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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 23 July 2016
26 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 23 JULY 2016 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM A daily diet of the unthinkable 2016 has been feeding us with terrible news; is it natural that we were not prepared? NIKOS FOTAKIS A ny day now, we should be expecting to wake up to the news of a giant squid suddenly materialising in the centre of one of the world’s major cities, its tentacles entangled within seminal towers, like the Empire State Building or the Eureka Tower - pretty much the way it happened in Watchmen (the graphic novel, not the movie). It will be either that, or a full-scale alien invasion. It is the only thing that will make sense and top everything that is going on in the planet. Because, we’re already half-way into 2016 and we can affirm that it has not been a very good year so far - it has been rather terrible. Every day we wake up to a new wave of the unthinkable, slapping us in the face; these past few days, we’ve been following Recep Tayip Erdogan decisively and slowly imposing his own totalitarian regime, as a backlash to the failed coup that had us worried and alert last weekend, in a manner reminiscent of the events that followed the Reichstag arson in 1933. The leader of a developing nation, praised by the west for the ‘economic marvel’ that is going on in Turkey, ‘temporarily suspending Human Rights Conventions’ and the world watching, in a state of numbness. Before that, it was a 19-tonne cargo truck barrelling into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France; terrorist attacks in Istanbul, in Brussels, in a concert venue in Paris, in a gay bar in Orlando, Florida; hundreds of people dying in Iraq and Syria; countries in the EU ‘temporarily’ suspending the Schengen Agreement; millions of people fleeing the Middle East, only to be drowned in the seas; the UK voting to leave the EU; far-right parties on the rise throughout Europe; aeroplanes being shot down - or mysteriously vanishing altogether; Donald Trump having a real chance at becoming president of the United States and thus gaining access to nuclear weapons. How much worse could an alien invasion be? To say that we were not prepared is an understatement. We’ve been devouring world-altering news with an insatiable appetite, gradually getting used to the extraordinary becoming daily routine. To say that the media have not risen to the occasion is also an understatement. Times like this call for contemplation, but the sad irony is that, it is exactly a sign of the said times that ‘contemplation’ has become a kind of luxury for which there is no time in a 24-hour news cycle. The mainstream media organisations operate like children on a sugar rush, constantly feeding us with terrible news and calling for reaction, instead of contemplation. We’re seeing the world changing in front of our very eyes and we’re given very little chance to adapt our world view. This is not solely the fault of mainstream news outlets; it is largely due to the fact that our daily news diet is provided to us through social media, which means that we’re only exposed to news groomed to our taste and the views we already agree with. Overwhelmed by the world taking shape around us, we’re cornered in our ‘safety rooms’, among our peers, consuming comfort food for thought; neither contemplating, nor reacting, we ‘do our moral duty’ by signing petitions, painting our profile pics with the colours associated to each respective tragedy and flood the web with mournful tributes to the pop culture icons who die each day. That last part is not without significance. The year 2016 has been the year of pop culture genocide, marked by the demise of one celebrity after another, as if there’s an epidemic, claiming the lives of beloved artists. The truth is rather less biblical; these were people whose ascendance was in accordance with the emergence of mass culture and they experience the effect of old age, augmented by the excesses and substance abuse associated with the sub-cultures they emerged from. People from their generation die all the time; if it seems as if there are more celebrities among them, it is because these icons were a product of a time which created icons and allowed for more people to become iconic figures. But in our celebrity-obsessed culture, famous artists are god-like beings, worshipped like demigods were in the ancient times; their demise creates an asymmetric void in culture, an out-of-proportion sense of collective loss. The world is changing and the gods we learnt to worship as teens are abandoning us. How did we find ourselves in this condition, so deprived of the analytical tools that would help us make sense of the world? Is it our very dependence on the produce of pop culture that made us immature, like overgrown teenagers, unable to handle deep questions or engage in any kind of debate, other than confirming our already set world views? Interestingly enough, there is a time and place where we come out of our niche and add to the public discourse. It is when we vote for our representatives, the ones who engage in debate on our behalf, while we crawl back to our ‘happy place’ surrounded by our likeminded peers. Certainly, the parliament is more like a theatre in which said representatives routinely go through the motions, playing their part - even so, the parliament remains one of the