Project 5.3 Being and its Semblance

Project 5.3 Being and its Semblance
  • Look up Schrödinger’s Cat. Make a brief summary (see end of post)
  • In Blade Runner there are a number of instances of references to Lacan’s version of the Gaze. Find six other examples of this in film, TV or other imagary and annotate and make notes on your chosen examples and explain how they fit in with Lacan’s ideas

There are planty of obvious symbols of looking and eyes found in Blade Runner as described, but I would argue that these are overt examples and there are many more covert examples of being seen in all of culture. “Looking and being looked at are identical processes for Lacan – when you look you are also seen; when your are the object of the look you return it, even if only to reflect light back to its source; ‘things look at me and yet I see them” (Four Fundamental Concepts, 109)” (Hirsh, 1997, 103) The concept of the image screen is extremely difficult to fully understand. We can only see the picture if we are in it – if we see it, we are part of it. The object reflects back at us making us and it an interacting relation, neither of which exists without the other. (I notice there is some concern over a translation regarding this.)

  1. Nearly every time you travel up or down an escalator on the London Underground you will be presented with images of women in advertisements for objects and services as diverse as make-up, clothing, theatre, magazines, holidays or phones. The repetition, as the screens (often digital and therefore contain moving images nowadays, or a pattern of changing images that are synchronised) pulse at us on the journey, induces a sort of hypnotic state. Often it seems that the women in the adverts look at us, or invite us to look at them. Their constant presence on the Underground is very much like the scenes in Blade Runner, with high-tech advertising surrounded by dirty and grimy infrastructure as pointed out in the following example. These screens tell us what life ought to look like in our imaginations. (I really like the blog post that accompanies the image I found to illustrate this point… https://makewealthhistory.org/2008/10/28/london-undergrounds-new-digital-posters/)
  2. Ralph Eugene  Meatyard – Meatyard’s work is a complex fit with Lacan’s ideas but Marianne Hirsh’s Family Frames introduced me to the idea of image screens and used Meatyard as an example when she explains that image-screens become ‘visible only through the mediation of filtering screens’, which is how Meatyard’s masks work. Hirsh suggests that the masks work by acting a bit like a successful ‘piggy on the middle’ taking the object and transforming its presence. She says, “Meatyard(‘s) …makes visible what is inherent but masked in the very activity of perception. (Hirsh, 1997; 103) Polly Borland‘s work does this too. She also uses masks and strange outfits, adding to the image screens that already exist, transforming, making the ‘real’ visible by rendering it strange, by adding to, she and Meatyard manage to strip away from the symbolic.
  3. Cindy Sherman’s work seems to be mostly concerned with the image screens of cinema which provide us with a dictatorial idea about what women, and men in fact, should be. Her most obvious examples of this are the film stills, described on wexexbits.org as follows:  “Modeling (sic) in several roles, she reveals gender as an unstable and constructed position, which suggests that there is no innate biological female identity. On the contrary, women adopt several roles and identities depending on their circumstances. Therefore, the roles in the Untitled Film Stills series vary from an immature schoolgirl to an attractive seducer and from a glamour diva to a caring housewife. Importantly, her work encourages self-reflection in the spectator. As Sherman argues, “I’m trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.” (nd)
  4. All family photography – as explored in detail by Hirsh in Family Frames; our family portraits ‘stare’ back at us from walls and mantelpieces reassuring us about our family structures and our own positions within it, even when it’s an uncomfortable place, it’s nevertheless comforting to recognise, according to the objects that we invest in. “The mutuality and speciality of looking, as well as that fundamental masking and mis recognition, are no-where more constitute than in the space of the family. They are fundamental to the familial look, which is institutionalised through the screen of the mask of a culturally and historically specific familiarity…” (Hirsh, 1997; 103)
  5. Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is filled with images of a monstrous gaze and the image screen is literally observable as it juts out of computer screens, magnifying faces and the digitally filed records of citizens. Made just three years after Blade Runner, it explores similar themes in many ways – dystopian future, the blurred lines between real and fantasy, what it is to live in a world being constantly observed. It too contains images of the ideal female form. There are also a few eye-shaped edits e.g. where folding curtains form the white of the eye and the fantasy forms the centre – the pupil, serving to give an impression that what we are seeing is in ‘the eye of the beholder’, or rather the protagonist (and perhaps therefore the viewer as he/she relates cathartically).
  6. Un Chien Andalou  – the most compelling and brutal image that anyone who watches this film will recall is the eye being cut edited along with the cloud slicing the moon.  The slicing apart of the visual organ, which as we saw early in the course, is related to eating and reproduction at their most basic levels, is desperately difficult to contain. A surrealist protest perhaps?

Schrödinger Cats – a thought experiment to illustrate how particles can be in more than a single fixed state at any one moment. They can act as a wave as well as a particle and there is always the possibility that these tiny sub atomic elements can be both, until that is they have been observed, at which point they stop being unfixed and are one or the other. Erwin Schrödinger was one of the early physicists and devised the thought experiment, which is now an example of complex science filtering through to popular culture as  seen in Big Bang Theory – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCOE__N6v4o. It has also been used to make fun of UKIPs ideas about immigrants, ‘simultaneously lounging around on benefits whilst also stealing jobs

References – all online links accessed on 2/1/2017

Hirsch, M. (1997). Family frames. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, p.103.

Image of London Underground advertising https://makewealthhistory.org/2008/10/28/london-undergrounds-new-digital-posters/

Polly Borland https://www.instagram.com/p/BOvyfoojBLQ/?taken-by=polly_borland

Brazil Terry Gilliam, 1985, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/

Big Bang Theory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCOE__N6v4o

Le Chien Andelou https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIKYF07Y4kA

http://newsthump.com/2014/11/28/ukip-warns-of-schrodingers-immigrant-who-lazes-around-on-benefits-whilst-simultaneously-stealing-your-job/

Main image (c)SJField 2016

 

Project 5.2 Ecclesiastes misquoted

  • Watch Blade Runner, the director’s or final cut rather than the cinema version. 
  • Is Deckard human or replicant? Make notes and give reasons for your answers.
  • Watch The Matrix and make notes as to how far the ideas of the simulacrum inform the film.

Blade Runner  – click for synopsis

I am always happy to watch Blade Runner.  Nevertheless, I hadn’t watched it in some time and saw it with fresh eyes. I don’t think I ever thought of Deckard being a replicant before, although, in a way, when I watched it this time,  the film seemed to be saying the idealised norm doesn’t exist at all except off-world. And what is off-world if not a reference to the idea of Heaven?

