Tuesday, 18 October 2011

To The Home Which Everybody Owns

Between 1697 and 1807, 2,108 known ships left Bristol to make the trip to Africa and onwards across the Atlantic with slaves. An average of twenty slaving voyages set sail a year. Approximately 500,000 slaves were brought into slavery by these ships, representing one-fifth of the British slave trade during this time. Profits from the slave trade ranged from 50% to 100% during the early 18th century. Bristol was already a comparatively wealthy city prior to this trade; as one of the three points of the slave triangle (the others being Africa and the West Indies), the city prospered. This triangle was called the Triangular Trade. The Triangular Trade involved delivering, as well receiving, goods from each stop the ship took.

Racial tensions within the City 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Can you make porn come on my screen Dave?

UK prime sinister David Cameron took a turn from his usual chauvinist approach to small government by this week getting the big four ISPs to agree to an opt-in for users who want the option of porn on their PCs.

Based on a joint Mother’s Union/Department of Education report, it’s a nice but probably feeble try at a ‘central approach’ to the commercialisation and sexualisation of children, in effect little different than changing one’s browser preferences, setting up different users at log-in stage or buying a porn detector from the likes of McAfee. But as we’re frequently told these days we can’t trust ourselves (as Brent says 'it's not for us to say' on the issue of censorship), let alone porn’s purveyors: the levees broke on this in the early noughties and it’s going to be very difficult to contain.

Years of dial-up taught us patience we had grown unaccustomed to as seasoned and avid consumers; patience quickly scorned as we pounced like virtual predators when the i-porn became freely available, obsessing with the ‘money shot’. From there it’s a dark journey into an anarchic free enterprise underworld where we fall prey to our baser instincts, uploading image after image to our memory banks, for hour after hour. Yet it’s not addictive or harmful to others just liberating, we convince ourselves.

Sure, all this pro-am action, the vast majority of it probably taking place in California, probably HAS broadened my sexual outlook. Like so many other activity t’net is good for, it’s an able surrogate for imagination. But I cant help feeling such awareness has come via a sleazy pact; souls decay as retinas burn. That’s just a personal take, then there’s the ongoing objectification of women, society’s oversexualisation, the destructive effects of pornography on relationships and values, harming not just children but also adults. Still the Graun ran a piece defending its liberating effects by, er, someone from Porn.

And like so many other Up, Close and Personal elements of the internet that broadband has facilitated (social rather than sexual networks have only recently gained more web traffic), it came at a frontier moment, where developments in technology fast outpaced the ability (or indeed willingness – rather more lazy than laissez-faire) of regulators to rein in problem areas. It’ll be interesting to see that even with public support whether politicians can really play gatekeeper, the benign Big Daddy, on this.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Years Zero

The turn of this century was a strange, vague period; especially in the harsh light of how its first decade has shaped up. The noughties, distinguished (?) by the most perverse of cultural enthusiasms, was heralded with a sense of weary anxiety and trepidation. But of course that was just my experience of it. It's uncanny to reflect on - to invest with meaning - a time that felt like a waiting room; a meandering interlude between one way of life and another promising to arrive. Discussing the past with those who were present, we can take fragile comfort by conceptualizing ourselves as a distinct generation defined by shared moments; accepting with a faint smile that our time has passed (open regret being as taboo as ever). In more pretentious moments, it can be rationalised as some (sub)cultural epoch; a world marketed and internalised as our own rite of passage, our cultural currency. I could assert that it was a bewildering time to be of a certain age, but I have to concede that for me it was bewildering. To be honest, it felt like I was surrounded by a lot of mystifying certainties back then.

