Spencer Kellogg | United States
Who was the YouTube Shooter? An unstable psycho-art vegan that fits uncomfortably outside the stereotypical lens of the mainstream media’s anti-gun slant, Nasim Aghdam (who went by Nasim Sabz) has been glossed over in the media since the shooting spree that left three wounded and herself dead outside YouTube’s headquarters in California. In the last week Nasim’s life story has been written off and summarily described in three distinct words; vegan, bodybuilder, and crazy.
In her work, Aghdam (who went by Sabz on her numerous social accounts), is a raw, out of control psychedelic disco. A manic carousel of labored postmodernism, Nasim’s videos showed her to be a bewitching performer in the same vein as other contemporary video art rockstars like Ryan Trecartin & Titanic Sinclair. In the self-made and self-featured videos, Aghdam’s work ranged from nightmare aerobic CGI to candy-colored landscapes that acted as a platform for art that ran the gamut from music video to political activism.
In many of her lo-fi videos, Nasim mixed video and sound to create an aesthetic palette that was all her own. Sometimes, she just made simple instruction videos on how to cook her favorite vegan foods. Usually, a deadpanned stare greeted her viewers as she danced and sang her way through showtime routines and hallucinatory landscapes. Food featured prominently in her work and her devout belief in animal rights was laid bare in a clip where she holds a sign that reads “Meat Is Murder.”
Had she made these videos for a contemporary art gallery, there is a very real chance that Aghdam would have found a safety net of financial backing, a community of like-minded makers and the accolades that accompany such things. It has been noted that Aghdam was a viral sensation in Iran and her work is the sort that critics often find ripe for its multicultural accounting on the moral vapidity of modern America through an atypical ‘outsider lens.’
In “America’s Got Talent Show Contest,” Nasim intercuts CGI video of herself performing ninja moves in front of a stunned panel of judges. Simon Cowell thanks her behind a slaptrack of thunderous applause.
Who gets to defines crazy? When Kendell Jenner recreates the belabored ‘cut piece‘ in front of glowing cameras and paparazzi in tow, is she not crazy? If we were to leave the definition of crazy in the hands of our corporate media who are reliant on the sales of pharmaceutical ad space, we might assume that to be crazy means simply to live the tortured existential despair of a suburban mother. If we allowed the modern art school intelligentsia to define crazy, we would most definitely find an empty space where Aghdam would have fit soundly. In the modern classroom, this third-eye wandering, gender androgynous, anti-capitalist artist finds a comforting safe space and Aghdam’s particular brand would have been applauded for its brave advocation of animal rights, veganism, and counter-culture feminism.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Nasim’s work has already found support in the mainstream culture. Although her videos were taken down by YouTube, users are quickly posting copies and both the conversation and viewership for her work are seeing a substantial uptick. While many have so far mocked the videos for their lack of production value and overall bizarre content, some have begun celebrating the late Aghdam in the comment sections of her reshared videos.
Some of her pieces are already finding a second life as remixed music videos set to legendary songs by famed artists like Hall & Oates. The response has been overwhelmingly positive with one commentator gushing: “This is my new favorite shooter. Sorry, Elliot Rodger.”
Yes, this is the world we are living in.
In her piece “Do You Dare,” Nasim performs aerobics in a camouflage zip-up jacket while a song she produced plays in the background. The piece reminds me distinctly of two well-known video and music artists of the last 50 years. First, the bizarre and ‘crazy’ videos that Shia Labeuof released in his “Just Do It” phase. Secondly, the music belays a similar rhythm and sound to the late Lizzy Descloux’s insatiable dancefloor albums.
The video blends the style and sensibilities of free-form 80’s video art with the soft sell sexualism that became ever-present in her work. The blurred lines between sex and psychosis have always been a selling point in capitalist America and the world of performance art is no different. Looking through the careers of performance art luminaries like Marina Abromivich, Geneva Jacuzzi, and Yoko Ono, you will find a common thread of bizarre and borderline crazy work.
In the past year, Aghdam had grown angry with YouTube over the demonetization of her account. Although her work had gone viral in Iran and she boasted a sizeable following, Aghdam argued that she was being censored for her fringe political views. A rough sketch of the days leading up to the spree suggests that someone missed the chance to potentially stop the shooting. Her family knew she was angry at YouTube and have told reporters that they warned San Bruno officers that she might be headed to the tech companies headquarters. That claim has been disputed by police.
Recently her work had turned toward the political nature of censorship in the United States. Nasim’s belief that her videos were worth than she was being paid led her to a cliff of despair. In the hypercompetitive world of online self-made celebrities, Aghdam had grown tired of what she saw as the sexual degradation of society. She lamented that the only way to make money was to be ‘stupid’.
Never talk about moral or human issues. Never talk about your own views. Otherwise you will be discriminated and censored. Growing on youtube is not in your hands. It all depends on who is controlling your channel. If he or she likes your videos, then they will let your videos get views. Otherwise… Your videos will be merely regulated.
Aghdam is not the first mass shooter to leave a video diary of their depressing existence. A minority of conspiracy theorists have suggested the entire event was a ‘false flag’ operation performed by the deep state. She joins a small group of mass shooters who have left hours of footage to be gleaned over by the general public.
Image Source YouTube