Thursday, September 23, 2010

Power of the Machine

In contemporary America, being “educated” in the liberal arts doesn’t mean having much knowledge of history and economics, along with an understanding of the philosophical foundations of our (Western) civilization. It means instead being indoctrinated into the codes, mores, and pet theories of the Machine. Being a literary intellectual means reading The New Yorker and The Believer and listening to “This American Life” on NPR.


The Machine in the person of individuals like Lev Grossman at Time magazine is full of its own power. After all, they almost single-handedly created Obama and with him defeated the then-strongest political brand, Clinton. Creating the “Great American Novelist” in the public’s mind in comparison is child’s play. Upper-class author Jonathan Franzen is the Great American Novelist because the Machine says he is. In today’s society, nothing else is required. And anyway, his novel “Freedom” looks like a great novel. It’s big enough. Inside there’s a facsimile of what a great novel should be like. A lot of chapters and people. The book will sit on many thousands of bourgie coffee tables, read or unread. If the buyers of the impressive product ever thought about it—they won’t—they’d wonder why they bought it.


The Machine in its literary manifestation is more than a combination of academia and giant media conglomerates, in which freshly indoctrinated secular priests from elite universities are shuttled into the corridors of decision-making power at the book giants. In on the action are entities such as nonprofit media like NPR, and even the federal government, which pose as alternative but are anything but. And so, Terry Gross interviews the Machine’s Jonathan Franzens, adding to the buzz. The National Endowment for the Arts gives its limited largesse to Machine writers—as it gave money to Franzen at the occasion of his first big media-hype splash in 2002. They’ll be celebrating Jonathan Franzen the anointed Great American Novelist in their Pavilion in Washington D.C. this Saturday—an appropriate city to do so if you think about it. (You won’t.)


The most important, revealing, and duplicitous television commercial of all time was the famous “Big Brother” ad for Apple which aired only once during a Super Bowl in 1984. What it was telling viewers was the opposite of what it was actually doing. What it was doing, on the prime vehicle for media reach, TV, was encouraging the public to buy products that would further increase the amount of artificial electronic noise surrounding and going into their minds. That’s why it aired—an early step in the process of having people buy Apple (or some brand) everything: pc’s Iphones Ipods Ipads etc etc etc. Electronic media: devices to deliver messages from the Machine. AT THE SAME TIME the commercial was telling the future buyer that by doing so he/she was asserting his/her freedom. Completely Orwellian. We see today our intellectuals asserting their intellectual independence by consuming the Machine’s “alternative” media, like reading The Believer and listening to “This American Life,” or buying the Great American Novelist’s book “Freedom.”


When one looks at or encounters the new generation of writers, one finds them congenitally incapable of questioning anything. Read their main sites like HTML Giant and you’ll see there a combination of relentless trivia, sillyness, and babytalk. They’re like pet turtles or hamsters kept in a shoe box, never having been trained to look outside the box.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"They’re like pet turtles or hamsters kept in a shoe box, never having been trained to look outside the box."

That's funny.

Tao Lin often represents himself/his readers as hamsters: