Local 58: A Close Reading – You Are On The Fastest Available Route

Hello, and welcome to Nightmare Masterclass. My name is David Stockdale. I’ll be your host on this excursion into the
dark unknown. So, I know I’ve been on hiatus for a couple of months now. But I should be getting back into the swing of things. So, stay tuned for some new content. I have a few things in the works right now, and I’ll be making some special announcements soon. So, keep your ear to the ground, is what I’m saying. In
this installment, I’m taking a look at a YouTube channel called Local 58 – COMMUNITY TELEVISION. As of now, Local 58 has seven videos on their
channel. The videos tend to vary in length from anywhere
between one and five minutes. I thought this would be an opportune chance
to do a deep dive on an independent art project, specifically one that I feel merits your attention. Local 58 has released a number of seemingly disparate works. What I’m wondering is… Is there any indication that these videos
relate to one another in some way? Well, for starters, they’re all pieces of
footage that have aired on this fictitious television station, Local 58 (WCLV-TV). We can perhaps construe this as a device to
exhibit a number of totally independent artistic endeavors. Perhaps that’s the pragmatic way to think
about it. But if there is a common theme here, I would
say it’s the manner in which the media and technology have shaped the dominant perspectives
of our time. And I daresay there’s a distinct apocalyptic
tone that resonates throughout the series. This work is concerned with the course of
history; it’s concerned with the past, the present, and future of civilization. I think what makes Local 58 both effective and cohesive
as an art piece is the tension it generates as a result of the work’s adherence to the
formal trappings of a local tv station–trappings, which of course stand in tonal opposition
to the discordant mish mash of short vignettes that constitute the actual substance of the
videos. If there is a cohesive fictional universe
that can be possibly construed by these outlandish vignettes, it is clear that this universe
can only be vaguely inferred through the details laid out sparingly in select moments over
the course of these seven videos. Though I think literal minded contemplation
is only going to get us so far. Perhaps it’s what’s unknown that really
generates the horror in this series. In this video, I’ll be focusing my analytical
lens on “You Are On The Fastest Available Route,” the very first video in the Local
58 series. It was written and edited by Kris Straub,
and it was based on an idea by Mikey Neuman. The video was uploaded on June 19, 2016. And it’s only three minutes and thirty-nine
seconds long, but I hope by the end of this analysis you’ll appreciate just how thematically
rich the material really is. As you may have gathered based on the title
of this video, I am yet again attempting a “close reading”–what is, in essence,
a shot-by-shot analysis of the work. I’ve found this method to be fruitful in the
past. Specifically, this is the method I employed
in my Petscop Investigation series, in addition to the first installment of my analysis of
Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. We’ll see how it goes this time around. Oh, and when you hear this noise,
along with the word “footnote,” that’s an indication that I’m taking a second to
point out something that I think is noteworthy. Yep, the footnote thing is happening. Patent pending. So, without further ado, let’s get going. Here’s the breakdown of events. We are first exposed to a channel lineup, the
likes of which you might see on a local TV station. As you might expect, a contemporary jazz track
starts playing. Apparently, we’re watching a channel called
Local 58, WCLV-TV. Looks like it’s pretty late. The stations schedule appears. At 12:05 AM, something called “The Midnight
Movie” is playing. And at 1:55 AM, Paid Programming will begin. Although–this is strange–the text for “Paid
Programming” starts to get deleted almost as soon as it appears. Footnote: In terms of setting the mood here,
Local 58’s aesthetic gives the impression of a television being left on late at night. And I should also note that a number of elements
towards the very beginning of this work raise the question of who exactly is overseeing
this station’s operations. Let’s take, for instance, the fact that the
text for “Paid Programming” starts to disappear, almost as though someone is intentionally
deleting it. It happens so quickly that you might either
miss it or not really have the chance to consider the potential implications. In addition, the fact that the video is riddled
with static indicates that perhaps we are watching an old VHS tape. Let’s also note the aspect ratio, 4:3. It’s an older setup, one more commonly used
in previous decades. It raises the question, when exactly was this
video recorded? …If, indeed, we are watching a recording. Each of these elements work towards building
a sense of ambiguity, which looms over the rest of the work. I don’t believe we should think of this occurrence
strictly in literal terms; that is to say, I don’t think we need to try and figure out
who in particular is messing with the schedule, and I don’t think we necessarily need to understand
their intentions. Rather, it is perhaps best to understand it
as the start of a thematic motif,the theme being that there is some underlying force
at play, something not immediately evident is acting behind the scenes. Let’s continue. The music abruptly stops and the video cuts
to what appears to be dash cam footage. A person is driving in the rain. There’s a bridge in the distance. You can hear the pitter pattering of raindrops
hitting the driver’s windshield. A voice says, “Proceed to the highlighted
route.” Based on the tone of the voice, it’s clear
that this is the driver’s GPS, their global positioning system. Footnote: What we have here, dashcam footage,
