Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's just a game.

A review of the soon to be released documentary film "Returning Fire
Interventions in Video Game Culture" by Professor Roger Stahl.

Professor Roger Stahl is someone I am glad to call my friend. His work on the documentary film and book “Militainment Inc.” really helped me to open my eyes to the reality of how our culture here in the United States and in many other countries we are continually bombarded by war as a form of entertainment by the media. Through his work I was able to realize the realities of such terms such as “Techno Fetishism”. That is the idea that we can actually look at weapons of war as beautiful. I spent a lot of time on Air Force bases growing up as my older brother was an Engineer working for the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio. I remember very clearly looking at the various planes as things that looked “cool” and contemplating on how the A-10 Warthog was my favorite because of the destructive capacity of the main cannon mounted on the front of the plane. I remember in those days all I wanted to be was a fighter pilot. My walls were covered in promotional posters of various fighter planes my brother would bring home for me. In retrospect I remember that all of these posters also had the names of the various corporations that made the planes in question. I used to be able to list them off. McDonnel/Douglas, Boeing, etc. I knew which company made each plane.

I also remember my various toys. G.I. Joe was highly popular at that time and I recall the reverence I treated my “Cobra Raven” bomber jet with. I took it everywhere with me and I remember quite clearly my mother's complaints about having “that monstrosity” (It was a very large toy) on her coffee table while I was sitting in the living room watching the G.I. Joe cartoon. The funny thing about all of these memories though is that I had largely forgot about them until I watched Professor Stahl's film “Militainment Inc” and had the privilege of having him on V-RADIO.

When Jacque Fresco talked about how we are formed by our early environment, I decided to go on a journey into my past by going back and watching the movies I watched when I was very young. And one of them in particular I had watched shortly after watching “Militainment Inc.” and right before my first interview with Roger, a film called “The boy who could fly.” Now, the only reason this film is relevant to this particular article is the main heroine of the story had a little brother who was extremely militarized in his focus. He wore camouflage all the time. His room was decorated with nothing but G.I. Joe, he had virtually every action figure and vehicle. Hell, even his big wheel (Small plastic tri-cycle) was the G.I. Joe version. When re-watching this film I remembered distinctly being in huge envy of that kid's collection when I was a young boy watching that film. I remember when wearing camouflage was actually fashionable.

And I remembered the cold war. I remembered watching “Red Dawn” with my family and how we would play “Guns” or “Army” with toy guns and one side would be the United States, and the others of course would be the “evil” Russians. I remembered how when I was in school they would give you these forms to fill out to tell the school system what you might be interested in being when you grew up and I put military on every one. I had my whole life planned out. Was going to graduate, become a fighter pilot, and then afterward the only other interest I had left from my childhood pre-militarization was to fly the space shuttle. To be an astronaut. Thanks to the combination of the media, my toys, etc. all of my other thoughts of what I wanted to be when I grew up kind of faded to the way side.

A lot of things happened to me during my time in high school that I at the time figured were bad luck. The school I went to was highly overcrowded and in a very low income area of Pontiac, Michigan. Metal detectors on the doors, school shootings fairly prominent. I got involved in a rock band and my musical mentor was an older fellow named Tyrone Scott. He had a love of guitar and playing chess. So he took me to the public library, where there was often a large number of homeless people who were rather good at chess. They were also largely Viet Nam veterans. I sat getting to know these people and got a very real dose of what the end of the road looks like after a military career. Suddenly my attitude about joining the military started to change forever. There was nothing glorious about being homeless and forgotten and spending time in a public library not because you wanted to read, but because it was warmer in the library then it was outside. And you could play chess for free.

Roger's work on “Militainment Inc.” came to me at a time when I was already becoming more aware of just what had been done to me and most of my generation. But it added a whole new dimension to what that meant. And after 911, I realized we didn't have the Soviet red scare anymore. We had the terrorists. And the war was not cold anymore. But the media's approach to it made it look like more of a video game then reality. After watching that film I never looked at the TV news the same way again. And it contributed a great deal to why I don't watch it at all anymore other then in select clips on YouTube. And why I don't intend to expose my kids to it either. But that of course brings us to the natural progression from Roger's first film to his new one. “Returning Fire Interventions in Video Game Culture”. I was grateful when Roger gave me access to a sneak preview of the film so that I could review it for our upcoming show about the film. And I am going to share my feelings on it here and why I feel this film is another must see for anyone who wants to understand the war propaganda machine and the dark place humanity is headed if we continue to desensitize ourselves to the reality of war.

