The NSA , the CIA, and the GCHQ spy on computer games
As ProPublica reports, the American NSA and CIA, and the British GCHQ, or more specifically, private contractors working for them, have run programs looking for the communications of terrorists and criminals in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft or Second Life. This new revelation comes from recently released leaks from Edward Snowden.
No terrorists found
But despite high costs paid to these private contractors, no case of terrorist activity has been discovered.
The whole scenario sounds as if it were lifted straight out of an episode of “Twenty-Four” or “Sleeper Cell.” It seems like an interesting idea, even though I doubt (based on pure speculation) that terrorist masterminds would communicate over insecure (read unencrypted) channels such as a game chat.
Slaying orks for national security?
It might also just be a brilliant excuse to play WoW at work for highly-paid security contractors. Who knows. But apparently, private security firms have long been lobbying the intelligence agencies for contracts in this line of work by playing up the threat from terrorism in video games.
A personal note on MMORPGing versus studying
I personally have never really gotten into MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, most of all because when these games became hugely popular, I was in the middle of my university studies. I suspected that if I committed my time to these obviously addictive games, this might seriously sabotage my academic education. So I decided to forgo the WoW phenomenon for the time being. Now I know that not only did that ‘abstinence’ probably save me a lot of juvenile, sexually-laden verbal insults, but also some spies listening to my (boring) chatter.
Read, hear, and see more:
[Podcast] Unfilter 78 “NSA Wargames.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/12) – “[T]he latest [NSA leaks] detail the infiltration of online gaming communities to conduct massive surveillance of gamers.” Plus speculations by a famous FBI officer about Snowden being a double agent for Russia.
“Spies’ Dragnet Reaches a Playing Field of Elves and Trolls.” (Mark Mazzetti and Justin Elliott, New York Times, 2013/12/10)
“Spooks of Warcraft: how the NSA infiltrated gamespace.” (Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, 2013/12/09)
“World of Spycraft: NSA and CIA Spied in Online Games.” (Justin Elliott and Mark Mazetti, ProPublica, 2013/12/10)
“Xbox Live among game services targeted by US and UK spy agencies.” (James Ball, Guardian, 2013/12/10)
“Geheimdienste: Sie hassen unsere Freiheit.” (Sascha Lobo, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 10.12.2013) – Interessanter Punkt von Sascha Lobo: Der Satz “Sie hassen unsere Freiheit” aus einer Rede von George W. Bush nach dem 11. September 2001 trifft nicht nur auf islamistische Terroristen zu, sondern auch ganz besonders auf die totalitären Überwachungspläne der Geheimdienste.
“World of Spycraft: NSA hunts Terrorists in MMORPGs.” (Nerdcore, 09.12.2013)
New online archive “The Lantern” covers US media history
This is great news for anyone interested in media history of the twentieth century in the US.
The Lantern is “a new open access, interactive library” from the Media History Digital Library in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Communication Arts featuring 800,000 pages of documents covering the history of radio, film, and television.
The archive allows for full text searches in vintage magazines. You can also browse through the cover pages and get inspired by the imagery. A quick glance at the main search page reveals how different the designs and layouts from a few decades ago look compared to contemporary magazines.
Please also check out Kate Rix’s longer article over at OpenCulture.
Poll: Americans Drink Less Beer, Turn Towards Wine And Liquor
Americans are slowly turning away from beer as their alcoholic beverage of choice, a Gallup poll from July 2013 finds.
As the Atlantic reports, the last twenty years have seen a decline in the popularity of beer and an increase in the popularity of both liquor and wine among both black and white Americans.
Here are some of the Atlantic’s explanations for the trend:
- A general higher awareness of healthy living.
- The (white) working class is suffering from the economic crises in the early 2000s and since 2008.
- Since the late 1990s, liquor ads have been shown on television.
- Americans are discovering affordable and tasty wine while the exports of American wines are increasing.
“U.S. Drinkers Divide Between Beer and Wine as Favorite.” (Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup, 2013/08/01)
“Why Are American Drinkers Turning Against Beer?” (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, 2013/08/05)
Yoga: Christian Conservatives Fearful Of ‘Satanic Possession’
Are you one of those stressed city-dwelling young professionals who need to relax once in a while? If you attempt to relieve your tension by doing yoga, you might be OF THE DEVIL, according to Christian conservatives.
For many, yoga is a trendy recreational activity. But because of its origins in Hinduism, Christian conservatives in the US are afraid that yoga may lead its practitioners away from the one true faithtm (theirs).
