HOLLYWEIRD: Virtueless Obsessions

Reilly Jones (Reilly@compuserve.com)
Fri, 27 Feb 1998 20:20:50 -0500

ABC's "Virtual Obsession" that aired Thurs. night, 2/26/98, dumped fresh
particulates into the kultursmog. How did the producers, writers, and
sponsors all let such a contradictory, jumbled mish-mash of special effects
images and half-baked moralizing reach the air? Well, they can't think
straight themselves, compost-modernism has done them in. In addition,
those older guys in marketing who might still be able to think straight
probably figured that with all the contradictory moral assertions, they
were probably pretty much covering the highly fragmented market.
Certainly, the movie took for granted that there is no consensual moral
polity left anywhere on the horizon; there is no more "one nation, under
God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Divide-and-conquer
has succeeded wildly. The movie took for granted that the viewers are
sheep, incapable of sustained objective moral logic, only capable of
entertaining jukebox ideas of the moment. The disrespect for the viewers
shown by serving up truly atrocious acting is obvious. But why shouldn't
they disrespect viewers who are merely machines? The machine view is
clearly predominant, in that no human character gets developed beyond a
stereotypical cartoon level, but the special effects - machine art - get
all the sophisticated development. This has been Hollyweird's trend for
many moons.

The male scientist is, as usual, morally crippled; stereotypically male in
that he only thinks with his hormones and is incapable of anything more
than an adolescent "gee whiz, ain't that cool" response to the greatest
scientific achievement in history. The model is probably the producer.
The husband is a dork and so is the wheelchair guy. Their interaction is
dork factor nine. The female scientist is, as usual, morally crippled;
stereotypically female in that she is a slut who only thinks of
manipulating men to her own evil ends and turns sociopathic when her vain
will is thwarted. The model is probably the producer's mistress. The wife
is a painful caricature of what Hollyweird thinks of domestic bliss. A
clinical psychologist who says she's going to leave and then doesn't? A
wife who left a brilliant career to stick her head in washing machines and
toilet bowls nonstop? A brain who's a dud in the marital bed and looks
like a Midwestern wreck of a woman, apparently unaware of the existence of
the cosmetics industry? But, hey, gee whiz, those computer effects were
cool, y'know? The overnight ratings amongst Generation Duh were quite

Part of the contradictory manipulations is due to the inherent tension
between the very large neo-luddite contingent in Hollyweird and the very
large special effects technophile contingent. The word-bursts (I can't
bring myself to use "plot") alternated between muddled semi-religious
jargon about souls and the sacred, and irrational claptrap about humans as
machines, the mind as a computer. The writers probably go for the
mind-as-a-computer schtick because they write on a word processor, but why
mention anything religious at all? Are the neo-luddites vaguely aware of
the unknown precipice we all stand on, as we begin to technologically
twiddle with other human's volitional freedom? Is the mention of religion
a form of Pascal's wager, just in case we need something to guide us
through the labyrinth of political decisions that lie ahead? Certainly the
father of the slut is the most cartoonishly developed of all the
characters, muttering half-baked dogmas in a rigidly wooden monotone. The
writers clearly lack religious imagination and knowledge, yet feel
compelled to say something religious, covering their bets. The casting of
the Man From U.N.C.L.E., an actor previously pigeon-holed into cold-blooded
hired gun roles, as the token theist, was not credible. Nor was it
credible that such a morally absolute man would give a rip about a slut
daughter. Oh well, at least the writers quickly and bloodily killed him
off, lest anyone think they might *really* give credence to his
semi-religious utterances.

Speaking of killing off, the writers at least are well attuned to one area
of the zeitgeist, the cheers heard throughout neighborhoods all over the
country when the judge fell down the elevator shaft were amazing! Take
note, Hollyweird, there's gold in them thar hills...

Along the lines of the contradictory, allow me to be a bit technically
nit-picky. Everyone knows that due to the dendritic properties of calcium
in the skull, frozen heads bounce like bowling balls, they don't shatter
like ice cubes. The lamebrain writers must've been thinking about that
scene in "Terminator II" where the broken liquid nitrogen tanker shatters
the motorcycle cop calcium-less terminator.

Furthermore, to be in the hologram, the wheelchair must've been downloaded
into the computer, also. Did it die along with the dork? What about
non-coercion and wheelchair rights? I mean, if humans are machines, so are
wheelchairs. How could one machine have more intrinsic value than any
other (excepting my microwave oven, of course)? If the aneurysm killed the
slut scientist because it was downloaded, how could the ADA dork stand up,
since the brain is contiguous with every scrap of neural tissue in the
body? The brain's motor-cortical global maps are intrinsic to volitional
consciousness, how could they be summarily lobotimized without the
downloaded entity ending up vegetized like Ted Kennedy's sister?

It would be easy to view this as a morality tale where technology is the
villain when attractive psycho-sluts get downloaded but the hero when
harmless dorks get downloaded and can leave their wheelchair, an electronic
version of Benny Hinn's TV faith-healing. The real moral has to do with
Hollyweird's obsession with the perfect body: it's better to be dead than
to be halt, lame or blind - I mean, crippled (or is it handicapped, or
differently abled, or physically challenged; whatever the anointed's mascot
is called these days). This is standard 'culture of death' morality, any
entity less than perfect - in fact, less than comfort-inducing - is
preferably terminated; abortion, euthanasia, genocide all are
fellow-travelers on this bus.

The final analysis is that Hollyweird strung together contradictory
snippets about religion, sex and death from a standard recipe, but they
forgot the amount of the ingredients and the order they are supposed to go
in. The producers, writers and sponsors let it go out in that incoherent
form because they think incoherently themselves, they figure they covered
bases in many fragmented markets, and the special effects were, like, cool
and stuff. They all think, "whatever," because they share the machine view
of humanity, the brain as computer processor, and why ought anyone care one
whit about one machine over another? They're all equally disrespected.
They disrespect themselves or they couldn't have placed this junk in the
public square.

Reilly Jones | Philosophy of Technology:
Reilly@compuserve.com | The rational, moral and political relations
| between 'How we create' and 'Why we create'