Hydra, Blacked Out

What SOPA and PIPA mean for the future of independent art and online criticism.

— By | January 19, 2012

How fun it is to say “the Internet went on strike today.” Of course, e-commerce went on trucking along, but protest actions by giants like Google and Wikipedia, Craigslist and reddit made sure only Luddites and the willfully blind would remain ignorant of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act (SOPA/PIPA), pending legislation that threatens the structure and spirit of the web. Wikipedia’s English-language page “went dark” in protest of the bill; Google replaced its iconic logo with a censor bar; Tumblr enabled its users to “black out” their pages for the day; WordPress created plugins to allow bloggers to do the same.

These are the big guys, who have big stakes in the future free flow of information. The fate of lil’ guys like Hydra is, for now, tied up with theirs. We publish on a WordPress platform from our Mozilla browsers, we garner readership and comments from Google hits and Tumblr, and (perhaps more often than we’d like to admit) our research forays bring us into the bowels of Wikipedia.

Better and more qualified policy wonks have explained the nuts and bolts of how SOPA/PIPA will stifle innovation, encroach on free speech. Instead of attempting a clumsy recap, or pretending that anyone in Congress would notice our humble blog’s blackout, we offer a tailored account of what the implications of these laws would be for us, and perhaps for others like us.

Our mission statement as it stands is simple: to undertake – to experiment with – the essay in an online format.  We once considered a more fleshed-out attempt to explain ourselves in a discussion that dissolved into the ether of email inboxes:

Hydra is a collective of writers with varied interests, bound together by a vision of what is possible when the strength of life perseveres and pushes against the wire and concrete. We reject containment. We are world-town and we are polycephalic. “Without the possibility of parole.” We smash sentence, we write.

Begun as a dream in the misty oviduct of the Northern California Bay Area, its original heads have split or moved, moved and split, and are now spread over this lizard-green globe. Following a range of callings, our interests span the cultural, political, and galactic spheres of life. This is to insinuate that, in our minds, the cultural, political, and galactic spheres of life are inseparable domains. Therefore, following such as what we might call our editorial policy, we strive and look for the indivisible and the syncretic, the symbiotic and the cross-fertilized. These are aspects of what might be called a borderzone standpoint. And in this magazine are its highways to tomorrow’s classical thought.

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Concretely, what does this mean? We are interested in exploring and cultivating new practices of online criticism, such as:

  • Use of the hyperlink – to engage in dialogue with the ideas and words of other writers and artists, to cross-reference our own articles in order to build and elaborate on cohesive intra-publication themes, to highlight the intertextuality and multi-vocal character of our writings, to reference external material without disturbing narrative flow, to replace formal citations, to offer readers the option of more fragmented, non-linear, and/or autonomous modes of reading that can lead to independent exploration (surfing) and multitasking (especially with the use of “tabs”).
  • Use of embedded media -  to more precisely reference the musical/cinematic/visual works that we wish to comment upon,  to set tone and atmosphere and to suggest context or trains of thought better alluded to than written out, to demonstrate synchronicity between ideas and artworks across different fields and temporal divides, to speak in the format and parlance of music blogs and experiment with the idea of article as mixtape, as bricolage, for juxtaposition, as pastiche, to create written works fully fused with visual and auditory elements, which is to say, to create “essays” that are also “experiences.”
  • Multiplatform publication / microblogging – to find readership, like-minds, and fellow enthusiasts (particularly, with regard to our more obscure interests), to engage in the discipline of keeping ourselves concise,  to play with redigesting, disassembling, and reconstructing our own product, to recognize ourselves as part and parcel of the content-producing masses.

SOPA/PIPA threaten these exact tools, the building blocks of our experiment. And on a more basic level, by endangering the vitality of the online spaces where we meet up and interact,  SOPA/PIPA could preclude the maintenance of psychically-bonded-but-geographically scattered, borderzone families like ours.

If it sounds far-fetched that all this could be put in jeopardy under the auspices of enhanced copyright enforcement, consider the very real possibility of an Internet Black List of alleged infringers — part of the original SOPA/PIPA drafts — that could knock sites off the web.  Take a look at the structural parallels with the Great Chinese Firewall. Hell, look at hip hop bloggers, and the crazy, Orwellian shit the American government has already done to them.

This legislation imperils the the type of syncretic and cross-fertilized creative expressions that we find most inspiring. The anti-circumvention provisions before Congress would hobble the efforts of international activists to evade internet censorship, surveillance, and persecution, further isolating us from the dissident artists residing under repressive regimes that are well-beloved by our editorial staff. At risk are technologies like Tor, the anonymising software that masks users’ IP addresses, which was instrumental during the Egyptian protests. Also VPNs, proxies, etc.

Simply put, SOPA/PIPA are at odds with the development of shit we like to talk about, and how we talk about it. Such as: the art that has flourished through the new media of Youtube, Google Streetview. Such as: cross-border musical flows. Can you imagine Worldtown without the World Wide Web? Without online mixtapes, the international blogosphere, or soundcloud? These laws would impose an untenable drag on parody, remix, assemblage, homage, détournement, cover/fan art and (horror of horror) the proliferation of memes.  Which is to say – if and when the Revolution comes, we will stand with Cheezburger.

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