The ideological assumptions that shuffled the U.K. from one millennium to the next is still open to debate. Most of 'us' had known nothing but a Conservative government, but the direction which Labour would take us was to some degree uncertain. The signs were there, but 'we' were still youthful enough to naively maintain some glimmer of hope. CGI, the mobile phone and the internet still retained elements of magical novelty. For most of the 90s, they were generally regarded as reserved for certain types of people. We were told in preceding years that we should aspire to be whatever types of people they were, but many of us assumed it was only those types of people who were paying much attention. It was as difficult to identify who was right then as much as it is now. We were probably too busy diverting our confusion into entertainment products, the tastes we often mistook for needs. Lurking somewhere inside that common mistake, a vague sense of generational identity was found. Listening to 'You Don't Know Me' today, I hear one world making an exit; weary and unsure of the one about to enter. I doubt that was the intention of the song, and the years that followed demonstrate how we can't tidily pinpoint our anxieties according to the calendar. Society is experiencing a far more overwhelming transition in 2011 than we could imagine in 1999. We didn't realise how limited our perspective actually was back then, but history teaches us that's nothing new. 

Van Helden's track was pretty retro for 1999, but it hardly sounds dated in the context of today's pop music. The context of how we hear it may have changed, but even that can defy easy categorisation. My most vivid memory of hearing it was passing through an unlikely (?) location, while the historical and emotional significance of the site was explained to me. Ghosts were mentioned; but we punctuated the old sad story by turning up the volume to bounce our tired and emotional heads, until another subject of conversation came up. The party we were returning from didn't conform to standard 90s cliches either. Not the discofied set of the video, that's for sure. A less contained space for hedonism than the above mise en scene presented as the norm. It may be tasteless to suggest that location's history gained resonance as the above song hitched along for the ride, but for me it accenuated historical reverberations in the (then) present. It may be more arrogant to separate a very deep historical wound from the indulgent, transient context that brings these wounds to one's attention in the first place. When, where, and how we learn things matters to what is being learned. After all, atrocity and disco exist in the same world as my thoughts do. The histories of both continue to effect the direction they take, even unconsciously. At certain times, the most unlikely of partners can join in on the neuron dance. And the bigger the crowd gets, the harder the outcome is to predict.

I never actually saw the above video until I just cut and pasted it. There's been enough water under the bridge for the song to survive somewhere outside its visual packaging. It was an anthem of something. Twelve years ago, I may have believed it spoke 'for' me. A few years later, it was more likely to be speaking to me; on behalf of those within immediate orbit, or those mediated at a further distance. And now? Perhaps it's lyrics are more applicable to an ephemeral space hovering somewhere in between: 'Here'. That virtual world of known unknowns: demanding our responses are as immediate as possible, be they strident or passive. Where the structure of the exchange decides the final result, far more than any strength of argument or solid confirmation of fact. A world that doesn't really exist; but is nevertheless capable of moving our attention towards unexpected places. Leading our thought processes to novelty, amusement, offense, events, argument, atrocity; occasionally realising that our bodies are lagging further behind the further we seek. Every easy click limiting our time and movement, a few more minutes and hours that will never return. The electronic caricature of a cyclical time and personal immediacy long lost to us. Yet another disease of language we couldn't vaccinate. Diagnosis alone cures nothing.

So what am I talking about 'here'? Am I making any sense? That depends on who it's written for, which I thought would be obvious: You of course, dear reader. The other side of the interface. If you're uncertain whether I actually am speaking to you, then we can revert to the oldest of computer games to establish a connection. They once excitedly called it 'interactive', a word used a lot less with regards to the internet in 2011. Movements diagonal, horizontal, vertical, triangular, back and forth; eventually receding back into the darkness, once the screen bids farewell. Any interaction in these spaces is the laziest kind of performance. If you opt out of playing you for the time being, we'll accept that as a statement of indifference or ignorance. For the time being, you may not have even arrived 'here' yet. At some point over the next few weeks (months, years) you could be finding yourself 'here' for the first time. Then you can grace your silence with a minor judgement; as swift as it is forgettable. You've 'been' somewhere, and so on to the next visit, and so on to the next, and so on.

If the memories dicussed at the beginning of the post elude any wider significance, then this platform denies their significance outright. The internet has proven to be a poor replacement for the pop song, the car journey, the party, or indeed history passed on via the spoken word. We can fool ourselves that it goes some way to satisfying our communal longings, but in 2023 its features and talking points will be a far dimmer memory than a disposable song heard from the back of a car. No pop song released today will evoke much in the way of a shared memory. No one will convince anyone that ghost victims of recent atrocities haunt these networks, much less those of three centuries ago. This post, and its source, will be of no consequence to anyone within days. The memories I allude to are unreliable enough to those who can remember them. Opinions or autobiographical details expressed before or after are quite useless. My intentions won't matter, if they ever did. To enquire why I wrote any of the above would be more futile than friendly. You could ask me five minutes after I click 'publish', tomorrow, next week, or five years from now. Where it all came from, and where it wanted to go, would remain a cold case. You'd be none the wiser. How could you be? You don't even know me.

