Saying that it is an ‘uncertain time for art’ would almost be too blanketly obvious of a statement in the face of the global pandemic which has continued to be a nuisance for the majority of this year and likely the majority of next year as well. It would be equally correct to say that it is an ‘uncertain time’ for bath-time rubber ducks or pine tree scented air-fresheners, but the Vancouver Art gallery plans to take uncertainty to the next level when it comes to speculating on narratives in art. Recently, the gallery has taken to planning a curated collection of exhibits and pieces, to be displayed as part of the Where do we go from here? the event beginning December 12th. The focus is very much embodied in the title, a grand opportunity for attendees at the gallery to observe pieces which denote narratives of historical pasts and speculative futures. While the exhibit itself sounds like a fascinating opportunity to roll out a few of the gallery’s greatest hits from its wide collection for the public’s perusal, I find myself troubled by the wording of the article on the gallery’s website teasing the event. The words “accepted narratives” ring tiny warning bells in my brain. Art has always depicted narratives drawn from lived experiences, realities, imaginations, speculations, and beauteous perspectives on otherwise mundane phenomena. ‘Accepted narratives’ threatens something which I believe may have sinister undertones. Too many institutions have danced along these similar lines, acting as arbitrators of truths, determining which narratives are curated as ‘acceptable’ and which are not worthy of the public’s bemusements. The uncertainty of our age isn’t only due to economic and medical conditions but each day we find the curators of our culture favoring the censorious attitudes of cancel culture. I have little faith that the collaborative effort of the gallery’s curators will diverge from this effort, but it will be interesting to see what direction they intend for us to go, nonetheless. The exhibit will be featured until May 30th in 2021.
In the early 2000s, Presidential Candidate Al Gore inundated the populace with speculations as to how coastal North America will soon be underwater, and since then it has been a popular talking point and reason to throw celebrity charity benefits. I find myself highly skeptical around any environmental motif presented in culture, as it seems that any who find easy use in reference to a maternal Earth as a wounded celestial saint believe themselves entitled to an obligatory round of applause from any who would dare to call themselves decent human beings. I was recently met with the work of Sanaz Mazinani, a Toronto-based artist whom the Vancouver Art Gallery has taken displaying one of his pieces in the public gaze. The piece Offsite: Sanaz Mazinani has captured much of the same sentiment that Al Gore prophesied, exhibiting a foretelling of an imaginative future of a ‘melted-world’ in Vancouver 2080, where the method of commute most speculated may resemble a Venetian-style boat ride. The piece depicts a few floating leafy survivors and dimensionally sparse glacial fixtures laden atop of a mirror-like surface reflecting the exhibit back at itself. The exhibit is certainly imaginative, attempting to display the projections of climate weary scientists but it feels as though the realism intended is lost, or rather fumbled, by the somewhat cartoonish presence of the faux icy mounds and fashionable billboard tableau mounted at the rear of the exhibit. I have personally always found that practical approaches to art at least honorably yield a clear message, but perhaps this exhibit might have found the remedy in a more abstract representation of the intended idea. The mirror-like representation of the water in the exhibit is actually quite haunting perhaps the most powerful of all the fixtures. A subtle and darkly reflective reminder of impending watery doom otherwise perturbed by obvious fixtures indicative of the largely ornamental sentiment of the environmentalist motif.
