And now, a word from our sponsor

The MSN homepage during the week of October 2004 featured a small ad line for visitors in New York City to take bus tours of sites where popular television shows have been filmed over the past few years. For a considerable sum, customers would be treated to double-decker accommodations on diesel fume spewing motorcoaches that visit several locations in town where scenes from The Sopranos and Sex In the City have been shot. The psychic significance of this phenomenon is appalling, and its cultural significance inestimable.

New York now comprises the creative center of a much more broadly distributed set of entertainment products than ever before. As the scene of more ethnically diverse artistic efforts than known to date, New York has, in the past decade, become the locus in its own streets, rather than in the irrelevant interior spaces of film studios, of re-creation of mass-entertainment slices of urban life, be they the second and third generation Italian American pseudo-mobster carnival, or the struggles of 30-something single women.

What is the difference between (a) visiting New York and gawking at the Empire State Building and Ground Zero, leaving flowers at the gatehouse of the Dakota where Lennon was murdered, riding the Circle Line around Manhattan while announcers lie to you about history’s dimensions, or (b) taking MSN’s advertiser up on its offer? The answer lies in the anomie of our age, the disconnectedness from real people and real life. Mimicry reigns supreme; life has become overwhelmingly that which is falsified. To come and bear witness to the acts of real people, be they con- or de-struction, has become irrelevant and distasteful (in its literal sense, i.e. having no taste). What is alive and real and enjoyable for us today is only the imaginary, be it internet pornography or fantasy baseball camp, professional sports or endless public spectacles. That which men and women have built and torn down, fought for and believed in, has lost all importance in the tourist’s eye. Public monuments gather dust, their heroes fallen: all that matters is where a scene from a movie or TV show was shot, and to visit the shrine of some imaginary realization of a story has become more real than real life. The dumbing down of our inner lives continues apace. The depth of that nadir is continually re-plumbed by forces surely as destructive as the organized religions of medieval times.

Hand in hand with the desperate adoration of these new cultural icons is the mammonic trend that pay as you go cell phones and anonymous e-mail accounts represent. Touted as a boon to the impoverished who can neither afford nor qualify for the long term commitments that most cell phone plans require, one can now possess the inscrutable object of desire that a cell phone has become, without leaving tracks. The internet e-mail providers have from the get go enabled all users to anonymize their contact with other human beings, leaving no traces of existence. Accountability evaporates with these devices, driving the culture of disconnection that in turn informs the lives of those who take bus tours of TV film scenes in lieu of discovering a town where people live.

Level upon level of disconnection from human contact builds upon itself, rendering two degrees of separation (the realization of a story on film, for example) real, while the third level (the bus tour of the site of the filming) becomes the cultural experience that is one step up further removed. The inner life of our society is slowly impoverished. Eradication of human contact and involvement with others makes the notion of an inner life irrelevant, both for individuals as well as for the collective society. Anonymity extinguishes our experience with each other on the outside. And with that silent hand, our inner lives shrink away, soon to be nothing but a series of commercial breaks.

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