The Clown and Us: A Review of We Live in Public

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Supermodels wearing close to no clothes were sitting on the laps of nerds playing Doom.

We Live in Public is what you would get if you took the conceptual underpinnings of the Matrix series, seasoned it with Orwell’s 1984 and added a shot of MTV’s Jersey Shore. It centers on humanity at the cusp of a machine revolution, attempting to maintain meaningful connections under the pressure of impending technological singularity as wires and screens supplant veins, arteries and eyes. At the forefront of mankind’s last stand is one individual who saw it all coming, a Neo or Winston Smith-type protagonist with the earnest intention to liberate the blind masses through the exploitation of the devices that would inevitably strip him of his own identity. There is also a clown with an atrocious makeup job and an obnoxious voice, rivaling that of Snooki. His name is Luvvy. He is the hero-protagonist. And it’s a documentary.

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Directed and produced by Ondi Timoner, We Live in Public compiles a staggering 10-years worth of footage into an 88-minute block. Superficially, it highlights the achievements and downfalls of Internet mogul, Josh Harris, dubbed “the greatest Internet pioneer you've never heard of,” in the film’s introduction. Harris was an eccentric innovator in the Dot-com boom, creating an Internet marketing research company, JupiterResearch, and later Pseudo.com (1993), a virtual television network reliant on computer-based video broadcasting and an integrated chat component that would ultimately spawn Youtube, AIM, Ustream and even Chattroulette. Such ventures awarded Harris almost instantaneous and profound wealth, which he invested in infamously lavish New York parties promoting the transcendence of established social-cultural boundaries, where “supermodels wearing close to no clothes were sitting on the laps of nerds playing Doom." (A description offered by a party attendee in the film.)

Towards the end of the Millennium, Harris focused on a new project: “Quiet: We Live in Public,” an experiment in communal living under constant, Big Brotherian surveillance. Participants resigned all their rights and subjected themselves to rigorous psychological inquisition, in order to spend time in the “Capsule Hotel,” an underground compound housing one-hundred compartmentalized bunks with televisions displaying any and all activities occurring in the neighboring spaces, the bar, dining hall, communal shower or even the fully-stocked armory/shooting range, and receive all the free food, alcohol and drugs they could ever want. The successive project explored constant surveillance even further with Harris placing his newly budding relationship on the Internet for all to comment on and see, fed by hundreds of active video cameras positioned all over his studio apartment. Timoner portrays both of Harris’ experimental forays as brilliant, optimistic attempts to reconcile humanities future in the digital age that eventually degrade into emotional and mental breakdowns for all those involved.

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And here lies the subtext of the film: the technologies we rely on to forge meaningful connections with others are the devices that create the disconnect we were trying to remedy in the first place. In this light, Luvvy, Harris’ clown alter-ego who makes a few appearances in the film, becomes an embodiment of this inherent disconnection, conveying the need to acquire attention, to inspire any type of response in another living soul, through soulless, computerized mediums. It is Luvvy’s relationship with us, the audience, the entity who can grant valuable attention, that the film truly contemplates, questioning our current culture so dependant on social media, i.e. Twitter and Facebook, that encourage us to publish our every action, fostering the surveillance Harris predicted we would so desperately want.

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Magnetic Readers: I challenge you to watch this documentary. Once you’ve done that, consider the following quote:

Orwell was wrong, the government didn’t impose anything on us, we asked for it. -Josh Harris

We Live In Public

Pseudo.com Demo Reel

Pretty good interview with Josh Harris