Thursday, July 01, 2010

Consume, destroy, record, repeat

Like it? 

The objects are different but the cycle is always the same.
  1. Company releases an expensive new gadget that people like.
  2. Someone buys the expensive new gadget and immediately breaks it on purpose while recording it for YouTube.  
  3. Technology blogs link to the videos of people breaking the expensive new gadget.  "Hey, look at this crazy video of a guy attacking his [expensive new gadget] with a Garden Weasel!"  
  4. Other people with even less imagination and good sense copy the idea and break their expensive new gadgets on YouTube, too.  
  5. After a few days, the cycle winds down until the next expensive new gadget, newer and more expensive than the last, is released. Then back to Step 1.
Go to YouTube, throw a stick in any direction, and you'll hit a video of people breaking expensive gadgets for some reason or another. People take delight in destroying their expensive gadgets, shredding them -- they puree them to fine, gray, deadly metal-and-glass powder in blenders and crack them open with crowbars, scratch their shiny surfaces with keys and metal files and bowie knives, assassinate them with high-powered guns, burn them with blowtorches, drown them in tubs. All of this destruction, videotaped not for some scientific purpose like a teardown video, but for your and their entertainment. It happened with every recent iteration of the iPod. It happened with the iPhone, and again with the iPhone 3G and again with the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4. It happened with the iPad.

I don't mean to imply by the above examples that the cycle of senseless videotaped violence against consumer electronics is an Apple-only phenomenon. Apple Inc. just happens to be the most prominent developer of expensive, want-able gadgetry lately. Want a video of someone putting a Motorola Droid in a blender? Just for parity's sake? Why you'd want that I have no idea, but here you go:

You watch these videos and you can feel -- actually feel -- generous portions of your intellect shriveling up and dying, your brain being starved of precious life-giving positive stimulation with each agonizing second.  You're left with questions and no answers. Why did that stupid asshole in the video above put his goddam phone in a blender?  What was he expecting to happen?  What is he -- stupid?  Why, if he was going to do such a sub-mental thing, did he not even hold down the lid on the blender so the pieces wouldn't go flying out?  Does he actually have mental problems?  Like, should I be pitying him? Wondering why someone with his challenges is allowed to operate kitchen appliances with sharp spinning blades?

These next guys go to some expense shooting an iPhone 4 with a .50-caliber sniper rifle. Favorite quote: "That thing is destroyed!"

No shit. They shot it with a goddam sniper rifle.  What were they expecting?  Do they not have imaginations capable of figuring out what happens when you fire a large-caliber weapon at an object?  Make a video where you fire a sniper rifle at an iPhone and it doesn't end up with a hole through it, and you've got my attention. Otherwise, go get fucked.

In many cases -- actually, in all cases, and this speaks to my larger point that I'm getting to in a moment -- the purpose of these videos is not just to revel in mere wanton destruction of an object.  The purpose seems to be to revel in the wanton destruction of an object that's expensive and rare and coveted by many.  You want one of these things, they say.  I've got one. I spent money on it. And look how badly I'm mistreating it.  Look how little I care about this expensive thing you want.  That's another reason why Apple's products seem to be such targets of destruction.  I couldn't find any videos of anybody smashing a Microsoft Kin phone, because nobody wants one of those Fisher Price-looking gizmos.  But millions of people do want Apple products.  They're popular and fashionable and expensive.  And so we have utter shitbags putting a brand new iPhone 4 in a microwave and turning it on:

Unsurprisingly (again, no imagination) it catches fire.  That's what happens to metal objects in microwave ovens, as anyone with a functioning mind knows.  But notice how much of the video's introduction is devoted to unboxing the iPhone. The cameraman takes it fresh out of the package, showing off its newness. The ridiculous narrator notes how he even set up the phone for use before he destroyed it, going through the hassle of activating it knowing full well he was going to destroy it anyway.  The extravagance and wastefulness of it is the video's clear intent. It serves to shock and dismay some viewers (like myself and, I hope, you) and thrill others by letting them vicariously experience what it's like to waste money.

Or check out the drooling morons below. They emerge from an Apple Store with a fresh new $499 iPad on launch day and take turns smashing it with a baseball bat.

Note how the first kid makes sure they draw a crowd before they do it. He looks to his left to make sure people are watching him. Bread and circuses. Fucking bread and circuses. I think one could infer from that gesture and be comfortable with the inference that the video is not about hating the iPad. It's not necessarily the object. They hate people who want the object and the hype surrounding it.  It's conceptual hate and unmotivated wastefulness.  They want to show people watching the idiotic spectacle: "You know that thing you like? I hate it even though I haven't used it. Watch me smash it."  If it costs $499 to make that extremely immature point (and to invalidate their own point in the process by supporting iPad sales), so be it.  In despising the attention given in the public sphere to the object, their video only serves to contribute to that attention. In the meantime, they've paid $499 for 2 minutes of clobberin' time and 265,000 YouTube hits. Was it worth it?  Let's see: they're $499 poorer. They look like a bunch of fucking douchebags to web users across the world.  And the entire video, there's a link plugging the video-maker's Twitter account, begging people to follow him.  He remains at 91 followers. Fuck me. There are toothpaste brands with more than that.

This isn't about the gadgets.  I care fuck-all for the iPhone.  I don't have one and don't want or need one. Too expensive and I'd never use it.  The iPad is a beautiful device but I don't have one of those either.  The Droid seems to be a very nice phone. I don't want one. I don't use a phone if I can help it, and a smartphone would be wasted on me.

