SCP Tour of Amsterdam

In February 2000, two members of the Surveillance Camera Players (Susan and Bill) traveled to Amsterdam, Holland, for a week-long tour, the group's first ever outside of the United States. Over the course of this tour, the SCP gave two presentations on the history of their group and performed You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety on two separate occasions.

On the evening of Saturday, 19 February, the SCP gave an informal after-dinner talk at Kalendarpandan, a squatted building in the Entrepotdok neighborhood of Amsterdam. In addition to containing places to live, Kalendarpandan puts on live shows and dance parties, houses a community radio station, and shows movies. Thanks to the global-trotting Grrrt, who has known Bill and Susan for several years, a rushed but charming notice about the SCP's talk was published in Shark, a bi-weekly English-language events calendar published in Amsterdam.

THE SECURITY [sic] CAMERA PLAYERS from New York City are currently doing a presentation tour through Europe making a stop at the CAVIA [note by Shark: See independent film] as part of the "Big Brother" theme programme. At the time of going to press what exactly they're doing at the Kalenderpandan on this day is not yet known - maybe more film images of their actions but certainly a chance to ask "billy not (de)bored" about his situationist archive zine.

Thanks to the education and generosity of the Kalendarpandan audience (about eight people, mostly Dutch but also a few Germans and someone from England), the talk was presented in English. The SCP also played their recent video compilation, a 30-minute-long affair that includes edited highlights of the group's best footage. A great success, the presentation ended with a long and lively discussion that eventually broke down into two lively discussions (with Bill part of one, and Susan part of the other). In and through these discussions, the SCP forged links with other activists, in particular Kursten, who produces a video magazine about the squatters' movement in Germany, and Simon, a Reclaim the Streets activist from London.

On the evening of Tuesday, 22 February, the SCP gave a half-hour presentation at the Filmhuis Cavia, a formerly squatted building in the Bos en Lommer neighborhood (west of the Jordaan), as part of its "Big Brother is You, Watching" series. In the charmingly clumsy words of Cavia's bi-lingual program notes:

The February program of Filmhuis Cavia will be about the different manifestations of Big Brother. We know of its existence since the famous book 1984 of George Orwell, in which the author presented us a negative utopian view in which totalitarianism rules even individual minds.

There is more in Orwell's vision than we think as video camera's become part of our daily life experience on the streets and databases are connected. Control by camera observation has become more or less normal and at the same time we are confronted by a television program on Dutch television with the name of Big Brother. In this reality soap camera observation becomes part of a game in which people exhibit themselves in exchange of the possibility of winning a large amount of money. Most of the discussions about this program focus on the possible individual psychological problems but hardly any attention is given to larger social issues. In the festival "big brother is you, watching" which Cavia presents, we do want to pay attention to these issues because we think the TV program and the hype it produced can have consequences for the way we think about camera control.

Because of a lot of enthusiastic reactions to our ideas we have decided to pay attention to this theme for a whole month [rather than a week, as was originally planned], while the actual festival will take place in the third week of February. We hope you will enjoy it.

(For SCP Director Art Toad's comments on "transparent" television shows such as Big Brother, the one mentioned here, click here.)

Cavia's Big Brother festival included such films as 1984 (both the 1956 original and the 1984 re-make), THX 1138, The End of Violence, The Conversion, Videodrome, The Truman Show, Monsieur Hire, The Adjuster and C'est Arrive Pres de Chez Vous (also known as Man Bites Dog). As it turned out, the SCP's presentation acted as the warm-up for Cavia's showing of Stephen Holder's Eye of the Beholder. About a dozen people attended the presentation, which included a screening of the SCP's version of 1984. The SCP also used this occasion to give away flyers that explained its tour of Amsterdam, copies of the SCP's video compilation, and copies of NOT BORED! #32, which contains extensive reports on the group's activities in the second half of 1999.

(At this presentation, the SCP met someone named Frank, who a few days later showed the group one of the issues of a video magazine made by Undercurrents, a group active in England. This issue included a very powerful segment entitled "Pig Brother," which documented the British police's extensive use of video technology to surveill and harass peaceful and law-abiding protesters and demonstrators. Upon returning to New York, the SCP have managed to contact the Undercurrents group; a trade of videos has already been arranged.)

Earlier in the day (Tuesday, 22 February), the SCP performed You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety in front of Amsterdam's Central Station. A tourist attraction in itself, the Central Station is the point through which every tourist to Amsterdam must pass -- and there are indeed a lot of tourists who pass through Amsterdam, even in the middle of winter. In the words of the flyer the SCP handed out during the performance,

We are performing here today in Amsterdam because surveillance is not restricted to the United States. Much of Western Europe is also becoming a society of total surveillance. We encourage you -- no matter where you are from -- to form a Surveillance Camera Players group of your own. To overthrow the society of surveillance, a truly international effort will be necessary. And so let the message go out: Down with Big Brother!

Though the group's boards were seen by dozens, if not hundreds of people, only a few people asked for or were given one of these flyers. The case was the same on Saturday, 26 February, when the SCP again performed You Are Being Watched For Your Own Safety in front of Amsterdam's Central Station. Most people briefly looked at what was going on, and then moved on. (Some tourists actually took pictures of the SCP's performance, as if it were part of "the local scene"!) As for the Dutch police: they watched from afar as the SCP performed both outside and inside the station, and even allowed themselves to be videotaped, as long as the videotaping wasn't done in a "sneaky" fashion. The contrast between the Dutch police and police officers in New York City couldn't have been more pronounced. In Amsterdam, the police tolerate, even ignore, the very things (soft drug sales and use, prostitution and "loitering") that are cause for arrest in New York, the very "quality of life crimes" that surveillance cameras are designed to prevent.

Among the people who did respond to the SCP's performances, there was a range of opinions. Some people (the Dutch mostly) didn't have a problem with surveillance cameras because they'd already been discussed in a public forum (at which it was decided that surveillance cameras could be used in a limited or "local" fashion by the owners of such private establishments such as coffeehouses, bars and restaurants, but that cameras could not be used in any public space in the so-called red light district, in which photography is already discouraged, if not actually prohibited). Other people (the English mostly) did have a problem with surveillance cameras, because their country -- far more than the United States, it should be noted -- is filled with them, but none of them thought that there was much "you" could do to roll back surveillance society. A very few people were downright vocal in their appreciation for the SCP. At the second performance, a young black woman called out in an American voice, "I feel you! Fight the power!" after seeing the boards in You Are Being Watched that proclaim NO MORE RACIAL PROFILING and NO MORE INVASIONS OF PRIVACY. This response was especially gratifying, for it came on the same day that the SCP learned (thanks to CNN International) that the four murderers of Amadou Diallo were acquitted of all charges in the SCP's native New York City.

All in all, the tour, though very limited, was a smashing success. It showed the SCP that they could do their plays in countries (societies) different from their own, and still be understood. It put the SCP in contact with activists in three different countries (Holland, Germany and England). And it pointed to the next steps that the SCP should take, which are 1) further internationalize its efforts and 2) travel to and link up with activists in England.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

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By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998

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