BE #2- It came from where?!

When I was younger, I used to name my electronics. For example, my first iPod was called “Horatio” and my second “Duckie.” I think naming them created a bond between us, and in a way, it humanized them. But what exactly was I humanizing and why?

I decided to do some research on the manufacturing of the one product I can’t live without: my HP laptop. At first, finding information was hard: manufacturing processes weren’t exactly listed on their website. But once I began looking, the information was clearly there, for anyone to see and read.

hp

HP, or Hewlett-Packard, is an American company. In fact, they pride themselves on their American heritage. HP claims that their PC workstations and commercial desktops have been assembled in the USA since the beginning of their company1. They go on to state that building locally allows for a higher product. But what about laptop computers? Apparently only a “limited amount” are built outside of China1.

Maybe the parts are being assembled in America but where exactly are these parts being made?

Taiwan.

Companies such as Quanta, Compal, Wistron and Foxconn make parts for HP computers (and nearly all other laptop and computer brands). These companies manufacture the laptops that HP sells. Quanta even claims that one in every 3 laptops are manufactured by them2.

These “local products” aren’t so local after all.

compal partners

(Above: an image of brands that Compal manufactures to, as seen on their website3) 

The issue with foreign manufacturing lies in workers’ rights. Countries such as China and Taiwan don’t have the same rights for workers as countries like the USA and Canada4. I’m sure most of you have heard of the riots, suicides and terrible working conditions associated with the Foxconn company. Although most of these complaints focused on Apple, the manufacturing process isn’t much different for other companies4. Not all manufacturing companies and factories have terrible working conditions, but they all do have an issue with dehumanization.

In the video5 above, it is clear that the workers have fine working conditions. What is so unsettling about this video then? I believe it’s the fact that we’re forced to look at how the products we love and use are made: by other human beings. What’s happened is that, in the consumer’s mind, the person has been removed from the product. Foxconn employees began a strike after HP cut orders and one man worded it perfectly: “we aren’t robots.”6 In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Rachael Rosen is told not to worry because she is “property of the Rosen Association” (60). While Rachael is an android, the workers in the Foxconn factory feel as if they are treated as one, reducing them to the same thing: property. Like the androids, these workers are human but at the same time, they are products. To the Western world who ignores the manufacturing process, the foreign worker becomes nothing more than the products he or she creates. The worker is dehumanized.

At the same time, the product itself is humanized, and becomes a thing of worth. The laptop computer becomes a thing we want, and need, and use. We come to identify with our electronics, and they become human to us: we love our laptop, we miss our laptop, we get angry at our laptop. The “organic android” (16), too, is humanized: they become so real that it is nearly impossible to distinguish one from another human being, unless they take an empathy test (30). The androids are electronics, manufactured by companies such as Rosen, yet they are human-like and real. They are beyond objects, and although not quite human, they are nearly there, like the laptop computer we identify with.

The Taiwanese worker becomes the robotic parts of an android while the human part, the part we see and feel, is the laptop computer they make.

Is there a more ethical way of manufacturing? I’m not entirely sure. To be more ethical would mean to a) enforce workers rights (which would mean they would have to be paid more which means we would pay more for our products which would lead to many unhappy consumers…) and to b) become aware of who makes the products we consume and the work that goes into making them. Would seeing the workers’ faces and hearing their voices render them more real and the product less so? Maybe there’s a c) option that needs to be created… disconnecting the maker/human back from the product. But how do we humanize a person and dehumanize an object?

If we can relate and feel empathy towards our laptops, or as Deckard does to androids, then how is this empathy at all? How can we feel for something that doesn’t have feelings?

Don’t you find it kind of sad that we’re more empathetic to a product than the person who made it?

“All those moments will be lost, in time, like tears in rain.”


