The Devil’s Greatest Trick: Google in Paris for the Great Art Heist


…anybody could have worked for Soze.  You never knew.  That was his power.  The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

From The Usual Suspects, written by Christopher McQuarrie

We’ve all heard the “don’t be evil” mantra from Google.  But from an artist’s point of view, there is no greater corrupting power, no greater threat to their free expression and survival, than the commoditization of art, and there is no greater commoditizer of art than Google.  And in this way–among many–Google is the personification of a kind of evil done to artists that may not offer a quick death but is every bit the lethal threat to their very survival.

And yet Google wraps its evil in a kind of infantilism that is uniquely Googlely.  Why?  To be disarming.  To convince you that “evil Google” doesn’t exist.  Because it’s just so damn cute.

From Google’s Patent Application: “An anthropomorphic device, perhaps in the form factor of a doll or toy, may be configured to control one or more media devices. Upon reception or a detection of a social cue, such as movement and/or a spoken word or phrase, the anthropomorphic device may aim its gaze at the source of the social cue. In response to receiving a voice command, the anthropomorphic device may interpret the voice command and map it to a media device command. Then, the anthropomorphic device may transmit the media device command to a media device, instructing the media device to change state.”

Google Culture Comes to Paris

A couple years ago, Google brought its cultural commoditization engine to where else–Paris.  And fortunately we have an astute chronicler to give us a little tour.

The legendary columnist Maureen Dowd gives us her insight into the “Google Cultural Institute” in her recent column “The Google Art Heist“:

JUST seeing the Crayola colors painted on the tall iron fence of the 18th-century hotel particulier made me shiver. The big panda in flip flops in the lobby, arms up in greeting, scared me. And the petite ham sandwiches getting wheeled around to Google staffers looked positively menacing.

The more playful Google gets, the more paranoid I get.

And whyever would that be?  Pay no attention to the man behind the panda.   Remind you of anything?

The Google Cultural Institute essentially houses the “Google Art Project”.  Both are symptomatic of Google’s greater desire–to scan the world’s images whether the world likes it or not.  All wrapped in the Googlely images of innocence that hides the reality to convince you the evil doesn’t really exist.

R2D2 Was a Friend of Mine and You’re No R2D2

Take Android for example.  A cuddly rip-off of certain essential behaviors and visuals of R2D2, arguably the most famous droid in the history of mankind.

But Android is nothing like R2D2–Android wouldn’t do brave or chummy things with Luke Skywalker.  Android would track him and sell his GPS coordinates to the highest bidder as well as providing a copy of his voiceprint identification and cell phone metadata to the NSA.

Just remember what Android actually does–powers devices that allows Google to gather data from just about everything you do in what passes for a private life these days.  But instead Google bombards you with semiotic messaging that Android is this cute little fellow in the general shape of the heroic droid from Star Wars innocently doing cute stuff in a disarming fashion in Google’s advertising campaigns to sell Android.

Or Pandas with flip flops as Ms. Dowd encountered in Paris.

Aux Armes, Cityoens!

It’s also important to know that Ms. Dowd was not the first person to encounter the vileness of Google’s commoditization of art and artists in France.   Google Book Search is an older iteration of the Google Institute of Culture that predated the protracted litigation and bizarre result in the Google Books case–also widely despised by many other countries, especially France.

In his 2006 book that critiqued Google Book Search, Google and the Myth of Universal KnowledgeJean-Noël Jeanneney (then president of the Bibliotèque nationale de France, wrote:

What pays for the digitization of materials are linked advertisements from companies that have an interest in associating their image with old or recent works likely to promote that image. As a result, books will necessarily be hierarchized in favor of those best suited to satisfy the demands of advertisers, again, chosen according to the principal of the highest bidder [as is Google AdWords]. I wouldn’t want to see—although I’m amused by the thought—the text of Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit prince accompanied by an ad for a sheep merchant….

Google Book Search even though its leaders have not yet publicly defined the details of their practices, already appears to be a poor model for schools, since it seems to lack any kind of classification established according to reasoned principles….Unless a culture organizes [its] information, society is condemned to accept the mere dissemination of information, harmful to intellectual clarity and to a rich and harmonious public life.

Make no mistake: without [the determination to find a local solution], not only will the common interest be threatened, but we will also see the global scales, in this realm as in others, tip toward the hyperpower of a dominant [commercial] civilization.

And anyone wonders why Google has problems in Europe?

Ms. Dowd’s experience is a particularly illuminating description of Google’s sleight of hand:

Meeting the head of the institute, Amit Sood, a Bombay native in his mid-30s, made me suspicious at first. Looking cozy in a long gray cardigan and black sneakers, he’s a preternaturally perfect ambassador, like a high-powered Google algorithm designed to co-opt museums and foundations so charmingly that curators will barely know they’d been appropriated. But the guy seems sincere.

“This is our biggest battle, this constant misunderstanding of why the Cultural Institute actually exists,” he said. “In France obviously there was a lot of skepticism about why is Google entering this domain.”

Right.  Is “this constant misunderstanding” also known as hundreds of millions spent on lobbying and massaging public opinion?  Years and years of negotiation on a fake antitrust settlement?  Constant screwing of artists by YouTube all the while obfuscating how much money YouTube actually makes so that the music business won’t wake up one day and realize they’ve been completely lied to and reamed from the outset?

Why would anyone think that such evil could exist?

Maybe the devil made them do it.