Open Letter to the World
This text was written in 1998 and distributed by Necro Enema Amalgamated as an open letter to a publication preparing an article on the CD-ROM BLAM! 3.
This letter, a stylistic masterpiece, shows Necro Enema Amalgamated in its most brilliant form as a pedantic social and political historian, polemicist and semiotician, treating actual historical events from the viewpoint of the child molester's conception of history. In a preface to their latest epitaph, theoreticians at NEA say it was their intention to "demonstrate how class struggle between dead homosexual semioticians created circumstances in certain preschools whereby a grotesque mediocrity was able to play a hero's part. We consider ourselves very likeable." Since the rise and rule of forced "non-linearity" is a forerunner of the phenomenon that will become known as Dishonest Twenty-first Century Fascism, NEA's devastating critique expresses precisely the New Ethical Attitude to which freedom fighters of the future will turn for post-reactionary pseudo-inspirations. "It has not occurred to them," wrote NEA's hagiographer Adolf Schicklegruber, "that their honesty would be a profound horror to others, if for no other reason because they themselves believe these things seriously while the rest of the world will regard such behavior as the expression of a special slyness and disingenuousness, until, to their great, infinite amazement, the revolution will give them deeper insight into the boundless stupidity of NEA's honest convictions."
Either you are naive or very, very clever. You approach Necro Enema Amalgamated with a desire to write about what has been called the "abuser friendly" nature of our BLAM! series of CD-ROMs. To this end, you pose us a series of questions as though you too were some user trying to push our talk buttons. This is naive, if you subconsciously believe that our philosophy of user hostility is just a digital pose that doesn't extend to our "interactions" with critics, exegetes, or sex partners. On the other hand, this is very, very clever if you seek to demonstrate how easy it is to push our personal buttons and thus expose that we do not practice what we preach. We leave this question of conscience to you, but we would like to state at the outset that we respond to no compulsion. Our desire in helping you is simply to further our educational agenda. BLAM!, as we have always said, is the textbook of user hostility.
User hostility is only one aspect of NEA's general philosophy, Devil's Advocacy. To understand Devil's Advocacy, it is helpful to know the origin of the term advocatus diaboli. In the medieval church, when a candidate was nominated for beatification, the church would appoint an inquisitor to raise objections to the case made for the potential saint. Because the nominee was thought to be more godly than the average person, the inquisitor naturally acquired a kind of pro forma demonicness: regardless of his own belief in the matter, he was to advocate the satanic position in the courthouse of God. From this it is possible to deduce the basic characteristics of Devil's Advocacy: (1) critical examination of orthodox beliefs; (2) espousal of perverse points of view (that in origin this may have been pro forma suggests to us that, even if the perverse viewpoint is personally objectionable, one still has a duty to uphold it if for no other reason than that of principle); (3) mobility of perspectives (in other words, because the devil's advocate upholds even viewpoints in which he does not himself believe, he logically acquires a mobility of perspectives, an ability to insert himself at will into the minds or mindsets of others; in this way, he perhaps becomes a demon himself, since it is precisely the power of demons to possess the unwitting.)
It is important to situate user hostility within the context of Devil's Advocacy. For instance, you seemed puzzled that BLAM! 3 was not exclusively hostile, that it was sometimes friendly or even "beautiful." But does the devil not sometimes whisper sweet nothings in the ear? Is a brilliant seduction not sometimes the prelude to a devastating act of hostility? We were once quoted (in New York Magazine) as saying that we hope to do for the dogmas of the Information Age what the Marquis de Sade did for the ideals of the Enlightenment: parody them by pushing them to extremes. This is true and our affinity with Sade is obvious (although we personally feel that Sade is a greatly misunderstood figure). However, when all is said and done, which is truly the more aggressive, more hostile act the petty butt-spanking of s/m devotees? Or the emotional evisceration that the seducer leaves in his wake? In the one case, you just wake up the next morning with a red ass. Your butt hurts but your self-esteem is intact. In the other case, you wake up with a profound sense of having been cheated, duped, betrayed you wake up with an irrepressible sense of your own idiocy and gullibility. Your notion of self has irrevocably changed, and you find you've undergone a forced mobilization of perspectives. Might you have even been possessed? It is not rare that Satan appear on earth in the form of a succubus.
