The Reality Studio as Staged Event

The subject is in crisis, its hegemony threatened by centralized structures of control, by a technology which simultaneously alienates and masks alienation, by a perception of its own helplessness. Even the last retreat, the physical body, has lost its privileged status: hence the schizophrenic terror undergone by the protagonists. Even the libido, site of the irrational, seat of desire, is invaded, enlisted in the furtherance of an obsolescent technological rationalism.

—Scott Bukatman,  Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction 

Over the past few weeks of watching the Left/Right street urchins play out their idiot games of violence I’ve realized just how ill effective either side is against real power. Why? Because in truth neither of these extremes has any power whatsoever: it’s all surface show violence, even these staged events are funded in part by Corporate NGO’s etc. so that the supposed radical or reactionary forces are virtual actualities without substance. Sadly this is the state of our planet at the moment, we use social media, academia, philosophy, heuristics not as actual tools to change the world, but rather to stage that change in a virtual realm that can be seen and played out like a MTV video remix. If it wasn’t so sad it’d be humorous, but in truth our powerlessness before the global juggernaut of financial capitalism has left us disunited, alone, atomized in societies that can only stage pseudo-events and struggles rather than anything that could move us toward an emancipated future.

We’ve become victims of our own pseudo success, staging Reality Studio games for the media like actors in a D rated zombie flick, powerless to do otherwise we dress up in our activist garb as if wearing Rebel gray or Johnny-come-lately black & red will suddenly capture the attention span of a fifteen minute advert on primetime Cartoon Network or Comedy Hour fastscans. These GenZ rejects dress up in the costumes of Anti-Fa vs. Neo-Fa as if the staged reality would resurrect the historical verity of horror and terror of the 1930’s. Children of networks these pretentious victims of a sociopathic society have brought us violence as televisual excess, a show for the staid homeworlds of failing rednecks or urban guerillas, wannabe revolutionaries or reactionary prophets of nostalgia.

We can reverse Baudrillard’s notion that we are staging  “the dissolution of TV into life, the dissolution of life into TV.” Rather life is a televised event, a Big Brother extravaganza in which boredom begets violent throw downs of statues from a lost cause for the benefit on no one and everyone. Watching a Confederate statue takedown is as about as fun as watching a Congressional hearing, neither event presents us with a solution only the categorical perimeters of an obsolete world.

In the postspectacle society once delineated by Baudrillard, all such boundaries between TV and spectacle will dissolve, will become irrelevant through the imperatives of the model of communication (simultaneous transmission and reception):

In any case, we will have to suffer this new state of things, this forced extroversion of all interiority, this forced injection of all exteriority that the categorical imperative of communication literally signifies; . . . we are now in a new form of schizophrenia. No more hysteria, no more projective paranoia, properly speaking, but this state of terror proper to the schizophrenic: too great a proximity of everything, the unclean promiscuity of everything which touches, invests and penetrates without resistance.1

This is our immediacy, our media driven pseudo-world where staged events replace real protest, where paid actors from a Hollywood film studio line up in garb of radical or reactionary to play out the fake news for a fake audience. There’s a cable channel Destination America that plays nothing but reruns of ghost hunters hour after hour seeking portals to the dead, when all they needed to do is walk out into the street and look around: the dead are everywhere in America, a nation of zombies whose only defense against reality is to live out their lives in a nostalgic Reality TV series. Forced to work menial jobs and long hours to make ends meet, born into poverty and misery, they come home to watch the fabricated lives of Billionaires play nuclear Cowboys and Indians with North Korea and Russia.

Reduced to its narrative skeleton, and bereft of the work’s compression and wit, our post-millennial citizen stands as a Platonic incarnation on the rift between appearance and reality. Objects in the world are only shadows of an ideal form, which is why Joe Blow average guy on the street’s pretense to ‘free-speech’ protest turns into a simulated cardboard diagram of last years horror movie. Joe wanders into the supposed real world seeking others like himself only to discover that the ultimate reality of his life is revealed to be nothing more than the fantasies of a dysfunctional madman.

