From the perspective of both common sense and radical politics, agreeing to be interviewed and photographed for an article about the Surveillance Camera Players for publication in the magazine Details would no doubt turn out to be a total waste of a considerable amount of time. Any article published in such a mainstream magazine couldn't help but be superficial and trivializing; the characterization of the SCP's Director, Bill Brown, couldn't help but be unflattering.
There were indeed no suprises on this score when the article was eventually published in the August 1999 issue. Despite the fact that a relatively serious article on surveillance was published elsewhere in the same issue, the article on the SCP focused on silly concerns and was completely oblivious to any of the larger implications of the widespread and uncontrolled video surveillance of the public; the writer referred to Brown as a "freak" and "mildly paranoid."
Let it not go unmentioned that none of the photographs taken or the videotapes recorded at a specially-arranged SCP appearance in Washington Square park 5 June 1999 and not a single line from the very extensive interview the writer did with Bill via e-mail were included in the finished piece.
What follows are highlights from the unused interview with Details.
Q.: What is the mission of the group?
A.: The mission of the group is to inspire other people who are also alarmed at the intrusion of surveillance cameras into both public and private life to form their own groups. There is no way people will be affected if all they do is watch us perform. Big deal. But to get them to watch us perform and then go out and form their own group -- now that would be great. I'd like the Surveillance Camera Players to be like Food Not Bombs, which serves food to people who are hungry and/or poor and/or homeless. Anyone can form a Food Not Bombs -- there are Food Not Bombs groups all over the country. There should be groups calling themselves "The Surveillance Camera Players" in every major city in America --wherever surveillance cameras are a menace to the right to privacy.
Q.: What is your reaction to the Fox surveillance-cam shows?
A.: After the NY Times wrote us up, we were contacted by "RealTV," which isn't a Fox show but which is also a nationally-broadcast show, orginating in Hollywood, that uses surveillance or "caught on tape" stuff as their daily fare. But when "RealTV" saw a tape of our performance of "1984" (it's a motherfucker!) they lost interest. I'm sure they figured, "There is NO WAY we can spin these guys. They are REALLY for real." You know, "Better not open this can of worms." As for these shows, they are among our true "enemies" or "targets." These shows clearly condition people to enjoy -- to consume as entertainment -- the systematic destruction of their very own privacy rights, their very own boundaries between public and private life.
Q.: Why do you think massive surveillance has been inserted into private and public life, without real protest?
A.: The systematic erosion of privacy rights -- I mean the systematic surveillance of people living in the United States -- began back in the 1960s, with the creation and computerization of huge federal databases. You've got to remember that surveillance cameras are only a recent addition to a pre-existing and much larger apparatus of social control. Surveillance cameras only add visual information -- what a person looks like, dresses like, behaves like -- to a database that might already contain everything else there is to know about this person -- what they do for a living, what their credit history is, who their insurance carrier is, if any, what their medical and criminal records contain, etc. The real threat to our privacy and civil rights lies in the creation of computerized databases containing "total" profiles. If fascists like Giuliani get their way, such total profiles would also include a DNA sample.
Q.: Do you think being monitored is having spiritual/cultural effects on americans?
A.: Being monitored every day is only the flip-side of, every day, being obsessed with WATCHING. For at least 50 years Americans have been trained to consume visual images. The conditioning has clearly worked: we have become more passive, more inclined to step back and watch rather than step forward and participate or intervene. Now we are being trained to consume visual images of own passivity.
Q.: Any visions of what america circa 2050 will be like, surveillance-wise?
A.:No. I live in the present, not the future.
Q.: Who are the main culprits behind the surveillancing of america?
A.: In order of culpability and chronology: 1. Intelligence-gatherers (army, CIA, NSA, FBI, DEA, the various "Red Squads") who surveill (potential) criminals. 2. Employers who surveill their workers. 3. Commodity-vendors who surveill (potential) customers and criminals.
Q.: A few more questions: (The obvious one) Why do you think surveillance should be resisted?
A.: There are a great many reasons. I think it's almost more sensible to ask, "Why shouldn't surveillance be resisted?" A one word answer to your question would be, "Privacy."
Q.: You've called the surveillance camera a "tool of social control". can you elaborate a bit?
A.: Train, as one says, a camera on someone, and he or she will inevitably perform for it as they have been "trained" to do. Social control is a form of FALSE self-consciousness, a FALSE consciousness of trying to regulate oneself.
Q.: Do you think the use of home video cameras has any parallels to the use of surveillance cameras?
A.: They are both certainly using the same inventions in camera electronics. But the real parallel is this: one technology trains people to have fun in front of a camera, the other trains people not to have fun in front of a camera. A mixed message, shall we say.