The end of the Second World War spurred many economies into an optimistic drive to create, innovate and make a lot of money; a source of inspiration to many of in the modern era, some of whom capitalized on the opportunities to innovate style and design in every aspect including the aspects that they happened to be sitting on. Since the mid-summer and ongoing until January 3rd of next year, Vancouver Art Gallery has and will continue to feature Modern in the Making: Post-War Craft and Design in British Columbia, an exhibit in which an attendee may be astounded to find themselves shifted through time to the fifties, sixties and seventies. The exhibit itself is a collection of furniture, crafts, and designs prominent and prolific which are relevantly symbolic of the ideas which propelled the peoples of that time. Modernism in design saw a movement away from the traditional features which underscored most products of earlier ages which were often restricted to either Gothic or Romanesque lineage of craftsmanship. If I had just returned from an apocalyptic military campaign in Europe, I might have also found myself unable to put up with the induced boredom of traditional design; a sentiment one can easily observe in the attempts of modern furniture to resemble space-age furniture imagined to be constructed of levitating surfaces. The exhibit is an opportunity to travel through time and experience what the labyrinthine mazes of Ikea might have looked like, had they been conceived by previous generations as they labored to escape the shackles of traditionalist design. One is presented with the opportunity to personally admire the beginnings of a movement in design that has inspired much of today’s attempts to transcend concept and bring to reality innovative designs that might have only been considered dreams before. Travel through time before the exhibit moves on, January 3rd.
If you’re not an art connoisseur or expert, it may be difficult to find your attention sustained by exhibits in which you are snobbishly instructed to direct your attention to a painter’s detailed efforts to realistically depict sunlight bouncing off of a derelict piece of furniture in a dusty corner. Similarly, unless struck by the emotional gravity of having looked at the right piece, at the right time with the right clearness of mind at a modern artist’s masterful interpretation of colorful shapes, you may find yourself instead pondering where the nearest and nicest lunch spot you would be and if you’ve boggled at enough exhibits to justify the ticket price. When it comes to boggling pieces, however, you may find the work of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) much to your liking. Currently present at the Vancouver Art Gallery, to be exhibited until April 5th in 2021, Vasarely’s works of optical art will be available for said boggling. The Hungarian-French artist is internationally applauded for his work with colorful shapes, abstract patterns, eye stimulating optical illusions, and creating works that are simply fun. Playful matrixes of constructed patterns fool the eye into perceiving movement and vibration, drawing the mind into each piece by provoking the imagination into play. Vasarely has always maintained an ambition in his work to share the joys of optical art with the widest possible audience, and this ambition is well ingrained into each shape within a geometric circus such as OERVENG, which prolonged gaze induces the observer to fall into the piece as one might a wormhole into another dimension. Vasarely intended for everyone to find a way into an appreciation of art, and his work inspires the imaginative to find joy within the bounds of each mesmerism. Truly worth the boggle.
Coming soon to a live stream at your fingertips, Trinity Western University’s theater students have been hard at work preparing to showcase their talents in an ambitious project to bring this season’s production to the comfort and safety to your screen at home. All throughout the year, many in the entertainment industry have been hunkering down to devise several guerilla format attempts to entertain the masses now trapped at home; it’s only fitting that those preparing to join the industry would be learning to adapt their skills in the suite. Without the Rule of Law is a play centered around societal collapse, a post-apocalyptic coming of age story that follows a determined troupe of eighth graders as they consider the state of the world before them and pull together to survive. Among many of the descriptions advertising the play, is the intriguing characterization of the featured generation as ‘Doomers’, a play on the popular colloquialism ‘Boomers’ often used to refer to adults born between 1946 and 1964. The ‘Doomers’ seemingly in reference to the younger ‘Generation Z’ (born between 1995 and 2012) are thrust into a world on the edge of decay and must learn to brave its perils to survive. The dark comedy of the play is largely derived from the antics surrounding prepping for the apocalypse, but according to director and theater professor Angela Konrad, intrigue and spookiness emanate from how a production chosen very early on in the year has come to dramatically mirror the world we find ourselves in as 2020 draws to a close. Without the Rule of Law will debut online through live stream and video-on-demand on December 1st. Those tuning in on premiere date will be treated to behind the scenes access, and all ticketholders are sure to find themselves drawn through their screens by what promises to be a humorous, deeply emotional, and mysterious performance by talented TWU students.
