Josh Harris: "Pseudo was a fake company."


53 Responses to “Josh Harris: "Pseudo was a fake company."”

  1. Ben Johnson says:

    Like Pahool above, I was also a big fan of Infinity Factory, and watched a lot of Pseudo’s programming back in the day.

    I’m not sure what Harris is trying to do by calling a failed/fake/fraudulent company “performance art.” Perhaps he’s trying to clear his conscience in a way that he thinks will absolve him of any wrong-doing? It seems like he has, in his head, shifted responsibility from himself to the media, which he blames for not seeing through his ruse. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying, because his arguments are elaborately conspiratorial.

    I fear that this will not be enough for Harris, because he’s smart enough to know this explanation isn’t very good, but currently unable to accept the consequences of his mistakes and find a way to move on. At worst, he will become the new Bobby Fischer, living a secluded life, occasionally sending ever-more paranoid statements to the media that paid attention to him back when he was on top. At best, he’ll find a good therapist, work through some of his issues, and rejoin society a humbler man.

  2. geo the moose says:

    well then, using Josh’s analogy I too must be a conceptual artist and all the tech support calls I take are my performances! wow, I too am cool artist now!

  3. pahool says:

    Now I’m jonesing…Seriously…does anyone have an Infinity Factory torrent or something…Must listen to Metzger telling Genesis P-orridge how cool s/he is…

  4. Anonymous says:

    As someone who worked at pseudo during it’s final
    year,the fakeness that I remembered seemed to
    revolve more or less around josh harris himself.
    I also remember the walking sleaze that was
    David Bohrman, who upon taking control wasted no
    time in killing all that was cutting-edge about
    pseudo. Not to mention the incessant harrassment
    of the production team. I worked on the 6th floor,
    under josh white, bonnie lemon and lance harkins,
    all hugely talented and tirelessly driven. For
    josh harris to make such statements is ridiculous.
    He is an attention-whore, that’s all.

    One thing that did turn out to be fake,our
    stock options!

    wes hansen

  5. pspinrad says:

    If that was an art piece, wow– good one! I’m happy to think of it as art, and if the hive-mind of the arts establishment eventually agrees, then great– everyone can call it art!* Otherwise it’s a con. But that’s the sole distinction between the two, and there can be beauty and brilliance in either form.

    At contemporary art museums, I marvel at the beauty of the Big Con, and how sophisticated it can become when honed over generations by large institutions! The great con men of yesteryear are today’s art stars, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If they can extract millions from the wealthy by making them feel special, more power to them. To do so successfully, you can’t help but hold up a valuable mirror to society. And the particulars of how this is accomplished are worthy of analysis, teach us about where we draw our lines, and can even help make a better world.

    *I don’t think they will, though, because as far as I know, Josh Harris wasn’t enough of an art insider. But maybe he does have some longtime artist pals from early in his career who were in on the game, and have since advanced themselves. If so, he might be able to get into the art history books after all.

  6. Destiny says: wrote this snarky essay the week Pseudo folded. (Last blurb in the Hit and Run from October 10, 2005.)

    “Alas, you can only extrapolate growth curves for so long, and though they’d formed an integral part of Pseudo’s ongoing coverage of the burgeoning southeast Asian underground music scene, Veena and Neena, the identical twin boa constrictor belly dancers, will have to seek employment elsewhere.”

  7. pspinrad says:

    Hmm, I take it back– he does have lots of art world connections. So this may work after all!

  8. rushkoff says:

    But this was definitely not his intent.

    Yes, he wanted to be a cool art scene where people trip a lot and have sex or whatever, and use the net to make weird points.

    But he also, almost definitely, wanted to make money for himself and his friends. At the very least, I have to believe he saw his friends, parents, siblings, and girlfriends as being on the winning side of the art/money/scam equation. I don’t think he meant for the “artists” he was playing with – myself included – to lose all our savings by participating.

    Perhaps he saw some endgame scenario where that would happen to Wall Street people, but even then, I think it was supposed to be about eventually getting other people’s money to build a really fun media studio. That we had to put in our own money at the beginning to make it work wasn’t about scamming others or being scammed ourselves, I don’t think.

