It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Alright. So. After five weeks of focusing on the characters of IJ, it’s high time I dove into the nuts and bolts of the complex and eerily prophetic world our friend David has built because I’ve barely discussed it until now and I really want to rectify that.

In truth, I’m a highly character-driven reader, viewer, and writer. I’m all about looking for a favourite character or two (or three, or four…) to take under my wing and develop a deep connection with,* so there’s a high likelihood that the majority of my posts going forward are still going to focus on the characters of Infinite Jest. Today, however, I’m going to shift gears and dive into the thick of the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.), looking particularly at the individual’s relationship to technology in this brave new world.**

So, as the Tenth Doctor would say… “Allons-y!”


“[W]hat if the viewer could become her/his own programming director; what if s/he could define the very entertainment-happiness it was her/his right to pursue?” (416, original emphasis).

Oh, DFW. My man. What a question! And a topical one at that. I mean, look at the way we’ve slowly redefined the way we watch movies and television through a persistent refusal to conform to anyone’s schedule but our own. Even before the advent of Netflix, we found ways to stream or download movies and shows, so that we could customize our entertainment and decide when we wanted to press ‘Play.’ Essentially, we’ve grown accustomed to watching what we want, when we want it and the entertainment industry is just starting to catch up with services like Netflix, Crave, Shomi, Apple TV, and so on. Even the older but ever-useful PVR function offered in nearly all television packages now is a stab at making scheduled programs more flexible to suit our individual needs.

I know that the section from which I pulled the quotation above is meant to paint a cynical and semi-parodic picture of what humanity’s obsession with (or perhaps unhealthy addiction to) entertainment will amount to, but… I just can’t feel cynical about the move toward a more viewer-friendly model. I love entertainment, I love technology, and I love that the marriage of those two things allows me to personalize what I watch and when I want to watch it. Instead of bending over backwards to fit television into my schedule, television now bends to fit mine. And I love it.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Millennial. Maybe it’s because I believe in and love studying the Digital Humanities. (Or, is it because I’m a Millennial that I believe in and love studying the Digital Humanities?)

Whichever way you slice it,  though, I’m firmly in the pro-entertainment and pro-technology camp. When the narrator informs us that “American mass-entertainment became inherently pro-active, consumer-driven,” it sounds pretty damn idyllic to me (417). Obviously, our friend David does not feel the same since he makes it pretty clear that the O.N.A.N. is a pretty messed up place to live and it’s due in large part to the population’s inability to consume anything in moderation and tendency to become so slavishly devoted to whatever brings them pleasure that it ceases to be an exercise of individualism or agency.

I get it. No, really. I do. I get how the influx of technology that DFW would have lived through in the 1990s – the true beginning of the electronic age – would have created a deep sense of malaise in him and inspired this dystopian vision of the future. And, for the most part, I think his critique of North American culture is pretty on-point what with his satirical take on politics (Mario’s The ONANtiad cartridge), international relations (Marathe and Steeply’s ongoing conversation on that hilltop), and substance abuse (everyone’s chronic fear of feeling anything remotely painful or unpleasant).

Although the mad, mad, mad, mad world our friend David has envisioned is one that seems to place very little faith in North America and humanity in general, I get where he’s coming from with those aforementioned critiques. In fact, I live for the sections where Steeply spouts off his American exceptionalism and then Marathe exposes all the flaws in his logic. (Seriously. I’m definitely going to have to cram all my feelings about the Canadian-American relations in the novel into a blog post soon because my French-Canadian coeur positively sings with pride each time Marathe speaks up and just wrecks Steeply’s phoney rhetoric. Gah.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say here, is that I get what DFW is saying about technology and entertainment with his doom-and-gloom portrayal of it in the world of the O.N.A.N., but that I respectfully disagree with his vision of the future. I think that the world we live in today boasts technology similar to that seen in Infinite Jest and also offers entertainment in similar ways, but that it hasn’t produced results as bad as what Wallace predicts. Our world hasn’t capsized because of Netflix and nor has the population become soulless, mindless automatons simply because they can watch videos on their smartphones whenever they want. I don’t buy that kind of thinking.

Technology has reshaped our world and reshaped the way we think about the world. It has opened up a lot of new and exciting opportunities to connect with one another, create global communities, and use things like social media as a platform to reach a wider audience. Of course, it’s not all great, but it has the potential to be used for good and topple age-old power dynamics between the likes of creator and consumer.

And, so far, being able to customize the entertainment I watch to suit my individual schedule and desires through platforms like YouTube and Netflix hasn’t resulted in anything too dire. Do I binge-watch a show from time to time? Absolutely. But I can also binge-read books and you don’t see too many people fretting about those anymore.

It’s that knee-jerk fear of the unknown that makes us demonize new pieces of technology and what they’re capable of. So, even though I know David wants to scare me away from “pro-active, consumer-driven” mass entertainment… I remain unafraid.

In fact, I say: “Bring it on.”


