For the past few Januarys, artist and media programmer Adán De La Garza has screened a series of videos called "The Way Things Are. The Way They Are Going to Be." The shorts he showed reminded viewers how bad things were and warned that they'd probably get worse. The environment's collapsing, capitalism is predatory, the United States is a nation engaged in all sorts of evils from colonialism to surveillance culture to police violence, and social media channels are a scourge.
The message De La Garza regularly delivered: Panic, people, we're doomed.
"I don't think I want that now," he says, adding that people living through a pandemic and insurrection know that we're living in bleak times. "I don't think anybody wants that right now."
So he's scrapping this year's edition of "The Way Things Are" as he plans ahead for other 2021 programming, which will include plenty of video art culled from Vimeo and a screening in the tradition of Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation. And that's not the only thing he's changing this year.
Like many, De La Garza is fed up with Facebook and Instagram.
He says he's tired of wasting time engaging his online audience; he's also concerned that promoting his microcinema Collective Misnomer on social channels could inadvertently lead big tech to exploit his audience's data. As a steadfast anti-capitalist, he wants nothing to do with generating profits for Facebook and other tech companies. And he's done maintaining social relationships with people he never plans to see in the real world again.
"On a personal level, I don't want to engage with all of that. I don’t need to know what my high school community thinks about Trump," he says. "I don’t need to know about their politics and let that invade my mind throughout the day."
So, unlike many cultural groups that have doubled down on their online outreach during the pandemic, often to mixed results, De La Garza is bowing out.
"I’m deleting all social media platforms for Collective Misnomer," he says. "I’m exhausted with the amount of time and effort that goes into those things. I’m trying to be conscientious and responsible with people’s data."
Collective Misnomer has been doing little more on social media than posting events to promote shows, but losing several hundred followers on Instagram and Facebook could hurt virtual attendance. To get the word out, De La Garza now plans to promote events through encrypted emails on his website and eventually do in-person outreach.
"I don't know that everyone will make the transition over," he admits. "I don’t know if that’s a dumb move, but I feel like it’s getting so gross and so weird with social media."
He decided on that move ahead of most dominant social media companies' decisions to de-platform Donald Trump. Although De La Garza is no fan of the president, he has his own concerns about building a promotional infrastructure that a corporation can take away with the click of a button. He's worried about Facebook's bans on nudes and the like, and fears that corporate censorship will interfere with the integrity of his programs.
While he's had success screening programs on YouTube during the pandemic, he's also looking to shift those to Vimeo, to stay away from Google, which owns YouTube. Vimeo, which has long been viewed as a higher-end platform by film lovers, offers various ways to have audiences pay for screenings.
On Vimeo, "I could do a premiere on Friday night and you could sit down and watch it for free," he explains. Then he'd leave it up for a week, "so anybody else who is interested can rent it."
Ultimately, De La Garza hopes that all of his concerns about online exhibition are temporary. One of many reasons he runs Collective Misnomer is to bring people together and create a community around experimental art, but he's holding off on that until he's confident that screenings are safe.
"I would definitely prefer to do screenings in person," he says. "But I’m apprehensive about going to the grocery store. I’m not going to give people an excuse to gather prematurely. I would have to see a lot of consistent data. I know movie theaters are open and stuff, but that’s a business model I don’t need to be worried about. Until I see something that really substantially eases my anxiety about it, I don’t think I'm doing in-person screenings. If anything, it will be a year from now, or in the fall, but I would have to see some actual science supporting an idea that gathering in a movie theater is not a completely dangerous thing."
After all, as he sees it, that's the way things are — and if we don't manage this virus, it could well be the way things are going to be.
Sign up for the email list and look for a 2021 schedule at Collective Misnomer's website; as of now, it states: "well fuck… we don’t know. we’re trying to figure it out."