  9. TwoShort says:

    If he really meant to have the company fail, and told investors something else, that’s clearly criminal. But it’s pretty obvious he’s looking back now and thinking “long-form performance artist” sounds better than “deluded dot-com laughing-stock”. But even though I don’t believe him, there’s no theoretical reason he can’t be both. If you act like an idiot and call it art, you still acted like an idiot. And if you act like an idiot over the course of a decade, you are actually an idiot.

    If your art requires you telling me it is art, it isn’t good art.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Really it does not matter what actually occurred at the corner of Broadway Houston in a few hyperreal months at the turn of the millennium. We all will remember it differently.

    What feels great is to be a part of a psychedelic ( in the classical sense of the word) history that is being forgotten. One of many great ironies is that after the Pseudos and the Kozmos and the Webvans imploded, those SunSparc servers found their way via liquidation sales into the homes of a thousand tiny simulacrae, some of which are enjoying their own Dadaist valuations. This is one performance art piece that is without end.

  11. markbellis says:

    He doesn’t have much of a tan for someone who’s been growing coffee in Ethiopia – sure he’s not still yanking your chain and sent you a pic of himself at a botanical garden?

  12. Destiny says:

    Whoop. That should be October 5, 200.

  13. Xeni Jardin says:

    rushkoff, joel, and the other old-skoolers, thanks for weighing in.

    Whatever the truth is here, and whatever the evaluation of Josh (good/bad/sane/insane/artist/scam artist), I just wanted to add how much I, too, loved Infinity Factor, and many of the other Pseudo shows.

    they were my first experience of internet TV. I totally fell in love with them, they were the future, and I remember wishing so hard that I could do something that cool, those shows shaped the rest of my life in a huge way, influenced some of the most important career decisions I made along the way.

    Had I not seen Pseudo, I probably wouldn’t be doing BBtv today.

  14. Wit Happens says:

    How to insulate yourself from an embarrassing bubble-era failure: call it “art” and tell the world “oh, I meant to do that”.

  15. cherry shiva says:

    i know josh. this is typical retrospective hype/spin, and i’m afraid he may be shooting himself in the foot with hyperbolic self incrimination, just to get attention (again).

    pseudo was “real” in the sense that they actually existed and spent their funds on real projects, so there is no fraud per se.

    but they were “fake” in the sense that everything they did was essentially disposable and a part of josh’s momentous sense of aggrandizing self-promotion. there was no “there” there, but there was actually a lot going on there.

    no more of a fraud than any television network, or a bank charging you $3 to use an atm, for that matter.

    i thought his letter to the times could have been worded a little better to clarify his peculiar meaning of the word “fake”. like so many other capitalist ventures, pseudo wasn’t so much “fake” as it was just “shallow”. they remain significant in the history of the dotcom, and i suspect this was his essential intent and thus his claim to “art”, another term he recklessly misappropriates.

  16. Tania says:

    Bah, if the late-nineties habit of treating investor cash as your private party fund is an art form, Dennis Kozlowski is the Rembrandt and Josh Harris is merely School of. Anyway, it’s not very pretty to see Josh pretending to laugh at the people he pretends to have suckered. Pseudo was not merely an Underpants Gnomes corporation with pretensions. Pseudo was a genuinely good idea (interactive Web TV) ruined by bad management. (Also, not enough people had broadband yet, and the content was a little too free-cable-channel in tone to be convincing.) The Pseudo vision of the Web has come to pass, but other people made it happen. That said, it’s nice to see Harris in an environment that raises his chances of waking up and smelling the coffee.

  17. hep cat says:

    “Was it fair and right (or ethical?) to sacrifice Mr. Blair’s editor’s (Mr. Raines and Mr. Boyd who resigned) when the New York Times Corporation still has not met best of bread standards for vetting Jayson Blair’s reportage?”

    Would that be track 5 “It Don’t Matter to Me”
    or track 11 “Look What You’ve Done” or maybe 17 “He’s a Good Lad” or 2 “Everything I Own” ?

  18. LSK says:

    It provided s legitimate service. It had a source of income. By definition, it was a real company. It can be art too.

  19. raisedbywolves says:

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Dude starts a website that has *obvious* performance art aspects – especially in the context of the mid-90′s exploration of the Net as a new medium for art. Website fails.

