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<nettime> isea talk
Prof. Dr. Birgit Richard on 5 Dec 2000 18:28:18 -0000

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<nettime> isea talk

Dear nettimers
i was i very silent voyeur for month now i try a posting. i include the
text for my talk at the isea 2000 in paris on friday. hope u like it
birgit richard

Birgit Richard
Cool Business: Etoy’s toy wars

The immaterial Cyberspace, the net, is by no means an empty space. In
the net a topography of a new kind has been developed, in which the
former pioneers, eg artists and activists, have been declared outlaws by
the law offices of the big companies. The economic structures claim
control over the word, the name and its phonetic and etymological
elements. In the virtual space of names typing mistakes provide an
increase in turnover. To submit to this structural force means that the
less experienced user can vanish from of the virtual community without a
trace. Virtual power is and makes any virtual live invisible. It aims at
destroying any communication, the total isolation from media: name and
image are to be deleted. For those groups of artists and activists
operating within the net co-operating closely with other media, eg print
media, is imperative.
The US-company Networksolution is operating like the residents’
registration office, it  can reject immigrants and kick out inconvenient
tenants. The loss of an arduously established domain is like a small
extravagant boutique being hurled out of a capital’s main street into
the side-street of a village.
The software of the order of culture is the precondition of the
invisible execution of a structural force that transfers abstract
routines eg juridical ones from reality into the World Wide Web in order
to develop new economically motivated mechanisms of discrimination.
Those mechanisms are founded on the same principles as decribed by
Foucault (Foucault : Discipline and Punishment,1977 (engl. Version 1978-
Anm. der Übersetzerin) The Order of Discourse 1974). In the internet the
grammar of culture becomes evident: who is speaking, who is allowed to
speak (Blissett/Brünzels 1998, 25f) and in which context is it allowed
to speak? Another crucial factor is: what is the name of the person, the
entity, that leaves a html signature in the net while speaking?
Derrida (2000, 10) puts this phenomenon as following: “Who signs with
which allegedly own signature?
The grammar of culture remains as invisible in the virtual world as in
the real one. It implements routines with the intention to let them grow
natural. Here, an abstract immaterial form of cutting back the discourse
comes to fruition (Foucault 1974), which concerns specially the
text-based structures of the internet, in which controlling name,
address, URL and its neighbourhood is a crucial means of exercising
The precedent in connection with the war declared by the artists’
corporation etoy to defend their domain name against the toy retailer
eToys illustrates the strategies of economy and the counter-strategy of
visualising and materialising. Because of the invisibility of violence
the imaginary has to be called into action: etoy use the symbols of the
image-based power of the business world and the war metaphors with the
greatest of ease. They illustrate their toy war against a toy company in
order to show the abstract means of violence, which are difficult to
make out for outsiders.

etoy vs. Etoys: The violent economic occupation of the Cyberspace
The centre of attention is the “violent “ clash over the domain name of
etoy. the US-toy  company eToys founded 1997 http://www.eToys.com/ (with
a “s”) took legal proceedings against the net artist group etoy at the
8th of November 1999 in Californien. etoy is officially and legally
using their own name as com.domain and registered with the international
register on the 13rd Okt. 1995. The opponent is the online retailer
eToys, a virtual start-up company founded late in 1996 and present in
the net since the end of 1997. In 1999 the firm had its IPO at the
NASDAQ with approximately 80 million $ starting capital; with this sum
it wants to become market leader. Its rigorousness bases on its virtual
existence, which is threatened by fluctuating share prices. Since 1998
eToy tries to purchase the domain (name) etoy.com from etoy. eToys’ aim
was to ban the artist corporation from the top domain level, to deprive
it of its global and international status and to relegate it to the
Swiss domain ch.
The attack is going to become a signal for the fight for a global art
and international projects in the dot.com system. The “toy retailer”
blames etoy for squatting the domain name and tries to eliminate the
artists with the help of their legal staff by criminalizing them and
pushing the costs of litigation. etoy’s reputation became that of
insanes  - according to Foucault’s analysis - insanes within a diffuse
crowd, that is living up to the rules of economy, insames who are
threatening law and order (Fink-Eitel 1989, 26); and there is an attempt
to legally incapacitate the deviant.
At first, etoy gave themselves optimistically: “for etoy : your action
entertainment agents always online - sometimes lost”, because some
details give reason to believe, that they might win the suit: the small
difference, the missing “s”, and the fact of having been registered much
earlier than eToys gives hope. Then on the 29th November the domain
etoy.com is suspended by a temorary injunction under penalty of a fine
of 10000 $ per day.
Here, the restrictions of unregulated net use become manifest. The
confusion caused by an art project, that is leaving the art gettho in
order to act in the net as a public space, is not tolerated any longer
by the business world. etoy fakes business values in such a convincing
way, that the difference between parody and exaggeration cannot be told
The shares etoy are selling not only in a symbolical sense are
visualising speculative business transactions and increase in value.
They show the irrational mechanisms of the market, that became a virtual
one long before the new markets e-commerce and NASDAQ did (see
Baudrillard 1983). On this virtual terrain, myths, utopies, stories and
rumour are the deciding factors for loss or win of trillions of dollars.

