This year’s slate of Super Bowl ads indicate two trends: 1) a continued lack of imagination among the highest paid “creatives” in the world, and 2) a backlash against environmental activism. These Super Bowl ads were decidedly conservative by recycling standard demographic tropes to shore up the shrinking ego of the persecuted male species. This has been the long-standing approach of torch-bearer Bud Light, which perfected the art of celebrating the isolated, addicted male in defiance of the over-bearing power of women and community. What is new this year is transmuting this “abusive authority” into the guise of ecological consciousness.
Case study number one is the “Green Police” ads by Audio, which couches its anti-PC message in ironic humor, thereby softening the seriousness of its subtext. It confirms the fears that environmental regulation will result in a police state, and turns anyone who cares about the environment into a potential fascist. While we may laugh at such cartoony fears (it’s only a joke, right?), the Rush Limbaugh crowd takes them very seriously.
(It’s not an illegitimate protest. From an eco-justice point of view, the threat of global regulations forced upon local populations is real, but in the latter case the concern is that corporate interests will hijack environmental rhetoric in the service of obliterating local autonomy in the same way that trade liberalization promoted by the WTO has done.)
Here Audi defends the rich white male’s perceived loss of autonomy and his right to be a jerk. My particular peeve against Audi is based on personal experience in Europe where Audi drivers across the board are the most arrogant and dangerous exemplars of the tragedy of commons (for example, watch this ad). On highways one must be in constant alert of Audis rushing at jet fighter speed, lest your leisurely Sunday afternoon drive through the Tuscan countryside ends in a pile of crushed steel, bones and shattered glass.
The paranoia exhibited by Audi plays into the general meme that government regulation of corporate abuses will translate into socialist totalitarianism. Say “Green Police” ten times fast and you may end up with “Greenpeace.”
Call this a backlash shot across the bough of environmental activism. Green consciousness becomes the work of thought police.
Case study number two comes from Bud Lite, which (yawn) sticks to its failsafe storyline. In it Bud Lite’s primary target audience (those possessed by an inner 13-year-old “mook“) must retreat to their boys-only (stripper exception clause allowed) playhouse to take cover from moralistic authorities (women) who condemn their innocent behavior. But now the right to secrecy, addiction and misogyny is threatened by ecological activism. In this ad, rather than a house being built of recycled beer cans (which excites a young female foil), its owners have constructed a living refrigerator, without realizing, however, that symbolically it’s also a morgue.
Case Study number three is the Budweiser bridge. The only thing surprising about this ad is how it blatantly demeans humans as mere slaves to their corporate overlord. In this case, people are willing to let the truck (a symbolic container of the Budweiser corporate brand) drive over their backs. So while the previous ads play into people’s fears of losing individual freedom to ethical constraints, here people voluntarily become the servomechanism of corporate power and control. How’s that for ironic Super Bowl humor!
With 2012 Roland Emmerich has crafted a perfectly pitched disaster film. I don’t mean “perfect” in the sense of meaningful art, but in the ultimate mega-zeitgeist sense that it captures so much about our current historical moment. We can think of this film in same way that Leni Riefenstahl‘s Olympia or Triumph of the Will encapsulated the Nazi gestalt, or how a perfectly executed Pepsi ad embodies all the secret recipes of global capitalism’s deranged view of the world.
Emmerich is a pop genius. In one flick he combined the entire ’70s genre of catastrophe films while riffing some of the top grossing films of all time: Titanic, Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure, Airport, Towering Inferno, and of course he recycles his own global warming saga, The Day After Tomorrow, and his other hits, Godzilla and Independence Day.
So to think about this movie you have to toss out what ever idea you have that this is about 2012 in any remote way. This movie is not about consciousness transformed or reborn. Rather, the Mayans, along with the film’s actors, are mere props for the film’s main character: computer generated animation exploding on a spectacular scale.