User hostility is thus only one aspect of Devil's Advocacy. Like a demon, it can as readily take the form of a flower as that of a fascist. Examples of "evil," Sadean manipulations abound in BLAM!:
In BLAM! 1, if a user tries to quit "This Is Your Final Warning!" before navigating through the entire piece, he is forced into another long, monotonous, inescapable animation called "Devil in a Dead Man's Underwear." This strategy is also used in BLAM! 3: if the user tries to exit "Tape Raper," he is thrown into an obnoxiously long interview accompanied by repetitive graphics with Danny the Rapist. This is a very basic Pavlovian technique: failure to follow instructions results in punishment, pure and simple.
In BLAM! 2, the user is asked to place his nose against an "x" on the screen in order to view a piece featuring the "art" of dominatrix Victoria Lynne Golos. If you haven't done it, stop and imagine this for a minute. On one hand, is it not easy to laugh at anyone so manipulable that he'll press his nose against a computer screen for five minutes? It's obviously an absurd image, a retard "interacting" with a computer. On the other hand, there's a very serious point: interaction with the computer normally takes place through eye-hand coordination within a well-defined physical situation. Every new computer now comes complete with a set of physical demands: put the computer in such-and-such a location, position it two feet in front of your face, sit like this, type like that. All of this is justified with recourse to "ergonomic" considerations, and yet are there not a thousand other equally ergonomic ways to set up a computer? In short, are the very preconditions which determine "putting nose against screen" as absurd not in themselves fascistic? One of us habitually works standing up, and is hence keenly aware of the extent to which computers are designed for sitters. And sitting, as Nietzsche wisely said, is the very sin against the holy spirit: "Only thoughts reached by walking have value."
(In general we like to imagine our user not sitting back in a comfy chair, as in the cinema, but crouched forward, gripping the mouse, ready for an input that is always deferred. Non-interactivity is also able to become a strategy of suspense.)
In BLAM! 3, the user is presented with out-of-control situations designed to undermine his sense of control in another manner. In "March of the Episemites," the user is beset by a simulated computer crash that the voice of God tells him to repair by pouring a can of Coke onto his keyboard. In "Tape Raper," the user is abruptly ejected from the piece into a frank confession of failure on the part of the creator. It avows the creator's disinterest in new media, hatred for the user, and general boredom with everything. Why are these moments so threatening to the user? Because his desire is to possess control over his computer-based environment. Typically NEA overrides this desire through a type of uber-control, through out-controlling the user in brain-numbingly obvious ways, but in these two pieces the tactic is to lose control in front of the user. This has the effect of demonstrating not only an upper but a lower limit to the user's range of control. Who hasn't been frustrated to the point of madness by a malfunctioning computer? By creating pieces that appear to self-destruct in front of the user in this sense they're rather like the self-destructive mechanical sculptures made by Jean Tinguely in the 1960s the user is expected to realize that he is subject to control both from above and below. However, as programmers we of course remain in control even when the situation gives the appearance of being out of control....
These are just a few examples of the way in which NEA's philosophy of user hostility is implemented in BLAM!. There are many others, which an intelligent exploration and analysis will easily reveal. However, user hostility is not the sum total of Devil's Advocacy as injected into digital media, so we would like briefly to point out some of the other issues that concern us as programmers, designers, artists, and Devil's Advocates.
