POV BETWEEN PORNOGRAPHY AND POLITICS
POV (Point of View) is not only an expression referring to a certain way of shooting porno movies, where “the man [woman] receiving sexual gratification holds the camera himself [herself] and aims it down at his [her] genitals and the partner/s who is/are pleasuring him [her]” (Wikipedia), avoiding the presence of a “separate camera crew filming the action” and, thus, creating a sense of continuity between the viewers and the images, as if they were embedded/embodied in them. From an aesthetic perspective – as strangely as it might sound – POV and the notion of the embodied image and its excessive proliferation has also become nowadays politically relevant, especially in relation to the anonymity and frozen inscrutability of CCTV (Close-Circuit TV) or Drone imaging as metaphors of a centralized (yet already mobile) panoptic gaze. The Arab Spring comes, and POV mobile phones images become as well the format people adopt to post online images of demonstrations and military abuses, thus activating their digital netizenship in the context of uprises and through the epistemology of an open distributed network of nodes. Slightly later, the Selfie as a technique of taking self portraits, especially with a hand-held mobile phone embedded camera, becomes widely popular, transforming a POV of someone over somebody/something into a POV of someone over himself. During the 2015 #Youstink Lebanese movement, rioters threw stones at the military with a rock in one hand and the phone pointed at themselves in the other. Meanwhile, POV starts slipping away from users‘ hands, thanks to the Selfie stick, an object (namely a stick) in between the mobile phone camera and the hands of the users, highlighting a gradual process of POV disembodiment, moving towards a CCTV-like image format.
Here, I would like to start a post-phenomenological cartography of the processes of abstraction of the POV (and of the body), in relation to the virtualization of the Gaze within the compulsive proliferation of image production, especially in the context of a crisis. The process of virtualization begins as a slippage of POV as an embodied relation between camera, user and audience, into FPV (First Person View), where POV is remoted wirelessly from the POS (Point of Shoot), and the user controls the device “from the driver or pilot’s view point” (Wikipedia). When FPV frames from a microscopic perspective, medical imaging manifests itself as a very peculiar form of gaze embodiment, whereas when it frames from a macroscopic perspective, CCTV and Drone imaging manifest themselves as last degrees of actualized gaze disembodiments. POV, FPV and CCTV are indeed the macro-regime of visibility, according to which they organize a post-phenomenology of the anthropo-technical mutation of the gaze, and of its online/offline circuiting.
GOOGLE GAZE CIRCUIT AND POV DISEMBODIMENT BETWEEN COLONIZATION AND SUBVERSION
According to this framework, Google Maps, Google Car and Google Glass are the metaphoric boundaries of the journey of the gaze out of the body. Google Maps satellite imaging visualizes a CCTV disembodied geographical Cartesian space; Google Car mimicries the possibility of an ubiquitous fully transparent, yet (mechanically) embodied FPV over that geographical space, while Google Glass turns Google Car FPV into a POV with CCTV traits. Here, the micro-standardized overlapping of CCTV, FPV and POV and, consequently, of geography over territory (G. Bateson, 1972), generates a “map that engenders the territory […] whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: the desert of the real itself” (J. Baudrillard, 1998). The Google gaze circuit is well visualized by the image of somebody taking a Selfie with his phone, while getting caught by a Google Car camera passing by exactly at the moment of the shooting, making the (POV) Selfie eventually available on Google Maps within the CCTV gaze of Google Satellites and the FPV gaze of Google Car, as in the mostly unconscious net art performance by Nasr Bitar, citizen of Ontario, Canada. Particularly, Google Glass gaze circuit emphasizes the shrinking of the space of abstraction related to the processes of POV disembodiment, now at few centimeters from the user’s retina. Here, POV and CCTV, along with territory and geography, collapse into each others. Here, geography starts generating territory, instead of the contrary, and the “abstraction is no longer that of the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal” (J. Baudrillard, 1998). POV and CCTV overlap also with the GIGA Selfie, a system patented in Australia allowing tourists to take (POV) Selfies remotely controlling a CCTV-like camera able to zoom from a CCTV-like frame to a POV-Selfie-like close-up of users‘ faces, making the human figure a measure of the surrounding space, and shrinking the “space of