a GPS leading the way, these things are products of the modern world. The manner in which this story is being told
is only possible through the use of this modern technology. Keep this in mind as the video progresses
and I think it just might shed a bit of light on some of the underlying themes here. Let’s proceed. The GPS gives additional directions. The date in the top left hand portion of the
video indicates that it’s November 21st, 2014. It’s nearly 2:00 AM. The GPS indicates that the driver will arrive
at their destination in two hours and twenty-eight minutes. Based on the current time, that would land
the driver at their destination at around 4:30 in the morning. The GPS gives additional directions and relays
to the driver that they are on the fastest available route. Footnote: Let’s stop for a minute to consider
the significance of the video’s name, which was uttered just now by the GPS: “You are
on the fastest available route.” This is a phrase commonly integrated into
GPS software; to state the obvious, it is a message that indicates to the driver that
the GPS has determined the quickest way to get to their destination. Of course, there are always other routes one
can take, perhaps even more scenic routes. In light of the novel manner in which this
story is formatted–namely the use of GPS technology to signal key events to the viewer–it
might be appropriate to consider another potential motif: convenience, namely, the convenience
afforded to people in developed nations by this sort of technology. Is there a hidden cost to this convenience? Is a value system based largely on convenience
really the best way of life? Let’s move forward. The video glitches out a bit, and the footage
cuts ahead a few minutes. The GPS directs the driver to get on the highway,
and again the footage cuts ahead, this time by a little over an hour. It’s 3:22 in the morning. The GPS redirects the
driver, purportedly due to heavy traffic, indicating that they should get off on a nearby exit. Although, I guess I should note here that I don’t really see a whole lot of traffic on the road. Again, the GPS relays that the driver is on
the “fastest available route.” A beeping noise can be heard, and again the
video cuts ahead. It’s now 4:47 AM. The driver appears to be in a considerably
more remote area. The GPS indicates that they will arrive at
their destination in 14 minutes. Again, the video cuts ahead. It’s now 5:12 AM. Footnote: In formal terms, the increasingly
frequent jump cuts create suspense by perpetually throwing the viewer into an unfamiliar scenario. The intervals by which the video
moves ahead help to create a sense of urgency, specifically toward the end of the video. The GPS provides certain expectations as to
when the driver will reach their destination. A certain kind of dissonance is created when
those expectations aren’t met. The first time, we might write it off as a
traffic issue. After all, the GPS notes that it has to reroute
the driver due to traffic. However, when it happens again, this is the
work signaling to the viewer that something is wrong. At this point in the video, one might be starting
to get the sense that the GPS in this vehicle is a little wacky. It might even be fair to say it’s unreliable. Let’s proceed. The driver begins moving more slowly. They aren’t able to see what’s in front of
them beyond, say, 10 or so feet. The GPS spouts off, “Rerouting. Make a U turn.” And, yet again, the video cuts ahead. This time, it’s 5:27 AM. It’s clear the driver has been directed to
a remote area in the woods. The GPS directs the driver to head east and
then follow signs for “Do Not Enter.” And then, the GPS then directs the driver to “continue on unnamed road, then in three hundred feet, turn off your headlights.” The driver continues onwards and stops, presumably
having just arrived at their destination. A strange pulsing sound can be heard, after
which the driver turns off their headlights. A loud roaring sound emanates from the surrounding
area. The driver attempts to escape from whatever
is making the noise. Meanwhile, the GPS continually directs the
driver to make a U turn. And then, well… In 1989, a political scientist by
the name of Francis Fukuyama wrote an essay called “The End of History?” in which he considered
the possibility that with the end of the Cold War, human
civilization has entered a new era, a period he referred to as “The End of History,” essentially
meaning that we as humans have landed on the right ideas in terms of our political and
economic development. This concept, the so-called “end of history”
was not exactly a new idea at the time. The highly influential conservative philosopher
Georg Friedrich Hegel considered the Prussian state to be the fulfillment of history. Conversely, Karl Marx thought communism would
be the final stage of political development. Fukuyama saw the collapse of the USSR as an
indication that communism had ultimately failed, and thus the liberal democratic state had
proved itself capable of replicating the conditions necessary for its own existence, thus sustaining itself
as the dominant system on an indefinite basis. Fukuyama cites the widespread availability
of VCRs as evidence of this. This example might seem quaint by today’s
standards, but one could just as easily use smartphones as an example. It’s estimated that roughly 5 billion people
across the world have mobile devices, and about half of these devices are smart phones. The advancement and availability of certain
kinds of technology is often cited by those who seek to affirm the virtues of our present
system. But is it possible that technology will play
a major role in upending our present system? This is something I want you to keep in mind
as I get into the meat of my analysis of Local 58. Let’s consider the “dash cam” as a lens
through which this abstract narrative is relayed. The entire concept of the dash cam hinges
upon the legal construct of liability. It is a device used almost exclusively for
