Book Launch State Machines: 23 April @Furtherfield, London

State Machines: Reflections and Actions at the Edge of Digital Citizenship, Finance, and Art

Join editors Yiannis Colakides, Marc Garrett, Inte Gloerich, contributors Max Dovey and Helen Kaplinsky, and respondent Ruth Catlow for short presentations with plenty for time for discussion.

LOCATION: Furtherfield Commons, 269-271 Seven Sisters Road, London

DATE: Tue, April 23, 2019, 6:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Register (for free) here.

About the book: Today, we live in a world where every time we turn on our smartphones, we are inextricably tied by data, laws and flowing bytes to different countries. A world in which personal expressions are framed and mediated by digital platforms, and where new kinds of currencies, financial exchange and even labor bypass corporations and governments. Simultaneously, the same technologies increase governmental powers of surveillance, allow corporations to extract ever more complex working arrangements and do little to slow the construction of actual walls along actual borders. On the one hand, the agency of individuals and groups is starting to approach that of nation states; on the other, our mobility and hard-won rights are under threat. What tools do we need to understand this world, and how can art assist in envisioning and enacting other possible futures?

This publication investigates the new relationships between states, citizens and the stateless made possible by emerging technologies. It is the result of a two-year EU-funded collaboration between Aksioma (SI), Drugo More (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL), NeMe (CY), and a diverse range of artists, curators, theorists and audiences. State Machines insists on the need for new forms of expression and new artistic practices to address the most urgent questions of our time, and seeks to educate and empower the digital subjects of today to become active, engaged, and effective digital citizens of tomorrow.

Contributors: James Bridle, Max Dovey, Marc Garrett, Valeria Graziano, Max Haiven, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Francis Hunger, Helen Kaplinsky, Marcell Mars, Tomislav Medak, Rob Myers, Emily van der Nagel, Rachel O’Dwyer, Lídia Pereira, Rebecca L. Stein, Cassie Thornton, Paul Vanouse, Patricia de Vries, Krystian Woznicki.

This event is hosted at Furtherfield Commons in Finsbury Park*

*Please not this is a separate building to our Gallery and is at the Finsbury Park station entrance to the Park.


State Machines: Art, Work and Identity in an Age of Planetary-Scale Computation

Focusing on how such technologies impact identity and citizenship, digital labour and finance, the project joins five experienced partners Aksioma (SI), Drugo More (HR), Furtherfield (UK), Institute of Network Cultures (NL), and NeMe (CY) together with a range of artists, curators, theorists and audiences. State Machines insists on the need for new forms of expression and new artistic practices to address the most urgent questions of our time, and seeks to educate and empower the digital subjects of today to become active, engaged, and effective digital citizens of tomorrow.

This project has been funded with the support from the European Commission. This communication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

SO! Podcast #75: Wring Out Fairlea




This podcast commemorates the thirty-year anniversary of the first Wring Out Fairlea demonstration, which was organised by the Coalition Against Women’s Imprisonment to take place at the former Fairlea women’s prison in Melbourne on 26 June 1988. The Wring Out action was repeated three more times over the next eight years, bringing thousands of people to encircle Fairlea prison in protest and in solidarity with the women inside.

The podcast draws on original broadcasts of the Wring Outs and interviews with activists. It grows out of a collaborative research project conducted by Bree Carlton and Emma Russell on the history of an anti-carceral feminist movement in Melbourne, Australia.

The podcast is produced and narrated by Emma Russell at the studios of 3CR Community Radio in Naarm / Melbourne, on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations.

Featured image used with permission by the author.

Emma Russell’s research centres on social movements, punishment and policing. It aims to interrogate punitive logics and the nature of carceral and securitised space. Emma is particularly interested in feminist and queer activist histories, theories of prison abolition, and sound as a tool for understanding carceral space and resistance.

Out now! Bilwet Fascismemap (1983-1994)

Tussen 1983 en 1994 schreef de Stichting ter Bevordering van de Illegale Wetenschap (BILWET) een twintigtal teksten over hedendaags fascisme. De map bevat onder andere een lezing over wolven, zes kleurplaten met Kuifje en Hitler, een analyse van getuigenissen van SS’ers, mijmeringen in Berlijn en een ambulant-wetenschappelijk artikel over filosofenmode. De Bilwet fascismemap, indertijd gemaakt voor scholingsdoeleinden in de kraakbeweging, werd niet eerder uitgegeven. Waarom dan nu toch wel? Vijfendertig jaar oude fascismeanalyses zijn niet zomaar toepasbaar op de huidige maatschappij. Maar in de antifascistische discussies, die in links-progressieve kringen nog niet zo lang geleden gemeengoed waren, liggen belangrijke lessen voor het heden. Hoe zag dat antifascistisch discours eruit? Wat was de relatie tussen klasse- en seksestrijd? Hoe vond de kennisoverdracht tussen de generaties toen plaats en hoe verloopt die nu? De Bilwet fascismemap geeft inzicht in deze vragen en daarmee een inkijk in de geschiedenis van wat ook wel de niet-fascistische, feministische mannenbeweging genoemd kan worden.

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SO! Reads: Hiromu Nagahara’s Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents

When times are tough and people are feeling sad, they might need space to be calm, to reflect, and to heal. For example, in the United States following September 11, 2001, Clear Channel (now iHeartMedia) suggested keeping a number of “aggressive” artists, such as Rage Against the Machine and AC/DC, off the airwaves for a while to provide the nation with one group’s version of a calming sonic space. However, this suppression couldn’t hold;  at a certain point, the pilot light re-ignited, and Americans wanted to turn the gas up high, to feel the heat, to extravagantly combust themselves out of the Clear Channel rut.  Explosive tracks followed those tragic times in 2002–from Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” to DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” to Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” to Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself to Dance”–resonating over the airwaves and web browsers and dance floors. So whose idea of a healing sonic space prevails? For how long? Who decided what healing looks and sound like? And who decides the time for healing is finished?