Watching it this time, it became very clear to me, especially towards the end that Blade Runner can be read as a deconstruction of the Christ allegory. The biggest clue to this is when Roy takes a nail out of the floor to put through his palm, ostensibly to keep his body from dying for a few more moments, but also as part of the function of the story to introduce the crucifixion symbolism. He then picks up a dove before leaping across buildings, saves Deckard and promptly dies himself – saying, “Time to die”, which could mean because he’s a replicant, but also suggest this is the point in the allegory where he needs to die. A dove, the symbol for peace, flies off as he does. His saving of Deckard mirrors Christ’s dying on the cross to save us from ourselves, which was one of the central points to the story I seem to remember. The deconstruction puts the sacrificed figure in the ‘bad man’ category and the saved one in ‘good’ category. Roy asks, “Aren’t you the good man?” (Now that I see this, I feel a bit dim for not seeing it earlier. It seems very obvious.)

We can surmise that Deckard is a replicant because he has a memory of a unicorn at one point indicating that the memory is probably implanted. But it also tells us on a different level of the storytelling that myth is part of the theme of the film, or the frame within which it should be understood.

Gaff is one of the policemen who comes to find Deckard to ask him to retire the replicants. Online we are told his ‘dislike’ of Decker is because he knows Decker is a replicant*. Gaff also makes small unicorns implying he has seen Deckard’s files and knows what memories he has stored in his head. I’m not sure if Gaff dislikes Decker since he seems to have been at Decker’s home in the final scene and lets Deckard and Rachael get away. He could have ‘retired’ them if he really felt strongly. We know he was there because he left one of his tiny paper unicorns behind. His character is limited due to screen time, and so a struggle to be fully rounded, and he does seem to serve mainly as a function of disposition.

Aside from the above clues to Deckard’s real identity, or rather in conjunction with them, there are plenty of unspoken and subtextual pointers to underlying conflict in him, which could suggest he is an advanced replicant. He seems empathetic towards the replicants. He doesn’t answer questions when asked about his past, leaving us and Rachael guessing. He doesn’t answer about having taken the test himself. He seems reluctant to kill the replicants and appears to be sad when he kills the first female, Zhora Salome.

*Rest assured I resisted the urge to search until after I’d answered the question for myself.

The Matrix

I wrote down some thoughts about the film in a post filed under notes when looking at Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and had watched it before spending some time looking at quantum physics documentaries on Youtube. I also did so before seeing an article about writer, Philip K. Dick  who was convinced he had ‘seen’ that we existed in several realities at once following dental surgery.

“Dick goes on to describe the visionary, mystical experiences he had in 1974 after dental surgery, which he chronicled in his extensive journal entries (published in abridged form as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick) and in works like VALIS and The Divine Invasion. As a result of his visions, Dick came to believe that “some of my fictional works were in a literal sense true,” citing in particular The Man in the High Castle and Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, a 1974 novel about the U.S. as a police state—both novels written, he says, “based on fragmentary, residual memories of such a horrid slave state world.” He claims to remember not past lives but a “different, very different, present life.”

Finally, Dick makes his Matrix point, and makes it very clearly: “we are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs.” These alterations feel just like déjà vu, says Dick, a sensation that proves that “a variable has been changed” (by whom—note the passive voice—he does not say) and “an alternative world branched off.”” (Jones, 2014)

As I suggested before, The Matrix writers draw on Baudrillard’s writings to such an extent that there is a prop in the film which looks like the book, Simulacra and Simulations, but is in fact a secret hiding place for computer floppy discs that hold illicit games on them. This refences not only the theory but also things which look real are in fact not. The film draws on ideas about simulated worlds becoming more real than actual reality, but there is little to say in the film that any of the worlds are in fact real. Even the one Neo ends up in might be a faked world. However, the faked aspect doesn’t protect anyone from dying because fake becomes the real despite not being so in the first place. The film also draws on developing quantum theories about multiple realities in the universe, The Many Worlds Theory and Hologram Theory. Hologram theory suggests quantum information is held at the edge of the universe and everything we see is a resulting product. As posted elsewhere on my blog, there are those who are convinced this theory will be proved correct. (Solon, 2016)

Of course at the moment it is not possible for a layperson to say either way (unless you have some weird epiphany following dental surgery perhaps). However, some of the themes and suggestions in the film can be seen as metaphors for very real scenarios. The idea that we can affect our physical world via thought is not far-fetched although flying about in an underground station probably is. Alexander Technique teaches you to simply notice habitual patterns in the body, and then to imagine changing them. For example you might imagine the spine lengthening. You should not try to DO this, simply to think about it a calm place and over time the repeated practise will in theory lead to relaxation, which in turn allows the biological parts to take up more actual space rather than being condensed causing pain and what some see as inevitable shrinkage as we age. My own experience while at drama school suggests that following the instructions and practising daily during rehearsal periods did lead to physical changes, or at any rate the perception that they had occurred.

The other thing about the film which links to quantum theory is the way in which consciousness works. No-one fully understand this at the moment, hence the fact questions pertaining to consciousness are known in science, physics and philosophy as The Hard Question.

J. Jones, 2014, Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality, Open Culture http://www.openculture.com/2014/02/philip-k-dick-theorizes-the-matrix-in-1977-declares-that-we-live-in-a-computer-programmed-reality.html [22/12/16]

O.Solon, 2016 Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it’s more likely than not, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/11/simulated-world-elon-musk-the-matrix?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=194421&subid=11118875&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2 [22/12/16]

The Matrix Synopsis http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/plotsummary [22/12/16]

Blade Runner Synopsis http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083658/plotsummary %5B22/12/16%5D

Notes: 5.2 Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations

Read Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations and make notes:

“Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no original to begin with, or that no longer have an original.[1] Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time.[2]” (Wikipedia, last updated 2016)

