Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pleasantville is no solution – social networks need to get more social

glitchr_1414956386000

Eine deutschsprachige Version dieses Artikels gibt es hier zu lesen.

US-Comedian Chelsea Handler posted a picture on Instagram, that showed a photo of herself next to a Putin one – both of them riding a horse, both of them topless. Her caption was: “Anything a man can do, a woman has the right to do better #kremlin.” Instagram deleted the picture referring to its community guidelines.

The simplest reaction to this would have been: “Well, it’s just like domiciliary rights: If I post something to a service I have to subject to their rules.” On the other hand users are increasingly aware that they have a certain power to have a say in this because their contents are the bricks that make that house. If a service strays too far from what its users want, they will leave it.

In such spirit Chelsea Handler posted the image once more; this time with the comment that it is sexist to delete it. When Instagram removed it again she posted a screenshot of the removal message, captioned “If a man posts a photo of his nipples, it’s ok, but not a woman? Are we in 1825?” This sparked a discussion about the appropriateness of Instagram’s action. Many comments agreed with Handler’s position but – surprise, surprise! – there also were smug comments like “hoho, if it’s about naked tits, this is exactly my kind of feminism”.

The interesting part of such disputes is that they shed light on social media’s problem areas.

The interesting part of such disputes is not their celebrity content nor their sensationalisability but that they show where the brickwork crumbles. They make it easier to find social media’s problem areas and to criticise and improve them. To ignore them as meaningless outrage can get dangerously close to the tradition of discounting women’s criticism as hysteric. Even though the tone of online discussions often is heated and polemic, they should be taken seriously as markers of problem zones. That media often treats them as problem and not whatever triggered the discussions, speaks for itself. Media often is part or platform of the problem.

Time has an article by Charlotte Alter that titles “Instagram is right to censor Chelsea Handler”. She argues that for childrens’ sake all images of naked women’s breasts have to be deleted from social networks like Instagram, even breastfeeding ones (something that even Facebook has abandoned by now. At least officially). Alter’s reasoning: “because that kind of monitoring helps keep revenge porn and child porn off of the network. It’s not that kids on Instagram need to be protected from seeing naked photos of Chelsea Handler–it’s they need to be protected from themselves.” How her argumentation gets from a picture of a self-esteemed satirically posing grown-up woman to child pornography ultimately mirrors its belittling and incapacitating gestus. That youth is far more sovereign in their use of social media than worrying parents that haven’t grown up with those can be learned from experts like Danah Boyd. That extensive censoring doesn’t produce the benefit that simplificating hardliners expect of it is just as clear. Both have their bets on control and the restriction of liberties instead of analysis and discussion. Both dash over and over against the complexity of human social behaviour. As Astra Taylor and Joanne McNeil sharply put it in “The Dads of Tech”: “Complicated power dynamics do not fit neatly into an Internet simple enough for Dad to understand.”

Drawing the line of what’s acceptable at the view of female nipples is rather arbitrary.

Nude pix of women like the Handler one are a good example for the failure of such methods. The borders between the depiction of asexual, erotic and pornographic nudity are liquid and complex. A medical and arid picture of a fully naked body is less erotic than an image of a body wrapped in dessous. What if it’s an articial nipple, say as decoration on a cake? And so on. What is considered indecent depends on cultural background, age and other contexts. What’s for sure: Drawing the line of what’s acceptable at the view of female nipples is rather arbitrary. Amanda Marcotte describes it very good in her piece on Chelsea Handle’s clash with Instagram:

“The taboo around the nipple encapsulates how ridiculous and contradictory our expectations about women, fashion, and sexuality really are. On the one hand, women are expected to be sexually appealing, even to the point of mutilating our feet to achieve that forever-sexy mystique. But we’re also expected to avoid being too sexual, or else we’re considered scandalous. The conflicting demands reduce us to counting inches of cloth and arbitrarily deciding that the nipple is a step too far. We’d all be better off in a more sensible society where women could walk around topless to look sexy but wearing 3-inch heels was considered over the top.”

Different networks with different approaches for different needs?

