It’s an idea so powerful, like a virus it keeps growing. Its currency is its ability to recreate our mental landscape, impregnate us with concepts that affect our senses in ways that they become knowledge.
Furthermore, this industry at work builds our internal world into a fortress of new ideologies — a place within us where personalities are shaped and our reality is framed. Our memories.
This sounds like a sequence from Nolan’s blockbuster movie Inception. The farther we burrow into the subconscious, we bypass ideas, complex ideas and then the basement level where memories reside ready to be retrieved.
But instead of a movie, albeit created from a philosophical theme, could the reality of building fresh repurposed memories reside in our growing penchant for the come-back media phenomenon, Virtual Reality.
In our present state of collective reality promulgated by traditional Real-flawed Reality media, ideas like the following have transcended into a cultural norm: wealth is necessary towards happiness; unlimited capitalism a sign of virtuousness and virility; love thy neighbour, so long as they look and sound like you; and fear mongering is the much needed condition to sow a better future. It’s dystopia, yet it’s become acceptable.
John Locke saw the importance of memories. An English philosopher whose vision was how to break from the abstraction and dogma of religion and defy following authorities for the sake of it, he cast his thoughts to what our senses and experience could deliver. Memories shape us. They are our link to perceptions.
Ask any ten year old in the US whether an African American can become President of the USA, and you’ll be ridiculed. A decade ago and other ten year olds without any concomitant memories and narrative from their parents would be equally forthright, with a different message. Today, a London politician who is a Moslem just laid down a new tarmac for deep-core perceptions. Yes, any faith can become a London mayor.
Three hundred years on, Locke, also a founding father of democracy might be taken aback to find how our collective memories in the Western world have been harvested and water-boarded by a virulent elite media. If you keep on doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep on getting what you got. Austerity is good, or is it?
Virtual reality, as a newish mass media, could facilitate new realities, yield hyper realities even, to address what’s before us. The New York Times, reports the Niemann Lab, sees VR films as regular content for the future. Several mass media organisations are due to follow as VR finally cashes in on its contemporary fame. But that’s the problem. There’s little evidence, the content required to mediate current memories, to build new knowledge will be any different from the status quo.
Today, our recalibrated memories of wars leaves us ignorant to its legacies. Former US President Ronald Reagan in Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the US, asks the nation to forget about Vietnam.
In the late 1950s, following a combination of mass movements of African Americans into urban spaces and the ‘Kennedy Administration [had given] giving voice to the poor, among which blacks were disproportionately represented’, poor African American’s became the media symbol of poverty. Unknowingly or otherwise, new memories were laid down to cohere food stamp recipients as overwhelmingly black, when US stats have shown otherwise.
DC Marvel promoted a persuasive virtual reality back in the days when tens of thousands of boys and girls growing up were drawn into its make-believe enterprise of super heroes.
In this virtual escapist world, bullying was answered with a thwack and a Spiderman one-liner, racial injustices were dealt a triumphant blow from the Black Panther a revered figure who by coincidence reflected the name of a real-life political movement. Storm caused a hurricane to restore humanity, and a disabled man using echo sound location cleared the streets of maladroit citizens.
It took me to my late early teens to know it was impossible to scale buildings, yet the narratives and their allegories, those memories, are still with me. If the mass media, guilty of performing its own collective inception is to be corrected by new millennial media how might VR help? First to take advantage of its newness, then as Michael Bodekaer points out in his TED talk on VR to educate the future. To recreate worlds.
Ironically, in choosing a slide to highlight the scientists of the future, Bodekaer’s fumbles presenting a smiling cluster of graduates, where diversity does not figure in the photo. But then that’s his reality. A later slide on teachers corrects this.
Then it requires films and personal with subject matter that goes beyond the boundaries of naturalised memes we see drudgingly across screens.
If the memories of your past appear contentious, or even distorted, throwing more personnel at the problem, won’t necessarily tip the scales back. The BBC is hurriedly trying to address a diversity imbalance. It could do well to review its content as well.
Does Africa deserve generally to be presented as a unitary mass and mooching on the West for integrity, as seen in international news? Africa IS a country someone wrote tongue-in-cheek. Several years ago, a magazine inverted the relationship between the developing world and developed to dramatic effects.
Then VRs distinctive quality requires consideration to an essence of a new cinema. How so? The art of the moving image uncontroversially resides in cinema — an eclectic assortment of styles and forms designed for audiences to be informed, affected, and often moved to react.
In his groundbreaking book The Language of New Media, author Lev Manovich presciently references an emergent new form as a return to spatial cinema. Similarly in a tome being considered by publishers I detail how millennial factual image makers and journalists are re-learning the lost art of non-fictional cinema. In effect we’re coming full circle, the birth of a new media and realignment of a populist one. This time, the hope should be of creating truer memories.
If you liked this article, please share so as others may participate, feedback or critique its premise. This is part of a wider paper I’m developing to present at a symposium with a film. Dr David Dunkley Gyimah writes about digital and media.