the purposes of limiting one’s liability. In the event of a car accident, the footage
can be referred to in order to determine who is at fault. And yet, in this work, it is used to present
a, well, I guess you might say it’s a paranormal event. In the real world, the issue of liability
plays a major role in determining how this technology is used. For instance, in Russia, nearly every driver
has a dash cam in their vehicle. This is in large part due to a combination
of ineffective and corrupt law enforcement and a plethora of scam artists looking to
make a quick buck by jumping in front of your car and saying they were run over. As it turns out, these historical circumstances
have given rise to a proliferation of car crash complications. And since the use of dash cams in Russia is
practically ubiquitous, it only makes sense that multiple dash cams in the country captured
footage of the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk. This isn’t just some factoid I’m talking about
because I think it’s interesting. I’m trying to make the general point that
the widespread adoption of a given technology gives rise to new possibilities, such as the
capturing of, say, a car accident that otherwise would’ve only been witnessed by those on the
scene. It also gives rise to new possibilities in
the realm of art, be it cinematic, literary, or otherwise. After all, this work would not have been possible
were it not for the advent of the dash cam and the GPS, both of which are integral to
the material’s narrative. But new technologies also have the ability
to change the way we think in certain fundamental ways. With this in mind, we might also consider
the significance of the GPS in this work in terms of its use as a plot device. The GPS, or Global Positioning System, is
a pretty interesting piece of technology. You know, engineers actually have to account
for Einstein’s theory of relativity when calibrating their systems. Due to effects predicted by both theories
of General and Special Relativity, clocks aboard the satellites in orbit are about 38
microseconds faster per day than clocks on the ground. That might sound insignificant, but the cumulative
effect would be disastrous for our navigation systems were it not for engineers calibrating
them in accordance with Einstein’s theories. Now, I’m not bringing this up simply because
it’s an interesting bit of trivia, although it certainly is. I’m talking about it because I want to emphasize
just how advanced GPS technology really is, at least relative to previous navigation methods. I mean, we have to rely on a relatively modern scientific theory in order to even understand certain phenomena in relation to this technology. From a purely narrative standpoint, it seems
the GPS in this video is directing the driver to the location of some kind of beast, which
in all likelihood leads to the driver’s demise. It is critically important, in my view, to
understand the GPS as a sort of de facto agent, as it were.In the realm of navigation, the
GPS does the thinking so the driver doesn’t have to. As such, the role of human agency is, at best,
marginal in this particular work. We don’t ever see the driver. We don’t see them interact with anyone. We don’t even hear their voice. By all indications, they’re alone in the car. All we really see them do is respond to the
directions provided by the GPS. In a practical sense, the driver is acting
in a way that is formally identical to the way an automaton would act. They’re blindly following a set of predetermined
instructions. I will assert here that acting like an automaton
is precisely what leads to the downfall of our protagonist. The driver fails to exercise their critical
thinking abilities. There are, after all, a number of warning
signs that would seem to indicate that something is wrong, that perhaps the driver is being
lead somewhere dangerous. The number of times the GPS has to reroute,
the fact that it directs the driver to follow signs for “Do Not Enter,” and most obvious
of all, the fact that it actually tells the driver to turn off their headlights–all of
these events, to me, constitute a rather clear indication that maybe, just maybe the driver
should stop adhering to the computer’s directions. But the driver fails to recognize these warnings
signs. Is it possibly they’re in some kind of trance? Well, yeah, maybe. But it’s worth asking what warning signs we are
perhaps failing to recognize in our own lives. It’s also worth thinking about how we are
made to act like automatons on a day to day basis. The underlying presumption that the GPS is
giving directions in a neutral fashion, that it’s merely guiding the driver to their desired
destination in this work is, in very basic terms, ideological. One’s ideology is the lens through which
they perceive reality, and everyone operates with various ideological predilections. The idea that the GPS could not possibly be
directing the driver towards their own demise is one that is imposed on the driver. The idea of the GPS in a cultural context
is such that it can only really figure out the fastest way to get from point A to point
B. It can’t possibly think, can it? But the scope of the GPS in this work is not
strictly navigational. I don’t believe it’s too much of a stretch
to say the GPS serves certain ends. The question of what particular ends this
computer serves is ambiguous, but I think it’s fair to say it’s something nefarious,
especially given the way this video ends. From a thematic standpoint, it makes sense
to understand both the dash cam and the GPS in this here video as symbols, technological
feats representing the peak of modernity. Based on the events depicted in this video,
one might be tempted to interpret the work in apocalyptic terms. If pieces of technology such as the GPS or
the dash cam work as a correlate for modernity, superficially, it appears the work is suggesting that
certain elements or aspects of modernity are leading us to ruin. And, well, I can’t help but point out that this
