Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ghosts on camera

2007 is tucking itself into bed. Let us check upon the psychic health of the nation. How are we?

Now being tested in Bristol City Centre: Closed-circuit television cameras equipped with microphones and loudspeakers enabling surveillance officers (Randstad Employment Bureau temporary agency staff £6/hour-no benefits) to bark orders at their fellow citizens.

Meanwhile in New York, a new technology manufactured by Holosonic transmits an "audio spotlight" from a rooftop speaker so that the sound is contained within your cranium.

Used to promote a television series about the paranormal, the issue widens from one of privacy to one of general public sanity. Religious groups, anti-capitalists, civil libertarians, secular-humanist anti-theists and the merely understandably slightly bewildered should quite rightly be absolutely furious about… well, we’re not sure how to put it.

In his book The Minority Report Phillip K. Dick describes a world where people are punished for crimes they have yet to commit, on the basis of a single incriminating brain scan. The technology is here.

Talented marketers (governments included) know what you want before you even know you want it. Face, voice, lip and body language-reading software can have you analysed, predicted and soothingly horse-whispered -if not blatantly coerced- into submission within seconds of arriving at the store.
“What did you do when you got back from work last night?”
“I watched a television program.. I think it was about ghosts...”
“What are ghosts?”
“… non-corporeal entities that bring us confusing messages from another dimension…”
“No. Those are called adverts.”

We can read each others intentions and predict each others behavior with some level of accuracy. We may soon be able to solve future crimes, eavesdrop on private conversations whispered in public, interpret suspicious body language and radically tailor advertising to each individual’s needs, dreams and desires, and broadcast a telepathically bespoke portfolio of glittering lifestyle products directly into each other’s minds. Total information awareness. Late night one-click buy-it-now Freudian slip. Your darkest desires delivered straight to your door and in the fog of the morning you come quietly and help the police with their enquiries.

If we are all given the technology is it fair game? As the National Rifle Association likes to argue after each hormonal killing spree, if everyone carried a piece they could have taken him down much quicker…

CCTV surveillance is very popular with the public. Violent crime, knifings and shootings are perceived to be on the rise in London and other UK cities; and this may well be the case. We assume that surveillance serves as a deterrent. Does it? In the black hole crack-hungry soul of the time-blind drug addicted bag-snatcher, a deterrent is as meaningful as a tomorrow. And the people who casually threw a TV through our front window last month didn’t give a moment’s thought to being spotted, because they were just really pissed. In a liberal democracy, privacy and liberty should be the norm, and any infringements upon them must be qualified on a case by case basis. But the new climate of security is making bold demands. He is confident. His voice is loud. He sounds like he knows what he is talking about. He must know something we don’t. But he may be the thinly veiled edge of a malignant wedge. There’s a line to be drawn, and toed, somewhere, but it is hard to stay focused.

For the mystics and Pantheists among us, this momentous blurring of the private and the public may just be more evidence for the fact that we are all the same person. But nonetheless, unfortunately, we are having a massive argument with ourself.

Happy New Year, and may your Gods, or not, be with you.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Hill vs. Boorman

Backwoods rednecks preying on arrogant city boys; John Boorman’s ‘Deliverance’ cast the mould, but ‘Southern Comfort’ is the superior film. Walter Hill’s tense and efficient action thriller sees a squadron of Louisiana National Guardsmen lose their way among the primal forces of the Bayou. Discipline and chain of command are negligible from the outset; on a simple training exercise, a cackling hothead fires a round of blanks at a group of Cajun trappers. The bickering, delusional toy soldiers are quickly out of their depth, hunted by a hidden culture that the American Dream told them nothing about. The pace is sharp and the script is smart. Powers Boothe and Keith Carradine quickly bond as two resourceful survivors caught in a clutch of hysterical machismo. ‘The Blair Witch Project’s debt to ‘Cannibal Holocaust’s faux-documentary style is well known; its gothic roots in Hill’s masterpiece less-so. The enemy is barely seen; it is ultimately the alien terrain of the swamp itself that swallows up the incredulous trespassers.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sick as a Pike

I currently have bronchitis after three weeks spent gargling in continental Europe's elegantly tarred communal lungs. The new issue of Plan B features my essay on Rock 'n' Roll. It is part of an ongoing project to map the gutters, sewers and storm drains of the music industry.

Pike are notoriously voracious carnivores and can be potential pests when introduced into alien ecosystems. When caught in the River Mole in the Eighties, fishermen such as my dad were instructed by Mole Valley District Council not to throw them back. You couldn't eat them, so you had to bin them. He cut one open to show me its disease-speckled liver. It was a bad fish. A bully. Throwing its weight around. It knew it was on the way out and it was going to take a few others down with it. Men standing on river banks with poles and lines and hooks are noble sentries in Gaia's gentle regime of self-regulation.

A small colour television set was involved in three separate crimes in the space of two weeks. First it was fly-tipped outside our house. A few days later, it was thrown through our front window. We dumped it back out on the street and it disappeared. Two days later it was found dropped off the bridge and onto the middle of the railway tracks at Montpelier station. There was a storm here last night. Fitful sleep; beneath the roar and moan, the sound of something rolling slowly back up the hill towards our house.