The Truman Show & The Death of God

Is it easier to live a Truth no other person holds, or to live a Lie every other has access to? This is the question The Truman Show hopes to answer.

A second question might be: why is Truman willing to give up a life of happiness at the cost of finding the ‘truth’ of Reality and Self?

The Truman Show is a film for/of the future. Twenty years later we ask: How has it held up? Either it is a work of unique prophecy or a sign of our times that we’ve been too involved with invoking, re-showing, re-living the past, we ended with ignoring, and no longer hoping for, the prospect of futurity itself. In other words, it is not so much Truman has been so able to accurately portray the future in which we live today, instead, it had conjured a deep enough desire such that its future, our present, wants nothing more than to live its future, our past. This is a nostalgia for (re)living the hope, expectation, and desire for futurity itself which now so dominantly and ubiquitously pervades contemporary culture today. As a result, what we’ve come to long for is not the progression of future itself, but of the feeling and excitement of futurity whilst remaining in the now. We don’t want to leave this wonderful timeline and as such, time only exists in a self-appointed loop. We are seemingly at the end of History whereby we can only play with its past. it wouldn’t be remiss to say we are living backward

What Truman also prophecizes is the obsession with blurring Reality and Truth with Fiction and Lies. This theme, in varying degrees, haunts most, if not every, production of TV, Film, Music, Contemporary Art, Literary production. This is a symptom, for palpably obvious reasons (as Fredric Jameson, Mark Fisher, and others show), of the conflatory entanglement of Capitalism and Culture — when cultural products prove successful is the prime reason for its imminent re-appropriation with the sole intent of acquiring capital. Money talks, Art shows.

Every cultural artefact thereby becomes enmeshed into a single and unified genre of dystopian science fiction even more so when artefacts become nothing but a deep reflection of our own economy without irony. Its as if Capital produce films just to let us know: ‘This is what we are going to do’. 


If the Authentic Life can be said to exist, it exists only as an idea of privacy — what I am free to do with my own body, my own space, is just an expression of who I really am. Yet in a society so pervaded with filming equipment — phones, computers, CCTV, cameras — with Truman’s life live-streamed 24/7, it’s questionable whether privacy really exists. Every moment of our lives is moderated through mediums of connectivity. But in some twist, can it not be said that Truman lives the only authentic life possible? Because if Authenticity is a mode of being situated outside or away from the flow of artificiality — and if Truman is this flow of artificiality embodied — there no longer exists for him such a boundary between authenticity and artificiality, reality and fraudery. Of course one might suggest he is only living a life of illusion — but to who? Certainly not himself. This means Authenticity is no longer defined by standards set for oneself, it is instead set and bound for you. We decide — the people, the society — the remit of what is or isn’t inauthentic and whether you do or do not live up to the expectations.

This is ultimately the illusion Truman himself falls into. For he had led himself to believe (or had been led to believe as the only alternative) that life outside the fake-city and through the black door lies an opportunity to be a body for which is your own and nobody else’s controlled at the expense of entertainment. And in some sense this is true, the only authentic life he is able to lead is one of suffering. How he chooses to react, deal with, respond to suffering can only be determined by him — he is free to suffer.

It might be facile to suggest authenticity itself is an illusion, but along with free will, it is a necessary illusion one can not live without. The true horror of Truman, it could be said, is every moment after the film ended. Because not only does Truman now have to completely overturn his beliefs and ideas, re-attune himself to the environment, sense things not sensed before, he also has to inevitably confront the consequence of the second wave of illusion – namely reality and the world of appearances itself (Not only this, but wouldn’t he merely exist as a celebrity? The life of a ‘normal guy’ is never an option).

God may be all seeing, all powerful, all knowing… but he ain’t perfect. The clumsiness of God (The Creator) in his set design, actor placement, eventually sparked wariness, insight, curiosity into Truman and seeded the fruits of Knowledge; and by doing so, abolished Truman’s innocence. In the fake-city, he was the only person to live a life that was not under threat of constant pressure to perform for the camera, for God. Presumably, the actors also had to live a total lie without the luxury of illusion.

Its as if the true believer is really only but a complete fabrication by God himself, even if he (the believer) is unaware of his existence. God makes it so that you don’t have to believe.

Believing is fictitious. 


Postscript: 

In 2017, Jim Carrey, after a hiatus from the media, came back to the spotlight only to be ridiculed, gaped at, and reduced to some weird residuum (if Hollywood isn’t weird enough) because he had been openly sharing and displaying his thoughts on his disorientation with Identity. A quick look through some of the more notable films of Jim Carrey and it becomes apparent that an unambiguous play with Identity is something they share — The Mask, Batman Forever, Liar Liar, The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, Grinch, Bruce Almighty, Jim and Andy. 

