Cloverfield: the Facebook-YouTube-generation’s blair-witch-godzilla project – a metaphoric tribute to the spirit-sapping-success of society’s surrender to spectacle.
“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” Guy Debord
What happens to life if the snapshots we take to record life, become life?
J.J. Abrams has produced a smart new take on the monster movie genre that is in fact, a well deserved poke in our collective eye. It is a cinematic metaphor about the monster of mediated moments that has overrun our modern urban lifestyle.
As the spectacle of daily life becomes increasingly mediated by the raging tempest of electronic media and the so called meaningful moments of life are continuously surrendered to the all consuming beast of digital imagery, we come to a frightening threshold in the society viewed as spectacle. In the words of social theorist Guy Debord, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”
Those moments that are meant to be life are now simply fodder for the digitally fueled feeding frenzy. There is no longer a message; only the medium remains. Form has triumphed over content. Self-absorption and narcissism carry off the day, leaving in their path a trail of social and spiritual destruction; littered with the tattered shards of hope, virtue, humility… But the real victory of the spectacle, and the dissolution of content, is the end of personal responsibility.
This abdication of accountability was predicted in the Sanskrit texts over 5000 years ago, “When there is a predominance of cheating, lying, sloth, sleepiness, violence, depression, lamentation, bewilderment, fear and poverty, that age is Kali, the age of the mode of ignorance. Bhagavat Purana 12.3.30
Compared to the loss of accountability the loss of innocence is a minor inconvenience. The absence of accountability means we are free to pursue all ends to gratify our senses, and no end to our sense of what we deserve. A society devoured by the soul eating monster of empty-form driven media has no hope of reclaiming its place in the pantheon of virtue.
Virtue requires accountability. People have to be able to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. But if they are sufficiently distracted by the monster of manufactured moments, by the illusion of a captured moment rather than being in the moment; then they have no hope of reclaiming the Now; which is the only thing they have… the only thing any of us have.
Sadly, the Now is lost forever in the flurry of our furious efforts to be the center of self-generated attention. The more we try to be the one to overcome the spectacle’s unsettling instability, the more we fuel its incessant growth. And the less likely we are to stop and be present within ourselves and even less with the person next to us.
The anti-heroes of the movie are desperate to record themselves saving themselves, but they cannot. They cannot overcome the monster. Similarly, via our digital documenting, we strive to overcome the influence of material energy, (a.k.a. Maya in Sanskrit.) As we pursue the illusory sense of control that the various auto-generated forms offer us, we grow further and further away from ourselves, our present, and our true nature.
Cloverfield was an amusement park ride and metaphor for the loss of our-selves to the monster of pure self-indulgence. A monster that emerged fully formed at the onset of the industrial /capitalist age and became part of the American archetype in the boot strapping American mythology of Horatio Alger. Soon after that Ayn Rands, pernicious objectivism polished it into the American dream of supreme sense gratification, the ideology of, “get yours, at all cost.”
From there we became a nation of consumers. Our dreams reflected our surrender to the new state religion of consumerism. You were what you could purchase. This American dream/nightmare (where personal worth is slaved to getting-what-you-deserve) has reached its apex in modern society’s fascination with manufactured media moments. You are what you digitally record.
What started out at the onset of the industrial age as a beastly promise for the few to attain new heights of material enjoyment and influence (at the expense of the many) has arrived in the My-Face-You-Flicker-me age, as an endlessly streaming mirage, seemingly able to freeze time, seemingly under our control, so that we never again have to be distracted by the tediousness of the present.
And without the present to interfere, we can surrender once and for all to the hallucination of fabricated life, we can surrender to the spectacle, we can just shop, and work hard, and look for amusing ways to live vicariously through digitized relations in between the shopping and the working.
We can even try our hand and largely empty gesture of humanitarianism as long as we preserve the effort on camera or in endlessly unreadable blogs. We can pursue environmentalism, and do cleansing fasts. We will record it all, but we won’t have time to watch it. There will be something else to record and preserve for posterity. A posterity than never actually arrives because, like the present it seems to continually disappear.
A life of manufactured moments is a life without meaning or without narrative structure. J.J. Abrams and company made a movie without meaning or narrative structure, but it didn’t need it, because it was a movie about how a society built on the spectacle of self-absorption doesn’t have much of a story to tell; just pictures…
The film’s desire to be understood as commentary is telegraphed from the opening shot, telling us, this is not a movie about life, but a movie about making life into movies. This theme of ‘film-as-commentary-on-spectacle’ is further maintained by the film maker’s excellent and brave decision to restrict themselves to footage garnered via the spectator’s video camera.
At the end of the movie there is no one left to care, only an unnamed government employee, dutifully archiving the digital record of reckless self-absorption. This is the empty destiny of a society endlessly caught up with preserving the illusion and failing to perceive the present. Truly, this is a horror movie at its best, for in the words of the immortal Pogo, “we have met the enemy, and it is us.”