"Synthetic Pleasures" Techno-Revolution or Just Another Dystopia?

Is reality obsolete? From low-tech function like body piercing and artificially-stocked fishing pools, to the latest in bionics and VR gaming, Iara Lee's cyber-age intellectual survey - call it a *.DOCumentary - downloads a Future Shockful of data and defines the parameters of advanced technologies that delete nature and reprogram mankind. Cryonics defy death; the Internet exists outside time and space; smart drugs and surgery upgrade the mind and body. But are we headed toward human optimization, or system crash?Timothy LearyRU SiriusLisa PalacJohn Barlow and others offer sound bytes against a mesmerizing screen display of cutting edge computer-graphics and archival clips. Exhilarating and disturbing, Synthetic Pleasures raises issues nobody today can afford to abort / retry / ignore.

George Gund presents

a Caipirinha Productions film
Synthetic Pleasures
directed by Iara Lee

"Synthetic Pleasures" Techno-Revolution or Just Another Dystopia?

September 1996 
Issue 17 © Stefan Mattessich

At the 1996 San Francisco International Film Festival screening of Iara Lee's Synthetic Pleasures, Lee and her husband, producer George Gund, fielded questions from an audience troubled by the film's celebration of digital technologies, virtual reality, and cyberspace. The documentary, which presents a barrage of computer-generated art, film clips, and interviews with animators, writers, and scientists, left some viewers wondering aloud about the alienating consequences of the "digital revolution" in our time. Lee's response was measured, and she expressed her hope that the film was balanced enough in its presentation to spark a constructive dialogue on the changes brought about by the new technologies she showcases.

Synthetic Pleasures is more than provocative enough to do that. Its frenetic swirl of energy, music, and articulate commentary adds up to a stunning argument for the decisive impact of technological change on the environment, on our bodies and minds, and on a basic sense of self-identity. The segment with French performance artist Orlan, whose "struggle against nature" leads her to alter her own body through plastic surgery and silicon implants, provides a visceral example of the film's basic idea: the tension between nature and artifice, between an untamed environment and a human need for control, leads to a serious crisis in what we mean by the human, the natural, and the artificial.

This crisis is at the same time what is troubling about Lee's film. With all that Synthetic Pleasures is able to suggest visually about the scope of this crisis in its depiction of virtual spaces like Japan's Ocean Dome, to that degree Lee deprives us of any stable or "real" alternative that might counter our seemingly inexhaustible desire for things simulated. The virtue of the film is that it complicates this desire from both ends. It acknowledges the detachment from experience and from the consequences of our actions that follows upon a simulacra abstraction from the environment, and it intelligently presents the abstraction that the "human" already is for those artists, body piercers, and transsexuals who rebel against the gendered organization of the body, of the "organism" that we are and that never has been "natural" apart from very specific cultural norms.

Director Iara Lee

If there is a shortcoming to the film, it turns on its failure to draw a clear distinction between the two modes this desire takes. To want a virtual reality that suggests abstraction is not the same as refusing the abstraction of a reality that is essentially constructed, even if both  modes are possible in the same desire. Indeed, since the difference that needs emphasizing here is not of kind but of modes, Lee cannot say that the desire for the virtual reality of a Las Vegas casino, for instance, differs fundamentally from the desire to change one's gender, even though one implies acquiescence to a consumerist society and the other a refusal of social norms deemed intolerable. "Synthetic pleasure" is common in both instances, and this central premise of Synthetic Pleasures is compelling as long as one does not also equivocate the modal difference. There are times when the film seems to lose its focus on this point, and the result is a breakdown in its own synthetic logic. Instead of centering for the viewer a world that is intrinsically virtual, even at the level of human biology and the structure of matter, the film in effect fissures the real and the virtual all over again, falls back to a stable definition of nature from which virtual reality can only be seen and entered into as its secondary or derived imitation.

When this happens, the film no longer clearly foregrounds its own most interesting idea that nature is simulated. It can then either criticize or celebrate consumer societies hooked on virtual reality, but it cannot grasp the pleasure of that addiction. And it can either reject or sustain the diagnosis of alienated desire, but it cannot see the way desire in the world it constructs actively resists is own social repression. This is why the film occasionally suggests condescension toward its more marginal subjects--teenagers, clubgoers, transvestites, transsexuals--and also why it might seem to filmgoers an overly optimistic portrayal of "cyberculture."

