«Ogilvy on advertising», the prequel.

After spending a few weeks getting a solid grounding in opinion research, Ogilvy accompanied Gallup to Hollywood. They pitched their services to the head of RKO studios, pointing out the competitive advantages of measuring the popularity of movie stars, pretesting audience acceptance of movie ideas and titles, and forecasting trends. RKO awarded them a twelve-month contract, and other studios soon followed suit, noting that David Selznick «took to ordering surveys the way other people order groceries.» Ogilvy admired Gallup immensely and gained a deep respect for the value of opinion research as a predictive tool in everything from marketing to politics. He found his time in Hollywood both entertaining and instructive and hobnobbed with some of the most famous movie stars of the day, almost all of whom he considered «repulsive egotists.» As a result of his audience research, Ogilvy discovered that certain marquee names had a negative effect on a picture's earnings, and he assembled a classified list he called «box office poison» that prematurely ended many a career. «There is no great trick to doing research,» Ogilvy later observed. «The problem is to get people to use it—particularly when the research reveals that you have been making mistakes.» Most people, he found, had "a tendency to use research as a drunkard uses a lamppost—for support, not for illumination.»

(…)

Stephenson had sent Fleming there in 1942 and had been impressed with how well he had come through the course, recalling that he was «top of his section,» though he lacked the killer's instinct, and had hesitated—a fatal error—during an exercise in which he was expected to «shoot a man in cold blood.» While the camp schooled secret agents, spies, and guerrilla fighters who went on to carry out BSC missions in enemy-occupied Europe and Asia, most of the people sent on the course with Ogilvy had been recruited to do intelligence or propaganda work, had backgrounds in journalism and foreign relations, and knew little or nothing about spycraft beyond the jobs they were doing at their typewriters. At Camp X, Ogilvy and his fellow trainees donned army fatigues designed to help maintain the facility's cover as a regular army base, and attended lectures on the new high technology of espionage, from the use of codes and ciphers to listening devices, and observed awe-inspiring demonstrations of silent killing and underwater demolitions. They also received some limited practice in how to use a handgun and shoot quickly and accurately without hesitation. «l was taught the tricks of the trade,» recalled Ogilyy. «How do you follow people without arousing their suspicion? Walk in front of them; if you also push a pram this will disarm their suspicions still further. I was taught to use a revolver, to blow up bridges and power lines with plastic, to cripple police dogs by grabbing their front legs and tearing their chests apart, and to kill a man with my bare hands.»

Fully expecting to be parachuted behind enemy lines, he was a little let down when Stephenson assigned him to desk duty.

This is the story.

This is the Story

This is the beginning. Here is where the story begins. The character is introduced—we meet the character, her, we’ll call her a her. We begin to learn about her background, or if not so much as that, then her habits. We see her doing what she does every day, in medias res. What she does now foreshadows what will happen to her later. She does the same thing every day, and then something changes. It’s not much, but it’s something, and so it is a story.

This is the middle. The thing that happens, the different thing, happens here. She was safe in her assumptions, but this thing occurs, or something occurs to her, a realization, and she can no longer go on thinking what she thought. Perhaps it has to do with him, someone important to her, someone whom perhaps she loves. And yet he is also her antagonist, the one who stands in the way of what must happen for her to be, if not happy, then consummated, fulfilled. This is when we meet him, when we come to understand the obstacle he presents, when we are allowed to wonder how she will, how she can, proceed.

This is the ending. At this point the situation comes to its crisis. Events build to a climax. We have been expecting this: a conflict, and, through its resolution, change. But then something happens that we had not -expected, a surprise, a twist, which nonetheless feels, now that it has happened, -inevitable. They were at odds in a way that had become familiar, and now we learn that their goals are not so far apart, that perhaps what had seemed a conflict is in fact its own resolution.

Finally there is this, something after the ending, after the climax: the result. It is not at all what we expected. Perhaps one of them—him—is left behind in some way by the events that have transpired. He is lost, and she must suffer a kind of grief, as must he, for he is lost but must go on, as she must, too. So the story comes to its conclusion, open to interpretation, and we find that the only way out, for us as well as for them, is this lyrical finale, a few words, a bit of poetry. This last sentence is beautiful, as though beauty is itself the justification, though it isn’t—not quite.

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White-out history.

