«On paper, we’re ideal but life isn’t on paper!» (Woody Allen, “Whatever Works”) real

Welcome to the Park of the Surreal

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not a work of fiction, but a metaphor of how humans, helpless creatures, could survive in a hostile environment: that is, by moving into a virtual world (culture) populated by fantastic beings. Did the cave bear eat your uncle? Never mind, he will live forever in the hereafter of our legends. The pettiest creatures of the natural world have become the strongest, thanks to their ability to imagine the unreal and communicate it to their own kind to make it real. They managed to survive because they could turn reality into symbols, signs, drawings, and take shelter in their new super-reality. Man’s technological capabilities derive from the fact that the unreal is the most real environment at Man’s disposal. The unreal has not less reality for us, but more reality. The surreal is a super-real, where Man is the prophet and admen are the ministers of worship.


In a well-known essay, whose title –Welcome to the Desert of the Real– quotes the movie Matrix, Slavoj Žižek maintains that the images of the collapse of the Twin Towers, far from representing the intrusion of the real into our homes, have rather represented the intrusion of fantasy into reality. By dint of watching disaster movies and imagining terrible terrorist attacks in our city centres, these nightmares have inspired and fed the imagination of real terrorists, who eventually realized them. In our turn, addicted to myriad fake images of spectacular films, we had a hard time processing those images as real. Although 3000 people died, every time we see the Twin Towers collapsing it’s like watching a movie. The real disappeared to leave room to our imagination, our nightmares and our wishes. After all, as of 21st century, this happens all the time. How many times was the moon reached by hippogriffs or spaceships, before Armstrong did it? Moon landing has canceled the real, as well. It’s no surprise this event became grist for conspiracy theorists’ mill, like the world Trade Center. Slavoj Žižek teaches us that imagination and reality are not only two adjacent worlds, but also two habitats belonging to the same ecosystem. It’s easy to go from one to the other. The steam cloud of imagination condenses in the real, in the form of phantasmatic frost.


Slavoj Zizek in Liverpool (www.flickr.com/photos/andymiah/2341722526)

Today the garden of the surreal condensed in the internet, where it amplifies and changes our imagery at lighting speed. The dematerialization of economy acquired speed and warp thanks to the Web. Branding have not just won, it has out-matched. This means that contemporary consumers have been turned into terminals of desire. Their task is not producing and consuming objects, but consuming desires produced by other people over and over again. While in the Ford factory producers were alienated, in today’s economy consumers -the terminal point of the process- are alienated. Why alienated? It’s not that nobody can no longer afford to stop wishing, but the dead do not wish; it’s just that nobody can no longer afford to wish freely.

It has always been hard to be yourself in a world where you are constantly asked to play a role. In a famous cartoon by Quino, the creator of Mafalda, a character says: “Why does the lion, to be a lion, must be a lion, while the Man, to be a Man, must be an electrician, a mechanic, a father, a trader…?”. This continuous request to embody a model has always existed, and it is the main obstacle to the genuineness of the younger generation. It was the price to be paid to become men. However, the membership was always formal and external. You could be a plumber while wishing and thinking like a trade union or a political leader. Getting a law degree and becoming a poet. Sometimes it was hard. Arguing with your dad, who wanted you to be an architect, while you wished to act in theatres was not a thing free from suffering.

On the contrary, in web society, the compliance with prepacked models is interior. This happens because we are no longer asked to play a role to fulfil a function; we are asked to adhere to a modus vivendi. We need to be a certain way, because that way of being is functional. Apparently, it’s a progress: we are given the possibility to be ourselves. However, only a small number of qualities and personalities are rewarded, those useful to sell something. Not all who are themselves are that interesting (for the market, at least).


A couple from Oklahoma, by Dorothea Lange (Via Wikimedia Commons)

In short, not everyone can be rewarded for what they are. On the one hand, we are told: be authentic! On the other hand, the world seems to do anything to make us feel like we are worthless. Most of us still have to adhere to a model; but this adaptation is not only formal, is not only a job, it’s substantial. You need to look like celebrities, have the same hairstyle, wear the same clothes, have the same tattoos, listen to the same music, modify yourself to be like them. Your job now is you: the construction of yourself according to a model of desire. But we cannot punch out and leave a similar job; plus, this costs a lot of money and hard work (it only costs us of course, not vendors).