Hiromu Nagahara is a historian who has examined how music was used during a transformative era in Japanese history. Nagahara’s book, Tokyo Boogie-Woogie: Japan’s Pop Era and Its Discontents (Harvard UP, 2017), focuses on the ryūkōka popular music produced “primarily between the 1920s and the 1950s” (3), which is different from the hayariuta music of the Meiji (1868-1912) and Taishō (1912-1926) periods or the kayōkyoku ballad songs post-1970. One of Nagahara’s central concerns with popular music is how it furthered the nation-building endeavor of the 1920s and 1930s. Another concern is how censorship was implemented and policed through the wartime era and beyond. Nagahara’s stance on censorship in Japan is that state powers such as the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nihon Hōsō Kyōkai, NHK), public powers such as music critics, and self-censorship are responsible for the limitations put on artistic productions. This stance is in concert with scholars such as Jonathan Abel and Noriko Manabe, although unfortunately Nagahara’s book doesn’t discuss Manabe’s work on the censorship of music addressing the Daiichi Fukushima disaster.

Nagahara greatly contributes to the English-language scholarship on Japanese music critics; those interested in how Theodor Adorno similarly addressed German sociopolitical issues through music criticism will find both the parallels and the divergences mapped in Nagahara’s work fascinating. The biggest takeaway for this reader, however, was the book’s tracing of Japan’s shifting class formations through these decades. Nagahara shows that Japan evolved from an infamously strict class-caste system into a middle-class society into a society that “increasingly saw itself to be classless” (212) all in the span of a century, and that music and the nation’s burgeoning media industry played pivotal roles in this transformation.

Movie Poster for Tokyo March, 1929, wikimedia commons

Specifically, Nagahara argues that the commercialization and industrialization of music in Japan were natural outcomes of the nation’s shift toward capitalism in the Meiji period. While the “gradual transformation of music, and art in general, into ‘consumer goods’” (64) in Germany signaled the “long-term decline of German middle-class culture” for Theodor Adorno, it actually signaled the opposite for Japan. Nagahara notes that, prior to the Meiji period, the Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1868) “idealized and mandated the separation of different status groups – in particular the division between members of the ruling samurai class and those who were deemed to be ‘commoners’” (21). Therefore, when the Japanese public bought an unprecedented 150,000 copies of “Tokyo March” (“Tokyo kōshinkyoku”) in 1929 and when records produced in 1937 were selling half a million, it became clear that “luxury goods” (18) such as phonographs and records were no longer simply for the ruling elites of Tokugawa-era wealth. Instead, Japan’s former commoners were marching toward capitalism with a middle-class cultural dream on the horizon.

As a period study, Nagahara doesn’t try to tie things up nicely – that’s not often how history works. As such, Nagahara concerns himself with the politicization of media in Japan, and he extends his discussion of pre-war popular music up through the 2000s with quick references to Pokémon and AKB48. However, there is a missed opportunity here in that Nagahara never references the Daiichi Fukushima disaster and the subsequent outpouring of popular music that responded to the public and private-sector management of the catastrophe.

This would have fit perfectly in the “The Television Regime” subsection of the book’s conclusion, and it would have added greatly to what Nagahara recognizes is a “significant dearth of scholarly analysis of the inner workings of popular song censorship in the last decades of the twentieth century” (218) and beyond. This reader would be excited to read more by Nagahara if he were to take up this task. I learned so much about the context and reception of pop music in Japan from Tokyo Boogie-Woogie, and this book would help any reader better understand one of the largest and most influential music and media scenes in the world today.

Featured Image: “Vintage Hi-Lite Transistor Radio, Model YTR-601, AM Band, 6 Transistors, Made In Japan, Circa 1960s” by Flickr User Seah Haupt, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Shawn Higgins is the Academic Coordinator of the Undergraduate Bridge Program at Temple University’s Japan campus. His latest publication is “Orientalist Soundscapes, Barred Zones, and Irving Berlin’s China,” coming out in the 2018 volume of Chinese America: History and Perspectives.

tape reelREWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:

SO! Reads: Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder’s Designed For Hi Fi Living–Gina Arnold

SO! Reads: Susan Schmidt Horning’s Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP— Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo

SO! Reads: Jonathan Sterne’s MP3: The Meaning of a Format–Aaron Trammell

Algorithmic Hate: Brenton Tarrant and the Dark Social Web by Luke Munn

“From where did you receive/research/develop your beliefs? The internet, of course.” -Brenton Tarrant

On Friday, March 15th 2019, at 1:40pm, Brenton Tarrant walked into the first of two mosques in central Christchurch and began shooting indiscriminately, leading to the deaths of 50 people. Already there has been speculation about what drove such an attack. For one writer, Tarrant was clearly inspired by French anti-immigrationist rhetoric. After all, the title of his manifesto, “The Great Replacement,” comes from the book by Renaud Camus, a text cited frequently by far-right politicians like Geert Wilders and the more elusive identitarian movement; while visiting France, Tarrant wrote: “I found my emotions swinging between fuming rage and suffocating despair at the indignity of the invasion of France.”[1] But then there is also the reference to Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik. In his manifesto, Tarrant himself said he “only really took inspiration from Knight Justiciar Breivik.” There are certainly parallels between the self-radicalization of Breivik, a man who increasingly isolated himself physically and emotionally, and the path taken by Tarrant.[2] Yet Tarrant didn’t have to look at the other side of the world for white supremacism. Christchurch has long attempted to shrug off its label as a racist city, one fueled in part by its latent skinhead culture.[3] Such culture breeds mainly underground, but flares up occasionally in violent outbursts in  the city and elsewhere: the killing of a council worker in 1989, a Korean backpacker in 2003,[4] an older gay man in 2014.[5] Some speculate that another local influence was the Bruce Rifle Club that Tarrant joined in 2018. One visitor to the club described the members as survivalists and eccentrics who shared “homicidal fantasies” like the zombie apocalypse, and boasted that their guns would only ever be pried “from their cold dead hands.”[6] 

