Breaking out of the CAVE: Justin Katko’s “Up Against the Screen Motherfuckers”

Coming in at under three minutes, Katko’s QuickTime video is a brief and violent affair. The visuals are strikingly colorful and erratic, generated by a malfunctioning graphical interface that was fed a string of data. The only cohesive “image” that is shown, besides the myriad of colors and shapes that assault the viewer, is a momentary picture of a man wearing a military uniform and combat gear, holding a rifle in a tiny square room.

For the first minute or so, there is nothing but these images and a background of machine sounds as disjointed and seemingly random as the images. The sense of order I got from this section came only from the process of the machine that created it, as to my understanding this is a text that was generated rather than authored in a traditional sense.

At roughly the one minute mark, though, a narrator’s voice loudly announces the work’s title. His tone makes it clear that it’s not a message of welcome, but rather something more threatening. Difficult to discern while watching the on-screen chaos, the narrator (who I believe is Katko himself) reads Katko’s poetry for just over a minute.

We demand in a language, gaining clicks in a feedback tube, operated by us on a spine of ambivalent protocol – not that it matters. What matters is the fact we demand.

I have virtually zero skill or know-how when it comes to unpacking poetry, so I can’t offer much insight into the structure of his verses. In fact, if the ELO’s description hadn’t referred to it as poetry, I would have likely failed to classify it as such. Calling it literature at all seems like a stretch, as the most literary part of it (the reading) isn’t even present for over half of the video’s duration. Without the visuals, though, I don’t believe the poem would carry as much weight. Katko’s anti-screen rhetoric is being told from within the screens that he despises, a fact I find helps to mask the overall vagueness of his message.

His work is undoubtedly visceral, but the “motherfuckers” he seems to be rallying against are never identified, which leaves his piece lacking as a call-to-arms. In the fashion of punk culture, it seems he is against the system that “they” enforce, while being unsure who exactly “they” are. Are the motherfuckers the screens themselves? Or are they the people who use screens as control mechanisms within society? Having listened to it several times, I still find myself unsure of his intended meaning.

Regardless, the overthrow he’s seeking is a violent one. The still shot of the soldier remains the only human image in the whole of the work, and the room he’s standing in is a virtual reality training simulator, not unlike the ones I’ve personally experienced. As both the visuals and voiceover cut out with half a minute or so left in the video, the reader is left with a black screen and machine-like sounds in the background. This time, the sounds aren’t random; they have the rhythm and tempo of machine guns, fired rapidly and with purpose. I can’t help but imagine that these are the sounds of Katko’s soldier, shooting his way out to freedom from the screens that surrounded him on all sides.

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One Response to Breaking out of the CAVE: Justin Katko’s “Up Against the Screen Motherfuckers”

  1. argyle8 says:

    I also am not entirely sure who Katko is rallying against! But I find it ironic that he despises the very technology (screens) that make his work possible. He depends on the screen to both create and distribute his work. Perhaps this video is a parody of punks who speak against Internet dependence while being just as dependent as the rest of us.

    Like

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