THE SOFT CYBORG 2016
We live in the “Age of Nefarious,” an age of puppet kings and idiot princes, a period in which politics has metastasized and turned on its own people. An age in which presidents are chosen by cable television and we all look away, our eyes masked by Google Cardboard, Taquitos and new Star Wars flicks. An age in which the special and the grandiose have been eschewed in favor of the mundane and the insipid and lethargy has taken hold. A lethargy that has stemmed from the belief that we have discovered everything, that all that we have left is recombination–an infinite helix of all that has gone before–in the aimless hope that this masturbatory exercise will create the sense of the new that we so desperately desire–yet, without any of its impulses.
But this is far from the truth; instead, we have become arrogant enough to believe that we cannot be excited, that our blood has become stilled–that we have become blasé. We have been told for far too long that the same impulses that made humans and beasts excited in the past do not and cannot thrill us. That we are too enthralled by irony and ennui to lift our jaded eyelids and actually see something new in this tired, weary world. We dress our men in baggy pants and baseball caps–celebrating the prisons that have broken our society’s spirits and which stand in stark contrast to the costumes of excitement and adventure that we should wish to reclaim.
We live in the age of Nefarious, a bionic age when artists equipped with angel smiles and back-pack demolition preach their death-sentence prayers to zombified cartoon cutouts made to look like private citizens and fat undergrads. This is an age in which we have become blind, deaf and dumb, in which shell-shock has stunned us into a stuporific stasis. We now live in an age that is more truly Dada than anything Marcel Duchamp or Andre Breton could have ever thought up, an age in which we are bombarded with the idiot atrocities and indecencies of life on a daily basis. But the questions of Post-modernism have been answered in blood; the waiting is over and the games have now begun (in fact Post-Modernism, itself is now long dead.) While pitiful professors stand numb and ready to place themselves into the machine—the rest of us have seen the ever-increasing cracks of hegemony and the lies of bookkeepers and presidents no longer convince even the “C” students among us-though they still become presidents.
The age of the artist has passed and in its stead we have a sea of castrated bald white men, spouting their lines as if it was enough to memorize what Hegel, Kant or even what bell hooks might have said. We have forgotten the lessons the first truly Post-Modern philosophers–the Dadas had to teach us—we have forgotten how to fight, to kick each other in the eye, how a caustic baritone belly-laugh feels and we have held our piss for far too long.
Critical Theory, or rather, philosophy was never meant to be the domain of School Teachers or worse–art critics and historians. It was never meant to be the tool for professionals to build their careers on. Criticism, theory, and thought has always been meant for the young, the artists, the poets and musicians–those who actually feel the age in which they live in their inchoate, pulsing blood, in the music they listen to, in the alcohol they drink and in the hazy, thick air they breathe.
We need to rediscover our own arrogance, to become excited as we sup on the bones of the deadest of the dead, white, western men. In fact Critical Theory, itself, has long since died, but it has refused to be buried–and most importantly, it has lost the one thing that is unforgivable–it has long lost its sense of humor.
I think I must have been about five years old, living in Los Angeles and watching old re-runs of the "Six-Million Dollar Man" when I first ran into the concept. Steve Austin--the "bionic man" was being held "Bond Style" by a megalomaniac, hell-bent on destroying the world! But, why? Just because! Well, not exactly--but at least, at this point the "why" is not so important. What was important was the fact that I was introduced to a particular idea--the idea of "Domesday" or in English--Doomsday--the end of the world. In that moment, my little head exploded--"you mean that this world that I loved, these people, all the wonderful things in it could all go away in an instant!?!" From then on, my mind was filled with images of earthquakes and volcanoes, sink holes, the final judgment and all of that--the world had suddenly become a much less certain place. It didn't help that my parents were reading Hal Lindsey--who was all about charting the course of this "Second Coming"--and that my parents were starting to get more than a little bit crazy.
In fact, my parents weren't too shy about talking out loud about their manias and many of their friends were even more paranoid than they were. I remember one particular "get together" at "the barracks" one of their friend's homes--the house of an over-the-top millenialist (and angry drunk) and they spent the night talking about exactly how the world would end. I was always the type of kid that had to listen to everything that was going on--a protective act that I would later learn was part of me trying like crazy to make sure that my siblings and I would be safe.
That night I had the worst nightmare of my entire short life up to that point! I dreamt that I was lying in bed, when World War III had broken out--we had been invaded and the streets were filled with soldiers and the screams of innocent Americans. At the height of this nightmare a tank crashed through my bedroom wall and came barreling through my childhood bedroom--tearing through the "Old King Cole" curtains and crashing through the old mirror with the Justice League stickers that separated my brother's side of the room from my own. I remember quite clearly that I woke up in the dark, gasping frantically, unable to find my voice. It seemed like it must have been at least an hour that I whimpered until my mother came in to see what the matter was.