very few areas where an active dialogue is being held among people representing dissenting views. And it is no wonder that this kind of activity is systematically being defamed and dismissed as boring, ineffective, counterproductive - or just plain corrupt. Maybe we need more of that. Maybe we should take a leaf out of the old ‘representative democracy’ book and try to replicate it in our daily conversations; reach out to those who are not like us and listen to them. Yes, that might entail logging off our social media accounts for a bit. If we survive that, we might survive the news. The Pokemon GO phenomenon Gotta catch ‘em all. Do you? Do you REALLY? GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS U sually when you start a piece on some cultural phenomenon or other, it’s nice to offer a brief explanation of the this-is-this-andit-does-this-and-people-are-going-crazy-because-of-this variety. In the case of Pokemon GO however, it seems pretty pointless. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that’s situated on a planet that is millions of light years away from our solar system, it seems unlikely that you’re not already aware of Pokemon GO. It is highly possible, however, that some of you out there are indeed visitors from another dimension and/or planet so here’s a quick heads-up: Pokemon GO is an augmented reality game, available as a free download for both Android and iOS devices. The game essentially uses your phone’s clock and GPS capabilities to pinpoint your location and make Pokemon spring up around you, as you walk, run, drive, or indeed physically inhabit any space. Pokemon are creatures that take on a variety of forms, mostly animalistic, with each one possessing a different set of skills, which you can use when you battle other Pokemon ‘masters’. By looking at the world through your phone’s camera/screen combo, the game crosses over into our realm and sinks its gaming hooks deep into our fragile little minds. That is pretty much it. It’s a game about fantastical creatures, that we as potential ‘masters’ and ‘trainers’ should catch and collect and then use in virtual arenas as we struggle for Pokemon domination. And the world has gone and utterly lost it because of them. We’ve seen people crash their cars because of them, people getting shot over them, people falling into the sea because of them, people skipping meals, relationships, jobs and social engagements over them, pretty much seen every social disaster scenario don a Pokemon suit and happily chirp “Pika! Pika!”. What does this humble hack think of it all? Well, thanks for asking. I happen to think that it’s a brand new low for humanity, a new way we have found to say “hey ho, look at us, we are dissolving into a pool of brainless gloop, what fun it is to roam the world with a smartphone screen nailed to our faces”. Am I sounding slightly old, ancient even? Perhaps. Am I setting aside the fact that Pokemon GO has provided a way to inject hope and energy in terminally ill children, or autistic kids struggling to communicate with the world in any other way? No, not one bit. I welcome the positive effects of video games and being an avid gamer myself, have always been feverishly supportive of what a well-produced video game title can offer the human mind. It’s just. No wait, I’ll get there in the end. You know what? I just straight out do not like Pokemon. I don’t like Pikachu and his highpitched whining (for god’s sake that thing can weaponise electrical currents, what’s with the groaning) I don’t like Bulbasaur, or Squirtle or Charmander or any of them and I as sure as hell don’t like Ash, that selfimportant little squirt, the main character of the Pokemon cartoon series, a pure, crystal clear definition of a loser if ever there was one. I mean just think about it: He was constantly on foot, could never even afford a car, never progressed as a human and the closest he got to having an erotic relationship of any kind was when he rubbed noses with Pikachu, that infuriating cross between a rabbit and a canary. Way to go Ash. And yet somehow, this prime example of getting-nowhere-fast suddenly becomes a blueprint for us all, being as he is at the heart of Pokemon GO. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could be like Ash, roaming the world and catching Pokemon and battling it out with other Pokemon masters?” Actually no, that sounds like a terrible idea. That actually sounds like those people you see pounding the pavements, wearing nothing but a long coat and a pair of crusty underpants, barking at pigeons. You know what we call those people? Crazy people. You know what happens to those people? They get committed. Yes. YES. Pokemon GO is a very clever game. Rather, it’s an EXTREMELY clever and simple augmented reality gaming application, arguably the first of its kind to cross over to the mainstream in such an immense way and as such, it’s a much-needed building block as we head towards a more structured and streamlined socio-digital model. But let’s face it. It’s terrible. It’s like Google Glass but with Poke coins added in for good measure. And THAT is a pretty horrendous mix. Have I downloaded it onto my phone? Yes, of course I have. I’m not going to be one of those idiots commenting on something I haven’t actually got my hands on. Have I played it? Yes. Am I any good at it? No. And THAT right there is why I hate it. How can you be bad at Pokemon GO? It’s virtually idiot proof. Oh wait.
16 July 2016
30 July 2016