1http://www.cnet.com/news/hp-to-apple-hey-we-already-make-pcs-in-the-u-s/

2http://www.quantatw.com/Quanta/english/product/qci_nb.aspx

3 http://www.compal.com/CompalContent.aspx?MenuID=aboutcompal&MenuItemNo=8

4http://www.cnet.com/news/riots-suicides-and-other-issues-in-foxconns-iphone-factories/

5http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/27/a-unique-view-inside-an-hp-laptop-assembly-line/

6http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2374871/foxconn-employees-rebel-as-hp-slashes-orders

http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinions/who-made-your-laptop-and-should-you-care

http://www.quantatw.com/Quanta/english/about/company.aspx

AB #1: Art is for the streets!

Recently, I watched Banksy’s documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop and I’ve been mildly obsessed. This documentary seems to link perfectly with the theoretical work we’ve been studying in class: the reproduction of art.

Reproduction is what street artists do. Most artists have a “trademark” or a “tag” that they paint on buildings everywhere. Shepard Fairey is known for his “Obey” image, which has not only been reproduced on walls around the world, but also has been reproduced in a shopping mall near you! (Just the other day, I was walking through campus when I spotted a man wearing a sweatshirt with the Obey image on it. Huh.) What’s interesting about the work, is what Shepard Fairey has to say about it: “the more stickers are out there, the more important it seems. The more important it is, the more people want to know what it means. They ask each other, and it gains real power from perceived power.”

obey

What Fairey is saying, then, is that the image is powerless until power is given to it. This power is given through reproduction, as reproduction makes the image appear important: if the image is everywhere, then it must mean something! This is the exact same technique that is used with 1) advertising and 2) the fetal image, according to Petchesky. The image itself is powerless, until someone out there decides to give power and meaning to it. This power, oftentimes, is given through reproduction.

This brings me to Thierry Guetta (side-note, but interesting enough: many people (as the internet would have be believe) seem to think Thierry is either a) a made-up persona or b) Bansky himself. Huh). Originally, Thierry (or Mr Brainwash (MBW)) was simply an observer of street art, which he filmed with his camera. But then, MBW became a participant as he too began to place replica images around the city. What was his tag? Why, a photo of himself of course!

mbw

“Obey” seems to have meaning; it seems to hold some hidden secret. But what is this? This is reproduction, but does it hold power?

Theirry soon became obsessed with street art; it began a production, and a job. He hired people to reproduce his image and, later, to make his art for him. He would come up with the “idea” and someone else would fabricate the art. Art, which was once an expression of thought, had now become mass reproduction. For me, the power of art is the power of expression without words. Art can convey so much that one cannot say, due to whatever reason. But production and reproduction of art removes the expression of art; all art becomes is consumerism. And this is precisely what happens with Theirry. MBW opens an art show where he sells art pieces, making millions of dollars. Even the “original” pieces of art he gives away to the first 2000 people are artificial: all these original prints are are the same image with a different paint splatter on them. Sure, they are technically original and can be marketed as so, but what is the meaning behind them? Reproduction and production; simplicity and lack-of-thought.

banksy mbwart

Can you spot the difference?

The theorists we have been studying so all agree on the dangers, or cautions, of art reproduction, and reproduction in general. One of the greatest concerns, as I’ve addressed previously, is that reproduction is preventing us from thinking and thus is forcing us to conform. I believe that street art attempts to subvert this, and attempts to push boundaries and break the reproductive-conformist role. Theirry’s art, however, appears to do just the opposite by not only copying other artists, but also by falling into capitalist and consumerist gains over true meaning and thought. I mean, what is the point of thinking and producing true art when you can get rich and famous by doing nothing at all?

“[Theirry’s] art looks quite a lot like everyone else’s…” -Banksy

BE #1 → Film and the Fear of Audience Numbification

Note: I am aware numbification is not a word. It is a statement.

Benjamin, Adorno and Horkheimer, and Bazin all held different views on film, but a common view they shared was that film is altering the way people think. More than that, they all seemed to fear and question if film was making the audience become numb to new thought. There is no debate that film is a powerful tool. Even Benjamin believed that film held a positive social significance. However, the way film has been used has turned this positive tool into a negative controlling machine. By that, I mean that film has altered the way we think, and not in a good way.