To this day, I still remember what followed and hold it very close to my heart--she calmed me down and told me that nightmares come from "bad stars"--that if I ever had another nightmare, all I needed to do was to shift my position so that I could get a good dream from a "good star"--to my childish mind that made all the sense in the world and to this day when I get a bad dream I shift positions and fall back to sleep.
From that that day on, for several years I developed a strong fear of natural, supernatural and man-made disasters. Ironically, it would take the televised special "The Day After" for me to get over this overburdened fear of impending doom. I think it was the realization that everyone was afraid that knocked me out of that state and allowed me to join in the general malaise that all humans share.
Flashback to when I was a little older, and the first time that I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I immediately answered with a huge toothy grin that I wanted to be an ecological superhero! I wanted to save the world and everything and everyone in it. I spent weeks drawing up elaborate, baroque plans, creating complex costumes, complete with eco-utility belts and a green flowing cape. I dreamed up flying and submersible eco-mobiles in order to try to make sure that there was clean water, enough food and housing for all. I concocted all sorts of Dr. Seuss-like machines to clear out the California smog that even in my childhood, were generating brown skies in the mornings and extraordinary sherbet night lights.
From the beginning, I was also, especially concerned that all the animals that were becoming increasingly dislocated by human construction would have homes and be safe as well. I had images in my mind of all of us-- people of all races, colors, creeds and religions, humans and animals of all kinds coming together on this planet that we share, working together to make this a Shanghri-la for us all--picture those old Bible books from doctor's offices with the peaceable kingdom inserts and you have a pretty good idea of what I mean. But like most of us, I grew up and my mind turned to other things. Like making a living. Like being an artist.
As an artist, the concept of poison, which is the conceit of this issue of Enzyme Arts Magazine, the idea of poisoning, of being poisoned is a fascinating one--almost an artifact of another, more innocent age. When we think about it we see images of Agatha Christie Mysteries and evil witches with poison apples. For myself, it almost becomes an abstracted conceptual theme, something to ponder or create art installations about. But it is more--the whole conceptual framework is as much a process as it is an idea, a force that motivates history and our collective evolution, it is about life as much as it is about death and it requires a set of systems--systems that meet up and by the end are always deadly to one another. It requires idea of the presence of an outside and an inside, it leads to the concept of a before and an after. In order for the entire process to occur, there must be a host body, at once, wholesome and pure and there must be a moment or process of penetration, a kind of injection usually leading to the replication of the intruder, then to an overtaking. One that, unless stopped and overpowered usually ends with the death of the host system. The perfect metaphor for this process is, of course, the virus and it follows exactly this same process.
As Richard Dawkins, who first proposed the idea of expanding the notion of the Virus outside of the merely biological put it,"
Cellular machinery is so friendly towards DNA duplication that it is small wonder cells play host to DNA parasites --- viruses, viroids, plasmids and a riff-raff of other genetic fellow travelers. Parasitic DNA even gets itself spliced seamlessly into the chromosomes themselves. "Jumping genes" and stretches of "selfish DNA" cut or copy themselves out of chromosomes and paste themselves in elsewhere. Deadly oncogenes are almost impossible to distinguish from the legitimate genes between which they are spliced. In evolutionary time, there is probably a continual traffic from "straight" genes to "outlaw," and back again (Dawkins, 1982). DNA is just DNA. The only thing that distinguishes viral DNA from host DNA is its expected method of passing into future generations. "Legitimate" host DNA is just DNA that spires to pass into the next generation via the orthodox route of sperm or egg. "Outlaw" or parasitic DNA is just DNA that looks to a quicker, less cooperative route to the future, via a squeezed droplet or a smear of blood, rather than via a sperm or egg."
As it turns out, the concept of the virus is also the perfect metaphor for many of our most basic systems--including the faux dialectic ideal of civilization. All life, in fact has been compared to a virus by such wise men as the late George Carlin. Both William S. Burroughs and Laurie Anderson agreed that even language is a virus--though they disagreed on its location of origin. Our social vocabulary is full of these viral systems as one of the most popular and powerful concepts of communication, "memes" are actually considered to be "Viruses of the Mind," an idea originated by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. One thing that all these great minds agree upon however is that we digest these bombs on a daily basis--their poisons coursing through our conceptual, metaphysical and actual collective bodies.