F O O T N O T E S :

And by “connection,” I mean a fiercely protective and weirdly maternal concern for a particular character’s well-being. This usually manifests itself in my referring to a beloved character through a variety of saccharine nicknames (e.g. “my sweet summer child” or “my fragile little cupcake”). I reserve epithets like “my naïve dumpster daughter” or “my unfortunate trashcan son” for my problematic faves, but that’s another story for another time.

** © Aldous Huxley.


Author: alliefournier

Full-time fangirl, feminist, and Mary Shelley enthusiast.

15 thoughts on “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”

  1. The only reason Millennials report being far more lonely, far more isolated, far more anxiety ridden, far more anti-depressant dependent, far more unable to communicate, and far less well-informed than any other generational cohort of the modern era is because they do not share their experiences with their peers in real time.

    It stared with the DVR. During the football season, most of Monday would be spent talking, pontificating, arguing, celebrating, or despairing about Sunday afternoon’s game, which of course branched off into all manner of conversations: Who fell asleep before anybody scored, who was too hungover to watch, what about Melania anyway? who made what to eat at halftime, who’s Mom makes the best nachos, who’s Mom wasn’t even home this weekend, and why not, and so on. At least until one of the more vocally active participants, Ed, got a DVR. Ed didn’t want to hear a word about the game until he’d had a chance to watch it when he got home. The silence in the room was creepy. Eventually discussions arose, and Ed just had to avoid them as best he could. By Tuesday nobody really felt like talking about it anymore. This continued week after week, and Ed disappeared from all social interaction by his own choice, and frankly, nobody gave a shit. Sometime over the winter Ed got another job. It was more than a week before anybody even noticed he was gone. This is why Millennials feel like nobody gives a shit about them, because they can’t share in the context-immediate dialogue about sports, TV, music, or news that dominates social interaction. With so many self-limited sources of information, opinions are worthless. Nobody can even talk about Game of Thrones’ latest episode anymore because half the people haven’t even seen it yet, so we spend all out time talking to ourselves on spoiler-free internet discussion forums. Sounds like the spider’s already got you…

    Today’s episode was brought to you by Coca-Cola (Share the Feeling) and Pokémon GO.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi, Time! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on today’s post. I definitely see and acknowledge the negative aspects of today’s plugged-in culture, but I have also seen a counter-narrative to the one you discuss in your comment.

      A lot of Millennials in my real-life friend circle and those I’ve met online through various fandoms are some of the most immediate responders when it comes to entertainment. If anything, social media encourages hyper-immediacy and phenomena like movie watchalongs and live-tweeting have cropped up in response to those who want to experience things together and talk about them.

      Also, when it comes to things like Pokémon Go, I’ve read multiple articles about how it has helped a lot of people with their anxiety and depression by motivating them to get out of the house, rewarding them with fun yet achievable goals, and making them feel part of a community. On a simpler level, the amount of joy I’ve seen this particular app generate amongst Millennials by tapping into their nostalgia is kind of heartwarming to me. It’s really lovely to see people get excited about catching their favourite Pokémon!

      Either way, technology has its pros and cons, but I think I just see it in a bit more of a positive light. That’s all!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, totally Allie, and I never said there wasn’t an up-side to it all. Most importantly, it provides a much larger field for interaction and information sharing. That’s irreplaceable. But what I find “Millennials” (in the context we’re using here) and I’d say you too probably aren’t aware of is that those virtual communities are completely artificial and self-created, and safely isolated in the plastic bubble of your own making. I actually know people who are too terrified now to interface in the real world after creating unreasonable online profiles, which of course was the same psychic toll that videophony took. Don’t forget, all anxiety and depression is self-imposed, and it’s exponentially increased by this pseudo-acceptable, narcissistic isolation. As it was undoubtedly intended, virtual reality should be a welcoming stepping stone to actual reality, which is how you’ve presumably made the most of it, but doing that takes even more effort and self-doubt management than engaging actual reality in the first place, hence the fragile sense of Millennial’s well-being. Notice how you never mention meeting any of those people in real-person-hood though, where neither they nor you can hide insecurities and bullshit. And no, I’m not blaming the technology because those same steps to interfacing have always existed, it’s just that they’ve become so ingeniously hidden that the journey is no longer necessary for it to feel real. Even when it isn’t real. Facebook friends aren’t friends (unless you already knew them first, of course) and neither are Twitter followers. Does anybody know what real friends are anymore? How many of your thousands of virtual friends will meet you at the malt shop to grab a freshly grilled burger and fries in a half-hour if you ask them? Probably none. And that’s the point. I did swipe “right” though. Who’s there? I AM not a bot.


      2. Don’t forget, all anxiety and depression is self-imposed

        Hold on … all depression is self-imposed? I could not disagree more with this statement. (Maybe I’m reading it wrong.)


