Improv Everywhere is back to the beach with the 5th Annual Black Tie Beach for 2014. The premise is simple, put on your formal wear and head the water. This is my third year shooting Black Tie Beach and it is hands down my favorite Improv Everywhere event. It’s true when they say no one ever looks bad in a formal wear and when you add the beach you are stunning. We took further down the beach from Brighton this time, putting out blankets down in front of the Wonder Wheel. The bigger crowd made for even more fun and confusion. Also this year, the Improv Everywhere family grew a little bit, with a new Agent In Training. Charlie and Cody brought their ten week old son Charles on his very first mission. You MIGHT see a few photos of him out there, since every still photographer and videographer gave them the Red Carpet photo op treatment!
The new head of the Ferguson response is marching WITH the protesters and suddenly military weapons aren’t needed. pic.twitter.com/j19eYsMWGh
— JRehling (@JRehling) August 14, 2014
When I was young, I served a warrant to arrest a man for sexually abusing his daughter. Unbeknownst to my sergeant accompanying me, I was distant friends with the victim. Walking up to the house, reached down and unsnapped the strap on my pistol. The sergeant grabbed me and yanked me to one side and hissed in my ear “I will shoot you myself before I let you do something that fucking stupid ever again! You took an oath to enforce the law, not be a god damn cowboy. If you can’t do that, you don’t belong here.”
For the next fifteen years I wore a uniform, upheld that oath to protect the people and the laws of the United States of America and the State and city. From that night I understood the first duty of a police officer was service to fellow citizens, and this duty could supersede the black and white letter of the law.
I took off that uniform in 2005 for many reasons, the greatest of which was my idea of law enforcement no longer had a place in the ranks. The department threatened me with termination for speaking to group of sexual assault victims, educating them on how to navigate a police interview and subsequent court proceedings. I was bluntly told my job was not to protect the people but the department. I quit days later.
Much of what happened in Ferguson this past week is the mix of militarization of our police and the mindset of protecting the department over the public. The idea of enforcing the black and white letter of the law, without wisdom or compassion breeds resentment and resent breeds violence. A young man is dead because someone decided the idea of the Law trumps basic humanity.
Noting, I am giving a best case scenario here. It is entirely possibly the officer who shot Michael Brown just saw another nigger walking down the street. I don’t know, we don’t know, we may never KNOW. The Blue Wall comes up, the ranks close, protecting one another rather than the community.
The unrest, indeed riots, following the shooting and the subsequent botched response are symptomatic of the rot infecting law enforcement in our country. It is a rot spread from bad management and political objectives. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement are women and men who serve out of duty and respect for their communities. The broken officers, the racists, the bullies, the lazy and the stupid are a vast minority yet they shine out. They deserve firing, in a perfect world they never wore the uniform.
We live in this world, however.
In a perfect world, the police captain walks with the protest on the FIRST night.
We will never live in a perfect world. Once the smoke clears from Ferguson, we might just reach for one better.
My friends over at Improv Everywhere are donning their finest evening wear and heading for the beach again this year. Black Tie Beach is a beautifully simple premise, its formal wear on the beach. The mix of regular beach goers and prom dresses makes for one of the loveliest photo opportunities of the year!
This year we return to Coney Island on Sunday August 17th, meeting at Asser Levy Park at 2:00 PM. (I suggest arriving early.) Bring your beach toys, sunscreen and Little Black Dress.
Comedy has played such a part in my life, it forced open the locked doors of my closed mind when nothing else could. The works of comedians like Bill Hicks, George Carlin and of course Robin Williams accomplished more to make me THINK than all the true teachers in a dozen years of education. (Which sounds as though I am bashing those fine educators, yet the fault remains my own. I was lazy, disinterested and bored by school.) Still, the greatest influence of Robin Williams was a dramatic role: Mr Keating in the Dead Poets Society.
By 1989 I was struggling with the idea of adulthood, my twenty years on this Earth had somehow failed to provide a simple definition who what it meant. I could accept the basic responsibilities or being at work on time and the philosophic responsibilities of being charged with protecting the lives of my fellow airmen and their families. It was the idea of being an individual, of having a voice of my own which eluded me. I was always happiest in the herd, third spear carrier from the left, no spoken part.
“Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” -Robin Williams Dead Poets Society
The young men seeking their voices in the movie echoed the empty space I found within. I had teachers on being a better member of the military, on being a better police officer, but no one could help me be a better “Me”. Watching Robin Williams stand on that desk, urging his students to dare, to speak out, on the being of a better Me.
Robin Williams entire character, his person contextualized within this story screamed in those empty spaces. I wanted, I NEEDED Mr. Keating to help me sound my barbaric YAWP.
There were no two-hour conclusions in my life. In may ways, I am still standing on that desk. Mr. Keating’s lessons are not those you learn only once. Every day of one’s life, you must fight the quiet desperation, fight the resignation, fight and be heard.