Movies on this magnitude are nothing less than fragments from the dream life of global capital, or what I call the World System. Thus, to get at the film’s deeper meaning, we have to take it for what it is: an out of body flight through the corporate dream world’s restless vision of collapse. Recalling that a “corporation” is a kind of abstract “body,” are we not vicariously flying through the World System’s hyperspace POV? Films, ads, and commercial culture depict escape from our bodies, banishing the earth spirits so that we can become angels, and this film lifts us like no other.
The runway for our departure was created with linear perspective and its vanishing point during the Renaissance. Just beyond the horizon lies utopia and the space shuttle launch pad. Now that we are in full orbit, flying outside of our traumatized obese/anorexic bodies, we feel this strange jitter like maybe something has been left behind. We look back at earth, but our flight careens through cascading buildings with shattered glass spraying the horizon, smoke billowing from the severed earth, bridges twisting and bending, monster sounds eminating from the bowls of the planet’s interior. This is no healing dream of drifting voyage, but one of distress and angst, a roller coaster of tension and release that can no longer be satisfied by bodiless sex. This is how hungry ghosts mindfuck.
As we witness spectacular CGI destruction of LA, Las Vegas, Hawaii, Washington DC, The Vatican and so on, in 2012 almost always we are treated to a bird’s eye view as our gaze flies through one disaster zone after another. If it’s not airplanes it’s a subway, limo, RV, or boat hurtling over and through cracked earth. But unlike our personal dreams of flight, which often are about expanded consciousness, freedom and release, our mechanical cocoon–the airplane–comes to incorporate an armor against technological and scientific death. Yet, airplanes also are the most common symbol of civilization’s failure to keep us safe. One plane accident is a blip compared to how many people die each year from car travel, yet our most haunting traumas come from aircraft catastrophes. Consider how the Hindenburg’s ashes smolder in our unconsciousness, or why 9/11 is one of the most potent symbols of terror in our lifetime.
Like Day After Tomorrow, 2012′s social commentary is scattered like fuselage wreckage. The G8 steers the global economy and sets the economic tone in which Hollywood’s business is the producing consciousness. Likewise, in 2012 the G8 comes to represent a limited view of the the global consensus. This is no different than current news reporting from Copenhagen that mistakenly calls the leaders of the globe’s top grossing capitalist bureaucracies “the world,” or how we internalize the behavior of a corrupt military industrial complex as the work of “our” democracy. Neither represent “us.” So when it comes to the film’s Malthusian lifeboat metaphor (leaders have foreknowledge of impending world destruction and only a limited capacity to save the population), G8 leaders sell cabins of the mega-luxury ocean liners that will be civilization’s arks for one billion euros a piece, the rest are left for the “genetically fit.” Only the humble presidents of the US and Italy (you can hear the Italians snicker at this odd detail) stay behind to be with “their” people. These acts of humility notwithstanding, when the Vatican and the White House are simultaneously destroyed by earthquake and tsunami, we secretly take pleasure in seeing the old order destroyed. The shot in which a crack predictably separates Adam and God’s fingers in the Sistine Chapel is the final breach between the old system’s churches and the cinema that takes over as our primary house of worship.
Recall the poetic justice in Day After Tomorrow when the US has to relocate its government to Mexico, and that it’s the southern neighbors who save selfish Americans from eminent destruction. In 2012 the greedy Russian mafiosa dies (of course!), but so too does the Indian scientist who was responsible for discovering the impending planetary disaster. He dies with his family because there’s no room for him or his brood on the high tech arks designed to weather the pole shift and tectonic plate shifts. In fact, so many people die in this film with such vivid detail, one is left a bit numb and immune to it by the end. In this respect, it’s hard to see the poetry.