I often find myself, as I’m sure many others do, fantasizing about what I would do if I had bills in the bank akin to Elon Musk, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos. First, of course, the personal shopping list of exuberant and frivolous novelty items to amuse me. Then perhaps a hit list of shenanigans to be perpetrated around the globe. Some of the more benevolent minded may try to put the cash to use in solving some sort of national or international problem, developing a new technology to innovate the daily lives of others, or even sparking a social campaign to elevate a new way of thought. I prefer the more whimsical problem-solving that Bill Gates exhibited when contemplating shooting a missile of dust into the Earth’s atmosphere to blot out the sun’s rays and hedge against solar effects on climate change. In a similar but more sincere vein, I certainly admire the leaps and bounds in technology made by Musk’s many companies in a concerted effort to help bring humanity into the future.
Eventually, thoughts alight on the Lex-Luthor-looking business magnate, Jeff Bezos, and what he had done to earn and grow his fortune. Under government health officials’ projected agoraphobia (fear of going outside), we have seen a rise in the utilization of many services designed to cut out the middleman and what remains of his whole pitiful existence. Amazon has been at the forefront of this new shift in economic infrastructure, facilitating the transport of goods conveniently to your front door. The Scrooge McDuck piles of cash that have been accumulated by Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos has raised many an eyebrow, with his net worth at a current estimate of 183.6 billion dollars U.S. Keep in mind, that his net worth is not an accounts’ statement, which would actually be more than that, but net worth is rather a measurement of the value of Bezos as an entity should you point a financial ray gun in his direction and set it to liquidate. So why is that number so mind-bogglingly large when many on the planet are barely able to scrape through rent and get by? The empathetic ask. Capitalism!? Yes, but perhaps with a less sinister tone.
I remember reading an article compiled in The Salmon of Doubt, by the late great Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) who often wrote out of a fascination in tech development. Adams mused in the ’90s about the amazing and innovative development of early Amazon, which at the time had functioned as an internet book and movie service and was just beginning to expand its services to other goods. Amazon functioned brilliantly in this respect, in adapting to suit consumer demands and meet them with competent supply. To pose a simple contrast, ordering something from Amazon may only take a few days to arrive, while instead, the national postal service will have hardly assured the delivery before the recipient has expired due to natural causes. Obvious hyperbole aside, the services of Amazon have grown to such an extent because of the demand that they meet; capitalism at work, you want a thing, he has a thing, you exchange money for the thing. Bezos’ came along and fostered a convenient means of thing and money transfer, and because we all unabashedly utilize this hyper-convenient service, we pass money along to Bezos in the process.
There is a point to be made about tax breaks and how Bezos pays a negligible amount of taxes in proportion to Amazon’s profit margin, but tax breaks are implemented by the government as a boon for doing work to help the economy in some manner, which Amazon inarguably does. I have seen many socialist-minded fellows shake their fists at the billionaire however, a simple reaction to coax if you simply present a person with the contrast of Bezos’ wealth with their own poverty. The truth of the matter, however, is that there was a time when the now-billionaire once sat behind a less than glamorous foldable table at a nerd convention with a paper printed Amazon banner when the company was still an itty-bitty start-up. While many would credit the company’s success to some sort of capitalist villainy, the makings of billionaire level success are rather due to a recognition of the internet’s potential and an innovative idea which revolutionized modern merchandising. At a certain point, it is very true to say that money begets money, but the only entity permitted to lawfully take money outside the bounds of purchase is government. Otherwise, we are all complicit in the financial elevation of people with bright ideas, and if we want to continue to benefit from the bright ideas that may not be such a bad thing.
The public imagination loves to run wild when it comes to billionaires and their misdoings. Between missiles of dust, AI warnings, dark crimes on private islands, Pinkerton investigations, and polarizing presidencies we do seem to possess plenty of material on which to ruminate. My personal favorite is Bezos’ creation of the richest woman in history when Mackenzie took a sizable portion of his wealth through a divorce. There is plenty to be said and speculated about where we may find ourselves when it comes to the roles that billionaires will play in the murky future of the road out of the pandemic. But it is important to consider the realities of the commerce and economics which have led to the state in which we find ourselves before we begin to wave the flag of the disenfranchised and spout rhetoric on wealth transfer or joining the mob trying to build a literal guillotine outside Bezos’ home anytime soon. In the wider scheme, a billionaire is just a point through which a lot of wealth flows and polarizes. To try and tear them down for crimes committed in the imagination is rather unlikely and most probably fruitless. Rather, perhaps we need to enable more people to become billionaires so that we can benefit from what they do as we have from Amazon. Speaking of which, I must now run to retrieve a package; one of my frivolous novelty items has just arrived.