Today’s advertising has understood this change, and has promoted it. New advertising models are no longer just celebrity endorsers: they are linked to a brand and have become influencers. Emily Ratajkowski is not only a desirable girl, she is a model of desirability. Being like her, going where she goes, doing what she does, is what we are asked to do. The same applies to Ronaldo or any other star displayed on the web. We look at what web stars wear, eat, drink, where they go, and we trust them as we trust ourselves.

We just don’t realize it, but those models are us, since models are the result of our unrealized fantasy. Web celebrities are linked to a brand, and that brand has been built on us and with us. Not only on what we are, but also on what we would like to be, on our imagination; that is, what makes us essentially human.

It is possible and effective to propose such models because interests and needs of those who are targeted are broadly known. When once desires were roughly arisen, today’s marketing and advertising techniques have a lot of information, such to create manipulating communications tailored on each person. The sirens do not sing anymore to attract sailors towards the rocks because we sing by and for ourselves with a post on Instagram or a Like on Facebook or Youtube, until a siren divert our course to a commercial rock.


Buried machinery in barn lot in Dallas, South Dakota (Via Wikimedia Commons)

It is a perfect circle. We make what we desire known; advertisers and media and communication experts catch the desire and find someone who perfectly embodies it. At this stage we find ourselves competing with our fantasies and, in this competition, the ones who win are sellers and the ones who lose are we. First of all what we lose is our humanity, in other words the possibility to daydream freely, without someone offering us to realize our dreams all the time because daydreaming, as we have seen, makes us human.

Moreover, what we lose is our self-confidence. Not only the confidence in our ability to comply with the models, but also the confidence in the models built on our personal schemes, hence in ourselves. Sometimes consumer advice reveals the catch in itself. As a result, the trust I placed in my commercial life model is lost at once. This happened to those hapless people who, sure to take part to the Fyre Festival exclusive experience advertised by Webstar, found themselves in the camping of their nightmares after having paid big money. But how can such and so much information be collected? The answer is simple.

Analyze this Big data! real

Thanks to the amount of information we willingly and generously give by means of credit cards, or also of simple mobile-phone top-ups and Likes and posts, advertising could become more precise and, at the same time, more subtle and even sneaky.


Ironically, on the one hand the Internet is the virtual place where all our fantasies take shape, where almost all global culture finds its place and space, it puts itself forward as the little gardens where the human being can cultivate and play with its own fantasies and nightmares; on the other hand, it is the place where the truest reality takes shape in the form of data, of Big-Data. Next to our fantasies there are numbers that record our real and concrete activities. So the Internet takes record not only of our fantasies, but also of money and interest rate movements which swirl in the global economy.

Actually, also big data is a fantasy. However, as we have seen, nothing is more real and essential to mankind than its Fantasies. Why do I say that Big-Data is a fantasy? Big-Data is mathematics and, actually, mathematics is a language and, as every human symbolic language, it has its imaginary and fictional side which, after all, is what allows it to work well.

Not surprisingly, we invented Gods, numbers and mathematics just as we invented other machines. Doesn’t the airbus fly? It weighs thousands of tons, but it can fly. It was sketched and designed especially like that. Just as mathematics. It was invented because we needed to count barley containers and tributes to Gods. Mathematics was born together with writing and money (see the devil’s dung) during the Sumerian period. Money, numbers, writing, cosmic gods regulating the life on Earth are all the product of the same logic. An image or a sign subjected to a series of rules which authorise the conversion between the symbolic, virtual dimension and the real, concrete dimension. You give me a piece of paper whit ten euros written on it and I give you a sandwich and a beer. Isn’t it unbelievable? What matters is that it works. And money works. As well as big data on the Internet. And big data on the Internet works insanely well. Especially if you are an advertiser.