etoy moved onto the bare IP address In
addition they established the site www.toywar.com to offer a platform to
net activists like www.rtmark.com who are supporting etoy’s opposition
against eToy. Then, after first boycott activities submitting to
economic pressure Network Solutions eliminates etoys DNS-entry, though
that was not part of the court judgement. etoy is cut off from its
This precedence indicates that the balance of powers within the internet
has changed and that commerce and non-profit interests within the world
wide web are drifting apart. From now, in accordance with the New World
Order, the internet only provides specifically defined space to artists,
which ties the art system to limited play areas, as it happens in the
real world. The case of etoy shows that all social systems are no longer
allowed to co-exisist or develop equally concerning the purchase of
domain names.
Activists condense their resistance potentials to politically efficient
forms that come down to creating a network between web, print media, tv
and everyday routines. Some of the campaigns go beyond the boundaries of
the internet, they address the shareholders and the staff of the
company. These activities are initiated and organized by rtmark
corporation and announced as a entertaining multi-player online game:
Help destroy eToys.com! December 12, 1999 new INTERNET “GAME” DESIGNED
The intention of the projects in the etoy Fund is to lower the eToys
stock price to $ 0,00. The projects also integrate DoS Attack FloodNet
Applications, which are to obstruct the company servers massively during
the christmas business (http://rtmark.com/sitin.html). Another important
means of agitation is to publicize and distribute information about the
The server is attacked for short spans of time only, for 15-minute
periods on the Christmas shopping days. All software operations
performed by the protesting netcommunity shall overload the eToys server
and force it to keep busy running an innumerable number of routine
tasks. Seven, eight rotating mirrorsites on which five different script
are running performed a number of activities. Beside the FloodNet
attacks there is the tactical approach to make the counter for the
financial evaluation inefficient, that means to corrupt the company’s
webstatistics. Therefore the non-linear skript “killertoy.html” mounts
continously goods in cookie-based shopping carts, without actually
buying anything of course. That way, the server has to generate the
whole list with every mock purchase. The mirrorsites produce more than
hundred thousand of requests and the time needed to calculate the list
is getting longer and longer. Because of this “super plus version”
script the platform the thing was shut down by the Backbone provider
Verio. Beside the scripts there are tools which the individual user can
install on his home computer and single email activities like
“mailbombs”, that the eToys service department and management has to
deal with, working on them step by step and without having program
routines at their disposal. This attack is meant to be symbolical,
protest on a broad basis, not a hacker’s activity.
Affected by the marked dynamics, which means by the system’s internal
proceedings of NASDAQ, the company’s stock price lowers by 50% in the
course of this activity. The online toy retailer has to compete with
traditional trading firms like toys`R us, that also want to conquer the
electronic marked. The fall of the eToys share is programmed. After the
turnover that was expected from the christmas business in November has
been brought in, the stock price is already falling. Bad news in dealing
with the artists, the influence by the webcommunity on the investor
forums and the bad press come just in time to speed up and consolidate
the downward trend of the price. As a typical occurrence, there follows
a substancial decline in stock prices after the IPO at the stock
exchange, if the issued share isn’t backed up by a promising story.
This does actually not depend of the actual turnover. The activities of
the artists uncover the mechanisms and monstrosity of the Neuer Markt
(which is Germany’s equivalent of the US technology index NASQDAQ - Anm.
der Übersetzerin) and phenomena like start-up.