But what was surprising -- what Brown had hoped for when he agreed to be interviewed and photographed in the first place -- was the strength and breadth of the response to the article among other media organizations, which are perhaps the true readers of magazines such as Details. The existence and performances of the SCP have to be covered in the (mainstream) media for the group to be as potent as it can be: the SCP's willingness to be covered -- and be the subject of the attendant focusing on certain individuals -- explodes the idea that only those with something to hide oppose the use of surveillance cameras. The SCP oppose video surveillance, and have nothing to hide. As demonstrated by the Real TV affair, the SCP need not at this stage be unduly worried about recuperation or corruption by the media. At this stage, attention to the SCP hurts the quickly emerging society of surveillance worse than it hurts the SCP's project to thwart that society's emergence.
Since its publication in late July 1999, the article in Details -- despite its flaws -- has convinced over a dozen very different media organizations from around the world to get in contact with the Surveillance Camera Players via its website (which Details was kind enough to mention). Some of these contacts quickly led to an interview; others did not; a few are still working out the, er, details with the SCP. In chronological order, what follows is the complete list of people who have contacted the SCP since late July 1999. They fall into roughly three groups: those who think that the SCP are a cool prank played on hapless security guards and little more; those who are already convinced that that the widespread use of surveillance cameras is a necessary evil and that the SCP are unrealistic, even paranoid, but are nevertheless "amusing"; and those who are themselves alarmed by and opposed to the widespread use of video surveillance, and who see the SCP as a good form of protest against it.
1. Aden, producer of Spy TV..
2. Samantha Wills from a radio station called Triple J in Sydney, Australia; Triple J is the youth network of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Early in August 1999, Bill Brown did a live radio interview (via telephone) with Ms. Wills. Bill was not at his best; the interview was too short, Ms. Wills seemed unprepared, and the questions she asked were superficial. Though asked repeatedly, she has not yet sent the SCP an audio recording of what was broadcast.
3. Kristen Gesswein, a reporter at the Fox News Channel, New York City. The reporter wanted to get a copy of one of the SCP's videotapes for airing in a segment to be broadcast the very next day. Because Fox Five News refused to pay the SCP any fee whatsoever for the use of an excerpt from such a videotape, no tape was sent and no segment on the group was done. The news reporter didn't show up to the SCP's show in Washington Square Park on 29 August 1999. When contacted in early September 1999, the reporter maintained that the news channel is still interested in doing a piece on the group, but didn't say what her plans were. The SCP hasn't heard from her or her organization since.
4. James Hyman, reporter for "Net Minute," broadcast on MTV's Bytesize in the United Kingdom and Ireland. For his show dated 23rd August-29th August 1999, James said the following about the SCP:
Thanks to the August issue of Details I stumbled across 'Not bored', an anarchist group who produce a magazine as well as the 'Surveillance Camera Players' who basically go around suprising surveillance cameras and the guards watching with quickie versions of films like 'One flew over the cuckoo's nest' and '1984'. Very cool & clever!!
This sort of review/approach seems common among young people and those who broadcast things with young people in mind: the SCP is juvenalia for juveniles, pranksterism. (According to James himself, there a videotape of his MTV-Europe review, but a copy has not yet been received by the SCP.)
5. Julie Turley, a writer for Capture Magazine. More an assemblage of vignettes than a unified text, this article exclusively focuses on the ideas, actions and personality of SCP co-founder and director Bill Brown. SCPers Susan and Scott are mentioned only in passing. Nevertheless, this is a valuable review, the only one written to date that concerns the "art" side of the SCP's art/politics dialectic.
6. Producers of a talk show on radio station KSCO-AM in Santa Cruz, California. A live telephone interview was broadcast in early-August. Despite promises to do so, the producers have not forwarded an audio tape of what was broadcast, which is most unfortunate, because the show was fascinating, if somewhat disconcerting. (The Santa Cruz/Salinas/Monterey area seems quite socially and politically conservative.) None of the people Bill spoke to -- neither the twenty-something interviewers nor the two or three callers (mostly older people) who managed to get on the air -- take seriously the threat to privacy rights posed by widespread and uncontrolled video surveillance. One caller said he was in favor of both ubiquitous surveillance cameras and NYC Police Commissioner Safir's fascist plan to take DNA samples from all arrestees, no matter what the charges. Both the interviewers and the callers couldn't get past the (largely false) ideas that surveillance cameras prevent crime and catch criminals, and that surveillance cameras are therefore worth whatever risk they might pose to privacy rights.