Twinkies™ and Soda
We are filled with candy and every kind of preservative. Within our gingerbread-houses cupboards are brimming over with purple, plastic-coated soft drinks and Cheetos™. We are what we eat and from here that doesn’t look too good. The ancient metaphor, as well as our common senses tells us so. Let us take a moment to look at the Twinkies™, Chicken McNuggets™, and Coca Cola™ that we ingest. It has been said, inaccurately that Twinkies™ are known to have a shelf life of a hundred years (in fact, Twinkies only stay fresh a few weeks).
Open a Twinkie and you will find that it is an odd little thing—unexpectedly perhaps, it is a moist even wet affair–a soft cylinder of unnatural yellow. Wrapped within this manufactured cake is a creamy filling of vanilla. Beneath the perfectly flat, flaky-golden brown base of each Twinkie there are three, small, perfect, oblong holes. It is these small openings, the same on each cake, through which a pure white, cream surprise has been injected. These holes have been calculated, measured to the point of flawlessness, so much so that they have been made to be nearly perfect, the same from one Twinkie to the next. It is this perfection that we have come to expect in our enjoyment of each moist cake. We take the same comfort we did as children–at absolute peace in our knowledge that these little morsels will never change. It is this perfection that we ingest, with the breathless knowledge of the promise that the next one will be exactly the same as the very first one that we ate long before we could even read.
Within each cake, we know is an entire process, calculated, checked and rechecked for precision. This process is the product of countless cyber-constructors—machine fathers, mothers and children working together to insure freshness. Like Laurie Anderson’s “Superman”, the machine has become our mother, insuring that the present will be safe and cuddly and will yield naturally into the future–that the future will be exactly like the past. Imagine machines and humans dancing in choreography as complex as any routine Busby Berkeley ever created and you will still not be able to understand the complexity of this interdependence.
But at the same time one must imagine an even larger machine—no less Cyborg–that is made up of all humans and all machines. In this case, for our Twinkies, Hostess is a simple arm of that hegemonic machine, a corporation that has for many years marketed itself behind the images of Captain Cupcake ™ and Twinkie the Kid ™.
A virtual visit to “Twinkie Town,” the mythical home of Twinkie the Kid, actually his home on the web–is presented as a surreal place–a cross between the Gungan underwater city in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, home of the cartoon stereotype Jar Jar Binks and the city that the Jetsons once lived in.
If one clicks the link describing Twinkie the Kid, they will quickly discover that he lives in Twinkie Town, was born in 1971, and that “the kid spends his free time protecting Twinkie Town’s golden snack cake surplus.” In the upper left corner an ever-vigilant “Kid” set at infinite loop swings his lasso, smiling a cream filled smile beneath vacuous white eyes that remind one of a graduate student with too little sleep. The Kid stands ever watchful, both protecting his horde of Hostess Twinkies from any harm and greeting happily any visitor to his home. These are the natural responsibilities of any cartoon spokes-character.
In the past few years, newspaper headlines have been filled with stories of BSE and foot and mouth disease, a set of incidents, which have meant the death of thousands of animals and the loss of millions of dollars and historical farms. At the same time, another, perhaps sillier story, recently besmirched the good name that McDonald’s has built up one Mcburger at a time. It seems that amid the perfectly battered, crisply fried wafers of golden Chicken McNuggets that Newport News, Virginia native, Katharine Ortega discovered a fried chicken head, complete with wings and a beak. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story made headlines, and equally less surprising was a food inspector’s claims that this discovery was a complete mystery, that there was no way that this could have rationally occurred. This had to be the product of a new process of making wings and could/should not be seen as a common occurrence. Another McDonalds spokesman made certain to tell newspapers that he had “no confirmation yet that the chicken head was definitely served by the restaurant.” In his comments, he stated more than once, that this was a “mystery” that he would “get to the bottom of.”
First, the idea that that this incident is a kind of mystery is important, for it is in the language used by the McDonald’s spokesman that we can see some important elements in the processes involved here. A mystery according to “Webster’s” is“something unexplained and secret.” This spokes-person, in an effort to protect the image of his product acts to dispel any feeling that this is anything more than an isolated “incident, ”another word that is used many times in articles about the event, that this is something that is completely out of the ordinary, perhaps even the outcome of magic or trickery. At the same time, the fact that this is described as incidental further shows how strange, bizarre and odd this occurrence is supposed to strike us.
Further investigation of the word mystery, however, releases an older, but perhaps more insightful reading. In ancient Greek the word myein– from which mystery comes actually means– “to close one’s eyes.”