maps onto reality in a number of ways. The proliferation of nuclear weapons as well
as climate change both pose existential risks to humanity, as spelled out by the Bulletin
of Atomic Scientists in their decision to move the Doomsday Clock two minutes to midnight
in January of 2018. In addition, the scientists cited, “increased
use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these
and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.” So too would I argue that advances in automation
as well as artificial intelligence both pose a potentially serious challenge to our economic
system. A recent study suggests that robots could
displace up to 20 million jobs by 2030, with lower income regions being more vulnerable
to job displacement. That’s just within the next ten years or
so. It’s worth asking, what’s the forecast
for 50 years? How about 100? The extent to which any given technology either
reinforces or subverts the status quo directly affects how that technology is understood
in a cultural context. There’s been a shift in consciousness throughout
the course of history; increasingly, it seems we have relegated navigation to computers. The same is true in the sphere of stock market
speculation, a trend which some argue could potentially exacerbate a stock market crash. This is the trajectory of modernity. I don’t want to frame these developments as
intrinsically bad. I’m not a technological determinist. Nor am I a luddite or some kind of anarcho
primitivist, or anything like that. I don’t believe that any particular kind
of technology is intrinsically bad, or destined to lead humanity to ruin. I have repeatedly belabored the point on my
channel that any given technology is a product of the society in which it was created and should be understood in that context. And it’s really how we make use of the technology
that matters. I would argue that these trends we’re seeing which suggest potentially disastrous outcomes in the future spell disaster precisely because of their usage, not because of the technology itself. And the notion that one needs to use any given technology in a particular way is ideological. I would argue that we need to repurpose all technology towards emancipatory ends in a way that benefits society as a whole. Computers are able to perform increasingly
complex tasks. This is something we should be celebrating
since, you know, as we are able to relegate the more repetitive, tedious, and labor intensive
types of work to computers and robots, we humans will be able to focus on more fulfilling
forms of labor and perhaps even a bit of leisure every now and then. I know, what a utopian idea. The thing is, though, in our present economic system, the vast
majority of individuals are valued solely in terms of their productivity. So what happens when the majority of the working people in the world become outmoded entirely? There’s simply not a historical precedent
for this. Due to the complexity of our economy and environmental
systems, the impact these developments will have is virtually impossible to predict. But the degree to which any given technology
will accelerate the contradictions of our capitalist economic system, and I’m speaking
especially with respect to automation here, is perhaps the foremost significant historical
question of our time. And, of course, with the potential for a catastrophic
economic crisis, there also comes the potential for rightwing political movements which aim to scapegoat minorities to take root. You know, fascism. That sort of thing. I think the beast in this video represents
a dark potentiality. It signifies the danger that looms in the
not too distant future. I think of it as the underbelly of this neat little technocratic
utopia you might see espoused by those in, for instance, the transhumanist movement,
those who embrace the rapid advancement of AI and other technologies. But, of course, transhumanists at least understand
the radical implications of advances in artificial intelligence and increased automation. Those who brush off or downplay the potential
for these developments to upend our entire economic system–those who argue, for instance,
that other jobs will replace the ones lost by advancements in AI and automation–are
not merely naive or in denial. No, it’s far worse than that. They’re blinded by a certain form of ideology,
one which prizes capitalism’s ability to adapt to various circumstances, to subsume, appropriate,
and commodify every last bit of culture in existence. But every system has a breaking point, and
there comes a time when the dominant ideology of a given time period becomes insufficient
in terms of its ability to properly account for what is happening in the world. I would argue that coming face to face with
the beast in this here video signifies the tension that occurs when the veil of this
ideology is lifted, when the material reality of a moment in time makes itself apparent. In these circumstances, the true poverty of
such an ideology will be laid bare for all to see. I’ll have a link to Local 58’s Patreon in
the video description. I encourage you to throw a few bucks their
way if you like what they do. I should note the disclaimer on their Patreon
page: “You have the right not to support community television, but thru inaction you
are contributing to the death of the medium.” I don’t necessarily endorse this vulgar individualist way of thinking. But I just thought it was interesting. Anyway, I’m still in the process of deciding
whether or not to cover more videos in the Local 58 series, so let me know if you’d like
to see more. That wraps it up for this installment of Nightmare
Masterclass. If you enjoy my videos and have a few bucks
to spare, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi.com/nightmaremasterclass. Any amount, large or small, is highly appreciated. Thank you for watching, and good night.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *