McStuff and the triumph of democratic mediacratization

The Peak Experience.

In a recent post, I reflected on the strange compulsion to record every iota of our individual and collective experience and then share it with everyone else, each of whom is trying to do the same. How can anyone enjoy an unmediated experience of night-time Hong Kong from Victoria Peak, for example? (“Colonialized: The Peak Experience”)

There I stood at the rail on the viewing platform, getting a many-elbowed massage from others who had mounted an assault on the Peak Experience. I stood my ground, trying for a contemplative appreciation of what should be an amazing sight, wishing all the camera flashes weren’t destroying my night vision and wondering how these ranks of lemming photographers thought their cellphone flashes were going to further illuminate the city lying hundreds of meters below.

The Mona Lisa Experience.

Mona-Lisa-at-the-Louvre-w-008Then, right there in mid-Peak Experience, my encounter with the Mona Lisa came to mind.

Some years ago I was wandering about in the Louvre when it suddenly occurred to me: This very museum was home to one of the most widely recognized of all the great works of Western culture. Best have a look, I thought. Take an up close and personal peek at this phenomenon.

But there was no getting close to this thing. It was railed off and surrounded by a mob. As with views of the Hong Kong colonial light-creature (see earlier post), furthermore, you had to stand tippy-toes to see over other admirers standing four and five deep, not to mention risk blindness from the barrage of photographic flashes. The Mona Lisa’s famous smile, from what I could see, which was very little, looked more like a wince.

So scratch the Mona Lisa. Sara figured her YouTube Victoria Peak Experience beat “the real thing,” and I got more juice out of magazine repros of the Mona Lisa than I ever did from the real McCoy.

A cultural icon? Sure. McMona Lisa.

The Whale Shark Experience.

Swimming with whale sharks can be awesome. It’s best, I’d say, when the encounter is unexpected and you’re sharing it with a couple of other divers at most. It’s even better when these divers don’t have cameras (or, at least in the old days, when they’ve run out of film). But maybe that’s just me.whale shark 3_2

whale shark snorkelers_2Too often these days, especially on liveaboard dive trips dedicated to finding whale sharks, you get gangs of divers all plunging into the water together going flash-flash, often getting mainly pix of other divers going flash-flash. The shark lurks in the background, figuring it’s past time, if only it can find a way to break clear of all its groupies, to migrate back to deep water.

Hey, but progress marches on. Several years ago, enterprising sports-diving entrepreneurs, not wanting to leave the Whale Shark Experience to chance, started using spotter planes around Western Australia’s Nigaloo Reef. Having drawn a bead on the sharks, they radioed fast boats which then sped off to dump loads of divers as close as possible to the sharks, no doubt massively freaking out all but the hammiest of these creatures.

Not what I’d call close encounters with untamed nature.

Since then, however, commercial imperatives and the triumph of the “fair’s fair, down with elitism; let’s democratize every damned thing there is” meme has gone way beyond the Nigaloo Experience.

Take Macau, for instance. An enthusiasm for glitzy casinos on the part of mostly non-locals has already all but erased the charming Sino-Portuguese colonial architecture and distinctive local way of life. And the boom continues. The 2,900-room Venetian, e.g., the Las Vegas Venetian’s sister development, boasts the largest gambling area in the world. Hell, it keeps a captive Venice on the third floor, complete with canals, gondolas and gondoliers, even a faux sky that remains benign no matter what the weather outside. This is a new, improved Venice with no rain and no floods and shiny big name-brand boutiques on all sides.

So how do you beat that? Easy. Toss some whale sharks in a big aquarium and invite happy crowds of adventurers to come goggle at them. New casino-related projects include funparks complete with whale shark enclosures so visitors can have a big adventure snapping photos of this largest of all fish species, beautiful creatures that, till recently, had remained rarely sighted and mysterious.

“Twenty years ago, scientists did not know much about what whale sharks ate, where they spent their time or how they reproduced. Historically, seeing a whale shark in the wild was a rare experience, even for veteran divers. Jacques Cousteau reportedly encountered only two whale sharks his whole life.” (“How to Love a Whale Shark,” Scientific American)

But now every Tom, Dick and Harry with the price of a Macau vacation can snap any number of whale shark photos and show them to friends back home who have already seen them a hundred times before on TV and YouTube. Borrr-ing. (Casino developers in Singapore are planning something similar.)

Not that any of this is basically new.whale sharks captives kuroshio-sea-of-the-okinawa

Never mind. Democratization and anti-elitism rools, OK! And who am I to suggest these experiences soon become degraded for both those privileged with the time and money to do it right and for those on a budget. Not to mention for the whale sharks.