Professor Stahl tells three stories in his film. If I had any criticism it would only be that I wish he had done more. I was engrossed from beginning to end and found myself motivated to look into more examples of the sort of activism the three people he interviewed for his film had engaged in. Two of the people in question did various provocative things while logged in to two popular first person shooter games. Including the extremely obvious recruiting tool known as “America's Army” a free online first person shooter put together by the U.S. Army. In watching the stories I remember thinking to myself that there was a time that I could have been one of the players in the games in question.

The first story revolved around an internet activist named Joseph DeLappe who logged in to “America's Army” with the name of “Dead_in_Iraq”. As people spent hours clicking away and shooting at the virtual avatars of other people he would list off the names of dead soldiers who had died in Iraq, along with the dates of their deaths. The reactions he got were mixed and I won't spoil the film for you, but I do wish to take one compelling point that came up when the brother of one of the soldiers he listed off while playing who had died in Iraq went out of his way to stop him from using his brother's name. The two ended up debating on a radio show about it. The brother of the dead soldier said that this activists actions were in some way trivializing the death of his brother. The activist countered with the very powerful point. The fact that there is a game wherein you play a United States soldier and are frequently killed over and over and over again is trivializing the death of his brother. And every soldier who dies in war. The fact that such a tragedy could be part of a “game” in of itself was a trivialization.

One of the powerful points that was also brought out in this segment was that these games go out of their way to try and capture the realism. I remember very distinctively in the past actively seeking out war games based on this. But as Mr. DeLappe pointedly stated, there is a serious element of realism that is always left out. That would be the fact that when you get shot in war you are often maimed for life, and spend the rest of your life dealing with the VA, and being in a lot of pain. If you survive. In real life, you don't get to respawn in a few seconds. And this recruiting tool of course doesn't have a segment of the game where you are being pushed around in a wheel chair for the rest of your life, or the glory of becoming part of the statistic of being 1 in 4 of the homeless in the United States, or watching your own funeral wherein your loved ones are mourning you and they hand one of them a folded American flag. Any video game that featured this part of the soldier's career would not be a good recruitment tool for the army. And it certainly wouldn't sell a lot of video games.

In the second segment we move on to an interview with Anne-Marie Schleiner. She was part of the former internet activist group “Velvet-Strike” which made quite a ruckus on various servers for the popular first person shooter “Counter-Strike”. Ms. Schleiner and her fellow activists would log on to “Counter-Strike” servers and use the game's ability to spray your own graphics into the game to put anti-war messages all over the virtual battlefield. A couple of things struck me when I was watching this segment. The first was the reaction that her group of activists from the community within the game that was in some cases extremely negative including death threats. One hate mail in particular came from someone who had watched the twin towers burn during the September 11th attacks who used the game “therapeutically” to get the sensation that he was getting back at the terrorists who carried out the attacks on the twin towers. The final line of the email that hit me the hardest was the person saying “Please don't ruin my game.”

I have a roommate who played more “Counter-Strike” then any human being should ever do anything. I remember him coming home from work stressed out and angry at people and going into his room and shooting people to get out their aggressions. I remembered doing the same thing myself with video games while I was working on the fast food industry which can be a highly stressful and frustrating job. This lead me to truly appreciate one of the major concepts that both “Militainment Inc.” and “Returning Fire” try to convey. And that is that these video games allow us to distance ourselves from the conflict. To make it “normal” to shoot people. And to dehumanize people who are killed in war. The whole thing reminded me of a very old episode of the original Star Trek TV series wherein they came to a planet that had been in war for thousand's of years. And the reason was that they had decided it would be more humane to wage war via a computer simulation. People who died in the simulation would voluntarily go and disintegrate themselves if they were listed as “killed” during these simulations because it had been determined that they would of died if the combat were real and that it was better for their planet as a whole to do this rather then wage real war. Their society had become completely detached from the bloody and grizzly aspects of war. This again brought me back to considering the vast difference in the way wars are covered now. As pointed out in “Militainment Inc.” the differnece between the way the Viet Nam war was covered and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is staggering. No pictures of wounded soldiers. War becomes video screens of bombs being dropped on buildings that are shown on low quality video so as to be blurry. Rather different then the video of an Apache gunship shooting people on a street corner released by Wikileaks. It allows us to forget that there are real people with real lives who had real families and real friends who were blown to pieces in those video clips.