Networks like Twitter or Ello have different ways of dealing with NSFW content. Instead of drawing such arbitrary lines of what’s accepted, Twitter – where Chelsea Handler posted her picture after she said goodbye to Instagram – treats its users as more mature and makes trust a preset. It does the complexity and subjective nature of what people find offensive more justice: it’s the users’ choice what to look at. If users often post sensitive content (nudity, violence, medical procedures etc.) they are asked to change the settings for their account so that other users get a warning that must be clicked away consciously before they see the picture. Twitter only reacts after reported violations. The video gamer service Twitch has chosen a different approach when it forbade all its users to show themselves with naked chests. Puritanical or equal? Gesture of solidarity or patronizing prudery? Those are topics that are anything but clear offline and maybe we can learn for it from such online discussions. The various approaches to the handling of potentially offensive contents might mean that the most sensible way of chosing and developing social networks is using different services for different needs. But what if networks aim for being the one-in-all ring to rule them all because it means more users and more profit.

It’s time to take the next step: How can social networks be made more social?

Charlotte Alter writes in her pro-censoring piece: “This is also a question of practicality. Ideally, Instagram would be able to distinguish between a naked 13-year old and a breastfeeding mom. In reality, it would be unrealistic to expect Instagram to comb through their content, keeping track of when every user turns 18, whether the user is posting photos of themselves or of someone else, and whether every naked photo was posted with consent. …”

In plain englisch: You can not expect adequate content moderation from Instagram. Let me be perfectly clear in my disagreement: Yes, this is exactly the demand we have to make: Content moderation and restructuring. Social media are increasingly becoming part of too many spheres of our lives to ignore their shortcomings. And after all they make a lot of money from their users and their contents and they already invest a lot of that in finely structured and highly efficient filtering of those contents – just for marketing clients. It’s time to take the next step and think about how social networks can be made more social. Simplification of complex issues, especially if it is about social ethics, should no longer be an acceptable argument for taking the cheapest and simplest route. There are enough signs that the need for this has grown, just look at the size and intensity of something like Gamergate or the current rise of social networks that promise to do things different (Ello or Heartbeat, to name but two).

Charlotte Alter ends her piece with the question: “So which is more important: the rights of a few bold comedians or breastfeeding moms to feel validated by their Facebook followers, or the privacy of people who might have their private photos posted without consent? I would side with the latter any day of the week.”

“Sometimes you need to sacrifice the liberty of some for the safety of all!” – a dangerous credo we know very well from privileged conservative circles. Considering the liberties and rights of a few as inevitable collateral damage you have to accept for a greater good is nothing but an ignorant denial of efforts to analyse complex issues that need complex solutions. We shouldn’t forget that in a lot of media and marketing the depiction of women’s bodies still means sexual objectivation for a male gaze while social media platforms give women the freedom to counter this with a self-empowering depiction of their bodies – no matter if erotic or breastfeeding or satirical or medical. It would be sad to give up the self-empowering possibilities of social networks in the name of safety. Instead we should demand changes that start doing the fluid diversity of their users justice without getting in conflict with accessibility for youths. Pleasantville is no solution.

ORCHID 140.10.2014: a ghost army of lovers that cannot lose

Tomorrow: Next edition of my post-cynical queer night at K4.

“Being queer means leading a different sort of life. It’s not about the mainstream, profit-margins, patriotism, patriarchy or being assimilated. It’s not about executive directors, privilege and elitism. It’s about being on the margins, defining ourselves; it’s about gender-fuck and secrets, what’s beneath the belt and deep inside the heart; it’s about the night. Being queer is “grassroots” because we know that everyone of us, every body, every cunt, every heart and ass and dick is a world of pleasure waiting to be explored. Everyone of us is a world of infinite possibility. We are an army because we have to be. We are an army because we are so powerful. And we are an army of lovers because it is we who know what love is. Desire and lust, too. We invented them. We come out of the closet, face the rejection of society, face firing squads, just to love each other!
Every time we fuck, we win.”
QUEER NATION, 1990

orchid1410-webflyer

HARDLY PART…
ARTY PART
PARTLY ART
HARDLY ART
PARTY ART
PARTY HARD!!!

reflectinghearts

reflecting hearts reflecting politics reflecting communities reflecting art reflecting

“Discreetly” up yours.

nails“We are Undercover Colors and we are the first fashion company empowering women to prevent sexual assault.”
 
