Where to start? Where to start ever? It’s all cyclical anyway. “a last a loved a long the… riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s” and so on. Today I had one of those moments of enlightenment where I saw the world as being chaotic, jumbled, confusing, and incoherent. I had two sources prodding me to write today: the experience of watching the disappointing History Channel show UFO Hunters, and reading Chris Turner’s intriguing tome Planet Simpson. Now, I’m slightly drowsy, so this might all come out entirely incoherent, but that’s the way I like it. My thoughts (more or less):
Turner’s book makes me think about questions and problems that repeatedly come back to plague me, inevitably, as facts of life in the part of time and space I happen to occupy. I want to live life as a creative person and none of us has a choice about when we’re born. And beyond that, it’s thrilling to live in an age where… well, all this shit happens. Let’s confront some of these facts-of-new-life: for one thing, in 2009+, I think that media studies (i.e., my field of study) is the place to be. Lot of reasons for this. One is that, well, we people of this new age that’s dawning tend to learn, process, think, and understand our world and our selves through media.
When we were born roughly 20 + or – years ago, the Internet was just gradually coming into being. It had not yet insinuated itself into the technological mainstream. In 2009, I don’t know if a day has passed in college that I haven’t used the Internet or a computer. It’s fucking invaded every aspect of our lives. But we can’t escape. The world has permanently changed; it’s different now. Maybe we’re headed to a technological singularity. Maybe people can study this from a computer science, political science, sociology, or history standpoint. Me? I look at it in terms of media. So I feel like I’m in the right place, intellectually. When I was interviewed for the yearbook in my senior year of high school, I said that in 5 years I saw myself “on the cutting edge of something.” I have 3 more years to accomplish this goal. I, like everyone else, have this unquenchable thirst to do something new. But it’s a brave new world we’re inhabiting, of our own (collective) design. And it’s hard to wrap your head around. One thing I know for sure? I need to watch the other 2 movies in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy. Koyaanisqatsi is a masterpiece of coming to grips with our strange breed of modernity. Trying to reconcile the natural world and our place as part of it with the synthetic nature of computing technology. (Why am I saying this? I’m not going to break any new ground, probably. But at least I’m coming to grips with all this shit for myself.)
Considering this topic, I thought of a few major subtopics: the Industrial Revolution (which has been on my mind a lot recently for some reason). Postmodernity. Globalization. And again, the Internet. I have no real interest in being on the cutting edge of anything really high-tech. I just want to light out for the territories like Huck Finn, wherever these territories are, and then seek out new life and new civilizations, like Capts. Kirk & Picard. When did the Industrial Revolution take place? Mid-to-late 19th century, if high school history textbooks are to be believed? Think of everything that’s changed since then. My beloved movies? All of them are post-Industrial Revolution. I was thinking about this: mass. The masses. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” – Henry David Thoreau. Mass production, mass-marketing, mass media, mass murder. The approach to large quantities of human beings, lumped together as a “mass” – prior to the 19th century, human beings couldn’t be economically targeted by corporations as if with heat-seeking missiles. Now they sure as hell can.
And consider another subtopic that plays into my media obsession: visions of the future. Futurology, and Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, which I once owned 3-4 copies of in different colors but only read small bits of (collectibility of intellectual material? Oh, brother…), and The Jetsons, which I watched an episode of earlier today: “Viva Las Venus” was far from the show’s peak, but at the same time, I think it illuminates something about the phoniness of the show’s futuristic visions. I joked about how someone should point out how the Jetsons’ world is really an Orwellian dystopia. George and Jane drop off the kids from the upper atmosphere down to their relatives in the United States (which is never shown). In this far-future world, the “ground” of earth is never once shown or trod upon. Has mankind forgotten how to walk? It’s an unrealistic vision – George’s car seems to be powered by about as like a source as Fred Flinstone’s feet; there is no energy crisis in the Jetsons’ world, but the ability to freely move about the solar system – as long as you stay within two lanes, apparently. Why are there highways in outer space? The Jetsons wasn’t big on answering such obvious questions. It relied heavily on the suspension of both disbelief and natural curiosity. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good show; it was just as entertaining as any 1960s cartoon sitcom, I guess. But I think how Hanna-Barbera viewed the world to come reveals something about all of our expectations. Especially since, if you ask someone about a cultural representation of the future, they’re just as likely to say “The Jetsons,” as anything. They think of the motorized treadmills that serve as George’s every sidewalk, and of course of Rosie, the sassy robot maid. Sassy? A little sour taste of humanity to give us something to sympathize with. Robot? Technology, wave of the future, sentient AI – glory of glories. And maid? Even amidst the suspended space-bound platforms that form the Jetsons’ humble abode, someone must be condemned to a life of servitude. Otherwise, no work would get done. Rosie’s just another one of the wonders of technology. Consider that: she’s a wonder of the machine age, yet she must be a she, and endowed with a personality. And what of HAL and that computer from the movie Demon Seed? Apparently we just have to give humanoid speech patterns to our machinery. So, what does The Jetsons teach us? God, I have no idea; maybe that the people of the 1960s wanted to see their lifestyles transplanted into a glittery, slightly easier World of Tomorrow where they still have to slave for The Man (Mr. Spacely) and suffer through empty bourgeois lives (that’s you, George Jetson), but at least they had mechanized sidewalks. Thank God for that.