  1. “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance.
    It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.” (1) Baudrillard refers here to meta-objects in language that don’t relate to physical objects. At the most extreme end, people’s profiles on Facebook or other digital sites don’t die when they do. It has been suggested the time will come when a computer programme will be able to take the digital data we leave behind and re-create a simulated version of ourselves (although why anyone would want to is the question… ) Mind transfer to a computer is, it is claimed, within reach. At which point existence can move forward entirely as a simulacrum. http://3tags.org/article/mind-transfer-to-a-computer-and-immortality-may-be-within-reach (Our awkward excreting fallible bodies may no longer hinder us under such circumstances, and I can imagine people being hooked up mentally to some online world while their physical bodies are left behind in some form with tubes taking care of the real stuff) . When Baudrillard wrote this paper in 1981, he can only have imagined the levels of digital reality that we live with now, although he does seem to have done a pretty amazing job doing so. However, language has worked on this level for some time as objects that don’t really exist make up our understanding of reality… i.e. words. Culture surrounding children for instance is a case in point and Baudrillard focuses on Disneyland. He describes this fantasy place as “the perfect model of all the entangled orders of simulacra” and exists to hide the fact that Disneyland is America, just as prisons exist to hide the fact that society operates as prison, keeping its subjects incarcerated. He refers to a map in a story Elsewhere online we are told “A specific analogy that Baudrillard uses is a fable derived from “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges. In it, a great Empire created a map that was so detailed it was as large as the Empire itself. The actual map was expanded and destroyed as the Empire itself conquered or lost territory. When the Empire crumbled, all that was left was the map. In Baudrillard’s rendition, it is conversely the map that people live in, the simulation of reality where the people of Empire spend their lives ensuring their place in the representation is properly circumscribed and detailed by the map-makers; conversely, it is reality that is crumbling away from disuse.” (Wikipedia) This makes me think about the hoopla that child rearing is infused with, from the paraphernalia surrounding infancy to the terms people use to describe stages such as ‘terrible twos’. This paper is very difficult to get one’s head around fully and at the moment I can sense it right on the very outer edges of my understanding and am constantly alert to the fact that I risk imposing my own worldview onto his theory.
  2. “In this passage to a space whose curvature is no longer that of the real, nor of truth, the age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials – worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs, which are a more ductile material than meaning, in that they lend themselves to all systems of equivalence, all binary oppositions and all combinatory algebra. It is no longer a question of imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody. It is rather a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes. Never again will the real have to be produced: this is the vital function of the model in a system of death, or rather of anticipated resurrection which no longer leaves any chance even in the event of death. A hyperreal henceforth sheltered from the imaginary, and from any distinction between the real and the imaginary, leaving room only for the orbital recurrence of models and the simulated generation of difference.” In this passage the most obvious thing that I think of is money, as we head into a cashless society. We will no longer have coins and notes that represent something of value in the bank. Instead we will have merely the idea of it in digital form being moved around the online world only. Does money even relate to anything substantial you can pick up in the bank any more? I’m not sure it has done for some now. My children want to buy in-app purchases  – they would be paying for a digital event in a game that takes place and then disappears. It feels like giving money away for nothing to me but to them it feels natural to be paying for something that doesn’t exist except as a moment’s experience. What is the difference really between what they want to spend money on and the machine that promised to shove pennies over the edge in arcades when I was a child? Each is as pointless as the other and merely encourages more and more empty spending. But where is the line drawn between meaningless and pointless spending and useful spending? If I buy an apple I can eat it. If I buy a pink-lady apple I can eat it and perhaps enjoy the feeling of having bought a more expensive apple. (Mind you, if I buy apples from Harrods, I wouldn’t enjoy them at all because they might have cost £25 each but it’s what’s in my imagination that stops me from enjoying them, my relationship with money, which as I’ve said is probably quite close to an idea nowadays, although a very powerful one – simulacra )
  3. “Simulation is the operation of a real-world process or system over time”. The internet is possibly a digital version of processes that are organic and animalistic, and in times of less complex, social organisation, it may be argued occurred as a matter of course. Social contagion is the phenomena where ideas and behaviours spread between people and groups in a way that seems automatic and unspoken, and groups need not be in direct contact. Mirror neurones seems to play an important role. Perhaps the internet has brought this potentially* real process into a symbolic, computerised manifestation as the real function of social interaction slowly disintegrates. Is it up to us to make moral judgements about where the interaction is based? In organic consciousness or digital connections? We have a long way to go before we fully understand the processes. (See Deborah M Gordon’s article on ant culture and then end of the division of labour metaphor been applied to human constructed society). However, “To dissimulate is to feign not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one hasn’t. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But the matter is more complicated, since to simulate is not simply to feign: “Someone who feigns an illness can simply go to bed and pretend he is ill. Someone who simulates an illness produces in himself some of the symptoms” (Littre).” (2) Human consciousness is extremely powerful and feigning illness can  lead to real illness. E.g. A culture of sickness it might be argued encourages more illness.

Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations at first seems bleak and depressing however, I think is important to read it with as little moral value judgement as possible. (what we can understand of it – it’s very tricky to get to grips with) The Holographic Theory that has been developed in quantum physics circles might be connected in a very literal way (which was done in The Matrix) to some of Baudrillard’s ideas. There are even those who insist that a theory suggesting our world is a simulation will be proven at some point in the future. (Solon, 2016) But as things stand, until that branch of science makes more sense to people in the non-scientific world  Adam Curtis’ Hypernormalisation seems a more useful interpretation, where he looks at the themes covered by Baudrillard such as living in a world that is disconnected from the real and finding ourselves affected by economic simulations and the machinations of those in power. As for our online world, an obvious and direct example of how powerful simulated worlds are is in an article about how women feel when they’re sexually harassed online in games. ““No bodies touched,” Dibbell wrote in the Village Voice. And yet, to the victims, the violation was real: “posttraumatic tears were streaming down her face – a real-life fact that should suffice to prove that the words’ emotional content was no mere playacting.” (Wong, 2016) I suppose my problem with the idea that a simulated world is somehow not ‘real’ is because you have to wonder what we mean by real. An actor is still real even if he’s using the words given to him by a writer. The scene he acts in is a real scene. The motions he relies on to convey the narrative are simulated but if he’s any good they will be genuinely felt, alongside another sense of reality managing the mis-en-scene. The All Blacks simulate rage and aggression in the ritualised chanting they do before each game. It then becomes very real and helps them to win most of their matches. The women in the online game felt abused and violated by the  men they were playing with who harassed them. When we see a film, we’re really seeing a real film. The boundaries are not as clear-cut as we may think. It might be argued we simulate civilisation to hide the fact we’re all sociopathic animals who struggle with inner non-civilised drives, some more successfully than others.

Baudrillard PDF – http://mysite.du.edu/~tweaver2/artd2355/schedule/baud_sim.pdf

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxZ17mu8wCg

https://web.stanford.edu/~kcarmel/CC_BehavChange_Course/readings/Additional%20Resources/social%20contagion/Social%20Contagion.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacra_and_Simulation

Wong, 2016 – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/26/virtual-reality-sexual-harassment-online-groping-quivr

Solon, 2016  – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/11/simulated-world-elon-musk-the-matrix?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=194421&subid=11118875&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p04b183c/adam-curtis-hypernormalisation

http://3tags.org/article/mind-transfer-to-a-computer-and-immortality-may-be-within-reach

Wikipedia references:

Robert Goldman; Stephen Papson (2003-08-30). “Simulacra definition”. Information technology. St. Lawrence University. Retrieved 2015-08-04.

