In an article titled Did The Oscars Just Prove That We Are Living In A Computer Simulation? the author argues how the Hollywood fiasco surrounding the confusion behind the Best Picture win — first La La Land, then Moonlight — was reminiscent of Election Night (see link below). Namely, he says that the party expected to take home the prize ended up losing.
No, the author makes it clear that he doesn’t compare La La Land to Hillary Clinton and Moonlight to Donald Trump (even though he just did) but we know what he’s doing, so let’s not get our knickers in a knot and play along.
The author goes on to say that this is indicative of a world gone increasingly haywire, where clearly something is messing with the system on an operational level. We are seeing it everywhere, he says, this madness. It’s as if we’re living inside a computer simulation exhibiting glitch after glitch, the Oscars just another example of the Matrix going apeshit etc.
Yes, the article is written tongue-in-cheek, yet, even so, it inadvertently points to the real problems that underscore said global apeshitness.
See, I’m fan of the Computer Simulation Theory. It rings true to me on a number of levels. It’s the simplest solution in some respects, and since I’m a big fan of Occam’s Razor, I tend to favor it on certain occasions because on certain occasions it feels like the simplest and likeliest possibility (see Nick Bostrom’s argument for more details).
But in this case, for all its humor, the theory doesn’t hold water. Yes, it’s an amusing assertion, but also dangerous. This article, cheeky as it is, fails to acknowledge the fact that there was a vast pool of data available to everyone, all of them indicating that Trump would win the election.
Michael Moore, for example. After doing some research in the areas where Trump was campaigning, he called the election’s outcome in advance, predicting a Trump win, and everyone called Moore a loon (because he is, a monumental wacko, but not in this case he wasn’t) only to swallow their words along with their pride when the results came in.
Also, a bunch of intellectuals wrote about the phenomena of cultural and economic disenfranchisement long before the 2016 election, about the shifting world we live in, proposing theories that shed light on the jadedness of voters, their silent and gradual turn toward a firebrand type of politics.
Stephen Bannon, that nefarious figure currently serving as White House Chief Strategist, did his homework. He read the theories back in the 00’s, then turned them into documentaries with which he fired up a base of disgruntled, furious voters, whom he then turned into a lucrative and loyal audience via Breitbart news, whom he then used to create President Trump.
See how it goes, how there’s a clear and cogent trail to the outcomes that shocked us?
There’s more. People from all around America wrote about their lives and the problems they faced in a world seemingly dead set against them, a system not giving them their dues, taking things from them for at least a generation. They told their stories on the news and media. Turn on People’s Court and you can see the despair, the frustration and debasement. It’s right there in Jerry Springer and Big Brother and all the shows we’re inundated with.
Then there was fiction, books and TV and cinema that captured the shifting zeitgeist. The Hunger Games, for example, a young adult fiction story that somehow became a huge hit. Its tale of a group of poor and neglected Districts suffering under the yoke of a detached and snobbish Capitol resonated with audiences around the world. So did The Avengers and Game of Thrones. So did House Of Cards. People found these storylines relevant, eating them up, reacting positively to what they deemed a clear representation of the problems facing them in real life. They gobbled up the dark narratives of intrigue and cynical politics, rejection and restitution. The notion of revolution and uprising against a cabal of corrupt and degenerate elites was a hit, as was the idea of an antihero raising hell, wreaking havoc on business as usual.
Yes, yes, such stories have been popular since forever, but what was different this time round was that these stories were coupled with a crisis unlike anything we had seen since the 1930’s. The return of Depression-speak and the near collapse of the world economy. The renewal of the Cold War and the flexing of muscles across the world theater. The sovereign debt crisis and the partial disintegration of the European Union that followed, the return of bluster politics and jingoism, the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the onset of The Great War. The rise of a voter base who distrusted anything the media put out, regarding the establishment with suspicion, if not hatred, because it was in the name of the establishment they were being robbed of their choices, having their lands seized, their water reservoirs fracked and poisoned; their people persecuted and shot in the streets; their money wasted on wars no one was really sure how to win; the list goes on. Be you left or right, black or white or hispanic, old or young, there was a chance that the words shouted by populists and extremists from the podiums of fear and hatred would ring true to your ears because you’d had enough of the old game and were looking for change. Something, anything than this. Fed up with business as usual, you were probably toying around with the idea of setting everything on fire and starting anew. Find someone to blame and bash their brains in, make them pay for the pain they caused. Time to give the establishment the boot and usher in someone from the outside, someone who promised time and again to drain the swamp and eradicate the corruption, the smoke and mirrors, the cons, the squeeze.