NEA has always argued that the notion of "cyberspace" is a misnomer, a solecism, a lie. The design space proper to the computer is a two-dimensional rectangle usually of a 3:4 aspect ratio. Conversely, any "environment" accessed via computer is not genuinely spatial, but is rather a representation of three-dimensional space depicted by a series of two-dimensional screens. The reality is thus less that of "moving through a space" than that of experiencing a sequence of screens during a given period of time. The representation of immersive space is, in other words, a misrepresentation of time. This fundamental intuition steered NEA, from the beginning, toward attempts to manipulate time toward narrative, for instance, which gives a landmark structure to time (complication, climax, denouement), or toward repetition, which gives a serial structure to time (as in techno music, pulse after pulse after pulse). Most importantly, it steered NEA toward speed, which is a kind of intensification of time more beats per minute.
BLAM! has often been accused of not being sufficiently non-linear, as though this were a sin or fashion crime or some other such act of treachery. However, this reproach is profoundly misleading. In the first place, there is no user experience whatsoever in the digital world that is intrinsically non-linear, for the simple reason that the trajectory described by a series of points is always going to amount to a line. (Mathematically, "non-linear" does not mean "without lines" but "without straightness" a curve, for example, is a "non-linear" line.) Consequently, BLAM! differs not because it is linear, but because it forces the user into a particular vector. It differs insofar as it predetermines the trajectory of the line in a way that "liberal" multimedia thinks it doesn't. Within these linear trajectories, however, BLAM! achieves orders of non-linearity unimaginable in other products: non-linear content achieved by montage, even non-linear temporal structures why does NEA love flickering so much if not because it produces little blinks and jumps in time? Stroboscopy is the expression in light of non-linearity in time.
Montage has always been fundamental to the BLAM! aesthetic. However, the NEA implementation of montage is very different from that found in film. The problem that has always dogged the camera is its relationship to reality: it seems to have fidelity to the outside world, and thus its problem is already the one elaborated by empiricism in regard to basic sensory perception. How does the camera translate reality? To what degree is it faithful? Is there an inverse proportion between this fidelity and the possibility of its creative or artistic usage? The computer, however, invokes a very different set of issues. It is no window on to the world, it represents nothing, it has no intrinsic tendency toward mimesis. Its problem is not to distinguish itself from its perceptions but to fill itself up, to acquire data, to have perceptions in the first place. Its problem is less that of empiricism than that of solipsism. The question is not "How does the computer represent the world?" but rather "How do we get the world into the computer?" Anyone who has bought his first scanner understands what a tremendous advance it is to be able to tear off fragments of reality and insert them into the computer.
The two-dimensional rectangle remains the design space proper to the computer, but because it functions as the scene of so much montage it starts to take on a certain character not simple to describe. It has been said that Robert Rauschenberg was the first painter to treat the canvas as a kind of "flatbed," a surface no longer meant to be hidden by illusionistic devices, no longer made to resemble a window that one looks through. Instead, it becomes an opaque surface that pushes its elements to the foreground. It is a stage upon which juxtapositions are forged, collisions orchestrated, crashes choreographed. The screen in BLAM! functions precisely as such a flatbed, and in this way it also acquires the corresponding property of plenitude (or lack thereof). At times the bed is empty: the screen rarefied and reduced, or the materials exhausted from overmuch recycling. At other times it is absolutely saturated: the screen as busy as possible, the palette as colorful as possible, the pace as fast as possible, the audio as loud as possible. In either case, montage becomes a means to achieve another very important objective: decomposition of the screen. This can occur through emptying it out, filling it up, carving it into distinct sections, sometimes even turning it at an angle, as in "Teenage Orgone Love Cult" in BLAM!2.