Racist writing and racist killers, radical ideologies and gun culture. Yet alongside these traditional inspirations are two new contenders: the dark web and social media. “The Dark Web Enabled the Christchurch Killer” claims one Foreign Policy article. Shortly before beginning his attack, Tarrant posted one final time to the imageboard site 8chan: “Well lads, it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort post.” 8chan emerged in 2013 after its creator became disillusioned with the increasingly “authoritarian” culture of 4chan and created this “free-speech-friendly” version in response. Though the site’s Terms of Use prohibit anything explicitly illegal, the unrestricted nature of 8chan means that topics like child rape can surface, or that children in provocative poses can appear.[7] Such appearances are pounced on by the mainstream media. 8chan is invariably described as a “cesspool” and the “gutter of the internet.” In this framing, 8chan is tasteless, degraded, a magnet for the obnoxious and the sociopathic. This is not to defend the site—after scrolling through some of the pages set up to honor Tarrant, the site’s graphic, gleeful screeds are indefensible—but simply to point out the marginalisation enacted by this rhetoric. Despite being publicly accessible like any other website and containing links to hundreds of external sites, 8chan is carefully isolated by labeling it as the “dark web,” a specialist haven for vile and disgusting people and their vile and disgusting ideas.

Others object, stating that social media was the real culprit. Tarrant livestreamed 17 minutes of the shootings on Facebook. He also posted links to his 74-page manifesto on Twitter. Both platforms are designed, as their promotional copy suggests, to “grow your audience”—to allow ideas and events to move beyond an individual’s immediate circle and spread quickly, irrespective of international borders. Global reach is even more important in a geographically isolated country like New Zealand. In the quest for a motivator, the livestream in particular seems to offer a powerful set of forces in a neat package: the opportunity for the perpetrator to star in his own movie with an international horde of onlookers taking in every move. For a brief moment, the world would be forced to turn to Brenton Tarrant, gazing in horror as each moment was captured by a helmet camera, transmitted to Facebook’s servers, and distributed to viewers around the world. Such a view resonates with the now traditional critique of social media as narcissistic. Self-obsessed, we take the craving for views, likes, and comments to the logical extreme, becoming willing to do anything to ratchet up the metrics quantified so precisely by these platforms. There’s no question that the distribution mechanisms enabled by Facebook Live and Twitter helped Tarrant’s videos and writings to spread. Even after Tarrant’s stream was halted, versions of the video continued to circulate widely, despite content monitoring efforts.[8] As one was taken down, others quickly arose to take its place, slipping from user to user, account to account. But Tarrant doesn’t conform to the egotistic social media user, building up an empire to the self. In his own manifesto, he claims that he was not the type to seek fame: “I will be forgotten quickly. Which I do not mind. After all I am a private and mostly introverted person.”

Both the dark web and social media, then, while containing important elements, seem inadequate on their own. These supposedly separate spheres appear to be merging, feeding off each other to form a cohesive online environment. I suggest, then, that Tarrant was encompassed by a seamless blend of recommended racist content and memetically racist humans—a dark social web.

We are only just beginning to learn how dark social media can become. Key to this dark journey are the technical affordances built into these platforms. On social media, one thing leads to another, automatically and effortlessly. Consume content, and similar content will slide into place surrounding it. Such content is built up from our extensive online history: what we watched and commented on, who we followed or subscribed to. Based on these hundreds of signals, we are presented with content that is attractive by design: hooking into our interests, goals and beliefs. In other words, highly individualized content resonates harmoniously with our worldview.

Published back in 2011, Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble presciently captured this condition where personalized content creates an echo chamber. But Pariser seemed mainly concerned with the bifurcation of politics into left and right, lamenting the erasure of any middle ground between Democrat and Republican, the lack of dialogue between opposing views. What Tarrant epitomizes—and a growing alt-right culture confirms—is that filter bubbles not only reinforce existing views, but amplify them and generate new ones. Users can be nudged from a middle-ground position (whatever that might be) towards something more right leaning, and then from right to far-right. Social media filters are not static entities, based on some fixed notion of our true self, but rather highly dynamic and updated in real-time. As Zeynep Tufekci observes, in serving up more—and more intense—content, these recommendations are “the computational exploitation of a natural human desire: to look ‘behind the curtain,’ to dig deeper into something that engages us.”[9] Your profile incorporates your history, but also whatever you just watched.

Our bubble of personalized information, then, is constantly shifting. And this environment can quickly become darker, piggybacking on what Rebecca Lewis calls the “Alternative Influence Network”: watch comedian/pundit Dave Rubin and a user is recommended his former guest Jordan Peterson; after that a related video might appear from Carl Benjamin, who came to fame through Gamergate; and from there it’s an easy slide into content by Lauren Southern, who was barred from entering England for her anti-Islam activism.[10] The efficacy of this mechanism stems from its automated speed. Every view calculates a new set of recommendations, and yet the time of considering options, weighing the consequences, and making a choice is annihilated altogether. A decision is made without the appearance of decision-making, an influence that seems unbiased and impartial.

