What does our world look like after the end of it ?
Earlier this morning I was reading over the liner notes of Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe and she spoke of the potentialities of computers to be “grassroots, almost a folk medium” with a lot of her efforts in 1976 crafting a counter-narrative to the idea that electronics were “inaccessible tools of large bureaucratic systems”. This idea in 2020 is tough to imagine as nearly every piece of technology has been smoothed out so much as to thrive in its inaccessibility. Mediums are now synonymous with their industries. The number of hoops to jump through are so numerous, to reach any form of “success” is virtually unattainable. As much as ‘prosumer’ has entered our lexicon, where many more now having the capabilities to produce what they also consume at a more professional level, most technologies now only exist as a medium towards accessing a pre-defined platform— one that we pseudo-actively engage in, all as a front to either sell server space, ad dollars, or whatever new money making path companies pivot to this fiscal decade (see: data). At first, the printing press disrupted the systemic spread of knowledge, that system predominately being the Catholic Church at the time. The printing press disrupted as it created a semi-equitable parallel power structure and one that reached the middle and (more importantly) working class. Now many more people with an idea or perspective different from the pope could not only create a book but also duplicate and spread knowledge/unheard histories/perspectives never before paperbound. Such an abstract concept those in power couldn’t understand or a get a handle on was soon reified with publishing companies or bookstores that once again placed the power of dissemination back into their hands. Since then, the advances in technologies that crafts a new medium seems to always follow this death cycle: initially being a revolutionary tool for change before the powers that be find a way to smother it into something either so boring or inaccessible that the medium becomes co-opted into the capitalist power structure of accumulating money for the bureaucratic oligarchy.
This cycle has been on a loop since the printing press with Gutenberg. From books beget radio, with War of The Worlds scaring an entire populace into thinking their end of the world was coming their New Jersey suburb in 1938. Radical political consciousness in the 60’s was carried over the airwaves giving people access to music unheard and ideas unimagined. KPFA Radio in Oakland broadcasted rally speeches by Bobby Seale, Bettina Apthecker, Robert Scheer, Bob Avakian, and John Kelly for stopping the draft for the Vietnam war. Much of the counterculture’s fight was across the ionosphere from radar towers. AM/FM radio was a tool towards disruption for many years to spread certain mindset not heard in the small towns of America and elsewhere. In Vietnam, airplanes flew megaphones with radio broadcasts for the goal to convince soldiers that they have no allegiance to Uncle Sam and should defect (this also happened with the printed paper being dropped by the tons across Europe in World War 2. Unfortunately, the death cycle reached its particular completion with radio with the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
This act was America’s first successful reform on broadcasting companies in the 62 year lifespan of radio at that time. This deregulation eliminated a cap on nationwide station ownership and allowed one corporation to own up to 4 stations in a single market. In five years after the act was passed, radio station owners went from 5100 to 3800. This act is still felt today with iHeartMedia running a monopoly racket on radio around the country with currently 855 radio stations (one companies could own a max of 20 AM and FM callsigns) all playing the same Top 40 songs regardless of region or geographical culture. This act promotes less variety in programing and “damaged radio as a public resource” . When the public goes private, evil can happen in the shadows. By 1996, analog radio as a tool for culture, and by extension real change, halted all together. Here is good time to go in music in general but I think we all know the curious case of streaming platform not paying artists.