Jim Carrey is just another tragic symptom of the yet to be explored relation between comedy, depression, and identity.

 

Aesthetics, or, The Capitalist Production of Cultural Logic __

The Transfiguration of Objects

Capitalism is the corporal management of attitudes set and made standard practise under its own manufactured conditions.

I.    The Dead Flesh of Ouroboros:

Artists and their Art are deeply concerned with themselves. Not only do we take their megalomania as a symptomatic corruption by the ideal goal set by the self-initiating exploration searching for the sublime, but, conversely, their Art too has and now does only ever exist in spite of itself. All Art is born to be itself. Yet how at this point, tethering on the end of the history of Art, do such objects come to be conceived? The answer lies in what Art, as it has come to be know distinct from ‘mere’ craft, has preoccupied itself with, namely, the hysterical self-conscious questioning of its own existence and what it really means to be Art and in what way. The very moment Art began to question itself with the infamous hysterical insight “What is Art?” is the moment it began to dig its own grave. In short, Art has adopted the appearance of the pathological Artist-as-Human who seeks nothing more than to try and define itself. And if we take answers provided by the likes of Stirner, Hegel, or Lacan etc. that the subject is nothing but a void – and if Art is only just a hysterical projection or transference from the Artist – then the artobject too is nothing but a void. And quite rightly. Contemporary Art has still yet to shake off the dominant and persistent artistic movement of the 60’s; Conceptual Art. The artobject here is really only the many layered appearances apprehensively masquerading its own void by way of shrouding itself with ideas or spooks. In fact, so eager to disallow anyone from believing that Art is nothing, Artists frantically inject too many concepts into the work that it reveals to us the ever more potent fact that what they are hiding is literally just nothing itself. The eagerness to repress the secret is a sign of the Artist’s own acknowledgment – and cynical denial – of the void of the work itself. In psychoanalytic terms, it could be seen as a self defense mechanism of Reaction Formation which seeks to overemphasize what one or some thing is not in order to distract oneself and others from what it is. E.g. Homophobia could be a sign of one not coming to terms with their own homosexual desire which they seek to repress in the form of attack against oneself and (similar) others.

To reiterate, The History of Art has concerned itself with defining itself (subsequently pushing forward what it is to define art in the name of ‘progress’), and Contemporary Artists have taken what was once thought to be the end of Art – originating with Duchamp followed by Warhol – and make it their biggest strength. The perpetual pushing forwards of what defines art by creating non-art. Once thought to be a deficit and boundary of what Art can be, thus putting some limit on what can be produced, Artists have now taken this limit, and the perpetual breaching and extending of it, as their primary goal. The Artist of the 21st Century is the Transgressive Artist. Yet this transgression itself has been capitalised into a moot, flaccid and ultimately boring, myopic, bourgeois commodified fantasy. Artists of this sort eternally create for themselves an infinitely regressing attempt at creating what shouldn’t be thought of as art (as thought of in their own terms). In fact they long for such a chance to be captured and pinned to the ground, limited and confined so as to even have the motive for acts of transgression. They need reasons for breaking a cage they wish they had. As David Foster Wallace said about postmodernism: “irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage”, or better, “irony is the song of a bird whose come to love its cage”. Any chance at being the champion who ruptures and break from the status quo. It seems now that everybody wants to be the Architect and no one the builder.

II.    The Anti-reification of Contemporary Art:

If reification is the process by which conceptual processes concretise into material objects (e.g. The wedding ring is the concretised object of an abstract process – the wedding itself), then the way Art is produced now is the reverse. It takes itself as an a priori artobject waiting to be confirmed and validated and bestowed the title as such upon its very questioning of itself. Just in the way an Exhibition might host “avant garde” or “Experimental” art – placing non-art in a space ready to be reified into the status of an art object by way of its merely being presented as itself (an answer exemplified by the Institutional Theory). The Art questions itself into existence. What defines the artobject here is not in any of the qualities the artobject might possess, but in the process which enables an object to be transfigured into an artobject – It is this process we must explore.

