneath the earth there are ancient machines which have remained unaltered, and knowledge of their operation is part of a latent survival instinct in future humanoid generations.

Internet freedom is a concept birthed from a utopian systems viewpoint as a seemly apolitical mirror to the real world. By appearing scientific, a system appears neutral and so human morality is adapted around seemingly objective presentation of fact. However, enforcement of stability is not neutral, which is the basis of revolution if say, democracy is viewed as an unscientific ecosystem. As new environment, the internet can be used to step outside of society’s construct, such as was the birth of music piracy. In AWOBMOLG‘s third part, The Monkey In The Machine And The Machine In The Monkey, Curtis talks about the implications of the gene’s predetermined role in social structures, racial warfare, and how science brought computer logic to modern self-analysis. The series paints a dark picture of how we live entangled in a system of feedback loops – but what of love, and emotional experience beyond the the machines?

Ayn Rand’s views on love were certainly ominous. In an interview, she was stated that “in love, the currency is virtue… you do not love indiscriminately, you love only those who deserve love.

Her own love-life was arguably her downfall, finding that she was unable to apply her hypothesis towards the genuine feelings of herself and others. Love is not rational. Of course you can always try to follow logical decisions and progressions with your partner but the head is often gladiatorially slain by the heart. This has always been the case, but now it seems there is a wall of invisible wires further distancing and distorting our sense of reason.

The Dateline NBC series To Catch a Predator [14] with Chris Hansen is a real horror show which bluntly guides us through the morally ambiguous act of online paedo-baiting, going so far as to have a former Miss America winner (an attempt at poetic irony) pose as an innocent tween in chat rooms luring in desperate perverts. They are always sat down at a suspicious breakfast bar when Hansen pops out from behind an arras, reads the chat transcript and explains the premise of the show watching as the flabbergasted potential-nonce is whisked away by a camouflaged SWAT team. Harrowing and hilarious stuff, right? This is entrapment, and although no actual foul play is conducted and no children are actually involved in any way, the John Does are usually charged with an attempt to solicit sex from a minor and veiled in shame for the rest of their lowly life. Aside from its controversial subject matter, it also blurs the lines between justice and entertainment in a similar way to American punditry platforms like the O’Reilly Factor on bullshit emporium Fox News, which disguises itself as formal newsroom discussion platform so that Bill-O can hoot arrogant ignorance over scientists, war veterans, the bereaved, etc.

Fights to the death in colosseums with tridents and tigers was once a normal form entertainment, we have always desired to be spectators to the bloodthirsty, the tragic and the unusual events rooted to our culture. Incidentally, Bullfights have only just ceased in Catalonia this year.

Chris Morris is a comedic satirist who managed to lampoon characters such as Hansen and O’Reilly before their internet fame, channeling the same type of madness – blunt news authority saturated with the absurd. Aside from his own character performances, he writes dark humour in a number of performances including sketch shows, including the “ambient comedy” series Jam.

The Third video I have chosen is a sketch from Jam entitled “casual parents” in which a couple nonchalantly learn that their child is missing “Incidentally, did he come home from school today?” and act unsurprised and indifferent when his grim fate is revealed. This is not specifically related to either religion or technology, but the distant, unemotional responses of the mother and father (Julia Davis and David Cann) are completely binary to the passionate automatons of the Bjork music video. It is as if their human aspects of have been replaced by a modern chilly existence, just words in lower case on a message board. The child, and his viewpoint are completely absent from the scene and instead we witness a terrifying apathy over an up-beat down-tempo soundtrack. Jam, and its remixed alternative Jaaaaam are presented as an “ambient comedy” which as with the news program The Day Today and the extreme documentary series Brass Eye, Morris is subverting a comedy subgenre while keeping its content shocking, absurd and funny. A episode of Brass Eye literally puts science on trial [15] for its (fictional) dark accomplishments such as black market limb growth and harvest and villages being crushed as a result of “heavy electricity”. The often partially oblivious celebrity spokespeople in Brass Eye contribute to its self-aware and self-parodying form of humour.