Benjamin argued that the advancement of photography and film was actually preventing the viewer from thinking original thoughts. He believed that the “meaning of each single picture appears to be prescribed by the sequence of all preceding ones” (226). He furthered this idea by saying that with film, by the time one is able to process what they were seeing, the image had already changed. This rapid succession forces the audience to relate one image to the next rather than allowing the viewer to process and think about what each individual image is saying.

Adorno and Horkheimer also hold negative views of film. They believe that there is an exclusion of the new in Hollywood (i.e., Hollywood rejects films that are not based on previous works) and that for the modern man, pleasure is equivalent to not thinking. Unlike Benjamin, they believe that the viewer does not want to think, but they agree that film is a cause or an effect of that. In order for a film to be enjoyable, “no independent thinking must be expected from the audience” and “any logical connection calling for mental effort” must be avoided (137). Simplicity, then, becomes the ideal as pleasure has become the idea of doing nothing (due to capitalism, which promotes amusement as the prolongation of work).

Bazin is different from the other theorists as he actually viewed film and adaptations as something positive. However, Bazin is still aware of the ideal of simplicity that dominates society. He claims that the purpose of film adaptations is to “simplify and condense” a novel to make it more consumable for the viewers (25). He even states that one novel would have been so difficult for the viewers that “the reality of the book would have ignited the screen” (25). In this instance, Bazin is admitting to the simplification of film and the lack of thinking required by the audience. If the book is able to deal with such issues, or morals, or values, or events, then why is the film unable to? Because the film is easily distributed to the masses; the film must be dumbed down (or simplified) so that all that remains is the characters and events, all significance and meaning removed.

Essentially, film is preventing us from thinking, or encouraging us not to, due to the simplicity and repetitiveness of its plots. Now what demonstrates these ideas clearly in today’s modern society? Why, the remake of course!

charlie-willy-wonka  spider-man-costume1you've got mailshop corner

Hollywood is obsessed with the remake. Perfectly good films are being remade for no apparent reason. The real reason is that remakes allow filmmakers (i.e. the money-makers) to control what we are thinking by selecting from a pool of pre-existing stories (the exclusion of the new). Another reason is that through remakes, one is being prevented from thinking as they already know the story. Take all the recent Sherlock Holmes remakes/adaptations.

sherlock-holmes-robert-downey-jr-poster bbc elementary

With these remakes, one is already aware of who the villain is, or what the plot-twist is, therefore, the audience does not need to think about the clues as they already know where Sherlock will end up. In order to keep these remakes entertaining, however, the filmmakers add slight variations (such as setting Sherlock in the 21st century) in order to prevent audience boredom, as Adorno and Horkheimer suggest.

What is the point of preventing the audience from thinking, or of simplifying plots? Control. If the audience cannot think, then the audience cannot rebel. If the audience cannot rebel, then those who make the movies, and therefore the money, remain in control.

Our society holds a value for “mindless entertainment” (who doesn’t have a film or TV show guilty pleasure?) but then we have films like Inception, where half the people who see it proclaim that “they don’t get it.” Inception is a thinking film; it has a plot that one has to follow in order to understand. This appears contradictory to the theorists above. Does this mean that society is beginning to move away from thoughtless plots and entertainment? I don’t think so. I believe that what’s happened is that society is being divided up into “upper” and “lower” classes, but this time the division is not necessarily formed by wealth, but by knowledge and thought (but of course those with money tend to have better educations and therefore better thinking processes). We believe that film has made culture accessible to all, anyone can go see a film, but I believe there is a film division. Those who are able to think, to create, to produce, are the ones who see these “thinking” films. They are the ones who understand, and they are the ones society uses for change. They become the money-makers. Those who can’t are reduced to nameless consumers in the mass of mindless entertainment.

My big question is has this divide always existed? Will it ever not exist?

I came up with the idea that the whole point of art is about brainwashing” – Mr Brainwash