The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'streisand effect'
Fifty years ago, the governor of Indiana received an obscenity complaint about the (all but incomprehensible) lyrics of a rock'n'roll song, “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen, which he passed to the FBI. Before they could prosecute those involved, they were faced with the problem of determining what the lyrics (which had been derived from a calypso number from 1957, originally in a cod Caribbean patois, but rendered incomprehensible by the braces worn by the Kingsmen's lead singer) actually meant, and prove that it was actually obscene; and so began an exhaustive investigation, in which the valiant G-men strove, with McCarthyite zeal, to uncover the sinister plot against America's youth by deciphering exactly what kind of filth the lyrics might be:
The subsequent report on the song – unearthed in 1984 by video producer Eric Predoehl – runs for more than 140 pages. The records of the FBI's various attempts to work out the exact kind of obscenities that Louie Louie supposedly contained make for fantastic, demented reading. You can picture agents slowly going nuts as they desperately struggle to pin something, anything, dirty on the lyrics, regardless of whether or not that something makes any sense or actually features in the lyric. "Oh my bed and I lay her there, I meet a rose in her hair," suggested one interpretation. "We'll fuck your girl and by the way," offered another, failing to answer the fairly obvious question this provoked: what, exactly, is by the way? Some of the interpretations were quite lyrical – "Hey Señorita, I'm hot as hell" – although others were not: "Get that broad out of here!"One ad-hoc translator thought it was about masturbation: "Every night and day I play with my thing." Another particularly creative agent seemed to think it centered around the subject of performing cunnilingus on a woman who was menstruating – "She's got a rag on, I'll move above" – which, with the best will in the world, seems a spectacularly improbable topic for any rock band, no matter how raunchy, to be addressing in 1963. Another, more creative still, seems to have actually invented a perversion to fit the garbled vocals: "I felt my bone … ah … in her hair."
In fact, the bureau's persistence says less about the Kingsmen than the era in which it took place. Intriguingly, the concerned letters about Louie Louie and the start of the FBI's investigation coincide with the Beatles' arrival in the US: I Want To Hold Your Hand began its seven-week run at No 1 on 7 February, their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show – watched by 73 million people and considered a seismic event in US pop culture – came two days later. These days, we tend to think of the moptop-era Beatles as uncomplicated, unthreatening and universally adored, but to a certain kind of reactionary mind, the Beatles were anything but uncomplicated and unthreatening. Their very appearance marked them out as unfathomably strange and alien (in one extreme version of this response, far-right British politician John Tyndall, described the Beatles in 1963 as "effeminate oddities … looking for all the world like the members of some primitive African tribe", before accusing them of ushering an era of "weirdness in the male type"). Furthermore, after several years in which rock'n'roll appeared to have been entirely denuded of its provocative power – its initial rawness streamlined and diluted with parent-friendly intimations of pre-rock pop by Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, Bobby Rydell et al – you only had to look at the reaction the Beatles were getting to know that rock'n'roll was suddenly an incredibly potent force once more.The investigation failed to produce anything more than paranoid fancy, but did have the unintended consequence of transforming an incomprehensible, otherwise forgettable rock'n'roll ditty—one which would have almost certainly been swept from history by the tide of Beatlemania months later—into an anthem of pure rock'n'roll rebellion by fiat, a sort of Necronomicon of the moral panics that spanned the gap from the McCarthy Red Scare to the Satanic panic of the Reagan years, its very lack of definition allowing interpreters to read their own demonologies of choice into it. And many, amongst them Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins and The Clash, did versions, filling in the blanks with mundane vulgarities of their own devising (and a few cribbed from the FBI report), to varying effects.