The complete indifference expressed by the parents reminds me of Dr Manhattan from the graphic novel Watchmen [16] by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, who after gaining godlike powers of matter manipulation finds himself increasingly alienated with human concerns until he decides to exile himself to Mars. Although he was once human, he expresses guilt towards his loss of feeling over the gain of existential awareness.

If the internet can be our bread and circuses, what about the former opium of the masses? Richard Dawkin’s The God Delusion [17], enamoured me with the concept of Einsteinian religion. Einstein received some truly shocking hate-mail for his denunciation of God, but I feel his views on religion are far purer and truer to the feeling of human connectivity, often misappropriated as forms of dogmatic unknowing spiritualism.

Einstein said:

I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

Einstein’s religious views have been a subject of much debate and Dawkins discusses how many scientists of the past have had to bend-backwards to appease the theist population and if their years had been more liberally-minded ones, they would have outright come out as atheist. Thomas Jefferson clearly believed that Christianity had no place in the founding of a nation, and believed that the constitution should be amended every nineteen years and equated not doing so to being enslaved to the prior generation. Again, unheeded advice [18].

Dawkins and his supporting quotes from, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Douglas Adams and many more marvellous minds all made viewing existence from a scientific standpoint seem like a beautiful thing. The complexity of life and nature is a humbling and awesome thing to affiliated with, and no mythological sky lord is going to prevent me from enjoying the brief flicker of my existence, and no catalogue of mistranslated, misquoted, misunderstood tome of arcane tall tales is going to influence why I treat anyone else with no less respect that I would expect to receive. However, here comes the hypocrisy, the internet has become my bible for guidance, and such as with religious texts, its ideologies and freedoms are pure, whereas its content is subjective, questionably authoritative and morally dubious.

I am excited by picking up basic scientific facts, such as the moon being ¼ the size of the Earth and 1/81 its mass, or that many male angler fish are the tiny bacteria that fuse to one female’s antenna to give it its glow. There is such immense beauty, pride and comfort worshiping the world in the name of truth, but again like religion, science has its sinister side-effects. This speculative nature can often lead to the morbid side of research. I’ve been a big fan of Darwin, sad not not see him on money more often, however Social Darwinism is an altogether insidious thing, promoting elitism, fascism, eugenics and scientific racism. This maybe an undesired application of these theories, but Randian followers view business as a survival-of-the fittest game, and ultimately we decide our own happiness.

Religion is an alluring network for a single identity, but the gap of knowing is narrowing each year, leaving the logic-filler god(s) with less relevance now that we can Google our existential woes. Typing the start of a question into a search-bar usually yields some interestingly bizarre suggestions. In the past, religion has been a vital part of a human mindset, giving one apparently more important reason to be decent to each other, but now we are expected to understand the law, and more so our effect on the planet and its accelerating culture, leaving such dogmatic institutions redundant. It is possible that it is the screen which fills this void. The paradigm shift of communication has dispelled much of our superstition and as a result we are killing God every day.

I was having a conversation with a colleague who is an ex-born-again Christian and all-round loveable person about how scientific theory and artistic theory can be extremely similar (an experiment based on previous awareness and rules), and yet the business of the art world is eerily similar to that of organised religion (exhibitionism, elitism, worship). Furthermore, the isolating connectivity sought in religion to be part of something larger is not dissimilar to idea of an online identity. Likewise, art and media are so saturated under the internet’s influence that we have come full-circle and this confusion and resulting anhedonia are the dizzying side-effects of our generation.

