The Mob

Walter Chandoha shot his famous photo, titled The Mob, in 1961. As the story goes, the Chandoha farm in New Jersey was overrun with cats. Because he fed the strays, they followed him around hoping for a meal. Once while walking down a dirt lane, he spotted these five cats trailing him. He laid on his stomach and caught this menacing image, which, at some point, seems to adorn every cat lover’s Facebook page.

Stanley Kubrick almost certainly channeled Chandoha, either intentionally or subconsciously, when he blocked the iconic power struggle scene in his 1972 film A Clockwork Orange. I have no proof of this, and I’ll happily consider differing viewpoints, but from the very first time I saw Chandoha’s Mob photo, I couldn’t get the Clockwork Orange scene out of my head. Now every time I stumble upon The Mob on Facebook, I post a link to the Kubrick image in the comments.

This brings me back to an argument I made a few months ago in my post Alice and Sparkle. I responded to complaints that all A.I. generated visual art is plagiarized. By nature, A.I. ‘looks’ at existing artwork to inform the future images it will create. I suggested that this is no different from what human artists have done since the invention of cave drawings. “Zorg’s wolf looks like a log with legs, I guess mine should too.”

Driving home from Vermont today, Susan and I listened to music. First we listened to the Happy Fits because Susan is obsessed with the Happy Fits. And then we listened to the Beatles. After that, I put on a pop playlist I created for the very occasion when I’m driving in the car with someone else and they say, “Why don’t you put on some of your music.” Knowing that no one in my life wants to hear Gang of Four or Sonic Youth or the Dream Syndicate, I made a playlist of all my favorite radio hits from the past forty-five years.

Every time I hear Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, I visualize the time he debuted the moonwalk on TV at the Motown 25 concert in 1983. For me, that was a “where were you when…” moment—a happy alternative to the Challenger disaster or John Lennon’s assassination. Jackson made the moonwalk his signature move, and that dance step will always be associated with him. The moonwalk has been replicated and built upon by dancers ever since.  It makes me wonder, if a dancer blends a moonwalk into a dance, are they plagiarizing Michael Jackson?

Did Jackson plagiarize Bill Bailey, the dancer who performed the dance move ‘the backslide’ in the movie The Cabin in the Sky in 1943?

I consume a steady diet of A.I. related articles. They cover a wide range of topics from plagiarism to Armageddon. Every time I read an article with the Armageddon slant, I wonder how can they NOT reference the Terminator movie franchise: “The system goes online August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th.”

The world is plagiarizing A.I. Armageddon from the Terminator!

All ideas borrow from what came before. If Kubrick never saw the Mob photo, then he saw something created by someone else who did. Or Kubrick and Chandoha both got their inspiration from the same source—maybe an image from the forties or the fifties. It’s impossible to separate what we create from what we learn. We steal and mimic and pay homage to what we love from last week, last year, last century. Artists and A.I. don’t exist in a vacuum but in a world of intersecting ideas. The two images above, created ten years apart, prove that to be true.

20 thoughts on “The Mob

  1. Great piece Jeff. For some reason I was thinking about Al Capone’s mug shot as it relates to this coming Tuesday in Manhattan. Those photos of the cats, much better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Bill. Amazing how much blogging mileage we’ve all gotten since ChatGPT became publicized in mainstream media at the start of the year. This morning, the Wash Post has a heartbreaking story about people who created and then lost intimate partners when a large language model sanitized its communication. Worth a read, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. If you see a post entitled

    ‘An homage to fractals’

    then you’ll know you influenced my work.

    At a guess, the seventeen syllables might go like this:-
    homage to fractals
    replication which varies
    doing it overtime
    An interesting and thought provoking piece.
    Thank you Jeff.
    PS: I acknowledge the use of esoteric humour to try to look original. I also acknowledge my creative debt to all of nature, including humans and AI present and past.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Similarly, I’ve been very upfront (several blogposts) of the influence David Sedaris played in my early writing. And since I continue to build on that, I guess the influence continues. Looking forward to your published piece.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like that for you, a “where were you when…” moment was such a HAPPY one. Iconic. I don’t think I was old enough or aware enough when Michael Jackson hit the world with his moonwalk. I can imagine the amount of open mouths and people thinking “WOW – what did I just see?” when Michael busted his patented move. Every time I see it, I think it’s amazing. Magical, even.

    I guess in many ways we’re “copying” things we’ve seen before – even when we think it’s a completely original idea, humans have been around so long and are so creative that someone somewhere will have thought of it. I do like that we ‘colour it’ when we adapt to something and our UNIQUE flair to it. Like Michael’s moonwalk. It may have been based on something similar, but once Michael’s feet rocked the world with that incredible ‘new’ move, the world would never be the same and no matter how many others perfect the moonwalk (I’ve tried so many times and I’m rubbish at it), we’ll always think of it as “Michaels”. I love that.

    I think that’s our ultimate advantage over AI, we are thinkers, DREAMERS and creators. We might resemble something in the past – but once we’ve done it in OUR OWN SPECIAL WAY, it’s tainted with our little finger/footprint and that’s something no AI can emulate. I have peace knowing that.

    Sending you big hugs, Jeff. Do you moonwalk? What’s your favourite song on your pop playlist?

    Liked by 2 people

    • HaHa. When my kids were little, we all tried to moonwalk all the time. My attempts always generated the most laughter. I’m really a very bad dancer anyway you slice it. On that play list, historically, I would have said “All that she wants’ by Ace of Base, but yesterday ‘Hey, Soul Sister’ by Train really spoke to me. I love the way that song is crafted. As I was reviewing those two songs this morning Billie Jean came on again. Definitely in the running. I wrote what I think is a pretty nice essay on Michael Jackson exploring the great and the awful. It’s only available in one of my books though. Maybe I’ll post that as a follow-up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Jeff? I’m reading an book about the history of Goth music, which traces its roots back through the Romantic Poets and further back to the fall of Rome. As you say, ‘all ideas borrow what came before.’ It is interesting though, following these threads through history.

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  5. This is such an interesting post, Jeff. I think we are all influenced by things we’ve seen or heard in the past and unknowingly use that memory to create our own work, ideas, writing, art, etc. I remember Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk but have seen many others imitate his moves.

    I know that with myself, I’ve sometimes written something, either on my blog or for my coursework, only to then realise I’d seen or read it in a previous comment or someone else’s post. I like to think I’d always catch myself doing this before I continue my writing, but we’re not all aware of what’s going on in the deepest recesses of our minds.

    I should also probably be more up-to-date with AI ‘stuff’, but I haven’t paid much attention to it so far. I just know that some of the examples I have seen don’t appeal to me at all. They all appear to be science-fictiony (if you know what I mean.) However, it does seem to be a popular blog topic these days. I hope you are well, Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interestingly, *all* the bloggers I follow from Australia have written about AI, and almost no one else in my circle has. It must be heavily in the news there. I agree, as I get older. more and more I fear I’m ‘borrowing’ phrases from things I’ve read. If one of your poems pops up on my site, don’t be too surprised.

      Liked by 1 person

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