Friday, 13 January 2012

Reality as Subversion by Douglas Rushkoff

I had a weird vision the other day. Having brought our newborn back from the hospital just days before, my wife and I weren’t getting much sleep. I lied on the bed next to the baby and slipped into one of those theta wave trances you can reach on the way to a magick spell, visionquest, or psychedelic trip. I was in a natural chamber of some kind, maybe a cave or clearing in a woods. It was a starting place from which any number of journeys could be taken. At each opening, another creature or entity beckoned me to follow it. And, had it been any other time in my life, I probably would have picked the one that seemed the most promising and followed it down the twists and turns of its path – and been either delighted or terrified by what happened. (The idea of being an experienced traveler or magician is getting better at predicting, guiding, or simply tolerating the variety of what’s on offer, and learning to bring back things or ideas of value.) This time, however, for no particular reason other than really being okay with floating in that little entrance foyer, decided to stay put. The beckoning entities gave up and scurried or drifted down their reality tunnels, and I lied there, motionless. Only then, after I decided to do nothing, did I notice the Elders. Three or four of them - shamans, prophets, zen masters, or some combination – sitting on a bench to my side, looking down at me. “Welcome,” they said, nodding. And I immediately got it. By doing nothing, I was doing everything. The path of no path. Just be.

And though I’ve spent a career, maybe even a whole lifetime creating realities for myself and others as a way of retreating from the oppressive consensus culture of the American Marketplace, I’m wondering if we might best abandon that tactic. Maybe, it’s time to stand still and let them do the conjuring. Hear me out. What I teach in my classes is that the evolution of media sees control of the story move away from the teller, and towards the reader or listener. The invention of text allowed people other than priests and royals to read and write, showing human beings that they were contributing to the human story. Thanks to the alphabet, we got the Judeo- Christian tradition, laws, and all those notions of progress. The printing press put texts in the hands of many, leading to the democratization of interpretation, the development of “perspective,” and eventually the Enlightenment. If all perspectives matter, then all people matter equally. Although TV set things back a bit, deconstruction and post-modernism came to the rescue, giving us all the ability to take apart what we see, and dissemble the many messages being piped into our living rooms and brains. Master deconstructionists, from William Burroughs and Bryon Gysin to Genesis P-Orridge and Negativeland, cut-up the news and paste it back together in news ways, in Burroughs words, to find out “what it really says.” Of course, they were only foretelling the advent of the Internet, which turned the whole mediascape – the primary landscape of alternative media creation – over to us. Now, at least in theory, we are as capable of creating and disseminating a message as anyone else. Your basic middle class American teen (admittedly, among the planet’s better equipped individuals) can build a set of images, texts, or videos that extend his visions to the greater world. Rupert Murdoch’s ideas matter no more than those of the kid posting on Slashdot.

And so we fight for our rights or even just our freedom to do what we want to in the media space. To keep our Bittorrents flowing and our alternative media blogs rolling. We know the power of image creation, and want to retain our ability to make the images that stimulate, hypnotize, and program our world. That’s why the powers that be are so committed to retaking their control over the image factory. Whether it’s American Idol recasting its stacked deck talent show as some sort of SMS-enabled democracy, or Project Echelon monitoring all our keystrokes so that truly subversive material can be cut off at the source, we’re witnessing first hand the dismemberment of our new body politic. Just as the forces of business turned the original Internet into a strip mall, they are now bribing the most popular bloggers with ad-based revenues and creating watered down simulations of online autonomy....

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