Out of curiosity I read The Satanic Bible [19]. A friend of mine studying costume design asked me to write something as a basis for her next project, and honoured to be source material, I am writing a play about an addled alchemist who tries to resurrect the moon in order to win over a kleptomaniac duchess in a dystopian alternate-jacobean world. Escaping from the refreshing scientific truths I had been reading, I turned my interests to magic and madness and looked to Satan for research. I was surprised to find that Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible is actually atheistic and the devil merely represents “all of the so-called sins, as they lead to physical, mental or emotional gratification!” Satanism is a rejection of gods and a celebration of hedonism and animal instincts. Aside from vague instructions over the correct use of black magic, The Church of Satan’s ideology seems twofold: To present itself as an organised religion specifically to piss off the Christian church, and to celebrate the inherit selfishness of man.

I couldn’t quite figure out why this felt so familiar and connected strangely well, until I read that daughter of the author [20] had pointed out that a majority of The Satanic Bible was a watery plagiarism of The Enochian Keys by Dr John Dee, the pseudo-anonymously published Might is Right and primarily Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The 9 Satanic Statements are unacknowledged paraphrases of Rand’s ideas, and I found it both hilarious and unsurprising that Rand’s ideologies had been repackaged as the views of Beelzebub himself. If we extract the messages from their religious templates and apply flimsy metaphors to our technological ideology, we can speculate that we are running from God unless we are Satanically selfish. God being the counter-evolutionary sedative yearning for higher community, the internet, and Satan being the selfishly genetic engagement with life’s struggle, (the unternet?)

So Satanism is essentially institutionalised egotism proposed through raw animalistic nihilism, which brings me on to the lonely chaos of Internet Trolling and meme culture.

The term “meme” was popularised by Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene [21] in which it is explained to be a social companion of our genetics, in that information which survives, be it through scientific testing, or lasting humour is spread and developed by many people. Internet memes are essentially evolutionary in-jokes which collectively demonstrate an equally subversive and niche collective sense of humour, and their spread and discussion are as much a part of online traffic as baiting and teasing in chat-rooms. The internet is a self-aware entity through its amusement written by strangers. in which takes many forms, there is the notion that it is a simple series of tubes, a game we are all aware of, something we can win and lose at.

Trolling is the intent to evoke a response by entering an absurd level of thought with a intentionally inflammatory, irrelevant or stupid remark, and is primarily a source of humour in text-based online communities. Organised trolling by the group Anonymous resulted in founder Christopher “moot” Pool being voted #1 in Time’s top 100 influential list [22], the orchestration of hundreds of Scientology and Westboro Baptist Church protests, and tracking down and reporting participants in animal abuse within hours of their post. Anonymous and trolling have become more recognised in the mainstream due these public demonstrations, but trolling can be often on a par with cyber-bullying. KnowYourMeme [23] is said by its twisted satirical predecessor Encyclopaedia Dramatica [24]; to be“intended for the mass commercialization of every ‘cute’ meme” and was “created entirely for the benefit of the newest of new and the odd over-the-hill, old media type.” ED stands defiant against this new accessible wave of meme-culture, representing itself as an institution of the more old-school internet humour – hacking, casual discrimination and shock images. The internet’s more commercial references have grown to rival and penetrate that of television pop-culture, and the reposting of videos sharing website networks appears to be replacing TV as the primary form of technological entertainment. KnowYourMeme employs a more analytical approach with some of its memes, for example, Poe’s law is “an axiom which states that it is difficult to decipher whether extremism on the Internet is authentic or satirical without the use of signals like emoticons.” If you’ve ever engaged in an online debate, you will be painfully aware of its futility. There are many “reaction images” imitating characters seated at computers, responding to statements they have read amounting to a flurry of illustrated emotion , yet always partaken by lonesome heads behind monitors [25].

There is the saying “Trolling is a art” which summarises its philosophy fairly well. This type of satire can be called artistic in its forms, Chris Morris has been called an IRL (in real-life) Troll. The fact that ‘real life’ has an acronym for referral exemplifies the growing realm of digital thought.