Of course, though, when we close our eyes we cannot see, we miss even the obvious, we give in to trickery and deceit more easily and we surrender disbelief. At the bottom of this mystery, then, at the heart of what the McDonalds’ spokesman claims–may not be the chicken head at all, but instead the desire that we should all close our eyes and pretend that this “incident” never occurred in the first place.
He is actually instructing us as to how we should respond to this situation, how we can go on without this affecting his business, or more importantly our perception of the perfection of the process that brings us chicken McNuggets™—of which, of course, the spokes-being is an important part. He is telling us to close our eyes and ignore the obvious.
According to Lacan, the most important thing that we are asked by the reality of society to ignore is—the real. The terror of the real is that which reminds us of the terrible truth about the reality that we create and which requires us to give in and close our eyes on a daily basis. This real, for brevity’s sake is the truth that the fabric of our reality is nothing more than the desire that that which we choose to claim as reality be real.
If we apply this to the situation at hand, then the chicken head in this case acts to remind us of the real behind the fabricated world of Chicken McNuggets ™, a world in which millions of chickens die for our meals, a world that is nothing like Twinkie Town™, McDonald-land™ or even Disneyland™. It is a world which we are asked to look away from, in order to continue the mystery that allows us to ignore the truth of these lands; these cartoon emcees, and most of all our desire-filled addictions to all of this.
It is, in fact, our addiction to Twinkies, Chicken McNuggets and Coke that survives through the words, denial and chaos which occurs when a rat is discovered encased in red, white and blue aluminum, a chicken-head is battered and fried and a Twinkie ends up with four holes instead of three. We love to eat, smoke and drink these brand-name products, and nothing should ever get in the way.
How often do we hear our children screaming for McDonalds? How often do you feel that only a Hershey Bar will end your craving and allow you to get back to that paper you’re supposed to be working on? We are addicted; all of us to these produced, packaged, additive enhanced, tasty morsels—ultimately can even our genetic makeup hope to remain unchanged by this?
We are all Emcees
When I was a child I remember a cartoon dog that used to float up in the air (in a state of what has to be described as orgasmic bliss,) when he was given a doggie treat. I loved this doggie and was fascinated by how happy he could become when he received the object of his affection. His affection seemed like utter bliss to a young child, but, I don’t have to reach so far back to find any contemporaries. Scooby Doo, for one, will do anything to get his “Scooby Snacks.” He will easily apprehend the same villain that had eluded the Scooby’s for the first half of each cartoon. He will happily overcome his own fears and attempt all sorts of inexplicable super-heroic feats for the promise of these snacks. He too becomes orgasmic and ecstatic in the presence of his main addiction.
Think of cereal commercials with their animated emcees, those spokes-chickens, muscle-bound Tigers and Sugar-bears. Think of the Trix Rabbit, who is named after the product of his affection—one that according to the logic of his own mythos, he can never attain, because when he does, if he is not stopped by the children around him–he goes absolutely insane. This is true also about Sonny, the Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs Crow, who wants nothing more than to be one with his General Mills cereal. But what is it that drives these characters to be such all-consuming need machines?
It is interesting, I believe, that one of the ways to see the evolution of our society is as one of an increasing alienation of mankind from the baser needs of the human as animal. This is evident in our language, in our supermarkets and oddly, it is evident in our media. Recently, I have had the pleasure of rediscovering another of the programs of my childhood–the old "Our Gang comedies"–also known as the "Little Rascals." In these comedies, aside from the casual racism of the age which does seep into these epic, little stories–children of various ethnicities hang out together and have amazing adventures. But something else interesting occurs here–these children, the main protagonists– are very poor, poor in the way that we simply do not see presented anywhere today. But they are proud, smart and damned clever. And there are several episodes that center around these children attempting to find–and often steal–food.
Now this is something that we simply do not see anymore–it is not part of how we allow ourselves to be represented. Starving children, children fighting for their existence is simply not considered funny. In fact, there are very few instances in the popular media in which the food chain is ever dealt with–excepting two very notable areas. Commercials–of course, deal with food and feeding in very abstracted, capitalistic ways–but still, it is a component of their one-minute narratives. More-over, however, cartoons continue to deal with the intricacies of the food chain, animal against animal, hunter and hunted, cat and mouse, vulture and rabbit, wolf and roadrunner all presented with the intention of the hunt. These dramas continue to this very day in new Warner Brothers Cartoons, Ren and Stimpy and even "The Simpsons" have the "Itchy and Scratchy Show."
It is with these cartoon characters that we allow a kind of Lacanian imaginary space to grow–one in which we safely and from a distance enable our most basic needs to be represented. Specifically, the need to feed, which includes the need to kill, which is not “pretty, clever, comforting or kind”–as Morrissey said ages ago–“it is the unholy stench of murder.”