If only you knew that corruption begets corruption, and that the way to catharsis is a long and painful one, involving more cons and lies, more deceit, your self-appointed ‘saviors’ and ‘victors’ proving to be no better than the pundits they replaced, if not much worse, you wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about the change you’d ushered in.
It’s a lesson learned the hard way, one which has to play itself out.
Part 2 below
The signs were there, all too plain to see. People were disgruntled, disillusioned. They wanted a change in the way things were done, and they would do anything to get it, listen to anyone who told them what they wanted to believe. They’d had enough of the system and its flaws, they wanted something better, something more. They were desperate, telling everyone so for years. People from the Rust Belt wrote memoirs, describing their wretched lives, their crisis in culture and family, their need to believe in something outrageous and uplifting, as people tend to do. Their need to blame others for everything that wasn’t going well, it was evident and pronounced. All you had to do was pay attention, note it down, put two and two together.
Most people outside the US were watching carefully, taking in the developments. They were already shaken by how things were going, watching the Obama administration smile its way through the years. Supposedly a progressive and liberal administration, which it was in some respects, Obama’s era was similar to a Conservative era, at least when drone strikes and Wall Street were concerned. The diplomatic tone in foreign policy had softened but the bombs kept falling. Guantanamo had been scaled down but not shut down. Interventionism by the US government as well as corporations and lobbies was as strong and truculent as ever.
And at home, on American soil, one couldn’t help noticing the NDAA and its draconian clauses on civic protest, and the expansion of NSA powers, which Obama kept signing off on.
And the notion of eminent domain and its heavy-handed approach.
And the expansion of the Federal government, and the explosion of both the national debt and the national deficit.
Let’s not forget the banking industry, which, despite Frank-Dodd, had grown stronger over the Obama years. The promises to rein in Wall Street and reverse the ‘too big to fail’ problem? Fizzled out and forgotten.
Frank-Dodd was the worst of two worlds. One could argue that it was in fact a smokescreen, something to placate the voters while giving the Federal government more control, all without being truly effective in terms of the economy. It gave rise to a new branch of administration dealing exclusively with regulation (and how! A monster of compliance that won’t let you sneeze without filling out a thousand forms), while at the same time failing to curb the banks, which, double in size since 2008, now loom more dangerous than ever. Little has changed since the Great Recession, with the toxic Collaterallized Debt Obligations having simply gone away for a while only to make a comeback with a new name: Bespoke Tranche Opportunities.
Sure, the economy has grown since 2008, but it’s a bubble. Three QE rounds have boosted Wall Street and little else, providing a false sense of security. We’re almost back where we started, with a big ‘when’ looming over the numbers — when will QE pressure bring the dollar down; when will interest rates go up and bring Wall Street crashing down?
Yes, many of yesterday’s problems persist, some have even gotten worse, building up to a looming blowout, while, to add insult to injury, we are currently stuck in a world choking on gargantuan bureaucracy, which everyone’s had enough of. Not only have we not gotten rid of toxic finance, we’ve also undermined the notion of financial (and other) regulation.
This has led to the creation of a voter base that demands the stripping of red-tape and a return to a world where you can go about your business with a little more ease, and caution be damned. In some respects, people are ready to vote in favor of a set of rules, or lack thereof, that brought about the economic crisis in the first place.
Until that happens, the big banks and Wall Street are rubbing their hands with glee.
And the special interests grow and will keep growing until someone puts a stop to it.
The TPP, for example, with its behind-the-scenes setup and the incredibly nefarious lobbies that promoted it. It was a child of the past eight years.
And before that the military-industrial complex, its sale of arms to a war-torn Iraq. The construction and infrastructure industries that went in to rebuild the country. The special interests that lobbied for a neo-con experiment in a razed country where a free economy would be built from scratch. A child of the George W. Bush era, this failed policy served political and economic interests at the expense of Tyler and Megyn and Shawna and Vawn and Ricardo and Rosita and Kim and Leela and every poor schmuck out there who believes in something greater than him- or herself, desperate to give their politicians another chance, see where it leads.
