Last H.O.P.E. (Day 3): The Prequel

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My first panel of the day was entitled The Intersection of Culture Jamming, Hacking and Hactivism. On this, the last day of the conference, attendance had reached capacity. Literally thousands (I heard estimates of 2,000 and 3,000) of every nerd imaginable: The stereotypical anti-social, disempowered, tech freak expressing his barely concealed rage and marginality through military garb or tattoos. The pale, pimply, scraggly haired stuffed-in-the-locker high school loser/gamer. Then the lanky, non-descript, wire-rimmed glasses and ironic t-shirt wearing computer programmer with a critical eye to all things exploitive and domineering. Or the hands-on, engineering types who build, remix and hack a variety of technologies not because they just hate authority but because they see how authority can wreak havoc on freedom, democracy and all those other hippie values. I realized quite quickly that H.O.P.E. – as cool as it is – attracts a cross-section of the technologically inclined. It’s not a tech unconference or tech camp, where the culture is inclusive and educational, and the community fairly universal in their welcoming attitude. H.O.P.E. was not a place for the timid.

The packed, all-star panel led off with Mark Hosler, of Negativland to a standing room only crowd. I remember Negativland back from the ROOM Magazine days, when I’m sure someone sent us their book, Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2. At that time, I knew nothing about the ideology or philosophy behind practices like sampling, remixing and culture jamming, though it would only be a few years until I realized the power of free information and copylefted my Master’s thesis. Hosler gave a great talk. He’s one of these guys who – at 46 – retains an infectious joy and wonder at the infinite possibility in the world. He reminded me of Peter Burton, of the now-defunct band Luxury Christ: unpretentious, interested, kind. He took the audience through a little history of Negativland and their early escapades in collage and culture jamming. He traced the origins of the term “culture jamming” to the old ham radio jammers, and its coining on their weekly radio show, Over the Edge.

“I thought collage great way to talk about systems of power and pop culture…We were using the media to talk about the media.”

Hosler recounted the story behind the early ‘80s song, “Christianity is Stupid”, which featured the sage words of some Commie-fearing southern minister layered over an original track composed by the band. “The more Negativland started appropriating media, the more we thought about it means.” Which led of course to the infamous press release linking the band’s song to a quadruple murder of an ultra-religious family. The band breathed new life into the fiasco when they released “The Mashin’ of the Christ” in 2004, a classic rock video they did for “Christianity is Stupid”, a mashup featuring every Jesus movie Negativland could rent. The video got 160, 000 downloads as a torrent – pre-YouTube, you remember. Fucking brilliant.

Unfortunately, the panel time slot was too short, the speakers too many and Hosler’s narrative too big to be contained in the time allotted. Some of the other panelists did speak briefly. Ricardo Domingez gave an amazing, if too short, talk about the Zapatistas netwar revolution and the founding of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre. And TradeMark G, of the Evolution Control Committee even treated us to a Thimbletron performance of the ECC’s video, Rocked by rape, a mashup of Dan Rather telling the news. All of the speakers illustrated the subversive power of creative thinking and action. Pretty awesome stuff.

Prolly the neatest part of Day 3 was hanging out with the entire hactivist crew for lunch. After the panel, I decided to see if I could get an interview with Hosler for an academic book chapter I’m writing on, among other things, copyright and digital activism. He graciously obliged, and then invited me out to eat with the gang. We went to Koreatown, around the corner from the Penn Hotel and I had the absolute pleasure of hanging out with some truly inspiring and fascinating people, who hack their way into our cultural and political assumptions and force us to think different. It turns out one of the guys is a DJ with ties to Detroit and Richie Hawtin. Another, Ben Attias, is a prof in the Department of Communication at CSU Northridge (and a Foucaudian, it seems). I love these unexpected and serendipitous connections and convergences. It’s either a small world or a big network. Or both.

One Response to “Last H.O.P.E. (Day 3): The Prequel”

  1. tV Says:

    + wish I could have been there in NYC for the Last Hope. I was at the last one, the penultimate Hope, I guess. It is quite sad, really, that this IS the Last Hope. And yes, the crowd at HOPE is notoriously tough. One also gets to play the game of ‘spot the FBI’ too, especially after a prominent speaker last year was dragged off minutes before his talk…

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