However, in the artificial, hand-colored world of the cartoon, where everything is already a sublimation, fetishization occurs, which allows us to distance ourselves from the baseness of these dark, animalistic desires which makes them palatable, even humorous and which in turn allows us to laugh at even deeper issues than our need to feed and procreate–issues are opened up–again, from the safe distance of sublimation into the alienation preserved by a plastic position of reserve.
In fact, because the text is opened to us by way of the distance that is allowed us through this alienation and fetishization–it becomes easier to see why the cartoon spokes-creatures love these products so much—they are in fact addicted to them. Desire and addiction fill and fuel their narratives. Cocoa Puffs and Trix are the drugs that these creatures seek. They wrap their existences around these products; they promote them and thus they seek to become part of each other in a frustrated dance that recalls the onanistic system Marcel Duchamp illustrates between his bride and bachelors, even.
This is evident when we look closer at characters like Toucan Sam, and Sonny, the emcee for General Mills’ Cocoa Puffs, who are even the same color as the products that they promote. The product of their desires have become part of their cellular makeup and especially Sonny seeks to return himself to his originary place of utter bliss, one in which he and cocoa puffs can become one.
If we imagine that Sonny is real, for a moment, we discover that this is a very easy thing to do. In fact, if we look very closely at these commercials we will see that we have always been asked to imagine that these creatures are indeed real beings–cartoon emcees living amongst us. In fact, these characters are seen to exist in a world that is very much like our own. Like Roger Rabbit, they interact freely with the humans they encounter. There is no barrier between the children and mothers that the Trix Rabbit, for instance, must contend with.
And like Roger Rabbit, they, too, seem to exist via a set of defining rules, their existences are calculated to make others happy, like Roger, they are also incapable of passing up the punch-line to a joke and they seem to exist as slaves to our and especially their own passions. Sonny, Toucan Sam and the Trix Rabbit may be cartoons, soft and furry and made of painted cells like Roger, but they are something more–they live in our world.
This is an odd assertion to make about characters that are, in fact creations of corporate men and women—whose sole agenda is to sell a product. But if one looks around, she will see that these hybrid creatures are in fact everywhere, from Mickey Mouse, The Michelin Man, the Jolly Green Giant, talking and singing dogs on TV and at X-mas™, even Snuggles the living teddy-bear—we must admit that we are surrounded by these grotesqueries.
Let’s look at, perhaps, the most well known of these creations, better known than even Bugs Bunny. I am of course speaking of Mickey Mouse. A moment ago, I spoke of a Bakhtinian idea that comes from the caves and grottoes of the mythic golden age world, images that have come to be called grotesque. In their ancient drawings and carvings animals and humans were seen to be interacting, often in vulgar and obscene ways, at other times and throughout history we have seen fantastic images of men and women who may have been the offspring of these grotesque carnivals. Mythology is filled with Minotaurs, hecubi, etc. those creatures, which are a mixture of human and animal.
However, nowadays, these creatures have lost their connections to the real animals they once mimicked. They are confabulations and hybrids and fabrications instead of having connections to their real counterparts. These are creatures like Mickey Mouse, who wear pants and shoes, who live in 50’s houses and who own other animals, speak openly and promote their jobs endlessly as spokes-creatures, ad monsters and film-stars. But there is something more here, something that gives these beasties, perhaps, an even greater claim to being real even than you and I. No longer happy with Pinocchio’s simple desire to be a boy, to be human, to enter our world and be one of us. These “Soft-Cyborgs” now claim immortality.
As emcees, by selling their animated souls to monopolies and mega-corporations they have become larger, longer-lasting, stronger, and more powerful than the men that have created them. They no longer die, when their creators die. They simply acquire a strange new voice, a new stance, chiaroscuro shadowing, even 3-d computer graphics and continue on. They have become demi-hegemonic, that is, they continue as long as the product they speak for continues to sell. This sell/cel/cellular aspect of the soft-Cyborg is fascinating and puts our mere mortal bodies to shame.
In opposition to Roger Rabbit, who according to his own mythology, made those first tentative steps into our world in the thirties, only to find that he missed the comfort of his own world, we can find a system that has begun to invert itself. One in which it is humans who are attempting to enter the world of these cartoon characters, to trade-in their flesh and blood for the promise of animated immortality.
We Are Soft Cyborg
I have said before that our bodies have become soft, infiltrated and injected with a creamy filling. We have been asked to close our eyes as our systems have become more plastic, more additive. From here, I wish to turn our attention to a series of advertisements that began in January of 2001, for Extra Sugar Free Gum+Polar Ice. In these ads, two of which have come out in the series. We see men reacting with fear and alarm to white fur, which has grown on their backs and torsos. I will focus on one, though I will bring in elements of both advertisements.
