As I said in my previous post, The Junkyard of History, one of the ‘problems’ we face when trying to understand the nature of our ‘reality’ is that everything in it is, so to speak, ‘content’. Media guru Marshall McLuhan warned us about this when he described ‘content’ as the juicy piece of meat employed by a burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. By focusing exclusively on content (more often than not this means our own limited and biased interpretation of content) we ignore the far more profound and far-reaching effects of the mediums used to transmit content. Hence the ‘content’ of telephone calls (in terms of their effects) is as nothing in comparison with the effects of the telephone as a medium: time-space compression, the ability to communicate from any corner of the globe, the speeding up of social affairs, and so on.
When we extend McLuhan’s definition of ‘content’ to include this dream-like, mirror-image movie projection we call ‘reality’, the nature of this ‘problem’ becomes apparent.
From my novel.
“Hmmm, that’s odd. She’s named The Surprize. I’m something of an expert in these matters and I recognise the name but can’t quite place it…”
“Captain, don’t bother racking your brains. That ship is a prop from a film I like. It’s from Master and Commander. I wouldn’t be surprised (sorry) to find Captain Jack Aubrey on board dishing out grog for the boys. No doubt he thinks he’s giving chase to the Acheron. Oh my fucking God, this is surreal!”
While writing my novel, I was accosted by a guy who accused me of being a ‘stalker’ and threatened to “break my fucking legs”. It was one of the most surreal conversations of my life, not least because my publisher’s nickname is ‘Legs’. It happened because his girlfriend (she worked in a local shop) was always chatting to me. I liked her, so I decided to combine her with another girl I knew and make her a character in one of my short stories. She was my ‘muse’. I asked if she’d like to read the story, and the confrontation in the street was the result.
The guy – his name was Jamie – seemed to be making a deliberate point of trying to make me feel guilty. He lived in an area of my town known as The Village, and he made multiple references to this, asking me over and over again “Do you want us to leave The Village? Is that want you want?”
About a month ago, I discovered that this guy had looked me up on Facebook the day before he confronted me and sent me a ‘message request’. In it, he accused me of being a “total pervert” and said he’d “bounce me around The Village” if he ever saw me.
A few months later, another Jamie moved into Flat number 6 (The Prisoner) next to mine, and began shouting obscenities at me through my bathroom wall. I confronted him about this and he denied it all. He literally looked blank, although he stopped doing it immediately afterwards.
And therein lies the ‘problem’: these people don’t seem to know what they’re saying and doing. If consciousness is self-awareness (the ability to recognise ourselves in the mirror) then by definition most people ‘out there’ are in a dream-like state, inhabitants of the ‘unconscious’.
In my world of sleepers everything will be erased, I’ll be your religion, your only endless ideal
Recently, I’ve been drawn to the films of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. His filmography is interesting. Ivan’s Childhood, to take just one example, might strike a chord with someone. What really interested me, however, was his 1972 version of Solaris, which was remade 30 years later by Steven Soderbergh.
Solaris is a mirror image of a recent Tom Cruise film called Oblivion. Both films have male lead characters who place their wives into orbit around a planet. In Solaris, a clone of the man’s dead wife is created by Solaris: an alien intelligence that takes the form of a living ocean. He rejects her and blasts her into space, a symbolic ‘abortion’ to exact revenge for her aborting his child, which caused him to leave her and her to commit suicide. In Oblivion, the scenario is presented as a mirror image: he blasts her into orbit to save her life, and instructs her to ‘dream of us’.
Similarly, in Solaris the director plants clues to suggest that the male lead is also a ‘clone’ (a theme found in other films such as Bladerunner) and that everything that happens is a dream in the mind of the ocean. In Oblivion, the male lead learns that he and his partner are clones created by an alien intelligence. This intelligence litters the planet with artificial ‘radiation zones’ to prevent him from learning the truth, i.e. that each ‘radiation zone’ contains a duplicate of himself and his partner. He literally ‘finds himself’ in one of these zones and ends up fighting his own mirror image.
Radiation is also a key theme in Solaris. They want to destroy the alien intelligence with radiation, but later attempt to communicate with it by bombarding it with x-rays carrying a copy of the lead character’s brain pattern. Immediately afterwards, earth-like islands begin to form and the lead character finds himself inhabiting one. It contains a copy of his father’s house and the surrounding environment, the same house and environment that appears at the very beginning of the film.