As social media grows darker, the dark web grows more social. Sites like 8chan, as mentioned, have been dismissed as the lewd underbelly of the internet, a lonely destination site visited only by the pathologic. Yet if the content posted to these boards is indeed horrific, it is subsumed by the social act of posting. Call and response, meme and countermeme—in this context, posting is just a means to an end, part of a larger meta-game played for lulz. Indeed if there are any “values” left in these spaces that denounce “moralfags,” it is the validation achieved when an image attains traction and is transformed into meme-proper, becoming replicated, shared, and adapted.

Image boards were never about communication, but about replication. If automated speed was key to social media, memetic speed is critical here. There is no time for discourse in the sense of a considered exchange of ideas. The picture and slogan that gets pasted more, that floods the board, that soaks up more scroll time, wins. Image. Image. Image. The resulting deluge of content desensitizes. The first time a racial slur is encountered, it is shocking. The second time, the visceral disgust has been tempered. The third time, it is abhorrent but expected. And so on. It is not as if the dark web becomes brighter. But the sheer repetition of key terms and images, matched with the enormous volume of posts, becomes numbing. Skimming through the hundreds of posts, one could imagine how the mind of someone already predisposed to extremist views might rapidly adjust. As Tarrant himself observed: “Memes have done more for the ethnonationalist movement than any manifesto.” The shock cannot be sustained; a new normal takes its place.

At a broader level, the so-called dark web becomes socialized through the mainstreaming of platforms. Reddit’s early days, as long-time users can attest, featured child porn, sexual assault, and slavery stories as well as frontpage articles that provoked death and rape threats.[11] Yet over the years, Reddit has been cleaned up through content moderation and is now highly visited, shifting from loser nerd sanctum to heavyweight news nexus. “Reddit has become, simply put, mainstream media,” stressed an AdAge article, noting that, even back then in 2012, it was racking up 400 million unique visitors per month.[12] Purchased by media behemoth Condé Nast, it courts advertisers through sponsored content as well as more organic collaborations like its popular AMA (Ask Me Anything) feature.

Even 4chan has formalized its moderation in order to retain users. Once known as the “asshole of the internet,” the site implemented tools in 2013 to assist its so-called janitors with moderation. These “straightforward and well-intentioned” guidelines, as 4chan’s creator writes, are not meant to “stifle discussion, but to facilitate it.”[13] From 2015 onwards, moderators are asked to sign a legal agreement disclosing their identities and detailing their rights and responsibilities.[14] While not producing cleaner content per se, these measures at least attempt to temper vitriol between users. Yet as discussed, even this moderation is viewed by some as supporting an authoritarian culture of censorship and political correctness, leading to the creation of alternatives like Gab and 8chan. Hard to believe a few years ago, these far-right “havens” for free-speech push 4chan towards a position, that, while certainly not mainstream, is less of an outlier. New extremes emerge; old extremes become normalized. These changes “fill in” the former gaps of ideological terrain, providing more gradual waypoints along an extremist journey.

So rather than the shining beacon of social media and the isolated cesspool of the dark web, we see a dark social web—a smoothly gradated space capable of nudging users towards a far right position. Key here is the notion of seamlessness. Accounts of terror sometimes mention a turning point, a decisive moment when radicalisation occured. But in these technical environments, there is no sign indicating the switch from one ideology to another, no distinctive jolt when transitioning to the next waypoint in this process. The next video autoplays. The next comment is shown. The next site is recommended. As social content gets darker and dark content more social, we witness an algorithmic racism able to select a non-confrontational path through this media and steer the user down it. Based on the rules of recommendations, each piece of content must be familiar, suggested by a user’s previous history, but also novel, something not yet consumed. Calibrated correctly, platforms grasp the social, cultural or ideological connections between content, presenting a sequence of ideas that seem natural, even inevitable. These links, as Lewis argues, make “it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”[15]

The dark social web is complex but cohesive. One report states that Tarrant “traveled the world, but lived on the internet.”[16] Meticulously constructed from his extensive internet activity, Tarrant’s online environment corresponded perfectly with his ideology—a world that matched his worldview. It’s easy to imagine him sliding seamlessly between YouTube and 8chan or tabbing from Twitter to Gab without any  sense of cognitive dissonance. And yet these all-encompassing environments encompass a kaleidoscope of connected figures, memes and causes. In this world, Gamergate vids blur into mens-rights tweets, SJW jibes merge into classical liberal lectures, and Pepe memes shade quickly into anti-Semitic rants. This suggests, contrary to the claims made by journalists, that the hunt for a definitive influence is a fruitless one. There was no primary motivator for Tarrant to carry out his attacks, no single driver that radicalized him. “From where did you receive/research/develop your beliefs?” asks Tarrant in his FAQ style manifesto. “The internet, of course,” he answers, “over a great deal of time, from a great deal of places.”

Instead what emerges is a kind of algorithmic hate—a constellation of loosely connected digital media, experienced over years, that constructs an algorithmically averaged enemy. Indeed Tarrant’s manifesto is almost boilerplate in its phrasing: faceless “invaders” with high fertility rates who attempt to colonize the “homelands” of the white peoples. While the history of white supremacism should not be underplayed, our contemporary condition tends to politicize through antagonism—what you are against, rather than what you stand for. Algorithmic hate constantly reproduces an “us” versus “them” relation, but who exactly is constituted by “them” is always indistinct. The figure of the Other is impressionistic and hazy, a composite formed from millions of data points. In a sense, Tarrant never really lived in New Zealand; to do so would mean real social encounter, a risk of swapping his faceless adversaries with the flesh-and-blood communities that call Aotearoa home.

