Reality show

The reality show - Schizophrenics used to see demons and spirits. Now they talk about actors and hidden cameras – and make a lot of sense

Il existe une relation directe entre la culture et la technologie et les délires paranos. Par le passé les gens pensaient être ensorcelés par le diable, aujourd'hui il ont la certitude d'être manipulé à distance par la CIA ou d'être le héros d'une émission de télé-réalité comme dans The Truman Show.
Persecutory delusions, for example, can be found throughout history and across cultures; but within this category a desert nomad is more likely to believe that he is being buried alive in sand by a djinn, and an urban American that he has been implanted with a microchip and is being monitored by the CIA. ‘For an illness that is often characterised as a break with reality,’ they observe, ‘psychosis keeps remarkably up to date.’ Rather than being estranged from the culture around them, psychotic subjects can be seen as consumed by it: unable to establish the boundaries of the self, they are at the mercy of their often heightened sensitivity to social threats.

In this interpretation, the Truman Show delusion is a contemporary expression of a common form of delusion: the grandiose. Those experiencing the onset of psychosis often become convinced that the world has undergone a subtle shift, placing them at centre-stage in a drama of universal proportions. Everything is suddenly pregnant with meaning, every tiny detail charged with personal significance. The people around you are often complicit: playing pre-assigned roles, testing you or preparing you for an imminent moment of revelation. Such experiences have typically been interpreted as a divine visitation, a magical transformation or an initiation into a higher level of reality. It is easy to imagine how, if they descended on us without warning today, we might jump to the conclusion that the explanation was some contrivance of TV or social media: that, for some deliberately concealed reason, the attention of the world had suddenly focused on us, and an invisible public was watching with fascination to see how we would respond. The Truman Show delusion, then, needn’t imply that reality TV is either a cause or a symptom of mental illness; it might simply be that the pervasive presence of reality TV in our culture offers a plausible explanation for otherwise inexplicable sensations and events.

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When we watch live sporting events on giant public screens or follow breaking news stories in our living rooms, we are only receiving flickering images, yet our hearts beat in synchrony with millions of unseen others. We Skype with two-dimensional facsimiles of our friends, and model idealised versions of ourselves for our social profiles. Avatars and aliases allow us to commune at once intimately and anonymously. Multiplayer games and online worlds allow us to create customised realities as all-embracing as The Truman Show. Leaks and exposés continually undermine our assumptions about what we are revealing and to whom, how far our actions are being monitored and our thoughts being transmitted. We manipulate our identities and are manipulated by unknown others. We cannot reliably distinguish the real from the fake, or the private from the public.

In the 21st century, the influencing machine has escaped from the shuttered wards of the mental hospital to become a distinctive myth for our times. It is compelling not because we all have schizophrenia, but because reality has become a grey scale between the external world and our imaginations. The world is now mediated in part by technologies that fabricate it and partly by our own minds, whose pattern-recognition routines work ceaselessly to stitch digital illusions into the private cinema of our consciousness. The classical myths of metamorphosis explored the boundaries between humanity and nature and our relationship to the animals and the gods. Likewise, the fantastical technologies that were once the hallmarks of insanity enable us to articulate the possibilities, threats and limits of the tools that are extending our minds into unfamiliar dimensions, both seductive and terrifying.

The reality show - Aeon - Mike Jay.

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