Terminal Constructedness and the Technology of the Self

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Wilson, D. Harlan. "Terminal Constructedness and the Technology of the Self in Cameron Crowe's 'Vanilla Sky'." Extrapolation 47.2 (Summer 2006): 259-79.

An extended close reading of Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky (2001), through the "lens" of media and postmodern theory, esp. Frederic Jameson (Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism), Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, the Situationists, Scott Bukatman (Terminal Identity), and Jean Beudrillard. The essay includes brief comments on The Matrix, The Truman Show, Dark City, and the source for Vanilla Sky, the 1997 film Abre Los Ojos ("Open Your Eyes"). At the end of Vanilla Sky "the place and the self" the protagonist David Aames (sic) "returns to" in choosing apparent reality over the Lucid Dream (VR) he has been living, "is also governed by technology—the technology of the media that constitutes [sic] the universe of advanced capitalism. The underlying moral imperative of Crowe's film is that the self can and should exist independently of its technological extensions. But one technology is simply supplanted for [sic] another. Aames does not return to nature. He does not return anywhere. Subject to the technology of the self (because the technology is the self), he merely shifts back and forth across different spatial planes that exist on the same hyperreal landscape. His perception is thus dictated by a series of delusions. The greatest delusion of all is that he has the power of choice—he thinks he can choose what kind of self he wants to be. But in postmodernity there is only one self, the capitalist self" (261). Whether or not DHW is correct on Vanilla Sky, note for his reading the end of The Truman Show, where Truman Burbank escapes a totally mediated, artificial world not for reality but for Hollywood, escaping his role as star of a "bio-pic" to become the hero in a romantic comedy. CAUTION: Some proofreading problems aside, this is an excellent essay in the late-20th-c. style of cyberpunk critique, quite useful for studying fictional characters and real people as social-cultural creatures living in postmodern, late-capitalist, sophisticated urban areas of the planet Earth. For such postmodern people, nature is safely inside of human culture and identity is problematic; however, there is a good deal of natural world beyond our small planet, and even in advanced-capitalist countries it is arguable that most people are barely modern, let alone pomo. And it is possible that human beings are spiritual as well as social-cultural animals, and as certain as anything can be that we are animal animals, with an evolved genome and a range of basic behaviors that preceded specifically human culture.

RDE, 28/12/06