Let’s examine some bridging mechanisms of the dark social web. Tarrant stated: “remember lads, subscribe to PewDiePie” just before commencing his shooting spree.[17] In one sense, mentioning the YouTube star was a red herring, a bait for hand-wringing pundits and tech-challenged journalists. The vlogger was no more responsible for the shooting than any other singular actor. But in another sense, the Swedish star provides a useful archetype for understanding how darker racist, sexist, and xenophobic traits can be drawn together with a lighter, socialized whole.

Recommendations provide one method of convergence. Like the “alternative influence network” discussed above, PewDiePie provides a linking mechanism to prominent alt-right figureheads. As one poster points out, he follows Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux on Twitter; he endorses Jordan Peterson; and he has hosted Ben Shapiro.[18] Whether these recommendations are done verbally in a video, or occur through automated mechanisms like “suggested for you,” they draw together the hugely successful social icon and the darker ideologies of the alt-right—the popular and the populist. In doing so, they provide a set of natural stepping stones, assisting his massive fan base in a transition to a more extremist position while legitimating it as normal.

Gaming provides another bridge. PewDiePie came to fame initially through his Let’s Plays of horror videogames. While his content these days is broader, he still retains strong links to gaming and gamer culture. Hasan Piker unravels the connections between the vlogger and extremist positions in a video titled: “PewDiePie: Alt-Right or Irresponsible Gamer Bro?”[19] Yet while Piker’s take is thoughtful, it should be clear by now that alt-right and gamer bro are not mutually exclusive categories, but rather heavily overlapping cultures. Indeed one of the core germination points for the modern alt-right was the GamerGate controversy and its associated anti-feminist, anti-SJW rhetoric. “Games were simply the tip of the iceberg – progressive values, went the argument, were destroying everything.”[20] Paradoxically, by clinging to the “norm” in the face of “libtard invaders,” Gamergate and its offshoots steered a core group of disaffected young white men into a far-right position.

Irony provides the final link. PewDiePie is no stranger to controversy. This is a man who has hired men to carry a “death to all Jews” sign, who has used the n-word in one stream, and who has called a female streamer a “crybaby and an idiot” for demanding equal pay.[21] These actions have led to criticism and contracts being terminated. But the streamer is also affable and funny, emanating a care-free attitude. He is the perfect conduit for the “ironic racism” employed in heavy doses by alt-right advocates. In the meme-saturated environment of social media, irony provides plausible deniability. It’s a comedy channel. It was obviously a joke. Quit being overly sensitive. Late last year, Pewdiepie recommended the “E;R” channel, which happens to feature Nazi propaganda behind a thin veneer of humour. When the channel creator was asked if he “redpilled,” or tried to convince viewers of their white superiority, he responded: “Pretend to joke about it until the punchline /really/ lands.”  

Pewdiepie thus displays some of the ways in which social media and the dark web converge to form an environment conducive to alt-right ideals. But again, the YouTube star is simply a proxy, the most obvious example of a more general capability. The nodes for others will be different; their paths to extremism will be uniquely theirs. One of the strengths of the dark social web is that is highly individualized, an environment algorithmically optimized to reflect its inhabitant. The path that Brenton Tarrant took is not yet fully known, and the online environment he was surrounded in is open to speculation. Yet in an operational sense, Tarrant’s environment of platforms, sites and services is exactly the same as ours—it is designed in the same way, with the same architectures and affordances. Strangely, as the alt-right proliferates and the far-right secures yet another parliamentary win, it seems as if we’re only just waking up to the dark capabilities—socially, culturally, and politically—that these environments enable. After all, fascism is not congenital; nor is evil innate. Instead, if we are a product of our environment, then we need to seriously investigate the sociotechnical properties of that environment. Failure to do so could result in the next generation following in the footsteps of Brenton Tarrant.

Based in Aotearoa New Zealand, Luke Munn uses both practice-based and theoretical approaches to explore the intersections of digital cultures. He has recently completed a PhD on algorithmic power at Western Sydney University.


[1]Sasha Polakow-Suransky and Sarah Wildman, “The Inspiration for Terrorism in New Zealand Came From France,” Foreign Policy (blog), March 16, 2019,

[2] Jacob Ravndal, “The Online Life of a Modern Terrorist: Anders Behring Breivik’s Use of the Internet,” VOX-Pol (blog), October 28, 2014,

[3] Paul Spoonley, “Christchurch Mosque Shootings Must End NZ’s Innocence about Right-Wing Terrorism,” Noted, March 16, 2019,

[4] Keith Lynch, “White Supremacist Admits Killing Korean Tourist,” Stuff, April 1, 2010,

[5]Express Magazine, “Found Guilty: Justice for Gay Man Killed in Epsom Motel,” Express Magazine, April 26, 2016,

[6] Radio New Zealand, “Hunter Says He Warned Police about Dunedin Gun Club, Christchurch Shooter,” TVNZ (RNZ National, March 17, 2019),

[7] Patrick O’Neill, “8chan, the Central Hive of Gamergate, Is Also an Active Pedophile Network,” The Daily Dot, November 17, 2014,

[8] Andrew Liptak, “Facebook Says That It Removed 1.5 Million Videos of the New Zealand Mass Shooting,” The Verge, March 17, 2019,

[9] Zeynep Tufekci, “YouTube, the Great Radicalizer,” The New York Times, June 8, 2018, sec. Opinion,

[10] Rebecca Lewis, “Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube” (New York: Data & Society, September 2018),


[15] Rebecca Lewis, “Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube” (New York: Data & Society, September 2018),

[16] David D. Kirkpatrick, “Massacre Suspect Traveled the World but Lived on the Internet,” The New York Times, March 16, 2019, sec. World,

[17] In fact “Subscribe to PewDiePie” is not just a generic request but a meme referencing the online campaign to keep Felix Kjellberg as the #1 subscribed-to channel on YouTube. His challenger was the T-Series channel, a company that according to PewDiePie fans, “simply uploads trailers of Bollywood videos and songs.” Already then, race quietly emerges in the war between the white, Swedish Kjellberg and the Indian managed T-series.

