Friday, February 04, 2005

Q: Does The Camera scare you?

A: Only when I am going fast.

Just about every morning I take a beautiful commute through the hills between Westwood and Bel Air over Sunset Blvd into Hollywood to where I work slinging code here at the LA Weekly. No joke, it’s a spectacularly bucolic excursion, hard to equal anywhere else on the planet. It's a great drive. I breeze east, sunroof down, past UCLA on the right, Bel Air, home to The Reagans, Liz Taylor and Alfred Hitchcock on my left, up the hill, down the hill, past the slow moving truck full of Mexican gardeners in front of me, going head even with a pretentious BMW 750 at the LA Country Club…..and then just as I cross the border into Beverly Hills….. there it is on the corner of Whittier and Sunset: The Camera.

The Camera is everywhere these days. It's a wonderful piece of modern technology in the age of the Surveillance Society. It sits perched atop of traffic light like a mechanical bird watching its automotive prey below. Run a red light and it takes your picture with absolutely no need for a human operator of any kind, day or night. Once your photo is taken I guess your criminal image gets passed on to the powers that be at some law enforcement agency within the jurisdiction of your transgression. Then it’s only a matter of time until the citation shows up in your mailbox, to be paid no matter what.

I have yet to be nailed by The Camera. In fact, I am so scared of the thing that when I see a yellow light in the distance I actually slow down and prepare to stop, just as I was taught in Driver’s Ed long ago. It drives the cars behind me wild (no pun intended). I mean, nobody prepares to stop at a yellow light here in LA, except for me, that is.

I find it funny in a way. Orwell predicted the ubiquitous use of video cameras as a tool of the state. You know, Winston Smith hiding from Big Brother in the alcove of his little State owned hovel. I guess Orwell thought that the State would use ubiquitous surveillance to control the thoughts and deeds of the populace, which seems to be the mission of the FBI and CIA. But, what ol’ George didn’t quite get is that here, in terms of the cop on the corner, we really don’t care what you think or if you think. It seems that all this State really cares about is keeping its revenue up in all possible profit centers and keeping the really dangerous loonies such as the Aryan Brotherhood, three strikes and you’re out shoplifters and Michael Jackson off the street. Speeding may be bad for energy conservation, but it’s great for our municipal coffers. Cut down on the expense of having an actual person write tickets and you have some real profits going. And, if you can fudge some images of "your car" running a light, well ....with a judge synpathetic to the boys in blue, you can literally print money.

Speaking of printing money, given that we now have cheap digital imaging technology that can make any image look real, I wonder how long it will be before Hollywood grows tired of paying high-priced, high maintenance movie stars to make films and just opts to create the movie stars it needs artificially using a Macintosh (the computer of the really creative) . Think of the savings that Michael Eisner could pocket not having to put with the price and personality of a Marlon Brando, may his soul rest in peace. After all, it’s ALL just an image—the movie, the Oscars, Entertainment Tonight, NBC Nightly News, Playmate of the Month…

PS: No joke about the Aryan Brotherhood, these are really, really bad, evil guys. Check out this story in the LA Weekly. It's making me rethink the role and function of law enforcement and public protection in a civilized culture.

As for Michael Jackson? What can you say about a guy that turned himself into a new species?


Blogger Rob Miles said...

I remained quite relaxed when I read Big Brother because I could see instantly that there was no way the infrastructure could be made to work. You simply could not afford to support the vast number of viewscreen watchers that you would need to keep track of the entire population. But nowadays, with image processing, fancy networks and data mining you don't need any watchers at all.

You might think that it is surprising that all this new technology is not being used to suppress the masses. But I reckon this is probably because the folks at the top have now figured out a way to get there, stay there and do exactly what they like without needing to use all these fancy gizmos. Which is truly scary.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Bob Reselman said...


Good take! Good thinking!

9:49 AM  

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