Untamed nature for Everyman? Sure. McWhale Sharks.

The Me, Me, Me Experience. Where are we really going with all this? Good question. We’re already photographing every square centimeter of Mars and much of the rest of the solar system. Which is nothing, considering the fact there are untold billions of galaxies in our universe, and each galaxy includes billions of stars and quite a number of solar systems.

The Hubble telescope (best home telescopes you can find at Family Funtures), for one, is peering into deep space to find that even the apparently emptiest bit of our sky harbors thousands upon thousands of galaxies, more of them the deeper you peer. This video shows what some are describing as the most important image ever recorded in human history. Hubble_Ultra_Deep_Field_part_d

Maybe. But look at this selfie I’ve just snapped.  The self-mediated me. And just watch me post it on the Internet. Thusly. selfie

Whoa. McMe. I guess that puts all those galaxies and stuff in perspective, eh?

The Afterthought Experience.

We’re witnessing the triumph of the “fair’s fair, down with elitism; let’s democratize every damned thing there is” meme. Meanwhile we distance ourselves from our own experience in the ongoing commodification and mass distribution of everything including ourselves.

“Does that make any sense at all?” Sara asks me.

“It probably needs more editing,” I tell her. “Plus I think I might have something like a hangover.”

Notes.

“Selfie,” a recent neologism, appears destined for the standard dictionaries.

“Mediacratization” is of my own coinage, a portmanteau of “mediate” and “mediocritization” hot off the press, and probably doomed to oblivion. “Mass mediacratization begets mediocritization,” an aphorism for our times, and, again, hot off the press.

Related insights from Susan Sontag: “Tourists in our own and each others’ realities.”

Photo credits.

These tourist snappers are killing the Mona Lisa” (The Guardian)

Jonathan Kang, Kuroshio Sea of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Okinawa, Japan

Whale shark images by Ashley J. Boyd. (Boyd, an Australian resident in Thailand, was long one of Southeast Asia’s leading underwater photographers. A highly qualified diving instructor and teacher of underwater photography, Ashley has logged close to 4,000 dives. His photographs have been widely published in books, magazines, calendars and postcards, while his underwater video has been used in advertising and TV. He has collaborated with Collin Piprell on dozens of articles and three books (all of them now out of print):

Thailand’s Coral Reefs (Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995)
Diving in Thailand (Singapore: Times Editions; U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books, 1994, 2000)
Thailand: The Kingdom Beneath the Sea (Bangkok: Artasia Press, 1990)

 

11 thoughts on “McStuff and the triumph of democratic mediacratization

  1. Can I get fries with that? I thought all the bitter expats lived up in Chiang Mai? I’ve taken the liberty of entering the McYou selfie into the 2014 Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest, to be held in Key West, Florida. If you make the elite McHemingway cut you get an all expense paid trip to Key West to compete against the other elite McHemingway’s. Good luck. If you lose there’s always an out of pocket expense trip to the sea, where you and your hangover can do battle, Mano-a-Marlin style, just like Papa used to do. Think of all the Fillet of Fish sandwiches you’ll be able to make if you score …

    • No bitterness was intended, only bemusement, a touch of sadness. Otherwise you have the exact spirit of things. Losing a McHemingway look-alike contest in Key West and then trying to console myself with an excess of McFishburgers, or whatever they are … That could prove the lead for my autobiography: *McMe the McCould’ve Been a Contender.

  2. Okay, no bitterness inferred. You see what you’ve done here? I am taking a break from from Facebook and now I fritter time away on Piprell.com. At least the bemusement is high grade. A Giant Marlin over your couch is lower in calories and a lot more manly. Off to a proper pub. No selfies allowed …

  3. I’m a democratic sort of guy and I love it when all mankind can share with me such experiences as receiving Dennis Rodman and introducing him to my harem.

  4. You should buy my new app, Siamese Selfie. Then you and Dennis, just for one wonderful e.g., can shoot simultaneous selfies that are digitally melded such that it’s nearly impossible to tell which of you is which. Siamese Selfie then e-mails the result, a rare Cultural Peak Experience, to both of you and to everyone in your address books.

  5. Fortunately in my country all photographs are objects of worship. Of course they must show the Supreme Leader and uphold the sacred principle of one-man rule.

    • Of course my comments in no way refer to photographs as sacred manifestations of divinity, which are a special case, nor do these comments in any way address an interesting feature of such photos, which is the associated divine editorial authority to remove elements of such images at will, such revisions having the power to in turn delete the corresponding substantial manifestations of those unpleasant people who have failed to sufficiently respect the stature and indeed the whims of the subjects of such sacred manifestations. As it were.

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