What caught my attention about Oblivion is that it’s a term used in Zardoz. The lead renegade (a character called ‘Friend’) is asked what he wants, and his reply is “Oblivion!” He wants to kill himself, but he can’t because an artificial intelligence called The Tabernacle will just recreate him as a clone pre-loaded with his own memories. This too is oddly similar to Oblivion: Cruise’s character can’t die because there’s another version of himself ‘out there’ carrying ‘his’ memories.
It was Oblivion‘s reference to ‘finding the truth in your radiation zones’ then led me to look at our own ‘radiation zones’: Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island. I can’t begin to describe just how surreal these ‘nuclear accidents’ are. Tarkovsky directed another film about them, a film about a mysterious radioactive environment called ‘The Zone’. It too is the product of an alien intelligence.
Of course, the ‘problem’ here is that everything I’m talking about is content, and the one is just a mirror image of the other, which in turn is a mirror image of something else and so on. Is there genuinely any ‘truth’ in any of this, or is it all just a manifestation of the ‘echo chamber’ I talked about in my last post? We can ask the same thing about the content of the ‘spheres’ we’ve created for ourselves: the ‘Twittersphere’, the ‘Bloggosphere’, and any other ‘spheres’ we care to ‘imagine’.
The Stalker video was created by someone with the surname Galvin, which is oddly similar to Kelvin, the surname of the lead character in Solaris. Kelvin is also a measure of temperature.
When we inject our little tweets and squeaks into these ‘atmospheres’ we have to ask whether seeing them reflected back at us has any genuine significance, or whether it’s just a case of heating things up a little bit, agitating the atoms, causing them to bounce around all over the place.
Cruise’s character in Oblivion is called Jack. Let’s ask Lloyd/Dr Tyrell for his opinion. Can Jack’s ‘credit’ be ‘fine’? Hang on a moment though: if ‘credit’ is ‘debt’ then how can ‘credit’ be considered ‘fine’? Ah, of course – a ‘fine’ is a ‘penalty’ imposed by a third-party for presumed ‘wrongdoing’. Again, the theme is that of the ‘a-lien’ – an imaginary ‘debt’.
McLuhan asked four questions about mediums: what do they retrieve from the past, what do they make obsolete, what do they flip into when pushed to extremes, and what do they amplify. If we take Solaris and Zardoz and Oblivion as examples, ‘reality’ seems to be ‘history repeating’. This is consistent with McLuhan’s claim that material is constantly being scrapped or made obsolete, only to be retrieved and reimagined (recycled) in different forms. What ‘reality’ might flip into when pushed to extremes is anyone’s guess (but see below).
As for ‘amplification’, it seems that what the medium amplifies is ‘us’: the thoughts and beliefs of the small number of people who have become ‘lucid dreamers’.
Viewed from this perspective, it seems that our thoughts, prejudices and biases manifest ‘out there’ as empires and countries and religions and global enterprises, all competing with one another for supremacy, all convinced they have the ‘best solution’, the ‘correct’ ethical or moral stance, the ‘best’ way of living, etc. We’re presented as exaggerated ‘Spitting Image’ versions of ourselves, and it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that it’s all done with a huge nod and wink…
McLuhan claimed that a medium creates a hidden ‘environment’ that most people are ‘oblivious’ to.
Are you tired of being ‘eco-friend-ly’? Do you, like me, think it’s time for something new?
From my novel.
Gary is hefting huge Marshall amps in a show of strength. A roadie appears from out of nowhere and hands me a jerry can of petrol and a flaming torch. I shrug. Never breathed fire before. Might as well get used to it.
Well done, mate. Tell you what, pack yourself off to Dover and grab a boat. We’ll meet you at Dartford. Make it a really big one, OK? Ruthie never settles for anything less and she’s always wanted to go on a cruise.
In Oblivion, Jack learns the truth about his situation whilst atop the Empire State, the only large structure left standing in the ruins of a supposedly radioactive earth.
And that would seem to be the name of the game we’re being asked to play.
But playing the same game over and over again soon becomes tedious. At some point (right about now for example) you find yourself longing for some respite from it all. I think it would be nice to say “bollocks to this non-existent debt” and fast forward to this part of the movie.
If we ditch the third-party add-ons, ‘memory devices’, and ‘thought crime’…
…and agree to learn the ‘lesson of history’ rather than repeat it…
…then maybe we can still find a nice spot in The Garden.