April 1999
s m u g
feed hollywood
by Brian Thomas

Let the Robots Do It

Technology has bred paranoia. It seems every other day I hear a friend expressing concern that our telephone conversations are being monitored by persons unknown, or I'll see someone dodge under a tree when they see a helicopter, fearing that it may be there to watch them.

These fears are not completely unfounded, however. The technology to keep constant track of an individual's activities certainly exists, as fictionalized quite well in such recent films as Enemy of the State and The End of Violence. And let's not even get into the subject of webcams - now any exhibitionist or "artist" with internet access and a few hundred dollars can give the world a very public peek at their private world.

So now the world can watch us anytime they want. But what these paranoids forget is that it takes more eyes to watch. It would take more than half the world to watch the other half. Even the most wildly imagined conspiracy needs a certain thing to watch an individual - the same thing any individual needs to watch any TV show or movie: a reason. Our cities are under constant watch by security cameras, but unless there's a suspicion that evidence has been recorded by these cameras, nobody has any reason to look at the tapes.

Just in case anyone is watching, I always strive to lead the most boring, dull, and redundantly tedious existence I possibly can, no matter who has to suffer (you know who you are). Yeah, I know I may be risking exposure and attention by writing for a glamorous e-publication like Smug, but the readership isn't really that big, right? I mean, sure you read it, but you don't go around turning your friends on to it. Right?

This peeping tom scenario was taken to its acme of paranoid fantasy with last year's hit movie The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey is the only non-actor in a lopsided solipsist world where his life was everybody else's favorite TV show. He didn't know it, but it really was all about him.

At this point, a movie like EDtv (or EdTV or whatever) isn't all that fresh anymore. It's about a new "reality TV" cable channel that decides to make its only show a live documentary of a single individual's life. As a high-line situation comedy, the movie is very entertaining and sometimes brilliant (the casting of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as brothers, for example), but it's more of a parable on the phenomenon of fame than a commentary about technology's effects on society. In fact, it's so much fun that I bet quite a few viewers will leave the theater wishing such a show would become a reality.

The fact that the movie has been made that shows the pitfalls of the situation may keep it from coming true for a few years, but I predict - wait a minute, let me put on my plumed turban... okay, a little mood lighting and theremin music, please...

I predict that someday soon, scientists will develop the psychotronic technology necessary to jack directly into the cerebral cortex and record the experiences of a human being, just like in Brainstorm and Strange Days. Yes, my friends, truly shared experiences will some day be possible. But naturally, those movies didn't take the concept far enough - downloadable media can become streaming media, and eventually someone will figure how to broadcast a person's very existence into the minds of an audience.

I see people walking around with mobile computers, able to jack into the mind of another at any time - but who needs to be mobile when it's so much easier to just sit and watch? Networks will get in on it, hiring actors to go through experiences to be shared by as many people as they can get, creating a sort of virtual reality television. But then, knowing the actors' thoughts may ruin the show. Except for avid fans of Shakespeare and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, audiences will get tired of knowing the script ahead of time.

I predict that the networks will then try improv, creating shows where all the actors make up the story as they go along. This may satisfy the audience for a time, but before long they'll be jacking in (and off) to a more intriguing alternative: the creation of Truman Show types whose lives are public spectacles but don't know it.

For a time, this will satisfy the public. The most popular of these programs will be called "The Doer Family" - a family in which all members are jacked unaware and somehow kept from the knowledge, all for the entertainment of the non-Doer audience.

Eventually, every Doer will spin off programs of their own in different directions. Spoilsports will delight in finding jacked stars and telling them everyone is watching their lives. Laws will be passed which will levy heavy fines against those that ruin the show for everyone else in this way.

However, the networks will make an inevitable but fatal mistake. In an effort to gain higher ratings, they will attempt to control their stars more and more. Their decisions, as always, will be determined by marketing research, much like the scenes in EdTv in which TV producers Ellen DeGeneres and Rob Reiner argue about whether to replace Ed's unpopular girlfriend (Jenna Elfman) with an opportunistic model (Elizabeth Hurley). Then the middle man will be cut out - as technicians learn to better control the characters, audience opinion will directly influence the behavior of the stars.

Yes my friends, as the amount of audience control increases, many will feel it unnecessary to carry on their own lives at all - why should they, when someone else's life is so much more interesting? With more viewers tuning in and turning off, and taking more control of the programs all the time, eventually the characters will start to more closely resemble the average viewer. This will spell disaster for the networks.

Thoughtful TV viewers have surely noticed that few TV characters - aside from Beavis, Butt-head, and the Simpsons - spend much time watching TV. That's because watching someone else watch TV is boring. But the networks, in giving control of their product up totally to the taste of the masses, won't be able to prevent these virtual beings from doing what their audience likes to do best. One by one they will have to cancel each "show" because, like their audience, their jacked-in stars will spend too much time jacked-in to somebody else's show, bleeding their audience away.

I predict the last human left truly alive will be the last one to join the audience. Then that final being will only see ... themselves experiencing themselves experiencing themselves, in an endless loop, along with the entire race in a colossal hive mind, with but one thought: the contemplation of the Self, contemplating the Self, contemplating the Self, etc.

I can't wait to tune in.



in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

·feature· ·net worth· ·ac/dc· ·smoking jacket· ·ear candy· ·feed hollywood· ·target audience· ·back issues· ·compulsion· ·posedown· ·the biswick files· ·mystery date· ·and such and such· ·blab· ·kissing booth·

·contents· ·freakshow· ·fan club· ·archive·


copyright © 1996 - 1999 fearless media