2. event in the age of content creation
thoughts on our impulse to turn any event into a piece of media
Only a few days after the GameStop stock market debacle, the film rights had already been purchased. A book proposal on the situation was sold, and the film rights to that “book” were then purchased by MGM almost immediately. Currently, it’s going to be called The Antisocial Network.
In the span of days, a historical event is converted into consumer content – and, while production cycles take years to release a finished product, there seems to be a shared understanding now that event is little more than a piece of short-lived entertainment. It was fun, the day of, watching all the various takes and tweets – but it only took a night to feel more like a stale joke than an event with real life consequences. It’s as if the event was made for consumption far before any scripts were supposedly commissioned. And even stranger, it was as if the politics of the GME debacle had disappeared before they could move anyone to further action.
I was reminded of Benjamin’s writing in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In that essay, Benjamin worries about how political praxis could take the place of traditionalism and spirituality in artwork - his main reference point for this is the aesthetics of the Nazi Regime, whose artwork infused fascist ideology with an essence of godliness. Benjamin sees the potential for art as propaganda by raising political beliefs to the height of religious proportions, thereby convincing viewers to follow those beliefs blindly. Yet, I’ve noticed, as we’ve careened past fascism into the “End of History”, a movement away from attempting to idolize political beliefs. Instead, there is a sudden interest in the removal of politics from art and history entirely.
With this new development, it is as if events are stripped of their political potential for the sake of protecting the status quo. A great example of this is the film Argo. Argo takes a highly political event (the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis) and removes all of its politics. The event is turned into neutral action, a thriller with random suspenseful sections so the audience bothers to keep watching. Rather than trying to convince audiences of a political belief, the film attempts to tell views that history is fictional - that historical events are based around unique figures, born of an author’s mind. A political crisis becomes an action film - the story of how a country is changed forever by Western involvement becomes the mythical CIA man hero who stays calm in the face of everything. History becomes myth, myth becomes fairly tale, and fairy tale helps us sleep at night.
The question then comes into play - why is there this corporate interest, expressed through film studios and content creators, to convert events into depoliticized media? Going by the fairy tale metaphor from earlier, isn’t this a kindness? Isn’t it better to sleep peacefully in a world where historical events are just little fantasies? Isn’t ignorance bliss? Historical events are impactful due to the understanding they exist in real life, have real ramifications, touch real people - but when history is converted into pop media, it loses all of its political complexities. To be consumed, the event is smoothed out to go down easier. That conversion removes the impact. And, for a significant group of people, it is in their interest to make sure any boundary breaking in history is understood as mythology - a piece of fiction that cannot be repeated by the normal person.
In GME’s case, I can’t speak for what the movie adaptation will come out to look like – but, during the moments where GME took place on our phones, happening in real time, there was the potential for real radical discussion. There was a crack in the image of an impenetrable system, before it slid into the background of irony. And when we finally receive the film product, will we all be swayed by the intelligent, unique hero who was the only one to be able to take on Wall Street? Will we forget that it was losers on their phones and reddit accounts?