Undercover colors is a product that a team of four young men wants to throw on the market: Nail polish that changes its colour after contact with date rape drugs like Rohypnol or Xanax. The idea is that you stir your drink “discreetly” with your finger to test it. And of course on first look it sounds nice: You don’t need to spoil your date by showing distrust, like when you pull out a testing strip in front of his eyes. I love the CSI mobile chemistry lab science gadget part of the idea. They are good in marketing. They have learned from similar products’ promo mistakes. They use the right words: “Choice”, “discretion”, “empower”, “shift the fear from the victims to the perpetrators”.
 
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard but I say oh bondage, up yours!”
 

 
I guess you already feel the huge BUT coming up: While this nail polish sure might be handy, this doesn’t shift the fear. It’s just one more way to keep the problem restricted to women. I’m tired of things women should do discreetly. We are to bleed discreetly, we are to shave discreetly, we are to keep our anger about sexism discreetly, oh, we are so well trained to not spoil men’s fun with our problems (see that “our” melting from acidic sarcasm? Not nice, I know. But, hey, I empower you to save it by simply not treating human’s problems like women’s problems). How they market it, this nail polish is just one more way to keep our fear secret. Thank you, men, for giving us a “choice” to find out or not if some guy might rape us. Discreetly. Thank you for “empowering” us with nail polish. I think the marketing here is worse than the product. It plays with feminist language, takes it out of its context and twists it into, well, I guess Poly Styrene would say: into bondage.
 
If i was to come up with a fashionable date rape drug testing tool, it would be something clearly visible, something flashy, it would be the new cool to stir your drink with it. In fact every edgy club and every cozy pub would serve all drinks with it, no matter to what gender it’s served. It would be a glow-in-the-dark stick, sonic screwdriver-style, that goes off blinking and buzzing madly when it senses date rape drugs, shooting glitter cascades so that everyone around notices it. And it would automatically pour a permanently sticky neon glow-in-the-dark colour in your drink – (you know, like that stuff that cops in tv crime shows use to mark ransom money) – so you could pour it all over the person who put that crap in your drink and even if he ran away it would be visible to everybody. And the colour would itch like hell. That would be nice. And empowering. I clearly should have become a scientist designer person.

A non-holiday

A non-holiday is basically infusionhow I feel at the moment. After a summer flu (my diagnosis) had turned into a sepsis (the hospital’s diagnosis) end of July I was taken out of my regular life and dropped into a strange new one filled with a fixed time schedule, lack of privacy and lots of health checks. I had to spend 11 days at the hospital and it seemed three times as long. I was proper scared by the diagnosis as a friend of mine had died of a septic shock and the first few days there were quite a blur. I had a fever and felt weak and constantly on the edge of throwing up, and my lower left leg was swollen and red. I can’t even remember how I helped coordinating our shows in that state – I may as well have texted feverish nonsense. But my wonderful musikverein gang and friends decrypted it all and made everthing work. I’m still sad that I missed so much – Kurt Vile, Karo, The Tidal Sleep, Perfect Pussy and so on…. Anyways: Smartphones once more proved to be the best invention ever, connecting me with friends by a few simple gestures.

My veins proved pretty bad for needles and after five days of punching holes into me only for the infusions to stop working after an hour or two they gave up and switched to pills. That introduced me to the first allergy of my life: My body didn’t like the first kind of antibiotics they had given me and I was covered in red dots from head to toes for three days. But then I liked the next antibiotics better anyways because they were red and even in that state I liked my world filled with pop cultural references: I chose the red pill!

What surprised me about the hospital experience was how little I minded the lack of privacy. It didn’t matter to me that nurses and doctors entered the room without knocking at any time and interrupted whatever you were doing. I would have imagined me being pretty sensitive about that. I guess it’s due to the weakness and the trust you put in them to heal and help you that makes you give up any claims for private space or time.

It also didn’t bother me much to have a room mate but both I had didn’t make it easy on me. It was two 90 year old ladies. Both were basically nice persons but it was tough to share their lives for a few days each. The first one was lively and chatty, even fun at first but then she started repeating her stories. Again and again. No matter if you listened or not, no matter if you told her you already heard it, she kept talking until I could quietly mouth her words along. Also she was insomniac and a few times she scared me shitless: imagine getting up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and suddenly a voice starts talking to you out of the darkness. It was as if she was watching me constantly only to start talking at me as soon as I didn’t seem asleep. Or reading. Boy, was I happy when I was strong enough to start reading. Books saved me in there. Books meant privacy and escape.