The establishment, ever-present, was doing its thing on either side of the aisle, depending where the shoe of authority fit, taking everyone for a ride.
The list goes on. The world was suffering in the clutches of a system squeezing things dry. The data was there for all to see. The base of voters that would flip business as usual the finger was growing, and though it was never a sure winner, it was becoming more sure of itself, certain that it held the moral high ground. It operated just around the corner, getting stronger, just beyond everyone’s comfort zone.
The thing is, a lot of people don’t like getting out of their comfort zones to see what’s happening.
We at WAKE OF LIBERTY have been writing about the inevitable return of populism and demagoguery since 2006. Too early, you say, and you have a point. Even broken clocks are bound to get it right every once in a while. Yes, but this was not the case of a broken clock. We, like many others, made sound arguments based on careful observations, coming up with conclusions that were so beyond people’s comfort zones, everyone dismissed them as fiction.
Well, it’s not fiction now, is it?
(Nigel Farage used a similar phrase when Brexit was voted, and, boy, did he seem pleased with the outcome. There he was, in the halls of those he’d been blaming for the ills of the world, the very people who’d doubted him, who had created the circumstances conducive to his campaign’s success, and he was now standing there, in European Parliament, protected by the rights they had afforded him with, rubbing their defeat in their faces. Weasel that he was and still is, he got one thing right: time’s are changing, and if you don’t pay attention, you’ll end up shafted.)
We did. Europe, open society, progress, we all got shafted, not by Farage and his ilk, but by our own blindness and cowardice, our inability to get out of our comfort zones to gage what was happening and do something about it before it was too late.
So the next time someone tells you that we’re living inside a malfunctioning computer simulation, remind them that the only thing malfunctioning is the mainstream’s ability to read the writing on the wall and change its tack before it’s too late. It’s not the Architect who’s gone mad, or the Architect’s jacked up adolescent kid. It’s not about some glitch in an abstract cosmic Matrix we like to blame everything on. It’s us, people around the world, going mad — mad at the prospect of having to acknowledge that we’re at the end of the tether, that the current paradigm is reaching its limits, and that without some soft change from within there will be a violent transformation from without, by forces preying on the fears of those who feel increasingly left out of the game, people who’ve gone equally mad, and who are being mobilized into action through frightful rhetoric.
Right now everyone is going mad with propaganda. On the one hand we have the claims and directives of an open society stating that everything its people are doing is correct, their actions and choices leading to a better world (despite the fact that these policies are clearly faltering).
On the other hand we have the bombastic accusations of the extremists and demagogues. They proclaim a fairer world based on policies founded on fear, promising a new age, forgetting that their policies were tried and tested seventy years ago, just before WWII, by the fascists and the Nazis.
Propaganda everywhere, messing things up.
The phenomenon is not new. It happened in the French Revolution many years ago (1789), a period when the civilized world stumbled and tripped, falling prey to a violent transformation, and, lo and behold, as history tends to do, it is happening again, today, as we speak, in the US and Europe, perhaps across the world. The first wave of Jacobins and extremists are sweeping their way into power, and we, desperate to cling to a last semblance of normality, are stuck in our very own simulation, aghast at recent developments, wondering why it’s all breaking down, blaming it on the designer beaver and his or her jacked up kid, unable to deal with a changing world, malfunctioning our way ahead, handing over the initiative to those who scare us the most.
Part 3 below
Let’s get one thing straight. Moonlight is no Trump. It was a great movie whose unexpected victory added to the value of culture.
And La La Land was a wonderful movie, too, which rightfully earned its own awards, making people feel good.
And the fiasco that precipitated the Oscars was ludicrous, yes, but it boosted the ceremony’s (declining) ratings. If you want to talk about an architect messing with the system, look for an insider, some marketing guru perhaps whose ingenious plan to create a moment of great embarrassment created one of the most memorable moments in Oscar history.
Or it could have been a fluke, a damn screwup.
