Mad-Max world


This Mad-Max art project hangs in an unpaved alley in southeast Portland near an overpass and train tracks, woven from what looks like videotape. I stumbled on it while snapping graffiti pictures some weeks back, the loose tape fronds waving and glinting in the breeze in late-afternoon sunlight, catching my eye. I almost expected the Terminator and RoboCop to appear at each end of the alley, cutting off my escape, as if I'd walked into some kind of snare-for-humans, trapped by my own bio-machine curiosity. No, not really—I just kept wondering who would have spent that much time weaving videotape and electrical wire around metal tubing in an alley that most people will never see. Was it practice for something else or an end in itself? It's like that face cemented onto that broken pillar along the Springwater Corridor I would never have seen if I hadn't walked off the paved path, climbed onto the old stonework, and sat down to look out at the river. Why a face? Why there?

woven-videotape alley art project

I don't know what it means, but the visual suggests robots, rags, and societal breakdown, villains dressed in black and the absence of cowboys in white hats (or geneticists in white bodysuits). In science-fiction film and TV, apart from Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica, those celebrants of the governmental status quo, no one can turn hero until mentally stepping outside and working against the system, whatever it's imagined to be and whoever's in charge—chaotic criminals (Mad Max), religious zealots (Handmaid's Tale), DNA-bending scientists (Gattaca), or android computers (Matrix)—the reluctant heroes hiding in plain sight, at least at first, kinking the works in quiet while pretending to play along, operation normal.

woven-videotape detail

The robot future long predicted is coming, is already here. The iRobot Roomba has been sweeping floors in its bumping, spinning trajectory, getting stuck on electric cords, since 2002. (I own a Roomba myself, though I've barely used it and in fact it's out on loan to a friend, because one year my mother, a Roomba convert, bought a low-end version for everyone's Christmas gift on sale at Wal-Mart.) Sony's $2,000 Aibo robot dog, no longer in production, will bark, seek attention, and lift its hind leg if ill treated, and who cares if biological dogs and cats are being euthanized in shelters or starving on the street for want of homes? There are even robots lined up for home health care to take blood pressure, announce the weather forecast and medication reminders, and monitor whether someone has fallen and can't get up, even though some warn that many home-bound elderly folk who live alone prefer visits from human health aids for the social contact, their social-service visitors often the only direct human interaction in a day.

One summer in college I conducted telephone marketing surveys in a call center, an awful job since we were required to lie, to tell those who even bothered to pick up the phone that it would only take a few minutes, when in fact the surveys in full took 15-20. The only people who didn't hang up after five minutes were old people, those who had nothing better to do and were glad for someone to talk to, even about their opinions on Nissan's Infinity brand, a car most of them had never sat in, let alone driven, let alone bought, let alone would ever buy, their driving days mostly over, or so it sounded on the phone. Did Nissan know how skewed the survey results were? Nobody asked us college-student workers for our perceptions on data relevance, so I'm guessing not even the clients cared for accurate sampling, as long as there were numbers to manipulate.

videotape close-up

And who cares if there already aren't enough full-time, living-wage jobs for people who want them because of increased technological efficiencies, workers competing globally for the lowest wage, and a world recession depression brought on by an orchestrated financial bubble, speculative investors profiting start-to-finish in disaster capitalism (with 'austerity' as code for 'starve and privatize government'), global finance creating such bubbles and crises in the first place. Let's replace even more jobs with computers, put most people out of work and on dribbles of dole (funded by taxes on middle-class computer engineers, accountants, and marketing professionals, though not on one-percenter rentier financiers like Mitt Romney because everyone knows they stash their money in the Caymans to avoid paying taxes), continue widening the gap between rich and poor in the developed world till most humans are wearing rags, and then wait a century or two for the robot uprising on a desertified planet that looks like something out of Wall-E or Mad Max—fabulous idea! Now where's that Roomba? I'm tired of vacuuming up my own dead skin cells. I'll just let the robot do it while I sit on the couch and watch another sci-fi film.

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