Jump up ^ J. Banks; J. Carson; B. Nelson; D. Nicol (2001). Discrete-Event System Simulation. Prentice Hall. p. 3. ISBN 0-13-088702-1.

Project 5.1 (ii) Illusion only is sacred, truth profane

Project 5.1 (ii) Illusion only is sacred, truth profane

Find advertisements for products that have been in production since before the second world war (Coca Cola or Bovril for example), in the modernist period and today, and annotate them to show how, or if there has been a change from product to lifestyle as the selling point

 

I have chosen look at a Pears advert because my mother owns a copy of the print, has done all her life, and currently has it on her bedroom wall, (as you can see there is a crack in the glaze). In my mind as I research for A5 , answering the impossibly large question, “what is reality?”, I am beginning to comprehend and make sense of the fact that advertising operates in relation to metanarrative, i.e. “a story about a story, explaining other smaller stories within an overall scheme” (Haveland, 2009) Adverts are themselves small stories that reflect and reinforce the bigger story as well as the smaller stories. They appear to be devices for selling, but in fact they are mini-verses (30 seconds usually in the case of TV advertising) that offer the human condition (individual and society)  a reference point within a host of stories, which we rely on to structure an internal image of reality. The reference point contributes to forms of representation internalised by us as we make sense of the world in way that is still coming to be understood by neurologists. As such advertising is immensely powerful because there is so much of it. We receive stories made by advertisers all day everyday, and aside from the fact this results in a commodified version of ‘reality’*, stories have the power to humanise or dehumanise, shape morality and influence perception of what is acceptable or not. Religious stories are hardly told nowadays. They have been replaced  by advertising stories. The impact of this on our collective perception is profound.

*I have highlighted the word reality here as it is a tricky word. It has several meanings and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I will need to explore this and write a separate post before submitting A5.

The advert above is a painting by William S Coleman (1928-1904) called The Sunny South and was included as a free poster given away in the 1898 Pears Annual. Perhaps this makes it less of an advert since it was not designed for Pears specifically – however, once included in the annual it was branded and therefore indicative of the brand voice. It is an example of a commodified narrative entering social discourse.  Coleman was a prolific illustrator whose brush style might be described as influenced by Pre-Raphaelite, although it may be fair to suggest the brush style is more generally Victorian. The content is quite different to the Pre-Raphaelite, who are described on a video produced by the Tate as Victorian avant-gardes, where subject matter contains socialist values, opting for Realism to explore uncomfortable subjects for the time such as lust, death, class, adultery etc. Their work was shocking in its day and made in direct opposition to the contemporary artistic influence from the Renaissance’s Raphael (Barringer, 2012). Can we say the same for Coleman’s painting? If it was controversial in any way it would have been a subversive sleight of hand, and missed by the advertisers. I would suggest it is not subversive, rather, it is highly idealised and the sort of thing that gives Victorian art a bad name in some circles. I suspect there is all sorts of Victorian symbolism in it that only art historians and experts will now be able to recognise but the impression I receive from it  is as follows.

The painting is described on an auction site as being a portrait of two young sisters (invaluable.com, 2002). They are lounging on a veranda that looks Mediterranean and quite un-English. Behind them is a tapestried carpet on the wall, and they are also  sitting on one, along with lots of cushions. The younger  sister dozes with a fan, which, like the tapestried carpets looks in some unspecified way to my own eye exotic and not very English. There is also a large decorated china plate leaning against the wall. Coleman designed for ceramics and tiles in his time and one can hazard a guess the design might even have been one of his own. There are pot plants and creepers suggesting nature which links to Coleman’s main interest. The picture’s face value narrative is one about two girls who can be seen relaxing in an idyllic location that is warm (Sunny South) and peaceful. One rests and the other does some needlepoint. I have looked online but can find no references to who the girls are or meant to be. However, the Victorians were about to begin a bloody and brutal war in South Africa, one in which the concentration camp is said to have been invented. (historywiz.com, 1998) This fact might be seen as indicative of the dehumanising lens  the British Empire. So the sense of peace represented in the picture is quite different to the actions taking place in the physical world at the time. There were also rather a lot of girls who worked in factories in England at the time. Very few actual children could have experienced such a setting in real life. The Empire was in full swing in 1898. The English had galloped all over the world appropriating exotic lands, people and objects, (treating people like objects to be owned). Much of Pear’s advertising at the time, as described in several places online, exemplified the Empire’s desire to wander round cleansing the world of its ‘savagery’ and replacing it instead with various versions of supposed English civility. The Coleman painting, although not as overt as some, nevertheless in linked to a brand that can be described as follows:”… Pears used their product as a sign of the prevailing European concept of the “civilizing mission” of empire and trade, in which the soap stands for progress.” (Wikipedia, 2016) If you Google Pears advertising you’ll come across plenty of remarkably offensive examples of Victorian racism along with the racial superiority complex that fuelled Empire’s agenda. However, any sense of moral high-ground related to today’s advertising is misplaced since our own society is responsible for the infamous UKIP referendum photograph used erroneously on many levels.  Stuart Hall is quoted in a blog about visual culture which explores Pears advertising; ““The racialized discourse is structured by a set of binary oppositions. There is the powerful opposition between ‘civilization’ (white) and ‘savagery'(black). There is the opposition between the biological or bodily characteristics of the ‘black’ and ‘white’ ‘races’, polarized into their extreme opposites-each the signifiers of an absolute different between human ‘types’ or species.” (Hall 232).” (Visualcultureblog, 2014) The UK is not the only country that continues to represent reality in these terms and again a Google search yields too many examples of racist and deeply misguided narratives from across the globe.

The Pears Annual, I am told by a dealer of rare modern literature was “…hugely successful up to the Great War. Typically they serialised major middlebrow writers and were more commercially minded than say, The Strand, which published literary heavy hitters…..It’s in many ways the birth in the UK of that kind of American Sponsored programme… [which]…died off in this country on account of the BBC”. (Blakeney, 2016) This would suggest the annual had a huge influence on the way in which people perceived reality along with any group, structurally informed morality, although I would posit such sponsorship didn’t quite die off, but the presence of the BBC certainly curtailed it for some decades.

How does Pears do today?