    Dude goes public a decade later saying, “HAY GUYZ MY ARTY WEBSITE WAS ACTUALLY ART HA HA” and trying to link the entire thing to a years-old plagiarism scandal.

    What in g-d’s name is the point of this??

  20. DigitalHustlers says:

    That’s quite a statement. But is it really from Josh Harris? The writing is maddening — why the obsession with Jayson Blair so many years after the fact? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And when you talk about business failure vs. performance art — it’s all a matter of perspective in the end. Whatever he thinks of the company now, Pseudo performed a business function of creating video programming for a Web site. It wasn’t a very profitable business function, and that, along with profligate spending, inadequate broadband access at the time and a poor business model (add the word “user-generated” to the content model and it mighthave been YouTube) is why it’s no longer in busines. Oh, but it sure was fun. :-)

  21. rushkoff says:

    I still don’t understand the connection – and I’m not totally stupid (yet).

  22. edoran says:

    Guess the salary I made working there was all fake money, too.

  23. pspinrad says:

    Good points– “Intentional Fallacy” aside, if he wanted to make money for himself and his pals, create a great scene, and then he succeeded with all of that and later told everyone it was performance art, that would be a more interesting piece– more “Warholian.”

  24. Anonymous says:

    Hey neighbor, you know that lawn mower I borrowed and then destroyed? performance art. And that time I came home drunk and passed out on your lawn? performance art. And the mail I stole from your mailbox? performance art! Hey guess what! You’re gonna love the piece I’m working on now with your wife at the airport ramada! THAT’S performance ART!

  25. castewar says:

    Awesome – so those Koolout sessions I’ve been trying to track down for a decade aren’t “lost” or “missing”, they’re conceptual.


  26. Takuan says:

    proceeds of crime possibly?

  27. JerryColonna says:

    Folks, like Doug Rushkoff et al. I’m an old dog. Too much gray hair from those days on Broadway and such. I had three thoughts when I read this piece:
    a) I’m worried about Josh. Why does he always need to seek the attention, just when he seems to be getting better.
    b) Josh is being Josh and maybe that’s a good thing. The whole issue turns on the definition of “real company.” In Josh’s mind, I’ll bet, there ain’t a lot of companies that are “real.”
    c) Oh, wait, damn…Josh IS being Josh. The whole letter to BoingBoing and the rant about Jayson (and maybe even the gig in Africa)…THIS is the performance piece.

    And now, in writing the above, I hope Josh is reading all these comments and laughing himself silly.

  28. Dbomb says:

    If the Fatman can dine “in house” on takeout then the Little boy is obliged to attempt “gulps” of espresso in the “shit house”.

    “To want fame is to prefer dying scorned than forgotten.”, E.M. Cioran

  29. tweaked says:

    As everyone seems to be thinking, this is utter nonsense. What the hell made this a ‘fake’ company? Sure, you can do an IPO with your ‘art project’ buddies as a lark using all made-up plans and products… but once you are incorporated and you’ve got a whole bunch of products and people are buying them and investing in you… you have a REAL company, at least by the standards by which we (as nations) define such corporate entities. Even if it started as a fraud, even if it continues to be fraudulent – it’s not FAKE! This guy sounds like a douche. Enron and Worldcom aren’t considered ‘fake’ companies just because they were cooking the books and selling stock based on stuff they didn’t have. They’re just fraudulent companies, and now they’re companies that don’t exist anymore. Don’t see how this is ANY different.

  30. pspinrad says:

    #24 Anonymous– you got it! It’s just a matter of getting other people to indulge you, usually by convincing them that you’re special. The more of an asshole you can get away with being, the higher the status you’ve achieved.

  31. mdhatter says:

    I think this recent hubub is the art, a repainting of the past to make it look prettier.

  32. andymorris says:

    To Xeni’s point (#40) above and as someone who’s an old friend of Josh’s and who’s in regular–if not daily contact with Josh–I can confirm that he authored every word of his letter and that he is, in fact, in Ethiopia.

  33. Takuan says:

    second time this week someone’s reminded me of JJ Caucus

  34. ewing2001 aka testpod69 says:

    great article ;

    i am proud to have been part of this art experience too, since i already expressed in some interview with WIRED, Charles Pratt, that i saw it as some art experiment too incl. we live in public and QUIET, a pre-9/11 experiment.