appearance” (A. Harendt, 1958) from the territory to the figure, thus implying a conservative anthropocentric Vitruvian idea of the relation between body and landscape. If in this Google gaze circuit types it is possible to sense the attempt of colonizing and normalizing (CCTVing) a perceptive region intrinsically autonomous (POVing), and therefore potentially subversive, similar overlapping can produce quite opposite results, and POV disembodiment can become a form of resistance. As in the case of the first hologram protest held in Madrid, Spain, opposing the law banning demonstrations outside the government buildings, and portraying a crowd forced to fully disembody in order to exercise its right to protest. Along the same line, on a symbolic level, people’s takeover of the national TV studios during the 1989 Romanian Revolution can also be read as a form of POV disembodiment from the streets into a CCTV/television-like format. Something similar happens with the Tahrir Cinema, where the protesters’ POVs uploaded online, documenting the Egyptian Revolution are downloaded and projected in a CCTV/cinema-mode in the same square they’ve been archived. More recently, Bryce Williams recorded with his phone his deadly gun shoots at two of his colleagues while on air, metaphorically warning about the unpredictable and un-domesticable nature of POVs. Bryce’s phone points at the cameraman and at the woman presenting, while approaching them, waiting the TV camera to frame her before shooting with his gun, and, thus, turning his POV into a CCTV/television-mode live feed.
POLITICS OF REGIMES OF VISIBILITY AND REGIMES OF TRUTH
It is worth noticing that each of these regimes of visibility brings along a regime of truth. It is indeed possible to think about the process of virtualization of the gaze, not only as the transformation of POV into CCTV, and of territory into geography, but also in relation to the degree of vérité of the respective regimes of visibility happening within this process. From the unter-testimony of CAT scan, MRI and laparoscopic videos documenting the inside of the body from a non-human scale, to the dubious testifying status of certain (POV) Selfies, to the objectifying gaze of CCTV cameras and Drone imaging, to the uber-testimony of an hologram protest, one of the recurrent elements of these regimes seems to be the actual difficulty of defining their vérité status. Maybe the becoming CCTV of the POV (and viceversa), and the becoming geography of territory (and viceversa) is at the base of the confusion between fiction and reality, and of the consequent state of hyperrealism mentioned above. Neda Agha-Soltan died in Tehran on 20 June 2009, killed by a sniper, while being recorded by a demonstrator’s mobile phone POV, staring in the moment of death straight at his camera. The image goes viral online and becomes the symbol of the revolution, while the Iranian authority calls it a mise en scène orchestrated by the CIA and the American press, questioning the documentary status of this image. The dubious vérité status of POV images affects Selfies as a form of reflexive POV as well. The ontological nature of the Selfie itself rises question about the documentary or fictional status of the image produced, because of the posing attitude of the subject staging the image, and because of the common practice of shooting tens of the same Selfie, then selecting and uploading just one. Selfies can act as a documentary POV with CCTV function, as in the case of Selfies taken by thieves, allowing the police to track and secure them, or, as in the case of Mastercard Selfie’s technology for payment procedure, identifying the buyer and securing the shopping. But the Selfie can also act as fictional mise en scène – as in the Twitter post showing a Palestinian youngster taking a Selfie, while running away from two Israeli cops, custom-made by Dam, a hip hop trio from Ramallah. The question about the realness of the image is also attributed to the Selfies Abdou Diouf took of his illegal border crossing from Africa to Europe, Selfies that, once uploaded on his Instagram page, work as a form of political net-activism, despite their potential CCTV status. Thus, Selfies seem a great example to show how a certain type of image (and gaze) can disembody by changing its function but not its phenomenological nature, highlighting a tension between the ontological and the epistemological status of the regimes of visibility, manifesting in our cartography. At the same time, the different regimes of visibility and the technology making them available are more and more fluid, so that every state of POV embodiment and disembodiment can turn into another one almost flawlessly. According to our cartography, Drone imaging is the last degree of POV disembodiment. Within the military and security field, Drone transforms CCTV cameras into mobile