CARJACKED: AN EXCERPT

What follows is an excerpt from CARJACKED. In a long interview titled CAR TALK, artist Carlo Ricafort talked to COLL.EO about the ideology of racing games.

Carlo Ricafort: Is CARJACKED a parody or a celebration of the BMW brand?

COLLEO: We developed this project in San Francisco, the so-called epicenter of the high tech world. According to that neo-liberal bible of the Silicon Valley otherwise known as WIRED magazine, in the last few years the bold, the powerful, and the beautiful that own our digital lives have ditched BMWs for Audis, which are considered “classier”. In a phenomenal, 100% irony-free article published on WIRED.com in September 2012 titled “Across Silicon Valley, You’re In With An Audi”, Senior Writer Ryan Tate writes that BMW is being disrupted by its Teutonic arch-rival. Consider this quote from Emily Armstrong, a product manager at SYPartners: “I feel like, in San Francisco, everyone has [an Audi] [...] My God, there are a million of them”.

“Audi,” Tate continues, has “uniquely captured the attention of the young and elite in Silicon Valley, where elegant user interfaces count as much as raw performance and where status symbols should be as subtle as an unreleased iPhone in the pocket of your Japanese-denim jeans.” Tate quotes Google-man Andy Rubin, whose soundbite is like an haiku: “[Audis] are technologically advanced, but understated.” One must resist the temptation to dismiss Tate’s rant is just one of the many advertorials disguised as journalism gracing the cluttered, chaotic, and generally unintelligible pages of WIRED. After all, this “article” both in form and content, perfectly exemplifies the Silicon Valley ethos and the toxic influence of the Californian ideology. 

Quoting Spencer Chen, head of business development at mobile software company Appcelerator, Tate adds that Audi is “the new entry car into the venture capital class” and that, as serial tech entrepreneur (sic) Matt Branzina says, “if you’ve lived in the Bay Area very long, the [BMW] 3-series is like the Honda Accord”. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a quote from Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), although it reminded us of Blake’s (Alec Baldwin) infamous monologue on "the art of selling". When one of his employees, Dave Moss (Ed Harris), interrupts him with a sardonic question, “What’s your name?”. Blake’s abrasive rejoinder shuts him off: “You know why, mister? ‘Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That’s my name.” 

Isn’t it fascinating that Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs talk exactly like David Mamet’s car salesmen? It is one of those cases when fiction and reality coincide. In fact, there is no difference between Blake and Jacobs Mullins, a senior associate at Shasta Ventures, who argues that BMW has “a really high douchebag factor”, just another gem of Tate’s piece. Tate goes as far as suggesting that there has been a “Paradigm shift in how hard-chargers throughout the country tool around town” (we are not making this up, we are quoting verbatim). In short, we felt that BMW needed to be protected from this mixture of techno-bohemian rhetoric, internet hubris, and brand disloyalty. During the production of CARJACKED, we were shocked to discover that “Audi sales in Northern California were up 20 percent from 2011”. A true “paradigm shift”, according to Tate.

Therefore, CARJACKED asks: What has Audi done for the Artworld? At least Mercedes-Benz recruited Andy Warhol and Robert Longo. FIAT bought Mario Sironi. Renault co-opted Arman and tried to work with Rauschenberg, who dreamt of making an invisible car, but could not, so he ended up collaborating with both Datsun and BMW. Paraphrasing American contemporary philosopher Chris Crocker, leave BMW alone! 

Carlo Ricafort: In this sense, CARJACKED is a meditation on mediation, representation, and simulation. What happens to “reality” in the age of videogames? 