It has been difficult to find a UK Pears Soap campaign. I know I have seen them in recent years, and I know you can still buy it in the shops, although I have stopped doing so since I no longer like the smell of it. I remember really loving it. And I recall an English romantic (commodified) illusion attached to it,  which I found appealing in my younger days (perhaps especially so, having grown up abroad). Trying to find an up-to-date UK campaign led me to two articles from 2011 and 2010 which state that Unilever, the current owner of the brand, has changed the formula leading to a change in the quality and smell. In fact, the writer in the Guardian surmises Unilever are perhaps trying to phase out the brand altogether and replace it with Dove (perhaps Dove’s less racist advertising past underpins such a desire if it exists, consciously or otherwise, although it is more likely to be an economic consideration). (Stanley, 2011) A 2010 Telegraph article claims the soap’s old formula would be revised following considerable complaints. However, the Guardian article suggests this did not happen and the writer spent considerable effort finding old stock, which he hoped would last him for the rest of his life.

Customers have tried to find the original soap online through Amazon or Ebay, although looking at reviews it would seem plenty of people have been duped into buying the new version, as sold in the supermarkets, and which currently contains the following: Sorbitol, Aqua, Sodium Palmate, Sodium Stearate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Rosinate (May cause sensitization by skin contact), Propylene Glycol, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, PEG – 4, Alcohol, Glycerin, Parfum, Sodium Chloride, Sodium Metabisulfite, Etidronic Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, BHT, CI 12490, CI 47005, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate Cinnamal, Eugenol (Sainsburys, 2016).

This compares to the old list which is described by a reviewer on Amazon as follows:
“Pears soap’s formula has changed as of 2009. It is no longer the wonderful, natural product we all knew and loved.Original ingredients: Sodium Palmitate, Natural Rosin, Glycerine, Water, Sodium Cocoate, Rosemary Extract, Thyme Extract, Pears Fragrance Essence.” (Amazon, 2010)

On forums you can find conversations discussing the new formula. One person writes in response to a suggestion about where one may be able to find the old formula, “Nope. That’s the nasty Indian kind” (Fluther.com, 2011) It’s striking that racist rhetoric steeped in a sense of superiority over another race is projected onto a bar of simple and innocuous soap. The soap is not to the person’s taste (arguably a culturally constructed appreciation of what is acceptable and desirable) however, she has managed to communicate her feelings about India and Indians in just five short words. She views the Other, in terms of nasty, fake, abuser and ruiner of a romantic English Victorian version of reality. There are a plethora of non-abrasive, holistic soaps available in the world, although it is probably true they are more expensive than Pears Soap. The new formula will undoubtedly have been decided on due to an economic decision by a mass-production factory whose main aim is to make very large quantities of product for as little cost as possible. The soap people want to buy does not fit into that model. That type of soap is specialised nowadays. It is not affordable in a mass production model, and the commodified dream of Victorian country purity is also too costly on many levels. In Zizek’s film, The Reality of the Virtual, he describes his interpretation of the Real that separates objects from their Symbolic and Imaginary realities. For example, this is a bar of soap. It is not a dream, or a romance, although people project that onto it. Yes, it no longer has the same ingredients it once had. People are understandably annoyed. But rather than simply move onto another of any number of non-abrasive, ‘natural’ soap bars they become angry. They project racist feelings about Other onto the product and mourn the loss of the old product, which felt better to use, and also represented something from the past which has gone. Soaps that don’t include synthesised chemicals in their ingredients are much more  expensive to produce but they too are merely bars of soap. What you buy when you spend money on ‘natural’ ingredients is in actual fact identity.

The irony here is that the soap embodies a time when the industrial revolution made it possible to mass produce products in the first place, and Marx had plenty to say about this new mode of production, especially in terms of how capitalists employed people who were far removed from the end-user, and the effect that had on society. He also explored the fetishisation of goods. Here a fetishised product is no longer a viable commodity unless the recipe is changed. Mass production has no truck with expensive ingredients when cheaper alternatives are available. The new manager-owners making the soap far away from the UK or the States are the same people the Victorian Empire appropriated and attempted to cleanse of their non-Britishness. Being non-white and non-British they are inhabitants of Other. These people have internalised Victorian manufacturing values and changed the beloved soap. Pears advertising, as discussed earlier and in more detail on The  Future is Visual blog epitomised cultural ideas about cleansing people of their non-civility. Now the most up to date Pears Soap advert I can find online is aimed at Indians. What’s more it also references Disney, the most overtly commodified children’s dream-maker ever to exist, and hugely powerful in terms of the represented realities young people are handed by society.

My mother’s Pears’ poster represents an idealised view of reality where little girls can laze away the day in fantasy worlds that are warm and idyllic, unlike the many children across the world working in factories and fields, as well as poor-houses in the UK. They are white and peaceful and surrounded by objects that symbolise foreign influence on aesthetics which came about through conquering and appropriating Others’ culture. It is an image that feeds into an illusion about ideal childhood,  as well as the British Empire’s superiority.

What I have not discussed here is repetition and the building up of a brand through a variety of means. I may cover repetition and the way it helps to construct a metaphysical entity at least in some way in the final assignment for this section.

 

En.wikisource.org. (2016). Coleman, William Stephen (DNB12) – Wikisource, the free online library. [online] Available at: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Coleman,_William_Stephen_(DNB12) [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Haveland, P (2009) Understanding Visual Culture. Open College of the Arts, Barnsley

Barringer, T. (2012). Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. [online] Tate. Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/pre-raphaelites-victorian-avant-garde [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

En.wikipedia.org. (2016). Pears (soap). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pears_(soap) [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Invaluable.com. (2002). AFTER W.S.COLEMAN. [online] Available at: http://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/after-w.s.coleman-the-sunny-south-a-pears-print-247-c-3zdryl6grz [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Historywiz.com. (1998). The Concentration Camp in South Africa – HistoryWiz. [online] Available at: http://www.historywiz.com/didyouknow/concentrationcamp.htm [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Visual Culture Blog. (2016). Visual Culture Blog. [online] Available at: https://thefutureisvisual.wordpress.com [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Blakeney, A. 2016 – text message conversation (Rare book dealer)

Stanley, B. (2011). This Pears soap just won’t wash!. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/12/pears-soap-changed-formula [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Fluther.com. (2011). Does anyone know how I can get the original Pears soap …. [online] Available at: http://www.fluther.com/117655/does-anyone-know-how-i-can-get-the-original-pears-soap/ [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

Zizek, S. (2012). Slavoj Zizek: The Reality of the Virtual. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnTQhIRcrno [Accessed 19 Dec. 2016].