El febrer de 1948 el dirigent comunista Klement Gottwald va sortir al balcó d'un palau barroc de Praga per adreçar-se als centenars de ciutadans txecs que omplien la plaça de la Ciutat Vella. Aquella havia de ser una gran fita en la història de Bohèmia. Un d'aquells moments fatídics que ocorren una o dues vegades cada mil·lenni. Gottwald estava envoltat pels seus camarades i just al seu costat hi havia Clementis. La neu planava en l'aire, feia fred i Gottwald anava amb el cap descobert. Clementis, tot sol·lícit, es va treure la gorra de pell i la va posar al cap de Gottwald. 

La secció de propaganda va reproduir en centenars de milers d'exemplars la fotografia del balcó des del qual Gottwald, amb una gorra de pell al cap i envoltat de camarades, s'adreça al poble. En aquell balcó va començar la història de la Bohemia comunista. Aquella fotografia, la coneixien tots els nens d'haver-la vista en els cartells, en els Ilibres de text i en els museus. 

Quatre anys més tard Clementis va ser acusat de traició i penjat. La secció de propaganda el va esborrar immediatament de la història i, naturalment, de totes les fotografies. Des d'aleshores Gottwald està tot sol al balcó. En el lloc on havia estat Clementis hi ha només el mur buit del palau. De Clementis tan sols ha quedat la gorra de pell al cap de Gottwald. 

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Beware of friendly enemies.

I don’t prefer to work with one actor rather than another, I don’t have a troupe like Bergman has in Sweden. I'm interested mainly in the story, and I cast to realise that story. I don’t know who I shall use in my next picture, which will be made in Greece, but it will probably be somebody brand new again, only because it's more real to me that way. An actor is a person who quickly becomes “an actor," whereas there's a simplicity and unselfconsciousness and mystery about a new actor that an experienced actor often loses quickly. A person when he feels something in life would prefer to hide it, whereas an actor is in the habit of showing it. I’m not saying this is a general rule for other directors or that it is right for anyone but me, but it fits my own temperament and my own feelings about a film.

A star undercuts a story in some ways; you know he’s not going to die in the second reel or going to do anything unpleasant and that he'll get the girl in the end, and if he doesn’t come out well, the audience is disappointed because they've gone to the cinema to see him. I don't want an audience to come to see a star. I want them to see my story.

Very often recognised actors in a very subtle way condescend to a part; they clean it up, and make it more pleasant, glamorous, brave, courageous or resourceful than it is. There's nothing more boring than the bravery of an actor, and when you get a person that's new, he’s not on the lookout to always be brave or be cleaned up.

I can't stand a hairdresser on the set, and I try not to have one. But if the unions force one on me, I tell her to go in a room and play solitaire or something. If I see one fussing with the leading lady’s hair, I have a fit the first day, and then they don’t come round again. I mean I like them personally, but I don't want the hair in place. One objection I have to most costumes is that they obviously look like they were made for the film and have never been worn or used before. It's a very hard thing to fight unless you’re terribly determined and persistent; everybody's trying to clean everything up on you.

The set is full of many charming and very friendly enemies, people who are in the habit of making things pretty and more comfortable. This is the whole technique of Hollywood, to make everything more digestible. My whole effort is to bring the impact of life to the screen, so you don't ever know quite what’s going to happen.

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Immersive censorship.

The future of virtual reality isn’t just about whether or not it causes a stampede at your local big-box retailer, ends up in bedrooms and living rooms around the world, or enables new artistic achievements­—if, in short, VR becomes a mass medium. Let’s get past that and ask: then what? Take a January 2014 article on Forbes’ website titled “Legal Heroin: Is Virtual Reality Our Next Hard Drug”. I assume the authors left out the question mark because they’d already made up their minds. The article lurches from irresponsible comparisons of the effects of VR immersion with middle America’s worst nightmares (“a rapid hit of speed, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana, and cocaine”) to singing the potential praises of VR as a learning tool.

If you’re up on media history, that kind of overblown language sounds mighty familiar. Looking back at media panics—from dime novels to train robbery flicks to horror comics to videogames—it’s easy to imagine how VR might be vulnerable to a similar wave of fear. Those previous panics look ridiculous in hindsight: In 1954, Fredric Wertham declared Batman and Robin secret lovers in front of a U.S. Senate subcommittee as part of his crusade against comic books. In the halcyon early '50s, when comic books overflowed on newsstands, Wertham's bullying played a key part in relegating sales to their current specialty market. Even pinball machines were banned in most major U.S. cities for four decades because of their alleged deleterious effects on the nation’s youth.