As the Atlantic reports, E.W. Jackson, a Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial contender in 2008, argued that as the aim of yoga “is to empty oneself [spiritually] . . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it.”
A number of conservative Christian clerics share this point of view. For example, Mark Driscoll, pastor of a megachurch called Mars Hill, which is based in Washington State and could be described as a neo-fundamentalist church for hipsters, called yoga “demonic” and warned his flock of attending such “demon classes.”
But it is not exclusively American evangelicals who seek to expose the evils of yoga. In 2011, the Vatican’s former chief exorcist (!) called yoga (and Harry Potter books, too) “satanic.” And in 1989, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later to become Pope Benedict XVI, said in 1989 that meditation, if used as a ‘spiritual’ practice, might lead to “moral deviations” among Catholics.1
Within the framework of belief in a demon-haunted world, all of this makes perfect sense.
A fun statistic: According to a 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling, 57% of all registered voters in the US, both Democrats and Republicans, believe in demonic possession. Among Republicans, the number is even higher at 68%.
[Update, 2013/06/13] E.W. Jackson, the former contender for Virginia lieutenant governor now claims about the opposite of what he implied in his 2008 book:
“I do not believe that yoga leads to Satanism. One of my ministers is a yoga instructor. Christian meditation [as opposed to Hindu yoga?] does not involve emptying oneself but filling oneself…with the spirit of God. That is classic biblical Christianity [emphasis mine].”
- In my opinion, the primary moral deviation among Catholics that the Vatican should invest more energy into correcting is its very own systematic and decades-long cover-up of child abuse. Once these child-molesting priests are convicted in courts rather than being shuffled to another parish, where they are free to continue the abuse, we may talk again about morality. ↩
While glancing over the Open Culture blog, a resource that I highly recommend, by the way, I once again found a little gem for everyone interested in American popular culture of the twentieth century. The Library of Congress now hosts the digitized audio tapes of Joe Smith, a former record industry executive and DJ who in the late 1980s interviewed many of the then most famous stars of Rock’n’Roll and other genres in American popular music. His collection of interview tapes encompasses “238 hours of interviews over two years.” At the time, excerpts of these were made into his book Off the Record (Warner Books, 1988).
Highlights from these interviews, according to the LoC, include:
- Bo Diddley talking about his own death
- Mickey Hart’s revealing story about his father
- Steven Tyler’s problems with drug addiction
- Peter Frampton’s short-lived popularity
- Bob Dylan’s surprising assessment of the turbulent ‘60s
- David Bowie’s description of Mick Jagger as conservative
- Paul McCartney’s frank admission of professional superiority
- Les Paul’s creation of an electric guitar in 1929
- Motown’s restrictive work environment
- Herb Jeffries’ and Dave Brubeck’s recollections of working in a racially segregated society
“Library of Congress Releases Audio Archive of Interviews with Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons.” (Kate Rix, Open Culture, 11/30/2012) – The article also goes into more detail about the musicians interviewed.
On April 26, Dr. Ulrich Adelt, Junior Professor of American Studies from the University of Wyoming, gave a talk at American Studies Leipzig as part of the Fulbright lecture series. His presentation was titled “Just Play the Blues: African Americans, Afro-Germans, white Germans and the Politics of Primitivism.”
Professor Adelt’s research interests include pop music, transnationalism, and racial politics.
In the 1960s, blues music underwent a shift from black artists and audiences to white artists and audiences. With the appropriation of the blues by white artists and audiences, the genre shifted away from its former black working class base. The white middle-class embrace of certain notions of blackness stood in contrast to black audiences’ increasing attraction to new music genres emphasizing civil rights and black power, such as Soul and Funk. For white audiences, black masculinity was perceived as a marker of authenticity. Nevertheless, African American performers often resisted such forced constructions of blackness.
Adelt used the American Folk Blues Festival, a music festival organized by German promoters starting in the early 1960s to illustrate the complex relationships between transnational popular culture and race during the Cold War.
The Transatlantic Dimension of the Blues
In the 1960s, blues music became a transatlantic phenomenon in its own way. Black American blues musicians, some of whom became expatriates, brought their music to eager European audiences. After a while, blues in an updated form was re-imported to the US, mostly through British rock bands.
As an example of an expatriate blues musician, Adelt mentioned Memphis Slim (1915 – 1988), who was portrayed in the June 1966 issue of Ebony magazine while living in Paris (You can read the issue in the Ebony archives). But this was not the norm. Most African American blues performers did not become expatriates.