The third and final segment was certainly the most powerful, but it was also different then anything I had ever seen. And it kind of brought this last comparison I made to that Star Trek episode very much to the forefront of my mind. The segment about an Iraqi artist and activist named Wafaa Bilal. His father was killed by a missile fired from a Predator drone in Iraq. What many people don't know is that these drones are often operated by pilots who are thousands of miles away from the action here in the United States. Totally disconnected from the action. I learned about that while watching a lecture by Professor Robert Sapolsky, one of the behavior experts featured in “Zeitgeist: Moving Forward” when he was talking about the vast differences between the way that animals make war and the ways mankind does in this currently sick system. As war becomes more mechanized, it becomes less real, and more “clean”. And therefore easier to ignore.

The story of Wafaa Bilal was certainly one of the most unique activism stories I had ever seen. Inspired by the remote control means that was used to kill his father, Mr. Bilal fashioned a remote control paint ball gun that people on the internet could fire at him. For the project he locked himself in a room for 30 days allowing people to make the decision to shoot at him, or not shoot at him. His original name for the project was going to be “Shoot an Iraqi”. I again don't want to get into too much detail as you will get a far greater impact by watching the film when it comes to this story. But suffice it to say by the time it was done, something as absurd as someone rigging a paintball gun to be fired at them via the internet was not funny at all. One thing I will mention was during the segment Mr. Bilal was featured on a talk radio show hosted by Mathew “Mancow” Muller. The reason I am going to mention it is I hope someone shows this particular radio host my blog so that he can read the words here wherein I will describe the image of my middle finger being extended at him. The plus side of that part of the film is that it reminded me of one of the most important reasons that I am helping make the “TROLL” documentary. The fact that people actually make money be being extremely poor examples of humanity on purpose is intellectually offensive. If you want to know why I say this, watch the film and you will understand. However, there was a heart-warming end to this segment wherein some internet activists took action.

In conclusion I will wrap up by saying that “Returning Fire” is a must see for any anti-war activist. I think it should also be viewed by any parent considering buying their children a video game about war. I think anyone considering joining the military should watch both of Professor Stahl's films before they make their final decision so that they can get an idea for where their motivation to join the military likely came from. As I said earlier I only wish the film was longer. And I look forward to any further works by Professor Roger Stahl.


About Roger Stahl:
Roger Stahl is Associate Professor of Speech Communication at the University of Georgia. His work has appeared in publications such as Rhetoric and Public Affairs, Encyclopedia of Political Communication, and Critical Studies in Media Communication. His latest book, Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture, has just been released by Routledge Press.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Al from Mexico's article for V-RADIO 3/9/2011.

The transition is "my transition".

It makes me kind of angry when I hear many people asking about the "transition"

How is that going to be?.....when will the transition begin?.....who is going to
lead the transition?........the transition........what should we do to
accelerate the transition?

People often get caught up in the confusion of "perhaps something will happen
right?", I mean, somebody needs to do something"....."maybe something big is
about to happen", maybe someone stronger than us will come to the rescue, let's
keep waiting, let's keep praying, let's keep on having faith, let's just keep
pretending and looking the other way until suddenly out of the blue things get

Thanks to the monetary system we've been using for centuries, we have come to
the conclusion that we are powerless, defenseless, voiceless, mindless, to a
very profound level.

We tend to forget that every change, every transition, every revolution, every
new invention, starts with only one person...And that person is YOU.....You are
the transition.