The sad cycle continues with television and film. Television started with so many potentialities and used them effectively towards elucidating stories previously only heard into confirmation by pictures seen. Anti-war sentiment was always around but history showed that during the Vietnam war, having footage of the depths of depravity that war can bring changed everything. In many ways, the revolution was being televised. The Romanian revolution could not have occurred without the broadcasted protests bringing more people out of their homes and into the streets in 1989. As the state run newspaper spoken of coup and stolen revolutions, the television showed an authoritarian massacre of its own citizenry. Similar to the Vietnam broadcasts, revolutionaries in the 1960’s also used television as a tool to disrupt the status quo. Before the desensitization of televised images Kwame Ture spoke of with non-violent protest came about, civil rights leader used the power of image to showcase the disparity of violence from those merely walking or siting down in a restaurant to fight for their rights. Actions such as these alongside violent direct action around the country lead to the civil rights act of 1968. As if to kill two birds with one stone, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 also promoted monopolies of broadcast stations and sooner or later only a hand of corporation now control the output of all television. Every one knows what Viacom is and maybe that eerie Sinclair media video. Film, once a fertile ground for ideas and artist, is now a meat grinder for aspiring writers and directors to undergo the eternal gauntlet of film festivals and streaming service that give you pennies ultimately (if you’re lucky) to have a failing opening week because Phase 7 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe happened to drop their 13th film on your weekend. In all of these examples, the conclusion is the same, under late-stage capitalism, the term starving artist is redundant resulting in us all losing out on future culture because those who usually push it are too at risk to sustain their life through their work.
Under proper regulation and before capitalists reached a certain upscaling where competition is virtually impossible, there was an unhealthy but barely functional balance between the public access and private consolidation. Books were a folk medium, accessible to many before Barnes and Nobles and Amazon stripped any sort of sustainability through your work. Television and radio was a revolutionary tool where artists of little notoriety could reach the masses with relative ease. Now it’s an unthoughtof concept to get excited to hear your song on the radio. When was the last time you even thought of that idea? The last battleground we lost is the one we’re on right now. The internet was, as with all the prior technologies, a place to disrupt the status quo, one to use as a tool to crafted parallel structure for the people. This is no longer the case and the scary thing is because of its illusion of interactivity, we still believe it to be the case. Even with all the good work that is done on the internet, it only bolsters these megacorporations to continue the all consuming body of capitalism, the very same that squeezed out any radical bent from prior technologies and people. It’s a double-edged sword why Laurie Spiegel was right and a little off about electronics being a folk medium. As with all mediums under the foot of capitalism, they can be but only for so long. In the present day, Minneapolis and revolution work being captured online has been completely culture shifting but a weighing fear is how many of these recorded act are now being used to kill or incarcerate these revolutionaries. AI and face recognition is continuing this acceleration of techno-authoritarianism with social media sites legally scraping data off platforms to build machine learning datasets. The FBI has public stated work such as this, with the end result making us the tools of the internet, not the other way around. The internet had and acted upon the potential toward disrupting almost every industry. Napster, online libraries, internet radio, and socializing with other across the world; hell, there was honest conversation towards a path to decentralize fiat money with bitcoin a couple years back, flaws and all. Streaming, online journals behind insane paywalls, bandwidth caps, “cloud” server space, social media platforms, algorithms, and Venmo have suppressed all of these potentialities. The final frontier now has a Starbucks on every corner with a cop at the entrance.
My own personal outlook is that proletariats used inventions as a prime tool for destabilizing bourgeoisies power structures; invention and mass use of technologies such as the printing press, radio, film, and the internet. With each passing advancement, there existed a lag from the powers that be in understanding both what this technology before its subsumption into the capitalist structure. This occurred with each technology but thankfully there was another one around the corner for the good work to be done within this lag. My question is this: is there another lag on the horizon? Is there another technology to supersede the internet where revolutionary work can continue before the boring death co-opting of advertising and regulation and algorithms? My guess is no, so for the first time in recent history we need to think like no one has thought before. We can no longer outpace the acceleration of capitalism with newness. In one lifetime, one could see the introduction of video games literally being one pixel against another and now the Last of Us Part II’s hyperrealism satiating every stimuli in our eyes and ears. That sort of meteoric progression is never to happen again in pretty much any aspect of our lives, it can’t as the structures in place don’t allow for it. We’ve reached the ceiling we can’t bust through. Another example is the music technology, from wax cylinder and turntables to iPods and digital streaming platforms. It’s hard to see whats next on the horizon to be completely honest and maybe that’s ironically for the best. How can we imagine a world that for the first time in generations, stops outpacing capitalism with technology and turn around to confront it to take back the mediums for the people once again?
