Concluding ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’: Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day…

“Today cinema can place all its talent, all its technology, in the service of reanimating what it itself contributed to liquidating. It only resurrects ghosts, and it itself is lost therein…” – Jean Baudrillard

The quandary facing any potential navigator through the desert of the real as it is presented in postmodern cinema deals with the hyper-realistic nature of any mediated communication. The questioning of reality, and the potential apocalypse, in the films dealt with here is duly problematic. Is it possible that Fight Club, The Matrix, and Twelve Monkeys may all fall victim to the Cassandra Complex by presenting the annihilation of the human race as entertainment? Are these films foreseeing the future yet not being believed when they foretell it, or can we take a more positive outlook towards their significance?

The prevalence of mediated communication such as the cinema has surely, as Baudrillard asserts, assisted the cunning of the simulacrum. It is a contributing factor in the replacement of reality in our society with a mediascape that is governed by the dynamic logic of hyper-reality (Kroker Possessed 65). The postmodern apocalypse will occur because the airless atmosphere inside the simulacrum has asphyxiated meaning, as “…[w]e breathe an ether of floating images that bear no relation to any reality whatsoever” (Massumi 1). As we have discussed, apocalypse is mere banality to a society that feels so close to it, and as a result we have ceased to fear dystopic future visions. What purpose, then, the probing of the simulacrums’ boundaries which we have been undertaking here? Quite simply, these films are crucial to shaking us out of our tendency to live ‘history in suspense’. They recognise that “[o]ur Apocalypse is not real, it is virtual. Neither does it belong to the future, its incident is in the here and now” (Baudrillard Hystericizing 10).

Postmodern society may indeed have reached the End of History; a claim which Fukuyama believes has sealed us into a permanent position of capitalist contentment. By locating the apocalypse within the sphere of our daily actions, the films dealt with here present a different story. We are a society disenfranchised by the realisation that “[w]e’re the middle children of history…we have no purpose, no place. We have no Great War, no Great Depression. Our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives” (Fight Club). That even minor choices made by us could affect the outcome of the human race is as empowering as it is terrifying to a generation that feels it is changing nothing. By laying before us the nature of the simulacrum and the consequences of escape from it (The Matrix, The Truman Show); or the potential outcome of acting in certain ways (Fight Club, Twelve Monkeys), postmodern cinema is unveiling our choices. Where “…the dystopic projection of a hyperalienated future coincides with a utopic hope for spiritual survival, salvation and redemption” there is a crucial decision to be made (Best Robocop 28). We have not merely wandered through the desert of the real. We have been asked to provide (and make possible) an answer to postmodern cinema’s crucial question: what version of reality do you prefer? Continue reading “Concluding ‘Welcome to the Desert of the Real’: Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day…”

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Welcome to the Desert of Real: No Future for You

Since records began, 215,673 people have sworn that the world is going to end. It only takes one of them to be right…” promotion for the 1995 film Twelve Monkeys cautioned. In this installment I shall explore Gilliam’s post-apocalyptic time-travel story in relation to the issues raised in previous sections (space constraints decreeing that the film in its complex entirety cannot be dealt with here). As a result, I shall focus on the inherent dangers of postmodern attitudes to consumerism and technology, and their impact on perceptions of reality as Gilliam lays them before us. It will become apparent that both the societal breakdown of Fight Club and the technological dependence of The Matrix are prevalent in contemporary American society- and lead directly to its future underground.

[3:1]Any discussion of Twelve Monkeys must be aware of the possibility that rather than a time-loop paradox the entire narrative may simply be a prolonged psychotic episode. This is a possibility that the director deliberately kept to the fore by keeping the details of the future vague enough to have them simply be the product of James Cole’s (Bruce Willis) deranged mind (McCabe 167). That Cole’s psychiatrist in 1990, Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe), who is our anchor in the world of the film as she shares the ‘present’ with us (McMahon 148) comes to believe in Cole may prove only that madness is contagious. However, it may suggest he is telling the truth, since the first reminder of this contagion comes from mental patient Jeffery Goines (Brad Pitt), who imagines insanity “…oozing into the ears of all these poor sane people, infecting them- wackos everywhere, plague of madness! We are once again in the realm of uncertainty fostered by the breakdown of the cinematic reality already dealt with in Videodrome (and which has been Gilliam’s stock in trade since his Monty Python days).