What was I even talking about? I was contemplating whether the Industrial Revolution led to the advent of advertising as we know it. The large corporations, after all, naturally view the large media that were born as, if nothing else, an excellent way to transmit messages about their product. Thus commercials were born. Think of the word commercial – it’s one of those funny little adjectives-turned-nouns. Do I doth dissect too much, probing into the deeper meanings of words as if that’ll tell us something about the broader world? Sure. Sure as hell I do. But if there’s anything my time in college so far has taught me, it’s that one essential piece of (over)analysis, to produce any meaningful results, is close reading (or viewing, depending). All I’m doing is some close reading of the language we speak now. As I was: commercials. Noun form of the adjective “commercial.” Which means? Pertaining to commerce. So a commercial is some tidbit relating to commerce. Commerce… Commerce Blvd. was the name of the main road through Mound, where I sadly hail from. Towns like to encourage commerce. Commerce, trade, exchange, the busyness of business. The point is? Commercials are inherently trying to sell you shit. One way or another, every single commercial must at its heart be saying: INSERT $$$. It’s a pretty fundamental message. All my talk about the Industrial Revolution makes me think of anarcho-primitivist, mathematician, and murderous terrorist Ted Kaczynski, whom you may know better as the Unabomber, whose infamous manifesto had something or other to do with the Industrial Revolution. I, however, do not advocate mailing bombs to people. Hand delivery gives it that personal feel. (Black humor? Yes. Advocating terrorism? Not quite. Insensitivity to victims? Ask again later.)
I guess my big point is one that, as I said earlier, has plagued me and plagues all of us. Dilemma: I want to create [something beautiful for others to enjoy]; however, living in the year AD 2009, it feels like it’s all been done already over and over and over again. Our output now is reduced to copies-of-copies-of-copies. And worse yet, everyone’s an artist (everyone’s a superhero; everyone’s a Captain Kirk) so we’re all simultaneously trying to unearth that last New Idea in a big frenzied struggle that plays out over all media – television, film, music, books, and of course as always, the motherfucking Internet. There’s Google. Wikipedia. YouTube. The websites no one can live without because they’re so damn universal and they alter our perception of reality – any image or knowledge is a few keystrokes away. But that’s another blog (self-restraint?). Hell, this fucking blog itself is an example. I’m repeating myself and countless others all trying to puzzle out the nature of the media in a rapidly-changing, insane, technomaniacal world torn from the pages of William Gibson (or maybe I’d say that, if I’d ever read any of his work); it’s just all kind of, well, like gazing up at the sky and stumbling backwards and getting dizzy. How am I any different than anyone else; how can I assert my identity? It’s harder to do when all culture and knowledge is thrown together in a frantic virtual melange that turns every string of art or education into one worldwide pastiche. And imagine if you will that as of now, no children will be born who have not heard of the Internet, or likely even used it on a regular basis. Is this good? Bad? Neutral? How the hell should I know? I’m just trying to get a vague idea of what the fuck is going on.
A concluding note: I listened to Nena’s 99 Red Balloons after linking to it, and it reminded me that German women have sexy voices, especially when singing. And I think of Marlene Dietrich, and Nina Hagen, the Germanic influence (via Grass, Brecht, Weill, et al) on Amanda Palmer, and the beautiful, self-possessed Franka Potente from Lola rennt (potentially a postmodern masterpiece itself, and very relevant to this discussion). Falling in love again, wha am I to do? I can’t help it…
(I didn’t get a chance to write about UFO Hunters. Maybe later. This was a fun entry to write. But as always I bite off more than I can chew. I’ll try to correct this in the future.)