Sunday, August 5, 2012

Commoditizing Dreams

One particular passage leapt out at me while I was reading Geoffrey O’Brien’s NYRBlog post about Beasts of the Southern Wild:
In movies the imaginary tends to be expensive, so independent live-action films generally work with what is already in place and steer clear of the realms of large-scale fantasy. Our dream worlds are elaborated for us by corporate entities with the necessary means. Beasts of the Southern Wild represents a kind of protest against this state of affairs, an assertion of the right to build one’s own make-believe world, with available tools however rudimentary, rather than submitting to the pre-imagined products of Disney, Marvel, Pixar, and the rest.
It struck me that there were more meanings to that “dream factory” epithet assigned to Hollywood than I had initially imagined. Presumably the epithet emerged from the ways in which Hollywood took a mass-production approach to entertainment, putting out entertainment the way Henry Ford’s assembly line put out cars. However, there is a corollary to this interpretation, which is that Hollywood tapped into a means of production through which our very dreams would become commoditized.

Through this corollary, we see one way in which Walter Benjamin’s claim that “the art of storytelling is coming to an end” may be achieving validity. Storytelling (note the italics) is not so much about the story as it is about the subjective and social elements that a storyteller brings to that story. A “dream factory,” on the other hand, dispenses with such complications from the subjective and social worlds and is concerned only with efficient manufacture (and resulting return on investment) of the dream-as-product. Through commoditization, we have lost what O’Brien calls “the right to build one’s own make-believe world.” Indeed, we have become so addicted to the commodity that most of us probably do not even recognize that loss for what it is.

If we then return to my earlier discussion of Tim Parks’ NYRBlog post, “Do We Need Stories?,” we see that Parks put forth the proposition that “the self requires a story.” One may then view O’Brien’s statement as an assertion that, through commoditization, the self has lost the right to tell its own story. Max Weber may have only scratched the surface in warning that commodity-based capitalism could lead to the loss of both meaning and freedom. More serious than either of these losses is the very loss of self. Take away self and the question of whether or not freedom has been lost becomes irrelevant. Man is no longer a slave but simply an automaton that happens to have been constructed out of biological components.

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