January 13, 2004 | Peter

Dead Culture and Virtual Life

I recently wrote a piece in ‘Online Opinion’ about the way modern popular culture is stagnating, and what that means. I pointed out that in popular writing, music, TV, films and just about anything else that could be called culture, quality is deteriorating fast. These media are becoming ever more formulaic, banal and dull.
On Friday night I watched the one cricket day game between Australia and India on TV. Straight afterwards was a show called ‘Scare Tactics’ where real people (or at least Americans, who seem increasingly unreal to me) were set up in horrific situations (by their supposed friends) so the viewers could watch their increasing terror. In one case a man thought he had discovered a corpse in a freezer. He was apparently about to throw up with fear when the cast of actors ran in and yelled ‘You’re on Scare Tactics!’ and everyone laughed.
This version of ‘reality TV’ is about as depraved as it gets. Here we are, the viewers, feeding off the genuine terror of the victims. This is not like that ‘Fear Factor’ garbage where macho men and women get to test their limits willingly (probably fuelled by shots of testosterone at that).
So, I wondered about the shows where the set up ‘victim’ did not just laugh it off, and instead perhaps wept with humiliation or worse. What about people with heart conditions, for instance? And what about the emotional impact of finding out one’s limits of courage? After all, in two of the set-ups the victims showed themselves to be morally weak. I suppose the TV show just waves money at them, and has lots of smart lawyers just in case.
Sport is of course a form of reality TV. Its great appeal is that it is ‘unscripted’, although sports science is taking a lot of the doubt out of it. Even sport is more and more predictable, more and more following known formulae, more and more dull. The way AFL has been transformed from a game of great variety and skill into a much more one-dimensional running game by coaches and umpires is a good example. Already coaches have done away with drop kicks, have almost done away with spiral punts, and are doing away with high marking, abetted by umpires who will not protect the man going for the ball enough (whatever happened to ‘push in the back’?). Players are less skilled than they used to be, but much fitter and better at the fewer skills they do need.
So, as popular culture – more and more exploitative of unscripted ‘real life’ in reality shows and sport – becomes duller, is it any wonder that the kids are turning to the virtual life of technology. Through their mobile phones (now with SMS) they create an increasingly hermetic kid’s world, no adults and no messy reality allowed. Utilising ever improving music, photo, and video technology they watch and listen to only what they find stimulating. This is all abetted by a culture industry that increasingly focuses on the tastes of the average 15-year-old and mass production of ever cheaper consumer goods.
The best example of this techno-obsession is video games. Kids generally love them because they provide them with instant gratification of the need for power and enable them to experience a kind of immature sexuality.
The only sense not catered to is touch, which is quite important when it comes down to it. It is especially relevant to sexual gratification. Touch, along with all the other senses except smell, can be replicated digitally through technology known as virtual reality (VR), invented several years ago and now just awaiting better software and more bandwidth to become popular. So when virtual reality is perfected and made widely available through storage devices or on the net, the kids will jump into it and likely never come out (unless they are forced to).
Life is duller and duller, or worse, terrifying, and as technology becomes better, those with a choice will increasingly opt for the more exciting and safe ‘reality’ of VR.

Posted by Peter at 12:33 pm | Comments Off on Dead Culture and Virtual Life |
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