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About Michael Betancourt
Michael Betancourt is a critical theorist and research artist who has cultivated a hybrid practice addressing media history, digital technology, and capitalist ideology. Author of more than thirty books, his deeply interdisciplinary writing has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish. His work with semiotics and critical analysis provides a model and foundation for his studio work: it considers the social and cultural impacts of AI, Bitcoin, surveillance, and Universal Basic Income (inter alia) as reflections of structural demands implicit in how the Enlightenment project informs both historical industrial capitalism and contemporary digital technology. This critical analysis provides a model and foundation for his studio work. He is a board member of the Art of Light Organization.
A pioneer of “Glitch Art,” he has engaged the links between theory and practice by databending images and video since the 1990s. His visually seductive glitch works bring the visionary tradition into the present. By emphasizing their digital origins, his aesthetics encourages the viewer to find poetic meaning in their everyday life. His movies and statics have shown internationally at film festivals and art fairs, including the Anthology Film Archives, Art Basel Miami Beach, Athens Video Art Festival, Black Maria Film Festival, Contemporary Art Ruhr, Experiments in Cinema, Festival des Cinémas Différents de Paris, Millennium Film Workshop, and the San Francisco Cinematheque’s Crossroads among others. His interactive publication the ____________ Manifesto is a well known work of interactive net.art from the 1990s. One of his games-as-art, Toonzy! The Cartoon Role-Playing Game, was nominated for an Ennie Award as Best Free Game in 2016. This aesthetic work is informed by ground breaking historical research: in 2006, he found the oldest surviving hand-painted abstract films (produced in 1916 by Mary Hallock-Greenewalt). He also wrote the first history of motion graphics in the United States charting its origins from “color music” to the commercial appropriation of avant-garde film and video art.
His theory of digital capitalism is the first materialist analysis of how globalized financialization, digital technology and the autonomous production of the internet have converged in the past 40 years; his book The Critique of Digital Capitalism was published by Punctum Books on January 7, 2016. The theory proposed in this book is the description of how digital capitalism as an ideologically “invisible” framework realized in technology. Originally a series of articles published between 2003 and 2015, it provides a broad critical scope for understanding the inherent demands of capitalist protocols for expansion without constraint—regardless of social, legal or ethical limits—that are increasingly being realized as autonomous systems no longer dependent on human labor or oversight and implemented without social discussion of their impacts. The digital illusion of infinite resources, infinite production, and no costs appears as an “end to scarcity,” that digital production eliminates costs and makes everything equally available to everyone. He was interviewed on The Keiser Report to discuss his work on digital capitalism (episode 130, episode 199, episode 894 [Part 1] and episode 895 [Part 2]).
As artist, he has exhibited his movies, site-specific installations, and non-traditional art forms in unseen, unusual, or public spaces since 1992, and he has used digital failures and technical glitches in his movies since 1996. He has collaborated with a variety of film makers and musicians in producing his movies, including Charles Recher, Rey Parlá, Dennis H. Miller, The Poison Arrows, Sa’eed Ali and FsLux. His movies have been shown in galleries, film festivals and art fairs internationally. A book about his working process, Structuring Time came out in 2004 and was revised in 2009.
He began producing guerilla interventions in public spaces in 1996 with The TrueLife Ad Campaign, a project that assumed the form of a newspaper ad. Since then, he has produced a series of interventions in public spaces designed to provoke an active engagement with the viewer—his Non-Art Object sticker was included in the book Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap—From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art.
Betancourt was a co-curator of the independent video series The Experimental Show that ran in Miami from 2000 to 2003. In 2006, he produced The iota Center’s Visual Music From Iota DVD anthology. He has written extensively on contemporary artist Jose Parlá, including on his collaboration with photograffeur JR in Havana, Cuba.
He spent his childhood summers at the Kommos archaeological excavation, in Pitsidia, Crete, Greece; starting in 1986, he worked for several years as the Staff Photographer on the Pseira archaeological excavation, in Crete; this excavation was run by his father, Philip Betancourt, and Costis Davaras. In the early 1990s he worked as an Assistant Editor, then as Art Director for a revived version of Weird Tales started by George H. Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer and his brother, John Betancourt. During this same period he began screening his movies and showing in art galleries.
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Betancourt begins with the obvious answer, ‘human labor,’ and ends with the nature of value created in capitalism. His analysis was written for a lecture at the Aspen Institute–Germany’s Third Annual Berlin AI Conference, “Humanity Enabled: AI & the Great Economic Awakening” in March, 2020. The ‘great decoupling’ of labor from productivity and value suggests the potential for a post-labor economy, and the expansion of the ‘society of leisure’ formerly reserved for only the dominant social classes. This book concerns the social, cultural, and economic barriers to the development of a fairer, egalitarian, and more democratic society in terms of a broad, kaleidoscopic array of tendencies including the gamification of social activity by social credit, the role of marketing in popular media, the authoritarian usurpation of democracy in the smart city, and the proposal of universal basic income as a palliative for the replacement of human labor by machinery. Opposition to the emergence of the ‘society of leisure’ is not economic but cultural, a confluence of religious and social prohibitions on leisure that simultaneously devalue, demonize, and disenfranchise labor: this emergent conflict is the cultural significance of AI.
About the author:
Michael Betancourt is a critical theorist and research artist whose work is concerned with the cultural impacts of digital technology and capitalist ideology. He has written more than thirty books, including The Critique of Digital Capitalism, The Digital Agent versus Human Agency, The History of Motion Graphics, and Glitch Art in Theory and Practice. His writing has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese, and Spanish. These publications complement his movies, which have been screened internationally in art fairs, film festivals, and museums.