We live in a risk society that has the duel nature of offering us protection while simultaneously creating more peril. This tension has to be constantly resolved, with media serving as a particularly good balm for containing our fear of disaster and contigency. Film gives us the catharsis necessary to nervously laugh off the truly scary dangers that are the result of human actions, not acts of gods (at least the organic ones). But in the film, the very megamachine that threatens the planetary biosphere is what saves humanity. I don’t think it’s without irony that the only way the arks–or spaceships for planet earth–can be built in secret and so quickly is by the one society that so perfectly symbolizes the ideal of the megamachine: China. What else has the power to relocate populations and marshal the forces of massive bureaucracy, global capital and corruption to build such high tech asylums. Like the sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica, these ships are an advanced technological life support systems that can sustain us in a homeless universe, and they can only be made by a cyborg-like society with people as its mechanistic components.
Ultimately the film pits a cipher for humanity–an African American scientist–against a technocratic bureaucrat who is responsible for overseeing the lifeboat project (American commanded and Chines built, no less). Emmerich can’t help but eat his bioengineered cake: the technocrats are assholes, but they save us anyways. We just have to bite the bullet while they engineer our way out of this apocalyptic mess.
As I awaited for the sunset and kiss to conclude the film, it came but not without an additional penultimate Western resolution. In the end the megamachine delivers the protagonists like a bunch of Nazis fleeing to South America with their collection of European art masterpieces and dreams of genetic fitness, but this time it’s Africa, ready to be re-colonized again and to become a playground for domination and imperial fantasies launched from the decks of the ocean liner fortresses. Don’t be fooled by the cast’s multicolored skin hues, this is nothing less then a narrative of monocultural salvation. After all, with arks, floods, earthquakes and god’s wrath, is this not a Biblical tale of purification updated for the 21st century?
We zoom out to see a planet transformed, not by cosmic alignment as the slight of hand would like us to believe, but by the world eaters whose CGI teeth have bitten a huge chunk off of the African continent, its gaping wound now swallowed by a world reconfigured by alchemists of abstraction. While not explicitly stated, is it not the alien point of view that is finally offered to us, a view in which we look down upon the world as utterly strange and unreal?
Did I enjoy the film? Immensely. Intercourse with the World System has to be pleasurable, otherwise we wouldn’t mindmold with it. Blockbuster films are contemporary religious incantations to praise the gods’ work in order to justify and reward our labor, and to feed the machine. But they’re not monolithic either. Films like this have enormous benefit because they allow us to creep around the mind of the World System to see how it thinks. But it also comes with a warning sticker: be mindful of this entertainment, for it can call forth even greater dreams of annihilation. And after this massive barrage of destruction tropes, only the obliteration of the universe could top it, and that would make movie going moot.
“Earth, a dream we’ve been chasing for a long time.”–Admiral Adama
So concludes one of the greatest epic runs of sci-fi on TV: Battlestar Galactica (reimagined). Ripe with sci-fi’s prime directive to comment not on the future, but the present reality, like its cult-like progenitor Star Trek, BSG was rich in allegory, philosophy, and literary references. A sure sign of this is the how BSG generated a cottage industry of fan Websites, books, podcasts, Webisodes, fan films, chats and wikis that manifested all the positives of the current convergence media environment. By leveraging the collective intelligence and participatory components of the contemporary pop commons, BSG illuminated a vast zeitgeist embedded in the historical tension between humans and their technological tools. The show was a kind of conjuring of the collective unconsciousness, with the producers acting as media alchemists distilling cultural properties like mad mediacologists hermeneutically absorbed by the world’s pop culture dream code.
In the digital media class I teach we have been talking about the “consumer sublime,” which is the idea that people seek increasingly more stimulating media to “awe” their senses in the same way we once encountered the sublime within nature. The clearest example is comparing the experience of going into the Grand Canyon versus watching an IMAX movie on the canyon’s edge (yes, it’s possible). This pattern goes along with the theory of the “creeping cycle of desensitization” which argues that every time media technique hits a threshold and becomes normalized, new media come along to amp up sexuality, violence, editing, sound and overall sensory experience. For instance, go to the IMAX home page and it instantly promises that you will “hear more, see more.” For another example, compare early James Bond trailers with recent ones, or old Bat Man with the new one.
