Foot Traffic

Fuck it, I give up.

On the beaches of the Salish Sea, a collection of interconnected straits and inlets and various other waterways in the area of the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Vancouver, people keep finding severed feet. Since 2007, 21 human feet have washed ashore, all of them still clad in socks and shoes. Investigators initially suspected a serial killer was dumping these grisly remains, but it turned out that various unrecovered victims of drowning and suicide are just naturally decomposing at the bottom of the sea, and the buoyant rubber soles of their shoes are carrying their feet to shore after the tendons that once connected feet to legs finally give out. No need to worry about a serial killer; it's just a giant pile of suicided corpses at the bottom of the ocean, periodically sending us little rotting pedi-grams to say hello. Hopefully you find this explanation as comforting as I did.

All of which is to say that this one's going to be a little more scattered than usual. More "a collection of parts washing up on shore" than a polished essay with themes or like, a point. 

(Don't say, "When have these ever had a point." Fucker.)

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Nine Inch Nails would be among its inductees for 2020, which is fantastic news because I really needed a brand new way to feel painfully aware of my own age and advancing cultural irrelevance. Nothing preserves the defiant spirit and mystique of your favorite art quite like its placement in a museum where you can also spend $6.99 on a souvenir tumbler glass with the word "rebel" on it.

Of course, I'm severely oversimplifying - I'm actually happy that a musician I've loved for almost as long as I’ve been listening to music is being recognized by and among his peers. And the Rock Hall is really fun too, even if you have to sit through a bunch of Skynyrdy bullshit before they let you see the Talking Heads Polaroid mosaic. But obviously, awards ceremonies for art are going to value populism and sales, so it’s always sort of a mindfuck when you personally value that art more for its abrasive and challenging qualities. In other words, if you don’t love me at my “Commissioning a fake snuff film to promote my 1993 EP Broken without the knowledge of my record label,” you don’t deserve me at my “20 million records sold, with 13 Grammy Award nominations and a new career as an Oscar-winning film composer.” 

Oh, well. At least they’ll never induct Jello Biafra.

Saturday's New York Times featured an article about Clearview AI, a new facial recognition company currently partnering with various state and federal law enforcement organizations to strengthen a growing surveillance network and maybe also create an unlivable tech dystopia. Law enforcement has been using facial recognition tech for years, but they used to be limited to a database of only official government photos - mugshots, driver's license photos, etc. Clearview's tech provides an exponentially larger photo database by culling images from Facebook and Instagram and every other website and social media service where you might post photos, or where photos of you are posted. It’s a scary escalation of an already scary surveillance state, even before you read that investors in Clearview expect the service to eventually be available to the public.

Now wait, you might be saying, doesn't an unauthorized commercial co-opting of people's photos violate Facebook's terms of service? It does, but it turns out that doesn't make much difference when one of the investors in your Orwellian nightmare company is Peter Thiel, who also sits on Facebook's Board of Directors (A Facebook spokesman "declined to comment on Mr. Thiel's personal investments" when asked about the conflict of interest, because of course he fucking did).

This would be depressing news on its own, but I don't think it's helping that I finally watched that crappy new Terminator sequel the night before I read this article. It's a weird feeling, being nostalgic for a time when dreading your potential future techno-death involved liquid metal and killer cyborgs, and not, say, some random psychopath wearing Google glasses that allow him to instantly obtain the address and employer and social circle details of anyone he sees on the other side of a political protest, or walking into a Planned Parenthood, or reacting to his catcalls in a way he doesn’t like. It’s a good thing, then, that Hoan Ton-That, founder of Clearview AI, is treating the likely eventual public availability of his technology with the gravity and circumspection it deserves.

Asked about the implications of bringing such a power into the world, Mr. Ton-That seemed taken aback.

“I have to think about that,” he said. “Our belief is that this is the best use of the technology.”

Hasta la vista, baby.

For no reason at all I'm thinking of May 2002, when I was in high school and Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie had just come out. As I was walking through the halls the following Monday I saw a group of morons horsing around, pantomiming the little devil horn-type hand gesture that Spider-Man makes when he’s shooting webs. One of them was a bully who’d spent years shouting homophobic slurs at me, so it was a bit jarring to see him identifying with the hero of a movie that also featured a seemingly more applicable high school bully character.

I used to waste a lot of time wondering how someone could be so immune to shame and hypocrisy that they cheer for art that illustrates their own role in worsening the lives of people less powerful than they are, but now I recognize that these tone-deaf sadists most likely never even think about anyone who isn’t a fellow bully, or paying $10,000 a plate to hear them condescend to the idea of Medicare For All at a political fundraiser, or sitting across the table from them at a dinner party with Jeffrey Epstein. And now, thanks to the cancerous proliferation of social media, every year around awards season we have to hear some dumbass bullshit like “Lynndie England thought The Report was a fantastic docudrama with an important message” and then we have to go about our day without trying to burn down a bank.

I have long since abandoned the hope that any members of our privileged elite will ever face any consequences for the various ways they’re destroying the world to enrich themselves. But it sure would be nice if they could stop going out of their way to rub our faces in it.

Fuck it. I give up.