The ceaseless linking of the post-apocalyptic world with contemporary society is problematic as a result of this breakdown of cinematic reality. The visual themes used to link the various temporal plains of the film- most notably the chicken wire that seems to cover every surface- serve to complicate matters further. For instance, is Cole imagining imprisonment in a wire cage in 2035 because he is already in an asylum with wire-coated windows? We are asked to question the likelihood of a time-traveller experiencing virtually the same sequence of events across the divide of forty-five years (Cole is roughly scrubbed down prior to facing a panel of scientists in both 2035 and 1990). As we are never at ease in any of Twelve Monkeys‘s realities, perhaps we are the monkeys that are being experimented upon. This is heightened by the allusions to Vertigo, which foreground the possibility the whole story is merely an elaborate deception (Strick Monkeys 46)i. Continue reading “Welcome to the Desert of Real: No Future for You”

Welcome to the Desert of the Real: The End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)

“Cyberspace abandons ‘the real’ for the hyperreal by presenting an increasingly real simulation of a comprehensive and comprehensible world” (Nunes 163). As we have already seen, postmodernity is characterised by the turn from the real towards the hyperreal caused by the proliferation of signs- an indication, perhaps, that cyberspace is a quintessentially postmodern medium. Certainly it is a site of crucial juxtapositions, an arena to showcase the clashing of the real and the hyperreal, humanity and machinery, freedom and enslavement. In the case of American society at least, cyberspace stands on the brink of dominating the shape of the society to follow the simulacrum we are currently contained in- although whether it will improve or disimprove the conditions within is arguable.

The following section will examine the nature of cyberspace both as it exists today, and as it is imagined in the future, through the lens of the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix, with a view to establishing the importance of its role in the consumerist-apocalypse that so far seems inevitable. If the men who partook in Fight Club were literally busting themselves out of the simulacrum, are hackers the cerebral, paler versions of the same breed of rebel? The Matrix allows us to raise many pertinent questions- not least of which is the conundrum of whether cyberspace creates an utopian elsewhere for the disgruntled refugees of late capitalism, or merely provides a panicky escape-route as we abandon the body in a run for environmental cover. A cursory glance will also be given to several cyborg films for the dual purposes of establishing the evolution of technology based dystopias, and of exploring the hypothesis that we are all cyborgs in cyberspacei.

[2:1]Before we attempt to navigate through cyberspace, we must first take a general look at our attitude to technology, and explore if we have indeed enclosed ourselves in the external sensorium of technology alleged by technophobe Heidegger. Max Weber’s believed that modernity is characterised by enclosure in an iron cage of bureaucracy, that acts as a controlling force in our lives. This was developed the equally pessimistic Heidegger, so that it was an exteriorised technoscience that was enframing us. In Heidegger’s iron cage, it is technology that is stripping our reality of its intrinsic potentialities and turning our own world into something radically alien and hostile (Feenberg 11-13). We have cheerfully imprisoned ourselves in this iron cage, for the same reasons we fall prey to commodity fetishism. The alienation and reification at the heart of that basic consumer instinct are at work here also- we quickly fall into the thrall of any extension of ourselves in any material other than ourselves, be it the state, the church, the media, or technology. As a result we have become like Narcissus, gazing adoringly at our own reflection in technology, loving this extension of ourselves so much that we have become a closed system, “…the servo-mechanism of [our] own extended and repeated image” (McLuhan 51). It is for this reason that dystopic projections of a machine-dominated future do not alarm us as they once did- we feel closer both to the future and to the machine than we ever did before (Jameson Nostalgia 26). Continue reading “Welcome to the Desert of the Real: The End of the World as We Know It (and I feel fine)”