History doesn’t exist anymore, day by day it’s undergoing erasure, the PC police are correcting the errors of the dead without the dead’s approval. No one cares about those dead white men dressed up in their white wigs and spangles. No, in our moment of social justice warriors and liberty loving freedom fighters the world is more like a nuclear firestorm awaiting its apocalyptic nightmare than a place anyone takes seriously anymore. Nothing’s real in this hellish paradise. Reality is finally not even to be taken on faith, but simply replaced by an acceptance of a conditional and malleable appearance. Staged events replace actual ones, pseudo-actors replace activists, and the social media echo chamber replaces real conversation. We are the representations of fake imaginaries, brokers of fantasy worlds where escape and exit are just a naïve excuse for opinion polls.

We used to trust the images of the world portrayed for us behind the façade of the screen, now that we’ve succumbed to the image-wheel of the Reality Studio the reality behind the screen no longer provides us with the basic image of the Real, instead the image “masks and perverts the basic reality, and replaces it with a new “mask of the world as the absence of a basic reality.” (Bukatman, 98) We are all ghosts now erased even of our simulated flesh and sex appeal. Instead we’ve all entered the twilight zone of a peripheral mirror world where pseudo-events have become the only reality we can know, a reality we trust and believe in because not to would spell the erasure of our own ghosthood. Living in an unreal world we have lost even the satisfaction of our anger and our rage.

Most of all I wonder about the hate and spite that at a street level pervades the young now, the paranoid state of mind against each other, against their elders who have proven to be idiots, to our leaders who have entered a mode of ultra-madness. It’s as if our whole society had been drugged, given some kind of spurt of magnetic mind-warp vibration from a strange experimental black ops weapon trained not on some external enemy but upon the very citizenry of this nation that harbored such hope and has now fallen into a black hole. Of course this is a fantasia, there is not weird weapon of mass distraction and insanity working its mode of deformation and degradation on our minds and hearts. Instead we’ve allowed ourselves to forget ourselves, disconnect ourselves from the human, from the very powers of thought and feeling that kept us in touch with each other, flesh to flesh, touching, haptic, communicative. Instead we’ve all entered into a fake contract with technology, allowed the promise of communication to lead us into the lonely atomization and fragmentation of a society of addicts. We live in our screen worlds, texting each other on our mobile devices rather than speaking to each other face to face. We lost our bodies, given ourselves over to the very technological objects that are now recreating, forming, shaping, molding, modulating our flesh and minds and souls into technology, into artifacts so artificial that the human has disappeared.

We tell ourselves stores of the Anthropocene as if the narrative of species destruction and habitat disconnection were a truth-condition of our time, one that has forced us into removing ourselves from the center of existence, from our exceptional status as God’s favored children on planet earth. But in truth we are still the bound ego’s of a world so enchained to its ancient sacrificial trajectories, ethno-religious bigotries, and the tribal compacts of our primitive brainstem that we cannot break free. Our philosophers and scientists continue to tell us the sense of Self is an illusion, all the while we continue to act on it, believe in it, assured that the name we are is this thing we are. That memory and desire are a unity, a totality that is the human condition, one from which there is not escape.

And, yet, even now we are long past such a world, technologized and riven from the humanist world of religious and secular thought, living in a paranoid schizophrenics worst nightmare in which everyone surrounding us is the enemy and that reality is not what it seems…

We project our inner madness and fears on all those others we deem the enemy, as if the solution is the final solution: as if we could solve the world’s issues if only we could get rid of all those fascist dogs… or, if we could get rid of all those red commies… two sides of a Mobius strip that seems to push both extremes into a paranoid frenzy: the Right to paranoia, the Left of revolutionary schizospasm. Neither accepting that maybe both extremes have led to a dead end, an End Game for both themselves and civilization. This need to universalize our madness, our beliefs, our mythologies has led us into the final circle of hell.

  1. Bukatman, Scott. Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction (p. 92). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.


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