Craig Baldwin - Dystopian Outcomes of Media Revolutions Past
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Baldwin was sceptical at the proposition that the current upheaval in the media industry, sparked by digitalization, could lead to a more heterogeneous and decentralized media environment. His doubts are born from experience of previous technological changes, such as home video. His view is that these innovations are quickly absorbed by the media conglomerates and he argues that power is in fact being consolidated rather than broken up. His view is quite dystopian but provides an important counter to technological messianism. For him, critical agency is the necessary key to change, which tools can't provide.
This interview was recorded for Steal This Film II
. The project tries to bring new people into the leagues of those now prepared to think 'after intellectual property', and think creatively about the future of distribution, production and creativity. This is a film that has no single author. It makers encourage its 'theft', downloading, distribution and screening, and have made the entire film and its footage available for download in HDV format, on their website and on Pirate Bay.
Interview with Craig Baldwin
I'm very sceptical
of these new media revolutions
just so you know...
The video revolution came out
and very quickly
that was turned into America's home video,
everything was shot by people
who were in their homes,
same thing happened with youtube,
twenty years ago when a video camera
came into people's hands,
and what they shot is basically...
their cat getting drunk,
you know what I mean,
and that's fine
but how many billions of cats getting drunk
do you want to see
so, that's for me,
a cartoon version of the absurdity
I'm not asking for there to be
an avantgarde group of people
who will lead the viewers,
but I'm just saying people should
step up to the challenge of youtube
and not just me brush my teeth,
brush my cat's teeth, whatever...
and so what?
Anyway this is an issue about
utopia and dystopia,
it is a central issue,
I don't want to say I'm utopian
or I'm dystopian, that's silly,
the onus is not on some technological...
there's been a million technological developments that failed
all of which could have produced
some kind of change in society.
Look at radio,
you have internet radio, sure,
you have micro-broadcasters, sure,
but in the same period of time
the 80s and the 90s, you have massive
consolidation here in the US with Clear Channel
in the same period of time.
So you might say...
well the group of people
listening to 'alternative' rock or whatever
grew from 3% to 7%
in the same period of time
all the people who listen to the jazz stations
jazz - good example - jazz
classical, you know,
that 60% of the people,
now they have to listen to
stations that are run
by the same corporation.
In other words,
half as many providers,
and all their playlists are
already set by some committee.
So, yeah, sure,
we had cable access
we had UHF
don't you know...
We had FM radio, it's all in Specters,
another film I made...
What I mean is,
this theory has already been shredded
since the sixties,
it didn't really...
all these utopian promises were not delivered.
they all ended up in
more consolidation, more power.
I don't want to be part of the rush of people
saying that just because we have
this or that platform
you know, the ugly past is behind us
because many of the people who control
these new avenues of distribution
are in fact corporations,
they're larger than the television
from the generation before
well, they compete now
with the television companies
Yeah, you can watch my movies,
or your movies for that matter,
anywhere in the world but...
you can also watch anything from Hollywood,
just so you know
Yeah, through BitTorrent
or Youtube or whatever
digitally you can move a file to China or whatever
but way more bad things are going out
than good things
yeah it's like the faucet is turned on more
there's more flow,
again, there's no argument there,
but just because you have more flow
I don't think it's necessarily a good thing.
It does open up space
for other kinds of things
that didn't make it into the flow,
but they're totally diluted,
if you ask me,
with all the other stuff
there's more commercial messaging,
there's more misogyny.
Don't you see,
I'm not a utopian
Just because we have other means
of making movies and distributing movies
it doesn't mean
that the basic conditions of life on the planet
for most human beings will change.
I think it's a good thing for those people
who do have access to computers,
who are certainly a minority of people on the planet
and those people who choose to take
access to older work,
that's also a very small minority.
And by the way, with copyright,
which we haven't really gotten around to
at the same time that
there's the proliferation of
platforms for media production,
exhibition and distribution
really, in terms of the law
it's clearly, there's no doubt about it,
I challenge you...
to come up with any evidence to the contrary
that the restrictions around
what's proprietary material
has become much more narrow,
there's no doubt about it
I can name three,
there's the Sonny Bono Act,
this is of course in the United States,
the Digital Millenium Copyright Act
all of these have really acted to
to restrict people to less and less material
which was part of our cultural legacy.
Of course there can be people who use it
despite the copyright legislation
which is precisely the people
I keep talking about
the outlaws and the margins
who do things regardless of the wider trends.
This march towards the web
as some possible way out
in the guise again of this utopian...
exercise of free speech so...
I remain unconvinced of that.
There's exceptions, and by the way,
they're all subcultural
they're all minorities,
there's not going to be some magic pill
BitTorrent or Youtube
that's going to stop the problems
it has to do with human imagination
and critical will,
that will do it.
it could be argued that those things
make possible and enhance
And I'm willing to give that a chance.
I haven't really seen any proof of it yet.
There's plenty of people out there
who are watching
the worst kind of soap opera right now
all over the planet
and i can't save them you know
hard as I've tried!
I can't save them!
But the thing is,
it's not me versus them,
that's not the model anymore,
those people will always be there,
Bu the ideas will be carried on
by a smaller group of people,
be they activists,
or be they anarchists
or be they artists
it's gotta start with an 'A', whatever!
So I'm looking for more of a...
I embrace the democracy but
really it has to with will,
it has to do with consciousness,
it has to with a critical point of view
and the critical skills
aren't necessarily there
just because we have platforms,
wider bandwidth or whatever,
that's what's going
to make the difference for me.