Remembering The Handshake & The Beginning of New Social Contracts
As the days darken and an encroaching Canadian Winter chases away any inkling of warmth, we turn to anticipate the curveballs that a Covid-19 holiday is likely to lob at us with. A second wave threatens to roll over our province and as a result, we have been once again ordered to avoid one another. Many have struggled emotionally, some psychologically, others economically and I awkwardly. Awkwardly due to the inordinate amount of chance encounters with acquaintances that have been punctuated with expectant pauses or elaborate elbow-lead maneuvers in place of a simple handshake. Among the somewhat comical measures that our political class has instructed us to take such as “avoid speaking moistly” (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), to avoid shaking hands has also been advised.
Before I continue, allow me to assert that the virus is real and if you can do something reasonable to avoid spreading or catching it, you should by all means acquiesce. However, as we look around at the destruction done, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish that which was inflicted by the virus from that which has been infringed as a reaction to the virus. We have many times heard of a solution being worse than the problem and as we continue to work at bracing against a second wave and rebuilding we also continue to come to terms with what we have lost and what we are losing. It’s important to acknowledge that the implemented measures are not solutions but rather ‘trade-offs’. Locking things down and quarantining the public may appear like a solution, pushing down the number of cases, the reality is that the public state of health has deteriorated on other fronts. In place of cases and deaths directly caused by the virus what we have instead seen is a rise in homicides, serious assaults, hate crimes, home invasions, arsons, and assaults on officers (Vancouver police department crime statistics). This is not to mention an increase in alcoholism, depression, and many other psychological issues germinating in the public consciousness.
Atop of all the calamities, we are now faced with a fundamental restructuring of our society. I’m not talking about ‘The Great Reset’ here either, I already did that in this other article: ‘Turning the Economy Off And On Again.’ Rather, I am talking about the social contracts that form our everyday interactions. Yes, the handshake; a gesture truly at the core of what it means to be human. Humans have evolved with a basic primary advantage of hands with opposable thumbs. These neatly organized and well-paired collections of limbed digits have allowed us to grip things, and hence not only survive but also thrive. How perfect is it then, that an acknowledgment of interaction between is facilitated by the reaching out and gripping of another hand! You and me, we both have hands, and that binds us together…literally and figuratively. Perhaps I am being overdramatic about something rudimentary, but if I am romanticizing handshakes, it is because you never truly appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. Shaking hands is cross-cultural and spans through history as far back as ancient Greece. We have used shaking hands to initiate greetings, symbolize a deal well made, congratulate one another, and to feel out one another quite literally. “Glad to meet you.” “Glad to have met you.” “Welcome.” “Thanks.” And “You’re alright.” Interviews and business meetings have begun and ended with handshakes, high school graduations have facilitated them countlessly and encounter with male relatives often go the way of the handshake as well. It is a beyond-common gesture used to carry much meaning within a simple action. The action itself is immortalized in literal tablets of ancient stone, stretching back through history as far back as ancient Greece and Assyria.
It is conservatively estimated that thirty percent of our communication is non-verbal, with much of our intention behind our gesticulations, gestures, tone of voice, waggle of the eyebrows, and everything but the words that we’ve actually said. Often in the absence of handshakes, we have seen fist bumps, high fives, and hugs. The pandemic forced us to reel back our limbs in a fit of corona-phobia, however, and the physical contact that we once used to reassure each other that we are not ghosts or holograms is certainly endangered. The proposed alternatives, in my opinion, are falling flat as well; the elbow bump feels as though it defeats the purpose by causing us to have to come close enough to employ it, and never once have I managed to do so without sharing the sentiment of wishing to dispose of it. I am reminded of when certain campuses and settings deemed hand-clapping applause to be too violent and instead advocated for slam poetry praising snaps or in worse cases, jazz hands.