So if you want to accelerate the transition, break those credit cards, cut them
all in a hundred pieces like I did a few years ago, I grabbed the scissors and
practically shred them to ashes. I finally learned to be in control of my life,
and it felt so good to get rid off the banking chains that enslaved me for over
10 years.

And of course, we could talk about many other actions that would harm and weaken
the system, such as making your own clothing and manufacturing your own home
products and foods, we could go really far as to how much we can do to get off
the grid.

But we don't need to scare away many people that are still extremely attached to
the goods they think they need in order to be "happy".

So going back to the credit cards and loans issue that we can actually get rid
off today, we can do so much damage to the current system, because they depend
on credits and loans in order to justify the phantom value they have invented.

We dont even need to force it, is already happening around the world, more and
more people find themselves unable to pay the interests from their loans
therefore they are constantly educating their kids about the dangers of getting
in debt.

Therefore we can actually accelerate the transition by just that single concept
of getting off the credit mechanisms, because the entire system relays and
depends absolutely on having you as a monetary slave.

Without debt governments can't control you, without debt nations can't bring
other nations to their knees, without debt this whole aberrant system will
collapse sooner than we think. Without the need of an old fashioned armed
revolution and without having to spit a single bullet.

You could keep on buying stuff from wherever you want, you can keep on
pretending and dreaming that things will somehow get better with hope, you can
also live upset and depressed about everything, spending 90 percent of your time
working as someone else's slave and spending only 10 percent for yourself and
your family.

But if you keep your credit cards in your pockets, you'll remain miserable,
you'll keep your family in constant uncertainty and fear ... deprived of all the
things you could have, and all the places you could go if you finally learn to
have absolute control of your finances.

We cannot be redundant enough on this issue Neil, money is debt, money depends
on debt to exist, because money is a phantom value system of exchange, that
relays on your ignorance in order to keep you as a slave.

We live stuck and deeply attached down to the few possessions we own, because we
feel that we need to protect them from others, we deprive ourselves from having
healthy meals because all we can afford is fast, high collesterol cheap foods to
keep us going.

We haven't yet realize how deep in the mud we are at this point in time because
of our absolute dependency on money, people kidnapping and killing other people
for money, people selling drugs and sickening others for money, doctors
prescribing deadly medicines for money, corporate leaders throwing thousands of
tons of toxic waste in the rivers and oceans to save money, fishermen using mile
long fishnets destroying coral reefs and hundreds of thousands of whales,
dolphins, turtles, seals, sharks and everything in their way for money.

Companies getting sued, harrassed or kicked out if they try to create products
that can last twice as long as their counterparts in the competition for money.

The list goes on and on and on, and money keeps on destroying humans, animals
and the very soil we step upon. To most people all this problems seem kind of
"impersonal" , all those things are happening to "someone else" to "something
else", as long as a soldier doesn't break in our house we can keep our fucking
mouth shut and keep watching the football game and then the soup opera.

It seems as though people have become so lazy minded that they will protest and
stand up only if the bullet hits them directly.

Perhaps until they see their own teenager daughter getting sexually abused on
the internet, because the poor girl couldn't find a decent paying job to fill
her economic needs, so she decided to try her luck in the pornographic industry,
filled with human degradation, physical and verbal abuse, drug addictions and
finally depression or suicide.

Or perhaps that isn't hard enough to wake people up to realize the sickness of
our current society worldwide, maybe until one of their kids gets kidnapped to
be used in the child pornography industry which exists also in the richest
countries and which generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Or maybe when their soldier son comes back from overseas inside of a coffin, and
then realize that he lost his life to maintain the privileges of those in power.

Or maybe when they realize that their kids weren't allowed to move on to
College, because their grades are so mediocre for having lazy mediocre teachers
that can't be fired from schools for having the protection from the teachers

Or better yet, your kids are given a full month vacation, again because there
was another local school shooting spree were many students died.

And then Another church priest, and another wall street broker runs away with
the lifetime savings of hundreds of naive retirees and entire families.

And then another teenager girl dies, trying to look as slim as those starving
drug addicted models on the magazinne cover.

And then another truck delivery driver crashes and kills a bunch, because he
didn't sleep in 2 days feeling the pressure of getting the shipment on time.

