Geert Lovink on Sun, 24 Nov 96 11:02 MET

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nettime: bootleg situationist film

>From Sun Nov 24 01:33:15 1996

NOT BORED! sees value in Keith Sanborn's production of a subtitled
videocassette version of Guy Debord's 1973 film La Societe du
Spectacle. The availability of such a videotape cannot fail to
introduce Debord and the other situationists' critique of "the society
of the spectacle" to English-speaking audiences that might not have
otherwise been aware of or receptive to the significance and enduring
usefulness of Debord's 1967 book (which bears the same title as the
film). NOT BORED! also believes that Keith Sanborn should be
adequately compensated for his efforts, which mostly involved the
subtitling and duplication processes. (Very little "new" material
needed to be translated, precisely because the film so closely follows
Debord's book, of which translations have been in circulation since
the 1970s.)

But it is clear that Keith Sanborn is demonstrably attempting to
receive more financial compensation than is appropriate for someone
who claims to be interested in furthering the situationist project,
and not simply making a buck off of it. In a word, we firmly believe
that -- in charging between $30 and $40 for copies of the subtitled
tape -- he is gouging. We believe this even though we know that (he
claims) this admirable project cost $7,000 to bring to completion. We
also believe that he should be held accountable, so to speak, for his
shameless profiteering, if not financially, then at least in the eyes
of his peers in the international post-situationist scene.
We must remind all concerned that Sanborn's videocassette is nothing
but a pirate edition, a bootleg, an illegal duplication of a film that
was originally made by a man who committed suicide in 1994 and thus
cannot do anything to prevent or denounce clear abuses such as this.
Sanborn's "new" translation of the film's voiceover, as well as his
creation, distribution and very well-attended (and thus highly
profitable) public screenings of the subtitled videocassette, are most
definitely NOT authorized by the estate of Guy Debord. As Sanborn
himself knows, it is only a matter of time before Alice Becker-Ho
(Debord's widow) learns of what he is doing, and instructs her lawyers
to ask Sanborn to cease and desist from these unauthorized and illegal

In the meantime -- or, rather, before the situationist shit hits the
international fan -- Sanborn is trying to receive more than adequate
compensation for his efforts: he is clearly trying to make as much
money as possible. If it cost a total of $7,000 to complete this
project, why aren't copies of the tape priced at $10 each? It is
clearly reasonable to expect that, over a reasonably short period of
time, 1000 people would buy a copy of the tape if it were reasonably
priced. At $10 a copy, Keith Sanborn would stand to get back all of
his original investment and a $3,000 profit as well. But at $30 a
copy, he stands to make a profit of $23,000 (again assuming 1000
people will eventually fork over the money).

Think of it this way: What other 90 minute videotape on the market
costs $30 or $40? If one were to go to, say, Blockbuster Video (not
known for its low prices), and discretely inquire as to what item in
the store costs $30, the answer would be, "Well, the director's cut of
Natural Born Killers, which includes one full hour of previously cut
footage, as well as never-before-seen interview segments with the
director himself and all the important actors, retails for $27.95." In
other words, Sanborn has drastically over-estimated or deliberately
ignored the relative cultural value of the subtitled bootleg he has
produced. But professional bootleggers -- who are not widely known or
respected for keeping their greed under control -- do know the
relative cultural value of a bootlegged videcassette, which translates
into $15 or $20 a copy, at the very most. "To live outside the law,
you must be honest," Bob Dylan sang many years ago. Keith Sanborn is
living outside the law, but he is not being honest.

One thinks here of Ken Knabb, and how much Keith Sanborn is different
from him. In 1981, when he first published The Situationist
International Anthology, Knabb priced it at only $10 a copy, despite
the facts that it was a huge book (many times the size of Debord's
1967 book) upon which he'd spent years of his time, and that it was a
book that he published himself, with his own funds. Quite obviously,
Knabb -- as someone genuinely committed to the situationist project --
knew that he was undertaking a long haul: there would be very little
demand for the Anthology in the short-term; he wouldn't make any money
(back) for several years, if at all; over the course of 10 or 15
years, he might be adequately compensated for his efforts. Hindsight
shows that Ken Knabb was right. Today, copies of The Anthology cost
$15 (still a bargain) and Ken Knabb is well-respected by nearly
everyone in the post-situationist milieu. But what will people say
about Keith Sanborn in 10 or 15 years? Well, what are they saying

When priced at $30 to $40 each, copies of Debord's film are too
expensive for students, the unemployed and the working classes -- in
other words, for precisely the very people about and for whom Debord's
film was made in the first place. Indeed, Sanborn's subtitled
videotape is so expensive that even independent bookstores cannot
stock it without losing money. The only "people" who can afford these
ridiculously inflated prices are relatively large institutions such as
libraries and film societies, and such relatively-well paid
college-level teachers as Sanborn himself -- in other words, the very
people and things from which Debord so unequivocably and completely
distanced himself during his lifetime.

NOT BORED! has obtained one of Sanborn's over-priced, unauthorized and
subtitled reproductions of Debord's film, and has used it to generate
good quality second-generation copies, which we are selling for $5
postpaid (domestic orders) and $10 postpaid (international ones),
while they last. Please send cash only to PO Box 1115, Stuyvesant
Station, NYC 10009-9998. E-mail can be directed to

Since Sanborn is also selling unauthorized, subtitled videocassettes
of Rene Vienet's 1973 film Can Dialectics Break Bricks? for $30 to $40
each, we would be obviously be pleased if this film escaped from
Sanborn's clutches in the way we have helped La Societe du Spectacle

This text may be freely reproduced and distributed, for if and when
Madame Debord's lawyers contact us, they will be contacting both clear
consciences and meagre bank accounts.

16 November 1996

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