Friday, June 5, 2009

The Entertainment Engine

Wired has a neat, too-short, interview with Guillermo del Toro (of Pan's - DUDE! that guy smashed that other guy's face in with a wine bottle!-Labrynth).
In the next 10 years, we're going to see all the forms of entertainment—film, television, video, games, and print—melding into a single-platform "story engine." The Model T of this new platform is the PS3. The moment you connect creative output with a public story engine, a narrative can continue over a period of months or years. It's going to rewrite the rules of fiction.
I'm excited at the idea that some really significant change is just on the horizon (and to think that you and I will be get to be responsible for it!) - but then I recognize something a little too familiar: 30 years ago Foucault described something similar.

Foucault pointed out, among other things, that the 20th century has been a period paradigm shift from what he termed disciplinary society to a society of control. From the 17th to the end of the 19th centuries there was a movement in Western Europe to subsume all aspects of the human experience to the principles of rationality. Reason and rationale helped to overcome pernicious problems of sovereignty inherited from the Medieval period and also provided insight and tools as to how to avoid constant death from diseases and famines. The world could be better explained through objective, that is publicly-verifiable, knowledge and the nature of reality could be "discovered" by identifying, through induction and deduction, the principles that maintain order in the universe.

At the center of this rational ordering of the universe is the individual capable of using reason (this is Descarte's cogito; and this is an interesting take on it). The story of the Modern era has been the elucidating of what is reasonable in society - of course there is the obvious problem of what seems quite reasonable form this individual's perspective is entirely unreasonable to the individuals at this vantage point. So the knowledge that should be so publicly verifiable (and so natural and obvious) is actually very strictly policed by the powerful and their institutions. Obviously the rational thing to do when people break the law is imprison them, that is the efficient (efficiency is a primary concern of rationality) way to reduce crime, reducing crime means society is able to funciton smoothly (because the rational society is the stable society that has no turbulence in the form of oder being put out of whack). How do we rationally (efficiently and effectively) build prisons? Build a panopticon, a position in the structure where everyone can be watched, like a tower in the middle (kinda like God watches over Man, how perfect). The prison, the university, etc. these became the technologies that defined disciplinary society.

What those in charge began to realize was that you didn't have to have anyone even in the tower for the prisoners to behave: just the knowledge that they were being watched kept many of them in line. Thus what became the most rational (efficient and effective) thing to do would be to promote in the individuals themselves the belief that they must manage themselves. Think about it: if you are trying to get the world nice and orderly, there really can't be any pockets of non-orderliness. If you're hiring all these guards to patrol the borders of what is acceptable to do (police) or to think (professors) that means you've got at least the number of hired guards not reproducing the orderliness you want (because they're busy making sure the prisoners are doing what they're told). If we got everyone, including the guards, to order themselves around (of course according to the laws of the powerful, working for and toward the desires of the powerful), then we are getting the maximal productivity (the natural result of rationality) from the system. A society that no longer required discipline to run would be, according to Foucault, a society of control.

Of course, promoting a system where everyone can follow their own rules in an orderly manner is the promise of democracy. The democratic process, thus, is a process that seeks to place everyone into the society of control. As we leave the Modern era and enter post-modernity we see that globalized communication and productivity (globalization) requires this kind of control. It's inefficient and perhaps too insipid to believe that only the people in Hollywood would be the people that could best at creating entertainment, what a positively guild-like idea. Let's get everyone producing their own entertainment and really maximize output.

So now everything is entertainment: news (CNN's iReport, Indymedia, Daily Show), cooking (really, food pr0n from the Foodnetwork, etc.), cleaning your house, hurting yourself, spelling wrong, doing anything at all wrong...Hell: let's make a video game where people create simulated people, personas, identities.

I return to the Wired interview to just regesiter the complaint that far too often we are told that it is so revolutionary to Enjoy! (like the Coke logo says) the fact that we are at this dawn of the society of control (in Wired's case it's called Web 2.o): a time when we can be the viral video. But what is the payload of this viral behavior, what does the meme deliver into the host? Clearly, the need to manage ourselves, to produce, to consume as we are directed - I mean how else can I understand Gatorade's new low-calorie sports drink? del Toro's talk about the PS3 being the Model T is not inaccurate, it's just not as interesting an idea as, say Peter Greenaway's conception of cinema without text.


  1. Thanks for all the links. I am learning a lot from your posts.

    I agree, everything nowadays is entertainment and funny and a dramatic competition. The more entertainment engulfs our everyday lives, more we live in a puppet show, and more Power to the PuPPet masters. I think as long as we keep a finger above water and find ways to steal things here and there, we´ll be ok!!

  2. You know, as much as it sickens me to quote Chuck Palahniuk, it seems appropriate here:

    "Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed.”

    -Hayden Derk

  3. hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....