(NB. This post was corrected after spotting several typos, which only added to the general rambling klutziness of the piece.)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ends Of History

"It is true that Columbus harbored strong prejudices about the peaceful islanders whom he misnamed "Indians" - he was prejudiced in their favor. For Columbus, they were "the handsomest men and the most beautiful women" he had ever encountered. He praised the generosity and lack of guile among the Tainos, contrasting their virtues with Spanish vices. He insisted that although they were without religion, they were not idolaters; he was confident that their conversion would come through gentle persuasion and not through force. The reason, he noted, is that Indians possess a high natural intelligence. There is no evidence that Columbus thought that Indians were congenitally or racially inferior to Europeans. Other explorers such as Pedro Alvares Cabral, Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, and Walter Raleigh registered similar positive impressions about the new world they found."
"A sincere effort to study other cultures “from within” requires a rejection of the Western lens of cultural relativism. Multiculturalists who wish to take non-Western cultures seriously must take seriously their repudiation of relativism. Otherwise a humble openness to other cultures becomes an arrogant dismissal of their highest claims to truth."
Dinesh D'Souza, The End of Racism, 1995

"Columbus inaugurated perhaps the greatest experiment in political, economic, and cultural cannibalism in the history of the Western World."   
 Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, 1992

"Columbus should be honored, for in so doing, we honor Western civilization. Some cultures are better than others: a free society is better than slavery; reason is better than brute force as a way to deal with other men; productivity is better than stagnation. In fact, Western civilization stands for man at his best. It stands for the values that make human life possible: reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, productive achievement."
Michael Berliner, Executive Director of the Ayn Rand Institute, 1992

"Could it be that the human calamity caused by the arrival of Columbus, was a sort of dress rehearsal of what is to come as the ozone becomes more depleted, the earth warms, and the rain forests are destroyed?" 
 Ishmael Reed, Founder of the Before Columbus Foundation, 1992

"What did Christopher Columbus do, discover America? If he hadn't, somebody else would have and we'd still be here. Big deal."
John Waters, film-maker,1992

"The cruelties multiplied. Las Casas saw soldiers stabbing Indians for sport, dashing babies’ heads on rocks. And when the Indians resisted, the Spaniards hunted them down, equipped for killing with horses, armor plate, lances, pikes, rifles, crossbows, and vicious dogs. Indians who took things belonging to the Spaniards - they were not accustomed to the concept of private ownership and gave freely of their own possessions - were beheaded, or burned at the stake.
Las Casas’ testimony was corroborated by other eyewitnesses. A group of Dominican friars, addressing the Spanish monarchy in 1519, hoping for the Spanish government to intercede, told about unspeakable atrocities, children thrown to dogs to be devoured, new-born babies born to women prisoners flung into the jungle to die."
"Let me make myself clear. I am not interested in either denouncing or exalting Columbus. It is too late for that. We are not writing a letter of recommendation for him to decide his qualifications for undertaking another voyage to another part of the universe. To me, the Columbus story is important for what it tells us about ourselves, about our time, about the decisions we have to make for our century, for the next century.
Why this great controversy today about Columbus and the celebration of the quincentennial? Why the indignation of native Americans and others about the glorification of that conqueror? Why the heated defense of Columbus by others? The intensity of the debate can only be because it is not about 1492, it’s about 1992."
 Howard Zinn, Christopher Columbus, 1992

Saturday, 8 October 2011

'90s Haunto-Shite Pt. 3

Further to Found Objects' "Open Letter to the BBC" over at the '70s blog, here's a last gasp of beeb iconography from the '90s. I keep thinking of this sort of design aesthetic whenever I listen to Destroyer's Kaputt (which is pretty great stuff btw).