Anders Behring Breivik

I’m slightly bemused by the storm that my CNN opinion piece on the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has elicited. Some of the reaction on Twitter is unprintable, but there has been some fair criticism, including this interesting blog post arguing that World of Warcraft isn’t a violent game and that there’s no connection at all between Brievik’s affection for online gaming and his massacre of 77 innocent Norwegians last July.

Today’s revelations at Olso’s central court strengthen my argument about the nexus between his violence and video games. Breivik acknowledged in court that he “trained” for the attacks using the “holographic aiming device” on the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. He said:

“It consists of many hundreds of different tasks and some of these tasks can be compared with an attack, for real. That’s why it’s used by many armies throughout the world. It’s very good for acquiring experience related to sights systems…. If you are familiar with a holographic sight, it’s built up in such a way that you could have given it to your grandmother and she would have been a super marksman. It’s designed to be used by anyone. In reality it requires very little training to use it in an optimal way. But of course it does help if you’ve practised using a simulator.”

 

I’m not arguing that video games like Call of Duty causes psychopaths like Breivik to commit mass murder. But only the most myopic apologist for electronic gaming  could deny that these kind of violent games do play a role in the fantasies of lunatics like Breivik.

 

Life After TV

First they took away the commercials (TiVO). Then they replaced professional actors and scriptwriters with ordinary people trapped on desert islands or interviewing for roles as models and American idols. Soon the rabbit ears will be amputated, phone screens will display pay-per-download videos, and you’ll be able to share home movies and vacation exploits in real time with a small network of family and friends, and even strangers.

What’s there not to like?

A lot. Of course. To learn about Life After TV, come and hear me and three other prognosticators imagine the evolution in mass entertainment. Alongside Mary Hodder (Dabble), Evan Berg (Brightcove) and Joe Savage (FTTH Council), I’ll be speaking at Berkeley’s legendary Cybersalon this coming Sunday (March 25).

It kicks off at 5.00 at the Hillside Club (2286 Cedar St). Tickets are only $10 and that comes with unlimited tv nosh. The seriously sultry Sylvia Paull will be moderating the panel and, in her inimical fashion, she’s sure to ask the most probing questions. So if you want to see me publicly probed, I’ll look forward to seeing you in Berkeley this Sunday evening.

MARKETING AIDS

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Just back from the On Hollywood show at the Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles where something tried to seduce me big time.

Included in my bag of goodies was a black envelope with the following invitation from Audi:

TEST DRIVE AN AUDI TO HELP FIGHT AIDS

Audi provided all the attendees at On Hollywood with a simple value proposition: they promised to donate $50 to the Elton John AIDS Foundation in exchange for test driving an Audi motor car. No purchase necessary, although they promise to donate $500 in the event of a purchase.

It’s a classic seduction — a double win-win. Audi wins by shoving me into an Audi and associating its marque with the global fight against AIDS. I win by guiltlessly getting into an Audi and having $50 donated "in my name" to AIDS research.

In this win-win, are there any loser-losers?

Mercedes, Jaguar, Lexus, BMW and other high-end car manufacturers are all potential losers in a struggle to win my business. To keep up with Audi, I would advise them to do some seducing themselves. How about donating one of the Google $100 laptops to a child in Africa anytime some good soul test drove a Beamer?

Another loser is good taste. Such a flagrant play on my conscience is tasteless. I don’t mind giving my cash to Audi in exchange for a well engineered commodity. But mixing this concrete economic transaction up with an abstract moral argument is offensive. Instead of being seduced by good works, I want to be seduced by a good time. Show me a Jag and a blonde and I’ll buy the image instantly. But not a Jag and a blonde bundled with a not-so-subtle reminder of global hunger.

So here’s my response to Audi. I am going to donate $50 of my own to Elton John’s AIDS charity in exchange for NOT test driving an Audi. No purchase necessary. That’s my moral gesture of the day — my own little win-win over the marketing preachers at Audi.

========= GENERAL INFORMATION =========

Merchant : Elton John Aids Foundation IncDate/Time : 04-May-2006 09:53:36 PM

========= ORDER INFORMATION =========Invoice : 4673Description : DonationAmount : 50.00 (USD)Payment Method : MasterCard

==== BILLING INFORMATION ===Customer ID :First Name : AndrewLast Name : Keen

IDEOLOGICAL CHAOS

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A provocative piece in today’s Guardian Unlimited by Brian McNair, a professor at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, who is the author of the forthcoming Cultural Chaos: journalism, news and power in a globalized world (published by Routledge in the UK).

