Sunday, September 05, 2004


Still in the basement... So I thought I'd just spell out the scenario I'm hoping to see. Extrapolating from current trends, as they say.

The reality TV phenomenon builds on the power of television to merge scripted/programmed content into the so-called real world, and to create a lot of shared culture and mythos out of the blue.

The product placement phenomenon is sometimes about (not always) showing off lifestyle contexts for goods and services, meaning you don't leave it entirely to the viewer's imagination how this device, artifact, whatever, might fit into the script. You spell it out.

OK, so I've called this blog 'world game,' naming it after Bucky Fuller's brainchild (or mind-child, as he might have preferred). Instead of doing mega-simulations around war scenarios, acting out those scripts, we might use the reality TV motif, and the product placement motif, to show real people doing interesting and hopeful things in the world, using new technologies we'd like to use also. They're like test pilots, but also like celebrities, and the script isn't usually about doing things so unsafe that we can't envision joining them, eventually. And so, yes, I'm talking about recruitment -- trying to get people to enroll in their own possible better future.

So for example, Fuller was always storyboarding around these newfangled high tech housing units that were self-contained enough to be delivered by helicopter. Unlike contemporary manufactured homes and/or mobile homes, which are trucked to the site, and therefore have to conform to freeway dimensions (the double-wides are roughly two lanes across, but are delivered in halves), Fuller's manufactured homes are either assembled at the site (but easily, from components), or flown in. Of course other permutations are possible, but either way, it could make for some interesting television -- just gotta get central casting to deliver up the reality TV personalities.

This storyboard stems from the basic realization that we're not going to get any breakthrough high technology into the housing mainstream without the aid of television and its ability to generate new realities from scripts. The programs I'm talking about will of course be "premeditated" in the sense of not being entirely spontaneous. Commercial interests have an investment in having their products look good. So yes, I'm seeing where abuse and cover-up could enter into this picture -- which is good, in a way, as that means I'm not just writing idle utopian BS. I'm in touch with the dark side, meaning it could really happen (how's that for a modicum of cynicism, which I'll certainly cop to).

So maybe we deliver a bunch of Fly's Eye type dwelling machines to some remote location, and have people try them out. They might be a bit more nerdy/geeky than the average reality TV player today, given they have to cope with high tech. More like some in the cast of those Jurrasic Park movies. But that's OK. I'm not saying they can't be sexy. High tech and sexiness have already been combined in any number of permutations that work just fine. All the key ingredients of hot, many-eyeballs television, which the advertising sponsors crave, will be there, in spades.

But of course you can't do these little episodic things without having a sort of backdrop or big picture. Reality TV currently gets around that by using the game show format, which is familiar, and adding exotic locations, which fits with the travelogue motif. It's a way to "see the world" and get entertained. Not that all reality TV takes you out and around. Sometimes it's more claustrophobic, like the 'Big Brother' episodes. No matter. The point is that World Game Reality TV (if I may coin the concept) is going to have to admit to a larger agenda, which is that of the Design Science Revolution.

What Fuller did in Grunch of Giants was to try to corner the big corporations into exercising their positive potential to serve humanity, i.e. to harness the smarts and resources at their command (the metaphysical and physical assets) in order to raise living standards globally. However, if they weren't going to do this, then we'd be seeing a lot of things very clearly: that their ideological commitment, if misanthropic, is incompatible with the USA's (for example), meaning there'd come a time when the USA would be so undermined and riddled-through with corrupting anti-USA corporate values, that we'd have a hard time keeping the mythos of the USA itself alive. Uncle Sam would end up in the hospital, in intensive care. More and more people would start to realize that the legal form called The Corporation, might be one big multi-century mistake. Because look what it's doing to us! The Frankenstein imagery was all set to go. Fuller helped set that up.

So now, a couple decades down the road (Fuller died in 1983, after declaring the USA we have known bankrupt and extinct, and winning the Medal of Freedom from then President Reagan), we're pretty much at that point. Uncle Sam is in the emergency room, as crony capitalism eats at him from the inside, a parasitical infestation, taking over and privatizing military functions, reducing the Constitution to a quaint shadow of its former self. So-called "reality TV" is a mere distraction, like mega-sports events, used to keep the populace entertained and uninformed. The "news" organizations are left with the job of spinning the whole dismal matter in such a way as to postpone any final judgement that we've lost our way, big time. Reconnecting with Fuller's pronouncements would be one way to restore the narrative to sense (a great American sees what's in the works), but that's too threatening right now, as the brains behind the corporate infrastructure today are relatively unschooled in the sources and methods of World Game (i.e. they're unable to see any other way to play, having come up through the ranks under ideologies that, even if they're less relevant right now, are all they know).

The War on Terror is therefore the new 'reality TV' with little thought given to how we might find agreement on positive future visions. And yet it's a fact that Iranians copied much of my website to their engineering school in Tehran at one point, because Fuller's engineering-based approach is both apolitical, aesthetically attractive, and commensurate with God-centric rhetoric (he may have been a technocrat in some sense, but his transcendentalism is what sticks with the Islamist scholars who crack the covers of Synergetics, or read it on the web).

The potential to build tacit agreement around positive new lifestyles, across the cultural divide artifically set up by fundamentalist religionists on both sides, would be relatively easy to achieve. The Internet has already created the context. Regardless of ideology, governments see the logic and potential behind TCP/IP and the several services built on top of it (FTP SMTP HTTP and so on). This infrastructure heralds a layer of connectivity that we could extrapolate from, in a positive direction. Some level of collaboration in television programming would be a next step. But it would come off as quite other-worldly, alien (in the extraterrestrial sense), in comparison with all the terror talk, the dire threats, the fear-mongering. Trying to sound notes of hope and enthusiasm, based in sound engineering, just doesn't fit the apocalyptic agendas of many, or at the very least is a rhetoric and programming genre that contemporary politicians have not studied. However, politicians are often quick students and would be on-board in a heart beat. It's more the less visible "captains of industry" (so-called) who haven't the smarts or the courage (apparently) to steer in this more positive direction. We've noted this for the histories. We'd like them to not explode the whole planet out of shame (to erase the evidence of their cowardice).

In sum, I'm hoping at least some branch of entrepeneur sees the potential of television to link us together in a new configuration, an alternative mythos, that is less based in fear and more based in longing. That was the grand dichotomy as Fuller saw it (maybe he attributed it to Einstein or someone, but that's neither here nor there at the moment). Which is it to be? Currently, it's clearly the politics of fear. The politics of longing has been banished to the margins, to the blogs for example. We play World Game around the edges. We network. We consider. Which is about all anyone can do in such times.