Granted, the Best Picture commotion is hardly the same as the 2016 Election outcome, the comparison of which sparked this piece. In the 2016 Election we were dealing with a complex set of sociopolitical, cultural factors coming together after years of voter disillusionment and fatigue on the backdrop of a popular TV persona (Donald Trump) competing against a divisive and questionable politician (Hillary Clinton). There was much to predict by simply reading the data, if one were so inclined.
In the case of Best Picture 2017, we’re talking either a simple screwup or an ingenious setup, neither of which were remotely predictable.
Then again, if one reads the situation and where everyone’s coming from — an Academy accused of being whitewashingly racist last year, a rabid US president who is making no sense whatsoever, bringing to question the very fabric of democracy and open society, and a country in the clutch of Trumpism — well, how surprising is it that the feelgood musical lost out to the gripping LBGT drama?
Let’s admit it, Moonlight was hardly a surprise. Given the current climate, Yours Truly didn’t expect the vote to favor the delightful but vanilla La La Land. The Academy members favored the LBGT movie with the black cast and the Muslim star, and good job they did because Moonlight wasn’t just a cultural statement. It was a great movie.
For those of you who deem this interpretation too cynical, remember that the Academy may be a club of predominantly white boys and girls, but they’re not stupid. They know how and where to throw their weight. They don’t always get it right (is there a right and wrong in art?) but the Academy has over the decades proven more than able to read the signs and adjust to the zeitgeist accordingly.
After year #OscarSoWhite (an overblown and unfair accusation in the grand scheme of things, typical of the whiplash nature of public opinion in the 2010’s, but that’s another story) you’d expect the Academy to do some damage control, perhaps even go for the high ground.
Plus, there was the latest voting trend to take into account. Both in 2016 and 2014 the Best Director and Best Picture awards didn’t go to the same movie. Spotlight beat The Revenant (best dir. and favorite to win) in 2016, and 12 Years A Slave beat Gravity (best dir. and favorite to win) in 2014.
So yeah, you could maybe predict which film would win Best Picture this year after all, if you’d read the data and appreciated the sociopolitical atmosphere. Add to that the latest voting trends in the Academy and the content of the movies themselves, all of which suggested a surprise result in the making, and you had yourself a winner.
As for the computer simulation and the haywire nature of the world, let’s not dismiss the theory just yet. Just because the recent lunacy of the world can be explained in simpler terms, Occam-style, by reading the available signs and data, doesn’t mean we don’t live in a computer simulation after all. I have always had the feeling that this world was the game of a teenager prick going nuts on his/her console, being all whimsical and unpredictable, and I’m not going to change my opinion so easily.
But I am prepared to pay more attention to the facts. One careful look around and I can already see — have been seeing for some time — the trends and direction of the system at large.
I can also see the clear and present danger we present to each other when we fail to take the facts into consideration, pretending things are fine and dandy just because we want them to be. Leftwing, rightwing, the center, the religious, the agnostics and atheists, everyone does it. They ignore the facts in favor of some deeply held belief, faith in whatever it is they believe in, falling prey to the sweep of the times if not their own damn ignorance.
Ignorance, you see, likes to play all sides, hence the yo-yo effect we’ve been stuck with over the centuries, recycling our errors between left and right administrations, between religious and secular ways of life, between modernity and tradition, never quite transcending our problems.
There is a glitch in the Matrix, yes, and it’s called Moonlighting in La La Land where people do what they do only to get hit with the facts too late, wondering what the hell is going on.
The problem is we love it — the spectacle! We adore it. We crave the excitement it brings us, and are not likely to give it up any time soon.
To paraphrase Schopenhauer, we always remember that which stands out, and what stands out is by definition what is not flat and boring. Pleasure, conflict, pain, heartbreak and triumph, we are hooked on these processes, and will forever operate along their parameters, spiking the ratings when they’re low, making life stimulating.
If you want to locate the cosmic video-game teenager screwing up the system, the kid of the Architect, or the Architect Proper, look no further than around you. It is us, the architects of our own world, being kiddish and stupid on aggregate, looking for another game, another hit, something to keep the game exciting because goodness forbid we put an end to the session and have nothing better to do than go about our lives with predictable decency and respect for everyone else. How boring! To kids, this is unimaginable, and we, grand kids that we are, cannot help ourselves. We need to fuck things up, because we can.
Because we want to feel great again, even if just for a moment.
From your infuriatingly critical Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.