 

 

Project 5.1 (i) Illusion only is sacred, truth profane

  • Look for three examples of current advertising that sells by appeal to to lifestyle rather than virtues of the product itself and make notes to show how
  • Find advertisements for products that have been in production since before the second world war (Coca Cola or Bovril for example), in the modernist period and today, and annotate them to show how, or if there has been a change from product to lifestyle as the selling point
  1. X BoxGoogle ‘lifestyle advertising’ and get taken straight to an X-box campaign which was shot by a photographer described as follows: “Mike Henry is a commercial photographer who specializes in lifestyle, advertising, and fashion photography” (Henry, 2016) I’ll concentrate on an image of two young people in the bath who look like they’re having a brilliant time at a party. Just in case you missed the fact it could be a party, there are what look like the contents of a party popper all over the couple. The male is holding an X Box remote and supposedly playing the game whilst lying in the bath. (we don’t see where the console and screen might be). The girl has her arm in the air and is throwing the popper stuff about or perhaps she’s emulating a dance. You can almost hear her whooping. She has her eyes closed as if caught by the photographer mid-reverie. Her legs are bare and shaven and her skirt is very short so there is a hint of vagina although obviously we don’t see anything actual. It’s connoted. She’s young and conventionally very pretty. The boy looks like he’s a bit shy and one might deduce from his body language and demeanour that he is sweet and unthreatening, and although leaning in towards her, also connected to the game (which she isn’t). The bath is confusing. It’s short and mustard-coloured, so ‘retro’ in a nostalgic 70s way, and looks like it might be in a tatty student flat. But the splash tiles are a bit ‘groovier’ for want of a better term. And the black wooden dodo-rail mid way up the wall is a sign of the room having been decorated. The wall looks to be rendered in some sort of faux, shabby-chic, not quite done style. It might suggest ‘cool’. The image is lit so it’s bright and clear but gives the illusion of being just a normal bathroom light on at nighttime. However, it will have taken lighting equipment to create, suggesting this is this is an illusion at its most basic level, before you even get to the narrative and more definitive signs. The connotations for this advert are if you play X-Box games you will live a life of idealised late teen, early adult fun, on some level of reality. Life will be a party and you’ll get a pretty, super-cool girlfriend to play games in the bath with you. Again, on some level. Transposed over the top of the image is the name of the product. It’s called X Box One, the latest generation of X Box console which promises to update automatically and offers the greatest range of up to date online games. This extra information affects the meaning of the image. On its own it’s a promise of getting the girl and being at cool, fun parties. Because it’s called X Box One, you might read the advert as saying, even if you are possibly not terribly ‘alpha’, like the young man in the advert appears to be, it doesn’t matter – you don’t need that aspect of life anyway. You can have whatever reality you want in the online X Box-game reality. In fact you can have whatever you’re after there. Not only is it OK to be ONE it’s preferable for X Box – you can meet up with other people online in X-Box reality. You are One, and that’s fine because X box likes that about you. You are an X Box One. You don’t need the fantasy in the real world because X Box can give you its reality in its fantasy world.
    http://mikehenryphoto.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/lifestyle-advertising-photographer.html
  2. Sheraton Towers Singapore

