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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I Can Has Filtered Reality?


In this post I shall explore the shift over time from consumption of visual media as escapism to the active participation in digital visual media creating a mass “filtered” reality.

Anyone who has even taken a film class, read a book about film history, or expressed even the most remote interest in film has heard it said that motion pictures were uber-popular during the depression because they offered audiences an “escape from reality.” Considering the exponential growth of visual media over the decades since, its pretty safe to say that escaping from reality is still a valued pastime. But what exactly does it mean to escape from reality anyway? Any sci-fi nerd will tell you with a sigh of longing that as of now our science has yet to build any kind of bridge, gateway, wormhole, or thread that allows us to travel between parallel universes. So what exactly are we doing when we “escape” and what does it mean that we’ve decided to label the act in this way?

Before I continue I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that this ain’t Keeper, but I’ve chosen to mimic his style here because, well, it seems to work. To give you one, vague bit of information about me that hopefully will at least validate my opinions re: escapism to y’all, I’m a cinephile. (It’s okay, I’m in a support group. It’s called film school.) I grew up escaping from reality. In fact, I was raised on the same stuff that folks during the depression were watching.


There are numerous reasons that people at the turn of the century might want to step outside their lives for a moment and enter a world of swashbuckling heroes – not the least of which being bread lines  (‘sup 99%!) – but to speak of indulging in cinema as escaping from reality implies dissatisfaction with reality. Even if you were reasonably okay with your life, suddenly an entire industry sprang up around the idea that you weren’t – and today Hollywood thrives on malcontent. Love the place to death, but, well, in LA if you get LivingSocial deals in your inbox they’re all, “Half off 40 units of Botox!” “Brazilian Wax for $15!”

City of.
 Back in the early 20th century, Hollywood beckoned the disaffected masses out of their homes to their local nickelodeon or movie house or picture palace, to sit in a dark room full of other thrill-seekers for anywhere from a 40 minute program to one that lasted several hours. They consisted of selected short pieces – cartoons, newsreels, musical presentations, and one, perhaps even two, feature films. You could stay for the entire program, or just the short you wanted to watch, but let’s be real here you just paid anywhere from a nickel to a dollar for this escape – you want to get your money’s worth. So you sit in the dark and gossip with the people sitting near you, sing-along with the musical short, and throw popcorn at the kids running through the aisles.

Was film the immersive turn-off-your-cellphones-put-on-your-3D-glasses-lean-back-to-see-the-IMAX-picture experience we know today? Hell-to-the-no. Might seem counterintuitive, but it didn’t need to be. The world of the movie theater was something completely separated from the outside. The dark space was safe for dreaming and socializing with people you might not otherwise meet. It resided outside of your reality.
So way-back-when we have going to the theater as a mini-vacation. And on that vacation you might catch something like this cinematic gem:


Yes, we’ve loved us some lolcats since 1903. Here’s one everyone’s probably familiar with:


Clearly its much easier to find teh kittehs today. Flip open your laptop. Thumb the YouTube application icon on your smart phone. Bam. I can has cuddlez.

Assuming for a second that its part of human nature to seek out adorableness that consumes mini-chunks of time – its pretty clear that changes in the technology that provide access to it have altered the nature of escapism. Though we may be viewing the same kittens, the experience today is no longer social, and requires little effort on our part. Not to mention the primary change – they’re everywhere – in videos, ads, memes, etc.
So what does this mean about the way we view our reality? Since I’m on a roll with the felines here, consider for a second the kitteh that Keeper used in his self-referential entry about how he writes his articles:


This meme [blank] cat is [blank] has many variations, as memes will, and as far as I can tell began with the infamous longcat.

'Nuff said.
(I may be wrong in this and feel free to correct me. My meme research is occasionally hindered by a pledge I made to never, ever visit 4chan directly.)

So beginning with an image of a frankly, big but not too extraordinary cat held up to display its length, we get a meme that consists of laying a statement of the obvious over an image of a cat.

You don’t fuck with dramatic cat.
But if you’re anything like me, when you troll the interwebs, you occasionally find yourself staring at pictures like this and thinking, “so what?” The statement is phrased in such a way as to imply that the creator of the image is stating the obvious. Yes, this cat is, indeed, this. However the phrases are derived from an interpretation of image that can only sometimes be verified by the image itself. Is long cat long? Sure he is. Is dramatic cat dramatic? He’s probably just a cat sitting in some dramatic looking light. But repetition of the interpretation in text presents a single view of the image as real and obvious. It presents that interpretation as reality.

Reading too much into a cat meme? Probably. But its worth looking at as a function of the media schizophrenic world we live in. We’re bombarded by flashy imagery that markets everything to us from toothpaste to sex. Reality is just as difficult to pin down as methods to escape from it, so we resort to simple, familiar outlets such as internet memes to define and shape our version of reality. Want a more prosaic example? Log in to Facebook. (Don’t tell me you don’t have one – you might not want one, but you have one.) Made a status update lately? Tweeted anything?

Yep.
Facebook updates, tweets, Tumblr posts… all structures that allow others to affirm reality for us. We established earlier that we don’t bond with other human beings while escaping from reality anymore, so someone else “liking” your Facebook status is the modern equivalent. By publishing the story and receiving that validation its “real.” Congratulations.

Social networking and the proliferation of visual media that is easily accessible (particularly online), have resulted in an inability to completely escape from reality – its too prevalent, too much a part of the reality we want to escape from. Visual, and especially digital media, can however filter our experience of reality. It’s as if by putting our funny junk out there on the Internet, we’re sending it through a wormhole outside of reality, and then bringing it back in washed in the sweet detergent of Internet. It comes back better – less real – than when we sent it out. When we watch fuzzy cat videos, some cute chick’s video blog about caffeine (embedded below – you’re welcome), or even reality shows like Jersey Shore, Cake Boss, etc. we’re not escaping from reality, we’re grasping at a safer version of it.

Escapism is alive and well. Cineplexes still provide us with a form of it. We sit in the dark and dream together, without speaking to one another, focused entirely on the single story presented to us. But with the expansion of visual media outside the theater, we’re gained the ability to filter our reality through it, as if we are in a state of constant, incomplete “escape.” Whether or not it is detrimental to human existence to wander around with a haze of lolcat in front of our eyes is a matter of opinion. I mean damn, they are cute aren’t they?


Now caffeine. Caffeine we can all agree is evil.

Thanks to Leslie for this guest article. I love how dense and crazy it is. I suspect, based upon what little I know of its genesis, that even deeper secrets will emerge if you read it while inebriated. As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at keeperofmanynames@gmail.com . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days.

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