Wired Magazine On Ars Electronica's 'Next Sex' Festival

July 13, 2000 (gen-mus list)

Concerning Ars Electronica's 'Next Sex' Festival

Thanks to Matt for his post. I hadn't seen _The New Republic_ article and was happy to hear about it. That's a list at work.

There are some important points to consider when reading it. Its author, Steve Kettman, is not impartial (but then, who is?) He is the Berlin correspondent for _Wired Magazine_, a publication dressed up in neon greens and oranges that derives almost its entire ethos from a giddy, postmodern advocacy of technology and the arts. Couched in a style of post-pubescent coolness, the magazine embraces just about everything high tech. It is a valuable publication (I enjoy it!,) but it is almost impossible for it to criticize Ars Electronica because in doing so it would undermine a large part of its own identity. And this is to say nothing of Kettman's personal connections to the festival's administration. 

Kettman wrote three or four slightly more candid articles in "Wired" where it is clear he is struggling to make the best of the festival. Nevertheless, he paints a picture that is quite different from his report in the New Republic. In Wired, for example, he notes that Randy Thornhill (the evolutionary biologist who "naturalizes" rape) was practically shouted down by protest from the audience and that his talk was repeatedly interrupted. He also mentions that the anti-bio-engineering ecologist Jeremy Rifkin showed up and became the festival hero. But in _The New Repulic_ Kettman makes it appear as if there was a sort of agreement or harmony at Ars, and that its critics, such as Timothy Druckery, were viewed with hostility. That is completely false. The protest was immense and vociferous throughout the festival. In Wired, Kettman even notes that Ars is considering leaving behind its focus on "Life Sciences" and returning to the presentation of digital arts.

Check out this article in Wired and you will see the differences:

Where Kettman goes completely over the top is in an entire article devoted to his defense of Randy Thornhill:

In _The New Republic_, Kettman also repeats the specious and opportunistic logic that we should accept Ars Electronica's advocacy of eugenics and aesthetic validations of rape because the festival was criticized by Joerg Haider's Freedom Party. Of course, that's ridiculous. We do not need misogyny, neither from the xenophobic Lederhosen crowd, nor from postmodern, Nietzschian cyborgs. Both represent forms of Austrian parochialism and leave women fighting a double front.

These considerations point toward what I mentioned in an earlier post about the curious correlations between Ars Electronica's reactionary Postmodernism and the reactionary Modernism of the Weimar Republic. Embracing a conservative stance, Hitler hoped to return Germany to its "natural purity" and "traditional" values, using progressive "scientific" notions of racial evolution, eugenics and euthanasia. The reactionary and the progressive were combined into a single policy of political opportunism and state terror. Ars also combines a mixture of progressive scientism, and sometimes even quite liberal transgender concepts, with masculinism, reactionary misogyny and notions of Darwinsitic biological determinism. 

(Similarly, the Italian futurists, a group of "progressives," worshiped power, masculinism, speed, eugenics and technology as they moved toward Benito Mussolini, their reactionary, hard-core, Nietzschian superman.) 

Sometimes the linear paradigm of a political left and right is much too simplistic to describe and analyze certain types of cultural developments. This is important in gaining a full appreciation of how postmodern theory works.

If you have a free evening sometime, rent Peter Cohen's excellent documentary film "The Architecture of Doom." It demonstrates how eugenics was an integral part of National Socialist aesthetics. In a certain horrific sense, the Holocaust was a work of art, a "purification" of culture, a "sculpting" of the human race. Aesthetics, science and political ideology synthezised into a single terrifying force. Human life became clay in the artist-Fuehrer's hands. 

Matt is right that art must sometimes confront us with unpleasant truths about ourselves, but the agenda of Ars was the -advocacy- of eugenics. If they are going to deal with that subject, they should present a balanced, wide spectrum of views, including its opponents and discussions of the legal boundaries responsible artists would envision.

William Osborne