Dreaming of the Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest at TripAdvisorOne of the best films I have seen this year is the totally awesome The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson 2014) and not coincidentally one of the more amusing things I have come across recently are reviews on TripAdvisor for… you guessed it! The Grand Budapest Hotel. No, these are not reviews for the movie but reviews for the actual hotel.

The hotel is the only hotel (on TripAdvisor) in the Republic of Zubrowka and has to date received 148 reviews. The reviews are the usual bizarre mix of what we have come to expect on social media sites.

User yumiyoshi complains that there was no free wifi, Max G echoes the sentiments of many others when he writes that the hotel is: “Past its prime.” And John P from New York warns us not to expect the Hilton.  Radit M from Surabaya, Indonesia even experienced gunfire in the lobby while staying there.

However, most of the guests seem prepared to ignore the minor flaws because the hotel is “charming”. This word seems to be the most prevalent among all the reviews. Tobir from Lausanne goes so far as to exclaim: “I must admit: The best hotel in the world!”

AnnRoseC from York, UK writes a fairly typical 5 star review:

Absolutely gorgeous place! Beautiful architecture, furnished with a brilliant taste and style! Loved the view from my bedroom window! Enjoyed the local bakery and the location – very close to the ski slope! Fun and friendly staff! Helpful with some interesting tips for Zubrowka. I highly recommend this place for a short or long stay! Will definitely visit soon again!

Now for those of you who may not know by now… there is no Republic of Zubrowka and there is, unfortunately, no Grand Budapest Hotel with its quirky old time charm ageing gracefully in the mountains. It’s all made up.

But what does it all mean? Why have 148 people written (some interestingly detailed) reviews for a hotel that doesn’t exist? There have been other cases where people have created reviews for things that don’t exist. TripAdvisor was criticized for not noticing that Oscar’s in Brixham, Devon did not exist despite the good reviews it received.

However, this is different. There is no fraud, no gaming the social system; people just happen to have reacted to the movie and feel a need to connect with the hotel. Even if it doesn’t exist. The reason this is interesting is that the behavior speaks to our desire to inhabit the fictions that move us. The web has enormous communities devoted to the production of fan fiction, hobbyists spending their time developing fictional characters long after storylines have ended.

Fan fiction, whether it’s Star Trek erotica or reviews for a non-existent hotel, demonstrates that the consumers of culture feel a strong bond to stories that have moved them and want to prolong their experience by reliving the settings and characters. Copyright law tends to frown upon this behaviour, as it is a challenge to the legal fiction that the work, its popularity, and its longevity are the property of the author. Fans are purely incidental to this idea.

This is a narrow view of how culture moves in society and why we need copyright to ensure that more culture is created. The production of copyrighted material would be nothing without those who make it come to life in their imaginations. Whether they are reading, watching or listening – the work of art exists in its consumption.

TripAdvisor deserves some praise for their reactions to the nonsensical reviews of an imaginary hotel. They allow the texts to remain, they allow the dreamers to dream, they allow culture to live by allowing others to interact with their memories and the review site. They also include a warning:

Message from TripAdvisor: As seen in the 2014 Wes Anderson movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Have fun reading these reviews – go on, add your own! Just don’t try to book a visit here, because this fictional place doesn’t really exist.

This post was originally written for CommonsMachinery.se

By train to Australia

I spend a lot of my time on trains between Göteborg & Stockholm. After a quick look through my scanty records I have been to Stockholm (at least) 13 times this year (by train) which makes it a distance of 12 688 km traveled over an estimated time of over 80 hours. If these trips were all put end-to-end this is approximately the distance from Göteborg to Perth, Australia.

but I could not have taken the train…

Iceland tomorrow!

Tomorrow I am off to Iceland! This is really cool even though I wish I was staying there for a longer period of time. But it’s cool enough. I fly up tomorrow, have meetings on Tuesday and fly home early on Wednesday. The meetings should be very interesting since I am there to participate in discussions on Tryggvi Björgvinsson‘s thesis, there will be meetings with the Icelandic Society for Digital Freedom. Also I should be able to squeeze in some sightseeing between airports.

Love and hate my job

Feeling decedant tonight slouching on the sofa watching tv, celebrating the completion of the initial part of my empirical research – I have completed empirical studies of a mailing list containing over 15 000 discussion threads over an eight year period. This work has been negative, depressing and very very very boring. This part of my work I really really hate. It’s not the results but the reality of the everyday grind that I hate.

The part that I like is the recognition. I was asked to be part of examination committee which was/is a major honor. And to add a cherry to this already great place is that I get to fly to Reykjavik, Iceland in March. I will not be there for a long period but I will be in Iceland! This is so cool and I am really looking forward to the trip.