In our attempt to think about what art is, we can no longer ignore the moments and ways in which it is produced – the production of art (commodities?). With Art and Late Capitalism increasingly intimate relationship, it’s no wonder the production of art-making itself have become at the forefront for what it means to be art. Art has become self-conscious of itself. It is a reified product created only to be created, produced only be be apart of a cycle of production. The artobject now, under the influence of Late Capitalism and the Market, exists and is defined and valued solely on its very own capacity for existing and being. In the only way the Market knows how, how we seperate, distinguish, and categorise artobjects from each other is in terms of their revenue, status, monetary value, and/or fame (The Indistinguishables alluded to by Danto). ‘Value’ can even be hereditary. In once sense, ‘great’ art is produced only by ‘great’ artists. This means that not only are there moments where the aesthetic joy given off by artobjects always has to be traced back to some creator or author, but, that ‘great’ artists are themselves produced from the status and monetary value which their artwork has acquired. In fact, it is no longer possible – if it ever has been – for a once heralded and championed artist of his time to no longer produce work that is not art, or non-art. He/She may produce bad art, but this never seems like a disqualification of what it ought to be for it be art. And yet, under Late Capitalism, is this a surprise? If bad publicity is good publicity, then any bad art produced is ultimately the successful route on towards being an artist if art is to be defined by its ability to have fame, status and subsequently, monetary value. Is it any surprise then that a place like Tate reveals once every year a series of bad artworks? Bad in the sense of knowingly causing public upset under its own rubric of middlebrow transgression – eager and in anticipation of the very publicity stunt that’s used in order to up the ante and status of the work in question. “Quick, come look at all the Bad Art we are showing”, “Just look how terrible it all is!”. Media Commentators storming in through the entrance lapping up all the delicious content to booster their own ego wherein they are merely playing into the fantasy role of the puritan. Capitalism interpellates us as brutish and puritanical in order to paradoxically keep us in control from our selves whilst exposing us to its own transgression. At one and the same time, the image of the people in the eyes of Capitalism is one of either the transgressive and barbaric violent individuals, or, when it comes to culture, of that of the prudish lower class philistine who doesn’t know any better. And all this remains so, however, for as long as we judge the quality of the artwork, its artness, in terms solely of fame and monetary value.

The status any artwork achieves is through an anti-reification process of a very neatly constructed Event. It is the Event which allows us to see anything in this circumstance as becoming art. The Event is, in some respects, an ideological tool for propaganda used for profit.   

III.    The Artistic Fallacy:

Under this logic of Contemporary Art, an Artistic Fallacy is born out of the consequence of judging art only by its globility, recognition, status, fame, money and value is that we are no longer able to discern the difference between what is art and what isn’t. Now, although it is my project that any object – whether created with intent or not – can have the capacity for being art, this does not mean everything is art at one and the same time. And yet, under the Capitalist criteria, what stops something such as the iPhone from being Art? The point is not really to say iPhones ought to be considered Art but that this reveals yet another contradiction and hypocrisy to the function of Capital by subverting what it appears to be providing on the surface whilst secretly providing for itself new rules and regulations with which enables the art world to secretly manage for themselves a set of criteria for what can be considered art (or presented in a nice museum) by exploiting the system and the people who lose out (other artists and its audience). It reveals and concludes and already known yet often ignored reality; that an organisation as big as the artworld is running an exclusive club handing out vip tickets. What this means is that in fact they don’t really care about transgression, they care only for the objects which draws themselves profit, usually by providing provocative art, and refer to this as that which can be only transgressive. It is a particular bourgeoisie transgression that turns out to be a conservatism, by distancing themselves away from the more trashy, punk/pop, filthy, ‘low’ transgression in favour of a middlebrow anarchy that is all too concerned with the state of their own house after they trash it. It seems that from institution to institution – Tate to Moma to Guggenheim and back again -, they hold for themselves a private-language accessible to those who don’t speak it and barred from ever having the opportunity to learn it. The additional point is despite their agenda, they really dont have for themselves a coherent system of curating artobjects. There is no criteria with which they go by because it purposely is constricted, limited, and confined only to those who they want to be apart of it. There is nothing anyone can ever do to allow themselves to join the party because it is about controlling the heads within and without of that party. Art Institutions are scouters, picking out and thus creating and forming (or manipulating) and curating their own version of Art History. Yet the problem is not what a Institution has to do in order to contribute to a history of Art, it’s in the very way they conduct their methods to how they contribute to history. And so there are two reasons why the iPhone isnt art under their framework: 1. It wouldn’t provide them with the type of Transgression and subsequent audience provocation to produce the desired Event needed to validate it as art, and 2. That they in fact hold to some degree a standard (orthodox) quality of Art using a list of mediums and techniques we can count on our fingers; painting, sculpture, installation, performance etc. – An iphone is neither one of these things. Not even a readymade. Which means, crucially and maliciously, the production of the so called transgressive artobject is used only for the purpose of capitalist exchange for those at the top. With no real care, trading art objects like their trading cards in an attempt to satisfy themselves.