Germany Gets the Blues (Sort of)
In Germany, promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau organized the American Folk Blues Festival, beginning in 1962. Their construction of the blues was highly romantic. It used the genre’s blackness to highlight blues as the primitive root of Rock’n’Roll. Lippmann and Rau saw the blues as a vehicle of Denazificiation and Anti-racism. In retrospect, however, they continued to deploy racial constructions that are uncomfortably close to that of the Third Reich.
Adelt argued that pop culture is not always a liberating force, but can also work to uphold racial hierarchies and oppression.
Primitivism in Germany
In Germany, positive racism in the form of appropriating the art of ‘savages’ has a long history. African bodies used in art were seen as modern, fresh, or lively. Examples of works of art in this vein include Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Emil Nolde‘s Dance Around the Golden Calf (1910), or the enthusiasm for American-born French dancer/singer/actress Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975).
During the Third Reich, this former positive racism was replaced by negative racism, exemplified by terms such as Entartete Musik (‘Degenerate music’) (see also here) for jazz, and a fear of Vernegerung (‘Negroidization’) or Verjudung (‘Jewification’) of German culture through ‘foreign’ popular culture.
After World War II, certain Nazi imagery survived in popular children’s television series such as Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver (Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer) (1960). [There is a debate in Germany about whether Jim Button has to be read as racist or anti-racist.]
Racism was also present among parts of the white German left. Here, a “fascination with the real” drove the interest in the black embodiment of suffering.
Race in Germany Before and After World War Two
Transplanting the blues to Germany brought with it certain traveling problematic racial conceptions. While the US certainly had its own historic issues with race, the blues was entering a German culture that was no stranger to racist ideas, even before National Socialism. Among these were the ‘Black Horror on the Rhine’ (“Die Schwarze Schmach“)—fear of the presence of black French troops during the Occupation of the Rhineland following World War I, the vilification of interracial fraternization in the phenomenon of ‘Occupation Babies’ (“Besatzungskinder”) after World War II, caused by sexual relationships between black American GIs and white German women.
Such negative racial constructs were later challenged by Afro-German activists, for instance in the book Farbe Bekennen (‘Showing our Colors’) in 1986.
After the reunification of Germany, a wave of Neo-Nazi attacks on immigrants and non-white persons conveyed an urgency among ethnic minorities and sympathetic parts of the mainstream German population to organize against racial stereotypes. Within German popular culture, Hip Hop artists, especially multi-ethnic or Afro-German Hip Hop artists, such as Advanced Chemistry (early 1990s), Samy Deluxe (starting in the late 1990s), or Brothers Keepers (early 2000s) were involved in anti-racist activism.
Blues as Cold War Propaganda in East and West
The blues was used as a propaganda tool on both sides of the Cold War divide. The capitalist West promoted blues and Jazz as symbols of openness in contrast to the Soviet system. Nonetheless, during the early Cold War, the Jim Crow system was still very much intact in the US, and the Civil Rights Movement had not yet gained that strong a foothold.
The communist East was eager to point out these contradictions, presenting blues and jazz as a signs of resistance against the inherent racism of the capitalist system. In the German Democratic Republic, blues was promoted as music of the oppressed masses, embedded into a critique of US capitalism. On the other hand, there were crackdowns on long-haired blues fans nonetheless, and racial stereotypes were not absent.
Lippmann and Rau Bring American Popular Music to Germany
The organizers of the American Folk Blues Festival were coming from very different backgrounds. Lippmann was Jewish and his family had been persecuted by the Nazis. He saw similarities between black suffering in the US and the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. Rau, on the other hand, came from a family that had profited from the Nazis’ war buildup. He discovered Jazz in the 1950s and imagined the possibility of Dennazification and “rebirth through Jazz.”
When Lippmann and Rau began to organize jazz concerts featuring African American artists, for instance the Modern Jazz Quartet, they sought to give Jazz an aura of “respectability” by having artists wear tuxedos, advertising events with abstract art, and setting up concerts in symphony halls instead of small, smoke-filled clubs. As Adelt argued, this idea of having to make jazz and its performers respectable can be traced back to racial ideas of the Nazi era.
While organizing blues concerts, Lippmann and Rau gave up on the concept of creating respectability and appealed to primitivist ideas instead. The American Folk Blues Festival, staged between 1962 and 1972, and 1980 to 1985, usually went for three to four hours and featured eight to ten headliners.
What was presented in these concerts can be described as nostalgic blues for white audiences. Both folk music from the 1930s and 1950s blues were at this point somewhat outdated. Older blues artists, such as Willie Dixon (1915 – 1992), were rediscovered during the 1960s. In this context, there was also a conflict between older black and younger white blues performers.
