UT TECHNE PICTURA
You know the story of “Metropolis,” the classic sci-fi flick about a dystopia 100 years in the future? That 1927 movie where saint/agitator Maria enflames the proletariat to revolt against their oligarch oppressors, then at the behest of the oligarchs a personification of technology repurposes his robot lover as a pseudo-Maria to counter the real Maria and control the Proles?
Of course, it doesn’t work out as planned. There’s a scene with the chief oligarch’s son—under the spell of the real Maria—mediates, at least brings to the bargaining table, the oligarchy and the proletariat. The intertitle “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” implies there is soon to be a spell-inspired coming together that will be good for all.
Of course, watching the movie these days, a mere two years before the movie’s action is to take place, we know that ain’t gonna happen either. We know the media, not the heart, mediates between the masses and the point-one-percenters. We also know the latter own the media. So we see the whole scene as well as most of the movie as foolishly optimistic fiction. We know the idealized “real” Maria, the maschinenmaedchen, the good-hearted next-generation of oligarch and the rest of them for the sitcom-worthy stereotypes they are.
Back in the real world, we—proles, middle classes, minorities, etc.—are still underground; we are under employed/insured/educated and under the control of the ‘garchs as much as we were in the gilded, not golden, age when the movie was made. We have more toys, but that’s about it.
Our modern media Maria simulations are not a “reflection of a profound reality,” Jean Baudrillard’s 1st kind of simulation, but are his 4th kind, one made to replace real with artificial, one wholly disconnected for what it resembles. Worse than that: “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it.” he states. Media Marias are dime a dozen disposable replicants of faux empathy. Behind their [e]utopian spectacle, they are trans-human vehicles created to shift wealth to their point-one-percenter operators who are also trans-human. They are pragmatic, too, literally so, as truth for them has a cash value and no other.
The movie’s Maria certainly does flip back and forth twixt human and non, when the multiple concepts are mapped to multiple images throughout the film. As do the new ones, today. The Marias—old and new–are all defined by their uses, and these uses are as varied as the people defining them; from the workers wanting equality and justice, the top ‘garch wanting order and obedience, his son wanting love or perhaps just sex. And of course, us wanting a 2 hour respite—or catharsis?—from the unjust, chaotic, hateful reality we must survive.
But we certainly pay for that respite; we are dehumanized like the workers of Moloch, Inc. (but hey, at least they have jobs!) We are digitally deconstructed as we spectate and voyeur all the world’s Marias whose presence-not-present human-like images mask reptilian corporations. Their faces, bodies, possessions, relics even, are nothing but a means to the end of homogenizing, extracting our pitifully small bits of wealth, be it data or cash, slowly, so we hardly notice until the unceremonious discarding of our useless fleshy remains.
So what’s to do until then? I say find some art, art won’t discard you, sell you or trade you in for the latest model, find some and keep it close even if it is merely a therapeutic hobby. Avoid what ain’t art too. Ignoring “fine art” is easy as it’s ignoring you. “Fine art” is the stuff in galleries that seems less and less art-like these days, and more a “standing reserve” of wealth for the point-one-percenters. You know an unmade bed is not art, don’t you?
Harder to avoid is the art-like stuff made by desperate artists for despised corporations to you sell the latter’s not-art-like stuff. You know that fast food doesn’t make your unhappy family happy and that drinking mass-produced beer-water won’t make you popular? You know that, don’t you?
And don’t forget to beware the mechanical Marias, they are the most treacherous non-arts of all. They both wealth incarnate—pay-per-view spectacles—and disembodied, but ever-present “free” simulacra, not Baudrillardian i.e. without meaning, but designed to take all you have.
Note: the mad scientist originally created the robot to replace his dead lover who left him for the oligarch. Her name was “Hel” after the goddess of the underworld. It’s pronounced “hail” as in “Hail Mary” as in “Ave Maria”