Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hollywood Garbage: The Mechanization of Desire

I might be in the minority on this, but so many movies these days feel like they should at least be mindless fun, but instead they're just mindless.

Pacific Rim, Superman, Transformers part who-gives-a-fuck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Whatever, etc. It's a little depressing that we're all hailing Guardians of the Galaxy as the artistic and spiritual apex of humanity because it wasn't just a 3 hour long lens flare, though it does serve as a terrific case-in-point for how the vacuity of recent Blockbusters is not in the concept. Even a talking Raccoon can be relate-able if handled right.

This is where "long form" (what else can we call TV shows that often aren't aired on TV?) has been stepping up to the plate. True Detective, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, etc. have been capitalizing on the desire for stories that are, well, stories. Something more than a Pavlovian repetition of set up, conflict, resolve over and over again.

That is all most pornography aspires to, and that's what makes the new normal tent-pole movies pornographic. Clearly it's not nudity or cum shots. No, it's the reduction of desire to a machine like repetition. The mechanization of desire is its own annihilation. The same metric that is being used to gamify all human behavior creates the deep structure of Hollywood screenplays. There's a reason, after all, that all these movies begin to feel the same, despite the fact that the concepts are different on paper. The underlying structure is fundamentally the same, with increasingly minor variations.

Of course we can expect this, with the amount of financial risk that is presented by movie production. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to reduce that risk, by falling back on predictions we can make from our own hard-wired responses? This basic idea is of course nothing new, it goes back to Aristotle, possibly before. And there is, thankfully, a great deal of uncertainty about the big picture in terms of those hard-wired responses. What, after all, is "human nature"? That's a surprisingly complicated question in the macro-scale abstract, but it's fairly straight-forward and easy to test on a micro- scale.

Adorno was skeptical about the implications of myth and propaganda, as all of us ought to be. And yet when you search for analysis of gamification, script writing, and game design, you will mostly find Utopian visions of gamification as method of "hacking our own nervous system." Yet, restrictive as it may be, we may want to look to Adorno's analysis of television and ideology, critical models, myth and the Dialectic of Enlightenment before we proclaim our ability to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps in such a way. (There is nevertheless some irony in the "long form" being one of the most open and creative entertainment mediums at the moment, considering stereotypes of television that existed, and which were more or less accurate, as recently as a decade ago.)

Flipping this on its head, we might wonder about literal pornography. If it is the application of mechanical commodity that makes pornography, rather than the presence of sexual content, then we have a handy shorthand for the much sought after dividing line between erotica and pornography. It is not the presence of sexual content, it is not whether ones desire is engaged, but rather whether that desire is an end in itself, and whether that end, ultimately, has been mechanized as the root commodity of the media-as-product. There's some difficulty in discussing erotica, let alone producing it, without some patina of pretension, and yet there it is: erotica exists as something more than just its own ends. Perhaps what that is will remain as nebulous as the distinction between self, soul, and brain matter. But if we ignore it, then there is nothing in this world to keep us from nihilism, and nothing that might keep us from the horror of the simulacra, the anonymous self-less repetition, every one of us nothing more than a mask strapped atop a void.

Also, it's pretty hard to argue with a good pair of tits. Even the most craven pornography has that on the average PG-rated Hollywood Blockbuster.

[Take a Trip with us... Mythos Media.]


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