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by Rob Horning

25 Jul 2009

Call me judgmental and intolerant if you must, but the Japanese guys (described in this NYT article, by Lisa Katayama) who have sex with body pillows with images of prepubescent cartoon characters stenciled on them in lieu of having relationships with human beings seem pretty pathetic. It’s like appliantology from Joe’s Garage. Judging by the NYT article, these men don’t seem mentally ill or neurologically damaged, like the people who get married to roller coasters, but instead seem pathologically ill-equipped to deal with adult sexuality. The way Katayama describes them is fraught with ontological confusion: “Nisan is part of a thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters. These 2-D lovers, as they are called, are a subset of otaku culture— the obsessive fandom that has surrounded anime, manga and video games in Japan in the last decade.” What makes for a “real” relationship in these circumstances? Or is real just a gratuitous modifier here, like the word really. If these relationships are real, can there be a fake relationship? A non-relationship? If two living creatures are not necessary for a real relationship, than all the rules are inapplicable. Katayama continues in this vein in describing the 2-D lovers: “Unlike most otaku, though, they have real romantic feelings for their toys.” As opposed to fake ones? As opposed to only pretending to be in love with a cartoon pillowcase?

It seems a little too convenient to argue that the 2-D phenomenon is a bellwether for the future of human relations in the digital age, where most of our time will be spent starring at screens of various kinds. And let’s hope that that the Japanese “lost decade” of stagnation is not responsible for producing these men, as the U.S. could very well be entering a similar economic cycle. Katayama suggests that a crackpot, quasi-anticapitalist guru may be responsible for the rise of 2-D love:

The guru of the 2-D love movement, Toru Honda, a 40-year-old man with a boyishly round face and puppy-dog eyes, has written half a dozen books advocating the 2-D lifestyle. A few years ago, Honda, a college dropout who worked a succession of jobs at video-game companies, began to use the Internet to urge otaku to stand with pride against good-looking men and women. His site generated enough buzz to earn him a publishing contract, and in 2005 he released a book condemning what he calls “romantic capitalism.” Honda argues that romance was marketed so excessively through B-movies, soap operas and novels during Japan’s economic bubble of the ’80s that it has become a commodity and its true value has been lost; romance is so tainted with social constructs that it can be bought by only good looks and money. According to Honda, somewhere along the way, decent men like himself lost interest in the notion entirely and turned to 2-D. “Pure love is completely gone in the real world,” Honda wrote. “As long as you train your imagination, a 2-D relationship is much more passionate than a 3-D one.”

The logic here is pretty interesting. Since human love has become commodified and plastic, saturated with status implications (as though marriage hasn’t always been about status conservation; see Pamela by Samuel Richardson, among a million other examples), it’s better to love an actual manufactured commodity, a product. As though marketers never designed products to exploit the insecurities of isolated, alienated individuals (like Honda). Perhaps the idea is that a relationship with a product is always already compromised, so one can’t be disappointed or disappointing. And without responsibility to another person, one can indulge the logic of consumer capitalism—novelty for its own sake—to a much fuller extent in a more intimate corner of one’s psyche. Consider this lover of pillowcases:

“I was steps away from getting married,” he explained earnestly when prodded about his experience. “You have to make sure you don’t hurt a real person; you have to watch what you say, and you have to keep your room clean. In Japan, it’s not O.K. to like another person if you’re already with somebody else. With an anime character, you can like one character one day and a different character the next.”

These people are not resisting the effects of romantic capitalism; they are embracing them more completely. Romantic love began its migration to the center of the individual’s consciousness with capitalism’s advent in the 18th century or so, redefining the purpose of life for many as the ability to find a soulmate. Romantic love deeply ingrained competitive individualism and became the alibi for authorizing a certain righteous hedonism (expressed in the market through purchases) in the name of discovering who we really are.The 2-D lovers represent the completion of that arc; they have dispensed with the alibi and have moved directly to an open and virtually unashamed love for products instead of people. The complexities of reciprocal love among humans are too inconvenient and stressful, as the communal and civic responsibilities have proven to be for us (better to enact dyadic withdraw, enter the family cocoon, view neighbors suspiciously). A 2-D lover named Momo, the most disturbing of those mentioned in the article, puts it pretty succinctly:

“I don’t care if people understand or not,” Momo said. “I just want them to leave me alone. I don’t have any nostalgia for reality. I’m happy living in the 2-D world.”