But in fact Synthetic Pleasures is not an optimistic portrayal. If it seems that way, it is because it wants to understand the virtual character of reality and the synthetic character of pleasure without prying them apart again. When it fails in this respect, it does so by falling back on a social, psychological, or material reality that is only real, and so constructs the virtual as a shadow or double of our experience that we can only passively consume. But the interesting wager of the film is that any reduction of this kind obscures the nature of desire, and indeed constitutes the very technological drive that alienates us from our environment and from ourselves. The balance Lee seeks in Synthetic Pleasures presumes this possibility of genuine insight into our technologically sophisticated society, and for this it should be seen and discussed in the spirit Lee hopes it will be.

SYNTHETIC PLEASURES was shot on location in Yokohama, Tokyo, Miyazaki, New York, Boston, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, San Jose, Berkeley, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit

Mankind's ability to tap Nature's power has recently achieved such success that a new world is suddenly emerging, an artificial reality.
-- Benjamin Woolley, 
Virtual Worlds

The fantasy is that we can somehow transcend our horrible condition of being human through these shining black boxes.
Jaron Lanier

> SYNTHETIC PLEASURES Production Notes < 

Synthetic Pleasures begins with a montage of images which takes the viewer on a high-speed trip through natural landscapes, cultivated landscapes, simulated theme park jungles, indoor beaches and ski slopes, etc., before finally penetrating a computer screen to reveal a digitally-enhanced virtual landscape, a glowing simulation of the natural forests and beaches which initiated the sequence.
An opening narration considers the human drive to control nature and to overcome the limitations it imposes upon us. Some of the film's key interviewees are introduced, each elaborating upon the idea that we have recently entered a new technological era, an historical phase where technological innovations have given us access to seemingly unlimited powers of transformation. These powers include the ability to transform:
  • our environments: virtual reality, synthetic environments from the shopping mall to Biosphere, etc.
  • our bodies: genetic engineering, plastic surgery, etc.
  • our identities: smart drugs, mood-altering drugs, etc.
The final section of Synthetic Pleasures deals with broader perspectives on our relationship with technology, where this relationship is taking us and what its implications will be for the future.
This four-part schema will serve as a guide for the greater part of the film, a loose way of organizing the film's investigation of often inter-connected, cutting edge technologies. Interviews will provide technical information, but will emphasize the influence of technology on human experience and question the implications of having access to so much transformative power.
Synthetic Pleasures relies extensively on both images of technology and technologically-produced images. Ambient and techno music will provide the soundtrack.

  • Soundtrack

    Fat Chair by Terre Thaemlitz

    Hovering Glows by Terre Thaemlitz
    040468 by Terre Thaemlitz
    Wet Moon by Human Mesh Dance
    Soft System by Human Mesh Dance
    A Thousand Dyes on the Moist Earth by Omicron
    Devil Dog by Prototype 909
    Beacon 08 by Seti
    Beacon 14 by Seti
    Alcove "Question of Trust" 
    Written and Produced by Laurent Jadot
    Transformer 2 "Virtual Cocoon"  
    Written and Produced by Jeff Hypp

    DJ Bubba "Dream Planet" 
    Written and Produced by DJ Bubba

    Karma De La Luna "Travel without Moving" 
    Written and Produced by Shai de la Luna 
    Man-dello "Shomyo"
    Written and Produced by J. M. Ledermen & C.S. Johansen

    Jaydee "Think For a While"
    Written and arranged by Jaydee

    Cantamilla by Tranquillity Bass
    I'm So High by Tranquillity Bass
    Mya Yadana by Tranquillity Bass
    Purdy Deyenol Written and Performed by TylerVision
    Coalesce by ESSA3
    Sundial by ESSA3

    Transmit Liberation performed by Single Cell Orchestra
    Written by Miguel Fierro

    Confuss Music by Hardfloor
    Written and Performed by Pete Namlook

    Impossible Religion
    Written, recorded and produced by John Cameron

    Trance Formation
    Written and Produced by Young American Primitive

    Over and Out
    Written and Produced by Young American Primitive

    Eis by Darrin Verhagen courtesy of Dorobo

    by [NDE] Haruomi Hosono + G.Hotoda, B. Laswell, Y. Terada

    Strange Attractor
    by [NDE] Haruomi Hosono + G.Hotoda, B. Laswell, Y. Terada

    Taste of Your Own Medicine by Justin King

    Mafich Arabi Performed by Banco de Gaia

    For a Pavilion of Wind & Cloud-Atalanta by Kenneth Newby

    Japanese Cherry Blossoms by Global Dance Project

    Tongues of Fire by Air Liquide
    Written by Jammin' Unit Walker courtesy of Sm:)e Records

 To learn more about Moonshine Music read their mission statement via The Way Back Machine


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"Art & Happiness"

"The World is very different now, for man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life."