[20] Matt Lees, “What Gamergate Should Have Taught Us about the ‘Alt-Right,’” The Guardian, December 1, 2016, sec. Games,


SO! Reads: Nicole Brittingham Furlonge’s The Art of Listening in African American Literature

so readsIs literature truly a primarily visual entity? Do we only read books or are we actually actively “listening in print”(1)? These are the main questions that Nicole Brittingham Furlonge explores in Race Sounds: The Art of Listening in African American Literature (2018). As Black literature is often considered in terms of its attention to music, listening has therefore been limited to the musicality of stories, and many voices are left unheard. What Furlonge does in Race Sounds is go back to these unheard voices and focus our attention on them to see what we have been missing.

Furlonge wants to demonstrate how to “uncover the different ways of knowing that emerge from aural engagement” (3) such as exposed in Invisible Man, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Sterling Brown’s “Ma Rainey.” She urges us to learn to “decode print differently” (4) by attuning the reader to the practice of listening, as well as to (black) sound(s) studies in more general terms, by referring to the essential scholars of the field: Tsitsi Jaji, Fred Moten, Kevin Quashie, Jennifer Stoever, and Alexander Weheliye – to name a few. Furlonge further “joins a collective effort to shift from a heavy emphasis on sounding to an attention to listening practices” (9). By redirecting the reader to listening practices, Furlonge leads us to reconsider our own “coexistence among humans.” (9)

Image result for race sounds furlongeFurlonge, previously chair of the English Department at the Princeston Day School, and new Director of Teacher’s College’s Klingenstein for Independent School Leadership is not only an experienced scholar, but a teacher experiencing first hand what it means to listen: in a classroom and in society. Race Sounds is a five chapter book, moving from a consideration of “Literary Audiences” (chapter one), to the “Silence of Sound” (chapter two), to various forms of Listening (chapters three-five). Her fifth chapter, as well as her epilogue, have an especially interesting approach to Sound Studies through her lens as an educator. Not only does Furlonge have extensive classroom experience and administrative expertise in curriculum development, diversity issues, faculty development and issues regarding equity and access, but she is in a good position, as an independent scholar, to reflect on listening practices in and out of academia. It is quite exceptional to consider pedagogy in a critical text, as it observes education in the classroom and citizenship, in addition to her critical analysis.

By guiding her reader to listening in new modes throughout the book, Furlonge demonstrates how to “read in a multimodal way” (109) in order to learn to listen. This multimodal method includes an attention drawn beyond the book to “sonic literacy,” “aural pedagogies,” as well as the full sensory process of listening (from hearing, to vibrations, to sensory immersion of many kinds, and so on). She insists that, “while hearing is a physiological form of reception, listening is interpretive, situated, and reflective” (83), and this is ultimately what she presents in Race Sounds.

Furlonge aims at an audience of readers and listeners ready to deepen their understanding of the importance of sounds through the multisensory experiences that she proposes, especially as she describes her experience of “Aural Listening in the English Classroom.” She “aim[s] to amplify listening as a creative, aesthetic, and interpretative practice in ways that provoke robust motivations to develop our capacities to listen” (15) and manages to do just that by guiding her readers to consider sounds, voices, vibrations, silences, and historical listening, such as (re)reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in a new light, pointing to protagonist Phoebe’s listening throughout the novel.

Image by Flickr User Adrian Sampson, from a series of three art pieces engaged with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (CC BY 2.0)

By close reading, or listening, to many canonic texts such as Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Chaneysville Incident, and Invisible Man, Furlonge performs an in-depth understanding of sound and what it means to “unmute words in print” (109). She renews the ways to interpret the texts by teaching her readers how to hear sonic literature. After situating the texts in the literature, she depicts what sounds and silences in the narratives tell the reader. For instance, in the first chapter, “Our Literary Audience,” Furlonge distances herself from the often-times asked question of “whether or not Janie realizes her voice over the course of [Their Eyes Were Watching God]” and thinks about “Phoebe’s hungry listening” (25) and what it adds to the conversation. Rather than analysing the story’s narrator yet again, Furlonge turns the reader’s attention towards her friend, the listener. The reader is presented with the importance of listening with an analysis of the “storyhearer” (60) and the work that they accomplish by listening in proper ways, which allows the speaker to develop a voice they know is heard. In this sense, “storyhearers” are used to critique and bring the listening back into stories. As Furlonge considers the body a “living archive” (63), the intake of sounds and its use and reiterations transport the stories and transform the listener into an archive that will allow the story to live on and be transported.

Race Sounds, therefore, brings to the discussion ideas of what it means to listen and one’s responsibility of listening properly and carrying the story within one’s self. “Historical listening” (82) further defines the importance of the audiences in engaging with sounds. As one’s listening, in becoming knowledge, develops this importance, as well as a civic responsibility, to bring the story where it needs to be. Furlonge wonders about the same question Peter Szendy asks, “Can one make a listening listened to? Can I transmit my listening, as unique as it is?” (102). Through reading of The Chaneysville Incident, she demonstrates the carrying of such stories through sound, “a sound that contains memories” (117), and its historical as well as civic importance.

Furlonge also brings new insight to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, a novel often studied in African American Sound Studies, such as in Weheliye’s Phonographies, because of its use of the phonographand its attention to the use of music. However, Furlonge diverges from the usual exploration of Ellison’s narrator with his phonograph and insists on vibrations and the experience of “tactile listening” (55), or the materiality that comes with the listening experience. In shifting the conversation, Furlonge presents the physicality of sound and voices, and does so throughout Race Sounds. Redirecting the reader’s attention to how listening practices affects the novel’s narration, Furlonge aims for the reader to rethink their own listening practices in turn.