    I still believe however, Josh is an Isser and the rest was MIT-AI with some 9/11 tv fakery perps like Kevin Centanni. I saw the 2nd -Nathaniel/Park Foreman hit on his big screen ;

    nico haupt aka nicointelpro aka
    aka testpod69 [during 1999-2000+]

    u will loose, we will win this time! ;

    ps: u timing smacks shill toy alert ;
    call me at warren, josh if u kewl ;

  35. cassius chaerea says:

    Usenet veterans of the 1980s will remember the “sociological experiment” excuse used by posters having been caught being especially obnoxious, trollish, or full of lies. “No, I didn’t really mean it”, whines Harris, just as his eighties counterparts did, and with as much credibility.

    I suppose Ethiopia has no extradition treaty with the United States …

  36. Xeni Jardin says:

    @DigitalHustlers, I am quite confident that this letter really did come from Josh Harris. Everything checks out. Now, while I _am_ sure he _sent_ it, I have no way of verifying whether or not he was in fact the author of every single word in the letter. But look — all of the tools I have to validate and all of my past interactions with him, everything I’ve ever read or heard from him, say: yes, it’s 100% Josh Harris.

    Anyone else here who is familiar with the man will no doubt agree.

    @Jerry Colonna, it’s really cool to see your name and your words here, after lo these many 8 or 9 years.

    And I do believe you’ve nailed it, sir.

  37. pauldrye says:

    Pseudo burned over $25 million in private and institutional capital over a span of seven years. Pseudo was a fake company.

    Unless he has documentation from the time to back this up, how its this indistinguishable from fraud?

    Hell, even if he does how is it indistinguishable from fraud-in-which-the-fraudster-has-come-up-with-a-novel-way-of-covering-his-ass?

  38. Enochrewt says:

    I’m going to start conning elderly people out of their pensions and retirement monies and calling it “Performance Art”

    This guy is sick (and not from the fever). He got away with a huge scam, but he misses the media attention so he’s drumming it up himself.

    Can we get some ninjas on the case please?

  39. Joel Johnson says:

    I’m just here to mention how much I, too, enjoyed Infinity Factor.

  40. Takuan says:

    I’ve long felt the stock market is primarily a amusement park ride where people purchase a short time of feeling like they are participating in their economic fate.

  41. Beryllium says:

    Fraud writ large as “conceptual performance art”? Interesting. There’s a phrase to describe that viewpoint:


  42. TheDorkReport says:

    Like Rushkoff above, this all comes as a surprise to me as well!

    I was there, so I can attest that Pseudo was “real” in so far that it had regular employees, sitting behind desks, computers, cameras, and studio mixing desks doing actual work for pay, with benefits. If I was a pawn in someone’s conceptual art piece, well, it’s a bullet point in my resume, man.

    In a way, however, it’s nice to see Pseudo back in the news. It was a great talking point for me in job interviews right after it imploded, but these days it’s hard to find someone who’s heard of it.

  43. Anonymous says:

    That’s pretty funny. I worked for Pseudo, did a couple websites for them. While they may not have made any money, they did some kick ass stuff. I was especially fond of their online dj shows, really good drum&bass. There offices in Soho were sick. They had a full size basketball court in there. Also threw some great parties. So even if they “failed” as a company, they succeeded in spending their money with imagination and pleasure.

  44. Takuan says:

    no, that was Enron

  45. pahool says:

    Sounds like a bit of sour grapes to me. Everyone was grabbing venture capital willy-nilly, often without any real clear concept of how they would actually make money. Hell, it was free money! And everyone was hoping that there concept would somehow become profitable in the long run. Calling it “conceptual art” ten years later sounds like he’s just making excuses for what ultimately amounted to a failed business venture. “If I rationalize it as ‘conceptual art’ then it sounds like a success rather than a failure. Yay, me!”

    I loved because I got to watch/listen to “Infinity Factory” which kicked ass over everything that Metzger or has ever done since. (If anyone has old Infinity Factory episodes, I WANT EM!)

    P.S. Does anyone else find “after the jump” to be an annoyingly overused bit of blog lingo (blingo?) erk.

