Posted 29 Apr
In the midst of the informational chaos of an Australian election, Brexit and the US primaries, how do we weigh the damage that social media has done to democracy? Is there a way in which the algorithms that optimise the technology towards misinformation and division might instead be directed to sustain peace? MOD. commissioned Superflux to create Trigger Warning as a way to explore this territory for the WAGING PEACE exhibition held November 2018 – April 2019.
How did we get here? What is this place? Vast fields, hollow spaces, empty alleyways: the winding streets of a semantic city, corrupt and fractured.
Empty alleyways, lined with posters proclaiming “It’s okay to be white”. The first time the team at MOD. watched the film and saw this scene was the same day that Pauline Hanson put a motion to Parliament to acknowledge the rise of “anti-white” racism and stating “it is okay to be white”. Soon after, these posters started appearing on Adelaide streets. We knew this film was important, but it also made us nervous about the world being made visible.
But outside a storm is brewing. Armies are massing. Strange animal masked clans. Savage tribes with neon painted faces. Full of rage, ready to bear arms against any sense of clarity or continuity.
Watching Trigger Warning after the attack on Muslim prayer in Christchurch was abhorrent. It was horrifying to see the language and symbols of the white terrorist loaded with the same memes floated in the film. I’d always felt nauseous watching, but now even more so, moving from anticipation to realisation of the consequence of divisive hate speech. Every 10 minutes on a loop inside our gallery, waiting for the next attack.
A rising fever dream of angry images flashing across the sky, obscuring the horizon. Arguments filling the hot sticky air, with no discernible source. Conflict drifting on the turbulent breeze. Flashes of clarity overwhelmed by twisting delirium, too many distractions, differences, disagreements, contradictions, unresolvable paradoxes. Thoughts like a pack of rabid dogs barking at the moon. Racing. Biting at the tyres of passing cars.
Conflict drifting – and then protests around trans rights and vegan arguments flared up. I’d read Benjamin Law’s essay on Safe Schools, but to see this followed by deliberate anti-trans ideologies as a branding opportunity underscored the division. I had hoped the vegan vs paleo conflicts referred to in the film were more whimsical, but these recent protests and counter-attacks seemed angrier. Everything seems angrier and people less willing to engage.
The tyres of passing cars now always brings images of Charlottesville and a car ploughing into crowds. I wonder which future we are anticipating. On my mind is this tweet about how one-third of people want to kill another one-third, while one-third watches, that though from a parody account, I can’t stop thinking about. Who are the watchers?
A phantom hand conducting the chaotic cacophony. A cold logic cutting through the frenzy. Guiding narratives down recursive loops…
Opening TED this year was Carole Cadwalladr, dissecting the vote around Brexit and calling out by name the tech leaders who have built systems that let the worst of our instincts prevail. If technology was meant to connect, we’ve not succeeded in our objective. Will the focus on technology as a guide for the future recede in favour of regulation?
All illusion shatters and nothing remains.
There is uncertainty as to whether Trigger Warning offers a grim warning or a shimmer of hope. In the discussions I’ve had with visitors on tours, it varies. If we built the algorithms can we build something better? Or do our creations mirror a reality we can’t escape? We mostly agree that there a need to have these conversations and an urgency to find solutions.
Yet the concrete embrace never arrives, no rousing slap of hard reality.
14,200 visitors entered The Arcade Gallery to watch Trigger Warning over the course of the WAGING PEACE exhibition. I’ve watched Trigger Warning perhaps 40-50 times and it never fails to make me feel nauseous at the 5 minute mark. While it’s hard not to feel helpless, this film proves the central point as to why we need to be talking about peace and building new mental models for peace urgently.
Trigger Warning is no longer showing at MOD., but you can still watch it online here.