Toywar Victory: the user is the judge © etoy kisses from your
The world-wide support for the etoy corporation is enormous. The Toywar
game goes on as following: a virtual battle field is opened, 700 agents
represent the first elite troop.
After the victory the parade begins with the solicitor’s stretch sedan,
followed by the truck transporting the etoy tank, a number of generals
and military heroes, special vehicles for rtmark or the thing net (a
helicopter), and at last a troop transportation vehicle with fotmen.
Using the military metaphor a hierarchy is implied, which is clearly
visualized here.
The fotmen’s fighting could consist of eg the writing of emails. 80% of
the game’s participants don’t understand the rules of the game at the
first go and cannot manage to get registered: As a result, the sreen
showes a cemetery filled with coffins in the Indian Ocean.
The underlying participation concept is a hierarchic one: Only those
could rise to be general, who were able to write scripts or knew the
right places and people. The toywar is successful: At the beginning of
2000 the company eToys drops the lawsuit against etoy and pays $ 40 000
reimbursement of expenses, as a countermove etoy drops their claims.
Knowing eToys’ vulnerability was the deciding factor, namely that the
only evidence for the company’s existance is the website. As an abstract
virtual company without face, the retailer is initiating abstract legal
proceedings. It depends on abstract stock market prices having no direct
link to the real material world.

>From the “entry to the data highway” to “Thank you for flying etoy”
(Street Style and Business to Business)
“offensive, depraved, insane, obscene, prurient, perverse, destructive,
anarchistic,. rebellious and anti-social in nature” (from the statement
of claim against etoy)

The Surface Visuals and the Corporate Identity etoy as artist and stock
corporation have their effect in different ways: in a material way by
the personal appearence of the etoy agents and to the virtual appearance
of the website in the course of the company’s history.
etoy expropriate visible business concepts and e-commerce and give an
estetic form to it.
Users may become a part of the etoy art and business system by
purchasing shares or performing special tasks during toywar. In a new
stock market style, the shares’ motifs adapt the ups and downs of the
company’s history. The motifs provide the visuals for their selfmade
history of accumulation of cultural values. etoy shares represent the
subcultural and creative resources, which the user can participate in
and whose increase in value is a precondition for further projects. The
increase in the resources of art and subculture increase even the value
on the market.
etoy take the standard modules of Business-Visuals as a basis for layout
and editorial and transform them. In the modular structure of the etoy
corporation, specific elements are varied and presented in an abstract
way in the web as well as in reality.. This is specially the concept of
the tank as TCP/IP Data Package, a Business and Creative Think Tank and
a mobile etoy Headquater, consisting of an orange container with the
etoy name on it and, connected to it, communicating labyrinth pipe
systems, which are the grid for the web appearance and lead in the form
of floating hotspots to the next level.
etoy quote different reference systems and blow up their trivial
stereotypes: Those start their career as agents, some in security
business, some as figures inspirated by James Bond. At Ars Electronica
2000, the agents for the first time appear with two stewardessesTheir
excaggerating poses are imitations from those known by civile
aironautics or the airline companies. According to their slogan “Thank
you for flying etoy ...”.
All items (suitcase, radio set, the agent’s batons in Digital Hijack)
are labled with the name etoy. The etoy name is spelled with small
letters as a sign of globality.
Even for an event as Toywar the agents clothing style is fitted and
carried out in complyance with the etoy style. Appropriate to the
threatening situation the agent wears an orange bullet-proof vest
underneath his Business outfit consisting of a jacket with the sponsor’s
name sewed on it (which rather seems to be taken from motor sports).
Also in this case the original (protecting) function is annulled by
removing the protecting plate from the vest and by its striking colour.
Having finished the toywar successfully, the agents wear general insigna
made of lego. Etoy turn from outlaw online-muggers into businessmen
being sponsored.