Internet Trolling is usually a solitary act, and can be used within a faceless crowd to identify gullible targets for humour. Through simple provocative methods, personality traits can be extracted out from an anonymous thread as though divisions are sought out even if everyone is covert and given equal freedoms. I remember people highlighting a distinction on 4chan between “NewFags” and “Oldfags”, being that the new young users who dominate the message boards during summer holidays and spring break were more outgoing and radical, whereas the elder members were more misanthropic, nihilistic and disproved of Anonymous banding together for public cause, preferring their own self-destruction as a social structure.

Encyclopaedia Dramatica, which disguises itself as a comedic wikipedia, informed me of which is infamous more so for its morbid, sexual and occasionally illegal content, which lead me to associate it with the motto “give a man a mask and he’ll show you his cock”. ChatRoulette [26] similarly embodies this as a randomly generated webcam conversation site, known for its initial labour of having to cycle through too many videos of men masturbating before being able to find a willing conversationalist. “Net artists” Eva and Franco Mattes’s film No Fun [28] explores this dark exhibitionist behaviour by hosting a mock hanging on ChatRoulette and filming the despicable public reactions. Thousands watched, many laughed, one played the guitar, one called the police and one masturbated. These voyeurs unaware of the troll showcase human isolation without consequence, those who laugh at death through window shutters.

David Fincher’s film The Social Network [28] dramatizes the history of Facebook’s rise to omniscience from its creators, using the legal depositions as a framing device in which the intellectual rights of methods of personal information sharing are fought over. Each character is screwed or successful in some way through their enterprise of temperamental internet business and self-fulfilment, with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being portrayed as remote and robotic. The film explores corruption in ideas, legal systems, business, friendship and relationships I was interested in how the music and graphic art was reflective of this, but also the more literal corruption of data. Rob Sheridan’s illustrations for Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s score [29] seeks to further adapt the subject of warping personal information, reflecting the sombre digital soundscapes of the film’s score:

An early idea I had was to digitally corrupt the images we had from the film, combining a “glitch art” visual aesthetic I’ve always been interested in with a metaphor for digital images shared on Facebook, the corruption they’re susceptible to, and the corruption portrayed in the film. This idea resonated with Trent, so I began experimenting with different ways to destroy the publicity stills Sony had sent me.

The relation between sound and image has always been an appealing concept to me, and I have been searching for ways to marry my noises and scribbles, but I have recently started to experiment with film (which appears to be allowed on a painting course). In terms of video editing, the website EverythingIsTerrible! [30] has been an intriguing influence to me.The collective hunt for old VHS tapes of children’s Christian puppet public access television, alien conspiracy documentaries and many awful made-for-TV movies, meshing them together to create surreal, disastrous video art. The equally gitchy kitschness of these short films provides entertainment and thankfully distances yourself from television as a concept, by presenting to you the unswallowable propaganda of a cross-section of people using the medium.

Text message and leetspeak succeed at truncating language, but when the British Transport Police use it on their twitter feed [31], it comes across as a mix between incompetence and Orwellian newspeak. Language takes another form when reduced to data and “ASCII art” is a further manipulation of data to create visuals from text. Indeed there are many examples of computerised expressions for analogue animal experiences.

The final piece of film I present is the trailer George Lucas’s 1971 movie THX 1138 (the original un-remastered version).

A trailer is a feature-length film’s expressive collage which often misrepresents context and tone, however THX 1138’s edit encapsulates the jarring cuts between flesh and mineral, numbers and voices. The added narration recites that in this world, love is a perversion from an efficient system and uses repetition to emphasize its mechanical mantra. With the subtitle a love story filmed on location in the 21st centurythe film embodies the concept of a systematic society void passion, ideas and conflict. The eponymous character attempts to merely escape, with new feelings rather than to hopelessly overthrow this totalitarian nightmare, the reclamation of human emotion is the only real triumph in the story.

Lucas’s re-interference with his finalised works is much to the chagrin of his fans. Documentary film The People vs. George Lucas [32] gathers people who have equally been inspired by and disillusioned with Lucas’s world, to vent their frustration at his role as a merchandising architect and subculture puppeteer. In a 1988 Congressional speech he declared “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians.” [33]He had a point, recent insertions of new movie advertisements into old episodes of How I Met Your Mother [34] is perhaps on par with Big Brother’s rewriting of history books, not that that TV show is art, but in principle it’s just wrong. Lucas, however, recently released the complete Star Wars collection on Blu-Ray with added CGI Ewok eyelids [35] and airbrushing in Hayden Christensen’s ghost into Return of the Jedi, so grief of the fan-base is understandable. However, many geeky digressions aside, Lucas’s first movie THX 1138 was also subject to revisited cannibalisation, and after much time scouring for the original copy, I have selected the trailer as the fourth example of man and machine’s self-constructed love affair. Like the other three films which explore personal consequences, THX 1138 goes further in its exploration of God as a machine. Futurama humorously blames the destruction of culture on technology whilst Lucas credits it with reshaping it beyond mortal recognition. The crux of this speculation is down to who the power belongs to.

As stated in …Machines of Loving Grace, even in equal networks power does not go away. The highly acclaimed (and frequently stated as best-TV-show-of-all-time) The Wire [36] explores as one of its many potent themes the changing symbiosis of power and technology. The cases brought against criminal organisations in the series are often upheld by the use of wire-tap surveillance technology and there is a frequent struggle to maintain the legal system, with the introduction of new technologies putting a strain on the chain of command. Detective McNulty’s methods of stepping outside of it to manipulate things for a greater good, as with the homeless serial killer fabrication (in the name of seeking better resources) in season 5 mirrors the philosophy of the God-like galactic cyber-entity from the Futurama episode Godfellas: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” Technology is after all supposed to both empower and alleviate us from certain responsibilities. It depends on your point of view to whether this is playing god, or fighting for autonomy. The democratic state of the web could be seen as raising a generation of people who see the chain of command as obsolete because in the abstract techno-realm there is no hierarchy. We are used to pushing buttons and having our modest demands met, but this is not necessarily a good thing. Media monstrosity The X-Factor is an exercise in hivemind popularity but is heavily accused with playing a heavy hand in the cultural destruction of the music industry. This seems to be the price paid for this particular freedom of speech. Production-line pop music and pop-up advertising are inescapable, but resiliently ignored by many.

You will have to forgive my cynicism, as a child of digital age I am beset with the naivete, short attention-span, desire for instant gratification and awkward social skills attributed to my generation. I love this shit really, but I find it easier to construct my written thoughts through a tone of despair. I am passionate about my interests but cringe when analysing how too much of my existence is computer-orientated. I consider myself enormously lucky to be born in this fleeting timeslot of knowledge and potential, and not a shrivelled ignorant peasant being whipped to bloody ribbons by some sort of fascist Pharaoh overlord. Our only overlord is a mechanical mirror which I do not wish to turn on for all the liberties and information it showers down on us. The internet is truly a miracle of our own hands, I simply feel that we might start to evolutionarily lag because we are not designed to cope with our own designs. Perhaps I even possess a paranoid fear that the robots will revolt and we’ll all be Morlocks pushing buttons under a waining moon.

As someone who clicks refresh as a nervous response, this is a subject hazardously close to my ventricles. I broke off a long-distance relationship, pillared by Skype, Facebook and numerous mobile phones after feeling severed and ungrounded. I felt that this was an abnormal system of interaction and not a healthy method of personal maintenance, at least for something as intense as a romance thrust hundreds of miles apart. Technology has gifted us with the ability to stay close with people we struggle to coexist with, but as we alter our social efforts in accordance to the machines is this distant interaction not a perversion of our social norms? Is it safe to deconstruct our behaviour in such a way? Synchronising your life with someone in a technological structure leaves me feeling anxious yet robotic. I don’t want to be a robot, but biologically we all are, in vast shifting global ecosystem heading towards abstraction. The internet merely represents a vague self-awareness and a narrator to this delusion of complete freedom. We stare into a mirror and the mirror stares back.

