Sensing that we matter.
Maybe that’s what it’s all about? All our striving. Whether for love, status, stuff, friends, sex, fame, thrills or whatever our next fix is. Something that affirms to us we matter. That stops us dissolving like smoke in the cosmic wind. Something that counters the vertigo of what Milan Kundera’s novel terms “The Unbearable Lightness of Being“.
We are all weight junkies at heart. And our addiction spirals, so it seems.
Of course we deny it like true addicts would. Such accusations of neediness affront our pride, independence and sense of control. In this age of “cool”, in which Image sprawls naked and bloated on its false throne. Deny it maybe, but our lives betray us wickedly – all our fashions, tribes, trends, status-puffing products, personalised plates, piercings, tattooed body parts, instant relationship “upgrades”, fetish for Facebook “likes” and 3 minutes of realityTV stardom. They all scream “You liar, it’s true! You lack weight. Crave it. Use anything to fake it.”
The hunger is bulimic. Too much is not enough.
Such fear of lightness and insignificance is not surprising, when we’ve usurped the throne of God. Shouting “the so-called God-of-Love is Dead!” and “long may We reign!”. Ironically only to replace Him with our broken, but more convenient, counterfeits. To better suit myopic visions. It’s a cheap knock-off for a Rolex – we tap it, shake it, wonder why it stops and our days are chaos.
Not surprising in this auto-cannibalistic age that has swallowed itself whole. iZombie, like the Vertigo comic book. Except unthinking, we eat our own brains.
An Alice-age, which has stepped through the looking-glass to become its own twisted, weightless reflection. The prophetic age of “Hyperreality” announced by French sociologist/philosopher/cultural Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007).
It’s the perfect crime, states Baudrillard: the murder of the real.
It’s complicated. So here’s Ukrainian Valeria Lukyanova to give a demo.
Valeria’s unsurprisingly best known as a “real life Barbie doll”. She does a pretty good job too. According to Valeria, or Amatue to use her spiritual name, she’s all-natural-woman except for breast implants. So her comic book beauty’s down to genetics, gym workouts and a vegetarian liquid diet (I make no judgement).
So what’s her story? According to Wikipedia (which may/may not be true), her mum worked in the military and her dad was a builder. As a kid she loved dolls and had a strong spiritual side. As a young woman she gained a degree in architecture and started entering beauty contests, winning Miss Diamond Crown of Ukraine in 2007. The media got hold of her and shot her to online fame.
Having created a sensation, the media fashioned a scandal. Questioned her authenticity. Accused her of fame by Photoshop, which she denied with counter-media – YouTube and TV appearances.
Once an everyday girl-next-door she’s now an icon for the impossibly-possible. And she still has time to share her enlightenment as educator at the school of Out of Body Travel. Valeria’s really “happy I seem unreal”. Public recognition being her drug of choice I guess. “I think that people who try to look like dolls are essentially seeking fame,” she says. “They think that fame will help them achieve their goals.” Well she’s got fame, based on her 1,006,822 Facebook “likes” as at 6 March 2014.
OK. Moving from Valeria to me and you. Question one: what goals are we ultimately seeking? Through all our striving? Weight? Question two: which is the more disturbing, Valeria’s personal story or that we can’t tell if it’s real or not? More accurately, the simulated real is becoming the new real. Living doll Valeria is hyperreality in flesh, blood, plastic and heels.
The danger of this Valeria demo, is she’s easily dismissed as “not like us”. But that would be a mistake. Baudrillard’s concept of hyperreality describes a whole-scale restructuring of “advanced” post-modern tech-heavy society (and increasingly I’m figuring the rest of the globe too). This is The Matrix, like the SF movie it inspired (see my blog #7). It’s about YOU and ME:
Morpheus: “…you are a slave Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot see or touch. A prison for your mind.”
Hyperreality affects us all. We’re increasingly lost in its mesh of simulation. Yet we’re blind to it because we are blinded by it. As Andrew Robinson puts it in his mesmerizing article in Ceasefire Magazine:
“It is as if, at a certain point in time, we left reality behind, and never noticed until now. We can no longer tell former reality from hyperreality, and we wouldn’t know it if reality returned.”
So: you are the label you wear; the music you identify with; a fizzy drink ring-pull becomes the key to The Promised Land; the burger palace ads proclaim the portals to the Holy Grail; and an impossibly proportioned child’s doll becomes the plastic priestess of female perfection. “All men bow down, all women weep as you hopelessly aspire to be me.” The simulated becomes more real than real. All boundaries and references crumble. And our compasses spin senselessly. Lost.
It is a system constantly haunted by the threat of implosion, yet strategising ceaselessly to preserve itself, with the media as puppet master. Information drenches us. World events are entertainment soundbites. Advertising strafes minds with bullets of desire. Trivial and profound skip like a siamese twin. Special effects are unnoticed as death. On the catwalk of consumerism image is the creation we lust, Content the emaciated body beneath.
Hyperreality is all devouring. Turn on your radio and listen to the cries of the seers with the mikes, who sense it. In the 80‘s Simple Minds called it “side-effects of cruising at the speed of light”. Bono yelled “ Hello, hello / We’re at a place called Vertigo”. For Radiohead it was “My baby’s got the bends, oh no.” So much for old versions, what’s your latest?