Teagle F. Bourge in Oren Jacoby’s adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s INVISIBLE MAN. At the Huntington Theatre Company Jan. 4 – Feb. 3, 2013. Photo: Michael Brosilow (Court Theatre production), (CC BY 2.0)

By directly addressing our way of being in the world, Furlonge creates a text that speaks to the reader, and cannot leave one indifferent. In her last chapter, a walkthrough of her class on listening, Furlonge plunges with the reader into a sense of meaning; everything that one has just read comes together into her classroom. The result of Furlonge’s observations guide the reader into finding a new listener within themselves. Before concluding her book, she describes:

While I hoped students would grow as listeners, I did not anticipate that their perceptions of themselves as readers and writers would also shift. […] Helping students learn to listen, to be attentive to others, and to be discerning of all the talk that comes their way can lead to enduring understandings about themselves and the ways in which they want to engage with and change their world. (118)

As optimistic and ambitious as this statement is, I believe Furlonge manages to teach exactly this to the reader of Race Sounds. By concretely applying in her classroom what she presents in this book, not only does she prove how her work furthers the conversation of Sound Studies, she demonstrates how it belongs in larger conversations about our society’s listening practices and the role of every person in it.

“Students travel around the world with books” image by Flickr User Garrison Casey, (CC BY 2.0)

Furlonge’s book intends to speak to anyone interested in their own listening practices. By being conscious of one’s own body as a “living archive,” it may allow a story to live on by listening properly to it. Finally, “we are unaware of the conversations we miss when we speak” (120) concludes the book on a reflection unto the self to be a better listener, in order to allow our surroundings to teach us to listen differently, and maybe hear things we have not heard before.

Featured Image: Quinn Dombrowski,(CC BY-SA 2.0)

Alexandrine Lacelle is mainly interested in Modernist literature, women’s writing, and Sound Studies (especially silences). She is pursuing her Master’s degree in English Literature at Queen’s University, where she will be starting her PhD in the fall of 2019, with a focus on the use of wordlessness and sounds in early 20th century literature by women. Originally from Montreal, she completed her BA in English Literature at Concordia University, where she was able to practice her background in French, English, and German.

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Editorial: Queers! Destroy! Science Fiction!


Queers! Destroy! Science Fiction!

Nike Sulway

In 2015, Lightspeed magazine published a special issue called ‘Queers Destroy Science Fiction!’, a follow-up, of sorts, to their previous celebration of the destructive capacity of others: ‘Women Destroy Science Fiction!’ The titles of these special issues (and the many that have followed them, including ‘Women Destroy Horror!’, ‘Women Destroy Fantasy!’ and so on) are a play on part of a speech that Pat Murphy gave at WisCon15 in 1991, during which she talked about the widespread (mis)understanding in the science fiction reading and writing community that:

women don’t write science fiction. Put a little more rudely, this rumbling says: “Those damn women are ruining science fiction.” (cited in Yant, para. 1)

The speech was Murphy’s Guest of Honour address, during which she announced the founding of the Tiptree Award. The award, now in its 27th year, celebrates works that explore and expand our understanding of gender. Both WisCon and the Tiptree Award are active, exploratory, open-ended and evolving interventions in the world of science fiction. Interventions that, alongside many others, have persistently attempted to destroy, or perhaps de-story, the ongoing socio-cultural, critical, and publishing practices that seek to limit science fiction to a singular set of narratives, images, and aesthetic turns associated strongly with a white hetero-patriarchal way of imagining either the future, or an alternative past or present.

This issue of Writing from Below is another small contribution to the ongoing insistence that queers, and their writing, are not only an essential part of the strange machinery of science fiction, but also an essential part of the ongoing de-storying and re-storying that is part of the broader genre’s fantastic history.

In putting together an issue that engages with the intersections and overlaps between science fiction and queers, I didn’t want to proscribe how the writers who contributed understood the label science fiction, or the label queer, though I might offer that—for now, and for here—what I refer to when I use the term science fiction is the full spectrum of non-realist or anti-realist narrative practices that persistently destroy reality. Perhaps that will do as momentary definition of queerness, too, a definition that identifies queerness not as a state of being or an identity, but as a set of practices that persistently and rudely undo, or destroy, what we think we know about desire, pleasure, bodies, identities, selves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the writers and writings here explore narratives and narrative practices that trouble at the boundaries of genre and gender.

Holly Voigt’s ‘Sad puppies and happy queers: Vibrations along the insterstices in NK Jemisin’s The Broken Earth’ provides a passionate and thoughtful critical engagement with Nora K Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, and in particular the ways in which the works in the trilogy queer the tropes of science fiction. Voigt demonstrates the ways in which Jemisin’s work opens ruptures in genre, defies tradition in her text and her success with The Broken Earth. These ruptures are a site of possibility and, ultimately, pleasure.

Daniel Hourigan’s article ‘Queer, difference, heresy: Salt Lane witches in Rupetta and out’ explores what he describes as “the queer at play” in Rupetta, describing the ways in which the novel’s intertextuality with fairy tales, folk tales, and Shakespearean narratives (among other texts) queers both the novel itself, and the genre of science fiction more broadly.

Ed C Chamberlain’s ‘A constellation of intimacies: parallels between the struggles of today and tomorrow in Cunningham’s Specimen Days’ provides a lucid examination of the themes of desire, feeling, and migration, in Cunningham’s trilogy of science fictional novellas, ultimately providing an illuminating interrogation of the ways in which Cunningham’s work explores and troubles the ways people experience non-normative forms of amative sociality across a range of (historical, social, geographical, and other) contexts.