The loss of the gesture is something akin to the heralding of new social contracts. A re-negotiation of the way we consider one another has already been impacted in large ways with the implementation of the six-foot radius of social distancing and the obscurement of our most distinguishing and emotive features behind string suspended face cloths. The only form of affection that people feel comfortable asking of one another is to like, share, and subscribe while we’re drawn physically away from each other under threat of legal action. It is a sign of greater isolation and alienation to come, one which I have been pessimistic about since March when a few were naive enough to believe two weeks to slow the spread was anything more than a fake carrot for us to follow. I am more than happy to walk a six-foot circle around any strangers, or politely explain to the cashier that I am trying to comply with safety measures but that the mask is also for robbery, but I look forward to being allowed to execute the six-stage handshakes symbolic of brotherhood that denote my friendships. The important thing is that we continue to find ways to demonstrate that we are still human, and not the newest form of terminator come to enact mechanized retribution. Let’s shake on it.
I truly do not know what chaotic hell society would be condemned to if we didn’t have the ever so wise pantheon of celebrities to inform us of our moral and intellectual shortcomings. Lost we would be, without the checkmarks of the verified to beacon our horizons! Who would sing to us in hastily produced selfie videos? Tell us to vote in literally naked political ploys? Challenge our fundamental views of binary gender concepts? Just writing this is beginning to give me a headache. Earlier this week, fashion and celebrity magazine Vogue featured One Direction star Harry Styles on their cover as he wore a blue Gucci gown, a stunt that once again proved that if you’re a good-looking celebrity you can pretty much do whatever you want. The ‘Applause’ sign flashed, and the mainstream received the cover with praise of Styles’ bravery and defiance of the heteronormative.
Where there’s a proposition, however, there’s opposition. Black conservative political activist Candace Owens voiced her views on Twitter, claiming that the celebrity playing ‘dress-up’ was part of a cultural persecution of masculinity and Western values. Ben Shapiro, another conservative political commentator backed up Owens, stating that the donning of ‘floofy dresses” perpetuates a “referendum on masculinity.” Actress Olivia Wilde retorted with the sharpest of wit and intellect: “You’re pathetic.” Actor Elijah Wood also joined in the ‘dance of the checkmarks’ clarifying educatively that masculinity does not in fact constitute a man. While I had been writing this, US Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez thought it also necessary to echo the mainstream sentiment to her Twitter constituency. Other celebrity commentators such as Zach Braff, Kathy Griffin, and Logan Paul also weighed in on the matter as apparent moral arbitrators for the public.
The conversation to be had about the perceived role of masculinity in society is a migraine-inducing mess no matter what angle you choose to take. Some claim that it is a liability of toxicity and the perpetuation of negativity in modern culture. Others see masculinity positively, with admiration as the compulsion on which society itself is constructed. Both these views, however, tie back to deeper political alignments; Owens’ tweet, for instance, was entirely consistent with the belief in traditional masculinity as a net positive and as fundamental. Notice that Owens also cited the teaching of Marxism to schoolchildren as also symptomatic of sabotage by Eastern rivals seeking to gain an advantage by subverting Western culture. By contrast, it is appropriate to infer, that those who believe in progressivism value the subversion of heteronormative behaviors and see the dissolution of traditional values as a positive move. Because of these deeper philosophical roots, the conversation at any productive capacity should require nuance, give and take, compromise, and not blunt witticisms.
