Friday, January 1, 2016

The Burial Post

Typically, I have to rush out with something distracting just to hide the most recent thing I had the nerve actually to post. Mostly, I don't have the nerve anymore, which also means that I mostly don't even start. But hey, it's New Years Day, no official work, and I see that I have something here to bury.

I've had fathers on my mind for a variety of reasons, and it comes up in relation to Star Wars, obviously, and my own father dead almost a year now, and priestly fathers for all sorts of reasons relating to patriarchy, and this binge-watch I just documented with Hitler's son in the Skywalker role and the Republic/Resistance duped by Empire (The Man in the High Castle).

So into my field of view comes notice that George Lucas likened his sale of the Star Wars franchise to the selling of his children to "white slavers." Now I'm not disposed to like Lucas particularly, maybe figuring that he represents movie moguldom more than he does the art of movie-making, and well he has that born-again hair style and just doesn't look cool.

But the interview with Charlie Rose, of whom I'm more recently aware because he seems to have sold out to the networks, or at least I've seen him there on one of the BIG ORIGINAL THREE, and assumed he had sold out; anyhow, Charlie Rose is interviewing George Lucas, and like for the zillionth time in my long life I have to remind myself never to prejudge. I mean, Lucas comes off like a decent highly intelligent and very real, if somewhat uncool - which is in his favor! - guy!

And so now I have this thing to puzzle out in semi-public (because to do it in private gets me precisely nowhere), which is regarding where in the world technology should go next. I think we all assume it will be or maybe even should be immersive virtual reality, enhanced by CGI and maybe even a little bit of robotic drone takes to get to those real places which even in our imagination we can't reproduce, just because reality does remain that much more wonderful than what we might imagine.

This would be to crawl into that 3D screen, which up to now we still need special glasses for, but also to cut us off from anyone else in the audience for our own private immersive better-than-real reality, if for no other reason than that the drone takes will take us places in the realm of the real where only superheros get to go on the screen.

Maybe, all Disney now, the seats would shake us around and smells and fluids would make it all really real.

Lucas was convincing that all art is technology and that all technology follows the needs of the artist and not the other way around. Incrementally, each step of the way, the artist can imagine something he wants to render - to design, I suppose - which was unimaginable before and he brings technology to bear on the realization, and the technology moves ahead in the process. Lucas used the example of a cathedral, an architect, but he slid back and forth to even the technology of books for story telling.

But when we talk technology now, we have in mind something which leaves books out, don't we? I'm not sure that Lucas' claim is not problematical. It would seem that an equally solid case could be made that the technology leads the artist and not the other way around, but in any case, the scenario of immersive engineered better-than-real reality does seem to beg some sort of question.

Technology of various sorts has enabled mankind to come together. Certainly books create a kind of collective mind in the form of culture, and trains, planes, and automobiles surely allow us to experience different kinds of peoples, even as it allows families to spread out and sometimes one people to obliterate another. Soft and hard power can be equally deadly where civilizations are concerned.

Lucas reiterates the old saw that all technologies can be used for good or evil, and thus we all suppose it is and always shall be. But as my Dad used to say, you don't have to catch syphilis to know you don't want it, which I have extrapolated to mean something more like you don't have to take Heroin to know that it's a bad idea.

At some point differences in volume or velocity or any sort of quality become differences in kind, and we might all just prefer the virtual to the real, making emotional connection only with ourselves. I don't know that Lucas said this outright, but he sure did seem sympathetic to the notion that this kind of reduction would be precisely what the powers that be truly want of each of us. I learned he made an early movie on the theme: THX-1138. (Of course it's not so available from my usual outlets, darn!)

It's not that heroin doesn't make you feel good, it's just that it pretty much ruins your life. Unless you never had one to speak of in the first place, in which case there might be no comparison. Book learning is hard, but we seem not to value it any more, having replaced it with something called STEM. Book learning brings you closer to other people, and might even inform your emotional intelligence to the point that you can make good connections in the real. STEM is all about agency - authorship in and of the world at large - and if it doesn't provide the means to wipe us all out as it seems to have been doing so far, should be the only means at our disposal to prevent same.

Even Jar Jar Binks, criticized as I remember the caricature to be of black folk, should remind us that there are aliens here on earth that we still don't care to know about. Like maybe the shared experience of watching that "space opera" about fathers, sons, religion and the state might even bring peoples together right here at home.

Sure sure, back to the start here, and remind myself not to be so sure. Immersive onanistic virtual reality might give us our only chance to experience the world the way that some other does, and as a shared or at least sharable experience might bring us closer to each other in the end.

The trick will be to prevent that great marketing machine from killing off the art in the name of profit. Lucas talked about that a lot too, although there must be other people who took note that where he started by allowing Charlie Rose to contrast him for his embrace of popular media with his familiar "Francis" (I wasn't sure who that meant, and Charlie was uncharacteristically mum) who seemed to be making movies only for himself. By the end of the interview, Lucas was orchestrating himself into the same lonely posture.

I am going to return now to my struggle with the Chinese novel, The Three Body Problem, which seems endlessly promising. An old story perhaps; we meet ourselves by delving into outer space. We send signals outward in desperation that we might be that alone, or because we don't trust our promises to ourselves, or because Mammon is taking over once and forevermore.

In the end, we answer ourselves, don't we, since whatever complexity there is in the cosmos that we don't quite understand, we won't likely make contact with it by worshipping only ourselves as we are right here and now.

So whether it's the story which really counts, as George Lucas seemed to say, or whether it is touching the universal in each of us which the story allows, and which might also be done by other means, there is plenty of cause for optimism in this new year.

There are plenty of gaps in reality and in understanding which are bound to be crossed and filled in and made real. The good stories will all be strange and familiar both, with family in the role of enemy as often as of friend. The challenge will be to keep the heart true and the connections real. And make sure that STEM is not some means to keep us uninformed and dronelike, programming for the man.

Happy New Year redux.

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