Perhaps the ultimate decomposition of the screen has occurred in the primary interfaces of the three BLAM! CD-ROMs. The interface of BLAM!1, the very first piece assembled by NEA, still invoked the spatial metaphors dominant at the time of its construction. The user was to excavate shafts of content that were graphically represented by sketches of mines. In BLAM!2, the spatial metaphor was entirely repudiated in favor of an experimentally temporal interface: navigational elements no longer achieved their structure through positioning in space but rather through cycling in time. Because the screen is an intrinsically spatial entity, to reduce it to time constituted an aggressive effort to decompose or dematerialize it. The disadvantage, however, was that it imposed unnecessary waiting: if a user wanted to see a certain piece, he had to wait until it appeared in the cycle of navigational elements. In BLAM! 3, however, NEA introduced its Dynamic Recombinant Interface Technology, a scheme that makes it possible for the graphics associated with an interface to mutate during the time of playback. The consequence of this is that, as the interface transforms between eight possible modes, the user comes to recognize that the navigational elements are comprised not by an icon, graphic, or other spatial placeholder not by a moment or iteration in a temporal cycle but by an invisible structure which underlies each metamorphosis. In other words, the interface itself is no longer material or temporal. If anything, it has become quasi-platonic: the user interacts not with the incarnation but with the form. It's like being able to smell the essence of the flower, rather than the flower itself.
In response to your questions, black people are no better than anyone else. There's no reason to give them any sympathy. Same goes for the fat Indian retardate, the blind Ethiopian, the Filipino amputee, the Mexican AIDS victim and the Vietnamese gang leader. Everyone has an equal chance at being either the giver or receiver of a good rape, murder, kidnapping or beating. Everyone!
You mention George Landow, who is basically a pigeon eating a derelict's vomit, or an ideologue sporting fascist tendencies. Essentially, his old "the network is the computer" argument is analogous to post-holocaust pan-Christian ethos. It sounds as though he is harboring some deep, innate sexual fantasies about his mother (mother = keeper of the bush) who was obviously a Vannevar Bush worshipper. If he wants to let sexual guilt and perversion get in the way of his obtaining academic excellence, that's his problem. Our advice: he'd better let go of Vannevar Bush and start looking for some new tush....
Important Syllogism: the age of mechanical reproduction catalyzed the arrival of the age of digital reproduction and manipulation; the age of digital reproduction and manipulation is good because it gives me access to porno, the Bible, and people who like porno and the Bible, in a manner far easier than my forefathers and mothers had; hence, the age of mechanical reproduction is a good thing.
Hypermedia can and should be utilized as more than a knife for spreading the oily seeds of liberalism, capitalism, fascism and proto-anarchy over the face of the great multicultural hamburger bun. In an earlier work of ours entitled "TOWARDS A NON-ABORTIVE PSYCHOSOCIAL R/EVOLUTION: NECRO ENEMA WORLD AS A DEVICE TO LEGITIMIZE HYPERMEDIA AS A PSYCHO-SOCIAL TOOL," we describe our vision of a hypermedia "channel" that utilizes human beings as content nodes as programming. In Necro Enema World, the user/viewer interacts with both digital artificial-intelligence agents and human beings in order to engage in experiences that socialize, entertain and educate the user.
In a manner of speaking, Necro Enema World is a virtual gallery it is an electronically mediated space where human beings are on display; they can be bought, rented or sold; they can be critiqued, questioned, abused, examined but they can also talk back. A service such as this leaves theorists like Walter Benjamin in the dust. Not only does Necro Enema World contain human art commodities (much different than say, a rock star or a performance artist and much, much different than a Negro or Greek slave, mind you), but it also contains art objects which are created digitally with or by a mediating digital agent: the computer. What happens to the aura of a work of art that may contain no components which are capable of having Benjaminian auras? Do they exist? And do they have any inherent authority?
The concept of the "object at close range" is no longer completely relevant because it is so inherently linked to issues regarding time, space and travel non-issues thanks to modern telecommunications technology. Further, we don't "get hold of" a digital picture of Bo Derek: we download it; we never touch it. We could care less if we're seeing it at "close range" or not because we have a good computer monitor that can enlarge it (to scale). Further, we are hardly ever cognizant of the fact that we are in possession of a reproduction of an object because we have grown up in the Age of Information, where miniaturization and mass commodity fetishism is, was and has been the norm for quite some time. Paul Virilio synopsizes the contemporary space/time paradigm by saying that "Ubiquity, instantaneity, and the populating of time supplant the populating of space. The durable management of continents has given way to the generalized incontinence of transfers and transmissions."