Why does this matter for the environment? Because in our addiction for speed and thrills, we seek to supplant nature’s innate experience of awe with one generated by a computer; in the process of hyper-stiumulation we actually numb ourselves to the subtle voices of the extended natural world. But there is a fuzzy boundary between technology and nature (ultimately a false dichotomy, anyway), which might explain why naturalist Wade Davis of National Geographic would star in the IMAX film, “Grand Canyon: River at Risk.” On the one hand it seems absurd to watch this film inside a dark theater on the edge of the Grand Canyon when you could simply hike down and have the experience yourself. On the other, not everyone can travel there (the film can be seen in other theaters) and it does create an intimate experience that technology enables (such as telescopes or microscopes enhancing the invisible). This contradiction is similar to that which Walter Benjamin grapples with in his famous essay, “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” He argues on the one hand art loses its “aura” when reproduced, but on the other, it becomes democratized because it becomes available to everyone (unless, of course, if it’s being mediated by fascist propaganda or corporate media).
Any new medium both enhances and eliminates some sensory experience– no doubt certain aspect of nature become accessible to us through film and TV, while others are inadvertently cut off. BBC’s Planet Earth series, for example, takes us places we can never go, or allows us to see animals we’ll never know intimately. Or Winged Migration can show us birds’ “umwelt” (selfworld) in a way that we may never know (unless we become a shaman, that is). This is an over simplification of a much larger argument, but suffice to say, the natural sublime can be present in some kinds of media.
With that said, I now want to take a closer look at Comcast’s “Dream Big” ad campaign (the first is posted here, to see the others you can click on the YouTube playlist I created with examples). Like the IMAX Website, it promises more and better of everything (the jingle chimes,”Speeding forward, future hopping, always dreaming never stopping…”). The ad presents a veritable Christmas morning of sensory delight in which we can live out our fantasy of perpetual childhood. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with being childish, but as ecopsychologist Paul Shepard points out in Nature and Madness, our culture is traumatized because we are wired for rites of passage involving communication with nature, without which our “ontogenesis”–growth pattern– is corrupted. In other words, because of our increasingly deeper disconnection with the natural world, we never fully grow up and mature the way that our biology intends. Look around, and you will see the disastrous consequences of this kind highly addictive personality disorder. Rather than have a healthy, nurturing relationship with our natural world “parent,” we run around the globe like five-year-olds with M-16s gulping as much oil as possible, even if we choke on it. I use the royal “we” of course. Most of us, I presume, would not choose this mode of life if given a choice or were properly aware of our options. Yet, here we are.
Even more sad is the Prozac calm of the ad talent’s tone. There is nothing arbitrary about this because historically “advanced” capitalist societies have cultivated a certain emotionless gaze. Think Ray-Bans and aviator cool. This began with the “Fordization of the face,” industrialization’s efforts to smooth the temperament and emotion of workers so they wouldn’t rebel against mind-numbing work. The modern equivalent is advertising’s droll voiced 20-something narrator who bemoans the cubicle life, but surrenders to it, nonetheless. The logic is that the System is more successful when few care what its managers design or do with the world, as long as it is entertaining and fun on the weekend. But then again, that might be the very reason why the System is currently falling apart. Confuse, divide, conquer and rule the emotions of people, and they will no longer find any gratification from a system that is supposed to “nurture” them. This creates a perfect opportunity for nature to reassert herself into the center of our attention, because in the end we know deep down inside the Candyland reality of this Comcast ad is only an unfulfilled desire to bond with the Mother. In fact, it’s available to you if you go outside and look. I recently had my own Candyland experience with a patch of grass. In it was a wonderworld of tiny spring flowers, varieties of grass, buzzing bees, succulents galore and mounds of emerald moss. I imagined myself tiny running amok in this little forest and found it wondrous and full of awe.
Finally, I want to remark on the inevitable harvesting of Generation BoingBoing culture. If you have followed BoingBoing over the years (it remains one of my favorite sites), you’ll notice that its writers have become tastemakers, a role I don’t think they sought or care much about unless it has to do with promoting positive net values such as open source and sharing. But aesthetically they have certain obsessions that inevitably become pop culture “cool,” which is evident in the Comcast ad. Comcast is “remediating” (or recycling from other media) a number of BoingBoing motifs. First is the fetishizing of coy, flirty ukulele DIY songstresses recorded on Webcams in bedrooms by young, attractive females. Another is the flattened eboy art style of pixelated cities hybridized with the Sims-like virtual world playground of video games. It’s a consumer cornucopia of vintage vinyl and cassettes, Japanese monsters, 1970s toys, Sesame St. animations, Linux penguins, and so on. True enough, the Comcast world is full of “wonderful things,” which in and of itself is not bad, but put into the context of how the global culture is trending, we may do well to hit the pause button for a minute and wonder where in the hell we are, and assess how we really got here.
Unfortunately, to criticize something like this is to be labeled a “Luddite” against “progress.” But I’m far from it. I don’t bemoan the many great positive changes that are happening as a result of convergence and new media (such as participatory media, collective intelligence, and transmedia storytelling). Nor do I think that Comcast is brainwashing us into a specific reality frame. But what it does do is reinforce dominant cultural themes and mentalities that need to be called out. Failure to do so would mean a failure to intervene and read against the grain of paradigmatic thinking that normally goes unchecked. Frankly, if I wake up some morning in Comcast’s world, I’d say we’re pretty screwed.
Preparedness Now, created by the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project, is an interesting piece of environmental media. It tries to convey the catastrophic consequences of a major earthquake while keeping some distance through a youthful graphic style so as to avoid being too visceral, and therefore too scary to deal with. Before watching it I expected Day After Tomorrow-like graphics too real to imagine, but I think if it were done in that style it would make it “too much like a movie,” and actually lesson its impact. As many media theories have noted, we often use media as containers for that which we can not deal with in our bodies– we run fearful scenarios in film as a way to contain them and make them less material. We deposit life’s risk into these external shells. For example, all those earthquake films of the ’70s ended up as good fodder for Mad Magazine parodies and did little else but entertain.
In keeping with Scott McCloud‘s theory of cartooning, the more cartoony you make something, the more you can project yourself into it because the lack of physical detail creates a space for your psyche to enter. The filters used in the video recall those instruction films from grade school that ran through dirty projectors, invoking the necessary innocence of childhood in order to imagine yourself inside the event. In this way, I think this preparedness video is rather brilliant. It really maintains the right balance between threat and personal responsibility. As a kid who grew up in LA, I can appreciate the usefulness of the piece and wish we had something this cool when I was in school.
It would be fair to criticize the video from one perspective, however, which is the manner in which it disassociates humans from nature. In the video’s scenario earthquakes are something that happen to us, and are not described as part of the necessary adjustments that Gaia makes to maintain an equilibrium. In fact, one reading of the video could be the ridiculous point that we built a significant global metropolis in such a dangerous zone. Moreover, the implication is that insurance companies (and hence caitalism) can handle the threat for us. Finally– perhaps this was an unconscious choice of titles– but isn’t “Preparedness Now” a riff on “Apocalypse Now”? Considering that film and mass media are our main reference points for reality, I’m guessing the title is ironically intentional. As such, it might be interesting to loop back and ponder Apocalypse Now! as an allegory for California in the ’70s. Think about it.
As a cultural meme, photos of the so-called “lost” tribe of the Amazon circulated more rapidly in the mediasphere than electrons buzzing through duel processors. But now that the images have been revealed to be a “hoax,” we should kick back in our collective armchairs and probe what happened. To be clear, the pictures weren’t a hoax per say, because the people depicted in them are real and do live off our grid, but the implication that they were unkown or off civilization’s radar was false. Survival International, one of the organizations who published the photos, said:
This is a classic example of journalists getting the wrong end of the stick. The only people who ever claimed that the Indians photographed were ‘lost’ or ‘undiscovered’ were…. the press, despite the fact that Survival has been campaigning for the protection of the many isolated Indian tribes on the Peru-Brazil border for more than twenty years…. Indeed, you might have thought that the fact that the Indians are living in a government reserve set aside for isolated Indian groups would tend to indicate that they weren’t exactly ‘unknown’.