In China, where the government asserts total control over public discourse, certain topics are forbidden, among them is the Tienanmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protesters on 4 June 1989. The government has done its best to expunge the event from the national memory, something which has become increasingly challenging as the population has embraced (a filtered version of) the internet. So the national firewall is programmed to expunge certain keywords, and armies of censors scour message boards looking for offending content. Every year, as the anniversary approaches, the censorship is ramped up to levels bordering on the absurd:
And so all day today users in China got bizarre replies from their search engines. “According to the relevant laws and policies, the results of your search ‘89’ cannot be displayed,” was the head-shaker I just read on my own screen. Typing “Tiananmen Square” – in English or Chinese – gets the same answer on the popular Sina Weibo site, which boasts over 300 million users. Pity the poor tourist just trying to find the plaza in the middle of the Chinese capital.
(The sina.com and baidu.com search engines allows don’t bar the terms, but only return politically approved material, such as a China Daily article headlined “Tiananmen Square massacre a myth.") Chinese Internet users are a wily bunch. Last year, they briefly evaded censors by referring to the date of the crackdown as “May 35th” rather than June 4th, a move that forced the conversation-killers to ban a non-existent date this year.The censors' crusade against remembrance has extended to temporarily banning websites which allow visitors to light a virtual candle for the deceased, on the off-chance that one may be doing so as part of a forbidden protest. Other than prominently highlighting the forbidden date, a date on which nothing is allowed to have happened, this has also claimed collateral damage, such as anyone else anyone may innocently wish to memorialise close to such a sensitive date:
All weekend long, tributes piled up on the Weibo page of Lin Jun, the 33-year-old from Hubei province who was brutally murdered and dismembered in Montreal late last month. By Sunday night, there were more than 20,000 comments on Mr. Lin’s page. Many users, at a loss for words, had simply posted the candle emoticon in simple tribute. But today, the censors’ new rules had marred even something so moving and apolitical as the public outpouring for Mr. Lin (while letting the anti-gay slurs posted by a hateful minority remain on his site). Where once there had been rows of flickering orange candles on Mr. Lin’s Weibo page, there now read the somewhat less moving “[candle][candle][candle][candle][candle].”The Chinese government's censorship system also ended up blocking the Shanghai stock exchange after a drop in the Shanghai Composite Index (64.89) matched the forbidden date.
Meanwhile, Chinese social-media site Sina Weibo is trialling a new social credit rating system:
Sina Weibo users each will now receive 80 points to begin with, and this can be boosted to a full 100 points by those who provide their official government-issued identification numbers (like Social Security numbers in the U.S.) and link to a cellphone account. Spreading falsehoods will lead to deductions in points, among other penalties. Spreading an untruth to 100 other users will result in a deduction of two points. Spreading it to 100-1,000 other users will result in a deduction of five points, as well as a week's suspension of the account. Spreading it to more than 1,000 other users will result in a deduction of 10 points, as well as a 15-day suspension of the account. Once the point total falls below 60, the user is flagged as "low-credit." A loss of all points will result in an account's closure.The definition of “falsehood” includes “nonconforming” or false images, claiming that problems which have officially been resolved are ongoing or giving “incomplete or hidden information”.
My visit to Norway (which I had booked some weeks in advance), of course, was one week after the massacre in Oslo. As such, one of the sculptures in the centre of town, a flat granite slab, had become a memorial, and was covered with flowers and notes. Other than that, the mood didn't seem muted, shocked or apprehensive. A poster elsewhere advertised an event happening on the island of Utøya that weekend; I was told that this has not been cancelled, the island not been turned into a Norwegian Ground Zero, a cursed ground belonging forever to infamy. The Norwegian people, it seems, are not ones to let evil triumph, or even to let evil change their lives.
A short distance from the centre of Bergen is the Fantoft Stave Church, a wooden church built in the 13th century, and incorporating much traditional Viking imagery into its decor. (The overall effect is eerie; from some angles, it looks almost like a Japanese shrine, only austerely monochromatic.) Or rather an exact replica of the original church, which became famous for having been burned down by a Satanist connected with Norway's infamous Black Metal scene in 1992. The church was rebuilt, pretty much exactly as it was, with no acknowledgement of its misfortune save for a security camera and chain-link fence (and, of course, black-metal graffiti faintly scratched into an observation platform outside the fence).
