Thursday, August 21, 2003

A really interesting story has been running on Plastic these last few days. Revolving around a Guardian article, which in turn is based on a new book entitled Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin And The Lust For Real Life by David Boyle, the poster ("holgate") has pulled in an enormous wealth of links that, taken together, strongly suggest that modern humans and "reality" have long since parted ways, and that consequently we need to -- and allegedly are in the throes of attempting to -- get back to some elusive (illusory?) collective authenticity. Of course, it's not as simple as that; nothing ever is (but it's kind of funny that the story appears on a site called "Plastic", don't you think?).

So many sleeping tangents are stirring awake, but I'll just rouse two or three for now:

* First, it has to be said: the moment human beings took up agriculture as a cool new lifestyle, this elusive fake/real (false?) dichotomy was embarked upon, for good or for ill. In a sense, we domesticated ourselves. And, really, is a dog fake?

* Authenticity, as it relates to music, is a perennially fertile ground for debate. Is J.Lo really any more fabricated, with her "I'm still Jenny from the block" than, say, Pearl Jam with their equally self-crafted image (or, the Monkees any more than the Beatles)? In other words, an "image" of authenticity is still an image, a projection of how the object desires to be viewed. Bob Dylan is usually the example wheeled out here. Fake, fake, fake, Mr. middle class Jewish (Zimmer)man. I'm not disparaging him as an artist, here; quite the opposite in fact, I love Dylan. And yet, perhaps rightly, we're currently in a cultural phase that generally appreciates and prefers the openly, honestly, phony over the artificially authentic ("Keep it Real" notwithstanding). Justin T. is sounding more eerily like Michael J. every day, and come to think of it, why are we so repulsed/enthralled by the latter, anyway?

* But without getting into "whoaful" sophomoric Neoisms, is it really all just consensus reality? Is nothing real, or is everything real? Speaking of Keanu, the Matrix movies are by no means the only recent cinematic explorations of this existential conundrum. In fact, the very turning of the millennial wheel seemed to usher in numerous parallel journeys into the heart of (un)reality, and the questions it raises. It seems that the entire culture became concerned over authenticity -- particularly how it relates to memory, history. Perhaps that arises from some sublimated collective wish to actually forget the last century, the "Hemoclysm", that visceral, brutal confirmation of humanity's propensity for utter, harrowing darkness. Skeptical? Just look at the cluster of similarly themed movies that were released between 1999 and 2001 (the original Matrix in '99, Memento in March 2001, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence in June 2001, and both Donnie Darko and the masterful, sorrowful allure of Mulholland Drive in October of that same year). And then recall (ha!) that Kid A found itself endlessly cloned on endless ranks of flourescent-lit shelves in October 2001, soon to be trailed by its brilliant-but-awkward squinting sibling Amnesiac in June of the following year. Our society was sure talking to itself pretty restlessly in that period. And perhaps we're not out of it, yet. The loose ends remain untied, the awful questions neither sufficiently answered nor properly ignored to our satisfaction. I mean, Soderbergh's remake of Tarkovsky's Solaris was only recently released on DVD/VHS, and the very same concerns -- memory, authenticity, grief, denial, loss -- resurfaced once more to chilling effect. And Hail to the Thief itself seems to be struggling and torn between a desire to return to a pre-adult world of shadowy childhood archetypes on the one hand, and the impulse to unleash a feral, violent, nihilistic rage aimed squarely at the political leaders who brought us to this point, on the other. Which culminates in the very last song, "A Wolf at the Door", a weird, chilling amalgam of both these impulses.

So, childhood (Kid A, David in AI), memory (all the above), and trauma (from the airplane engine crashing through Donnie Darko's roof to Betty/Diane's terrible self-negation and helpless, seething revenge fantasies following her humiliation at the nonchalant hands of a cruel lover, from Chris Kelvin's frantic need to erase the psychic violence of his wife's death in Solaris to Thom Yorke wailing futilely "I'm not here, this isn't happening"). As someone a lot smarter than me said "If September 11th hadn't happened, we'd have had to invent it" (sorry, can't find that quote anywhere now).

Okay, these aren't the only cultural products of the time period. But they are significant ones (it's not necessary to use the loaded word "important" here), and for me, the unnoticed (by their authors) common thread tying them together seems the most significant of all, in its mere hint of a suggestion that we may very well prefer a kind of sanitized amnesiac oblivion to facing the crawling bleating horror of what we "actually" are.

But I'll leave the last words to Laura Barton in the Guardian, because we can decide for ourselves (individually or collectively?) whether or not her conclusion is either hopeful or ironic (utopian or dystopian):

But is this necessarily such a bad thing? We've got strawberries that taste more strawberryish than the real thing; we've got bosoms that don't jiggle when we run for buses; we've got hair like Rapunzel, tans like Barbie, and records that supersede the songs they bastardise. Perhaps this is just a new era, a bootleg of the real, outshining its parents; perhaps, after all, this is a brave new world.

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