Looking back at media panics, it’s easy to imagine how VR might be vulnerable to a similar wave of fear 

There’s a definite cycle of mistrust, misunderstanding, and censorship by older generationsofthe new media embraced by youth. Dr. Dmitri Williams, a professor at the University of Southern California, calls this cycle the River City effect, referencing a tune from The Music Man. Williams describes three phases of reactions to new media used by kids: worries about the activities the media displaces, fears about health problems caused by the new tech, and opportunities to assign them blame for larger social problems. VR has some peculiarities that make it a fine target for all three phases.

What will be displaced? The physical world, for a start. Immersion in a virtual world is exclusion from the world around you. When a teenager is playing a console on the TV in her room, she can still turn her head to listen and look at her mom when she asks how her day has been or whether or not her homework is finished. That same mom might have a harder time accepting her offspring whiling away her free time behind goggles and headphones that completely block out the outside world. The inhuman, slightly sinister design of the headsets mocked up in prototypes and concept art isn’t doing the medium any favors: Headsets that obscure most of the user’s face transform a familiar daughter into a cyborg interloper occupying the living room couch. For bonus points, put a plastic gun in the player’s hands, or have them swing their fists to punch.

If game creators do their jobs right, the player’s mouth will be zombielike in slack-jawed ecstasy or twisted into a lunatic’s rageful maw, caught in the ecstasy of popping a cap into a noob or disemboweling an unfortunate goblin. Watching someone’s entire body react to a world you can’t see is deeply unsettling. Something about blocking out the outside world makes you forget to wear the mask of normalcy. Because VR seeks to mimic the senses by covering up the outside world with the virtual, it doesn’t allow passerby to become spectators with the same ease. The fertile imaginations of a fearful parent can populate what goes on beneath those goggles with their worst nightmares of debaucherous sex and violence.

Let’s say Mom wants to try out VR for herself and straps the goggles on. Ten minutes later, she’s staggering down the hallway to eject dinner into the toilet bowl Professor Williams’ health issues phase of the River City effect. “Simulator sickness” has been the bane of virtual world development for decades­—it’s something like motion sickness, but for virtual worlds, and while motion sickness usually requires long-term or extreme exposure, like a cruise or a roller-coaster ride, just being in VR makes some people sick. Maybe commercial hardware developers will be able to crack the simulator sickness problem where the military-industrial complex and its mountains of cash failed. But given that simulator sickness is caused by a variety of factors—including the design of the virtual environment and player movement—that manifest in varying ways, degrees, and populations, a certain percentage of people will likely never be able to experience VR without nausea.

Headsets that obscure most of the user’s face transform a familiar daughter into a cyborg interloper occupying the living room couch 

Still, most people develop a higher tolerance to simulator sickness over time through gradual exposure. So an excited teenager might get past some initial wooziness over the course of a few weeks, but a parent who wants to see what all the fuss is about could plunge into a virtual environment and end up severely disoriented. This problem isn’t going to be restricted to parents: If kids today remain anything like kids have always been, they’re probably going to overdo it on their new toys with marathon VR sessions. Christmas might get messy.

Making someone hurl isn’t generally considered a great first impression, and the cipher of VR is going to absorb all the perennial fears and complaints about young people. These complaints become a crisis of conscience when sharpened by links to the kind of horrific violence that has become all too routine in America, in tragedies like Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. This is the final phase of Williams’ River City effect, where the most troubling issues facing a society are blamed on a younger generation’s embrace of new media. After the angry newspaper editorials, the outraged appearances on talk shows, and overplayed clips of the most extreme content VR has to offer run for days, what would the case for regulating and censoring the new medium look like?

Each new medium has to be explicitly approved by the justices as speech before it’s protected 

Some precedents have been set. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court declared videogames protected speech. Unfortunately, they’ve never gotten around to giving a definition of speech that has much predictive power: Each new medium has to be explicitly approved by the justices as speech before it’s protected. The first step for would-be goggle-grabbers will be to make the case that VR is a radically new medium and assert that its greater interactivity and realism are fundamentally different and more dangerous than what came before it. If they can manage that, the four decades of case law and precedent that established videogames as part of the First Amendment will be irrelevant.

The next step is to make the argument that VR isn’t speech at all; this is exactly what happened to videogames in 1982. By collapsing motion-based technology into the same category, legislators might make the argument that VR isn’t speech but action, which has a much lower barrier to regulation. When something is considered speech by the courts, any legislation regulating or censoring it must pass a very high standard of proof known as “strict scrutiny”, and the videogame speech case suggested that media effects research isn’t going to get there anytime soon. If it’s not speech, restrictive laws have to pass only the “rational basis” test: Basically, if the lawmakers give any justification at all, that’s good enough for the courts. That result could be disastrous, giving enterprising local, state, and federal politicians free reign to censor virtual reality for children or even adults. A promising new medium could be snuffed out under the onerous weight of regulation.