The Informational Revolution fundamentally redefined society: Satellites simulcast worldwide as mankind humbled in homage to the silicon chip. Advertising now defines class and consumer; individuals begin to define themselves digitally. The birth of "cool", this coca-cola bliss stunted language thereby collapsing culture. In contrast to these messages, artists pursued an identity outside the brand image. Joy and sorrow rediscovered primal paths of expression. Creativity became the call of the wild. Technology captured modern minds.

The twilight of the twentieth century saw the rise and fall of independent music artists; American poets used their voice to champion the cultural creative's cause. The industry then decreed the revolution would not be televised. Media conglomerates spun a market for neo-pop: mass industrialization of the arts; causing the reversal of value that accompanies the commoditization of creativity. For what value does an original hold when a copy can be made in facsimile? These copies then transmuted into commodity: items with a perceived value, however, lacking cultural capital. The epoch of mechanical reproduction would homogenize art into products of uniform par value. The question of art aesthetic became the cold quandary of the atomic age: the nature of machine.

The remedy of this post-modern conundrum requires dialectic method and a strategy of social synthesis. Together we must stand on the shoulders of those artists, writers, philosophers that precede us. Wisdom speaks from within true art, integrated beneath spectacle. This is The History: great men and women of insight expressing truth. Our responsibility is reaction.

[Without response creation is Form, a timeless object that will be because it has been created simply to be. The object exists for its own sake. In this sense, high art is as benign as industrialised art is malignant. Esthetic as the sole aim of creativity is forever unattainable. When the artist finally commands truth, the creative act will proclaim it with passion. The creator and the creation are only realized with reaction. The audience imbues the Art with mortality that may reveal life's fleeting beauty.]

Twenty-First Century Art Noveau will champion global awareness that we must together create a new dynamic form of communication. Art noveau as a social movement will cultivate human potential through total art synthesis. We will entertain, elevate, inform and illuminate. Our generation's masterpeice will be a never-ending network self-sustaining incorporation whose true purpose is to educate.

"Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce." - President John F. Kennedy

"Art & Happiness" Aesthetics Oracle Arion ©MMVII

The Revolution Betrayed

is a book by the Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, published in 1937, analyzing and criticizing Stalinism and the post-Lenin development in the Soviet Union. Trotsky wrote the book during his exile in Norway.

With the revolution of 1917, the Russian people transformed their country into a workers' republic - but less than a decade later, Stalin and his bureaucrats seized power, leading to the state's corruption and ultimate decay. In this critique of Stalinism from the Marxist standpoint, Trotsky provides a brilliantly prescient analysis of the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union that reveals the roots of the region's current unrest.

Written; 1936.First published: 1937.Translated. by Max Eastman.Transcribed for the Internet: by Zodiac between August 1993 and March 1996.

INTRODUCTION: The Purpose of the Present Work
The Principal Indices of Industrial GrowthComparative Estimates of These AchievementsProduction per Capita of the Population
“Military Communism”, “The New Economic Policy” (NEP) and the Course Toward the KulakA Sharp Turn: “The Five-Year Plan in Four Years” and “Complete Collectivization”
The Transitional RegimeProgram and RealityThe Dual Character of the Workers’ State“Generalized Want” and the GendarmeThe “Complete Triumph of Socialism” and the “Reinforcement of the Dictatorship”
Money and Plan“Socialist” InflationThe Rehabilitation of the RubleThe Stakhanov Movement
Why Stalin TriumphedThe Degeneration of the Bolshevik PartyThe Social Roots of Thermidor
Want, Luxury and SpeculationThe Differentiation of the ProletariatSocial Contradictions in the Collective VillageThe Social Physiognomy of the Ruling Stratum
Thermidor in the FamilyThe Struggle against the YouthNationality and Culture
From “World Revolution” to Status QuoThe League of Nations and the Communist InternationalThe Red Army and Its DoctrinesThe Abolition of the Militia and the Restoration of Officers’ RanksThe Soviet Union in a War
State Capitalism?Is the Bureaucracy a Ruling Class?The Question of the Character of the Soviet Union Not Yet Decided by History
Work “According to Ability” and Personal PropertyThe Soviets and DemocracyDemocracy and the Party
Bonapartism as a Regime of CrisisThe Struggle of the Bureaucracy with “the Class Enemy”The Inevitability of a New Revolution

