Guerilla Programming of Video Surveillance Equipment

It should by now be common knowledge that the camera is primarily a tool of social control. The camera as used in advertizing presents to the populace the goods and lifestyles that are deemed desirable. The camera as used in film and TV then educates the populace on how to live one's life in a proper manner, so that one can acquire these goods and lifestyles (whether by legal or illegal means).

Then, in turn, the camera as used in surveillance systems monitors the actions of this populace to ensure that, if they react to the commodity in any subversive way (shoplifting, stealing from work, sabotage, vandalism), the "criminal" can be detected and that s/he will take his or her place as product for the crime control industry. Moreover, the detectable presence of the camera in the workplace, in stores, schools, city parks, street corners, even coffee shops serves to remind the individual that s/he is a citizen of a surveilled society.

It is important to remind oneself of the relationship between the eye of the media and that of the corporate police state -- for they are both the guardian of the commodity, however nebulous and ephemeral that commodity may become. As a tactic designed to point out the paradox of a system that turns the lens on a public that has been taught to place more importance on images recorded by cameras than images seen by their own eyes, we propose Guerilla Programming of Video Surveillance Equipment.

The basic concept of guerilla programming is simple: a group of individuals create a scenario and act it out using surveillance cameras as if they were their own, as if they were producing their own program, and as if the audience consisted of security personnel, police, school principals, residents of upper-class high security neighborhoods, and the producers and salespeople of the security systems themselves. The guerilla programming group can pick any camera they find convenient and enticing, keeping in mind of course that some cameras are monitored live, while others record to tape that will probably be viewed only in the event of some crime taking place during the hours of its operation. For this reason, guerilla actions at 24-hour bank machines aren't too productive. The group can choose to emulate the traditional structures of theatre, cinema, the TV sitcom or documentary, or just wing it and go free-style. A group could choose a regular time slot, say Thursday nights at 8:30, to air their program or instead choose to put on a big 5 hour gala production.

Not only does the assurance of free camera time and attentive audiences offer the guerilla programmers the opportunity to point out to the guardians of the spectacle that they are being studied, but, as well, the community gathered to produce the actions can use the opportunity to investigate pertinent social and historical phenomena. As critics of the spectacle, guerilla programming actions should always be, in each group's own way, an investigation and an expose. For example, a group of surveillance guerillas, meeting weekly to produce an action, can choose to investigate the structure of narrative fiction or ideologically infused documentaries to critically study the structure of these forms, and the influence they have had on the social interactions of the participants, in order to purge themselves of the spectacle's control. Or, instead, a group may choose to study moments of history that have been intentionally suppressed (say, for example, the persecution of the Doukhobors in British Columbia, or the story of the Bonzo Dog Band), or events that, unfortunately, never took place at all ("The Tragic Death of David Geffen, Age 12, in a Fishing Accident circa 1952").

However, as guerillas, we must ensure that we do not relish the camera. Surveillance is not passive and it is not our friend. We must not mistake the subversive possibilities offered by the abundance of equipment meant to curtail, monitor, and control our desires with a neat new device provided for us by the spectacle. We don't need this garbage to have a good time, any more than we need TV, but if the enemy is going to clutter our landscape with watchful eyes, we should look into those eyes and let them know how silly we think they are. Guerilla programming is production of an action, not consumption of a product. It may be that the surveillance camera can give us a focus point on the street (or the mall, or the cafe, or the bathroom) in which to utilize the few salvageable aspects of performance art or "happenings" without the elitism and reliance on the media inherent in such fluff.

Surveillance society, which is an imminent reality, must be critiqued and attacked concurrently. Guerilla programming is direct: it is a simultaneous exposure of the oppressive system and subversion of that system to inform the oppressors (and anyone else who may be watching us) of their own ridiculousness and complicity. As theory and practice must occur simultaneously, so must critique and subversion. Guerilla programming is go!

-- M. Carter, 1995(?).

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