      3. @Allan Yes, but just meaning that it gets ingrained by the patient repeating a perspective of reality that’s unbalanced. It’s essentially a cycle that reinforces itself. Unwittingly self-imposed is still self-imposed of course, even if it’s by mistake. Sorry about that, I thought it was evident from the context! So no, I certainly don’t mean to imply that it is the choice or the fault of the patient. Anything but. An individual’s proclivity for chemical imbalance has many triggers too, including genetics, behavior, and other factors outside their control, which makes it impossible to predict, but it doesn’t just happen by itself, it’s a chemical response. I do know expected recurrences such as postpartum depression have indeed been successfully avoided by creating awareness in the patient’s perspective of self though, but I don’t recall the specifics. That’s why drug and alcohol use is so prevalent among patients trying to avoid reinforcing an unpleasant perspective, which of course becomes its own cycle, and only masks the problem perspective they’re trying to treat. It basically comes down to being aware of how what your doing is altering your perspective of reality, including the influence of entertainment, and the influence of isolation (not necessarily together) which are major themes in the book. I realize there’s all kinds of ideas for how to achieve it, but I don’t personally think it’s as simple as it sounds. Awareness is obviously the starting place though.


    2. I think it’s too easy to pick on us millenials or even for us millenials to hate ourselves because….what, we use technology differently? That our modes of engaging with entertainment is different? And this means the end times? I’ve heard too many people say something along the lines of “millienials are so dumb because they share everything in public.” And yet, they don’t realize that we don’t share the same fears and anxieties that older generations have. Plus, this fear of technology thing is predominantly a white male anxiety (check out Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book on American fiction and television).

      And but so I don’t think Wallace is totally blaming technology. Instead, his focus is on the cultural adoptions of technology. So, Allie raises an excellent argument and one that I think Wallace would not only appreciate but agree with (it’s hard to make this statement but meh, I’ll say it anyways): that our attitudes towards media consumption need to change. And Allie does make a great point: there is more participation in TV and film. and maybe tv creators capitalize on this, but there still exist tensions. So rather than us being passive consumers, there is this dialog and tension between author(ity) and reader/viewer. Wallace argued for more of this tension, for us to move away from spectation. I’m not saying that millenials are better, but we’re different. And so, don’t hate on the millenials. We are fucking awesome. And so is Pokemon Go.


      1. Lol, where did I hate on the Millennials? I put myself in that very same boat along with most of my friends. Of course you’re awesome! I never once said anything about interacting with technology either, I said interacting with PEOPLE. You know, those ghastly flesh and blood floppy things you see scurrying around outside the window when you accidentally look up from your phone sometimes? That’s what I and Infinite Jest are talking about. I’m simply saying that what they aren’t aware of does more harm than they realize, same as it ever was. How many of the Millennials in this discussion alone are chemically dependent on anti-depressants, would you suppose? As a whole, those people have all checked out of reality just to cope with it, and they’re not coming back. Ever. That’s a prospect unique to the Millennial generation. They’re just messed up differently than other equally messed up generations, but it’s also left them too narcissistic to comprehend it. For example, my reference to Pokémon GO was a nod TO the new form of sharing, not against it. 😉


    1. HAAA–I was going to say! Have a seat here on Grandpa’s lap, and let me tell ya a story: before Netflix, there were these things called books and newspapers, sonny boy.

      These media allow the user to pick and choose their own entertainment/decide what to pay attention to (and when), right? So are we going backward to go forward, then?

      Once, I remember a professor suggesting that reading a book is a different type of exercise than watching a movie/TV show/filmed entertainment, in that one was passive (film) and the other was active (books). I’m not convinced that’s true in every case. Just think of David Lynch in things like “Lost Highway”, “Twin Peaks: Firewalk with Me” or “Eraserhead.” Films like this seem to allow a similar agency to the reader/viewer that you get in a novel/book. How do you connect the web?

      Totally digressed. Desolee, mon amis.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Lol, right? But how many of them have interfaced to cop a section from somebody else who wasn’t reading theirs? Had to ask the victim next to them to explain what they’ve just read because Siri’s not available? Had somebody lower a blind or open a window? Ahem, could you scoot over, please? It’s pretty easy to regard Millennials as idiots because they don’t understand what happens outside the picture since they no longer do anything by themselves, but geez, I’m not sure it’s their fault. I wonder how long ’til the stop for tonight’s Reality Group commitment? Hey buddy, got a light?


  2. “I think that the world we live in today boasts technology similar to that seen in Infinite Jest and also offers entertainment in similar ways, but that it hasn’t produced results as bad as what Wallace predicts. Our world hasn’t capsized because of Netflix and nor has the population become soulless, mindless automatons simply because they can watch videos on their smartphones whenever they want. I don’t buy that kind of thinking.”

    Accelerate, Allie! The singularity is near!

    I appreciate your thinking around DFWs biographical context and the nineties. I think what was happening then was a “paradigm shift” so to say, and the changes were felt drastically at all levels of life. DFW doesn’t buy into tech and ent. as clear-cut doom-and-gloom either… What I most like about IJ is that nothing capsizes, and no one is a “mindless automaton.” Everything is right there on the edge, and it accumulates. The “capsizing” is small and cumulative, and isn’t clear-cut doom-and-gloom to me. I feel that the cognitive and perceptual shifts shaped by IJ characters’ tech. and ent. use trickles into the way they talk to each other, how they love, what they think… everything. A capsizing that is more of a question that builds. For me the question (at the moment) has a lot to do with human / “post-human” classifications.

    Liked by 1 person

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