Tag Archives: reality

Final Fantasy

On February 23, 2008, close to 200 volunteers flushed, at coordinated intervals, every toilet and urinal at newly built Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., to ensure the pipes could handle the load.

Imagine a moment when everyone in the world with a cellphone sent each other a smiley face emoji at the same time—not to test the limits of all the networks, just for shits and giggles. Put yourself in that micro-second between everyone hitting send in unison and the possibility that no one would remain on the planet afterwards to respond. Are we not right now suspended between the fantasy of synchronized global suicide and its fulfillment via technology?

Humans are all equal before the Law of Communication. We’re compelled to send and receive information—useless information. In fact the more useless, the better. Just do it. Just speak.

Technology actualizes every possibility. If our ultimate wish is to destroy reality, technology will make it happen.

The most efficient way to eliminate reality is to realize every fantasy. Realizing every fantasy, however, destroys the symbolic power of fantasy itself. We’re left with a literal translation of every metaphor, a logical explanation for every random thought. No more latent content to our dreams–every secret must be dragged out of our minds like a false confession and streamed “as is” in real time. Data infestations, digital plagues: such is our new manifest destiny.

The most radical message left for us is to say nothing at all.

Until then imagine a moment when everyone on the planet with a cellphone refused, at the same time, to send a text. Or a moment when everyone on the planet flushed a cellphone down a toilet. Dream up a fantasy so spectacular it threatens to end the world and then, for the sake of fantasy, make sure it never happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy

The Nine Billion Names Of God

In The Perfect Crime Jean Baudrillard references Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Nine Billion Names of God” to set up his critique of virtual reality and our desire to actualize the world in its totality.

Clarke’s story centers on a group of Tibetan monks who for centuries have been transcribing with great care the nine billion names of God. Logging the final name, we’re told, will trigger the end of the world.

It’s a tiresome task so the monks call in technicians from IBM. Computers finish the job in a few months.

On page 27 of The Perfect Crime Baudrillard describes man’s fate: “As they walk back down into the valley, the technicians, who did not really believe in the prophecy, are aghast to see the stars going out one by one.”

I believe the monks not only knew their project would end the world but actively wished for it.

The rise of IBM and its solution-focused IT professionals facilitated a quicker exit. Computers relieved the monks of their duties. Ethics and the Middle Way no match for algorithms and HTML.

Computers relieve us all from the burden of being human. Tools for the realization of every fantasy, computers fulfill our secret wish to disappear. Social media posts serving as our collective suicide note.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops communicate for us, but not necessarily on our behalf. “I’ll text you,” we say, as if the text creates you—a “you” we never meet. If the medium is the message, today the message is singular: “Show me your text and I’ll show you mine.”

In the valley of the shadow of tech we are all monks—all “IBMers”—exchanging the pleasure of face-to-face interaction for the stupor of screen-to-screen manipulation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy

Critical Theory

I find myself attracted to art that might be labeled “depressing.” Sometimes I fear I’m simply indulging my illness, looking for verification of the thought: “Life sucks and then you die.” In my sadness, the theory goes, I long for the sadness of others. Perhaps I’d be better off listening to Joel Osteen or binge-watching Little House on the Prairie.

At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy modernist, I believe that art can change the world. This doesn’t mean paint puppies, rainbows and butterflies. Authentic art depicts things as they are, exposes them as being socially constructed rather than natural, and suggests alternative paths to freedom.

A big part of my depression involves my tendency to be self-critical. I’m always looking to improve, sometimes to the point of exhausting myself in the mythical pursuit of Perfection. My internal critique extends outward, into social and political spheres. I’m not content with accepting things at face value. I ask questions and search for inconsistencies between what people claim to believe and how they act.

I’m attracted to “depressing” art not because I’m looking for an alibi for my sadness, but instead because I’m unhappy with the status quo and want to uproot entrenched cultural assumptions. It goes beyond my depression or the somber nature of contemporary art.

It’s life that’s tragic. It’s life that’s unkind.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Life, Philosophy, Politics

A Dark Night

Some observations on the Batman movie massacre two days ago:

It’s clear the line between reality and fantasy is quickly disappearing. When the smoke bombs went off and the gunfire started, moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado at first thought the activity in their theater was a publicity stunt related to the show. That it took a moment for reality to sink in is not a surprise. Beyond being unable to comprehend the chaos around them, the spectators (as do all of us in our media-saturated culture) simply couldn’t distinguish between simulation and flesh-and-blood experience. In America today, where the Image has superseded the Real, even death seems staged, except when people are dying all around you.

***

Some opportunistic moralists out there might use this event as another example of violent forms of entertainment making people violent. But the potential for violence exists in all of us, regardless of our obedience to civility or the Greater Good. Deft filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (of the latest Batman trilogy) know this, and they market violence-laden movies to a general public that is willing to pay big bucks for the cathartic release of its inner rage. Most of us don’t shoot randomly at innocent people at the local cinema, but for those who carry out such terrible acts, their reasons for pulling the trigger are more complex than being a Dark Knight fanatic.

***

How long will it take the mainstream media to accept the everywhere-everyday quality of social media? I found both local and national newscasts running stories about the reporting of the story of the Aurora, Colorado Massacre via the cell phone cameras and Qwerty keyboards of people on the scene. Some stations posted Tweets from the shooting site. We saw videos of victims covered in blood being rushed from the theater to safety and medical attention. But the impact of social media is nothing new in 2012. Either the major networks are excited about Joe Citizen helping them deliver the news or they’re singling out Twitter and Facebook and YouTube, etc. as the dreaded Other of broadcast journalism. Regardless, stories about how stories are coming in to the station are overplayed and often induce a “yeah, so what?” response from experienced “breaking news” viewer-creators.

1 Comment

Filed under Philosophy, Politics

Better Than The Real Thing?

Movies show aspects of real life to us in artificial forms. We see a couple falling in love on the big screen, for example, and it reminds us of meeting someone with whom we once had—or maybe still have—a deep connection. In a very powerful way, movies reflect slices of personal experiences we’ve accumulated for years.

Once we get used to the interpretative process of movie-watching, though, we begin noticing patterns and start making connections between multiple films. Suddenly how we viewed love as it was presented to us in “Good Will Hunting” gets compared to its depiction in “The Artist.”

Every film with a love angle sets us up for our next viewing wherein our concepts of love will be challenged or upheld. The act of seeing “The Artist,” originally a trigger of associations, becomes an association in itself, a story we recall in pieces while watching “The Descendants” a week later.

Some unfortunate folks take their entertainment seriously, pursuing romantic relationships based on movie characters and plots, further blurring the line between fantasy and reality.

The complexity of this mostly unconscious phenomenon leads to larger philosophical questions. Were our earliest ideas regarding love purely ours? Was there ever a point during which our thoughts about love appeared to us in non-mediated forms?

As the credits roll, we’re left dumbfounded, sitting in silence. What is love, after all, in a world where it can be simulated, staged and sold for ten bucks a ticket?

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Life, Philosophy, Politics