entities able to monitor (and eventually attack) the space around them from an aerial perspective. Now, think of the wearable drone selfie, a bracelet with an embedded camera that you can release on air to take a Selfie of you from a Drone perspective. Here, Drone imaging as convergency of CCTV and FPV becomes a Drony – basically a (POV) Selfie with a Drone POS (Point of Shoot). The turning into a Selfie of a Drone imaging is matched by its opposite, the turning into a Drone of a Selfie, as in the case of Buildering, “the act of climbing on the outside of buildings and other artificial structures” (Wikipedia), and – I would add – of taking (POV) Selfies on top of them, highlighting how the processes of POV disembodiment are simultaneous to those of CCTV (or Drone) embodiment. These processes can activate authoritarian politics, as much as subversive practice. Even though it is possible to see a pattern connecting POV disembodiment (or CCTV embodiment) to the risk of repressive politics (especially in relation to data mining and privacy), and one opposite pattern connecting POV embodiment to forms of resistance to these politics, it seems important to investigate how to inject subversive potentialities into the very same processes that normally tend to assume a political repressive connotation. Tahrir Cinema and Buildering detour the turning into CCTV of the POV, into a political practice of re-appropriation of the space, whereas the disembodiment of the crowd’s POV during the Spanish hologram protest has been a way to overcome the demonstration ban.
THE OFFLINE/ONLINE CIRCUITING OF THE GAZE BETWEEN CONJUNCTION AND CONNECTION
It is worth noticing that the processes of POV disembodiment can also be read as the Prometheic attempts of its re-embodiment over the Internet, as the excessive pornography available online proves to suggest, as much as the number of absurd online challenges (as the #firechallenge, or the #kyliejennerchallenge), where the internautes engage in extreme ways with their bodies, while taking Selfies. The regimes of visibility connected to the POV processes of abstraction can be observed under the lens of their online/offline circuiting, and POV disembodiment seems indeed to happen in parallel with another process, that of the Internet embodiment (IE), offering the opportunity of conceptualizing the Net not anymore as a simple interface, but rather as environment and behaviors (H. Steyerl, Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?). According to this frame, we can look at the Selfies not only as the beginning of POV disembodiment, but also as a consequence of the Internet domestication of the gaze, and of its embodiment into offline behaviors, fully oriented to an uploading phase. The conjunctive as the offline modality of becoming-other and developing singularities by enhancing differences, is replaced by the connective, the functional interaction of elements of a given relationship, according to principles of similarities and compatibility (Bifo, 2011). The shrinking of the offline space of appearance seems indeed simultaneous to the opening of an online space of appearance – in fact, it is hard to give sense to the Selfies without thinking of their online uploading, confirming the offline behavioral nature of the nowadays Internet, and the ontological changing of the relation between reality and virtuality, territory and geography, offline and online. The colonization of the POV is indeed a process that happens in the offline/online circuiting of the gaze, and in the affordances (Gibson, 1977) offered by the military-entertainment complex (T. Lenoir, H. Lowood, Theaters of War, the Military-Entertainment Complex) – from front mobile camera to Dronies, and so forth. In this context, designing a cartography of the relation between the processes of virtualization of the gaze, their vérité statuses and their offline/online circulation seems important in order to investigate how to elaborate a strategy of resistance and of being-together, in the perspective of the overwhelming narcissism and ontological onanism manufactured by a repressive use of the technology available nowadays.
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Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.
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Dan Getting et al., The Drone Primer: A Compendium Of The Key Issues, Center for the Study of the Drone: Bard College, 2014.
Franco Berardi Bifo, After the Future, Oakland: AK Press, 2011.
J. Butler, Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street, Eipcp.net.
H. Steyerl, Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?, e-flux.
P. Friedl, History in the Making, e-flux.
Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, Theaters of War. The Military-Entertainment Complex. Stanford.edu
Google Glass ad:
Wearable Drone Selfie: