Part of :

Ambient Porn

by Jim Bovino at 9:51 am 2006-01-13

Filed under : Re:View-Overnight Observations -  Walker Theater/Minneapolis/USA



In the late capitalist west we have experienced our desires go from unattainable to virtually attainable; we can now look but we still can't touch. The persistent imminence and unlimited availability of consumer items, titillating visual stimulus, and the ubiquitous beats supplied by upscale/populist marketers make us feel like we just might belong after all. It's like walking into a club where everything looks just like its supposed to. No one is depressed, everyone is beautiful, and has limitless credit. Flatter me and I'm yours for the rest of the night. Or at least until the next commercial.

Superamas' Big Episode #2 (Show/Business) starts as any smart ad does: with good-looking people having fun, smiling at you, playing in an air band that, like all good media constructs, makes it seem natural that everything before you is totally artificial. No matter; this is something we've all seen before. It's comfortable. Known. We know just how to act and we're a part of it.

We then proceed to the airport (we are after all going on a trip aren't we?). Airports are perhaps the most mediated and artificial environments on the planet, surrogate Disneylands with real live rides. But there's always something sad and even terrifying in airports. Death always feels nearby. Perhaps they suggest the transience of existence; we are always already on our way out and so, gone. An encounter with a beautiful flight attendant is part of the landscape of desire that calms our fears and chases away the existential dread we feel at such times. She shows us around the skin care counter, helps us cover our blemishes and stave off our wrinkles. She even models underwear for us. Desire virtually fulfilled, reality averted.

But in the hyper-consumer culture we inhabit that's not enough is it? Our desires demand more complete fulfillment, and Superamas isn't the kind of group to disappoint. They have a product to sell and they know just how to do it. The last major scene of the evening has one of them trying to pitch the group itself to a higher-up from Rolls Royce. Masterfully, they choose to stage the scene, in all of its evolutions, with the executive's back to the audience. You see, we are him. He is our flattered, catered-to self. We are the ones being asked to buy in. We are the ones with the power. We are the ones getting the blow job. Until we're not.

What is generally considered reality does intervene when an offstage explosion and the momentary chaos this creates sends a visceral jolt through the audience; but this is only an interruption to the project of providing us with steady and sustained entertainment.

Last November, in a reading promoting his latest book The Conspiracy of Art, philosopher Jean Baudrillard said, "We have no more to do with art as such, as an exceptional form. Now the banal reality has become aestheticized." Superamas does just this. Rather than a blugeoning critique of the mediated consumer reality, they present it, and somehow manage to conjure the thing itself. When you feel the audience start to move to the beat, or surge slightly with the anthem of 4 Non Blondes’ “What's Up?,” it becomes obvious how easy it is to evoke market-conditioned behavior.

The seductively simply scenes they enact are repeated and deconstructed. The actions are meticulously performed lip-synched voice-overs from movies and transcripts. The repetition and recontextualization of the sampled text suggests the interchangeability of celebrity; this interchangeability is provided so you can more easily insert yourself into the scene, the clothes, the lifestyle magazine, the pornographic act. This repetition makes it easier for us to learn the necessary behavior to participate in that culture. A mediated population must learn the script, the words of the song, the attitude of the star, the routine. Mediated repetition helps us learn to repeat what we see.

Superamas manages to present the process by which the media creates us. By the time the show begins to close with feigned love for the audience and assurances of philosophical ambiguity, there is a profound sense of mistrust generated. We don't even know their names. Who are they? What do they really mean? No actual curtain call. Just a false ending and an anxious exchange about the efficacy of their critique. And of course, the credits.