In the main advertisement, a young black male, with dreadlocks and a beard stands forward looking at us with an expression of shock. He is holding his shirt open as white fur cascades into his tan khakis. Above him, outlined chalk ice reads, “See What Happens!?” with an arrow pointing to his chest. Below this it states, “They’re hiding these effects!” “It alters your genes!” The other ad responds with, “It messes ya’ up!” and They’re keeping this from you!” underlined for added effect.
So what are they hiding, what mystery have we closed our eyes to this time? Why would the addition of fur, ever be seen as an enticement, as it must be, advertisers are not in the habit of giving away secrets that will not entice us to buy their products. A last line in this advertisement, reads,“Stay away from Polar Ice, Just Gum? No way!”
Most importantly, however is the line, “It alters your genes,” for it is here that we can see that what they are talking about denotes a change that is occurring, or at the very least–that there is the threat of a change.
Not only a change, however but a step in evolution, a mutation, an altering of our genes. Not a mere addition, not human plus plastic, or human plus machine–as with the old fashioned Cyborg–but human into something else—a mutation, which is said to occur through our ingestion of a fabricated product–Extra Polar Ice. It is not merely incidental, either, that this mutation is evidenced through the growth of fake fur.
Let us look at another advertisement and a kind of cult that has built itself up around the idea of the grotesque integration of humans and cartoon-creatures. This group of individuals known as Furries are a very well-spoken group of fans who have conventions in which they dress as furries, write erotica and “straight” fan-fiction, while some engage in sexual situations designed around their furry personae. Dr. Pepper, a greatly respected member of this group describes the phenomenon:
Simply enough, a furry is a funny animal taken seriously. Roger Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, and Mickey Mouse are funny animals; they are anthropomorphic, mostly behave like people, and are pretty much the cartoon equivalent of character actors. Usagi Yojimbo, Omaha the Cat Dancer, and the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are furries (even though turtles don’t have fur); they are…even more anthropomorphic in appearance than the funny animals are, but behave like crosses between humans and animals. They are sapient, and just as much “people” as any fictional character, but they aren’t presented as animals for laughs. Most furries tend towards their human aspects, their “species” not all that important.
The term “furry,” itself comes from two aspects, first the cartoon fur of many of these characters as well as the fabricated fur from which most of the costumes they wear are made. But while these cartoon characters are seen to behave more human, in reality it is the humans who are behaving more like the cartoon characters they love. It might be easy to marginalize this group as merely a fringe fandom if it were not for the fact that they have created a very logical set of beliefs and practices, some of which sound very much like they have been informed by Harraway’s own postulates:
“…The desire to put oneself in the animal’s place so as to be able to really experience what it is like to be so gifted. But most people want to have this experience with human type sapience. This leads to the postulation of various kinds of creatures. Real animals that somehow can think and talk. A lot of folklore and mythology is mined for source material for these. Of more recent vintage is the idea of using biological or digital technology to augment ordinary creatures. Sapient analogs of certain animals. These include parallel evolution on other worlds, human genetic intervention, and additional evolution, say due to massive radiation. Gene spliced creatures made to order. These can range from customized humans to totally new beings made with the desired combination of traits. These two seem to be the most popular variants at this point, particularly the gene-splicing concept.”
It is here that we can see a correlation between the furry fans and the Extra Polar Ice advertisement. Especially those aspects evidenced in each ones’ use of fur and the warnings, or promise of genetic mutation. While the men in the ads, seem shocked by the evidence of their desire to ingest the Polar Ice, these furries have seen the warnings, felt the desire, for their dialectic is one created by and through desire, and moved forward in an attempt to make themselves more like these cartoon characters.
They see the mythology, see the science, as well as the fiction and move ahead. In addition, we cannot marginalize a trend that we are beginning to see in other areas of our culture–this desire does not appear to be isolated to one community, but instead we see evidence not only in the Extra ads, but also in others.
In the May issues of many magazines, there is an advertisement for Kellogg’s cereal showing two characters named EET and ERN, a horse and a pig, which are very clearly furries and not merely cartoon emcees. This is evidenced in several ways, the Pokey-orange wide toothy-grin of the character named EET, is obviously a costume and ends below the wrists, black gloves extend from there. His large white eyes are unfocused and gaze into space as he pokes ERN’s nose. ERN is also obviously a human in a pig suit and we see deep into the dark cavernous maw of his mouth, another hole in his costume suggests the opening of a child’s piggy bank.
