Posts Tagged 'propaganda'

SkyMall Greatest Hits

A trove of products grasping at the image of the futuristic, SkyMall features a truly astounding selection of useless fetish objects that seek to fulfill the need for luxury… for the new. These kinds of goods should seem familiar, as they are what our society is build upon. For a more detailed run-through of consumerist tendencies and their origins, I recommend Stewart and Elizabeth Ewen’s Channels of Desire. But suffice to say that shiny products answering a need we never knew existed are a staple of American (read: global) life. Here, then are a few choice selections from a recent issue of the Mall, which I find best demonstrate the extremes of future-mongering in the consumer industries.

The adds speak to that sort of almost-but-not-quite future glimpsed in childhood toys or on the backs of cereal boxes. Obviously there is a strong emphasis on white and blue with smooth contours. It seems particularly fitting that the publication resides in the sky, only accessible from the already luxurious and high-tech experience of flying. Literally above the realm of every-day experience, the time spent reading SkyMall places them physically closer to the stars – the ubiquitous symbol for technological progress and social betterment – in a broken leftover from Cold-war era political bamboozling.

uv light wand


feng shui gadget


futuristic bowl machine


authentic tea brewer bullshit


wheel skates

Fresh Scan: Sync-bot

and what's with that stadium in the background...?

Another magazine find, this time from the back cover of Make – which is coincidentally the subject of a large-ish essay I’m writing. Not strictly concerned with depicting the future, makers certainly affect aesthetics and the philosophy of progress, so I might throw it up here when it’s finished in addition to over on the parent site. Anyway, here we have anthropomorphic qualities being projected onto an what looks to be essentially an mp3 player. Personalizing and familiarizing yourself with such technology is fine, as long as you’re aware that you’re closing the gap between people and machines. When you call your car (or especially mass narcissistic tech like an iPhone) a she or a he, you are, as RAF member Jaron Lanier wrote in his 2010 book, perpetuating a” reduced expectation of what a person can be, and of who each person might become” (You are Not a Gadget p. 4)

More Propaganda from Intel

Intell Add - August 2010

Online Slang. College life. Textbooks. The cool kids have a robot.

Future Developments in Cinema

How quaint is it, when watching a million dollar special effect zoom across the screen, to consider that Iron Man originated as a vehicle for commentary on the Cold war? First penned in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963), Iron Man’s critique has shifted its focus from militarized politics to static humanism: the new Iron Man condones relentless futurism. I’m writing specifically about Jon Favreau’s recent sequel, and its blatant adoration of popular technology (have we ever been able to use comics as a window to mass social concerns? Certainly the medium addresses them, but comics’ outsider history makes them somewhat less useful than cinema for monitoring these kinds of big opinions).  Favreau is no cultural arbiter, but despite his film’s basic emptiness (and likely because of its generic quality), Iron Man 2 cannot be ignored by the watchful technologist.

The movie’s unique equation of technological prowess with personal might makes it a dangerous piece of propaganda in an already precarious moment in tech history. What can be said when the heroes’  measuring tapes move away from their shorts and towards their keyboards? Exertions of power are repeatedly displayed through egotistic hacking: Tony Stark’s effortless command of his trial, Ivan Vanko’s summoning of the robot army, and Natasha Romanoff’s undoing of said summoning. The usual filmic method of power display is not fully banished as the weaponized iron men mostly just punch each other in the head during the iron-clad melees. While hardly controversial, the interchangeable use of computer prowess with masculine brutality falls in with the general gestalt of Iron Man as a model for the contemporary cyborg.

Technology is everywhere in the film. It’s hard to describe this fetishization as new, when the evidence for its predecessor is shown right on screen before you.  The 1974 Stark Expo (and its (2010?) successor) clearly embodies the real world desire for heedless techno-progress that is currently resurfacing in Shanghai’s actual 2010 World Expo. Technology has always been seen by some as a sign of idealistic progress:

A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath … a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace
( Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. The Futurist Manifesto).

The  really deadly potential of  Iron Man 2 lies in its confusion of reality with fiction. It’s effusively seductive gadgets are all based on real-world counterparts (see Stark’s effectively super-powered iPhone), and I already mentioned it’s take on the historic World’s Fairs (both cases were engineered by Perception studios, whose effects reels are totally worth watching). The glass touch-phone Stark wields in the trial is fictional, but other characters were outfitted with LG bluetooth headsets “at LG’s request” to connect the actual brand with the magical futurism on display in the film (The Story Behind Iron Man 2’s Transparent  Phone.  Forbes).  By inundating the film with such futuristic technology Favreau has marked the obsessions of our time and failed to learn from the marvelously inane Futurists.

While important, none of this really stands out from Adorno and Horkheimer’s declaration that “real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies” (Dialectic of Enlightenment 126). What is uncomfortably resonant in Iron Man 2 is the protagonist’s continuous progression toward becoming a machine. Easy to look past when faced with the character’s equally relentless wit, is the fact that Stark is wholeheartedly a cyborg, and that once given a mythically robotic heart he upgrades and modifies his body with little distinction between it and his other inventions. When declaring “I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one”,  Stark courageously fulfills Donna Haraway’s proclamation of “pleasure in the confusion of boundaries” but fails to enact “responsibility in their construction” as the character’s godlike tech abilities provide a scary example for the real-world to follow (A Manifesto for Cyborgs 2270). Every narrative conflict is dealt with through technology and each upgrade (the suits’, the arc reactor’s, the film’s effects and action sequences in relation to its predecessor) mirrors the shameless progress of Modernism.

The scale and success of the film’s production should point to it’s resonance with culture at large, and when our cinematic heroes are pumping themselves full of titanium and holograms, should we expect any less from your run-of-the-mill citizen? Referring to McLuhan’s importance of medium, we can see how the massively digitized properties of blockbuster film-making perfectly suits this type futuristic propaganda. At a time when Apple is lauding the iPad as a “magical and revolutionary” device, the difference between the real world and the fantasy sold in mainstream Sci Fi is growing perilously small. If today’s culture industry still embodies Horkheimer and Adorno’s claim:  “a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part”, then I believe that alongside thoughtless adoration of technology we must be wary of the accompanying attraction to the futuristic as prescribed by – in this case –  Paramount Pictures (Dialectic of Enlightenment 120).

Field Report: On the Streets

futuristic doorbell thing

Small future panel spotted on Wooster st.

svedka vodka robot ad

Svedka is apparently in the prescriptive future propaganda business as well as getting folks drunk.


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