soUNDcensorPosted: August 10, 2011
On July 28, 2011, the same day I released soUNDtext, my video Fuck You (for Janey Smith) was flagged by a YouTube user and deleted by the YouTube Team. I want to take the time here to document the particulars of this video and its censorship. You can find the video here and at the end of this post.
Fuck You (for Janey Smith) started with an accident: I was playing iTunes on shuffle last November when Kenneth Goldsmith’s rendition (mp3) of Bern Porter’s The Last Acts of Saint Fuck You (mp3) began to play. At the time, I had previously downloaded Goldsmith’s track from PennSound but had yet to hear it. Just after the climactic end to Porter/Goldsmith’s abecedarian romp, Leonard Bernstein’s rendition of Georges Bizet’s “March of the Toreadors” crashed through the speakers. Familiar with Goldsmith’s remix tendencies, I assumed Bernstein’s track was the intended end to Goldsmith’s reading. A quick check of the iTunes music library proved I was wrong–that this mash-up was in fact chance-generated (with the help of an algorithm).
A month later, after opening a YouTube account to share my video and sound poetry, I had the idea to use this chance mash-up as audio for a video. At the time I was fascinated by the Google image search as a generative and critical tool for my text-based practice. With the image search, one word or phrase, even a paragraph, could explode into thousands of “relevant or useful images” (see Google Sr. Product Manager Peter Linsley talk about the mechanics and theory of Google image search here) often conveying a found narrative steeped in personal, cultural, social, and political anxieties. Also of interest was an examination of Google’s image search algorithm as a gendered, socio-political force*. (Note that this Google image search method is reminiscent of certain Flarf practices.)
The idea was this: to help Google image search and its results speak for themselves.
The means was a video:
Fuck You (for Janey Smith) (link to Vimeo) consists of the chance mash-up discussed above paired with the first nine pages of images (283 images in total), presented in the order they were found, that Google image search connected to the text “Fuck You (for Janey Smith).” The framing and duration of each image were determined by iPhoto’s slideshow defaults.
Note that I used only “Large” images (one of the Google image search filter options) to accommodate different screen dimensions. Note that if you search with this same text today, eight months later, nearly all traces of “graphic” images and pornography have vanished even with the “SafeSearch” off…
Just after uploading the video on December 21, 2010, YouTube automatically sent me this (pdf) email to inform me that I had uploaded content copyrighted by Sony Music Entertainment. The only penalties suffered were that the video could not be shown in Germany, Sony would advertise the sale of its track (“March of the Toreadors”) below the video, and YouTube would increase general advertising on the video’s page. While it was a shame the Germans would be excluded, the latter two penalties actually benefitted my piece: YouTube blindly affixed advertisements on top of, below, and beside the video, highlighting and reinforcing the bombardment of images and the cultural regurgitation of the video.
Because I cannot access the page to show you this first-hand, please see this great example of YouTube’s copyright policy working against itself: After YouTube user ThomasPaineIsBack uploaded a mash-up video using Charlie Chaplin’s copyrighted “Speech from the Great Dictator,” YouTube unwittingly mashed up this anarchist message from Anonymous (hacktivist group) with advertisements for QuickBooks Pro, BP oil, and the NBA2K12 video game. My video forced YouTube to produce a similar mash-up.
For eight months and eight days, Fuck You (for Janey Smith) enjoyed 24/7, worldwide (minus Germany) “airtime.” It entertained 265 people, received no likes or dislikes, and garnered two comments: User SamanthaBoudrot wrote: “Bravo. Bra. Vo.” User erasingfield wrote: “Your toast, Sir, I can give it to you–”
All was dandy until July 28, 2011 when one user flagged my video, the YouTube Team reviewed it, removed it, and sent me this email (pdf). (For some reason the Gmail pdf didn’t capture the half-peachy, half-raging red (png) that came with the email.) The link includes the email sent by the YouTube Team as well as my response (written hastily while designing the soUNDtext Portal–pardon the typos…). You’ll see two “hidden” emails to Samantha Boudrot. These are forwards of the YouTube email and my response. At the end of the pdf, you will find my followup email written today.
The second paragraph of the YouTube Team email seems to be their best argument against my video:
YouTube is not a shock site. It’s not okay to post gross-out videos of accidents, dead bodies or similar things intended to be shocking, sensational or disrespectful. If your video is graphic or disturbing, it can only remain on the site where supported by appropriate educational or documentary information.
While I understand that the images might be offensive to some, I stand by the video’s educational and documentary qualities (explained explicitly below the video all along). Now more than at the time it was made, Fuck You (for Janey Smith) is a document of Google image search’s algorhithm (I repeat from before that Google has “cleaned up” search results for “Fuck You (for Janey Smith)” and, I will assume, “Fuck You” since I made the video), Internet culture, and The Default. I had no intention of being shocking, sensational, or disrespectful–in fact, I had hardly any intention or “say” in the production of this video apart from naming the video and deciding to perform an image search. I repeat the last line of the text published below the video on YouTube:
This is not intended as porn. If there is any intention here, it would be to show what’s already there (here). Regurgitation.
To date YouTube has not responded to my requests to return the video to my channel or to remove my “warning strike.” If they do, I will post their response.
To end off today I leave you with the video itself.
Thank you for reading.[vimeo http://vimeo.com/18064764]
*At the time in 2010, if you searched for “man” or “woman” you would find mostly white, macho men, superheroes and images of aggression for the former and mostly white, sexualized women, superheroes, and pornography for the latter.