Those cranky postmodernists couldn’t have anticipated Freckles’ first fan reference, when they were prognosticating about the hyperreal. Yet I now know my dog is a Bruce Spence fan because she fished a sock out of the laundry basket just after we watched “Puppeteer” with the actors’ commentary on (her usual tastes in smelly clothes run more toward underwear).
I’d gotten used to her being a dog who takes no interest in television apart from to be annoyed with mine, and who finds life without squirrels boring and thunderstorms frightening every single time. I’d decided her consistently nervous reaction to an interrogation scene in The Recruit was a fluke.
I hadn’t noticed how unwelcome a common interest like fandom would be between me and my dogs. I used to be the one who enjoyed special effects in surround sound, and now kicking them out of my room just leads to a huddle across the hall openly plotting further intrusions on the life of my imagination.
Proud music of the storm,
Blast that careers so free, whistling across the prairies,
Personified dim shapes –
Would a beagle-border collie cross be taken in by the seduce-and-destroy ploys of the sort of dystopia imagined in Fahrenheit 451?
Or would she just disassemble their working parts to prove she knew where the wires were hidden in the walls?
When scapegoating modernism for alienation did nothing for our burdens of privacy, technology created “networked communities” with global reach for our search for sympathizers with our most idiosyncratic interests. The scholars of culture saw nothing reassuring about this, and ran to scapegoating postmodernism for our loss of intimacy.
They understated the case. We’ve progressed from deluding ourselves, each and every one, that we are popular, that being popular means being liked for ourselves and for “being ourselves” without remorse – and progress meant waking up to a habit of wallowing in the filth of isolation and self-pity in the extreme.
Apparently, awareness that no one was really looking had been dawning for quite some time.
They hadn’t expected us to start generalizing from our relationship with the television to our relationship with other household objects, with wild birds, with the attitude of the wind in a tree visible through the window, a pinwheel in the back yard.
They hadn’t predicted that we would ultimately find our household pets squarely in the middle of our own interpretive space, casually taking over. I suppose it makes sense as the next thing that would have to happen. Why wouldn’t they be smug and assertive about their status?
The pets inherited a realm so affected by hallucinogenic isolation and dread that they now seem able to use anthropomorphic sign language “better than we do” – or rather, with the directness of mid-sized children who haven’t tired of pointing out what adults do wrong according to their own standards.
In the manner of biology news announcers, naturalisms have been framing all such recently formalized observations about our own behavior as normative by default. There must have been a reason, and adaptative rationales don’t need to be self-evident to be discernible, when your commentators hail from a species with a special gift for rationalizing.
Should I fear the “performative” life that replaces privacy with unquiet daydreams about starring on reality TV, if my dogs stop playing tag whenever their audience stops watching?
Attention seeking could be natural; a lot of things are. But no one likes to meet the audience unprepared.
Please please please
No more melodies
Give me something familiar
To what we know already
That will keep us steady
Steady going nowhere
Access to “the big tent” audience is kept carefully in scarcity, an easily maintained regime once in place since broadcast media giants maximize profits by producing the work of the shortest list of performers capable of holding the crowd, reproduction and distribution being vastly cheaper than producing the content itself once infrastructure is installed.
This emboldens us with envy, if all else fails.
The internet, never short of forgettable embarrassments that make it easier for any of us to feel forgiven without asking, promises to help us each carve off a piece of the “long tail” of the attention economy. But the attention we crave can actually be even more fleeting than usual, in virtual space.
The duration and credibility of interest documented in a tracking statistics unit (a page view) can be thinner than passing hints that one might have been acknowledged somehow, look for look, by a fellow pedestrian on the street – whether for a shared mood in the same scene, or a confrontation held and released before you lost sight of each other’s faces.
So culture scholars warn against an excess of individualism, each locked in escapist personalized worlds of simulation, hiding from the social costs of neoliberalism.
But he’s been pretty much yellow
And I’ve been kinda blue
And it’s dangerous work
Trying to get to you too
I’ve been watching all the time
And I still can’t find the tack
And I wanna know is it okay
Is it just fine
Or is it my fault
Is it my lack
Having tried using denial as a resistance strategy for as long as we could manage, now we’re emotionally prepared to allow the scholars to give directions on another course of collective action: notions like reembodying the body, reasserting a politics of place, reembedding time in space.
We are told to try relating to the built environment – where it clings as a social convention of dress code on the skin, and where it casts a shadow the size of a skyscraper’s – as an expression of nature that we may or may not be satisfied with, but have the only means to modify among ourselves. Find a role to play.
If anyone could, in fact, do better using virtual space to reach out, to step forward, than they would using the front door, it would be clever to know the difference.
If scholars of culture have been trying to focus more of our collective attention on failures of love lately, and the pervasive anxiety about belonging to the ranks of “the working dead” spawns an entire zombie apocalypse genre, maybe the new fear is of stepping out, and finding out what people would really think if you had an audience.
Self-advancing technology certainly hasn’t always seemed like a good place to look for the love that would be needed to close the gap known outside family courts as affective inequalities.
But hype about the democratizing potential of the internet has done its best to change all that, and sideline the technology-as-enabler-of-evil discourse altogether.
The question is, how long will we want to live with autopilot on its own terms?