On Sunday the Yerba Buena Gardens at the Center for the Arts in San Francisco was the site for the sort of machine-based deconstruction derby that's become commonplace around here, thanks to the efforts of Survival Research Laboratories and the many outfits that have followed in its greasy, smoky, flame-spitting wake.
This time, the infernal devices were constructed and choreographed by a group called People Hater. There were four or five machines in total, along with a bunch of turntables and a PA system. While the group's members fiddled with their equipment in preparation for the imminent spectacle, a woman passed out ear plugs. A black Mountain Dew truck, looking somehow even more sinister than People Hater's most spectacular creation , a large metal predator with a long, flexile neck and a pair of rake-like jaws, was on hand to distribute ice-cold cans of product and soak up alternative cred.
By the time everything was ready to go, a crowd of a couple hundred had assembled; after repeated warnings about excessive noise levels, the action commenced. The machines, looking like the souped-up shopping carts of a future band of ultra-malevolent homeless people, started circling each other slowly. The turntables spun old warped records, and from time to time, someone added inaudible narration.
At one point, the smallest machine broke through the designated performance area and briefly taunted a few audience members; a few minutes later, the largest machine attacked a smaller machine. There was a sort of slow-motion Wild Kingdom beauty to the kill, but for the most part, the mayhem was ho-hum. People were leaving before everything ended, and it wasn't because of the noise or the threat of danger.
It's possible that the restrained nature of the performance was due to its setting - there were lots of small children in the crowd. But maybe it's also that we just don't find machines, and their imminent autonomy, as scary as we once did. We know the future is theirs; we know they'll be changing us in ways we can't predict or even imagine. So what? The People Hater machines may indeed hate us, but we've moved beyond such fiery emotions to a solid state of indifference.
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