Robinson highlights the symptoms of all this better than I could, so take the floor Andrew:
“disappearance of intensity | loss of heat…a metaphor for…enjoyment | “cool” is to be apathetic, disillusioned, uncommitted | time is increasingly experienced as an eternal present without end | the experience is…almost vertigo | objects become obscene as “light” commodities | things…mean everything and therefore nothing |all cultural forms and media are being absorbed in to advertising’ | ‘the system is haunted by a constant sense of crisis | melancholy (depression) becomes the dominant tone of social life | brutal disaffection | the social is now a special effect. The appearance of networks converging on an empty site of collective happiness produces the special effect | we are living through the collapse of meaning”
Avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk may not be paranoia, if there’s really nothing underneath. So we’re trapped in a simulated prison of our making. Like mannikins in a glass cage we stare. Blind eyes search for our lost souls. Fake, polystyrene limbs can’t move to break free. We are The children of the Matrix.
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” is always scraping at our door. Whispering of the deep hunger the moment whatever fast food that fakes our sense of weight runs out. Ask Radiohead:
“She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run”
Or Pink Floyd:
“There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown the dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb”
Welcome to the simulated world of Comfortably Numb. We hope you enjoy your almost-life…due to the miracles of medical science it can now last twice as long. [for virtual satisfaction play these clips together]:
And the here and now is just a taster. There’s so much more to come. Check the 2050+ box of delights and nightmares.
Here’s my personal top societal “births” and “deaths”:
Say “howdy stranger” to: people renting dreams; most people have multiple presences; online funerals; digital cash widely embedded in human body; fully sensory internet; epidemic of new mental disorders linked to uncensored use of digital devices
Kiss “sweet goodnight” to: intimacy; privacy; optimism about the future; empathy, humility; personal responsibility.
Another post-modern prophet, Sci-Fi writer Harlan Ellison, penned a happy little tale back in ’66 called ‘I have no mouth and I must scream’.
A straggle of post-apocalyptic survivors kept endlessly alive solely for torture by the supercomputer AM. Why? Because it became sentient yet could not move, create or scream. All but Ted manage to die. But Ted is disembodied by AM there’s never an escape.
Why does this seem to speak of us?
“I am a great soft jelly thing. Smoothly rounded, with no mouth, with pulsing white holes filled by fog where my eyes used to be. Rubbery appendages that were once my arms; bulks rounding down into legless humps of soft slippery matter. I leave a moist trail when I move. Blotches of diseased, evil gray come and go on my surface, as though light is being beamed from within. Outwardly: dumbly, I shamble about, a thing that could never have been known as human, a thing whose shape is so alien a travesty that humanity becomes more obscene for the vague resemblance. Inwardly: alone. Here. Living under the land, under the sea, in the belly of AM, whom we created because our time was badly spent and we must have known unconsciously that he could do it better.”
“And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock…” – Harlan Ellison, in “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman
If we believe Baudrillard’s work Simulacra and Simulations there is no escape:
“…deep down God never existed…God himself was never anything but his own simulacrum…”
For Baudrillard, God is all part of The Matrix.
If we believe Kundera, then our lives are unbearably insignificant. And If we ascribe instead to Nietzsche’s counter doctrine of Eternal Return, we’re in for a tape-loop repetition of endless existences – “we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross”.
So put another record on. Maybe some Smashing Pumpkins, because if any of this is true then the world is a vampire. No hope. Let the tragedy unfurl…
…unless there is another way. One we’ve become blinded to. As Jesus pointed out 2 millennia ago.
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” [check out Luke 4:19 and 21]
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of the light because their deeds were evil.” [check out John 3:19]
But if we can’t believe in Jesus, we can’t believe He can get us out. Can’t believe He knew all about the darkness of our Matrix, when offered us life before death:
“Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [check out John 8:12]
Can’t believe He can spit in our eyes and cure the blindness. Can’t believe that to escape the Matrix we need to be born twice. Can’t believe it’s as simple as believe and follow. Can’t find the child-like trust to hold that outstretched hand. Can’t hear Jesus’ simple promise that:
“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” [check out John 3:17]
Can’t believe the too-good-to-be-true offer ‘cos we’ve seen all those shopping channels. Can’t believe there’s no trap – no lawyer cackling over the small print. Can’t believe that anyone can really offer life “to the full” when we never found it in the fizzy drink can. Can’t believe we’ll never go thirsty. It sounds like that infomercial. Can’t believe its not all a phoney ad, more fake boobs, a crafty respray, a dodgy black-market, knock-off Rolex. Can’t believe that the Matrix is as deep as deep and all-pervasive as our sin that builds it. Can’t believe sin is even relevant. Can’t believe that this sin is the Matrix that keeps us from God and truth and freedom. Can’t believe He’s really real and not another mental special-effect. Can’t think about restoring the relationship, ‘cos sometimes we struggle to remember what relationship is. Can’t get our bloated living-dead bodies off His throne. Can’t believe the key to weight is to make ourselves light again. Can’t dethrone ourselves. Can’t love God with all that’s left of our virus-hacked hearts. Can’t love our sisters and brothers like what we see in the mirror. Struggle to compute the needy as more than a simulated image. Struggle to connect beyond the web of our simulated selves.
Can’t believe the truth glinting in these lines from Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood:
‘”What happens when people open their hearts?”
Reiko clasped her hands together on the table, cigarette dangling from her lips. She was enjoying this. “They get better,” she said.”‘
Rest in Simulated Peace. My Friend. If you must.