Saturday, May 21, 2005

Incommensurable realities: PK Dick and George Lucas

Summer's nearly arrived, as has the summer's space spectacle, provided by George Lucas. After a few weeks of watching the Star Wars Inc. images infiltrate the Net, burger stands, Walmarts, etc. I was reminded of an older essay on simulation by Ho-wood's favorite dead cyberpunk, P.K. Dick: “How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later.” Here is a brief excerpt from the essay:

“So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe— and I am dead serious when I say this— do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things are born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves will begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.”

The Dick universe is obviously entropic, and thus unpredictable and disruptive. The Lucas universe is not. It is at best Gene Roddenbury-like, with cute fuzzy aliens and heroic star pilots and evil nazi-like villains. A Dick story such as "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (barely recognizable in Blade Runner, nonetheless not a bad flick) offers chaos and plenty of it: Deckard, a hyperspace Philip Marlow, wanders among the heaps of "kipple" searching for the replicants, unable to determine what is or is not human, and some of the replicants, such as Rachel, appear more human and less schizoid than humans themselves. Lucasworld does not present such ambiguities; kipple is rare (though the rusting hulks of the ships and so forth as in The Empire Strikes Back are at least visually pleasing). The EFX may be great and it's safe for the parents and their kiddies, yet regardless of the EFX the Lucas narratives are simplistic and melodramatic, the characters as wooden as those in a John Ford western.

But only a dweeb would take the time to address the narrative structure, one-dimensional characters, or overall Newtonian shortcomings of Star Wars movies. The Lucas spectacle does dazzle yankee consumers with its EFX, but more importantly the Star Wars buzz itself is on display--it's not only a movie, but a marketing campaign, suburbanite "mall mythology" (as William Gibson said somewhere), and consumer bonding session bundled together into one tasty product, as Ho-wood execs say; one that sells millions of movie tickets as well as hamburgers, t-shirts, and lunch pails.

Images associated with this fabricated product, the Lucasburger, gradually overpower and replace current political reality; the puppy-dog aliens and Darth Vaders and space princes are now enforced on all. (some French post.mod. figure such as Baudrillard most likely wrote about this issue, and snooty lit.crit people would surely roll their eyes at my admittedly dilettantish analysis). America's most beloved cyber-melodrama subsumes the tragedies of the Iraqi war and terrorism, the catholic church scandals and dead pope, the tsunami (a disaster far more horrific than Voltaire's Lisbon quake), and the takeover of LA by a nearly maoist mayor. A Bay area wunderkind's jungian bongdream obliterates each pulp scandal and political outrage currently in progress.

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