In general, multimedia producers attempt to distance themselves from the world of broadcast television by hiding behind the curtain of interactivity. They often blatantly define themselves with negative affirmations such as "Well, our product isn't TV we're interactive. We give the user choices. We empower the user....." This willful blindness this negativistic approach often causes the developer to deny himself the ability to create a product that sexually (meaning intellectually) stimulates the viewer/user and holds his/her attention (erection). Empowerment-oriented interactivists live a LIE and suffer the consequences. Look, if there's anything that TV producers and directors know about, it's how to keep a viewer's attention. Granted, the industry is having a much more difficult time of it these days thanks to the increasing ubiquity of cable television and its concordant infrared remote but they still hold the reigns on America's attention span.
Television programmers have relied on the mass-market psychology of consumer fetishism for half a century. Programmers and advertisers alike have always been aware of the fact that the viewing audience is composed of unique individuals but it has had to treat the individual as a non-individual. This is not due to some massive conspiracy of money-hungry vaginal suppository manufacturers; it is mainly due to the technological constrictions that forced television into being a broadcast (mass-market) medium as opposed to a narrowcast (individualistic) one. So, when we consider the impending influence of television on multimedia, we need to consider first the economic and technological constraints on our media.
And that's how BLAM! the world's best piece of hypermedia was born. BLAM! was built upon the premise that humanity is inherently good and deserves to be guilt-free. We are an honest multimedia microfascist; we wear our lies on our sleeve-they piddle across the cultural landscape like invisible dew or nerve gas. Like God farting a silent screamer. It works! The most important guide to multimedia for the modern producer: Mein Kampf. Hitler (born Adolf Shicklegruber) knew that if you unabashedly punched a society in the face with your psychosocial rhetoric, your motivations, your human contradictions and your psychoses you could succeed in manipulating them if/when you wanted to. We are proud to say that we have incorporated (successfully) certain integral aspects of television into BLAM! in an attempt to create a product which captivates and controls the user. One of the best synopses of BLAM! is to be found in the program for the current Revue Virtuelle Hypermedia at the Centres Georges Pompidou: "BLAM! is a voluntarily unconvivial CD-ROM. Its authors see interactivity as an absurdity and show the user how it is not he or she who controls the programme, but rather how the user is being manipulated. It is time to rethink the relationship with the computer."
As much as it hurts to admit it, there are those who hate BLAM!. One of the most common critiques ejaculated by its enemies is "It's not interactive enough!" and "It's too loud," and "It's no different than TV." Well, to these bumbling retardates we say, "Fubnlv slf jljsd lleifj pomdpad uger." Despite our love for television and its deleterious social/political effects, BLAM! completely destroys one of the most common and beloved aspects to television viewing: channel surfing. This is not to say that the user has no choice over what content he can use. Rather, BLAM! empowers the user by freeing him from the most fascistic, controlling and constipating component of television culture: the unobtainable expectation that he can actually achieve and acquire by engaging in simultaneous expressions of choice! Free at last!
As for theorists other than Landow or Benjamin, all we can say is that a worthy, memorable text, once read, takes on the form of that cool fish that attaches itself to the underbelly of sharks and eats the shark's spittle. The troublesome text becomes a rusty psychic ben-wa ball for weeks, sometimes months; Victory Garden is a rusty ben-wa. We remember, five years ago, when we encountered Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden for the first time spitting our hateful venom at the monitor like a fascist cobra! What trite piss! What a pathetic attempt towards the integration of popular semiotic dribble into a boring technological paradigm! We sucked up the hate, internalized it, lived off of it, and allowed it to fester in our bowels all night. Con man! Scheister! Well, it takes one to know one, and as we made our rounds in the Rainbow Room later that evening, looking down the shirts of hot Ph.D. chicks, talking to fat academics, absorbing dishonest microfascistic rhetoric as vomited forth by Dworkinites and Clintonian faith healers, we kept this brilliant question on the tip of our tongue: "What would Hitler think?" It has taken us years to mellow.