In my own view, it was silly of Owen’s and Shapiro to take offense at the stunt. I can hardly imagine that any of their own fans or followers were in any danger of suddenly donning dresses as a whim themselves. The nagging need to escape the psychological prisons of masculinity by seeking to acquire and wear some designer Game of Thrones inspired frock is likely inexistent in such circles. Of all the issues that one could contend with in a dramatic year like this one, an identity crisis around wearing dresses comes off as a rather privileged one. A proclivity for designer women’s dresses seems quite well suited to a fashion-minded popstar, but this is an unlikely case for any working-class individuals.
Topical involvement has once again provided the commentators with an opportunity to drum up engagement with followers and fans, as well as some time in the limelight of the ‘trending’ tab. The truth of the matter was that everyone involved profited in attention on the matter: Vogue profited from featuring Styles, Styles from being featured, Owens from commenting, Shapiro from defending Owens, and each celebrity who managed to get their jab in touting their own view on the matter also gained attention and sustained popularity. So, if everyone just sounded off to people who already agree with them, then what was the point? If I was being optimistic, I might try and offer that it was all an opportunity to share views and try to reconcile differences of opinion to better work towards a more harmonious society. It is more probable, however, that this was simply a display of celebrity social virtue which has fueled the philosophical divides and exploited the opinionated for gain.
Tomorrow, someone else will say something stupid that we could have otherwise inferred from the obvious. We will all immediately form opinions and launch them into the digital aether with little to no consideration past whether or not the hashtag was correctly spelled. Just as this one has, that scandal and our opinions on it will serve no purpose. Instead of a conversation between two friends which may have better served to reconcile views and work towards a harmony of beliefs, we will continue to argue uncompromising rhetorical points online. Those liberally aligned will continue to cheer and champion progressive movements and signals offered by mainstream media. Others more conservatively aligned will gravitate towards alternative culture’s reply as to why the mainstream has it wrong and we should instead continue to value ‘insert topic here’. All I know is that I’m glad that somebody with a verification checkmark will just tell me what to think about it because I am exhausted.
‘The Great Reset’s’ Mainstream Praise & Alternative Concerns
Of course, in order to remain a well-informed individual, I find it occasionally practical to see what’s trending amidst the digital insane asylum that Twitter is. #TheGreatReset happened to for a couple of days, propelling my eyebrows upwards. Admittedly, I don’t shy away from alternative news. I think it’s important to be informed by multiple sources and if you’re going to be inundated by the mainstream regardless, then alternative opinions can often be a breath of fresh air. There is a frightening tendency within the mainstream to accept rather than question and probe into the mandates of institutions both national and international. Earlier this year, for instance, we were happy to manically observe as the World Health Organization played tennis with information pertaining to Covid-19 and awkwardly flub through questions that otherwise might mar the organization’s Chinese relations. The results were months of panic as to the proper usage and efficacy of masks and lockdowns; not to mention, of course, hundreds of thousands of deaths possibly related to the misinformation.
When the World Economic Forum (WEF) began to tout the early workings of a ‘Great Reset’, the mainstream applauded the focus on combating climate change and instilling equity within economic systems. For those on the alternative side of things, blood pressure spiked, and sleepless nights ensued. Even for most of us in alternative circles, the globalist takeover has always been considered a conspiracy theory worthy only of the maddening tirades of Info Wars. But occasionally, a conspiracy theorist stumbles upon a tidbit of truth within the drama. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, as the saying goes.
Simply put, the aim of the ‘Great Reset’ is ultimately a restructuring of the economy, beginning with the opportunities for action in order to defeat the ravages of the global pandemic and striving towards the goals of 2030. A short video by the WEF circulated the internet making predictions about this perfect future such as: “You’ll own nothing and be happy” “You’ll eat much less meat” “A billion people will be displaced by climate change” “Western values will have been tested to the breaking point.” Along with other claims about printing organs, heavily taxing anybody with a carbon footprint, going to Mars, and shifting the balance of global power to allow for “a handful of countries” to “dominate.” Not to mention that you will just be able to rent whatever you want and have it delivered by a drone using your universal basic income! The ‘Great Reset’ is now being hailed as the leap towards a technocratic Utopia, a ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where old sectors will be sacrificed on the altars of creative destruction to secede our Earthly worries and desires to corporate giants and government bureaucracies.
