The Horror of Discorrelation—Kristiansand, Norway

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This week, thanks to a kind invitation from Julia Leyda, I have been in Trondheim, Norway, where I’ve led two workshops on videographic scholarship and pedagogy with Kathleen Loock and, today, gave a talk on “Screen Time.” Tomorrow, March 29, 2019, I will head down south, where I will be speaking on “The Horror of Discorrelation” at University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway. Thanks to Ahmet Gürata for inviting me!

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I’m being targeted with phishing attacks — from my employer!

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Today, I received this suspicious message on my university email account about a purchase, made on my “Smartpone,” and related to a game I don’t play. I promptly reported it as spam to Stanford IT. Within seconds, I was “rewarded” with the following message:

Thank you for reporting this suspicious message.  This was a simulated phishing email sent as part of Stanford’s Phishing Awareness Program.  Congratulations on successfully identifying and reporting it to us!  No further action is necessary.

Yay! I guess…

Yeah, well, I think it’s kind of weird to get phishing messages from your employer, and I am getting this gamified spam on a regular basis — several “simulated” phishing messages a week.

But what is the status of a “simulated” phishing attack anyway? In this connection, I am reminded of Baudrillard on the impossibility of “simulating” a bank robbery:

Organize a fake holdup. Verify that your weapons are harmless, and take the most trustworthy hostage, so that no human life will be in danger (or one lapses into the criminal.) Demand a ransom, and make it so that the operation creates as much commotion as possible — in short, remain close to the “truth,” in order to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum. You won’t be able to do it: the network of artificial signs will become inextricably mixed up with real elements (a policeman really will fire on sight; a client of the bank will faint and die of a heart attack; one will actually pay you the phony ransom).

This sounds exactly like what my employer — a major research university situated in the midst of Silicon Valley, the simulacral heart of the control society — is doing. And in their attempt to remain close to the “truth” to test the reaction of the apparatus to a perfect simulacrum, the network of artificial signs is bound to get mixed up with real elements, perhaps by design: these simulated attacks pretend towards an attempt to inoculate us against the danger, but they are also tools of control: of surveillance and, if need be, shaming (I am told by colleagues who have clicked on the links that a finger-wagging message appears and tells the user to be more careful…).

Having recently parried one of these attacks to the satisfaction of my employer, I received the usual message of congratulations. Being knee-deep in a major writing project, I may have been feeling a little humorless that day. I wrote back:

Thanks, but I am not sure that this really adds to my productivity.

I got a message back, within minutes, from someone claiming to be a human (but it seems I should have required they fill out a Captcha or click on all the stoplights in a picture or something). Anyway, this “human” wrote back a message so chilling that it sent shivers down my spine the likes of which I have rarely experienced outside of Poe or Kafka:

Hi Prof. Denson, we give up a little bit of our productivity for an increased amount of security. Thank you for the feedback and for reporting the email.

 

Michael Richards: Winged

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The other day I promised (or threatened) to reactivate this blog for things other than announcing talks, publications, etc. It remains to be seen how much time I will actually devote to this, but my thought was anyway that I should reclaim the time I waste on social media (especially Facebook). Accordingly, why not post just the pictures I would otherwise be sharing there here instead? Of course, these are not just any pictures…

These are from the moving show Michael Richards: Winged, which is currently up at the Stanford Art Gallery (but ending this week, so hurry if you plan to see it!).

Michael Richards, whose work powerfully probes race in American culture, tragically died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, where he was working in his studio on the 92nd floor of Tower One.

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The show was recently an Artforum Critics’ Pick.

Check it out if you can!

 

The Rebirth of the Blog?

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I quipped the other day on Facebook, “Thank god blogs are dead!” — thinking of some particularly toxic moments and scenes from “back in the day.” Facebook must have heard me… I wanted to post the rough scrap of writing above to that piece of … social media today (with the clever caption: “Brian O’Blivion makes a surprise cameo appearance in my book! Was not expecting this…”), but FB won’t accept my image or post my comment. I know that the network is having major difficulties today, difficulties that will likely pass quickly, but this episode has gotten me thinking (somewhat romantically) about the possibility of a different Internet. The blogosphere was often horrible, but could it ever be as bad as Facebook? Could #FacebookDown and #InstagramDown spark a mass migration and a revival of blogs? Probably not… But leave a comment if you’d like to see it happen! (Or if not, why not.)

Talks and Events in Norway, March 2019

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In the week of March 25 – 29, 2019, I will be giving several talks and workshops in Norway — first at the Deapartment of Art And Media Studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, and then at the Department of Nordic and Media Studies at the University of Agder in Kristiansand.

First, in Trondheim, on March 26 and 27, I will be participating on two workshops on videographic pedagogy and scholarship with Kathleen Loock.

Then, on March 28, also in Trondheim, I’ll be presenting work from my book project Discorrelated Images.

Finally, on March 29, in Kristiansand, I’ll be giving a talk on contemporary horror, also under the perspective of discorrelation.

Thanks to Julia Leyda for inviting me to Trondheim, and to Ahmet Gürata for the invitation to Kristiansand!

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