Wednesday, August 28, 2013

FLICK OF A SWITCH: Some thoughts about two films.

 Super Earths Discovered Oil on linen 80 x 140 cm 2013
By Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox

It’s time for Earthlings to flee their dying planet. Another home has been prepared. The escape ships have been built.
One by one the people arrive, ready and anxious to embark.

Nervous excitement soars as count-down commences.

The last few seconds... 3-2-1

Blast off!

A sensation of flight.

For some, the simulated experience is so comforting - the subterfuge unbelievable.

For others - a real blast off, towards a new life.

Other Worlds Ahoy! Oil on linen 80 x 90 cm 2013

The short [very short!] story above, which I wrote a few months ago, suggests a population of haves and have nots, entitled and not entitled, chosen and not. Those who are chosen and entitled appear to have taken steps to ensure they safely flee a dying planet. This is at the same time as those less fortunate, less rich or entitled are duped into a simulated experience that ultimately spells their fiery demise.

There's a suggested conspiracy! And, that life vicariously through simulated experiences, enabled by technology, may be a trick, a lie...a socially engineered outcome to facilitate freedom for the elite.

Stories of inequality with regards to safety, treatment and opportunity are rife throughout history. Social class, religion, education, money, race have all been used to justify a range of inequities from unequal opportunities to perceived value of life. Think of the sinking of the Titanic where the poorer classes were not given access to life rafts. Think of Hitler's sick and arrogant obsession with the importance of an Arian race, and his evil degradation of the Jews. Think of apartheid. And, there are more...

Still, today we have those who consider themselves the anointed and the entitled. At worst, wars ensue as the entitled try to hold onto their supporting structures in the face of unrest, criticism and change. At best, we have the social pages!

The Hunger Games and Elysium
All of this brings me to two films. One I saw awhile ago and the other I saw last weekend. The first one was 'The Hunger Games' and the second was 'Elysium'. Both films are mainstream big Hollywood type productions. Both pick up on undercurrents in society as they articulate inequality via extreme divides...chasms actually...between those who consider themselves anointed, special and/or chosen by virtue of various characteristics such as financial wealth, social class, looks, fashion...and those who seemingly have nothing, except their wits and intelligence, integrity and guts. Oh, and the latter are normally physically more adept, fitter and stronger. That's not to say the self-anointed are not intelligent though. Their intelligence is a more convergent type of intelligence with narcissistic attributes, whereas the underdog community displays a more creative and street-smart type of intelligence.

When I saw 'The Hunger Games' I felt a sense of loss for days. The depiction of the self-anointed playing computer-like hunting games with people [including children] considered less important, was depressing. The fusing of reality and simulation was un-nerving. The fact that, with a flick of a switch, predatory and sinister characters could be introduced to the game, to maim and kill the unfortunate, struck me as a reminder that we are all, in a sense, increasingly controlled by the switch. Yet the main heroine Katniss, and her accompanying hero Peeta, valiantly and intelligently reveal holes in the slippery and fashionable 'armour' of the anointed/chosen.

The over-the-top fashion, worn and paraded by the anointed, reduces them to mere caricature, but they are dangerous, because in the making of caricature, they are emptied of empathy, love and humanity. However, the non-entitled surprise the anointed by winning the game...but the viewer is made very aware that further turmoil is in store. Hence there's a second 'Hunger Games' movie coming out soon. I have not read the books, so I do not know what happens. My daughter, who has read them all, does though!

Now to 'Elysium'. Again, a story of the self-anointed using and abusing those who are not perceived as being the same. An artificial world hovering above Earth has been created for the chosen who have fled the ailing and sick planet. The less fortunate, the non-chosen, remain on Earth. Their colourless lives, literal and metaphoric, are characterised by poverty and sickness. They work, if they have a job, in industries making the gadgetry, goods and cyborgs required for the perfection on Elysium.

The inequality is reinforced by filmic use of perspective. Those on Earth look up to the visible Elysium, a shining beacon of beauty and perfection hovering in the sky, yet seemingly unattainable. And, from Elysium people look down to Earth, the degraded planet. But, I don't think up and down in space is as simple as that! It's only when Max, the main character, in a reminiscing scene from his childhood, is shown a photo of Earth that the perspective shifts and hope is ignited. Essentially the have-nots are saved by the wit and muscle of a few of their own. But, it's a flick of the switch that ultimately changes everything, saves the day and makes all people on Earth citizens with the same rights as those on Elysium.

Yet, in my mind, the 'message' in 'Elysium' is not about everyone being citizens of Earth - it's about being citizens of the Universe. The flick of the switch has the potential for all to stop looking just up and down, but around and beyond, to invisible horizons.

The notion that a flick of the switch can determine life, death, belonging and identity is interesting. These two films, for me at least, reveal a lot about the complexities of human desire, hope and fear in an age where technology is a partner with us in life's journey. It partners in various roles eg: as an assistant, entertainer, educator, augmenter and more. But what if these roles mutate into things less benign? In both films, characters who hurriedly program computers with codes, replaced codes, new codes and changed codes, at one instant appear to have control , but at another instant, appear to lose or abdicate control. Yes, what is real? And, what kind of partner do we want technology to be?

All Of Us Gouache on paper 15 x 21 cm 2012

Is my next solo exhibition
in Brisbane
15-27 October
Please check out  my
for all the details!

On Friday I deliver my entry to the Tattersall's Landscape Art Award which is announced next Thursday 5th September. The art award is by invitation and I am delighted to have been asked again this year. My entry is Super Earths Discovered, the painting at the top of this post. I shall keep you posted!!


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