VR is still protean in its technical and cultural configuration: The future will bring many surprises and new wrinkles to an age-old contest between young and old. The best insurance against a future of censorship for VR is by making sure a generation gap doesn’t develop. The best way to do that is by showing people who wouldn’t otherwise put on a pair of goggles what VR is like, and by showing politicians that voters recognize the cycle of censorship and fear-mongering surrounding the birth of new media.

A hurdle called truth.

Magic requires tacit cooperation of the audience with the magician--an abandonment of skepticism, or what is sometimes described as the willing suspension of disbelief.

---

It was a 1954 book I had read in college, The Fifty-Minute Hour. The author, a psychoanalyst named Robert Lindner, had been called by the Los Alamos National Laboratory to treat a brilliant young nuclear physicist whose delusional system was beginning to interfere with his secret government research. The physicist (given the pseudonym Kirk Allen) had, it turned out, another life besides making nuclear weapons: in the far future, he confided, he piloted (or will pilot - the tenses get a little addled) interstellar spacecraft. He enjoyed rousing, swashbuckling adventures on planets of other stars. He was "lord" of many worlds. Perhaps they called him Captain Kirk. Not only could he "remember" this other life; he could also enter into it whenever he chose. By thinking in the right way, by wishing, he could transport himself across the light years and the centuries.

In some way I could not comprehend, by merely desiring it to be so, I had crossed the immensities of space, broken out of time, and merged with - literally became - that distant and future self . . . Don't ask me to explain. I can't, although God knows I've tried.

Lindner found him intelligent, sensitive, pleasant, polite and perfectly able to deal with everyday human affairs. But, in reflecting on the excitement of his life among the stars, Allen had found himself a little bored with his life on Earth, even if it did involve building weapons of mass destruction. When admonished by his laboratory supervisors for distraction and dreaminess, he apologized; he would try, he assured them, to spend more time on this planet. That's when they contacted Lindner. 

Allen had written 12,000 pages on his experiences in the future, and dozens of technical treatises on the geography, politics, architecture, astronomy, geology, life forms, genealogy and ecology of the planets of other stars. A flavour of the material is given by these monograph titles: "The Unique Brain Development of the Chrystopeds of Srom Norba X", "Fire Worship and Sacrifice on Srom Sodrat II", "The History of the Intergalactic Scientific Institute", and "The Application of Unified Field Theory and the Mechanics of the Stardrive to Space Travel". (That last is the one I'd like to see; after all, Allen was said to have been a first-rate physicist.) Fascinated, Lindner pored over the material. 

Allen was not in the least shy about presenting his writings to Lindner or discussing them in detail. Unflappable and intellectually formidable, he seemed not to be yielding an inch to Lindner's psychiatric ministrations. When everything else failed, the psychiatrist attempted something different:

I tried . . . to avoid giving in any way the impression that I was entering the lists with him to prove that he was psychotic, that this was to be a tug of war over the question of his sanity. Instead, because it was obvious that both his temperament and training were scientific, I set myself to capitalize on the one quality he had demonstrated throughout his life . . . the quality that urged him toward a scientific career: his curiosity .. . This meant . . . that at least for the time being I 'accepted' the validity of his experiences . . . In a sudden flash of inspiration it came to me that in order to separate Kirk from his madness it was necessary for me to enter his fantasy and, from that position, to pry him loose from the psychosis.

Lindner highlighted certain apparent contradictions in the documents and asked Allen to resolve them. This required the physicist to re-enter the future to find the answers. Dutifully, Allen would arrive at the next session with a clarifying document written in his neat hand. Lindner found himself eagerly awaiting each interview, so he could be once more captivated by the vision of abundant life and intelligence in the galaxy. Between them, they were able to resolve many problems of consistency. 

Then a strange thing happened: "The materials of Kirk's psychosis and the Achilles heel of my personality met and meshed like the gears of a clock." The psychoanalyst became a co-conspirator in his patient's delusion. He began to reject psychological explanations of Allen's story. How sure are we that it couldn't really be true? He found himself defending the notion that another life, that of a spacefarer in the far future, could be entered into by a simple effort of the will. 

At a startlingly rapid rate . . . larger and larger areas of my mind were being taken over by the fantasy . . . With Kirk's puzzled assistance I was taking part in cosmic adventures, sharing the exhilaration of the sweeping extravaganza he had plotted. 

