A 1916 American Mug Shot
A 1916 American Mug Shot

Visual technologies continue to play an increasingly key role in strategies for monitoring and surveillance in modern capitalist societies in crime prevention and detection, and the apprehension, recording, documenting and classification of criminals and criminal activities. Still and moving ‘visual evidence’ is stored in state archives, used in courtrooms as evidence, and disseminated across almost every major media platform: from the printed press to the World Wide Web.

The relationship between visual technologies and the criminal justice system can be traced back to the emergence of photography and the invention of the camera as a tool for documenting ‘reality’ in the nineteenth century. The camera was widely believed, even more so than today, to be able to objectively and truthfully record social reality. A photograph was perceived to be like a window on the world – a mechanically produced, impartial and literal representation of the real world. more...


A new duo of apps purports to curb sexual assault on college campuses. WE-CONSENT and WHAT-ABOUT-NO work together to account for both consensual sexual engagement (“yes means yes”) and unwanted sexual advances, respectively.

The CONSENT app works by recording consent proceedings, encrypting the video, and saving it in on secure servers. The video is only accessible to law enforcement through a court order or as part of a university disciplinary hearing. The NO app gives a textual “NO” and shows an image of a stern looking police officer. If the user pays $5/year for the premium version, the app records and stores the recipient of the “no” message, documenting nonconsent. The apps are intended to facilitate mutually respectful sexual engagement, prevent unwanted sexual contact, and circumvent questions about false accusations. See below for quick tutorials provided by the developers more...


Atrocities in Eritrea atop my Twitter feed. A few tweets below that, police violence against an innocent African American girl at a pool party. Below that, the story of a teen unfairly held at Rikers Island for three years, who eventually killed himself. Below that, news about the seemingly unending bombing campaign in Yemen. Below that, several tweets about the Iraq war and climate change—two longtime staples of my timeline. It reminds me of the writer Teju Cole exclaiming on Twitter last summer that “we’re not evolving emotional filters fast enough to deal with the efficiency with which bad news now reaches us….”

This torrent of news about war, injustice, and suffering is something many of us experience online today, be it on Facebook, Twitter, in our inboxes, or elsewhere. But I wonder about the ‘evolutionary’ framing of this problem—do we really need to develop some new kinds of emotional or social or technical filters for the bad news that engulfs us? Has it gotten that bad? more...

Ellen Pao, CEO of Reddit. image credit: Christopher Michel
Ellen Pao, CEO of Reddit. image credit: Christopher Michel

An unfortunately predictable thing happened on Reddit last week. Reddit’s corporate administrators announced that they would be shutting down “five subreddits that break our reddit rules based on their harassment of individuals.” These were fairly small subreddits, except for r/fatpeoplehate which had 150,000 subscribers at time of banning. The primary mission of r/fatpeoplehate was to find pictures of fat people, make fun of them in the comments and –if at all possible—find these people and harass them for being fat. [If you’re unfamiliar with the structure and vocabulary of Reddit I’ve provided a primer at the bottom of this page.]

The administrators were careful to point that they were “banning behavior, not ideas.” That is, while they know that there are dozens of subreddits devoted to white supremacy, tactics for violent raping women, and doxxing young women for espousing feminist beliefs on Tumblr, (yes, all of those exist and they are a lot bigger than you or I want to believe) those communities should rest assured that they will be safe so long as moderators make overtures to discouraging collective behavior that goes beyond reaffirming each other’s dangerous and hateful thoughts.

One could be forgiven for thinking that banning such disgusting behavior from a small minority of people would be met with some “that makes sense” head nods and any sort of outrage would be directed at the failure to ban more subreddits, not less. What in fact happened was quite the opposite: within the day there were dozens of new subreddits playing host to the kind of content and behavior that characterized r/fatpeoplehate. What’s more disturbing though, is that the content from these new subreddits were making it to the frontpage with thousands of votes. There were also countless posts calling for Reddit’s CEO Ellen Pao to do everything from resign to defile herself. As of writing, a full four days after the announcement, there’s an “Ellen Pao Must Resign” subreddit with over seven thousand subscribers that are still able to get links to the front page. more...

According to Steven Shaviro, the combination of digital media and neoliberal capitalism has changed the way movies are composed, their underlying logic. I’ve argued that these changes in film composition parallel recent-ish changes in pop music song composition. Brostep sounds like Transformers having sex because, well, Skrillex and Michael Bay are using the same basic methods to achieve the same general aesthetic. (Seriously, there’s a “Transformers having sex” tag on Mixcloud.) This 2011 video mashes a Transformers clip with a brostep song, and in the same way that 2 Many DJs showed that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Bootylicious” are effectively the same song structure, it shows that Bey and brostep are effectively the same compositional structure.

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But that’s all a preface to what I really want to talk about: Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video.

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Like “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together,” “Bad Blood” is another Max Martin produced pop dubstep track, with verses and choruses organized around a soar or a drop. The first soar/drop happens as Swift’s character is getting suited up by the Trinity, around 1:20-1:30. Here the handclaps rhythmically intensify till a drop, but a drop with no wobble. We just land on the downbeat as Swift sings “now,” and the bass and percussion comes back in. [1] This is repeated at 2:15. These soars take us from the verses into the choruses; they’re mini-climaxes.


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Yesterday Apple announced something many of us were expecting: a streaming service to rival Spotify and possibly expand/destroy the services provided by recently acquired Beats Music. At first glance the recently announced service seems to be not much more than an also-ran for streaming: Apple Music lets you stream the iTunes catalog, make playlists, and provide a radio service for a reasonable monthly subscription. Unlike other services however, Apple is claiming to keep some of the human-curated playlists that gave Robin James’ 80 gig iPod classic a run for its money.

At the center of this “we’re not just Spotify” pitch are not only ad-free stations with real DJs playing music available to a global audience, but a kind of global radio brand that is something much more than Spotify’s pre-made playlists. The inaugural station “Beats 1” will be available in 100 countries when the service launches at the end of this month and even though, at time of writing, most of the world has known about this service for all of half an hour there’s still a lot gleam from the introductory demo. Apple is interested in not only shedding its U2 Dad Rock Albatross (someone photoshop a literal visual representation of that please), it wants to do so by establishing itself as the arbiter of global pop. more...

(un)mask is a short film about the near future of affective, immaterial labor. Cameras—owned by advertisers and the state—pervade our physical spaces. Hypersensitive to facial expression data, corporations and government entities capture and exploit it, offering new modes of biopolitical control through a commodity we cannot help but give away.
Drawing on discourses about immaterial labor and the increasingly sophisticated face-tracking technologies embedded in surveillance systems and tools to measure the effectiveness of advertising, (un)mask suggests that every facial expression is a valuable piece of data—affective labor that advertisers and government agencies can use to make inferences about us and make recommendations to us, algorithmically anticipating our actions and more deeply enmeshing themselves in our daily lives. The film aims to question what avenues of resistance are available to us, and suggests that by over-emoting and thus overflowing the databases of facial expression recognition data with a flood of affect, we can confuse those aiming to exploit this data and devalue it as a commodity.
About the filmmaker: Zach Kaiser is an Assistant Professor of Graphic Design and Experience Architecture in the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at Michigan State University. A designer and music producer, he earned his MFA from the Dynamic Media Institute at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 2013. He has exhibited and lectured both in the U.S. and internationally, including recent appearances at the IMPAKT Festival in Utrecht, The Netherlands, and Relating Systems Thinking and Design 3, in Oslo, Norway. When he’s not worrying about the algorithmic mediation of daily life, Zach can usually be found opining to the nearest passerby on why his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, is the greatest city in the world. 


What counts as a threat via social media, and what are the legal implications? The Supreme Court just made a ruling on this subject, deciding 8-1 that content alone is not sufficient evidence. Most accounts of this ruling frame it as “raising the bar” for a legal conviction of threatening behavior via social media. I argue instead that the bar has not been raised, but made less fixed, and rightly so.

At issue was an earlier conviction and jail sentence for Anthony Elonis, whose Facebook posts projected harm onto his ex-wife, an FBI agent, and school children. more...

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So, when you talk about DNA with respect to music, THIS is the first thing that comes to MY mind.

This is cross-posted at Its Her Factory.

There are a lot of reasons to headdesk over this 538 video about Pandora’s Music Genome Project and its application to music therapy. There’s the video itself: some people in my twitter TL found its cinematography too precious. There’s the project it details: a big data project that uncritically draws assumptions about music from 18th century European music theory (CPE Bach actually wrote the book on tonal harmony), and assumptions about structure, organization, and relationships from genetics.

In addition to the technical problems with the project (that is, its uncritical reliance on Western music theory…whiiiiiich is also racist, in the sense of normatlively white supremacist), the Music Genome Project is, I want to suggest, racist. Its genetics-based approach is too too resonant with 19th century race science, and its therapeutic application (the second half of the video is entirely about this) is pretty clearly biopolitically racist.



“I just wanted to hear your voice and tell you how much I love you” –Samantha, Her

“Is it strange to have made something that hates you?” –Ava, Ex Machina

2001: A Space Odyssey is memorable for more than its depiction of artificial intelligence but also its tranquil pacing and sterile modernism. Ex Machina plays the same, taking place somewhere almost as deeply isolated as space. The remote IKEA-castle of a compound is itself mostly empty with soft piano notes echoing off lonely opulence. The mansion is cold and modern but incorporates the lush nature outside. The film moves from windowless labs to trees and waterfalls to a living room that’s half house half nature. The techno-bio juxtaposition and enmeshment clearly echo the film’s techno-human subject matter. But the wilderness reminds of death as much as life.

The nature here is more than natural but is isolation, is the constant implication that there is no escape, is vulnerable dependence, and ultimately is a reminder that you are under the control of a violent, clever, scheming drunk. more...