This is about why I'm disturbed by these videos -- the destructive and callous impulses that go into them makes me physically and emotionally sick.  The toxic cocktail that fuels these videos is made up of hate, boredom, lack of attention, egotism, starfuckery, envy, greed, gluttony, and a complete lack of perspective regarding the value of objects and money.  These videos could only be made by people who have no fucking clue how to be anything except brainless consumers.  It's vile.

To a great degree, consumer culture and information-driven culture is the petri dish for the toxic cocktail.  We want to consume not just the coveted objects but all information about them -- we want to know everything about them, inside and out, consume all information about the consumables from their conception to their birth and their death, even if at the hands of pornographic snuff film directors. The kids who bought the iPad on the first day of release only to smash it in front of people who wanted one did so, why? Because the ultimate way they could think of to criticize the iPad and the hype it was creating among other people driven to consume one was to consume one themselves?  And to create more consumable information themselves?  Because they've become so infantilized that the only joy they can derive from an object is to destroy it, like babies repeatedly throwing toys out of their cribs or setting up stacks of blocks so they can knock them down?  Because they have no goddam clue what to do with themselves other than buy shit they don't need? 

I haven't even said anything of the money wasted.  Again, these kinds of videos could only be made in a country where people have no idea how poor the vast majority of human beings are, and how lucky they are that they have the luxury to spend $200, $300, $500 on a device they'll simply set on fire and watch burn to kill some time.  The average human being worldwide earns a measly $7,000 a year, a paltry figure that makes the U.S. poverty line look like the upper crust.  The average person is starving, sick, and has almost nothing.  How many months of meals does a new iPhone buy?  How many of those people would benefit from having a powerful computer of their own, being able to obtain information worldwide, having access to a nearly unlimited education in their pockets?  Yet these video-making twats waste hundreds of dollars on an object they'll destroy with a sniper rifle for shits and giggles -- and they can't even manage to hit the fucking thing dead-center, for Chrissake.

One could almost (almost) draw a parallel between the gadget-destruction videos so popular online and an infamous scene from Austrian art filmmaker Michael Haneke's "The Seventh Continent," a shot of people flushing large amounts of money down a toilet.

Haneke's an artist, and the scene is meant to be shocking, part of a film where a dreary middle-class bourgeois family suddenly goes bonkers and starts destroying their own possessions.  It has something to say (a bit obvious, if you ask me, but that's a matter of aesthetics).  I don't think any of the YouTube crushinator videos have anything to say, and they operate without irony -- or rather, they operate with "irony," in quotes, a kind of meta-state that's too naive and intellectually dead to be true irony: it just smells like it. The "Will It Blend" series of videos are like that.  I've watched dozens of them now, the folksy, stilted host cheerfully using a blender to grind up cameras, golf clubs, hockey pucks, shoes, cigarette lighters. They made me laugh, but frankly I'm embarrassed about that -- after a while,  steeped in their sameness (because despite the objects being ground up, they are disturbingly all alike), it became clear how limited they are in imagination. They seem to be an ironic statement on consumer culture and infomercial claims and pointless entertainment, but that's just the self-conscious '60s-style game show music and host talking.  In the end, they're just about watching shit get pulverized and that's it. One week, it's this shit.  The next week, it's that shit.  It's still all shit.

Occasionally you'll find a gadget-destruction video that does attempt an overt message. Like this one, which tries to shoehorn a political statement about environmental friendly practices at Apple's suppliers into a video of an iPad being melted by several blowtorches.

Hypocritical and pointless attention-grabbing at its best: criticize a company for the environmental faults of one of its suppliers, while contributing yourself to the rampant consumerism that drives sales of the company's products. Then burn one of the company's products, release toxic shit into the air and contribute more fucking garbage to the planet.

Real change in the private sector is effected by voting with your money and exerting political will over companies if market pressure doesn't work -- not by creating freak shows where you conspicuously consume objects and render them worthless for amusement because you live in a world surrounded by repulsive amounts of luxury. Real environmentalism starts by not consuming objects you don't need.

I don't know how to break the cycle or if it can ever be.  Stuff like this leaves me pretty hopeless and depressed, to be honest, sunk into a dark place where human beings are mentally too fragile and unredeemable and capable of some stupid-ass and cruel shit, just great apes with slightly bigger brains who'd rather beat a perfectly new and valuable object to pieces rather than use it or give the money to charity.  I don't know.  Maybe I should give some advice to the people who make these kind of videos.  They won't read this, but you never know:

1: Your gadget is not your cock.Your phone, your computer, your blender, your .50-caliber rifle (you wish), your blowtorch, your hammer, your microwave. These things are all not your cock.

2. If other people like a gadget and you don't, relax and think about something else.  Pay attention to your own life. That's how it works. People who get into fisticuffs over Mac/PC/Linux or iPhone/Droid or Xbox/PS/Wii are geeks arguing over which end of the amoeba is the ass and which is the face. This isn't like arguing over art aesthetics.  This is arguing over what kind of toy you want to play with.  People like different toys. Sometimes those toys are toys you don't like. Deal with it.

3. Whenever you get an urge to buy something and destroy it on camera, to aggrandize yourself or to vent frustration or to act like an infant, or for whatever reason, use that money instead to further your own education -- or, if you still can't be trusted, give the money away to charity. Help somebody or try to make the world a better place instead of being a useless tit.

1 comment:

verbivore said...

Awesome rant. You should do more of this. And less inline embedding of YouTube videos. Really enjoyed it, thanks.

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