Thank you Robin Williams for all the voices you shouted from all the rooftops. For the doors you forced open. For giving me the voice of Walt Whitman, the original barbarian on the roof. I wish you had many more years to teach me the lessons I need to learn.
There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt. –Erma Bombeck
Thank you Robin, there are far worse legacies than laughter, even with all the darkness behind.
Last evening I ventured to Washington Square Park for the Newmindspace Lightsaber Battle and found myself in the midst of a mob of Bassoon wielding woodwinds. The International Double Reed Society conference took place at New York University and stages flash mob concert beneath the arch.
Honestly, this completely outstripped the reason I was in the park. Thanks to the good folks of the International Double Reed Society for making Huey Lewis a filthy liar.
A couple of years ago wildlife photographer David Slater experienced some technical difficulty on a shoot. The resulting photographs went viral causing a brief splash of attention and publicity for Slater. Now those same images are the center of lawsuit between the photographer and Wikimedia Commons concerning their copyright status.
Slater is suing Wikimedia for posting the image labeled in the Public Domain, meaning no one holds the rights to the image and anyone may freely the use said image in any capacity. Slater maintains he holds the copyright as the images creator. Why the debate? Wikimedia says since the it was the actual monkey who took the photo, the image was in the public domain from upon creation. (Legally, an animal cannot assert copyright.) Slater says he invested the money and time to travel to Indonesia planning on taking photographs of the monkeys in their native environment and made all the technical and creative decisions necessary to create the image. The only part the monkey played in the images creations was the physical acts of running away with the camera and activating the shutter.
Wikimedia’s argument is utterly facile in several respects, but its greatest failure is not understanding what creates photography. For most people, photography is pointing an image taking device toward and object and pressing a button. (Indeed, this was how the image captured by the monkey.) For the photographer, creating a photograph involves conceiving of an idea and insuring the conditions for said idea’s execution. (Slater decided he wished to photograph endangered macaque monkeys. So he traveled to Indonesia, the animals natural habitat.) Next, the photographer needs to insure the proper equipment is at hand to capture the image. (The acquisition of many thousands of dollars of cameras, lenses, tripods and sundry equipment.) Next one chooses the proper camera, lenses and exposure settings for the conditions. (Which Slater did, otherwise the images would be under or overexposed.) These are only a few of hundreds of small decisions a major shoot such as Slater’s comprises.
If Slater was sitting at a café sipping coffee and the monkey made off with his camera, Wikimedia’s argument MIGHT hold water. In this situation, there was no intent by the creator to make images, it was an accident. What actually happened was serendipitous but a direct result of an individuals creative vision. The monkey pushed a button.
There is no argument when a professional shoot planned by an artist and an assistant “pushed the button”. The photographer who conceived the shoot is sole proprietor of copyright. Why Wikimedia wishes to argue the situation here is different seems ludicrous until you realize they suffer from what I term “Technological Tunnel Vision”: the misconception that technology is now so simple anyone, even a monkey, can do something. In this case the editors of Wikimedia’s wrongheaded interpretation of copyright law relies on photography now being so simple it no longer requires education, experience and equipment. I point out several million blurry, ill composed and underexposed Instagrams as my counter-argument.
I believe Wikimedia is arguing from a sincere belief and not from a profit standpoint. (Particularly in light of their being a not-for-profit organization.) They believe in the free and open exchange of information and this image is in the Public Domain.
Unfortunately, this erroneous belief is going cost thousands of dollars to litigate. If Slater loses, which as copyright law now stands he may, opening the door for profit based entities to push further against photographers. Since the days of George Eastman photography occupies a niche where almost anyone can do it, but only a few can do it well. In these days where the intense demand for photography is rivaled only by the more intense desire not to PAY for photography, it makes sense.
The idea photography is no longer a craft and skill strangles the industry, it forces people like Slater to fight court battles to prove their work is meriting the protection of law. Writers are not forced to defend their livelihood because word processing software is ubiquitous, so why are photographers singled out?
Because, “Hey look, a monkey can do this!”. It would take a LOT more monkeys to replace writers. Not to mention all those typewriters.
I can’t believe it’s been three years since I last saw a few hundred people whack one another with plastic lightsabers in Washington Square Park! Apparently it took three years to recharge everyone’s midichlorian count. This Saturday sees the return of the Newmindspace’s Lightsaber Battle. So, if you be Jedi or Sith and you have a score to settle, head down to Washington Square Park on August 9th, the elegant weapons appear at 7:00 PM, the carnage begins at 9:00 PM.
Disclaimer: Improv Everywhere Black Tie Beach 2014 may not technically be at a beach near you. The main event is in New York City. You, however, could simply put on formal wear and go to an actual beach near you. It’s pretty awesome.