    I chose these two adverts because of the way they were shot, and I will concentrate on the woman rather than the man. She sits facing inwards with a background view of Singapore in her hotel room. The image gives the appearance of an everyday scene. The model doesn’t look at the camera, (neither does the man).  And as such we are being told, “you and I” (I being the advertiser, maker of advert) “both know she is a model and this is ‘pretend’, but let’s pretend it isn’t for a moment – let’s pretend this is real. Let’s imagine the model has been photographically caught, perhaps candidly in her hotel room mid action.” She has a coy, slightly wry smile on her face and we are invited to concoct a narrative around this. Who is she looking at? A spouse, lover, or a waiter – probably not? It’s an alluring look. She holds an iPad or other such electronic tablet in her hand as if she might have been reading, emailing, surfing the net, perhaps doing some work, perhaps relaxing. She is wearing recognisably very expensive shoes and a dress, which although simple and stylish, looks like a designer cut. Or rather, it doesn’t look like it came from a high street store. The dress might be something she wears for work or simply her everyday smart-wear, because she’s the sort of woman who can afford to have that as an option. We know it’s not like the dress in the previous advert, nor is it a dress-down outfit. There is an equally recognisably expensive handbag at her feet. So she could be a business woman or if staying in the hotel on a ‘leisure’ trip, someone who dresses well even when holidaying. There is a filo-fax type thing on the table next to her, so she’s organised and presumably busy if she needs one of those. The object signifies luxury and might even seem unusual to some in this day and age when many *western people under a certain age are so reliant on digital diaries. It adds to the narrative about who this woman is. She is relatively young although not as young as the late teen/young adult in the advert above. She looks in her late twenties. I’m concentrating on her look rather a lot but her deceptively simple outfit is constructed to give the appearance of a woman who fits very specifically into a non-threatening but still sexually alluring woman, moneyed (the shoes, bag and leather diary). She is dressed in such as way as to be recognisable to other women who identify with her lifestyle.
    The most interesting thing for me is the lighting. In order to achieve the well exposed background scene and have her lit too, there will have been a big ‘beauty dish’ or other such lighting device in the room, perhaps a large reflector and maybe a dark screen too to the left of her, and then plenty of Photoshop manipulation too, not only on her skin but also on the landscape in the background . The background may even have been added on entirely afterwards for all we know although there is no need for that to have been the case. The scene is lit to give the impression of everyday normal daylight, (i.e. it’s not dramatic and so not exciting or threatening) but light doesn’t work that way – she’d be in shadow or even silhouetted without lighting. So we can deduce the scene is entirely a falsehood, even though we have been invited to join in with the illusion that we are looking at a candid shot of a person who happens to be in the advert. *The woman looks like she may hail from Western Europe or America but there is a hint of ambiguity as to her place of origin, i.e. she does not have the appearance of  a stereotypical Singaporean but she may be.
    The strap line says, “A new sense of arrival”, which is a confusing phrase. A new arrival connotes birth, babies. By inserting the words ‘sense of’, that connotation is reduced but it still lingers and so invites us to read ‘excited anticipation’. People also arrive on an aeroplane and travelling is usually quite tiring and even alienating, so perhaps they’re saying when you arrive at our hotel you will feel refreshed and  welcomed and at ease. Whatever you think of business travel which can be a lonely and empty experience, the experience you receive here will be much nicer, better, life affirming even.http://scottawoodward.com/blog-archive/category/luxury-lifestyle/
  3. Clarks VillageI’ve chosen this campaign because of the very specific and popular camera exposures used. These images are included in a series of images for an outlet store selling Clarks shoes. I am aware that Clarks have been trying to attract new customers and update their image, appealing to a wider range of  people and continue competing in a difficult market. The image of Clarks is perhaps a little staid and stodgy in many people’s minds, although I am aware as I write that I might be alone and even quite judgmental in thinking this. But when I think of Clarks I think of safe, sturdy and well-made, not terribly exciting shoes. I think of decent children’s shoes that are a little less expensive than the other brands that dominate the market. I think of the shopping experience in my local Clarks store which often ends unsuccessfully as they usually don’t have the right size for my own children and only a limited selection of stock. The store is also small and crowded; there is often no-where to sit while we wait and the shop is overfilled with sale stands covered in shoes that haven’t sold so you can’t move around with ease. However, I am also aware that I have seen shoes on friends which prompted me to ask, where did you get those, and I was told Clarks. These shoes looked like they might have come from another less well-known brand that are also known for selling well-made, decent quality shoes, which are good for your feet but with an alternative lifestyle ‘flavour’. Clarks has some of this but not the alternative lifestyle identity. In fact it has the opposite of that. The faux romantic setting would not, I suggest, appeal to the imaginations of the alternative lifestyle shopper. So this campaign is interesting. It should be stressed that this advert is not for the shoes exactly but rather an outlet store, a type of shop known for selling stock at greatly reduced prices. In actuality, the truth of that is variable and dependent on individual stores and possibly also times of year and within the sales cycle.  The style of photography is very distinct and extremely popular. There is the golden light, suggestive of sunset, warm summer evenings. The images are over-exposed as often shot facing or into the sun. This means a lot less black and a lot less contrast than in the images I’ve looked at – suggesting dreamy and ‘fuzzy’ . It’s shot at low aperture i.e. very wide open so that the models are crisp and sharp but the rest of the picture isn’t, or gives the appearance of such, but I suspect Photoshop has been used to increase this illusion. There is lens flare, and I would suggest some of this is added in Photoshop too – the purple hints seem to be. The models in this setting denote a couple having a romantic stroll through fields on a warm summer’s evening. What this has to do with the actuality of shopping in an outlet store is not clear  – thenadvert sells a dream, not the Real. The fantasy could not be more far removed from the reality.  Note the outlet centre is called Clarks Village. It seems outlet stores often utilise this word – village. Perhaps it’s a failing in me but when I think ‘village’ I think of small English places that look historical, pretty, and old-fashioned, where you might go to a lovely pub with a log fire or have afternoon tea, after a walk in the countryside even. A fantasy in so many cases I’m sure.  Bicester Village is the only outlet I’ve been to in the UK and it’s the least villagy place, as imagined by me, I’ve ever visited. Earslfield, where I live, is a grungy, dirty, albeit wealthy area of the great, sprawling, urban metropolis that is London, and is more ‘villagy’ by far in that there is a sense of organic community here which it is hard to imagine exisiting in a retail park – although any long-term employees who form groups and friendships may disagree with me. And so ersatz is the (somewhat snooty, I know, forgive me) word that springs to mind when I look at the images – fake, removed from reality of a shopping, from the idea of ‘village’ (which too may be Imaginary in most cases), overfiltered – and not in a good way. The other thing to say is that outlet stores, it could be argued, are the epitome of an over-commodified world; where in some or many cases stock that isn’t really needed, made by people who are paid very little, in factories far away, are sold to people who are invited to come and spend the day shopping for things, as a leisure activity, at a lower cost than they were originally sold for, because they were overpriced to begin with even though too many items were mass-produced for actual demand. Outlet centres often have luxury brand attached to them which act as the main attraction (although not always). Although it would be quite wrong to stereotype the sort of shopper who heads to an outlet store  – I happen to know a range of people who do and I, a not very wealthy someone, perceived by others as ‘middle class’ has done and may well do again –  it is fair to suggest that the outlet village is perceived as somewhere you can get hold of goods that were once expensive and aimed at wealthy customers, for far less than their original cost. Clarks may not fit the usual idea of store people are heading for when they go to such places but perhaps they do well anyway, as in fact luxury brand names that draw people to such outlets are nevertheless still relatively costly and so some people might find what they can afford (and want to partake in – a purchase) in a less luxurious store. The advert contains couples rather than families. The advert sells a fantasy about strolling through the countryside (related to that word ‘village’) in the romantic, (filtered) warm glow of a setting sun.The reality of shopping at an outlet store for safe, sturdy shoes at a discount is beyond removed. The illusion perpetuated by the advert surely must be shattered the minute anyone arrives in the store.I will post the second section seperately.

Notes: The Is-Ought problem

I was asked to look at the Is-Ought problem; Scottish philosopher, David Hume’s question about the way people present arguments, which he says is flawed.

For instance:

We evolved to eat meat therefore we ought to eat meat.

Hume says there is a gap in the thinking process here and a more valid argument would be

We evolved to eat meat, we ought to live consistently with our evolution, therefore we ought to eat meat.

Just because something IS doesn’t mean it OUGHT.

We are told in various online films but specifically in a short film on The University of Aukland’s website that (nd);

  1. You can’t draw moral conclusions based on what has occurred previously.
  2. When making moral arguments there must be at least one moral statement in the premise before reaching a conclusion stating moral facts.

The other good video is made by  Radio 4/Open University .

So, I suppose I need to watch out for the way I and others make arguments when writing these essays. We mustn’t assume something OUGHT to be just because it was or IS.

In a way then I suppose the Tweet I saw earlier today (which Richard Prince had re-Tweeted) is dispensing with IS-OUGHT assumptions.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-19-58-11

(Acker, 2016)

 

 

 

Notes: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Notes: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

In my feedback for A4  was asked to look at Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and watch The Matrix and compare.

The Allegory is a short section in Plato’s republic, which we are told is perhaps one of his most famous fables (Kleiner, 2014). In it some people are chained inside a cave where they must spend their whole lives. The allegory is written as a conversation between Plato and Socrates, Plato’s teacher who was put to death for practising philosophy. They discuss how the people in the cave face away from the opening towards the wall. Behind them is a fire near the entrance, and just outside of the cave is a short wall, behind which people walk by with shadow puppets shaped like real things from the world. The people in the cave see only shadows on their wall, and since they are tethered in position they can’t turn around, so they name the  shadows and believe them to be real things. They hear mumbles from outside and think they are the shadows’ voices. One of the prisoners is released and ‘compelled’ to leave the cave. He is dragged outside and his eyes suffer because the light of the fire at first, followed by the sun which is too much for him, being used to only looking at shadows all his life. But in time he becomes used to the light and realises he has not been looking at reality until now. He can look right at the sun eventually. He is delighted to learn new things and recognise them for what they really are, comprehending that until then he had only been looking at reflections and shadows. Not real things at all. He also begins to feel that sorry for people who cannot see as he does or have yet to go through the process of seeing. He recognises that going from darkness to light or back is a confusing time and has empathy for anyone who must do either. Plato and Socrates discuss how a person must turn towards the light with their entire self; mind, desire, body, spirit in order to learn. And a person can achieve this transformation fully through good habits and practise. People who might have been damaged in childhood can be transformed and instead of doing evil might focus on higher things if they become enlightened. But anyone who becomes enlightened must be sent to live in the cave again. They cannot live an idle life just enjoying themselves. It is their duty to go and share their wisdom with their fellows back in the cave. Even though they will not be believed, or laughed at and perhaps even killed for their enlightened ideas, thy must find a way to share their wisdom as wisely as they can.

