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The Gump Effect: Deep Fakes and the Last Ethics of The Real

In the late 1990s I remember coming across an article in a film magazine, I’ve forgotten which, about the special effects in Forrest Gump.   The movie, as you will recall, is noteworthy for the realistic integration of special effect shots.  The landmark Oscar-winning effects were perhaps most famous for the scenes which integrated Tom Hanks’s titular character into a kind of Baby Boomer cultural scrapbook, including archival footage of presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford.  Those scenes were not perfect, however, as the effects directors acknowledged, and lag behind the more clever effects of the film like erasing Lt. Dan’s legs.  The tiny imperfections when the mismatching voiceovers don’t quite match the lips of JFK and LBJ draw attention to the effect itself as a gag.  Back in 1994 we thought it was a flaw and gave effect a pass because this was, after all, both a gag and something novel.  

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But the truth, as the article explained, was much stranger.  It reported that there was a conscious decision to not make those scenes too realistic.  There was something of a ethical choice on the part of the film makers.  They wanted to think of the scenes as a special effect, to draw attention to the forgery itself, and not in some way as altering the historical record.   Was it Jean-Luc Goddard who said it was a moral dilemma deciding where to put the camera?  It’s a remarkable statement and rare to hear about such ethical considerations from a special effects department, because the object of the dilemma is the concern about tinkering with reality itself.  The deep irony, of course, is that motion pictures themselves are technologies of illusion, so what was the significance of their hesitation?

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The Perfect Poo of Adonis

What, in short, is in the periphery of Adonis, what in the shadows, behind the movie set kitchen?  What is left unsaid?   I can’t help but fantasize about the contents of the superhero’s garbage can.  Does he recycle?  What’s left of the now contaminated residuum of those single-serving wrappers of Cliff Bars?  Are his Almond milk containers and plastic jugs of pea protein clogging up a landfill?  Those leftover tins of tuna and sacks of raw, organic almonds, once lovingly stored in his stainless steel Frigidaire, now finding their way to the ocean to be inhaled by a sperm whale?

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The Truman Show Delusion: Television-Induced Psychosis in the Endtimes

This may be dismissed off-hand as the bizarre world of the madman, but it’s indicative of a broader social pattern of grave suspicion of social reality, a kind of full flowering reifying the post-truth world we’ve found ourselves in.  Entertainment has conquered reality after all, and buried the world of facts with it.  Everything became suspicious, cynical.  Art or entertainment no longer a reflection of the real world, but its hall of mirrors absorbing reality itself.  Only when everything became an absorbing simulation, reality became somehow more melodramatic.  It was emotional. It was meaner, fearful, dumber.  The masters of the suspicion proliferated in tandem with the explosion of the phony world, and everyone’s lost their minds.

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The Great Derangement: Capitalism’s Event Horizon

The great derangement in this society is precisely the manner in which a culture falls apart. And this is why there is no easy fix. It’s like we’re approaching a socioeconomic event horizon. In physics, the event horizon is the zone where time and space and reality are warped beyond all recognition as one enters into a black hole. We’re in the middle of this process sociologically, approaching the singularity of capitalism, entering the final acceleration where the fabric of this social reality will become more and more insane, reality turned upside-down, where the earth really does seem flat and fascist, in-real-life social reality molded by Facebook algorithms. Where we see all the paranoid tropes and fears and desires whiz by faster and faster so that we can never keep up with the 500 television shows we can’t seem to turn off vying for our ever shorter attentions, where our deranged reality becomes spaghetti-fied and ripped apart at the seams.