IV.    The Incentives for Creating:

Why does one (begin to) create? Certainly not with the hope of ever getting enough money to make a living from. And yet Young Artists are still nonetheless perfectly emulating the role of the Successful Artist they most admire by producing mintaure simulacrums of their works in hope they too may be discovered in a similar fashion. No single Artist – including all icons of our contemporary age – started off with the belief or motivation to create as a means to get rich and famous. It’s not that Capitalism produces the incentive for creating art but that it provides us with a map, a guide, a cookie-cutter shaped empty form, which expects us to nicely and tightly fill ourselves in – follow the path to success – in order to be rewarded with what it can offer. And as a result, all artistic production that aspires to traverse the same road laid out by the Market/Capital slowly synchronises into a single, unified, frankensteinian coagulation of dead matter made up of monotonous, boring, uncreating, bland, uninspiring, insincere parts. Yet by saying this, what alternatives am I really proposing? To not follow the path of the capitalist layed out with the assurance that this is the way towards their hopes, dreams and aspirations? By condemning them to a life of poverty? No. Although this does reveal the malign options Capitalism presents us with. Follow me and you can achieve Glory, and if not, you’re on your own kid and there’s nothing you can do that will guarantee your success because we simply won’t allow it under your terms! What is the incentive for choosing your own path in a step towards creative sincerity if what artists get rewarded for are works that are less and less uncreatively imaginative? Art is competitive, no doubt. But what are the rules for competing? These are the criteria set by the artworld. As generally conceived, it is not to create a technically brilliant drawing/painting/sculpture to be considered as a necessary criteria to be art but instead for a work to transgress and redefine itself as an art object. The more outrageous you can think to un-create art, the more likely you are to create an object to which you wish to destroy straight away, to transgress once more. Because the very moment you create art is the very moment it becomes canonized and no longer transgressive. All contemporary art is historical. In a competition like this, why should one bother to create a sincere and true to themselves artwork if one can be rewarded for doing much less and much worse? What incentive other than pride keeps me going which sinks like a ship in this economy? There’s nothing to be proud over, says the face of Capitalism. In its eyes we are the Hobbesian ideal of the brutish and nasty subject ready to terrorise and willing to fight to the top. Yet this is nothing other than a fantasy projected onto us. Another empty form is provided for us for us to fill so it can have the motivation and reason for keeping us at bay – from invoking violence. It wants to protect us from ourselves by constraining us. This empty form shows what we are and what we have to do to get out of this mess, to get out of ourselves – the only way out is through capitalism, holding its hand.

V.    The propaganda of The Museum: (And Whither Doest This Experience Cometh From?)

The means provided by the Transfiguration of the Event (The Museum) is a production and provider/host of a set of faux-aesthetic experiences received by its audience as genuine, authentic, internalised and thus ‘authentically’ attributing any feeling to the objects under the condition of the Event (Museum) itself. In other words, the ‘positive’ experience we may feel from any given artobject is then not necessarily from the object itself but, in harsh terms, manipulated and prescribed for us by the means or process of the hosting of the Event itself. Because if we agree that the kinds of Art that make its way into the golden towers of Institutions, it’s not because of what the artobject is per se – its quality and artistic value – but the very process into getting that once-upon-a-time non-art object into a process that leads to its transfiguration by way of placing it in the very conditions of the Event itself – thus allowing it to achieve its value. Which means, whatever feeling you may feel is not necessarily from a projection of the artobject itself but from the apprehension of witnessing and spectating the Event in which you are in and in which you play a key role. What this entails or reveals is the possibility of being duped into associating quality to the work itself rather than the Event which gave rise to it. For if the art object is in a Museum then it must be genuine!

An example for this kind of trickery is in the way we react to Celebrities. Much like the alchemical transformation of an object into an artobject, so too does the object of celebrity have its own transfiguration formed from an Event. Just think of how one can go about fooling a mass of people, along with their followers online, into believing one is a celebrity by way of adopting the appropriate symbolic imagery – the stereotypes, the commodities, and the attitude. The Event of ‘celebritizing’ yourself is what induces people into acquiring and adopting the false belief and experience that you are a celebrity. Where celebrity was once defined in terms of consensus and social recognition – lots of people knowing you. We now only have to adopt the image of being already-known, already a valid celebrity, by wearing its trademarks. For instance, walk into any shopping centre with some sunglasses, quality high art street wear, a couple of bodyguards and even some friends to take your picture as ‘paparazzi’ or have them sign autographs – from this you will have made for yourself an Event in which people can fall into and hook and invest their fantasies into. What’s more, the reason this works more than ever, much like the famous Contemporary artobjects, is because of the growing self-aware ego of the individual who knows full well about the nature of the Event. Just evident by the fact that they are constantly creating an Event of their own identity, presenting themselves as something they long to be. And so, it’s not that the fake-celebrity itself, as object, who affects the hearts of those who wish to interact with a celebrity (maybe some), but that people wants to be seen with the image of a celebrity for their own gain, for their own solidification of their Event. And isn’t this what Trend really is? A network of Events being created with no discernible reality to them? The Instagram stars of the world want only to appear to be in the presence of someone appearing to be a celebrity. A matryoshka production of simulations. Debord is still more pertinent than ever when all that matters is not to be, or to act, but to appear! At least he looks famous! Why else would this artwork be in a museum? The point to this is that those pleasurable aesthetic experiences we have – although real – are really only the appearance or deferral of some other entirely different experience. And it is the job of the Market to capitalise on this appearance by substituting the artificial Event for the art object. Because they cant sell processes…

