November 1, 2017

The Facebook Matrix Cometh

I have disabled Adblock Plus on Facebook.
I think this is significant. Adblock Plus recently figured out how to block "sponsored posts" on Facebook (but not perfectly). As I scrolled through, I would see them flash for the briefest moment as they came into view before disappearing.
I didn't like it.
Facebook does such a good job targeting me with ads that I actually want to see some of them. So I turned it off.
Now I've voluntarily subscribed to advertising newsletters such as travel and electronics deals, but I think this is the first time I've voluntarily subjected myself to ads embedded in unrelated content. For instance, I've turned off TV commercials at every chance, dating back to the days of ReplayTV with its commercial-skip feature that was destroyed by political pressure. I buy commercial-free content from Amazon rather than subscribe to cable.
But the ads on Facebook have become so relevant to me that I want to see them. They have rewired my brain to get me to choose to see advertising. And, with a nod to Buck Henry, loving it.
As I predicted in my 1995 book Virus of the Mind, mind viruses (and I include Facebook in that) become better and better at gaining a share of our mental resources. But it's a mistake to think we will notice and resist the invasion. It feels like entertainment. TV shows have become so good that I spend much more time watching them (without commercials) than I used to. It seems laughable to look back on the day when All in the Family was the best thing on TV.
When The Matrix comes, it will not look like being dragged into a plastic feeding tube and hooked up to wires. It will look like fabulous entertainment, 24/7.
Is that such a bad thing?
Only if you have something more important to do.

February 5, 2017

Did you get the joke?

I loved La La Land from the moment I realized that the opening all-singing, all-dancing number was not an overblown, cynical attempt to create a hit movie combining new Bollywood ,old Hollywood, and modern diversity. That number was intended to leave us flat despite it being the biggest, most expansive and expensive scene in the show. It was ridiculous. It was a joke.

 I loved La La Land because to me the whole thing was high comedy, from the opening number to casting stars who can't sing to Ryan Gosling's knowing wink at the ending.

To me La La Land was a kindly, sad grandpa speaking wistfully of the impossibility of recreating the past while at the same time harboring an ineffable love for it. The movie illustrated this conceit in the three arenas of marriage, jazz, and musical theater, in all of which I have not a little experience.

For a long time I've been unsatisfied with everything new in musical theater since early Andrew Lloyd Webber. New shows seemed unable to simultaneously provide an engaging story and a fresh, upbeat, non-derivative score. Lin-Manuel Miranda almost got it right in In the Heights and then he hit the home run with his next work. I was struck in Hamilton by the broad range of musical genres Miranda pulled off from ballads to hip-hop. The magic ingredient of a resonant political message pushed it over the top.

Jazz, similarly, seemed to dribble to a standstill in the early '60s. How do you keep creating music in a genre that by its very nature deconstructs the past? It eats its own tail. Jazz clubs in Seattle, like Gosling's in La La Land, play music that might have come from 50 years ago to an audience of white-hairs. There's no money in it.

It remains to be seen what will happen to the institution of marriage in the West but for the last 50 years it's been on a similar path of deconstruction. One man and one woman for a lifetime seems quaint, antiquated, and even hateful. Did families like the Cleavers ever really exist? It seems hard to remember.

From the awkwardly derivative opening number to the embarrassingly inept allusions to Astaire and Rogers, La La Land showed us that no matter how much we might want to preserve the past, time marches on. The choice isn't between a sad attachment to nostalgia or a successful modern life, because how can there be success if you give up everything you love? Ultimately you do what you do and you live with the sadness.

That is, until you get the joke.