Weblog since 2004 on books, films, art and travel.
Subscribe to the RSS feed.

slavery footprint

This made the rounds last year, but it's a geat discussion piece for around the christmas tree. After the carbon footprint, ecological footprint and water footprint, the slavery footprint quantifies the exploitation of human labor in our consumerist economy. This, as the website points out, is a global problem that lies hidden behind the cheerful facades of big brands - and often hidden so far away that brands are only dimly aware of it themselves.

What about the cotton in that t-shirt? The tantalum in that smartphone? The beans in that cup of joe?

That's where you find the slaves. In the fields. In the mines. In the raw materials processing.

It's the supply chain, stupid. And it's a supply chain that enslaves more people than at any time in human history. They're working for you.

Through an extensive survey where you tally all your stuff, the site boils this down to the question: How many slaves work for you?

world on a wire

'World on a Wire' ('Welt am Draht', 1973) was Rainer Werner Fassbinder's only venture into science-fiction. Made as a two-part miniseries for television, it was long unavailable until its release on dvd in 2010, which revealed it to be a weird but fascinating early exploration of simulated reality and the P.K. Dickian existential confusion that goes with it.

Adapted from Daniel Galouye's novel 'Simulacron-3', 'World on a Wire' tells the story of Fred Stiller, a researcher at the Institut für Kybernetik und Zukunftsforschung (IKZ), or Institute for Cybernetics and Futurology, which has created a computer-simulated world peopled with 'identity units'.

The simulation makes it possible to enter the minds of 'humans' in the virtual reality and experience their life first-hand – a kind of role-play VR. Another interesting feature of Simulacron is that one simulated human serves as a so-called contact unit for the IKZ technicians, meaning that he is aware of his own fate, and further implying that he must keep this a secret.

World on a Wire - Welt am Draht - 1

After a series of mysterious events, including a colleague's disappearance in mid-conversation and a momentary lapse of reality while driving a car, Stiller begins to suspect that the world around him is a simulation too, and that he himself is an identity unit. With great irony it is the contact unit (called Einstein) who, having escaped from Simulacron, confirms for Stiller that he too lives in a simulation directed from some 'higher' world.

Einstein, in other words, is trying to make his way up to the real world, and Stiller will attempt this too towards the film's end. The vertigo of nested worlds this creates has become a sci-fi staple since then, but 'World on a Wire' was one of the first to present this idea. The fact that it did so on television must have been outright subversive.

In literature, the idea of simulated worlds had already been explored by Philip K. Dick in several stories from the 1950s. Compare, for instance, 'The Trouble with Bubbles', where the concept of Simulacron has been commoditized as toys. And of course, in Dick's fiction the paranoid idea of our world being a simulation is never far away either.

A year after 'World on a Wire', StanisÅ‚aw Lem published his story 'The Seventh Sally' (1974), focusing on the moral implications of creating an artificial world – which might be called the problem of playing god.

World on a Wire - Welt am Draht - 2

Fassbinder, however, seems more interested in the artificiality of the world itself and the effects this has on its knowing and unknowing inhabitants. Most of the film's sparse plot concerns Stiller's process of finding out the truth, and this at a languid pace which many reviewers have called hypnotic but which really looks as if the actors were all on downers. And while there is much room for philosophical speculation – Plato is mentioned, as well as Zeno's paradox – ultimately no one except Stiller seems to care much.

In Fassbinder's recognizable theatrical style, the near-future world of 'World on a Wire' is low-tech sci-fi, related to 'Alphaville' in the way it makes contemporary reality look stylized and unfamiliar. (There is even a bizarre cameo from 'Alphaville's Lemmy Caution, who seems out of his depth in German.) The locations, including the IKZ offices, are all lavishly, decadently decorated (fans of '70s design extravagance take note!) and dominated by mirrors, monitors and sculptures that duplicate and distort the actors.

It all adds to an atmosphere of decadent, jaded boredom, a self-conscious artificiality that comments sharply on the modern world. Of course, the conceptual irony of 'World on a Wire' is that we have indeed been watching a completely artificial world all along, as Stiller discovers, and as we television viewers are left to reflect on.

No wonder it all looks so fake.

content definition

Just a reminder of the meaning of content, before such abstractions as the verbal and audiovisual stuff to fill websites with...


English: "Content: state of mind in which the individual desires no more than is already present."
Dutch: "Content: gemoedstoestand waarin het individu niet meer verlangt dan er reeds aanwezig is."

Seen in Rotterdam.