Friday, December 30, 2011

In Public

I tried to remember when I first heard of 'the internet'. Sometime in '98, I created my first email address with a Dutch internet host that long ceased to exist. As with most things, I'm always running way behind the facts. So I joined the Dutch version of facebook, Hyves, when its popularity had already faded, I still use hotmail, it took fifty Facebook invitations before I finally joined and posting blogs online is of course far from being cool. I share part of my life online, sometimes more than others, but have determined my own limits. Sometimes, I wish I was a pioneer, knowing what the next hype will be, so I can take advantage from it and maybe even earn some money with it.

Like Josh Harris, "the greatst internet pioneer you've never heard of", the "Warhol of the Web". Harris started the first online television network,, with which he tried to create a world that was totally unknown and new then, but nowadays has become reality. Then, he conceived the project Quiet, in which a hundred people were locked up together for thirty days, without having any privacy. Unlike Big Brother, (that started at the same time in the Netherlands) where people had some privacy in the toilet and shower, here everybody was filmed constantly and they could watch each other on screens all the time. According to Harris, this again was a prediction of what our lives would look like in the future. After Harris used others as guinea pigs for his fascinations, for the next project he and his girlfriend were under 24 hour camera surveillance, and their viewers could chat with them and react to their actions. Eventually, the comments of the viewers became more important than their life and relationship, and the anonymous followers drove them apart.

It can all be seen in the documentary We Live in Public, made by Ondi Timoner in 2009, long after Harris moved to another continent, away from the internet and old debts. When his girlfriend left him and their house full of cameras, the amount of online followers dropped from 100 to 15. "I feel useless," Harris said. It made me think about the Postsecret app on my phone. The website provides moving and recognizable moments for thousands of followers on a weekly base. But the phone app has become a world of its own, where people criticize, comment and anonymously threaten eacht other. Made up secrets, threats "heart this and I won't kill myself", photographs of other people with accusing text, it's all there.

Harris predicted a world that has become reality. He was a pioneer and made money by exploiting others and himself, and made ordinary life into a public good. And while I am just as addicted to checking my email and facebook and reading secrets of strangers, I would rather not want to be part of it all. I like the part where I can stay in touch with my friends all over the world, and where secret stories can move me. But I don't like the other side of that world. So instead of leading the world into new undefined areas, I'd rather walk at the end of the line.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Years ago, friends and I went to the movies. We went for dinner before, had some wines and were having a typical 'girls night out'. One of those things that make me shiver a little when I read it, but we were really having a fun night. We didn't know a lot about the film we were about to see, just the name of the director and the leading role. Chattering and joking, we walked in, oblivious about what was about to happen. I suspect that I was the first who started to weep, but gradually, the others followed me with a lot of tears. Afterwards, we sat there, still, holding each others hands. In silence we walked out and drank some more wine.
A few months later, I went to see the same movie again. Slightly nervous, with the last melt down still in my memory, but now I knew what was coming. At the same moment, in the first half of the film, I started to cry again, and I could not stop until the end. As I was trying to stuff the pile of paper towels in my pocket, the girl next to me turned to her boy friend and sighed: What a terrible movie, it doesn't relate to anything that can move me.".
I decided to never, never, never watch Dancer in the Dark again.

I liked Lars von Triers previous movies though, so when his next one came out, I went to see it. Dogville. In which he managed again to create a terrible world. Afterwards, while trying to forget about it with a strong drink, I decided officially to never see a Von Trier movie again.

But then a few months ago, I found myself in the movie theatre, waiting for his latest movie to start. Melancholia. Again, I was totally unprepared. But this time, I found the painful family situations that always occur humorous. The images were beautiful, the conversations intriguing, the little gestures and looks disturbing. But it was beautiful. Then, the planet took over the lead, and the standard Von Trier drama suddenly became a very exciting film! While the end was rapidly getting closer and got more and more threatening, I wondered how he was going to do this visually. How would he, in line with everything he already did, complete his story in a beautiful and satisfying end? The final scene began, I suspected that this was his solution, Understandable, and beautiful. Melancholic even. But then, he zoomed, and the real end began. After everything turned black, I sat there for ten minutes with my jaw dropped to my knees, staring at the screen. Not knowing what to do or to say. But filled with wonder and amazement, stunned and impressed.

I told myself never to intend again, not to see a Von Trier movie.

Since then, my life has changed. I can't watch the moon, without imagining how it would feel if it were another planet. The sky suddenly seems less peaceful and beautiful. It is an infinite mass of potential trouble. You can't see the danger.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


While I slowely walked forward in line, along extremely decorated stalls, eating people and dressed up pilgrims who tried to make music on triangles and tambourines, I wondered why this was considered to be 'gezellig', a Dutch word that is best translated by 'cosy', although it's more than that. People looked with indifferent glances at the stalls at the displayed goods: beaded necklaces, nose flutes, expensive olive oil, those terrible crystal animal figurines and the latest results of the community centres Christmas workshop. Actually, they mainly were making their way to another food stall, the sausage came after the mini cheese fondue, then the marinated mushrooms, the potato cookies, and then crepes, waffles and ice cream with whipped cream. The stalls in between offered a moment of piece to taste the newly acquired taste sensation, before plunging in the next culinary adventure.

The Christmas market.

I grew up with this phenomenon, although the German version is much better and bigger. Maybe that explains my antipathy to this annual ritual. Maybe it's the memory of Christmas, and the forced conviviality that in my case lasted for three days, or that we tried to enforce upon each other, which makes my hair stand on end at the mere thought of it. There probably will be a lot of psychological reasons for my behavior.

But frankly, I think it mostly has to do with the excess, the mindless consumption, and easy marketing that gets so many people to walk in line like sheep in a meadow. Is there a crisis? Are we having hard times? I can't see it. Here, on an estate in Germany, thousands of people pay five euro, just to get into the area where they are going to spend a lot of money on stuff they don't really use.

Although I try not to sound patronizing, and I do not want to condemn the visitors - what's wrong with good food and nice stuff to buy or watch, and hey, you're outside too - I realize that I fail miserably. Because well, I just don't get it. I don't understand that you buy on impulse, I don't understand why it's fun to wait in line for an expensive sausage that can be bought cheaper and probably with better taste, somewhere where there's no line. I don't understand why people don't get annoyed by standing in line, walking in a slow pace, with people behind you that kick your shoes off your heels, and the mustard you suddenly find on your jacket because the guy that just passed you didn't bother to clean his hands.

And what stuck me most: few people looked happy. There was little joy to be seen. Yes, the sellers, they radiated joy, and they added a little more when they saw a potential new buyer coming towards them. And my large group of friends, of which eleven of the twenty had never been to a Christmas market. They were happy too. They danced in the tent where the gl├╝hwein was sold, and they enjoyed all the crazy food and trinkets. But hey, they had never been on a German Christmas market before.