In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stared into the camera with his doe eyes to tell us that he had already begun working to meet these 2030 goals, taking the opportunity to build this “better and more equitable system”. “Build back better” was in fact, one of the popular catchphrases around this, a slogan of the Biden 2020 campaign in the painful United States’ election, which ran on a not too dissimilar promise of a ‘New Deal’. A quick Google search of the terms (Great Reset) provided me with loads of information about how you don’t actually need privacy, property rights or meat. The frightening thing about it all is that it doesn’t appear to be up for debate, and I imagine that soon any dissenting voices (like yours truly) will soon be dismissed and labeled ‘far-right’. The ‘Great Reset’ is being pushed by politicians and pundits as an inevitability, to be enacted using the executive emergency powers which ordered the economically back-breaking lockdowns. While they will happily wave the flag of democracy, individual rights and actual influence as to whether this comes to be are apparently toilet bound.
‘The Great Reset’ seems to be predicated on disdain for the inequities of current economic systems. Much of the support for it also appears to consist of those happy to shake their fists at capitalist boogiemen accused of perpetuating consumer societies to fill their pockets. I found this interesting given that the solution appears to be to do the exact same thing but worse and under big government control. One of the predictions of the WEF was an increase in space travel. A goal which government-funded NASA has only managed to accomplish now with the aid of private company Space X. Much of the environmental proposition is to be countered by innovation and technology, the bread and butter of the private sector and economic incentive rather than any government administrations. A whitepaper released at greatreset.com simply states the goal of wanting people to “see themselves as citizens rather than consumers.”
There has long been a conflation between the qualities of corporatism, cronyism, and capitalism that has allowed the mainstream to vilify all three. The truth is we live and benefit from a mixed economy, where producers compete under a government referee. Allowing the referee to join in on the game and make changes to the rules could have disastrous effects. I’m reminded of the Clinton administration’s attempt to solve poverty which ultimately ended in a mortgage-backed-securities fiasco. Is there inequity and inequality in our economic systems? Yes, but fundamentally restructuring the economy in service of a Greta Thunberg inspired Utopia is more likely bound for a disastrous overcorrection than a benevolent balance. When it comes to government interference in economics, there is not even a historical consensus as to whether or not FDR’s “New Deal” was even the savior from ‘The Great Depression.’ Ultimately, good is done by people; individuals must be enabled to solve problems through cooperation rather than coerced into band-aiding over them.
I remember walking with a friend in the summer while trying to maintain social distance. “Do you think we’ll be back to normal soon?” he asked. I laughed.
Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War’s Controversies, Catharsis and Contributions to the Gamer-Gate Conversation
I imagine it was an intense silence that consumed the creative boardroom at Treyarch while they tried to conceive of a new scenario for players to run about shooting at things repetitively. Then, one of the employees suddenly brightened up with a totally original and never before thought of the idea and stood triumphantly to announce that they should just reboot something they’ve already done! And hence, developers were back at work like elves in Santa’s workshop as they went about crafting a triple-A game that would be just different enough but not too different from previous installments to warrant the proverbial shelling out of the cash.
Released just a few days ago, Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War has managed to accomplish its mission once again, breaking record sales of digital downloads upon its Friday the 13th release. I recently managed to work my way through its intensive campaign, insisting on doing the job in ‘realism’ mode, where your health is minimal and the enemy AI is armed with player-face-seeking bullets. I must say that I am happily satisfied with the experience though a little miffed at what feels like a missed catharsis of intellectual tension drummed up by the advertising campaign. I’ve long been a Call of Duty fan, from the fourth installment’s bout of crawling about disguised as a shrub, to committing war crimes in a Russian airport, and even the franchise’s identity crisis of fighting Kit Harrington in space, but 2020’s summer was punctuated by a controversial teaser trailer which had my immediate pre-order and subsequent anticipation.