  46. technogeek says:

    Second the “WTF” reaction to scam as performance art. It’s not actually insane… just completely immoral. Which a scammer is anyway, by definition.

    Re #3: Stock market SPECULATION is very definitely a gambling game run by pros for pros. Like any such, if you don’t see the sucker at the table, that means you’re the sucker. If you don’t have the knowledge and time and skill to avoid getting taken, don’t try it.

    Stock market INVESTMENT is a different matter. That approach means you’re riding with the pros rather than trying to beat them, and you’re working with a long enough time scale and a diversified enough portfolio than errors and manipulations tend to even out. It does mean settling for “only” market-rate-of-return… but chasing more means you’re likely to wind up with less, not to mention having higher overhead costs.

    (Possibly interesting detail: Stock charting services were not allowed to claim that their products had any real value. Their advertising has always been very carefully worded as “the information you want” — which by definition is true or you wouldn’t be buying it — rather than information you need.)

  47. reviewstew says:

    I assume there is more to this story? (I don’t know anything about the history) … because I don’t see exactly what makes this “guy founds internet startup, later goes bankrupt” story so noteworthy. Just the fact that he’s retroactively saying “I meant to do that”?

  48. hep cat says:

    “Pseudo was a fake company.”

    Well DUH..

    That’s why it was called Pseudo. Shared a building with Jeff Koons and Mark Kostabi , both masters of the genuine fake , I am not really and artist and this isn’t really art.

    They should have just called it the liar’s paradox building. you know the whole “I am a liar. Thus, I am telling a lie. Thus, I am not a liar. Thus, I am telling a truth. Thus…”

    If he said it was a real company , then I’d get suspicious.

    Now if he can convince people that the whole thing was an art project , then maybe the stock certificates will be worth as much as say a stainless steel balloon

  49. Ernunnos says:

    Sociopath. Thing of it is, they’re never content to just take the money and run. It’s the game that makes them feel. They do not stop until they’re dead or locked up, and will even try to run their scams from prison if given the means. That’s why he’s writing this, and there will be a new angle soon. Maybe we’ll start to see more believable 419s from Ethiopia.

  50. username says:

    OK, he’s questioning whether NYT acted ethically while explaining that he defrauded investors out of millions of dollars as “an elaborate piece of performance art”. Somehow that’s ethical?

  51. tomic says:

    I don’t get it; I think I’m missing something here, seriously.

    What does this guy’s theft of investor money have to do with a discredited journalist? Why should I care about this clearly untrustworthy nutjob’s opinions?

    All this yammer about NYT ethical followups — well duh, the as-yet-un-found ramifications of bad journalists is the REASON for the embarrassment.

    Flush this guy, let’s move on. They a**hole bought a farm probably stolen from a bunch of poor people, with stolen money. I wish a plague of locusts on him.

  52. Jenonymous says:

    *Sigh* As a Silicon Alley veteran who also went to many Pseudo events–and sat in and participated in some of the early “Silicon Alley Reporter” “netradio” broadcasts from there–I call bullshit on this story.

    It’s sad that after all the money that he’s made, and all the money he helped other people loose, Josh still feels the need to jump back in front of the camera.

    People also forget that another business that he was associated with, Jupiter Communications, cranked out bullshit inflated “business analysis” numbers for quite some time. They’re still in business, but not before they (and a million other pie in the sky fake statistics-cranking companies) helped burst the dotcom bubble.

  53. rushkoff says:

    Well this is news to me.

    Pseudo was my single investment. I put an entire book payment in there – back when I was single and reckless – because Josh called me and said he was doing me a favor and wanted me to make some money off the net for a change. I thought I was the silly artist who didn’t know how to actually earn a living, and Josh was the smart guy who started Jupiter.

    I find it hard to believe he’d have intentionally defrauded me with an art project – not when I was (and am) so very much poorer than him.

    I think more likely he saw Pseudo a bit like eToy – an art project and a hack of corporate culture that would nonetheless pay off for those of us playing there, doing shows, and experimenting with streaming media. And for some with great shows – Jason Calacanis, Richard Metzger to name just two – it really did in the long run.

    In any case, I can’t bring myself to believe he intentionally went bankrupt, and I doubt that’s what he means to say here.

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