After this woman went home, they brought another 90 year old woman to my room and this time it was a rather weak and slightly dement lady. She was nice but had a talent to time vomiting, urinating and even diarrhoea to our meals. So for the second half of my stay at the hospital having something to eat was steadily combined with heavy smells and trying to look away from her being helped by a nurse to get cleansed after peeing on floor etc. I lost 6 kilos while in there. (I do not just blame her condition; the hospital food was not exactly good nor healthy. I was so happy when my sister and friends brought me fresh fruit.)
It was stressful though because I not only had to contain myself but also help and talk her into not feeling ashamed. It is natural after all and we all get old sooner or later and we will be just as helpless and happy for others’ empathy.

As bonus stress factor there was a construction site in front of my window which I kept open most of the time because summer, sunshine and to get smells out. The workers there really showed off all the cool tools they got, from cement-mixer to jackhammer and something that made really high shrill beeping noises. Soundwise, it was not lacking in variety. Honestly, most of the time this hospital stay was like having to pass a stress test. I was constantly ommmmmmming myself, constantly telling myself: It’s just a few days, you are quiet, you are relaxed, others are far worse off, you will get better, just focus on this book. I think I passed. The last week-end was especially heavy as in a room next to mine a man was apparently in heavy pain and he was screaming, wimpering, shouting… Even all the nurses were on the edge of their nerves. I almost wished for the construction site workers to also do their noisy job on the week-end to make those screams go away. It didn’t help that at that point I was reading Philip Roth’s Everyman.

ninjaI just wanted to go home. I’m still not sure if it was too early that I got out – my main doctor said it was okay but the dermatologist said she would keep me in there for another week. That’s why the happiness and peace of being at home (and being with Ninja the cat again!) now is distorted with a little fear that it might not heal properly, that I might miss some bad symptom, that I might do something wrong and make it all worse. Suddenly I missed the controlled cage with all its blood-testing and temperature-measuring and professional bandaging. Especially yesterday, when I realised that it was the first day without antibiotics after three weeks I honestly felt a ripple of fear. My leg is still far from being healed and it’s a kind of wound of which I have no experience to tell what’s a regular time span for it to take to heal. Feels like alien meat, like not-me, alienated shin. Being restricted by having to put that leg up doesn’t help. I miss walks.

From reading one book a day at the hospital I have now switched to binge-watching series in order to escape and pass time. I still feel weak and somehow not capable of thinking more complex than “whoa, it’s not very doctorish to let that scared and lonely dinosaur burn alive!” when watching the new Doctor Who or “gosh, will people read this as police-state-in-the-making as it is? as scary and dangerous transgression from secret service military realm to the citizen-concerned realm of the police? will people read this at all?” when seeing the new Crisscross NSA leaks article. Words don’t come as easily as I’m used to. Contemplating the things I read and watch doesn’t come as easily as I’m used to. Watching and reading things as an escape, not as a stimulus for thinking or getting me creative as I’m used to. With every book I put down and with every series I finish watching I just come back down to the here and now to check if my injury has gone away and to be disappointed again. Ah – patience never has been my strength but I promise I’m trying not to let self-pity rule my world. And taking up writing again is a first step.

Oh, and I miss my musikverein gang and going out with my famiglia of friends! Illness is so isolating. Each visit brightened my day like sunshine melting snow. This Friday, Confused, I will try going out again for the first time. I even have been promised a hammock but will be happy with a chair to rest my leg on and be among huminz and chatting and enjoying a bit of loud pumping bass music.

Dear omgdigitalpanic journalists,

Dear omgdigitalpanic journalists, I have news for you: EVERYBODY would like to work from a safe space outside of capitalism.

I get it. You’re scared. Of robots and readers, of algorithms and austerity. But:

If you want to rage it shouldn’t be ‘us against the machines’ but ‘us against the machine’.

To spell it out: Not ‘us against technology’ but ‘us against the system’, not ‘us against the inhuman’ but ‘us against the inhumane’.