McNair’s definition of cultural chaos is based on the new science of chaos which suggests that "small happenings have big consequences." He says:

"This can be extended to today’s media environment of turbulence and
volatility, in which news travels faster and further than ever before.
The Iranian president again calls for the annihilation of Israel, and
Bin Laden and Al-Zarqawi disseminate new messages on the internet and
to satellite TV channels. Events in one part of the world feed back
instantly into the politics of another, and linear, machine models of
top-down cultural control no longer explain very much."

McNair places the digital revolution at the heart of the structural socio-economic and political changes of the 21st century. He explains that the radical democratization of media is "another factor" in what he calls "the ideological vacuum created by the end of the cold war." But I
I don’t buy the idea of a post cold war ideological vacuum. Cold war or not, everyone is always thinking, so an ideological vacuum is a misnomer. A better word than vacuum is "chaos."

McNair quotes the lively Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis who argued in the Guardian Unlimited last week that the Internet "makes obsolete old orthodoxies and old definitions of left and right." Jarvis, of course, is not the only person arguing this. In his Google parodying April 5 London Review of Books piece, "Nobody has to be vile", Zizek identifies liberal communism as the new global orthodoxy. My February 15 Weekly Standard article on Web 2.0 suggests a similar ideological chaos.

In contrast with chaos theory, this intellectual upheaval is no small happening with a big consequence. Instead, it is a massive happening with an even more massive consequence. The Internet and the digitalization of culture are both the cause and the consequence of our contemporary political and cultural intellectual chaos. This has nothing to do with technology per se, but is rather the result of technology’s democratizing (what Tom Friedman calls the "flattening") impact on media on politics, on the global community, on the workplace and on culture.

The growing argument about the merits of the digital revolution is the central issue of our age. It is the equivalent of the great debate about communism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The only matrix to make sense of our ideology chaos is to establish two camps — digital versus analog. Then things appear less chaotic. Then they start making sense.

OUR FLATTENED GILDED AGE

Two seemingly unrelated articles caught my attention this morning: the first on our new gilded age, and the second concerning the latest democratic fashion of web hanging.

Martin Wolf, the Financial Time’s excellent global economics columnist, writes (subscription required) about our new gilded age in this morning’s newspaper. Wolf’s message is that economic inequality in America is growing dramatically:

"The distribution of US earnings has become significantly more unequal over the past four decades: the share of the top decile has gone from 27% in 1966 to 38% in 2001; that of the top 1% has risen from 6% to 12%; and that of the top 0.1% has jumped from 1% to 5%."

The last statistic is particularly striking. 5% of total US total pay are earnt by the top 0.1% of the workforce — that’s a five fold increase since 1966. And what it all means is that America is increasingly dominated by a tiny and increasingly powerful wealthy class. As Wolf notes, we are back in the plutocratic 19th century, a "new gilded age."

Having digested Wolf’s reflections on the increasingly steep hierachy of wealth and poverty in America, I turned to the cheerleader of our gilded age — The Wall Street Journal -- to read about online democratic communities. In his "Portals" column, the Silicon Valley based Lee Gomes writes about the economic boom (and, no doubt, bubble) of social-networking sites — MySpace, Friendster, Tagworld and Varsityworld. And if that wasn’t enough, the Journal also had pieces about both Microsoft (called, believe it or not, Wallop) and the BBC’s plans to develop a MySpace clone of their own.

The Journal quoted Mark Thompson, BBC Director-General, who said, in justifying his new social networking initiative: "there’s a big shock coming. The foundations of traditional media will be swept away, taking us beyond broadcasting."

Implicit, of course, in Thompson’s remarks is the radical notion of the democratization of media. Social-networking sites are all perfectly flat. Members of MySpace or VarsityWorld are equal in their access to technology and their means of creating media. Equally significantly, the crisis of mainstream media, which lies behind the popularity of online social-networking communities, is the crisis of the intellectual authority of elites. So the cultural foundations of today’s social-networking sites is of a radical egalitarianism.

So what’s the connection, if at all, between our new gilded economic age and the flattened cultural democracy of the social-networking scene?  How is it that, on the one hand, we are so economically unequal and, on the other, so culturally equal? Is contemporary America defined by MySpace or by the rising price of New York City penthouses?