But eventually, an even stranger thing happened: concerned for the well-being of his therapist, and mustering admirable reserves of integrity and courage, Kirk Allen confessed: he had made the whole thing up. It had roots in his lonely childhood and his unsuccessful relationships with women. He had shaded, and then forgotten, the boundary between reality and imagination. Filling in plausible details and weaving a rich tapestry about other worlds was challenging and exhilarating. He was sorry he had led Lindner down this primrose path. 

"Why," the psychiatrist asked, "why did you pretend? Why did you keep on telling me . . .?" 

"Because I felt I had to," the physicist replied. "Because I felt you wanted me to."

Kirk and I reversed roles, Lindner explained, and, in one of those startling denouements that make my work the unpredictable, wonderful and rewarding pursuit it is, the folly we shared collapsed . . . I employed the rationalization of clinical altruism for personal ends and thus fell into a trap that awaits all unwary therapists of the mind . . . Until Kirk Allen came into my life, I had never doubted my own stability. The aberrations of mind, so I had always thought, were for others . . . I am ashamed by this smugness. But now, as I listen from my chair behind the couch, I know better. I know that my chair and the couch are separated only by a thin line. I know that it is, after all, but a happier combination of accidents that determines, finally, who shall lie on the couch, and who shall sit behind it.

Don't Say It. Be It.

En la comunicación cara a cara intervienen infinitas formas de reforzamiento extralingüístico (gesticular, ostensivo, etc.) e infinitos procedimientos de redundancia y feed back (retroalimentación) que se apuntalan mutuamente. Esto revela que nunca se da una comunicación meramente lingüística, sino una actividad semiótica en sentido amplio, en la que varios sistemas de signos se complementan entre sí. Pero ¿qué ocurre en el caso de un texto escrito, que el autor genera y después entrega a una variedad de actos de interpretación, como quien mete un mensaje en una botella y luego la arroja al mar?

Hemos dicho que el texto postula la cooperación del lector como condición de su actualización. Podemos mejorar esa formulación diciendo que un texto es un producto cuya suerte interpretativa debe formar parte de su propio mecanismo generativo: generar un texto significa aplicar una estrategia que incluye las previsiones de los movimientos del otro; como ocurre, por lo demás, en toda estrategia.

En la estrategia militar (o ajedrecística, digamos: en toda estrategia de juego), el estratega se fabrica un modelo de adversario. Si hago este movimiento, arriesgaba Napoleón, Wellington debería reaccionar de tal manera. Si hago este movimiento, argumentaba Wellington, Napoleón debería reaccionar de tal manera. En ese caso concreto, Wellington generó su estrategia mejor que Napoleón, se construyó un Napoleón Modelo que se parecía más al Napoleón concreto que el Wellington Modelo, imaginado por Napoleón, al Wellington concreto. La analogía sólo falla por el hecho de que, en el caso de un texto, lo que el autor suele querer es que el adversario gane, no que pierda.

···

Cuando el texto se dirige a unos lectores que no postula ni contribuye a producir, se vuelve ilegible (más de lo que ya es), o bien se convierte en otro libro.

···

Si el Autor y el Lector Modelo son dos estrategias textuales, entonces nos encontramos ante una situación doble. Por un lado, como hemos dicho hasta ahora, el autor empírico, en cuanto sujeto de la enunciación textual, formula una hipótesis de Lector Modelo y, al traducirla al lenguaje de su propia estrategia, se caracteriza a sí mismo en cuanto sujeto del enunciado, con un lenguaje igualmente “estratégico”, como modo de operación textual. Pero, por otro lado, también el lector empírico, como sujeto concreto de los actos de cooperación, debe fabricarse una hipótesis de Autor, deduciéndola precisamente de los datos de la estrategia textual.

La hipótesis que formula el lector empírico acerca de su Autor Modelo parece más segura que la que formula el autor empírico acerca de su Lector Modelo. De hecho, el segundo debe postular algo que aún no existe efectivamente y debe realizarlo como una serie de operaciones textuales; en cambio, el primero deduce una imagen tipo a partir de algo que previamente se ha producido como acto de enunciación y que está presente textualmente como enunciado. (…) La configuración del Autor Modelo depende de determinadas huellas textuales, pero también involucra al universo que está detrás del texto, detrás del destinatario y, probablemente, también ante el texto y ante el proceso de cooperación (en el sentido de que dicha configuración depende de la pregunta: “¿qué quiero hacer con este texto?”).