In our heads, we sound deeper. We sound through bones. The vibrations from our vocal chords resonate in our throats and mouths, conduct in our necks and skulls. We hear our interiors.
I’ve always wanted to be in other people’s heads. In their bodies, feel how you sweat. This is what I read for, watch for, talk for. What I fuck for. To get as near to an other as possible. In them, outside me. Sometimes—like, in love—I’ll feel beyond, in a sacred, communal place. Mostly though I feel me: skin itchy after dairy, stress clenched between shoulder blades, wetted for buoyant tits. To get to others, I use these means: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, flesh on flesh; also, “the new flesh,” or media.
“We play films in our head,” Julien Ceccaldi, a cinephile of French perversity, once told me. “Films of our pasts and futures: memory and fantasy.” Julien told me this in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on a street corner where a walk we were on was to end; there we stood and talked until rain compelled a goodbye. This is my playback anyway, my film of him: The sky is grey. We are pink. Wait, there’s sun. (It’s a low-res clip.)
We can direct the films in our heads. Sometimes trauma makes this not so: PTSD is a trauma that plays itself on loop. Our present ever-mediated reality, which some philosophers (see: Baudrillard, Eco) have called “hyperreality,” also complicates inner vision—this has disassembled me.
To live in a big city and/or online is to live in cacophony. Scores of simultaneous broadcasts bid for your attention. Bills, billboards, buskers, push notifications, pushy pedestrians, breaking news, bleeding earbuds, likes. Life becomes about filtering, sorting: good/bad, true/false, zeroes/ones, in/out, archive/delete.
In hyperreality, the line between fantasy and reality is obsolete, as we have a long record of turning fantasies into realities (see: electricity, space travel, Facebook, um, everything) and show only more signs of continuing. Technology, ornament, and performance are all accepted by most of my demographic, at least, as real—as real as flora and fauna, as real as real can be (reality’s reality is still disputable, and definitely changeable).
Fake is real and real is fake, even where the body is concerned. Implants are as real at being implants as natural breasts are at being themselves. Mind/body-altering substances are ingested on the daily; sugar, caffeine, nicotine, birth control, benzos, ambien, anxiolytics, and antidepressants, all naturalized. People cum to edited images of strangers on screens. (Have you ever considered, as I, the possibility that the talent pictured has since died? And what does death mean to the screen?)
For unknowing answers to Big Questions like say, what’s after-life, we rely on metaphor. Politicians, marketers, and lovers hawk in metaphor. War has become a metaphor: on Poverty, Drugs, Terror, Women. “Abuse of the military metaphor may be inevitable in a capitalist society,” wrote Susan Sontag. War-making being, “one of the few activities that people are not supposed to view ‘realistically;’ that is, with an eye to expense and practical outcome.” It justifies whatever. “Words,” we know, “tend to be inadequate” (a Jenny Holzer truism that you can now buy on a $20 Dallas Cowboys baseball hat!!! UNREAL). Money is made in belief; it makes belief. Yet we accept these constructions, our human inventions. They are the means by which we relate. They are made, rehearsed, here, now, existing. “In terms of existing,” Donald Judd said, “everything is equal.” And Kanye: “Everything in the world is exactly the same.”
But what is hyperreality, really?
Hyperreality’s most accepted definition—how I hear it used in conversation (I do!) and what you’ll find if you use the commonest internet tool—is this:
To this internet native (as I believe it is to many of you, and will be into the future…), the definition won’t do, as the distinction between “simulation” and “reality” is moot. My experience of subjectivity (how people’s experiences of the same scene can vary, for e.g.) tells me there is no one, original “real world,” so there are distinct simulations thereof. The Internet is not a simulation, nor is cinema, or news media. All are products of humanity, attempts to bridge individual subjective realities with communication.
I understand my virtual being, not as a replica of or an alternative to “me,” but as an extension and a part of me, the same way my eyeglasses become me, changing my vision and the organization of my face, or how every book I read changes how I perceive, think, speak, and write, and so how I am perceived and treated, and so how I perceive and on and on in feedback loops.
William Gibson, he who popularized the term “cyberspace” in the early 1980s, arguably prophesying the Internet as we know it, has often repeated this:
I think that our grandchildren will probably regard the distinction we make between what we call the real world and what they think of as simply the world as the quaintest and most incomprehensible thing about us.
So, it’s all real—how does that make you feel?
Last week, I wrote a generations-older mentor that mine, “may be GENERATION ANXIETY.” His reply: “Troubling.” I don’t actually trust the word generation—it’s a language virus, like “the new black” or “avant-garde art.” “Demographics” I should say maybe, or “cohorts.” What I should’ve just said is: “People near my age (27) and privilege (educated, Internet-ed) often manifest anxiety.”
Maybe you’re broke; stressed with student’s debt? Maybe you’re anticipating grave effects of climate change. Maybe you fear the Singularity, or your neighbors, or ISIS, or the cops, or your airplane pilot, or your President, or the next one, Hillary. Maybe you’re afraid you can’t keep up; things move so fast now, except maybe social justice—insert hopeful gold star here. Maybe it seems like everyone is living more fabulously than you, or more righteously, maybe we’re all phony, or maybe you’re tired of classifying events into extremes. (Does social media tweak you out?)
Cultural construct says: 'the real' is 'shit' (and maybe the only thing we can do is laugh about it).
In 2012, the “Shit Just Got Real” meme peaked, and Google searches for it are steady to this day. The meme comes from Michael Bay’s 2003 hyperreal classic Bad Boys II. Police Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) is on a cell, bottom lip dropped, brow furrowed. Bay spins round and round him, cutting together two of his classic 360 degree shots, first slow then fast. It’s dizzying. Burnett’s being told bad news. As he hangs up, he somberly goes, “Shit just got real.” A couple years later, the line got memefied. As knowyourmeme.com explains, “it is generally shown in a context that is either violent or where the subject has an intense or intimidating expression. It is meant to convey that there has been an escalation in some sort of event that has taken it to a new level.” Cultural construct says: “the real” is “shit” (and maybe the only thing we can do is laugh about it).
Anxiety, I think, “feels real.” I used to give it that power. I regarded all shit feels as real, doubting what’s good as illusory. In moments of bliss, I’d think like a gowned Oscar winner on stage: “It’s just so surreal,” I remember the women saying.
Anxiety is a story I am telling myself, I realized years into suffering from it. And that story may not be mine; language is inherited. Anxiety is infectious. It spreads a virus, coming in from without. Its cause is its cure: belief. I can recognize the material realities of my stressors, like patriarchy, without believing in them—without thinking they are right or true or “about me.” I thought this many times before speaking it. The first time I did speak it was in Zoe’s Chinatown living room one late-morning, maybe two years ago; Ana and Mike were present. I remember it sounding less basic, less self-help bestseller, in the bass of my spoken voice. It sounded even profound, embraced by their lingering “ohhhhhs.”