US: Mar 2012
Was it as surprising for you, how easily last year’s Jonathan Nolan/JJ Abrams-produced Person of Interest hit? It seemed in one smooth stroke that, what Chris Anderson had been telling us for years now about the dissolution of mass media, was simply irrelevant. Here was a show that definitely stood out in that traditional mass-media sense of things. Based on overwhelming ratings (we’re told), CBS moved the long-running CSI to Wednesday, allowing Person of Interest to move to that more lucrative Thursday evening slot.
Was that mystique down to the show’s actors? Taraji P. Henson already pulled at the edges of that tough NYPD detective she played on the Tina Fey/Steve Carell-vehicle, Date Night. There was a promise to her character in Date Night one that could never be fulfilled by a comedy role and by the end of the movie you were already curious to see play the same character in a dramatic role. Jim Caviezel seems to have made it through not one but two wilderness; the audaciousness of having played the Christ and the debacle of The Prisoner remake. There’s a vulnerability to the character Caviezel plays, not at all unlike Hugh Laurie’s finely crafted persona of Dr. Greg House five seasons ago when House focused on the character’s psychology. And Michael Emerson meticulously evokes those same quirks, gestures, that same speech pattern that made his Lost character so compelling.
Is the Person of Interest mystique down to the show’s cast? Or is David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle more correct in his assessment that Person of Interest taps a post-911 paranoia about surveillance culture? The implications are fearsome. And yet, deeply evocative of the sentiment that pervaded the streets of Paris in the wake of the student uprising of 1967. Chronicling this spirit, poststructuralist thinker Michel Foucault writes in his introduction to Anti-Oedipus: “Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism… And not only the historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini—which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively—but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us”.
If anything, it is this sense that Douglas Rushkoff articulates so powerfully in ADD. Rather than now heavily popularized Attention Deficit Disorder, Douglas’ ADD unfurls as Adolescent Demo Division. It is the tale of children raised in the looking-glass-world of “professional videogaming entertainment”, where they are, unbeknownst to the adoring public, systematically abused by the corporate structure that owns them. Douglas is breathtaking in his ability to articulate in fiction one of the core points he has been driving home throughout his career in nonfiction, but more recently in Life, Inc. and Program or be Programmed. The idea that corporations (by hidden agenda or uncoordinated emergence) are able to seed popular culture with value systems that entrench the products or services they sell.
Douglas’ nonfiction (as does all nonfiction) focuses on the broad strokes, the birds-eye view, the overall shape of society. The pure joy in reading ADD then, is reading a work of science fiction that is directly connected to the passions that bisect Douglas’ nonfiction. There’s a creative challenge here as Douglas’ earlier DC/Vertigo series, Testament, did not connect as readily with the through-narrative he had been crafting since Media Virus. ADD is seamless in providing not only the recognizable elements that Douglas writes about in his nonfiction, but also animating these concerns with characters you come to care about deeply.
But the real mastery in ADD is how unerringly Douglas approaches the hidden horror of the situation. Manufacture teen heroes playing games as entertainment for audiences (although audiences themselves participate), is the opposite of such bottom-up events that formed the initial phase of events like the World Cyber Games. The true, hidden horror then, is by what mechanism did events like this become disentangled from the fans themselves? And Douglas’ genius lies in inviting you to imagine the systematic deletion of the concept of fan.