Tara East’s ‘The queer body as time machine’ is a thoughtful discussion of the ways in which time travel narratives conceive of, and trouble, emerging notions of the gendered body. The essay reads a range of science fiction texts—including Nino Cipri’s ‘The shape of my name’ and Heinlein’s ‘All you zombies’—against, with or perhaps againstDonna Haraway’s theory of cyborg bodies and José Esteban Muñoz’s concept of a queer utopia.

Kelly Gardiner’s review of Krasnotein and Rios’s (eds) anthology of diverse science fiction and fantasy, ‘Of diversity and fairy dust’ provides a critical and contextual evaluation of the risks and benefits of publishing ventures aimed at addressing the lack of diversity.

My own article ‘His unspoken natural center: James Tiptree Jr as The Other I’ explores the overlap between gender performance and authorial performance in the work and biographical representations of James Tiptree, Jr. The paper explores some of  the ways Tip’s identity disrupts the gender-normative structure of the ‘exchange’ between readers and writer, particularly in terms of the assumed correlation between the gender of the Implied Author and that of the ‘real human being’ he is (mis)recognised as being.

Finally, in my long, rambling, indiscrete conversation with Ellen Klages digs around in Klages’s experiences as a writer of science fiction that troubles at the boundaries of science fiction writing. The conversation explores the pleasures (or displeasures) of writing works that passes as strange.

Each of these works, both individually and collectively, provides a valuable, disruptive, destructive observation on or intervention in the project of protecting a monolithic hetero-patriarchal science fiction. Each is offered to you as an expression of reading and writing as practices bound up with queered experiences of pleasure and desire. Pleasure in texts, desire for texts; pleasure in possibilities; desire for destruction. Pleasure in the possibility of strange genres and even stranger genres.

They are offered to you, here, as part of an ongoing conversation about what queer science fiction is, what it has been, what it can become.



Yant, Christine (2014). Editorial: Women Destroy Science Fiction! Lightspeed Magazine. June 2014 Special Issue. Accessed 1 March 2019, <>.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License.

ISSN: 2202-2546

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The Birth of the Image

Clare Bottomley

The Elders

The Birth of the Image (working title), made in collaboration with Hermione Wiltshire, is a series of six photographs that restage iconic Judeo-Christian scenes from classical paintings showing the Nativity, the Annunciation or apostolic teaching. The images take these well-known tropes as starting points and use the contemporary vernacular of the photographic studio to reimagine them, while placing women characters at their centre.  Each central character is modelled by a high-profile contemporary practitioner or academic whose work is linked to the subject of the scene.


The series seeks to rewrite the narrative conventions which relegate women characters in paintings to subservient roles, repositioning them instead as speaking subjects, professionals and teachers. Instead of serving as adjuncts to the conventional male protagonists, the women become central figures in each scene, with their own legacies to behold. They become responsible, for instance, for the transfer of knowledge (aka the word of God), as seen in the figure of St Anne. In the photograph St Anne is modelled by Dr Hilary Robinson, who is Professor of Feminism, Art and Theory at the University of Loughborough. In The Annunciation, the role of Angel Gabriel is played by Dr Jesse Olszynko-Gryn, who researches reproduction, diagnostics and cinema at the University of Strathclyde.


Clare Bottomley’s practice is built upon collaboration and research encompassing photography, video, animation and participatory workshops. It investigates the individual’s autonomy in the act of looking, as a challenge to the established authority of visuality, and is set against the current essentialist forms of representation that prevail in visual culture, advocating for a more subjective and anti-essentialist viewpoint. Having completed undergraduate studies in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport, Bottomley went on to study an MA in Photography at the Royal College of Art. She is a recipient of the Deutsche Bank Fine Art Award for her collaborative project, Everybody Says It’s All in Your Head 2016, which went on to be screened in film festivals internationally.

You Could Sunbathe in this Storm (Slight Return)

Alice Dunseath

You Could Sunbathe in this Storm (Slight Return) 2018 uses elementary geometric forms and inorganic growth to encapsulate the relationship between humanity and the natural world. Through stop motion animation, three-dimensional plaster objects assemble into toy-like cityscapes before collapsing, while individual cubes, cones and hemispheres interact, taking on a life of their own. Gradually, their smooth surfaces are overtaken by splashes of colour and crystalline formations, resulting in an otherworldly landscape of chroma and texture.

Apart from the crystals and inks, plaster is the only material used in this piece. In every frame, the viewed shape changes, but because of the way they move, the eye accepts them as the same object each time. The continuity of the shape is believable despite it always being different.

The artist is interested in the mutability of forms, change as the only constant, the transience of beauty (and the impossibility of truly capturing it) and, ultimately, the inevitability of degradation, death and returning to where we came from. The objects moving on the screen are inconstant but the mind accepts them as one.

Through this work Dunseath explores the idea that all forms are merely an expression of one whole and that these forms are interconnected, related and communing with each other constantly. She hopes for the viewer to experience this oneness, to see their own part in the universe and feel their own connection to all things and phenomena.

Times Square Midnight Moment July 2018 captured in 360

You Could Sunbathe in this Storm (Slight Return) played on twenty two screens in Times Square, New York, from 23.57 till midnight every night in July 2018, as part of the Times Square Arts Midnight Moment. 

Alice Dunseath is a filmmaker, animator and Lecturer in Animation and Image Making at Goldsmiths, University of London. She works across diverse mediums ranging from video art and moving image to animation, live action and installations. Her work features video, film and moving images, sometimes displayed as multi-screen projections.