Understanding Media

Marshall McLuhan
[1911 - 1980]

McLuhan's most widely known work, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), is also a pioneering study in media ecology. Popularly quoted as "the medium is the message," McLuhan's theory was that media affects the society; it plays a role not by the content delivered, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. Controversially, he postulated that content had little effect on society –- in other words, it did not matter if television broadcasts children's shows or violent programming, to illustrate one example -– the effect of television on society would be identical. He noted that all media have characteristics that engage the viewer in different ways; for instance, a passage in a book could be reread at will, but a movie had to be screened again in its entirety to study any individual part of it.

McLuhan claims that different media invite different degrees of participation on the part of a person who chooses to consume a medium. Some media, like the movies, enhance one single sense, in this case vision, in such a manner that a person does not need to exert much effort in filling in the details of a movie image. McLuhan contrasted this with TV, which he claimed requires more effort on the part of viewer to determine meaning, and comics, which due to their minimal presentation of visual detail require a high degree of effort to fill in details. A movie is thus said by McLuhan to be hot, intensifying one single sense "high definition", demanding a viewer's attention, and a comic book to be "cool" and "low definition", requiring much more conscious participation by the reader to extract value.

McLuhan's theories about "The medium is the message", link culture and society. The Internet, and the advent of the World Wide Web, are examples of what McLuhan would classify as hot media.
Each new form of media, according to the analysis of McLuhan, shapes messages differently thereby requiring new filters to be engaged in the experience of viewing and listening to those messages.

When terrorism is the medium the underlying message is
"I must be right because I'm willing to die for it"

Anatomical Basis of Facial Expressions


Facial Action Coding System (FACS) is a system originally developed by Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen in 1976, to taxonomize every conceivable human facial expression. It is the most popular standard currently used to systematically categorize the physical expression of emotions, and it has proven useful both to psychologists and to animators. FACS and its action units are based on the book of Carl-Herman Hjortsjö "Man's Face and Mimic Language". It defines expressions as one of 46 "Action Units" (AUs), which are a contraction or relaxation of one or more muscles.

Although the labeling of expressions currently requires trained experts, researchers have had some success in using computers to automatically identify FACS codes, and thus quickly identify emotions.
Computer graphical face models, such as CANDIDE or Artnatomy, allow expressions to be artificially posed by setting the desired action units. Wikipedia

Hyperreality of Jean Bauldrillard

The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth-
-it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.


The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image Salvador Dali

Jean Baudrillard was a social theorist best known for his analyses of modes of mediation and technological communication, although the scope of his writing spreads across more diverse subjects — from consumerism, to gender relations, to the social understanding of history through to more journalistic commentaries on AIDS, cloning, the Rushdie affair, the (first) Gulf War and the attacks on the World Trade Center. He had affinities with post-structuralism in that his arguments consistently drew on the notion that systems of signification and meaning are only understandable in terms of their interrelation. In contrast to Foucault however, of whom he was sharply critical, Baudrillard developed theories based, not on power and knowledge, but around the notions of seduction, simulation, and, the term with which he is most associated, hyperreality. Baudrillard uses this principle to argue that in our present 'global' society, wherein technological communication has created an excessive proliferation of meaning, meaning's self-referentiality has prompted, not a McLuhan-style 'global village', but a world where meaning has been effaced and society has been reduced to an opaque mass, where the 'real' has been reduced to the self-referential signs of its existence. Wikipedia

The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning.

Jean Baudrillard [1929 - 2007]

Brave New World

Brave New World is a dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1932. Set in London in 2540, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, biological engineering, and sleep-learning that combine to change society.

All citizens are expected to be involved socially; spending time alone is discouraged and sexual promiscuity is norm. Recreational drug use has become a pillar of society and all citizens regularly swallow tablets of soma, a ecstacy like tranquilizer that makes users mindlessly happy.

ebook: Aldus Huxley's Brave New World

audiobook: Part.1 Part.2

In Brave New World Revisited Huxley considers whether the world has moved towards or away from his frightening vision of the future. He concludes that the world was becoming much more like Brave New World much faster than he thought.

Over-Population Over-Organization

Propaganda Democracy Dictatorship

Drugs Brainwashing Hypnosis

Quantity Quality Morality

ebook: Brave New World Revisted

'The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.'

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Creative Commons License
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