The text at the side of the page states clearly, “We picked a code just for you. If you take this code and punch it in at EET and ERN.com, It’ll help you get cool stuff. The desire to get cool stuff is the draw, here. But more importantly, if one takes the names EET and ERN and rewrites them we have eat and earn, the key to gaining this cool stuff, then is through the ingestion of their product. Perhaps, the reason to ingest these products, then, the reason for Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, the males in the Extra ads and you to ingest what they sell is that you too, will “earn”–you will get cool stuff.
But just what exactly is this cool stuff? What exactly is the allure of the Soft Cyborg–what is the carrot that is dangled before us in order to make us even want to become soft in the first place? What desire can possibly be fulfilled by us becoming a cross between human and cartoon character? What do we gain from becoming soft? What happens when flesh becomes furry? What is the value of pliant flesh?
What is the cost to someone who becomes soft? What does it mean to become pliant? To become a suppliant to something higher? To, in essence, become an emcee and to sell one’s soul? In a way for us to trade those t-shirts that were invented by "Rat Fink" artist "Big Daddy Ed Roth" for advertising written at the cellular level–wherein our very DNA has become co-opted by "bug juice." If as I am suggesting in a very real way that we are what we eat, if we become the Twinkies that we are ingesting, and here I am talking about a real scientific evolution—us becoming addicted at a cellular level to the products of our desire–then, why, in heaven’s name would we even do that? What could we possibly gain? How is this Cyborg in the tradition of Donna Haraway and how does it make us stronger–if it does so at all?
In addition, what does any of this have to do with Art? For awhile, like Dave Hickey, I have been grappling with the conservative state of the artworld--a kind of conservatism has taken deep hold. For instance, a philosophy of stagnation and the retrograde has taken over philosophy, which has been overtaken by linguistic theory and architecture--which appears to be content to imitate De Stijl and New International Modernism (the International Style), painting appears to be content to be "quotational," nostalgic and interested only in looking backward or hiding behind abstraction and even sculpture and photography appears to be stalling--and poetry may have actually died with Auschwitz. But why?
As I have written elsewhere, toward the end of Post-Modernism, just as Queer theory, Feminism and a plethora of minority disciplines had found their voices, critical theory began to look back to Hegel, Heidegger and Kant and philosophers like Baudrillard, who made it clear that these deconstructive, critical anti-hegemonic voices were no match for the powerful, controlling forces of traditional, normative ideals of "civilization." Hegemony, the phallus, logic and the almost "Matrix"-like idea of reality, it was said had given birth to these "othered" critical forces, had prepared for them and were ever-ready for anything that these criticisms to stable-meaning "essentialism" might come up with in their effort to bring about any real, true justice or even progressivism to their historically entrenched programs--such was the way of the largest forces at play in the physics of our "entrenched" reality.
However, the idea that any system is or can ever truly be outside of the forces of change was a lie--of course--and the only way that these lies could withstand the deconstructive forces of the children of post-modernism would be/was to divert our/their attention--to attempt to get us to always look away and back, to re-empower and reconstruct the past and to rewrite and re-inscribe its parables and replace the steady progress of the past with warnings of fire and brimstone. If these queers, these feminists, these minorities take control--it is said--everything that you believe in--society and even logic itself will, irreperably collapse!
This is, in fact, the critical world that I entered into when I went to grad school at UC Davis during the last gasp of the nineties--a world that was lying in a state of overextended preparation, waiting for something earth-shattering to rock it to its knees and shake the mold off of its foundations. The world did change, post-modernity died and those that were told that they had no voice and that hegemony cannot change have since learned that this is simply not the truth. After the horrible, terrible, no good events of 9/11--it became clear that any system--even the hegemonies of our deepest held beliefs--entire systems can and do change.
In fact, in this new millennium, every one of us is a punk, every one of us is an activist and rebel and no matter how stupid and imbecilic--each of us now has the cacophonous ability to speak--but not without its costs and not without creating a din that is loud-mouthed, complex, multi-vocal, and thankfully very hard to control and even harder to define and which, at times, can be used against us all by whomever pays the most attention to the psychology of large groups.
Back to the concept of Doomsday, with which I started this whole thing--and more importantly to the seeming need for so many groups to rely on a rhetoric of doomsday speech--certainly the realization that all systems are delicate balances of wishful thinking, lies and control has shown those that desire to continue the hegemonic systems in place, that the threat of dissolution/disillusionment has always been and continues to be real and that the rhetoric of doomsday is the only tool that can keep things from changing. Perhaps, in fact it has always been a necessary part of conservative (conservative being used here in its loosest form as any force resistant to change) rhetoric to threaten its own self-destruction and to threaten to take all of us down if it does go--if it ever truly faces its own demise.
