We can't even escape from reality into fantasy any more

Essays on technology, psycho­analysis, philosophy, design, ideology & Slavoj Žižek


February 27, 2010

We can't even escape from reality into fantasy any more

The more we chase after the real (trying to strip away normal conventions of decency and censorship, etc.), the more we arrive at a pure theatrical spectacle, in the same way that reality TV shows are more fictional than fiction.

People miss this fact when they denounce violence in video games and movies, even very “realistic” violence. They think virtual violence desensitizes us to real violence, but just the opposite is true. Being saturated in media- generated fantasy violence means that if you ever experienced something like someone pulling out gun at a convenience store while you were getting gas, you would experience it as derealized, a kind of temporary psychosis. Which is why so many people say things like “It felt like I was in a movie.” Crucially, they don’t say it felt like they were watching a movie, it feels like reality disappears and you traumatically enter the fantasy space itself.

So the paradoxical effect of media violence is that now, real violence damages us physically, but more and more psychologically as well. 9/11 was terrorizing in exactly this way - some say the amount of fear is excessive, the reality is that only around 3000 people died, much worse catastrophes happen every day. But in a way, isn’t the fear justified? America felt safe, like all physical dangers had been reduced or eliminated, we could safely enjoy our consumer dream, and the real violence of global capitalism that sustains our enjoyment is safely out of sight. Then we are suddenly attacked, not just in the real world, but in the dream itself. The true horror is that we can’t even escape from reality into fantasy any more, they can reach us there too.