I'm Not Really Enjoying the Show
August 9, 2023
Let's dispense with human presidential candidates and conventions, and replace both the candidates and their supporters with idealized AI fabrications.
The Show Must Go On, but I'm not really enjoying the show. One reason why is I Keep Changing Channels But It's Still the Same Program, i.e. the programming and marketing are now homogenized. Another is Even the Aliens Are Boring, i.e. everything is so sensationalized and hyped that we are now desensitized to it all.
A third reason is our culture has perfected the craft of self-parody, rendering parody impossible. To parody foolish excess, we exaggerate a two-patty burger into a four-patty burger: oops, they've already hyped four-patty burgers.
To parody the fossilization of American politics, we create a parody in which 77-year olds are the vibrant young-uns in the halls of power. Dang, the halls of power are already choked with more elderly than the USSR's creaky leadership just before it collapsed in a heap.
To parody the homogenization and infantilization of Hollywood, we create a parody in which the dominant "tentpoles" generating steady profits are endlessly proliferating comic book superheroes. Darn, that's already the case.
To parody the media's desperate competition for "engagement," we create a parody in which everything becomes a global existential crisis. Heh, there's no way to parody anything that's already been driven to excess via the mastery of self-parody.
Irony has also been shown the door. The core dynamic of the modern world isn't--as is constantly hyped--innovation; it's marketing, persuading someone to transfer value--money, loyalty, votes, engagement-- for something (tangible or intangible) without regard to the eventual costs and consequences of the exchange.
The irony is authenticity is faked to make the sale. But the fraud of mimicking authenticity to make the sale is now so embedded, so ubiquitous, that the irony is lost: we are living in a Philip K. Dick story come to life in which real young women fabricating fake lives of glamor and luxury to boost their Only Fans income are now competing with digitized imaginary young women that are idealized versions (like Barbie) of the sexually compelling female.
In a culture stripped of irony and parody, a movie based on an idealized female doll introduced 64 years ago reaps $1 billion in sales and sparks thousands of earnest cultural commentaries. Barbie as a marketing phenomenon has of course evolved: idealized male Ken was introduced a few years later, along with an ever-expanding line of ethnic Barbies. Barbie is clearly an "authentic" cultural icon.
If the aliens are watching us, one hopes they have a refined sense of absurdist humor.
As for AI: what's marketed as "artificial intelligence" is certainly artificial, but it isn't remotely intelligent. By mimicking humanity's natural language abilities, ChatAI programs make a marketing claim of authenticity that is entirely fraudulent. There is no "there there" in terms of understanding, predictive acumen or any other form of what once passed for intelligence.
The entire point of this bogus AI is to automate the processes of marketing, homogenization and hype, to streamline and reduce the costs of faking authenticity to make the sale. As in a Philip K. Dick story, where the protagonist ends up asking if he is in fact a robot and not a human as he assumed--our own authenticity must be questioned, as what we assume is "the real me" turns out to be nothing but a jumble of marketing cliches that reads like an obituary: he was a Steelers fan, loved the music of Nashville, was an avid BBQer, etc.
With parody and irony both enfeebled, the show is now tediously humorless. What can we say about a show in which the once-compelling topic of alien visitations to Earth are reduced to another boring congressional hearing on CSPAN, a parody in which the possibility of an alien presence is reduced to ashes while whatever is being marketed at the moment is hyped as the "crisis" you must pay attention to?
It's impossible to parody what is already an absurdist parody. Consider the ceaseless adverts for low-quality processed / fast-food in which ecstasy can be yours ("this greasy sugar-bomb tastes good!") for a low, low price and the rest of the adverts, which are for pharmaceutical medications for all the diseases created by consuming low-quality processed / fast-food, ads that include an eye-watering list of side-effects that is impossible to parody, as it already includes "and in rare cases, death."
Hmm. So we can expire from metabolic and other lifestyle disorders in the pursuit of infantile "it tastes so good!" or we can expire from the supposed cure, after suffering from a list of side-effects that would qualify as banned protocols of torture. Absurdist irony, you are now live, action!
So desperate are we for authentic authenticity that "the real thing" becomes an irresistible marketing platform. You may have come across a young woman's artful videos of her preparing real food in a beautiful rural setting in China. Her name is Li Ziqi. Her videos have logged almost 3 billion views. They are remarkable for their composition and for her culinary, gardening and handicraft skills, which are clearly real. She brought the mythology of an authentic life close to the Earth into being, and the global desperation for some shred of unpackaged, unprogrammed, unmarketed authenticity generated her vast audience.
Alas, her authentic skills were packaged so entrancingly with a commercial purpose. Thanks to a marketing deal, her global audience exploded, as did the sales of her line of products in China. She suddenly stopped issuing new videos two years ago, and it seems legal / commercial conflicts were at the heart of her disappearance: Li Ziqi's Online Pastoral Poetics: Millions of people subscribed to her vision of an idyllic rural existence. Who was she, and why did she disappear? (New Yorker)
It's doubtful that many of her millions of viewers actually wanted to spend hours tending gardens and making real food from real produce; they found pleasure in the mythology, not the reality. This is the problem with authenticity: it's demanding and requires discipline and an inner life immune to marketing.
To grasp why the show is no longer enjoyable, we turn once again to Philip K. Dick, who offered an insightful description of authenticity in How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later:
"The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds. but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not."
In conclusion, I offer an idea: let's dispense with human presidential candidates and conventions, and replace both the candidates and their supporters with idealized AI fabrications. Thanks to AI, the fake candidates can engage in realistic fake debates, and their fake supporters can clap, cheer and jeer on cue.
In a world stripped of authenticity, irony and parody, such a substitution makes marketing sense. Let's get the show rolling, and make the sale. It's just a guess, of course, but I think the aliens would approve.
My new book is now available at a 10% discount ($8.95 ebook, $18 print): Self-Reliance in the 21st Century.
Podcast with Richard Bonugli: Self Reliance in the 21st Century (43 min)
My recent books:
The Asian Heroine Who Seduced Me (Novel) print $10.95, Kindle $6.95 Read an excerpt for free (PDF)
When You Can't Go On: Burnout, Reckoning and Renewal $18 print, $8.95 Kindle ebook; audiobook Read the first section for free (PDF)
Global Crisis, National Renewal: A (Revolutionary) Grand Strategy for the United States (Kindle $9.95, print $24, audiobook) Read Chapter One for free (PDF).
A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).
Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World
(Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).
The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake (Novel) $4.95 Kindle, $10.95 print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)
Money and Work Unchained $6.95 Kindle, $15 print) Read the first section for free
Become a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.
Subscribe to my Substack for free
NOTE: Contributions/subscriptions are acknowledged in the order received. Your name and email remain confidential and will not be given to any other individual, company or agency.
Thank you, Daniel L. ($50), for your superbly generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your steadfast support and readership.
Thank you, user2200 ($20), for your most generous contribution to this site -- I am greatly honored by your support and readership.