The question to all this is not in asking what is an art object or celebrity, but in how those object came to be. It is not What is Art, but, What is the thing we call Art.

VI.    Low Art, Pulp, Outsider Art, Transgression and the Clean Arsehole of the Bourgeoise:

If High Art under capitalism is created in order to transgress itself – born out of its own transgression, and if low art, pulp, outsider art etc are genres of art that seek to transgress the status quo, – to be a reaction against High Art – do they then not contribute to the growing tendencies of the fetishisation of the transgressive that capitalism capitalises on? Does it not add to the continuing production of newness in hopes of only attating innovation for the sake of innovation? No, I say. Because here there are two types of transgression. Or more specifically, one real transgression and the other an subtle appearance used as a mask for some underground standards or criteria.

What does a prude, a puritan, a fake middle class citizen, or the bourgeoisie member really do when they transgress? In fact, being in the upper social sphere, what is there for them to transgress? Because they are the status quo they have to transgress themselves. Yet in such a way as to not dismantle the socius with which they rest on. And for reasons unknown why there really is a split between Low/High Art, so too do they subscribe to a distinction of Low/High Transgression. Thus, for instance, what ‘norm’ does the prude transgress? Having Sex only after Marriage? Only with one woman? Only for conceiving? Only once a week? No. Instead they use the mentality of transgression to give them the excuse of delighting themselves in the appetites of lowly forms such as polygamy, cheating, roudyness etc with the point of not being reduced to a low person who just pleases himself on these delights anyhow. What distinguished them here, in the eyes of the upper class, is in the acknowledgement of the very indulgence in the transgressive act itself. They don’t just feed off their “inner selfish” instincts. No, they have proper taste… or so they say. This reminds me of a Joke by Zizek: about a group of Jews in a synagogue publicly admitting their nullity in the eyes of God. First, a rabbi stands up and says: “O God, I know I am worthless. I am nothing!” After he has finished, a rich businessman stands up and says, beating himself on the chest: “O God, I am also worthless, obsessed with material wealth. I am nothing!” After this spectacle, a poor ordinary Jew also stands up and also proclaims: “O God, I am nothing.” The rich businessman kicks the rabbi and whispers in his ear with scorn: “What insolence! Who is that guy who dares to claim that he is nothing too!”. The point here being that only the upper class can get away with being dirt! To join in on the delights dined by the working class without associating themselves with them. Spilling some tea, not having coasters, eating whenever they like, wear anything they like, never sleep, never rest, party all the time; these are there lowly indulgences. It becomes of no surprise when we read stories that confirm the secret perversity of the prudish and the abusive power of the Holy.

Real Transgression has no limits and conforms to no image, no identity. It is not a limit set by a puritanical capitalism that giggles when it farts yet covers its senses when anything else goes further. High Transgression is destroying your house with the worry of having to clean up afterwards. True Transgression is the dirty arsehole in all its full back glory! Not the squeaky clean arsehole of the Upper class.

Transgression under capitalism becomes traditionalism and made standard practice.  

A Sexy Odyssey

What can maybe be said to connect or preoccupy us all – regardless of where we are in the world, what culture we’re raised in, what race we feel we belong to or the differences in identity – is a feeling and acknowledgement of the want/need to be noticed by others. Now this isn’t a cynical comment about obtaining a sense of self-gratification but that of not being lonely, of being apart of a community and a reciprocation of identity formation.

And of course, this desire to be noticed manifests itself differently relative to the level of culture, community and individual identity itself. And while this post will refer exclusively to where I am situated in (England) and where I am enveloped in (America), I wanted to take the opportunity to semi-seriously make note on the preoccupation of the desire to be noticed, as emphasized on the media I am involved with, which in my opinion is characterized as the desire to be seen as Sexy. (and what I can extrapolate out of the seemingly trivial subject of sexiness)

This is not what is sexy but how.