Previously, the immensely successful Modern Warfare, a reboot of the aforementioned fourth installment, let us play along the line of controversy in combating terrorism amid beautiful graphics. Cold War shifts us through history to covert intelligence operations in the 1980s. However, it was the teaser trailer which raised our collective eyebrows when rather than feature gameplay of any kind, we found ourselves presented with crisis footage from real-world historical events, cut dramatically with clips of an interview with Yuri Bezmenov where the former KGB propaganda agent discloses and explains ‘Active Measures’. At any other time, the trailer might have fallen flat, but during 2020’s political chaos it stood out as a blood pressure raising and conspiracy theory trafficking revelation. I am attracted to controversy like a fruit fly to sweet sticky paper. My fascination heightened when the original trailer had to be re-edited and rereleased to exclude footage of the protests in Tiananmen, cough cough China cough cough.
Bezmenov explains a KGB strategy to undermine and weaken political enemies in his real-life interview with conspiracy theorist G. Edward Griffin. An interview that circulated gamer Youtube rapidly along with Bezmenov’s full lecture on the ‘Modern Political Scenario’. ‘Active Measures’ is a covert intellectual strategy that manifests itself in four stages: Firstly, ‘demoralization’, where mistrust in common values and institutions is sown. Second, ‘destabilization’, where the mistrust was sown erodes at the systems themselves. Then, while the systems are most disputed, a ‘crisis’ is introduced, providing an opportunity for total system dissolution. Lastly, ‘normalization’, where the Soviets roll in and institute newer, shinier systems while high-fiving and popping champagne. Interested fans suddenly found themselves with a conspiracy theory on their hands which correlated in frightening ways with modern events. Cultural shifts including and not limited to those of an election year and critical theory seemed to exemplify ‘demoralization’ and ‘destabilization’ along with riots and a global pandemic which seemed well on the nose in terms of a ‘crisis’. All that and the growth of the term ‘normalize’ on Twitter and culturally minded social circles had gamers double-taking at the conspiracy boards from the news channels with the air of having at last located the elusive ‘Pepe Silva’.
As the credits finally rolled and my carpel tunnel throbbed however, I found that this angle of cultural commentary seemed to be largely just an advertising scheme rather than core to the plot of the game itself. Well, of course it was. When the chips were down, Modern Warfare, much like all other major corporations presented its players with the token placard: BLACK LIVES MATTER, press ‘x’ to continue. One couldn’t exactly expect edgy cultural commentary from a mainstream developer that truly just wants to make money. Though it did for a while inflame the old intellectual sentiments and instincts still within communities from earlier. Many in gaming journalism were upset, claiming that the featuring of Bezmenov in the trailer was a promotion of ‘Far-Right’ conspiracy theory. How dare they show footage and talk about real things that happened!
Gaming culture, being very closely tied to internet culture was once and now forever drawn into the left/right political conversation back during ‘Gamer-Gate’ in 2014 when the industry and community were confronted with social and cultural progressivism. Cold War’s advertisement pushing Bezmenov into mainstream limelight appeared to have reignited internet comment sections, this time with a more fervent focus towards debating the merits of capitalism and Marxist values. The teaser trailer was firm with the slogan, “Know your history, or be doomed to repeat it.” Providing curious minds with a similar invitation to political awakening as the “Gamer-Gate” controversies also once had.
When all was said and done, however, an advertisement is just an advertisement, and it managed to sell the game well. Treyarch had me hook, line, and sinker from the Alpha, to the Beta and through the campaign. The game was a lot more narrative-focused, with returning elements from the original Black Ops (the seventh Call of Duty). Call of Duty has once again managed to employ controversy as a vehicle for sales and one must credit their success. Despite server and bug issues at launch, they managed to break records and stoke excitement in much the same way they had a decade ago. I only wonder what will become of the cultural clashes created in their wake; only time will tell if we are really doomed to repeat history. Press ‘x’ to continue.