In dovetailing this within the context of my work here at Dweller, a prime example of that would be the recent library we’ve compiled that strives to bring historical lineage through the power of archival works such as papers, blogs, documentaries, and interviews. The denaturalization of the present through untold histories is one of the most powerful we have at our disposal. The truth is always powerful, especially the ones explicitly hidden from us for so long. Many in the scene continue to trail-blaze forward but the fuel is no longer the deep want to be a part of something wholly fresh and new; the redefined goal is root ourselves amongst our elders and ancestors. I used to be pessimistic growing up on the readings of Mark Fisher and his outlook on a cancelled future. As stated in a prior piece, Notes on Southern Electronics, I still don’t believe he was wrong with the notion of the post-Fordism “globalization, ubiquitous computerization, and the casualization of labor [producing a culture] that has lost its ability to grasp and articulate the present” (Fisher, Ghost of My Life). The idea that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a future worth looking forward to should not result in a depressive response but a call to actions towards a reimagining and retelling of the culture as we truly want it and not one given to us. Not being able to imagine a future is really the world telling us to read the room. When there are no answers in front of us how to we create new ones?
This current moment has changed all of our lives in a way where looking back to early March reflects a life now in the past-tense. Lockdown has brought so much strife to many that we thought would never see the world as so many of us do; the pain, the struggle we fought for has now been in the streets for the past 30+ days none stop. Mutual aid and donations have skyrocketed. Knowledge building and resource sharing is as common as posting a selfie for the ig story. In fact, most of the timeline continues to be educational or community building work. I’m incredibly proud of the collective liberation that has been ongoing and pray that its becomes a norm towards the future. Honestly, the fact books are in favor again is an objective good. But these platforms we’re on are not our friends (see: enemies) and at some point this reaction must bend towards organizing a parallel power structure that we can all benefit from. At the time of this writing, Spotify is currently down for most iPhone users. Streaming platforms are not parasites of art but decomposers. They devalue the hard work of our friends, family, and other people whose works colors our world every second of every day. The reaction of #Spotifydown is one of sadness and/or jeering from Apple Music users who can listen to the new Snoh Allegra properly. What if, instead this dystopic back and forth, we use this moment to turn towards properly reallocation funds to the creators? BandCamp days have bene nothing but beautiful moments of redistribution resources directly to the creators and we shouldn’t have higher ups in Oakland dictate when we can give all of the 10 dollars to the people who deserve all of those 10 dollars. Parallel power structures and tending the grassroots are one and the same. None of what we see before us is sustainable, we’re watching the music industry and the club scene crumble on our timeline and it would be a deep shame if we watch those that built this house of cards begin again with the same deck. As we engage with our history, let’s continue conversation and constructing coalitions to grab the reigns to our own culture; not to save its future, but to create one in our own image — not a projection slide from board room suits.
Update: This current mess with TBM is another apparent vestige of this exact issue; the techno industry power structure continued to invest and uplift a white woman who has been criticized for a stage name that is harmful at most, cringe at best. When the industry schematic has the most vital components of its culture (black folk in techno) delegated only as a tool to give resource to literally everyone else, the trash we’ve seen on our timeline will continue to occur ad nauseam without a complete restructure towards what we imagine is best for us. Otherwise institution will continue to dictate this sort of issue, give it all the oxygen it can bear and call it “healthy engagement”. This sort of thing to happen on the latest capitalist co-opted medium is not lost on me as our collective anger will only get her numbers up unfortunately. Anger is the most valuable currency On Here. So how can we daily see the ways in which we can truly reciprocate this power structure through constructing one that serves what we want best? A question for us all to ponder but in the meantime, everyone purchase SHYBOI’s “RAVECOMEDOWN” on bandcamp and support our people.