 

There is no being sexy – in the same way as there is no being sincere – as it suggests intent on doing and artificially constructing a mode of being or doing and of being seen that is not true to itself (in other words, inauthentic). It is what is presumably what happens to you, without your acknowledged doing. Except, as we will come to see, such a basis for authenticity, sincerity and even sexiness is through the process of ideological cynicism and a performance for an other and oneself.

Authenticity is one of the primary and fundamental criterion for any being – having the capabilities of possessing and carrying out what could be described as Attitude – to be seen as sexy. As such, authenticity suggests a being for oneself which instigates confidence (another criterion of sexiness).

Confidence is the link between performer and spectator, an exuberance that can be spotted, if not, called for from the performer. Ideological cynicism is what allows a performer of sexiness to both act as if one were sexy and, as a result, be sexy from such action. Any act of sincerity performed enough times inevitably puts oneself into a position of sincerity (even if only from an on-looker. Yet if both performer and spectator believe in the existence of either sexiness or sincerity, does it matter at all?).

It is not only authenticity and confidence needed to be sexy, and such a rigid and well kempt definition surely goes against the lure of sexiness itself, but here is to my mind, a litany of sexiness: appeal, charm, allure, seduction, concealment/secrecy, allusion, teasing, eroticism, contentedness, and the spectacle etc.

One begins the act of sexiness by first being dishonest, insincere, inauthentic, and incomplete. Sexiness is a reenactment, a construction or playing out of being, a productivity, an action, a performative rhetoric. By literally doing the actions of sexy, one tricks oneself into believing and thus invariably become sexy (but of course, one must know what sexiness is in order to perform it, yet, in my opinion, it is not so much what is performed as it is the performance itself that is sexy. Which is to say, there is no being one way or another, there is only being).

This acting or Performative (Procedural) Rhetoric is nicely described by Levi Bryant on an idea thought by Ian Bogost as to how we learn through playing video games such as SIMS. “A Performative Rhetoric is a rhetoric that persuades not through language, but through situating an audience in an activity. The audiences understanding is transformed through the activity of doing. In this regard, games are a form of rhetoric. They change us through their play.” Interestingly, the audience described here is the one playing the game, in other words, the actor performing or ‘playing’ the role of sexiness. Yet because such an act of sexiness is characterized by its being an act for an audience, a spectator, then a second audience exists and can be said to also posses the understanding of sexiness – the receiving of pleasure – by being put, as well putting themselves through, the act of doing, the act of being a part of a spectacle or an audience.

This Performative rhetoric can also be considered along the lines of Ideological Cynicism, following the procedure of belief. The difference is, where or to who the feeling of sexiness exists, in the performer or its audience? The rhetoric allows for oneself to believe in oneself, effectively tricking oneself into becoming, in order to finally become, so others too can witness it. Ideological cynicism, on the other hand, allows oneself (the audience) for the option of having the potential to see, witness and experience sexiness where ever it may not ‘actually’, or intend to, exist.

The similarity is in a shared truism: Fake it til’ you make it! Zizek has a lot to say about Cynicism, and so I will go through two ways in which I can appropriate him for my own cause (without just referring you to him).

The first is in the way such an actor produces for themselves a sense of authority confirmed by their apparentness, attitude, confidence and supposed authenticity (to the eyes of others). This authority plays a crucial role in Lacan’s symbolic order, whereby we treat the subject of authority only with regards to their authority irrespective of what they are like without it. As Zizek says, this takes the form of a fetishistic disavowal: “I know very well that things are the way I see them /that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him”. Sexiness, then, replaces the Judge. Regardless if one is actually or truly sexy, the confidence and performance with which the subject is enacting, takes the role of authority,  receives from it all the gratification and acceptance of its audience for whom can only believe that it is a sexiness irrespective to how they actually feel.

Another example of fetishistic disavowal is, as described in one of Zizeks stories, how one can perform the same lucky ritual or superstition even if one disbelieves in it, and have its effects still ‘work’. “seeing a horse-shoe on his door, the surprised visitor said that he doesn’t believe in the superstition that it brings luck, to what Bohr snapped back: “I also do not believe in it; I have it there because I was told that it works also if one does not believe in it!”” It could be said that if only one believed what one hoped to see or experience, one would end up experiencing that very thing, if not only a fiction produced via ones own imagination. Its how the dirty mind sees sex everywhere! 


