“If the world were clear, art would not exist.”
Or, perhaps, art would be all the more ubiquitous…
My childhood included lots and lots of hours spent playing video games, so it is not much of a wonder that many of my dreams sometimes take the form of a video game. So, sometimes, in my dreams, I have a HUD, an interface, I follow certain quests. Usually some shooting is involved as well.
I had a dream some time ago. I dreamed that I received the job of being an assistant for a psychology professor. He had a huge villa. After a short time, it became apparent that I was not so much assistant as I was henchman. I was thrown a baseball bat which I was to use to beat people up with. The professor turned out to be a bit of a nut (surprise). It was at this point that the dream very clearly tranformed into a video game. I was aware of being within a videogame. Anyway, the professor had sort of a maze, like for rats, except it was for humans, in his basement, to carry out some weird experiments. After some time, I asked the professor whether I could trust him, what with him being a wee bit mad and all. As every professor in every video game ever does, he, in response, alluded to a plan of his which would upheave the entire city. The city was, by the way, very pretty. It had a nice aesthetic, a bit like Washington DC, a bit of Futurama, a bit of Fallout: New Vegas, some other influences.
Then – I am a bit fuzzy on the details – either his plan began to go into motion, or maybe we had to do one last thing before it did, either way, suddenly there was a fight going on in the professor’s villa. The professor tasked me to protect him while we went outside. Outside the entrance of the villa, we had to sneak up on two guards and kill them. I was to sneak up on and kill one of them, the professor on the second one. While I was busy fighting my foe, the professor, very suddenly, was shot, and died. I killed the two guards, finally, but the professor was dead. There was no GAME OVER screen. There was no status message as in Fallout: New Vegas, informing me of all the quests which the death of the professor would inevitably fail. He was just gone, and I was suddenly alone within this world. Was this planned, pre-scripted? Does this happen in every playthrough? Or was I just not fast enough – Could I have changed the outcome of this? … I took a golden arm from the professor’s corpse (there is always looting in video games), then I went to the nearest building, which was deserted, and maybe a shop, I am not so sure…
For those among you who rarely play video games, this is a rare occurrence. Usually, characters are either not important, or not killable. Killing a major character would derail the plot, and that would result in lots of scripts going haywire etc. … Video games are usually pretty linear in this way. It would be, after all, exceedingly difficult to provide a plot so flexible that the death or non-death of several characters would each still allow for a seamless story.
After I woke up, I imagined what the text on the back of the video game’s box would read like. If the death of the professor was pre-scripted, it would certainly read something like this: “After [Main Character] loses the only person in [Setting] he knows, he is out to fence for himself. Blah blah blah.” If, on the other hand, the death was not scripted, and is preventable by the player, then the text would read, perhaps: “Playing as [Main Character], you must choose wisely whom you consider friend and whom foe. Every choice you make will have an impact on the various factions fighting for control over [Setting].” Tagline: “There are no unimportant decisions.” The main character would assuredly wear sunglasses at night, too.
What am I trying to get at here? What has stayed with me from this dream is the wondrous sense of feeling utterly lost… and thus, utterly immersed. Would I have been able to save the professor, or was it a foregone conclusion? Just like in reality, in real-life, I did not, I could not know. That immersion is a quality inherent in dreams, of course, but it is a quality that can, to a certain amount, be recreated in works of art, whether music, or video games, or movies, or literature. But for this sense to emerge, one has to, I feel, dive head-first into art. And the way by which we currently consume art makes this very difficult. The trailer of any given movie gives away half the plot. Promotional material can work as a quick introduction into a world, obviously, but it does not seem obvious to me at all that we actually want that. There is a joy in being sucked into a book or a movie slowly – into a story, into a work of art – and not quite getting what is happening at first. Some of what have turned out to be my favorite records I downloaded on my computer, then completely forgot about for a week. When I finally listened to them, I had forgotten everything about the downloaded album in question; I did not know whether to expect eight-minute guitar -fests or lush electronic soundscapes or… There is a joy when one immerses oneself into a work, not through a co-text, but solely through the work itself.
Or take Roger Ebert’s reaction to Ghost Dog and reviews for the movie by other critics:
“The whole story is so strange, indeed, that I’ve read some of the other reviews in disbelief. Are movie critics so hammered by absurd plots that they can’t see how truly, profoundly weird “Ghost Dog” is? The reviews treat it matter of factly: Yeah, here’s this hit man, he lives like a samurai, he gets his instructions by pigeon, blah . . . blah . . . and then they start talking about the performances and how the director, Jim Jarmusch, is paying homage to Kurosawa and “High Noon.” But the man is insane! In a quiet, sweet way, he is totally unhinged and has lost all touch with reality.”
Perhaps movie critics are indeed “so hammered by absurd plots” that they cannot see the weirdness of the movie. But also, I would argue, they simply read press releases or other information on the movie – co-texts – before seeing . Their introduction to the movie was matter of factly, was, importantly, not through the language of the movie, but through text on a flyer or a box or a letter about the movie. And then, something is a lost. A certain sense for the wondrous; for the weirdness of the story. And, as an aside, how could any European hope to discover America when his image of America is already pre-framed by pop culture? Sure, maybe you should inform yourself about some of the local habits before travelling to a foreign country – you would not want to offend anyone by doing something that is considered polite in your own country. But, at the very same time, that holiday is also already made obselete by that very same act of informing yourself about the country, through a text about the country instead of through being in the country.
There is a problem – one I shall go into at a bit more length later one – which can basically described as thus: Experience only ever adds up. Or, as I have certain obligations as the dean of Futurama studies on postmodernize: “You watched it! You can’t unwatch it!” Once we have seen the trailer, we can’t unsee it. Once our friends tell us that “you should go read Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar (which you should!), it’s about this Blah Blah Blah …”, you’ll have a hard time forgetting that the book is about “Blah Blah Blah”, and this information then becomes co-text, becomes, in other words, a part of the work that you cannot ignore.
There are, equally, however, solutions to this. Try out movie critics by watching movies the critic recommends, without reading the review, then, after seeing the movie, read the review and see if you are in tune with that critic. (Roger Ebert is a safe bet.) More generally speaking, find sources whom you trust and then make sure to follow these sources “blindly”, basically, that is, ask for their recommendations, but don’t ask for their reasons, don’t ask for a review, don’t ask for a summation of the plot to determine if you really are interested. Find a music blog whose general direction of music you find agreeable, then blindly download albums. This post is located on postmodernize.com, so I am contractually obligated to mention at least one relevant buzzword: The way we consume pop culture is mediated, is an institution, is a habit. Institutions cannot be abolished, only replaced. This is one that warrants replacing.
Only when we blindly dive into a world, only then can we create, for some time, the feeling as if we truly were, perhaps