7. Office KEI, Inc., a New York City-based Japanese TV production company that produces Marumie on Nippon TV in Japan. Much like RealTV, Office KEI will not do anything concerning the SCP until its executive producers have been sent and have seen one of the group's videotapes. A tape was sent out in November 1999 in exchange for (the promise of) a $100 viewing fee and a letter assuring the SCP that the tape will not be duplicated or used to create or develop any group or script having to do with people protesting against surveillance cameras by performing satirical plays in front of them. On 30 June 2000, the check finally arrived. But what about the idea of putting the SCP on Japanese TV? What happened to the tape itself? Who knows? Jae Y. Sung, our contact at Office KEI, no longer works there. And so, we have yet another dead end.
8. Jessica Branch, a reporter from CitySearch. Packed full of scanned images and hypertext links, this article was written with the Internet in mind. As a result, it looked great when it was first posted. Since then, Jessica's article has been removed from the CitySearch Web site, though the accompanying images and links remain in place (for some strange reason). In its unadorned state, the article leaves much to be desired. It isn't well organized, jumps from subject to subject, and sometimes settles for formulations that don't make sense, such as this one: "By bringing their message to the city's screens, the SCP hope to affirm that the medium is indeed the message by turning the cameras themselves into the real spectacle." Since when does Marshal McLuhan's platitude "The medium is the message" need to be affirmed?
9. Jim Knipel, staff writer for The New York Press. Everyone in the SCP hates and refuses to read The New York Press, for it is an awful piece of right-wing shit. What a shock it was, then, to read in its pages the first really good piece about the SCP! Who would have thunk it?
10. Jodi Turk, a reporter from the cable station Court TV. Ms. Turk's heavy-handed approach isn't talking to and getting some information from someone who might appear on one of Court TV's talk shows, but debating and arguing with them as if first contact was the interview itself. Nevertheless, canny Bill acquiesced. A master debater, he is quite comfortable with adversarial situations, though he prefers not to be in them all the time. Though Bill passed muster, he still hasn't been interviewed by Court TV. He and the reporter are still negotiating the conditions under which Court TV will be sent a copy of one of the SCP's videotapes. At last go round, Court TV was rebuffed in its efforts to get and broadcast an excerpt of such a tape without having to pay a fee of any kind(!). Since then, Jodi Turk has stopped communicating with the SCP.
11. A reporter from a newspaper published in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Bill has forgotten both the woman's name and the name of the newspaper she said she wrote for. She had called Bill after speaking to Chris Johnson, a volunteer at the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been the SCP's legal observer since April 1999. Though she gave Bill the address of a website that the report said was going to publish her article, no article appeared and no one Bill was able to contact at the website knew anything about it.
12. Trisha Kirk, Associate Producer, CyberRadio Productions (which broadcasts live TV and radio programs over the Internet 24 hours a day), Santa Monica, California. Both e-mail and telephone contact with this show's producers seemed to indicate that these were intelligent people genuinely interested in the SCP who were going to an in-depth 30-minute-long webcast on the group, one that was to include a live telephone interview with Bill and streaming video images. But as soon as he heard the AM talk-radio sound of the DJ's voice who called him at the pre-arranged time (3 pm, Thursday 7 October 1999), he knew that he'd made a mistake. The DJ quickly turned out to be a jabbering idiot who knew next to nothing about the group (he referred to what the SCP does as entertainment before he was corrected!), who said completely stupid things ("Hey! Do the New York subways still smell like piss?"), and who didn't ask a single intelligent question. According to him, the videos the station had been sent were being played -- but in a tiny window and without sound. Bill still isn't sure why he stayed on the line and did the interview. But he is sure that the next time he hears that kray-zee radio personality voice, he hanging up.
13. Koula Bouloukos, a producer at City TV in Toronto.
14. Cynthia Zak, an Argentinian journalist (living in Miami) who says she's writing an article on the SCP for a new web site (supposedly at http://www.elsitiousa.com), a site that was to be launched on 9 September 1999 but was not. Ms. Zak did a short but fairly good telephone interview with Bill in early September 1999. Negotiations about sending her a SCP videotape started and then abrupted stopped when Ms. Zak stopped answering her mail.
15. Damon Wise, a reporter or freelancer for Empire Magazine, published in London, England. About a month after contacting Bill, this reporter finally asked his questions. Mostly they were stupid and superficial, and Bill said so. Surprisingly, this damon Wise replied that he liked Bill's "style," and that he would try to write about the SCP for another publication. At the moment, there are no expectations for anything good to come out of this contact.
16. Alison Ceppi from Indieplanet. In addition to videotaping the SCP's Berlin Wall performance, Ali and her crew conducted extensive interviews with several members of the group (Susan, Bill, Miranda and Paul). Though the segment on the SCP has still not aired, it seems clear that, when it does air, it will be broadcast both on the web and in film.
17. Robert Riechel from a television show called The Living Edge.
Contact the Surveillance Camera Players
By e-mail e-mail:notbored@NOSPAMoptonline.net
By snail mail: SCP c/o NOT BORED! POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998