By Theo Cleary


  1. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Tuckle (2011) Author’s Note: Turning Points, xi – Basic Books ISBN-10: 0465010210 / 0-465-01021-0 IBSN-13: 9780465010219
  2. Screen Burn by Charlie Brooker (2004) Conentious? Moi? 7/7/2000 & Sexual Swearwords 30/11/2000 – Faber and Faber ISBN-10: 0571227554 ISBN-13: 978-0571227556
  3. The Republic by Plato (380BC/2007) – Penguin Classics ISBN-10: 0140455116 ISBN-13: 978-0140455113
  4. I turned 86 today… ragecomic by Anonymous
  5. Making of All is Full of Love by Bjork & Chris Cunningham (1999) on youtube
  6. Come to Daddy by Aphex Twin & Chris Cunningham (1997)
  7. WindowLicker by Aphex Twin & Chris Cunningham (1999)
  8. Salad Fingers by David Firth (2004)
  9. Dumbland by David Lynch (2002)
  10. Futurama created by Matt Greoning & David X. Cohen (1999)episodes: I Dated a Robot” S3E15 (2001) 3ACV15Proposition ∞” S6E04 (2010) 6ACV04A Fishful of Dollars” S1E06 (1999) 1ACV06Godfellas” S4E08 (2002) 3ACV20
  11. All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace written & directed by Adam Curtis (2011) BBCLove & Power”/The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”/The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey”
  12. Memento by Christopher & Jonathan Nolan (2000)
  13. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895) – ISBN 0-89375-345-9
  14. Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator with Chris Hansen (2004)
  1. Brass Eye written & directed by Chris Morris (1997) Channel 4
  2. Watchmen (chapter IV) written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons and lettered by John Higgins (1987) DC ISBN-10: 1852860243
  3. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (2007) ISBN: 9780552773317
  4. News Bureau Illinois: U of I Scholars Collecting, Analyzing Constitutions From Around the World (2007)
  5. The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey (1969) Avon Books – ISBN: 0380015390, 9780380015399
  6. Anton LaVay: Legend and Reality by Zeena & Nikolas Schreck (1998)
  7. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1989) Oxford Paperbacks – ISBN-10: 0192860925 ISBN-13: 978-0192860927
  8. 2009 TIME 100 Finalists: moot,28804,1883644_1883653_1885481,00.html
  9. Poe’s Law on KnowYourMeme
  10. KnowYourMeme on Encyclopedia Dramatica
  11. Computer Reaction Faces on KnowYourMeme
  1. chatroulette on KnowYourMeme
  2. No Fun by Eva and Franco Mattes (2010)
  3. The Social Network directed by David Fincher and written by Aaron Sorkin, based on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich (2010) trailer
  4. Glitch art for the soundtrack of The Social Network by Rob Sheridan (2010)
  5. EverythingIsTerrible! (Collective founded in 2000)
  6. British Transport Police‘s Twitter!/btp_uk/status/141202380216733696
  7. The People vs. George Lucas directed by Alexander O. Philippe (2010) trailer on youtube
  8. George Lucas‘s Congressional speech (1988)
  1. How I Met Your Mother changed to advertise Zookeeper (2007/2011)
  2. Star Wars alterations for Blu-Ray release (2011)
  3.  The Wire (season five) created by David Simon (2002-2008)

Bonus Material:

  1. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Stuart McMillen – Comparative comic between Brave New World and 1984 (2007)
  2. Tetsuo: The Iron ManTrailer by Shinya Tsukamoto (1989) and its ending:
  3. Everything Was Better When You Were Twelve by Ruben Bolling (2007)
  4. The Facebook Resisters – The New York Times (2011)
  5. The AplphaVille Herald: Pandora’s Vox blog by Carmen Hermosill (2004)

i accidentally the whole internet

About theocleary
This is where my stupid words go.

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