 

Sexiness is a technique of seduction, not in search for a partner to fill the gap of sexual inadequacy or to confirm its (sexiness) existence, but of acquiring an audience. Sexiness is a play of the spectacle, set up as an Amphitheater home to an all-seeing audience competing among each other over the cause of sexiness and over the acquisition of the experience of sexiness itself. It is also this competition that further emphasizes, even rarefies such a feeling of sexiness to both performer and audience.

If one were to pinpoint the sexy in the subject, one would come away empty handed and exhausted. For what we can only find is the reflection of our own idiosyncratic eccentricities and fetishistic desires that transposes the sexy from the performer into the mind of the spectator.

In his book Mythologies, Roland Barthes describes Wrestling as a spectacle of excessive, exaggerated and most importantly, grandiloquent gestures. Yet these gestures are nothing without its audience, for what makes of wrestling without them? Two people limply fighting, unconvinced of their own performance? This is to say that sexiness – and wrestling – is a direct relationship between performance and audience.

I’m inclined to say that it is with the apprehension of never being able to achieve, attain, or gain full satisfaction from the object of sexy is what constitutes sexiness itself. It is a never full-filling eroticism that goes beyond the mere illusion or caricature of sex appeal. Yet what constitutes the erotic? Barthes asks, “Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.” The slow reveal of the clothing (or obstructive toy) that masquerades the object of sexy.

This disappearance is the curiosity a spectator feels that is diminished through an eagerness to see more – such as the trouser leg raising beyond the ankle, exposing too much, yet not enough –  and yet what is more is not what is there, as it is what is not there is what we actually want. The libidinal intensification one now feels is a result of now having endured the prolonging of sexual teasing.

Paradoxically, after all, there is no audience a performer of sexiness can/does perform to directly, as if the performer were just as aware of the audience as they were of the performer. Except, one performs believing such an audience exists, even if not to be watching. Which is to say that sexiness is as much for an audience as it is for oneself.

The Freedom To Not Be

There’s no doubting that the excessive usage of social media is damaging or harmful to an individual’s spirit, body, and soul, and to get clean from such an obsession is to temporarily remove oneself from the virtual reality – and subsequently conversation with fellow users, which now comes at the cost of surviving the winter of solitude and ironically, to recede and take a step back away from the over-self-analysis scrutiny of how one is in relation to other people/users and to go in hiding with only one’s own flesh and blood, body and mind to reflect upon. But this removing or deleting of one’s entire online existence from the corpus of the internet is a solution to the problem of existential angst, confusion of identity, limitless freedom and consequential inauthenticity that proves hopeless and unhelpful in the long run. It is this innocently ignorant or uncaring attitude of believing one has the freedom, ability, or state of mind to simply exit from the world of social media and cut off all involvement and connection with the internet (the part of the internet one can only really care to fully acknowledge if it has something to do with our own self) which leads me to believe we are yet to fully actualize or consider the real-ness of the internet and social media, and at understanding that its now apart of our reality that will only ever integrate and incorporate itself with and within our existence at an exponential rate that leaving or avoiding or stopping the usage of the internet will become extremely difficult, if not impossible. And so, an alternative solution is needed in order to live an anxiety-reduced state of confusion, despair-free, happily fulfilling life with and within the internet. This solution doesn’t require a change of action, nor of attitude, but of gathering an understanding to the workings of social media –  its effects and consequences on our behavior towards ourselves and others – and lift the veil revealing in all its superficial charm the illusion of the virtual ideal life that acts as a surrogate to our own seemingly pitiful lives. 

 


 

Although it may not feel like it, social media has become the dominant mode of creative self-expression and, more importantly, one that is more akin to High Art than anything else, and can only be seen as the natural progression from writing to drawing, to photography and film, to now videos and images that are, albeit, not too dissimilar from the previous mediums mentioned, particularly photography, but still nevertheless embodies its own unique characteristics and functions that enables to separate itself and become its own. But because of its plasticity and ever changing form, it doesn’t conform to genre and so cant be seen to reside more with literature than contemporary art or film; except, it has taken the essence of each of those and made it its own subject matter: the subject itself, the self, the author, the performative persona for which we embody. Before social media, it has never been too hard to distinguish between fiction and reality in art, and the link between author and work has never been so closely connected before since social media, and it is this distinct characteristic, I believe, that has caused mass confusion of self and others with the blurring between performance and action, authenticity and insincerity, freedom and slavery to an unchanging and forever going virtual system. Social Media is the subject of subjects.