(just to make it really clear: system = how and why technology is used)

As much as I like self-reflection I am getting tired of your constant luddist ‘omg future of journalism is at stake’ crying.

One day it’s the digital readers, the other day google or clickbait sites. Never yourselves.

Stop the demonisation of digital. You have a once in a generation chance of reinventing what your work is about – use it.

At least you have a voice. Many others don’t.

And whenever you feel scared and like self-pitying turn your headphones up to the max and try dancing naked in your bedroom to this:

 

The magic of repetition

You all might know the scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ in which the psychologist breaks up/consoles the genius juvenile Will Hunting by repeating over and over: “It’s not your fault”. I hate/love that scene and for a long time I had thought it’s just appealing to people who have been abused themselves in whatever way. ‘Hate’ because how dare Hollywood touch us there with its dirty hands.

Now I feel that – similarly to Audrey Hepburn calling out for “cat” in the rain at the end of Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and like the endless repetition of “it’s alright” in Ted Leo’s ‘Little Dawn’ – it somehow manages to be both: cliche and whatever the antonym of cliche is, it breaks the cliche by making it unique again for a moment. By repeating those simplest of words – “it’s not your fault”, “it’s alright” and, yes: “cat” – over and over they tip the scale from empty sentimental gesture to brimming with emotion.

That vague feeling of being lost and scared that seems to connect many of us like an endless drone humming and vibrating underneath, a vague feeling of guilt, humming, like a far too tightly wound bass string vibrating so softly that we hardly can hear and feel it most of the time, but when we do, then it gives us that feeling within our stomach, the feeling that it’s always our own fault if we don’t ‘make it’. If we don’t earn enough money. If we don’t manage to control our body and looks. If we disappoint expectations. For some even just: if we let go. Those two scenes and that song manage to disrupt that for one sweet moment using the magic of repetition.

Or at least I like to think so.

The trembling table

A stroll through nightly suburb streets made me recall a line by Ingeborg Bachmann (or was it Jelinek? I think it was Bachmann.) about how the cruelest crimes happen behind those middle class suburbian walls. What looks like happy families through the illuminated windows of EdScissorhandian pastel homes turns into gruesome horrors in the corner of the eye. I like how quiet and peaceful it seems. I like the ‘seems’.

Back home I sit down and it suddenly hits me that the table I’m working at is the same table at which I sat for family dinners when I was a child. What comes to my mind is not the food, is not what we talked about, are not the familiar faces of my mother, my sister, my father. What comes to my mind is how the table used to tremble. How I felt the wood trembling under my fingertips, my hands, my arms. The table trembled every couple of weeks when my father tried sobering up and his body fought back. No Upworthy headline could suggest to you the tension that was in the air whenever he did so. No genre could capture what artists my mother and my sister had become in avoiding his eyes and making small-talk, skillfully zig-zagging around him, as if he was a blank, as if he didn’t sit there with us. They circled the most delicate patterns of topics he couldn’t use to start a fight into the icy air surrounding those family dinners. I just sat there scared and angry to my bone, scared of all of them, angry at all of them, wanting to scream: Don’t leave me alone with this tension! I don’t know how to play your games!
It was almost liberating when he exploded nevertheless – of course he did, they were artists, no magicians -, shouting at the top of his lungs what a horrible cook my mother was – which of course she wasn’t -, smashing pot and plate with delicious food on the floor in such big big anger and disgust and the deep longing for a powerful reaction. He stomped off, my mother and sister just shut up for a moment, then chatted on quietly as if nothing had happened. I was stone.

The tension. I haven’t in&exhaled fully until I was 19 and he was dead. It’s a small thing and I tend to forget it but it’s true: I used to never breathe fully. It was my way of making me smaller and if not invisible at least a little bit see-through. If no one sees you breathing, if your chest doesn’t move when you breath you’re not there. Melt into the background. If you do it right he won’t explode unto you. The tension. He was so powerful to me in those years. It was as if he could shoot me to the moon with a snap of his finger if he wasn’t careful. Not that I would have minded. Tiptoeing around the trembling table. Sometimes I think I love living in these suburbs because I need the constant reminder of what could happen if you don’t pay attention. You could end up in some sort of family with people you love and do the same shit to them. But not as long as you manage to keep this table from trembling.