Redefining what’s “real”
This blog post will not follow the format I have been using so far. I am stepping away, for a moment, from the safety of the informational spectrum into the shaky territory of philosophical debate. During the semester we have seen and demonstrated, explored and critiqued the variety of current and coming technologies as well as their creative applications… and some not so creative ones. So allow me summarise and consider the media arts spectrum at a deeper level.
Thinking back I tried to recall my first experience with augmented reality but mostly came up with movies depicting some form of augmented reality. Fair enough, many camera tricks, costume/ makeup gimmicks and anything involving projections could qualify for this. In this case one could go back as far as the various ghost creation techniques used for theatre productions. But there is one movie in particular that stands out; They Live written and directed by John Carpenter in the late 1980’s. In this movie a wandering “no-hope-er” discovers a pair of glasses. When he wears these glasses they filter out all of the layers of communication and show only the base message for example; obey, stay asleep, marry and reproduce, consume. As the wanderer looks around the city the billboards, magazine covers, shop signs and eventually some of the people on the street fall victim to these truth glasses.
The scenes of this movie depict pulling back the layers of communication whereas, in this post internet society, with its growing array of wearable technologies, we seem to pile these layers on. The virtual experience is fairly easily definable as ‘non-reality’ but the augmented experience is the somewhat dangerous territory of not being able to fully discern the real from the virtual. There are a plethora of Star Trek series and episodes that utilise teleportation, the “holodeck” (full scale, interactive holographic chamber) and the contact with alien worlds/races. There is a moment towards the end of the Star Trek feature film Insurrection (Frakes, 1998) where a portion of the crew are completely unaware they were transported into a holographic projection. It was a moment where reality and the virtual faced off because the line between virtual and real had utterly disappeared. The Matrix (Wachowski brothers, 1998) made this blurred line even more of a potential threat, depicting our ‘real’ as the fully augmented situation. The truth glasses of They Live concur that, really, the world is full of augmentation without the use of or need for extra technologies. People in advertising, branding and ‘news’ media get paid obscene amounts of money* to accomplish this augmentation on a daily basis.
When I was growing up there was a campaign by Nickelodeon children’s television channel (during the mid 90s) that I remember well, I’m going to try and quote as much as I remember- it may not be verbatim;
First there was computer games, then came virtual reality, but now there’s something that blows virtual reality completely away- Actual Reality. Feel the weight of the ball; because you’re actually holding the ball. Feel the wind as you move; because you are actually outside….
I have always had an interest in martial arts, fascinated by Mortal Kombat (Anderson,1995) and especially the chi balls. The movie is hard to watch now due to the bad acting (or bad scripting) but when I actually started martial arts, training in a regular class, my world came to life. I had thus experienced ‘actual reality’. I had come full circle.
In coming full circle from reality, through augmentation to virtual and back again, as experienced through cinema, we can look at the augmentation of reality as a spectrum of critique. To understand that the world is already presented in augmented form is to start asking the question of ‘what or where is reality’ which is beyond the scope of this intermediary piece of writing and will be left to the philosophical experts.
*BP oil spent 211 million dollars on their brand update. Most expensive brand ever recorded- Symantec at $1,280,000,000 (Canon, 2012).
Anderson, P. (1995) Film; Mortal Kombat. Threshold Entertainment. USA
Carpenter, J. (1987) Film; They Live. Alive Films. USA
Cannon, M. (2012) Top 5 most expensive logos of all time. Website http://www.graphicdesign.com/article/top-5-most-expensive-logos/ sourced 16/10/16
Frakes, J. (1998) Film; Star Trek- Insurrection. Paramount Pictures. USA
Wachowski Brothers (1998) Film; The Matrix. Village Roadshow Pictures, USA