COLL.EO: First of all, there is nothing real in real cars. After all, what we call “cars” are simply physical manifestations of a brand, a virtual construct with some kind of material consistency. A car is not a car, but a mobile signifier, a cluster(fuck) of meanings. But a “real” car is always more and less than the combination of metal, rubber, oil etc. Moreover, its seductive power - the car as a virtual/visual construct - is in deep crisis today, as the now persistent economic crisis has made it much harder, for younger generations, to purchase one. Wealth inequality has been normalized and has become the de facto standard for the vast majority of Americans and so the link between ever evanescent incomes and car ownership has been severed. The rise of car sharing services around the world and especially in the US can be seen as a direct consequence of this phenomenon. The American Dream is going nowhere. The American Dream is in a ditch.

Some researchers suggest that the cultural turn from autophilia to autophobia is generational. As the story goes, millennials don’t drive. Phineas Baxandall, author of a report published in 2013 by U.S. Pirg, a nonprofit advocacy organization, argues that changes in driving behavior “preceded the recent recession and appeared to be part of a structural shift that is largely rooted in changing demographics, especially the rise of so-called millennials — today’s teenagers and twentysomethings.” (John Schwartz, 2013). In her eulogy (obituary?) of car culture published in The New York Times, Elisabeth Rosenthal (2013) argues that:

America’s love affair with its vehicles seems to be cooling. When adjusted for population growth, the number of miles driven in the United States peaked in 2005 and dropped steadily thereafter, according to an analysis by Doug Short of Advisor Perspectives, an investment research company. As of April 2013, the number of miles driven per person was nearly 9 percent below the peak and equal to where the country was in January 1995. [...] Demographic shifts in the driving population suggest that the trend may accelerate. There has been a large drop in the percentage of 16- to 39-year-olds getting a license, while older people are likely to retain their licenses as they age, Mr. Sivak’s research has found. (Rosenthal, 2013).

There are additional factors to consider. For example, car-ownership has reached the point of saturation in most parts of the world, thus all is left to conquer is the virtual frontier. Consider Italy, which has the highest ratio of car ownership in Europe. The nightmarish opening scene of Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ is a daily reality for million of Italians, stuck like canned meat in their mobile cages, trapped in a perpetual commute, in an endless line, like the characters of Vladimir Sorokin’s The Queue. But the illusory exodus into virtual reality is symptomatic of a deeper crisis. Today people do everything online, from buying nothing (Windows shopping is the favorite pastime of the New Poor) to fucking themselves (literally and metaphorically). Driving luxury cars made of polygons and textures is just part of the process. For many, the virtual cars of videogames are the only automobiles they will ever own in their lifetime. For many, virtual = real. Thus, the digital BMW of Forza is the matrix of all the possible BMWs. This is also why car companies are now introducing cars in videogames: it is not a simple case of product placement. It is about giving players the illusion of agency, auto-nomy, and "freedom".

A third factor to consider is that nowadays cars are basically computers with wheels. That is, even the so-called real cars have become digital, more machinic than ever, almost sentient. It is as if the computerized, computer-controlled videogame cars had transcended the screen and invaded our streets. This scenario introduces new challenges: carmakers are now investigating possible ways of making sure that viruses or glitches will not allow hackers to remotely hijacks automobiles. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is studying how to thwart future attacks on those computers on wheels otherwise known as “cars” (Nick Bilton, 2013). Last but not least, automobiles are becoming fully automated, robotic, self-driving. The last thing they need is incompetent human drivers.

We predict that driving virtual cars will be our only way to experience the adrenaline rush of speed celebrated by Marinetti and the erotic pleasures of the orgasmic car crash described by J.G. Ballard. 

The full interview is available in CARJACKED

BMW "introduced" the new 2014 M4 Coupé in Sony's Gran Turismo 6 (2013). This is not mere product placement as racing games are more than glorified, interactive advertisements: they represent the only reward for the New Poor. As car ownership is an increasingly unrealistic possibility for the masses, driving becomes virtual reality.

BMW "introduced" the new 2014 M4 Coupé in Sony's Gran Turismo 6 (2013). This is not mere product placement as racing games are more than glorified, interactive advertisements: they represent the only reward for the New Poor. As car ownership is an increasingly unrealistic possibility for the masses, driving becomes virtual reality.