I am deeply bothered and creeped out by the phrase: “I don’t have any nostalgia for reality.” It’s too easy to imagine a Matrix-like future full of Momos who want nothing more than to be left to their imaginary worlds and imaginary “real” relationships with cartoons, fueled by and sustained through a steady stream of special collector’s items mass-produced by various culture-industry concerns. It’s troubling that technology has been aimed toward making “I don’t have any nostalgia for reality” something a person would even find it possible to say. It has now become conceivable that one can comfortably opt out of reality—reject the construct of society altogether—without recognizing the consequences, namely the foreclosure of the possibility of any sort of social change whatsoever.

by Rob Horning

24 Jul 2009

It’s foolish to say this without data to back it up, but it feels as though the Facebook fad is losing steam. Critiques of the business model— that it’s somewhat unseemly to allow a third party to monetize your friends, that it’s creepy to have your social life surveilled directly by marketers, that once you deploy intrusive advertising on your site you become more of a rent-seeker rather than a service provider—seem to be taking hold and are becoming almost commonplace. And people don’t seem to be as insistent and enthusiastic about others using it. Maybe it has integrated itself into people’s lives to the degree that they don’t mention it anymore. The opposite happened with me—I felt browbeaten into logging on to Facebook every day or so for a period of a couple weeks, then slowly I forgot about my own account with the site and went back to thinking of Facebook as an abstract evil that others are caught up in. It failed to integrate itself into my everyday life, didn’t prove irreversibly useful. This may be because I am unusually antisocial, but I have this hope that my experience mirrors that of many social-network dabblers.

The site seemed a place to turn in anxious moments of loneliness or existential vertigo for pseudo-sociality and pseudo-connectedness; it was a place to turn to relieve the sense of being hopelessly mired in ourselves how we are and do some illusory work on our own characters instead by fine-tuning some settings, making some updates, passing some surreptitious judgment on those friends of ours who seem, judging by their updates, to be even more desperate than we are. Of course you’d have to sort through the chipper updates from the pathologically narcissistic who evince absolutely no trace of self-doubt or troubled introspection, but they made for a bracing backdrop; they set up a kind of grim ideal for what we’d have to eventually become, or else. But now it is starting to seem like that the threat of that dystopia is receding.

by shathley Q

24 Jul 2009

‘Ladies and gentlemen, the sky is ours’. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic way to end the scene. Writer Warren Ellis immediately taps our collective hopes of launching at an escape velocity and slipping free of the bond of Earth’s gravity. This scene from Ultimate Secret ends on a moment of high drama, reminding readers that planetary escape velocity is just the beginning. The sky, is literally the limit.

Imagining a more dramatic ending becomes even harder after three pages of dialogue. It is possibly the challenge that accomplished artists most regularly dread. How would you move the story forward visually during narrative phases of nothing but conversation? Artist Steve McNiven responds admirably to the challenge.

Instead of a simplistic shot/reverse-shot mode of storytelling, he deploys a highly animated array of visual techniques. Close-ups morph into worms-eye views, promoting a sense of intimacy. Back-of-the-head shots of protagonist Philip Lawson framing others at the conference table place the audience in the proverbial hot-seat, creating a sense that they themselves are making the presentation. Birds-eye views provide an abstract and visual distance from the imposing scientific detail at just the right moments.

Equal to the visualization, Ellis’ dialogue provides a unique drama of its own. Hard science concepts like zero point energy and breakthrough propulsion systems are driven home in clear and concise language. As lead character Lawson explains these concepts, the drama of scientific endeavor exploration unfolds.

But everything leads back to the spaceship Asis. And the beginning of the human adventure in outer space. As Lawson guides both the supporting characters and audience through the science, the dream of deep space travel is stirred once more.

Our calculations show that the Asis could will develop a speed of some twenty percent of the speed of light. This puts the Moon just hours away. Mars, days away. It puts a return trip to the nearest star within a human lifetime.

by Omar Kholeif

24 Jul 2009

In terms of popular discussion, Six Feet Under has been hailed for tackling an unorthodox subject matter, for its filmic production values, its multi-faceted representation of homosexual relationships, and much more. But rarely does one find comment surrounding its use of art photography, and the insight that this offers us into its characters. Yet, as viewers, we are fully aware that the character of Claire in SFU and her story arc are very much driven by her artistic aspirations.

At the beginning of the show, the aimless teenage girl is caught grappling with her father’s death, which she struggles to contextualize alongside her adolescence. But in the second series, her Aunt Sarah pronounces her an artist, and as such, her pursuit of the imaginative form propels her from complacency to a state of self-enquiry. Considering the impact of this event on her character development, I thought it would be fitting to take a look at some of Claire’s portraiture, and to consider their narrative implications.

by Matt Mazur

24 Jul 2009

With her thin, reedy voice, and lackluster dance moves, Holmes simply did not do justice to this classic show-stopping stomper. Somewhere, Judy Garland is likely pissed.

//Mixed media
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Cage the Elephant Ignite Central Park with Kickoff for Summerstage Season

// Notes from the Road

"Cage the Elephant rocked two sold-out nights at Summerstage and return to NYC for a free show May 29th. Info on that and a preview of the full Summerstage schedule is here.

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