Sunday, February 27, 2011

Our own little Truman Show...

Martin Heidegger's final words on the subject of The Question Concerning Technology put me in mind of a few things, but none so much as the 1998 movie The Truman Show. In that movie, Truman Burbank lived his entire life within the confines of a world created for and around him, unknowing of his situation and manipulated by a mysterious director to please the masses with 24 hour reality television. Quite a few of Heidegger's ideas on technology and man's relationship with it can be seen on display here.

The whole premise of the movie is based around the concept of Enframing. Heidegger proposes that in nature, revelation is brought about by an almost symbiotic relationship with the seeker of knowledge and the propensity for knowledge to reveal itself. The seeker awaits revelation and then uses that gained knowledge to inform himself where to look for the next revelation. There is no force, there is no definition, there only is what is as it happens. In other words: Experience.

Technology, however, uses force to wrest that information from nature and then frames it in a way that can be 'used' to force other revelations from nature and generate power from these discoveries. It seeks not to experience nature and work with it, but to control it and keep it bound to the will of man, to be used at his whim.

In the example of the Truman Show, the Director wants to create an interesting fiction, but he wants natural results from his fiction so he creates an artificial world over which he has complete control to enframe another human from birth. The artifice of Truman's world was such that every event in his life was under complete control of the this director, who believed that only by removing all traces of artifice could he get true human response, the essence of human experience, out of Truman.

Watching the normal human experience unfold naturally is not good Drama, however, so the Director must be able to control the flow of Truman's life in order to make sure that his highs and lows are timed appropriately for the benefit of an audience and ratings. He does this by controlling the weather, the temperature, the behavior of the people Truman interacts with, everything and anything to keep The Truman Show entertaining for the audience. As such, Truman is an object, not a human, and exists solely as a Standing Reserve, as described by Heidegger. A resource to be tapped when needed.

The Director may seem to be in control, and sees himself as the creator. A god of sorts. He sits in his heaven on the moon, removed from everyone, observing and interfering as he sees fit and even 'appearing' to Truman at the end of the movie in an effort to keep him from leaving the 'Garden of Eden' and gaining true knowledge. The truth of that matter is one that even he cannot see due to the effects of Enframing.

The demands of the audience through ratings, the need to introduce surreal and unnatural events into Truman's life for corporate purposes (like the unnatural use of Product Placement), and the need to have complete and total control of the environment show that even the 'creator' is only creating at the behest of forces even greater than he. He may sit behind the camera, but the camera is not the true Enframing device, and the Director is as much a slave to the show as Truman is. So is the audience, who hang on ever image. And the corporation, whose lifeblood depends on the show's success. The big picture is very big indeed. Far bigger than Truman's Dome.

By exerting such enormous control over one man's life in order to elicit the most pure example of human experience, the Director cannot get a natural response. The very act of interfering changes the way Truman behaves. The very act of the Audience watching changes the way The Director behaves. The Corporation using product placement changes the way the Audience behaves, etc. There can be no natural result from all of these technological machinations, only artifice.

In our own world we have Reality Television, but although the player's all know that they are on camera, unlike poor Truman, the results are largely the same. The camera itself, the very act of Enframing, encourages the players to act in whatever way gains them the most fame or notoriety. Would Snooki be a drunken slattern if there weren't cameras following her around 24/7? Maybe, but the fact is that her behaviors would have very different results and consequences. The exposure ( in the camera sense) incentivizes her behavior.

And Snooki's antics affect her viewers. Her behavior, which would be considered far outside the norm to the average person, becomes normalized in the minds of the viewers who see her fame and money and want the same. Youtube is replete with folks who use the example of Snooki or Johnny Knoxville as the pattern for seeking their 15 minutes of fame by defiling or injuring themselves on camera (the number of videos where young men injure their testicles alone is an omen that doesn't bode well for future population growth) and posting their humiliation for the whole world to see. It's causing a huge cultural shift at the moment.

And as go the viewers, so go the corporations. Reality Television may or may not be good television, but it sure gathers the ratings so you can bet that broadcast entities will be stocking a great deal of their line-up with it. Which means that there will be less non-reality programming to watch. Which means that it will get higher ratings. Which means more Reality Programming will be produced, etc., etc., ad infinitum. Sort of like crossing a Reality Show Event Horizon into a cultural black hole.

Heidegger would have laughed...

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