Radical and digital conservative = subversive = etoy
etoy know the rules of the game of the immaterial business and developed
a sound Corporate Identity based on an artificial language. While
nothing can bring their opponent, the e-commerce company eToys, out of
its purely virtual existence, the make-up of the personality of the etoy
corporation is embedded in reality. If their slogan “... we left reality
behind ... long time ago...” etoy generating cultural value & global
impact ... since 1994” would be true, they never had won the lawsuit.
The etoy corporation’s work consists of a skillful and easthetic meshing
of media world and real world, which for a long time has been controlled
by abstract and legal facts. The effectiveness of the net activities as
described above consists in commuting from art to life and from life to
The combination of  designed and well timed web strategies, toywar web
support, and first of all the connections of the individuals to real
life eg to print media, lawyers, activists and theorists have made the
artists win this only time.
The example toywar demonstrates potential interfaces for future art and
business strategies: via platforms within the web and between the web
and reality. Only those who possess suitable interfaces to both levels
can win the battle.
On the one hand the Lego-playmobil-styled etoy soldiers are a purely
virtual product. But they have a connotation relation to reality. This
is the reason why a material counterpart needn’t but could exist. Their
probability or potential truthfulness, that consists in a total phantom
life, is the crucial point. All visual presentations could be real,
that’s the way the etoy concept is working.
Just the anonymous agents’ physical presence, their particular style,
the tank systems make etoy so attractive and efficient. Voluntarily,
they bring their activity into the context of art. They represent an
interface concept that is controlled by the artists. There are precise
regulatives from the artists side, which never leaves anything to chance
in their CI. Rather than developing and testing a new participation
concept, they transfer the aquisition and merger business to art network
and there it into new aesthetic dimensions.
No rebell-type artist, no avantgarde-like denial-of-art-attitude as it
has been taken up by activists like rtmark. Here, anti-individualistic
smart well-styled people appear, who on the first sight look all the
same. The transfer of surfaces from the business world into art also is
an escape from the uniform art system as the aparent adaption to the
business world doesn’t comply with the understanding of the artist’s
role. The apparent de-individualization and voluntary uniforming
increase the efficiency of the collective approach as individual
competences are concentrated on a platform.
etoy represents the "next generation" in artistic business: smart and
web-based, elitist and creative. Net art, activism, traditional art and
marketing strategies as well as youth culture subversion meet in the
etoy corporation concept. etoy appropriate not art, but business
visuals. In addition they make use of the anarchic impudence of the
youth culture. What Felix Stalder in his Telepolis article called bad
boy attitude is the typical dandy attitude of the aesthetically acting
individual (vgl. Mattenklott 1987). Etoy bring the artist’s boheme
attitude and youth’s provocational power together again.
This kind of net art crosses political and economic space. It does’t
stay within the provided space. etoy offend against the unwritten rule
of the art system not to interfere in other systems. The company eToys
wants to hurl etoy out of real life back into the field of art, because
as pioneers for business visuals in art and as visual virus they
occupied commercial territory when it still was officially available.
This kind of art is not modestly confined to those niches, which has
been left to them, but it has conquered and filled a globally accessable
place a long time before. It is unbearable for the commercially ruled
world that artist corporations dominate the strategies of a corporate
identity in different media, that means that they expropriate their
practices. The brand etoy makes art competing against the business on a
visual and structural level. etoy’s visual doubling of the
representation of business creates a second business world, which on the
surface hardly differs from the original.
Etoy possess the content-lacking verbal elegance of the advertising
branch and of the public surfaces which are influenced by the business
world. etoy continue the business art that Jeff Koons created in the
80ies. He referred to himself as a “radical conservative”. To transfer
this attribute means that there are new subversive strategies in art
that impact on many levels and can change from one system to another
depending on the situation. “Radical conservative” makes etoy an
up-to-date representation of a subversion concept, that is the only
possible contemporary one. Revolutionary gestures and rebellion are
expected and have no effect within the art system. Other phenomena of
our time are “radical conservative” as well, eg the pop quintet or the
latest styles of the club culture. Those phenomena are not recognized as
new important deviation because of its apparent conformism, its
superficiality, its orientation towards business, consume and luxury.
The domination of business images over public space is overcome by
excaggeration and by indicating their artificial and constructed
character. Like Koons, they are not afraid of legal and financial
battles, because this are the conditions artists are grown up with.
etoy create a collective body on the basis of a comprehensive aesthetic
concept, their CI. The virtual body is able to resist temporarily
economic and legal pressure. Net art invisibly uses individual or
collective bodies to create an anonymous collective body, which protects
the individuals by integrating them completely. Their new forms of
organization are related to the forms of the business world. This makes
them an expression of the super-modernity (Augé 1992). On the other hand
there are the collective forms of computer games, that set up virtual
bodies following a pre-modern clan or tribe principle (Maffesoli 1996).
The net collective is a selected joint de-localized accumulation, which
once will disperse again. Etoy’s collective is temporarily open to
activities as toywar, otherwise the CI -structure is not accessible.
Joint actvities of art collectives and activists are accompanied by a
Hydra phenomenon: where the head of an individual is chopped off a new
collective body is growing and new members of the net community are
following. The selected merger is a new non-committal but identity
establishing form of community. Net art prefers the initially invisible
principle of collective disturbance and of forming swarms. In this
connection, the net activists make use of the uniform images of the
global trade and on this basis they develop the efficient collective
strategy of uniform subversion.

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