writing snoopy for president
What was life like before movies? Nothing moved. The world was a frozen picture. Zeno described how in the ancient world, Achilles, the fastest runner in Athens couldn’t even overtake a tortoise. Because in order to get even half way, he would first have to get a quarter of the way and in order to get a quarter of the way, an eighth of the way and so on into infinity so that Achilles would have to do an infinite amount of things before he could even move a mm. The obvious answer is some kind of flip-book or the rapid succession of frames creating the affect of smooth movement and continuous identity. The movie was born.
In Genesis the tree doesn’t need to have any real different properties from any other tree, its very nomination by God as the tree is expedient enough. The tree is a kind of fake machine – it doesn’t really have any objective properties that make it particularly particular and even if it did they wouldn’t contribute to it being the tree – that has already been asserted. Think about it – if God made another tree be the real tree they shouldn’t eat from and told them the wrong tree, well… what would be the point of that? Well what would be the point of the tree being the real tree? Even less. The point is that this tree brings reality itself into existence: ethics and alienation and self consciousness. There is a necessary connection here. The tree is a model of a tree – it doesn’t even need to be a real tree, so it should be made on a soundstage. It doesn’t even need to have bothered evolving or being inscribed in any pre-symbolic mode. In the beginning was the word. ‘Word’ is an arbitrary set of shapes. The shapes in a real machine tessellate together in ways that guarantee some definite outcome. But a real machine has fake affects.
The tree is a kind of machine or media – it produces a certain kind of reality. The garden is like a movie set or art installation or a diorama of a proto cinema. And we’re in a multiplex where each scene or screen is itself a kind of movie and the idea of a movie is this story about a machine. It could be Short Circuit or The Time Machine. Or Back to the Future. But any kind of story about a machine will also work as a movie. The theory that witches were associated with riding broomsticks because they would hang from harnesses in sensory deprivation chambers whilst absorbing psychoactive substances through their mucus membranes is a movie. It tells us about a real thing that makes illusions. A material inert substance (the drug) imbedded in a kind of scientific logic. Which generates fake things. The witches harness is a kind of cinema. A scene of a cinema. The movies are always about a kind of weird cinema that’s basically a machine that’s either fake or real and if it’s real it brings about fake things and if it’s fake it brings about real things.
Plato told a story about a machine. It was a cave containing a fire, an audience with their backs to the fire and stage hands moving pieces of wood between the fire and the audience’s backs such that, constrained by chains and blinkers, the audience would take the shadow figures on the wall in front of them as real. But the real audience of the movie, us, knows that the audience in the movie is duped and this epistemic gap is what motivates the movie. No-one ever made a movie where the protagonists are in this kind of totalising situation and don’t see through it. Imagine the Matrix but Neo doesn’t find out he is living in a virtual computer generated reality. The Truman Show where Jim Carrey never figures out he’s the star of a reality TV show. Plato’s cave but nothing happens, everyone just sits there watching shadows. 1984 and Winston Smith just goes to work and believes whatever lies the Party fabricates. These scenarios don’t become stories until our position collapses into that of the protagonist.
The witches VR suite and Plato’s cave are elaborate affairs and seem to differ from the tree in that they have real objective properties which cause hallucinations. But on closer inspection these turn out to be fake machines as well. Look at time machines: HG had one like an exercise bike (he invented exercise bikes as well as time machines), Marty McFly a car. If you take the wing-mirror off does it still work? As long as what’s really making the machine work is OK yes. The myth of progress and our power over machines were heavy myths in the Victorian era, or in the Enlightenment, or in our own time. Only a story about a fake machine has the power to show us the truth. The more the fake machine approaches the status of a real machine the more it is inclined to break. Built in obsolescence is a kind of fakeness.
Descartes hypothesised an evil demon. He saved on a lot of shadow puppets and brass handle bars. What he did was he kind of made the inside of our heads into a Plato Cave. But even then, why the head? The idea of the ghost in the machine. The short version: the ghost. But a ghost (or better an evil demon or electrodes stimulating the brain) is a real machine and it can only produce fake things. If there was no ‘desert of the real’ for Neo to wake up in he could only experience simulations controlled by a real-ghostly machine. Without chains and a cave, Plato’s protagonists would have nothing to escape from. The Cartesian theatre has room for one and nothing really happens. It was a lousy movie.
It was with Wagner that we approach something a bit more like the cinema we know today. It was roomier. A technical hitch caused all the house lights to go down, plunging the audience into blackness. Capitalism is a kind of fake machine generating the illusion that it is necessary (and therefore producing illusions) but actually it is responsible for our actual real conditions – whether you will live or die, need or receive healthcare, work in a sweat shop or a think tank or not work at all.
Wagner tried to disguise the orchestra but he at least needed some small gap to let the sound out. The tendency to encase technology has continued (like Apple or the Utilidors under Disney Land) along with the reverse tendency to let the guts hang out which started with Brecht. Stressing the realness of the machinery to give away the illusoriness of its contents never worked as a mode of resistance. The ending Plato edited out from his movie is that after the hero leaves the cave and basks in the eternal truth of Idealism, he goes back into the cave with some popcorn to watch more shadow puppets. The movie Space Jam makes constant references to vertically integrated branding and export processing zones.
But branding and fragmentary approaches to film making also provide an opportunity to make stories about fake machines. By aestheticizing the production process itself the machine is deprived of what makes it real – its products. The products are the production and as such they shine with a disconcerting lack of any buffer, any kind of screen to cover the excluded mechanics.