I found the images intriguing as a media phenomena. With our point of view coming from the surveilling eye of extraterrestrial flight, I can’t help but feel like these are stills from a Star Trek scouting mission in which we– the humanoid aliens– are observing a distant world uncontaminated by our civilization. For many viewers, I’m guessing the reverse reaction was true: that the indigenous people covered in body paint and pointing bow and arrow at our high tech aircraft are the strange, exotic creatures of a “lost” world. But as a reflection of our own zeitgeist, the intrigue of a potentially “lost” tribe says a lot more about “us” (the scientifically “advanced” world) than “them” (the forgotten, primitive ur-past of yore). In our effort to name and identify the event at a distance– i.e. to “other” the Others– the media buzz surrounding these photos is yet another indication that we have become aliens in our home world.
The images struck a chord because of the nature of media (interesting pun), which survives by cannibalizing novelty. Any photo that presents “newness” metabolizes into information and will froth to the head of the noosphere only to be gobbled and digested rapidly like a yeasty beer. In particular, what drives media’s center of gravity is the striving for authenticity in order to fertilize its newness reproduction cycle. This is not without some irony. Upon looking up “authentic” in Merriam-Webster, I found several curious and contradictory definitions. One is “made or done the same way as an original,” and the other is “not false or imitation.” A photo can embody both senses of the word, because on the one hand it is an imitation of something– reality–, and the other hand, it is a reality unto itself. The tricky thing about photos is that we assume that they are facts, yet what we do with them, how we choose what we see and the impact of the photo is far from the reality it purports to represent. Add to that digital manipulation, context and framing– i.e. the “naming” of the image–, and you have one big fat dose of truthiness.
This is the subtext of the image controversy, because there is an underlying distrust of media and civilization itself as ultimately inauthentic. Most of us feel like the characters in The Matrix. The only way that machines can keep us interested is to offer us scraps of reality through these kinds of controversial images so that we can verify the existence of truth and the so-called real. Nonetheless, I happen to not believe in the simulacra argument, because most of our lives are actually not electronically mediated, though we assume that they are. The distrust of simulation is older than modern technology and particular to the European mindset, going back to Plato. He was the one who said the bed was a mere imitation of a more perfect bed made by God. His is not a bed made by machines, but by human hands with tools. The interesting thing is that human language actually evolved from our hands and the use of tools, not the other way around: technology is human communication.
Plato’s fear and distrust of appearances has repeated itself incessantly as a tulpa trapped inside a hall of mirrors that is now modern media. Advertising simultaneously assures us of the world’s stability while the news makes us fearful of its structural integrity. Despite this tension, the capitalist system of commodities and consumption has become nature, our habitat. It is so normal that anything that can differentiate itself from the ambient background of consumerism and the techno-fetishistic mind will become novel.
Nonetheless, in this semiotic war for attention, capitalism still struggles mightily to be relevant and real. The underlying argument of typical advertising pitches is that their product is “the real thing” (to paraphrase one of the more memorable slogans of the century). Marketers use every magician’s trick to offer us some kind of allusion to authenticity, be it the bodily sensations of fear, hunger, humor and sexuality, or to wink at us by acknowledging that we all know this is a con game. It’s a treadmill that marketers fear to jump off of.
Which brings us back to the photos. Like passengers in a spaceship Hummer driven by the corporate dream world, many of us have become accustomed to feeling like aliens on our own planet. I consider this kind of “alienation” the true source of our pill-popping, “social anxiety disorder” ways. I quibble with some postmodernists who contend we are too alienated to be alienated, arguing that alienation requires a sense of self, believing that when we are decentered simulations of our own beings, there is nothing to bounce off of. I disagree. I believe we yearn for nature and connection because they are tangible and exist no matter how minute the splinter in our minds and souls. Without this longing, advertising could never proceed because it traffics in the language of loss.
