Have you seen Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer lately? It popped up when something else I was playing on Youtube ended and I can’t stop thinking about it. Now I want to send it to every VR guy who says something like, “well, actually it took fifty years of film before Citizen Kane..” Well, actually it took four years of MTV before they made this:
Why isn’t VR as good as music videos were in the 80s? This week people went wild over an AR recreation of A-ha's “Take on me.” It’s a technical achievement but not a creative one. A creative achievement would be to this moment what “Take on me” was in 1984. Something doesn’t need to be technically advanced to capture people’s imaginations as that video did, but I don’t see any entry points in the industry or attempts to nurture that kind of talent.
VR/AR is ad-tech. Everything built in studios (except for experimental projects from independent artists) is advertising something. That empathy stuff? That's advertising for nonprofits. But mostly VR is advertising itself. While MTV was advertising musicians, the scale and creative freedom meant that it launched careers for people like Michel Gondry, Antoine Fuqua, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, etc. A band from a town like Louisville or Tampa could get in touch with a local filmmaker and collaborate on a project and hope that 120 Minutes picks it up. There were entry points like that. And the audience was eager to see something experimental. But a VR audience is primed to have something like a rollercoaster experience, rather than an encounter with the unexpected. The same slimy shapeshifter entrepreneurs that could just as well build martech or chatbots went and colonized the VR space because they have a built in excuse that it took film "fifty years before Orson Wells." Imagine that. A blank check and a deadline in fifty years.
No one wants to get inside some sweaty uncomfortable headset unless they are going to be rewarded with something at least as good as music videos were in 1984. But who is ushering in talent rather than hype? VR is starting as an institutional and commercial monster rather than scaling into institutional power. It’s like if the art market came before art.
Pitch Dark is a pretty good book to read on the porch if you want to get away from the internet for a little while. I’m not sure why people call it experimental, except that anything novella length tends to get filed away in that category. It was a bit funny a few years ago, after those breezy novels were reissued by NTRB and then “After the Tall Timber” dropped and people who had thought of Renata Adler as yet another woman writing wispy prose of urban longing had to answer for the simmering “barbarian blogger” she is in her nonfiction. (James Parker’s review of it is really great.) It goes to show how interchangeable women authors are thought to be that much of the language used to describe Eve Babitz’s writing now was just a few years ago used to praise Adler. Anyway I think her novels are much more interesting knowing there’s a rigid underpinning to her wit and how and where it peeks out. The alignment seems all wrong: dreamy, precise and concise, and maybe a little Fox Newsy. Anyway, read that Parker review cause he gets it. Or read Greil Marcus’ takedown of that novel in the Boston Phoenix in 1984, rightly taking her to task for her whiteness, and wrongly nitpicking her prose to death. (This was at a time when book critics spent paragraphs complaining about commas and comma placement.) fascinating to read now as it’s coming from the position of attacking a celebrity, an icon back then, while we talk about her now as a writer who was forgotten (an example of how fleeting celebrity of any kind, but especially the literary sort, can be.)
Also worth looking at to remember what an alt-weekly looked like, the talent (Susan Orlean has a piece in there), ads for local record shops and restaurant menus, and how many pages it was (I forgot just how much was published in the Boston Phoenix, practically a telephone book each week.)