Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Prophet for Profit

Whatever you may think about Michael Crichton, he's a successful novelist.  The speech I've excerpted below is written in his 1999 novel Timeline.  This may be some of his best, most poignant and eloquent writing:

In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated.  But in our century, they want to be entertained.  The great fear is not of disease or death, but of boredom.  A sense of time on our hands, a sense of nothing to do.  A sense that we are not amused.

But where will this mania for entertainment end?  What will people do when they get tired of television?  When they get tired of movies?  We already know the answer--they go into participatory activities: sports, theme parks, amusement rides, roller coasters.  Structured fun, planned thrills.  And what will they do when they tire of theme parks and planned thrills?  Sooner or later, the artifice becomes too noticeable.  They begin to realize that an amusement park is really a kind of jail, in which you pay to be an inmate.

This artifice will drive them to seek authenticity.  Authenticity will be the buzzword of the twenty-first century.  And what is authentic?  Anything that is not devised and structured to make a profit.  Anything that is not controlled by corporations.  Anything that exists for its own sake, that assumes its own shape.  But of course, nothing in the modern world is allowed to assume its own shape.  The modern world is the corporate equivalent of a formal garden, where everything is planted and arranged for effect.  Where nothing is untouched, where nothing is authentic.

Where, then, will people turn for the rare and desirable experience of authenticity?  They will turn to the past.

The past is unarguably authentic.  The past is a world that already existed before Disney and Murdoch and Nissan and Sony and IBM and all the other shapers of the present day.  The past was here before they were.  The past arose and fell without their intrusion and molding and selling.  The past is real.  It's authentic.  And this will make the past unbelievably attractive.

Just something to think about.


Brett, Julz, and Emma said...

mmmm, one of the attractors of post-modernity for me. Looking to the past for the beneficial that the modern era made murky or discarded altogether.

Alan said...

Perhaps our generation's fascination with all things "retro"?