 

Art As The Selfie Onto Our Reality

 

Has social media given us the opportunity to be ultimately free with limitless possibility as opposed to the limited opportunity of circumstance in the real world? In other words, has social media allowed access to our true selves we otherwise have missed out on or could only internalize because of the supposedly overbearing circumstances of reality? Or, are we now too free with no real sense of direction that is needed for a fulfilling life? Are we now in a blended mix between the limited freedom of the real world and the limitless freedom of the social world and our own sense of identity, parrying between the two, contributes to the mass confusion we all feel because of our inability of being able to tell the difference between the identity of the online-self and real-world-self and this together is a cause of inauthenticity?

Throughout the history of artistic creation it is not uncommon to see an Author substitute their own person for that of a fictional character, or scenes of people employed to tell a fictitious reality that, upon witnessing, becomes a reflection of our own. And it would not be hard to believe that these fictitious characters used to reflect their own reality is any less authentic than its author, and yet with social media, the blurring or combination or schizophrenia between these two persons, author and character, has an affect on the notion of self identity and the real world consequences that happen because of it. As well as the ambiguity of authenticity and sincere actions.

The identity of the author and the online persona isn’t so distinct as to be two separate people, nor so combined as to be one but a half and half mix that interchanges between the real and virtual world. Provisionally and capriciously flipping between the ‘roles’ the actor plays and acts out to the degree we don’t know who is who or which is which when encountering with the actor whether in the virtual or, more importantly, the real world. To such a degree also that the actor them self has also forgotten or got confused over their own identity of playing which role.  

We are not so good at introspection, self analysis and third person thinking that makes the purpose of art all the more important, to act as the reflection to our own ways of being that self-introspection falls flat. In other words, its to look at our own hands through, or with, the mirror. Of course, this ‘reflection’ of our reality could instead be viewed as its own kind of reality that has no accurate bearing to our reality and it is in the many interpretations of the people to discuss and, more importantly, reflect upon the reflection and to not take anything as truth without further speculation.

The problem of course is social media has taken an inward approach to looking at reality by taking as its subject, the subject who’s contemplating the subject, in other words, the self. It is a self-oriented art that plays out a faulty and unreliable self-analysis and introspection that art was there in order to bring us back to reality. It has in effect, brought reality to our own control that’s completely and consciously socially constructed and curated and has provided a competing pluralistic reality among the billions of subjects where nothing can be made coherent, no sense of what’s what and who’s who and has pushed us back farther down the rabbit hole in terms of understanding our own being and position in the world.

 

The Archaeological Self

 

What’s very strong about forming our identity through social media is one: we have a clear understanding in the progression of a particular identity through scrolling back the history of its life, and two: counter-productively, we have the ability to manipulate and curate and delete what goes on the internet of ourselves, for the most part, that contributes towards the strengthening of our own sense of identity and who we want to be seen as. This is opposed to how one’s identity, pre-social media, would have formed and developed whereby what you say of yourself, what you let yourself show to others, makes up only half of what contributes to your identity, the other half being what others make and say of you, which affects and collides with other people’s sense of you and to some extent what you think of yourself. Because if introspection is so bad that we need art, and this case other people, to provide us with the reflection of our own reality we’ve been living, then we must believe, to some degree, the assignment and identifiers of character others make on us. But this of course requires its own reflection, otherwise it would be dangerous and/fatal to believe what others say of you because of ones idea of limited access to our own sense of identity. Its set up as a perfect dialectic (thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis), we prove the thesis of our own identity, others provided the anti-thesis of our identity, and we compromise or provide a synthesis of our identity between the two.   

 

The Social Medium Is Half The Message 

 

The disconcerting paradox for avid social media users is the way in which an audience or viewer makes judgments about the person relative to the particular social media app used. It would be presumptuous to think that every social media app has no differing causal effect on the author and its audience because the difference between the ways the apps function guides its users to act and present themselves in different ways limited by the design of the app itself. For instance, the small difference in having ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’ affects the curatorial outcome for their identity. Also, each app is intuitively understood by the masses of its users as having its own unique connotations that if one were to post a picture on any one of the multiple apps available, the interpretation of that image would differ dramatically based on the presumptuous ideas of the app itself and what the consensus for how that app functions is. And with Instagram in particular, there is the assumption that it functions as a tool to showcase a users life in the best possible light, an ideal life represented through carefully curated highlights of one’s life. It is because of this constructing of an ideal life, and the seemingly insincere motif of showing or revealing only that which you want to be seen as, reveals more about you that you wish when one starts to think about all those photos that go un-uploaded, hidden, or absent. That now your identity is made up of all the photos you haven’t taken or rejected to upload, because of the presupposition that every upload is a fake or inauthentic portrayal of the idea of the ideal identity through which you want to identify as having first wanting to show the best and more ideal aspect of your life. The more you try to hide, the more revealing the hidden becomes. It’s often said that we have an online-presence, but we forget we also have an online-absence.