These images demonstrate, however, that the prevailing “lost” trope in the media zeitgeist is reversing: in our grasping for the real, more than ever we feel the urge to really be “lost”: off the radar, away from the cell phone, pager and Internet like Into the Wild‘s Chris McCandless or the actor reciting Jack Kerouac in a recent BMW ad. In our post-National Geographic world where all has been disovered, cataloged, photographed and integrated into the electronic sphere of our realm, there is little left for us to remember or know about how we used to be. But like the X File’s Agent Mulder, we feel the truth is out there, hovering outside us like pixel dust blowing in the cosmic winds.
Contact with “authentic” humans in the natural world gives us hope and wonder, yet the very act of taking the photos violates that innocence. Some even argue that trolling the forests for “authentically lost” humans violates their right to be uncontacted. Consider Star Trek’s Prime Directive:
“No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations.” (Quoted from Wikipedia)
Because these photos indeed touched upon the “lost” meme, they also drew awareness to Survival International and to the plight of indigenous people in the Amazonian preserve (an interesting word in itself) and elsewhere. The fact that ultimately we are talking about the fate of real people with integrity and just as much of a right to exist on their own terms as we do, makes the this whole discussion more urgent. The civilization end game is upon us, and our budget of cultural diversity is dwindling rapidly, suffering the same fate as the biological diversity that supports us.
So, while acknowledging that organizations like Survival International do necessary and important work, they also depend on the media to educated the public about their mission and projects. Like many NGOs, Survival International’s site has plenty of sensationalistic images and videos, which begs the question of whether or not other people’s suffering can be contained and communicated effectively through images. Is this unethical? Not necessarily, as long as we are clear about the game we are playing and the nature of how it works. But it certainly remains ironic that it’s through media that we have to communicate civilization’s inauthenticity via the language of propaganda and exploitation.
Bonus footage: the following is a short documentary produced by Survival International,”Uncontacted Tribes.”
Samsung is trying to get on the iPhone bandwagon with its F480 or “Tocco”(“touch” in Italian). Hey, why not just call it the “Taco”? It’s something you eat with your hands… Anyhow, as I argue in my book, one of the greatest distresses of media users is a lack of a sense of place. Samsung is well aware of this problem, so it offers us this alternate reality presented in its “Drag and Drop World” ad.
As an old zine publisher I often feel a tension between manipulating pixels and actually working with my hands. I prefer scissors and glue, but I’m old school. The use of traditional stop motion animation and collage to create this ad is an excellent example of “media composting,” which is to repurpose/recycle/remediate dead media into new media as a way of enriching and tapping into authenticity. The struggle of all marketing right now is to appear authentic, and of course to grab our “inattention.” Riffing on the successful HP “Personal Again” ad campaign, which has famous creative types changing the world with the wave of the hand, here Samsung shows not only how this is possible, but maybe it leads to too much information, overcrowding, and complexity.
As mentioned elsewhere, these new touch devises are remediating the body– trying to bring it back into the fold. So rather than the mouse or button pad being finger surrogates, we can manipulate the machines more directly. This also may be a step closer to direct manipulation with our minds. But as I have noticed with my infant daughter, she maps space through touch before the mind patterns it for her to design expectations of how reality should present itself. Without touch, there is nothing there.
Unfortunately the ad depicts the aspirations of a wannabe– a young male who desires the luxuries of the old industrial world: space, the mastery of nature, compliant women and material wealth with no one to intrude upon that realm. Notice how the forest scene has a bulldozer clearing forest for the new house and truck. But in typical hypocritical fashion, it’s OK for the individual to do that, but not everyone else! Which is what the ad is showing our young protagonist. He wants the wealth of the world, but only for himself. Dream on, the ad tells us, so instead construct your own virtual world in your isolated electronic reality. Your home is the hybrid world of Samsung electronics and Ikea furniture. Let your browser master the world, while you sit back and enjoy a microwave dinner with your virtual wife.