Monopoly Money, Courtesy of FreddieBrown (https://www.flickr.com/photos/freddiebrown/6296214984)

Thanks to the potentiality of the Internet, the world of advertising has deeply changed over the last few years and has standardised. From advertising as a form of art we are heading towards advertising as a science. All that we do, all that we consume, all that we simply desire is recorded and can be extracted and used against us. If, while surfing, you notice that the browser proposes you advertisements of dating websites then it’s better that you know that Big Data have understood that you are single, or that you are prone to cheating. They assessed your age, your sexual orientation, the wine, the detergent you buy, your previous research and finally your inclination to being mischievous. Are you looking for a job, but you can’t find one? Maybe you shared your game scores of some online videogames that were not so exciting. How can you expect to be professionally credible if you can’t beat anyone on Clash Royale? While you are waiting for someone to hire you, here come some financial advisors who can make you have a cheap loan.

These results are given by means of an investigation into our online researches and purchases,  also into the more insignificant ones such as what kind of vitamins pull you up. Here are the conseguences of the Google research algorithm revolution and of the fact that nowday  machines talk to each other. What was previously measured by imprecise and analogue means, today can be done by means of  digital advertising. Thanks to internet you get two birds with one stone.  Looking at the click it is possible to understand how many people have seen that advertising and how many people have purchased that product. You can have  almost a a live FIP ( an advertising influence factor)too. In order to extract this information from the flux of data, analysis means and some analysis expert are necessary.


The amazing thing is that many Big-data analysis means are based on machine- learning, i.e. self-learning machines. It is science fiction, isn’t it? This surreal parks are wonderful, aren’t they? Nothing but Matrix! Anyway, nowday it would be possible obtaining a scientific picture of the advertising campaign yield and of an advertising in generalby getting big data together. The art promotional manipulation is ready to become science.

Higher and higher! Concluding, concluding, concluding!

Due to the frenetic pervasiveness, the capacity of control and manipulation of advertising being informed is no more sufficient to defend against. Computerised instruments do exist to do it. Adblockers block advertising and other instruments to avoid letting informations on-line. But these ones are individualistic solutions which allows defend ourselves but not to attack. It is necessary to move to a counterattack and star a cultural battle, a one that Guy Debord and the situationists could have loved, to limit the power and the capacity of advertising. Here are some proposals:

  • Solidarity and sincerity. How many products delude and do not satisfy us? How many times have we been mislead? Let’s admit it to ourselves, but also let everybody else know. Let’s construct website where we can make negative reviews based on our bad experiences. Do notice it, in the branding society talking trash is good until we make gossip. When we would like to express a negative judgment things became risky. The accuse of damage lies in the wait. A website which is a sort of doomsday of every product (service) offered by the market, which instead of lots of kitsch pounds, permits us to express our dislike, will be more useful. Will be a way to make other buyers reflect and not lead into a trap. It’s counter-marketing or  word-of-mouth.
  • A moment of madness. Decide some days of the year. A dozen. All together, as much as possible, do an irrational research on Internet. Or do every day almost four or five unnecessary and with no sense (to us) researches. Make people believe to be old, kids and then professors. In short, let’s unsettle things and make big data crazy. Write to a million of people on imaginary or lovably useless social hashtag (#ice cream in December). Or, in certain days of the year, let’s load On-Line carts with impossibles things for us (Ferrari, Champagne, etc) and let them standing there for a while. We will get luxury products advertising which we will never buy. But we can dream at a low price.
  • Know how to distinguish ideological hidden messages in advertising to better protect ourselves. Few Zumba lessons and more lessons of how does communication works.
  • Buy as little as possible On Line and get used to buy on the spot. Especially learn how to evaluate correctly items which we buy and how to know their quality differences. Give preference to product without a logo or with an hidden logo. If it is possible remove the logo form the dress or product. Make it as much as possible anonymous. It could seem easy to buy a pair of shoes instead of a brand. Who will try will see that it isn’t so easy.
  • Use creativity and let everybody else collaborate in your battles.

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