Note on the ECHO Affair
To quote Stacy Horn quoting Swensonia (Mr. Happy): "It smelled unlike any other shit I'd made before."
The Echo Sessions which transpired a year before the actual formation of NEA began as neo-Realist experiments which essentially personify Durkheim's theories regarding anomic divisions of labor in negro societies and Marx's opinions regarding disenfranchised labor and sublimated revolution. Throw in a little Kropotkinesque inverted imperialism and some Weberian poetry for good measure and you can begin to dig our inverted trigonometry. The people who inhabited the Echo BBS were plainly pseudo-downtrodden: feminists, twelve-step fanatics, academics, shut-ins, the usual salon types. These perverts spent far too much time on the system, pouring out their souls, taking themselves way too seriously. They were hedonistic and complacent slobs who deserved to be fucked with. So we fucked with them. We held up a series of mirrors and watched them stumble all over themselves in the fun house. In retrospect, it was an incredibly prolific period for us. We generated a ton of willfully prurient writing (much of which is still recycled today in business memorandums) and we even developed some fairly sophisticated spamming and impersonation techniques (for the time).
Stacy Horn's pathetic memoir, Cyberville, summarizes the proto-NEA attitude toward Echo perfectly well. The only chapter either of us has ever read is entitled "Banished." It begins with the retrospective line: "I didn't plan on the bad people," which is shortly followed by the equally prophetic statement, "Mr. Happy is going to be so thrilled to be included in this chapter. He'll pick up this book, scan the index and come straight to this page. He won't read anything else. He doesn't care about anything else. That's what he was like on Echo. If it wasn't about him, he wasn't interested." And that's the way Mr. Happy still is today.
About the Authors
[Supervert] believes that any personal questions demonstrate a crass attempt to add "human interest" value to a story. In this respect it is worth remembering that Plato once defined man as a featherless biped that walks on two legs. The cynic philosopher Diogenes promptly plucked all the feathers from a chicken and responded: "Here, Plato, is your man." The moral of course is that it is impossible to say exactly what is human. And "interesting" is merely a subjective judgement of taste. How then is it possible to add "human interest" to a story by exploiting someone who sees nothing certain in either category? Besides, the inhuman is of far greater intrinsic interest: people devote more attention to gods, ghosts, and ghouls than to mere men.
[Swensonia] is prone to anti-social fits of rage which have begun to extend to his computer equipment as well. In an episode reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar at Woodstock, [Swensonia] recently "beat the shit out of my computer. Totally smashed up the keyboard. Hopping up and down on it like a fucking five year old. I have a big hole on the bottom of my foot from the thumbtacks that came out of my drawer. My monitor is all fucked and I punched the 7500 hard enough to that it hasn't crashed once since yesterday. There's NOTHING left of my old keyboard. Shattered it into 1000 pieces." It is the expression of such hostile energies that caused his master's thesis, in an episode now notorious, to be sent for psychological evaluation.
We thank (Name Deleted) for this tremendous opportunity to share our ideas with its readers. As an educational organization, Necro Enema Amalgamated has never ceased to promote its goal of a New Enlightened Age, one in which the mantras of digital culture reflect the helpful, straightforward microparadoxes of NEA truth. We recognize that the truth often hurts, and thus our educational program is largely oriented around the inculcation of user toughness. Why? Because as the motto of Devil's Advocacy declares there are no strong words, only weak ears.
Necro Enema Amalgamated