But the shrill shriek of doomsday and the threat of the void has been going on for the last forty years at least--and still we remain--forever at the brink of destruction. At some point art, philosophy, architecture, poetry, critical theory and yes, even politics has to stop looking back--has to decide that even if we are as they say--at the end of things (how many times have we read that art is dead, painting is dead, etc. and etc. and so on!)--even if the world is falling apart, even if the world economy is on the brink, even if civilization really is on the verge of collapse--we must take a stand, now.
We must realize that civilization is not going to go away this very minute, that society is not going to fall apart today and that the threat of our dissolution has been held over our heads for far too long. It is time for us to look forward and to begin a new kind of Renaissance--to shift our viewpoint and quit looking backward to what has been created in the past and to create a new renaissance for a new age!
Ultimately, perspective is the most important shift of all--that and the hope that comes from this shift. The rhetoric of this age so far has been one of pessimism--we have all been left with the sense that we are forever fighting for our lives. That everything that has any value to any of us is always on the verge of being taken away--that we are on the cusp of being shot by a cop, that they are going to take away our guns, our insurance, destroy all of our unions, the right to choose--etc., etc. and so on! This has to have an effect on how we navigate the world--if you are afraid of losing your valuables--you aren't going to waste your time doing anything but protect yourself and all that you own--and that is exactly what has happened to all of us! We have been taught that we must settle. We must settle for protecting the little that we now have--we must settle for mere existence, and that is the opposite of creation.
The value of course is that it may be both our inevitable end and a much needed survival skill, if we imagine a world like the one in Max Headroom—a program that was simply too honest to last long on television-we can imagine a world that is owned part and parcel by large corporations-which, for all intents and purposes are kinds of viruses, in that they seek to live for as long as they can using the resources of their host body, till the host is destroyed and empty. These are the viruses that we have created, hard edged and machine-like they kill us with their Cyborg bodies and hegemonic minds.
If we are to survive, we must become like Roger Rabbit, we must become like Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, our flesh must be pliant and perfect—we must become the plastic and rubber that bounces back after being dropped from the top of the Empire State Building. We must discover the nirvana that occurs in those few moments when we are suspended in mid-air before we drop. Our skin must stretch like Plastic-man and allow the machine to pass through us effortlessly. We must never bleed and instead we must ooze. We must see through the huge, wild, white lidless eyes that see all, but also know the rules of the mystery. If not, the Terminator will necessarily come from the future to destroy us. In essence we must evolve, grow and become what we were always meant to be. Soft.
But what about all this "cool stuff," I wrote about earlier? Is it the desire to run fast, be stronger, more agile than other men, to live forever like advertisement emcees and cartoon characters? Perhaps the truth is ultimately less romantic and much more insidious. Perhaps the truth is one that we might actually prefer to keep hidden and mysterious, perhaps we would be better off to avert or even close our eyes to the answer, or answers.
Ultimately, what I have spoken of is, of course, a survival skill. Our soft-Cyborg skin, mutable and fluid like the skin of a cartoon, our addiction and slavery to our own creamy centers (which is already happening) is what it takes to live in a world where we are mere mortals, slaves to forces that are much more powerful than we can ever hope to be, but, perhaps there is a silver-lining in a dialectic that places the human in a world in which large monopolies and lying presidents care more about money than the individuals that they are mutating into "Soft-Cyborgs." Perhaps we will finally evolve. Perhaps, like Pinocchio we have discovered that it is not enough just to be a real boy or girl--after all.
We are all constantly worried--certain that this is it--that any of a number of doomsdays is approaching--economic, political, philosophical, etc. and so on, but art is and always has been part of a timeline, part of a progression--a promise that humanity--the most important parts of humanity will endure, will strive and will accomplish and grow. Art at its very heart is hope--it fights for what it believes in and is an expression of humanity's greatest hopes, fears and aspirations.
If we are, in fact going to be able to see our ways out of this era--if we are going to move out to the stars and preserve this planet's ability to contain us--it will be artists who will have to envision these possibilities.
Just as we were the ones who gave humans the first images of heaven and hell--just as we created angels and aliens and all manners of monsters that no human eye has ever seen--so will the tribes of poets, painters, sculptors, modelers, filmmakers, writers--creators all--so will they show us the way out of these turbulent times into the next great Renaissances of human development. So, let's do it now! Change those chips that hold each of us back, fake it 'til we make it and start a brand new day and a brand-effing-new Renaissance!