The Coastal Post - August, 1996

Media And Media-ocracy

BY MARK VAN PROYEN

Like other right-thinking Americans, the Media and Mediaocracy team were cheering for the Aliens in Independence Day, the recent summer blockbuster playing at a multiplex near you. And why not? The human characters were so lame, so badly acted, so poorly directed and so poorly scripted that the thought of them being put out of their stupid misery by the coolest death ray in the history of cinema seemed like a pretty darn good idea, but life is full of disappointments. And besides, people actually seem to like this movie, which has us wondering...why?

Of course, the answer is that the creators of this special effects extravaganza went into high gear to give the movie-going public a reflection of themselves, something they (but not we—never we) could identify with. This task is accomplished through something called Motivational Research (MR), which is the science of imbuing products with psychological hooks, so that when we buy a car a six-pack or a pack of smokes, we are not merely buying transportation, an industrially-brewed alcoholic beverage or chemically-treated tobacco rolled into little paper tubes, we are buying into the illusion of a desirable lifestyle, an illusion created by carefully-orchestrated images of what these products will do for us. Since the early 1950s, psychologists have been working on MR for the advertising industry, learning how to stimulate perceived need, all the better to fleece the tubes and run up the national debt. In 1960, laborers in the vineyard of MR were brought in as consultants for the two presidential candidates, and the famous Nixon-Kennedy television debate decided the fate of the world.

Now things are so far gone, they have motivational researchers working on better ways to sell motivational research! You would think that Bob Dole would have figured that one out when he was interviewed by Katie Couric (July 2), but noooo..., he ended up looking like a mean-spirited ignoramus in deep denial, while his wife had to come and pull his chestnuts out of the fire that he himself started. As one of Tom Tomorrow's characters said, "nothing spells leadership so much as sucking up to your corporate sponsors!" Meanwhile, Clinton was caught grinning at the opening ceremonies for the Olympics. He surely must have just read Machiavelli's maxim stating that one should never interfere when an enemy insists on destroying himself.

Meanwhile, back to the Alien assault, and the brave defenders of life-as-we-know-it. We at the Media and Media-ocracy secret computer bunker have a theory. We have noted that current movies and television shows are filled to obsessive proportions with stories about aliens and vampires. While the obsession with aliens is believed by some to be a figment of people's paranoia over illegal immigration, we view both the alien and the vampire theme as being driven by a different anxiety, the anxiety over the impact of technology on our everyday life. The brave new digital universe is really about two things: administration and automation, and neither of those things are really good for people, not that people are really all that important anymore, especially since the end of the cold war makes their pretend votes unnecessary. But people want to feel important, and they will gladly shell out five bucks for a bag of popcorn to watch an improbable spectacle featuring a bunch of losers dishing up payback to that which is huge, all powerful and completely incomprehensible.

That thing is the great digital demon, portrayed in the movie as a huge cybermechanical breast that hovers over the quaint remnants of civil society, downloading the toxic milks of an all-pervasive scorched-earth program. The White House, the Empire State building, and a rooftop party on a corporate hotel are grounds zero for this attack, making the subliminal connection between the events in the movie and the Oklahoma City bombing. Here, the larger analogy is that of faceless computer nerds operating invisibly from within gated communities, using the Internet to operate a managed insider-trading economy while the rest of humanity bumbles along, losing a little more each time around. In this scenario, every dickhead with a laptop is party to the great, all-encompassing conspiracy to ruin the people's self-esteem, and there seems to be nothing that "real humanity" can do about it.

Representing this humanity are nameless characters played by Larry Fishburn (a Marine pilot who is living in sin with a stripper and who is rejected from being an astronaut), Jeff Goldblum a government microcode analyst who preaches recyling and snivels about his wife leaving him for an important job as Presidential press secretary—he never told her that his job for Viacom was just a cover), Judd Hirsch (a Brooklyn schlemiel who is Goldblum's father: when the going gets tough, he metamorphizes into the wise rabbi-o'-the-people), and some guy, playing the President, not a great actor, but an astounding human morph of George Bush and Bill Clinton. The women are all unimportant, even the one who plays the First Lady, who dies a strangely unlamented death. What is important is that these bozos find a way of empowering themselves.

Amazingly, this kind of horseshit makes people feel better, for about a nanosecond. Then they go back to their lives, so-called or otherwise. What they should have done was go around the corner and see that other film called Lonestar, which was every bit as good as Fargo. Of course, these movies showed people as they are, rather than as they want to be. There's big money in that.