There are several animations on this online but here is the best one (I think so anyway – it’s lovely): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6LUptADIww

The Matrix 

The Matrix, I am told by my son, is considered one of the best films ever made. I am not sure about the hyperbole but it is certainly an exciting film and the narrative is drawn from the cave story and Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. In fact the central character, Neo, takes his illegal software out of a fake book of that name. You can see the philosophical references throughout the film as Neo is taken from the non-real real world, into the real world which is not a simulation and more like some sort of hellish never land. He and others he meets there are engaged in a violent battle with a group of nefarious super beings intent on maintaining the illusion throughout the film.

One of the main things that stuck out for me is constant referencing to “The One”. Is Neo the one or isn’t he? There is a distinct flavour of proto-Christian orthodoxy; that there is A One at all echoes the story of Jesus and I suppose other religions (but I am most familiar with Christianity so that is what I see over and over again). Because of that and other aspects, although the film looks on the surface like it is rebellious, it is actually conservative. It ostensibly explores the idea that reality isn’t real, and we’re all controlled by evil baddies who consciously hoodwink us into believing it is, and ends with “I’m gonna show them the world. Without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world… where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I’ll leave to you” (Matrix, 1999) But in fact it is a film that actually reinforces the status quo. As such there is a fairy tale ending, in which the hero and the pretty girl kiss which brings Neo back to life. And although the film refers to humans as a virus, it does in fact argue against itself by using all the tricks of cinema, and a few new ones too for which it won many awards, by making us love the good characters, have enormous empathy for them in fact and draws on typical Hollywood caricature traits for the evil ones. And then there is the product placement. I believe Nokia did rather well out of its part in the film.

The other thing that struck me as I watched it, especially towards the end, is that is perpetuates the notion that nothing really matters. Since nothing is real, then why would anything have any value? I don’t think Plato’s fable does this though, since he wants the prisoner to return to the cave to share his wisdom with this fellow prisoners, even though it is dangerous and may end in death. No-one in the film is compelled to go and enlighten the population (except perhaps the clue is in the very last line, which makes way for Matrix II and Matrix III – I’ve not seen them, so perhaps I am being unfair). What does occur is a ludicrous shootout at the end of the film, which it seemed, might be the ideal thing for deeply disturbed and alienated American teenagers to emulate when they carry out their crazed fantasies of mass shootings in schools. What’s to stop them when nothing matters because nothing is real, and The One is a Hollywood superstar, so just another shadow, far from their own realities and may as well be on another planet in another time zone?

The final thought that kept coming back to me as I watched it was how when I learned the Alexander Technique, it was not about doing anything. If anything it was about inhibiting habitual responses and behaviour, and believing. The idea is that you can affect physical change by thinking it, which the film is all about, but only Neo and his supporters can do that. But when anyone, not just chosen ones, lie down in the Alexander semi-prone position, and they think about their bones softening and loosening and becoming grounded, they will do, provided one allows it to happen. By practising regularly over time a person can change the way they are physically and therefore the whole of them will change too because in Alexander technique, as is being discovered mind and body are the same. There were quite a lot of references to this type of philosophy especially towards the end when Neo started flying about the subway. In the cave story, anyone can be enlightened. There is no chosen-one philosophy, although there is a smattering of possible martyrdom towards the end of the story. There is reference to constant practise though and employing the entire self, as discussed earlier.

The Society of the Spectacle explores and expands the themes in the Cave story far more intelligently and seriously, in that the spectacle is ‘the heart of the unrealism of the real society’. (Debord, 1999; 96) And the cave is so much about unrealism vs. realism. Although the The Matrix looks at powerful and complex ideas, for me, the ideas were rendered adolescent and possibly frivolous, even belittling of something quite profoundly worrying in our world. The idea that people determined to wreak havoc and chaos in our world is a genuine concern, as discussed in The Guardian yesterday. In it Carol Cadwalladr quotes “…Jonathan Albright, an assistant professor of communications at Elon University in North Carolina,” as he describes an alternative rightwing web: “They have created a web that is bleeding through on to our web. This isn’t a conspiracy. There isn’t one person who’s created this. It’s a vast system of hundreds of different sites that are using all the same tricks that all websites use. They’re sending out thousands of links to other sites and together this has created a vast satellite system of rightwing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system.” (2016) The article is really worth reading.

Finally, although the cave story can be interpreted to be about education and the value of being thoroughly educated with one’s whole self (not just one’s mind), at its heart is the relationship we have with the things in the world and language, rather than about  baddies taking over the world and a Hollywood star saving the day. We name things because we see an approximation of what they are. Words represent things but they are not things. They might not even be representations of things but representations of representations of things. And yet language structures our world, online with code, and off-line in law, education, and storytelling, with the words we speak and write.  To quote one of Reeves’ other famous characters, The Matrix is an ‘excellent’ Hollywood film that shows a great deal of prescience about the possible power of the internet in its early days . But it glorifies violence, perpeuates Christian ideology which is, it might be argued, responsible in some way for quite a lot of chaos over the centuries, and ends like a children’s fairy tale. It is a story which explores Plato’s shadows, criticising society for not being more aware, and manages to be and propogate those shadows at the same time. Keanu Reeves is very pretty in it.

Image, a colour map from TAOP Colour Assignment (c)SJField 2014

Shorey, P. (2016). Plato Allegory of the Cave. [online] http://www.rowan.edu. Available at: http://www.rowan.edu/open/philosop/clowney/Aesthetics/scans/Plato/PlatoCave.pdf [Accessed 5 Dec. 2016].

Kleiner, H. (2014). Allegory of the Cave. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBPd7getIcM&t=5s&list=PLU5GwnUXO_Yzn7KOo84NCKOpyg7yUbwQ3&index=3 [Accessed 5 Dec. 2016].

Debord, G. (1999). Seperation perfected. In: J. Evans and S. Hall, ed., Visual Culture A Reader, 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications, pp.95 – 98.

The Matrix. (1999). [film] Hollywood: The Wachowski Brothers.

Weis, S. (2016). PLATO – Allegory of the Cave(animated). [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6LUptADIww [Accessed 5 Dec. 2016].