Lippmann and Rau’s posters advertising their events made extensive use of romantic primitivist imagery. The artwork often featured guitars and earthy colors, reminiscent of nameless black bodies. Overall, their design conveyed a “non-threatening” nostalgia.
The events themselves even surpassed the posters in their stagecraft. To enhance the atmosphere of the spectacle, concerts sometimes featured recreated juke joints and other scenery, and African American GIs were bused in as studio audience in Germany.
In 1967, Lippmann and Rau started booking Soul and Funk artists such as James Brown. With a turn towards these more contemporary forms of black popular music, the audience also shifted notably from white Germans to black American GIs.
Blues, Civil Rights, and Well-Meaning Racism
In 1965, Lippmann and Rau linked their American Folk Blues Festival to the US Civil Rights Movement. While well-meaning, in retrospect they upheld problematic racial constructions. In concert booklets, for example, blacks were presented as victims without an agency of their own. In a sense, Lippmann and Rau catered to their audience’s expectations of blues as a primitive, raw, emotional, but certainly not intellectual form of art.
Some African American blues artists developed what Adelt sees as strategies to counter such forced constructions of identity. At times, they spontaneously changed playlists at their shows. Some defied stereotyping by showing off their extraordinary skills and gimmicks in musicianship, for instance on the guitar. Stage antics, appearance in decidedly flashy clothes, or the performance of novelty songs were forms of resistance against expectations. White audiences did not always take this too well. In 1965, Buddy Guy (born in 1936) was booed for playing a medley of James Brown songs. To some degree, the blues resisted against expectations of white middle class respectability.
In conclusion, Adelt remarked that the appropriation of the blues by white German audiences was characterized by ambiguity. While there was great optimism about the prospects of Denazification through American popular culture, the project of transplanting the blues to Europe had a blind spot in its continuation of racial stereotypes.
Here is American Studies Leipzig’s video interview with Ulrich Adelt:
Last weekend, I attended American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports,” organized by the second year MA students. I have to say that the two days of conference were very pleasurable as a guest. Great organization, nice hosts, interesting speakers, and an impressive location: the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. Not to mention quite a bit of tasty food and beverages, which bring me back to the overall conference topic and what I should do afterwards—sports.
On the first day, the keynote speech was held by Prof. Dr. Dorothee Alfermann of the Institute for Sport Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Leipzig on “American and German Sports from a Socio-Cultural Perspective.”
In her talk, Alfermann traced the development of sports in the US and Germany, and highlighted the very different trajectories in both countries.
While in the US, sports tends to be more about performance, competition, and record orientation, in Germany, sports as a mass phenomenon emphasizes exercise and recreational activity.
These general differences have a historical roots.
In Germany, for instance, the Turner Movement of the early nineteenth century around Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, underpinned by German nationalism, aimed at training young men for military service, while rejecting the competitive aspect of sports.
Nationalism in sports was not limited to Europe. In the late nineteenth century, Americans tried to forge their national identity in contrast to Europe, which also expressed itself in the development of own national sports, in particular baseball since the 1860s, American football, and basketball.
The organization of sports differs greatly between the US and European countries such as the UK or Germany. While schools and colleges play a central role in the US, European countries have historically organized sports around sports clubs.
One particularity of sports in the US is the combination of physical and intellectual education, embodied in college stipends for student-athletes. Sports becomes a means of getting a higher education, even though many aim for professional athletic careers.
Some similarities do exist about sports in the US and Germany today, Alfermann concluded. Sports contributes to (national) identity and produces heroes. It attracts huge crowds, is a big business, and men’s sports tend to be held in higher regard in the public eye.
More posts to follow soon.
Tomorrow I will be going to American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, organized by the second year MA students.
This year’s topic is “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports.”
As the website describes it, the conference
will explore different notions of sports in a forum integrating students and professionals. Since sports touches upon many aspects of life such as politics, media, popular culture, history, and health, it offers a myriad of possible research foci. In fact, American sports and sport lifestyle(s) influence cultures around the world while simultaneously being subject to influences from other cultures as well. The study of sports within an American context is thus not limited to the national level: Sports organizations, sports gear enterprises, and athletes of all possible types operate internationally, making the topic of sports highly relevant on a global scale.
As a ‘veteran’ conference organizer (I was part of the organizing team in 2010), I am of course very excited to see how this year’s MA class manages to pull it all off. I am confident in this year’s organizing team, as the previous conferences went quite well.
I am also curious about the presentations and certain to learn about many aspects of sports that I had not thought about earlier. If I find the time, I will put up some more posts after the weekend.