By Troy Williams
Hyper fictionauts rush to escape the entropy of the Real. Surveillance Spectacles thrive in the service of Fascist Ravers. Sexless 3D simulation engorged by liquid light hallucinations. Sci-fi liberation cosmology uploaded with sentient ISO-morphic algorithms.
A dark depression descended over me while watching TRON LEGACY. The total sensory overload delighted every neural pathway – but I couldn’t help question if the intended narrative could liberate either mind or body? And further, is it ever worthwhile to look to Hollywood to deliver a fallen civilization?
We’ve watched cyber-punk saviors in The Matrix. We’ve hailed the eco-liberation narrative of Avatar. But no one cares to bring liberation out of the theatre and into the streets. Cinematic narratives of pop-rebellion have yet to generate commensurate social movements. But regardless we go, we cheer and we buy the Blu-Ray DVD. We remain entranced by the spectacle/devoured by the hologram. Fractal replications of individuated consciousness. TRON celebrates digital rebellion while simultaneously mesmerizing the audience into the hallucination of Disney corporate sorcery. To what end? Thirteen dollars and a wicked IMAX experience.
Outside, away from the theatre our world appears dark and dull. We are still slaves to economic servitude. Entranced, overwhelmed and co-opted by the Simulacra. Mundane concerns about escalating rates of global poverty seem somehow…irrelevant. Worries about extreme weather shifts and cataclysmic climate change? Meh.
I covet my own freedom fighter avatar in fetish future chic.
We are citizens of “The Empire of Illusions” as described by journalist Chris Hedges. America Inc. has transferred its allegiance to spectacle and pseudo-events. We can no longer discern what is real and what is illusion. We confuse propaganda with ideology (and entertainment). Hedges warns us that all totalitarian governments thrive within image-based societies. We fight fictional wars with real soldiers (and can I add, rejoice with incomprehensible revelry when queer people are given the opportunity to bleed and die for the non-truths that fuel every war).
“The flight into self-delusion is no more helpful in solving real problems than alchemy. But it is very effective in keeping people from questioning the structures around them that are responsible for your misery.” (Hedges, 119-120) **
But the heavy oppression – the restrictions and exclusions – the tight controls that cry for liberation are mostly economic. The Wall Street collusion with Washington DC – the upward redistribution of wealth to the rich and powerful – the disregard for the poor and working class. It’s the game. We don’t resist. We can’t reset. Protests don’t matter. Elections won’t deliver. We remain passive slaves to the Corporate Age – our new dark era of legalized fictional rule. 3D spectacles transport us into the manufactured vistas of our new epoch. Only the spectacles can hide us from the dark horrors of reality: Corporate War. Corporate Soldiers. Corporate News. Corporate Religion. Corporate Profits. Corporate Queers.
We are enthralled by imaginary virtual rebels who challenge fictive authority; while the real radicals are co-opted into mere marketable images; Harvey Milk absorbed onto coffee mugs, tote bags and snow-globes. There are dangers in confusing activism with consumerism. The HRC’s creative director boasts, “Each tourist who goes in to buy a Harvey Milk T-shirt or an HRC tote bag is a potential activist!” You’ve got to sell them hope.
Prophets of another reality come and go – absorbed, ignored (or killed) by the state; John Lennon. Edward Abbey. Noam Chomsky. Ralph Nader. Audre Lorde, Howard Zinn, Naomi Klein. Izzy Stone. Roseanne Barr. Michael Moore. Riane Eisler, Amy Goodman, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick.
They, and so many others described life under corporate rule. They documented mass inequalities and social injustice. They crafted alternative narratives. We didn’t listen.
Our dystopian future has arrived. The Washington Post reports that Top Secret America now employs “hand-held, wireless fingerprint scanners”, “biometric digital mug shots” and “Predator drones” deployed on the Mexican and Canadian borders. Weapons of foreign wars now patrol American streets. The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI collect massive databases on ordinary Americans who may have never committed a crime.
Now we face a global information super-war. The new digital rebels and hactivists harness the arsenal tech to defy the corporate state. But not without costs. Julian Assange faces life in prison. Bradley Manning, (another courageous queer soldier) now quarantined in extreme conditions for exposing the fictions of war. There are risks to rebellion. There are dangers in challenging the hologram’s awful lies.
While data-collectors are recording and monitoring our lives, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and trans-humanist CEOs are preparing to reshape our cultural DNA with new government “start-up countries”, computers wired to human brains and technology that triumphs over aging. Utopian fantasies abound for the rich and famous. We all seem to be on an uncontrollable collective collision course with tomorrow. But given our yesterday, why should we believe that a corporate controlled future will be a benevolent guardian?
“We must prepare for the violence of a civilization without secrets.” warned the late post-modernist Jean Baudrillard.
America is a dying. But not without magnificent spectacles to keep us enthralled as the nation burns wild around us. It’s going to get worse. It’s going to be more violent. And while our civilization devolves into certain chaos the spectacle will grow even more spectacular.
As we struggle to make sense of our rapidly transforming world I look forward to a new generation of anarchists, socialists and heretics. I wonder what new narratives of resistance will thrive in the 21st Century. Will our artists, musicians, filmmakers, activists and poets be able to succeed where others have failed? Will they have the power to actually transform society? Will they show us how to embrace our humanity in its raw, visceral and liberated form?
Will we recognize them when they appear among us?
I turn my attention to the immediate world around me. Salt Lake City. Home to friends, artists, thinkers and rebels. Here is where I offer my resistance. Surrounded by the mountains I love. Defiant, determined and strong. Our future is still being crafted. I hold the possibility that humanity as a whole may yet surprise us.
original photography by David Newkirk
** Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, by Chris Hedges