Glitch Art in Theory and Practice: Critical Failures and Post-Digital Aesthetics explores the concept of "glitch" alongside contemporary digital political economy to develop a general theory of critical media using glitch as a case study and model, focusing specifically on examples of digital art and aesthetics. While prior literature on glitch practice in visual arts has been divided between historical discussions and social-political analyses, this work provides a rigorous, contemporary theoretical foundation and framework.
In 1960 avant-garde animator and inventor John Whitney started a company called "Motion Graphics, Inc." to make animated titles and logos. His new company crystalized a relationship between avant-garde film and commercial broadcast design/film titles. Careful discussion of historical works puts them in context, allowing their reappearance in contemporary motion graphics clear. This book includes a thorough examination of the history of title design from the earliest films through the present, including Walter Anthony, Saul Bass, Maurice Binder, Pablo Ferro, Wayne Fitzgerald, Nina Saxon, and Kyle Cooper.
This book also covers early abstract film (the Futurists Bruno Corra and Arnaldo Ginna, Leopold Survage, Walther Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, Len Lye and Norman McLaren) and puts the work of visual music pioneers Mary Hallock-Greenewalt and Thomas Wilfred in context. The History of Motion Graphics is the essential textbook and general reference for understanding how and where the field of motion graphic design came from and where it's going.
Title sequences are the most obvious place where photography and typography combine on-screen, yet they are also a commonly neglected part of film studies. Semiotics and Title Sequences presents the first theoretical model and historical consideration of how text and image combine to create meaning in title sequences for film and television, before extending its analysis to include subtitles, intertitles, and the narrative role for typography. Detailed close readings of classic films starting with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and including To Kill A Mockingbird, Dr. Strangelove, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, along with designs from television programs such as Magnum P.I., Castle, and Vikings present a critical assessment of title sequences as both an independent art form and an introduction to the film that follows.
This book explores the question of realism in motion pictures. Specifically, it explores how understanding the role of realism in the history of title sequences in film can illuminate discussions raised by the advent of digital cinema.
Ideologies of the Real in Title Sequences, Motion Graphics and Cinema fills a critical and theoretical void in the existing literature on motion graphics. Developed from careful analysis of André Bazin, Stanley Cavell, and Giles Deleuze’s approaches to cinematic realism, this analysis uses title sequences to engage the interface between narrative and non-narrative media to consider cinematic realism in depth through highly detailed close readings of the title sequences for Bullitt (1968), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974), The Number 23 (2007), The Kingdom (2008), Blade Runner: 2049 (2017) and the James Bond films. From this critique, author Michael Betancourt develops a modal approach to cinematic realism where ontology is irrelevant to indexicality. His analysis shows the continuity between historical analogue film and contemporary digital motion pictures by developing a framework for rethinking how realism shapes interpretation.
This book develops a critical and theoretical approach to the semiotics of motion pictures as they are applied to a broader range of constructions than traditional commercial narrative productions.
This interdisciplinary approach begins with the problems posed by motion perception to develop a model of cinematic interpretation that includes both narrative and non-narrative types of productions. Contrasting traditional theatrical projection and varieties of new media, this book integrates analyses of title sequences, music videos, and visual effects with discussions on classic and avant-garde films. It further explores the intersection between formative audio-visual cues identified by viewers and how viewers’ desires direct engagement with the motion picture to present a framework for understanding cinematic articulation. This new theoretical model incorporates much of what was neglected and gives greater prominence to formerly critical marginal productions by showing the fundamental connections that link all moving imagery and animated text, whether it tells a story or not.
This insightful work will appeal to students and academics in film and media studies.
In his latest book, Michael Betancourt explores the nature and role of typography in motion graphics as a way to consider its distinction from static design, using the concept of the ‘reading-image’ to model the ways that motion typography dramatizes the process of reading and audience recognition of language on-screen. Using both classic and contemporary title sequences—including The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), Alien (1979), Flubber (1998), Six Feet Under (2001), The Number 23 (2007) and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)—Betancourt develops an argument about what distinguishes motion graphics from graphic design. Moving beyond title sequences, Betancourt also analyzes moving or kinetic typography in logo designs, commercials, film trailers, and information graphics, offering a striking theoretical model for understanding typography in media.
In his third book on the semiotics of title sequences, Title Sequences as Paratexts, theorist Michael Betancourt offers an analysis of the relationship between the title sequence and its primary text—the narrative whose production the titles credit. Using a wealth of examples drawn from across film history—ranging from White Zombie (1931), Citizen Kane (1940) and Bullitt (1968) to Prince of Darkness (1987), Mission: Impossible (1996), Sucker Punch (2011) and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)—Betancourt develops an understanding of how the audience interprets title sequences as instances of paranarrative, simultaneously engaging them as both narrative exposition and as credits for the production. This theory of cinematic paratexts, while focused on the title sequence, has application to trailers, commercials, and other media as well.
Mit seiner ›Kritik des digitalen Kapitalismus‹ legt Michael Betancourt eine scharfe Analyse dieser neuen ökonomischen Verhältnisse vor und beleuchtet deren Eigenschaften und Probleme. Von der vermeintlichen Demokratisierung der Gesellschaft durch die freie Verfügbarkeit von Informationen über die Illusion der kostenfreien, weil nicht physischen Herstellung digitaler Produkte bis zur Neudefinition des Verhältnisses materieller und immaterieller Güter: Betancourt setzt sich mit den Begleiterscheinungen der digitalen Wirtschaft auseinander, die schon längst unser Leben bestimmen und prägen.