Thousands of sea animals die every year unable to digest the huge amount of
plastics in their bodies, because throwing trash in the ocean is a lot cheaper
for the corporations than giving waste proper handling. Hundreds of thousands of
tons of computer waste and cell phone trash are shipped to the beaches of africa
every week.

Thousands of people were killed and many others injured and intoxicated for life
in Irak and Afganistan, because the invaders are using "depleted uranium" in
their missiles and artillery, because this highly effective explosive is able to
cut through steel and solid rock like butter. Regardless of the toxicity of this
atomic material which is able to remain active in the ground for several

And yet.....Free market economists say "It's impossible to live without money",
"It's impossible to calculate the cost of new infrastructure projects",
....."It's impossible to allocate resources without the use of
money"......."It's impossible for the world to get rid off money"

Well, if you are a free market economist and or a Capitalist advocate, let's see
how you calculate all this death and destruction in your equations.....The
selfish nature of greed for money, is not worth our existance itself.

Are we to believe that we can just look away from this mess and try to build our
own companies to keep competing and stepping on each other's heads forever?

Let's see for how much longer we can keep this aberrant and sick society.
Let's see how many prayers will be enough to wake up those Gods living in the
paradise of our insecure minds.

Let's see how many more war-glorifying video games are enough to teach our kids
a thousand ways to kill somebody. And never how to help someone in desperate

I'm a 3d animator and CG modeler myself, and back in 2006, I was awarded "first
place" in a challenge that was about creating a video game cinematic, I wrote an
original story that was about a video game in which the main characters are sent
to rescue missions around the world, these characters could only use none lethal
weapons to deal with their enemies, they could use explosives and hi-tech gear,
but only to break their way in their rescue missions of people in disaster
situations and such.

I was quite surprised that the president from the Game Developers Conference
himself, gave me the award personally in San Francisco, I was so glad that I got
the message across and went home with a big smile.

However, the empire, the pentagon, hell-i-burton, General Electric, Lockheed
Martin, the ATF, they have a little more power and resources to manipulate the
video game industry than the little of me,... hundreds of war glorifying video
games have flooded the stands of video game stores around the world ever since
the very first game consoles appeared.

Bored teenagers who have spent half their lives in front of the tv and a game
controller in their hands, begin to believe that killing another human being is
easy and actually entertaining, unaccounted for, and actually end up as hero's
that the whole world loves, and then they join the real army, full of empathy,
patriotism, or just the need for the money....Just to comeback later with an
amputated extremity, severely traumatized, drug addicted and a few years later
totally forgotten and unknown begging for coins sitting on a wheelchair on the
streets. With a big budweiser in a paper bag. But hey, those are the real hero's
war creates.

So, let's see for how much longer we want to live in constant fear and distrust
with each other

Wether we are rich or poor, its the same......the rich ones live in a permanent
state of competitive neurosis trying to raise their profits every year, they
live afraid and insecure from their associates, their partners, their employees,
so they feel the need to be always watching their backs.

They spend fortunes in security personal, bodyguards, anti-assault vehicles,
expensive surveillance equipment. they buy several homes and real state around
the world, to make sure they will always have some back up value in case
something goes wrong, in case they need to escape from a fraud or from a legal

The poor ones on the other hand, live in a constant struggle in order to
provide the basic needs for their families, in a constant neurosis to gather the
money for the rent, the electric power, water and energy bills, ...taxes,
clothing, food, school items, etc

And the vast majority, the ones at the very bottom, digging in the trash,
stealing scraps, selling stuff on the streets, begging for a few coins, stealing
cars, cell phones, wallets, and the most terrifying of all....stealing people
for money.....selling people for money.....buying people for money......killing
people for money......"

Now, If all the previous information is still not enough to make you rethink
your life and our society, and start living without monetary debt, and wether
you support the Venus project or not.......Then, keep waiting, there are a lot
more reasons to make us change waiting to be added in the long list of human

We'll never be perfect, we are still just humans, but we have to learn to make
changes in our direction and our lives, or just keep following the tail of the
sheep ahead of us.

The choice is ours.