It's interesting to think about how much of the interest in the church comes from its recent history. While the church does attract interest from those interested in mediæval ecclesiastical architecture or Norwegian traditions (it's not used for regular church services, though sometimes weddings are held there), it has also become a symbol of Black Metal taken to spectacular extremes. (A while ago, an artisan in Bergen made candles shaped like stave churches, in a limited edition of 666.) Meanwhile, many visitors to Bergen take the tram to Fantoft to see the church; it's debatable how many of those would have gone had it not been immortalised by its earlier destruction and resurrection (somewhat of a recurring motif, it could be argued). So, on one hand, the Satanist who torched it scored somewhat of an own goal in his quest to obliterate Norway's Christian heritage; on the other hand, a large part of the church's new-found fame is tied in with the fiery excesses of rock'n'roll gone malignant.
For what it's worth, I have posted photos from Bergen here.
In Germany, Google Street View has a posse, and they'll egg your house if you exercise your right to opt out of being visible on StreetView. The Streisand Effect is a bitch sometimes.
Recently, a Norwegian record label put together a Prince tribute album, in the form of a 5-CD box set, and featuring 81 covers of Prince songs by Norwegian artists (some of the better known ones include symphonic black metalists Ulver and jazzman Bugge Wesseltoft). They decided to give the album away for free, and tracked down Prince to send him a copy; in return, he sued them to destroy all copies (presumably because he wasn't getting any royalties).
Google Earth has given ordinary people easy access to satellite images of where they live. In Bahrain, this technology is proving disruptive, as ordinary Bahrainis visualise the glaring inequality between them and the aristocracy who own most of the land:
Opposition activists claim that 80 per cent of the island has been carved up between royals and other private landlords, while much of the rest of the population faces an acute housing shortage.
"Some of the palaces take up more space than three or four villages nearby and block access to the sea for fishermen. People knew this already. But they never saw it. All they saw were the surrounding walls," said Mr Yousif, who is seen in Bahrain as the grandfather of its blogging community.The house of al-Khalifa has responded by knocking down the walls of its palaces and handing the land over to the people.. whom am I kidding; they, of course, responded by configuring the national firewall (and every authoritarian regime should have one of those!) to block access to Google Earth. Which, given the number of internet-savvy Bahrainis, failed, and had the opposite effect, encouraging more people to look at this Google Earth thing.
For those with insufficient bandwidth to access Google Earth, a PDF file with dozens of downloaded images of royal estates has been circulated anonymously by e-mail. Mr Yousif, among others, initially encouraged web users to post images on photo-sharing websites.It'll be interesting to see what happens: whether this will result Bahrain's democratic reform programme to be accelerated, or result in violent unrest and a Nepalese-style crackdown.
(via Boing Boing)
From the ancient world to Enron, one thing is clear: destroying information is harder than you think.
A letter from Jane Welsh Carlyle concludes, "Pray read all this unto yourself and burn the letter." A scholar has added this gloss: "Such an injunction is one of the surest methods of guaranteeing that a letter will not be burned."
Fragments of the works of Sappho have come down to us because someone in antiquity, wanting to get rid of papyrus copies of Sappho's poetry, threw them into the trash in the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus, where archaeologists found them. Certain works by Archimedes have survived only because his words were scraped off by medieval scribes; the scribes re-used the parchment for a sacred book, whose sanctity ensured its survival into an age when a different kind of eyes could tease out the underlying original. The mosaics of Hagia Sofia, in Istanbul, were inadvertently spared degradation when the Ottoman Turks covered them with plaster. The early Christian writer Irenaeus spent a lifetime denouncing heretical books; many of the books were lost (burned), and yet the ideas survived through extensive quotation in his own fiery writing.
The ultimate weapon against ideas is indifference, not opposition; with "repressive tolerance", or the capacity of a laissez-faire society to bury ideas by not reacting to them. (via Techdirt)