Environmentalism and Class

On the one hand environmentalism is science – irrefutable and extremely difficult to interpret socially, but it’s solutions are not. Well so I thought but my eyes were opened a bit wider after reading Monbiot’s article Flying Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on the connection between class struggle and environmentalism

If you understand and accept what climate science is saying, you need no further explanation for protests against airport expansion. But if… you refuse to accept that manmade climate change is real, you must show that the campaign to curb it is the result of an irrational impulse. The impulse they choose, because it’s an easy stereotype and it suits their prolier-than-thou posturing, is the urge to preserve the wonders of the world for the upper classes. “Cheap flights”, O’Neill claims, “has become code for lowlife scum, an issue through which you can attack the “underclass”, the working class and the nouveau riche with impunity.”(24)

The connection seems obvious, doesn’t it? More cheap flights must be of greatest benefit to the poor. A campaign against airport expansion must therefore be an attack on working-class aspirations. It might be obvious, but it’s wrong.

Working with empirical evidence Monbiot shows that the working class are not the primary users or even the intended users of cheap flights. The working class, it seems, does not fill the airlines of the world even when the tickets are priced at close to zero.

This is very interesting since confusing the science of climate change with issues of social and class justice are a wonderful way of creating counter arguments against “hard” science. If cheap air fares are not about class then the question is not about the “right to fly” but should be focused on making the travelers pay their own environmental costs.

Counterfeiting in Vienna

Right now I am in Vienna, sitting in a project meeting on Counterfeiting as part of the EU project Counter which is a research project is designed to collect data, generate knowledge and disseminate findings on the European landscape for the consumption of counterfeit consumer goods. So today is full of interesting discussions with smart people in a beautiful city. More on the meeting later.

Vienna is a beautiful city and right now it is wearing a full set of Christmas deocrations and you cannot walk far before running into a Christmas market selling local wares, sweets and Gluwine. The only downside is the lack of stable Internet access so uploading photos will have to wait.

Returning from Gotland tired and happy

Gotland was really fun. The city of Visby is all it was supposed to be (you never know how much is just tourist hype) quaint small streets, city wall, cafés, restaurants and exotic shops. The seminar at the Riksantikvarieämbetet (Swedish National Heritage Board) went well and my project to help them move from static databases to a more interactive “web2.0” approach to users is on the way.

There are several interesting questions involved when a government body wants to open up it’s databases and let the users in. The idea is the rich collections of data this government body maintains will be made available. Thats the easy part – but not too easy.

The next stage is to allow users to add, edit, comment, tag and connect data. In addition to this this government body wants to allow the users to communicate with each other via the governments infrastructure. They are brave and exciting – not your typical image of a heritage board.

After the seminar today I roamed the street taking pictures until it was time to fly to Stockholm and wait for the train to Göteborg.

Flying to a medieval city

One of the best things with this job are the occaissional opportunities to travel to places of interest that I may not normally have traveled to. Tomorrow I get to travel to one of those places which has been on my list of travel destinations for a long time. Tomorrow the first leg of the journey is Stockholm (lovely city but not much excitement here) but the second part is a flight to the island of Gotland and the amazing city of Visby.

Luckily I have the afternoon to explore the medieval city, I only hope that the snow lets up and maybe the sun will shine for enough time for some photography.

The real reason for the visit is a copyright and technology seminar at the Swedish National Heritage Board. So all in all a trip to look forward to: an exotic medieval city and a cultural seminar. This is my kind of trip.

Basil Fawlty now has a small hotel in Lund

Basil Fawlty is alive and well and running a small hotel in Lund. After arriving in Lund I walked to the hotel and attempted to check in to the hotel. This is not my first time staying at a hotel and I knew that I may not be given a room as I was early but I hoped to at least be able to leave my luggage somewhere.

After waiting for some time a man appeared in the reception stared angrily at me and almost shouted out: “We are fully booked!” Somewhat taken aback I attempted to explain that I had a room booked but he interrupted me and said, in an irritated voice, that I could not have the room as it needed to be cleaned first. Eventually he cooled down enough to let me leave my bag.

Being told of when attempting to check in was a bit of a novelty but I thought it would be a one-off event. How wrong!

Attempting to check out in the morning was another interesting experience. Basil was struggling with his computer. His level of frustration was rising and I half expected him to start ranting and hitting the machine. I stood in front of the reception desk patiently and quietly, as I was not in a hurry I made no attempt to rush him. All of a sudden he jerks his head up, looks at me and snaps: I cannot help you.

Being forewarned by earlier experiences I was not to shocked. I simply explained that the bill for the room was to be sent to those who booked it, I had no extras and I just wanted to leave the key. He huffed and puffed and attempted to demand proof that I was not to pay for my room myself – this was apparently not something they usually did.

Despite not being able to prove that I should not pay for the room myself he eventually let me leave. Later this evening I am going to pick up my bag… I am kind of looking forward to this…