Tag Archives: Facebook

Unicorns aren’t dead

If you met a unicorn, would you take a picture of it, or would watch it for as long as it stayed, then let it leave you with nothing but a memory? Would you close your eyes?

The first specimen of the unicorn was spotted in India, millennia before Christ. It has reappeared many times since, as described by numerous religions. Unicorns are white, four-legged, large mammals who supposedly dwell in dense forests, where they are accompanied by a sprinkly melody. They look like white horses with a single horn pointing out of their forehead, which serves for non-violent communication only. A unicorn can be caught solely by virgins and North Korean emperors. Throughout the years, it has embodied purity, innocence, enchantment, and all their opposites. A bit like the colour pink, in fact.

When Nietzsche said “God is dead”, he did not mention unicorns, who supposedly remain alive untill further notice. This is visible in the three Western subcultures which are currently most concerned with the unicorn.

The first and most prominent unicorn-concerned subculture is that of the little and not-so-little unicorn girls. They revere a kind of unicorn that looks like a new version of My Little Pony,  This unicorn commonly dances on a rainbow, bathes in it or takes a bite out of it. Oh, don’t worry, it’ll grow back. Girls in this group regularly post unicorn related content on Facebook, along with some fairy dust. This way, they reveal how magical their lives are.

Then there is the equally notable subculture of the proud unicorn spotters. These are the people (or the state in the case of North Korea) that announce they have captured a unicorn in the wild, and post their proof online. It could be a shaky YouTube video, a blurry picture or, in the case of North Korea, archaeological evidence. They usually fuel an online debate on whether the interpretation of their proof is accurate or not. This group is generally not concerned with unicorns alone: they’d capture multiple kinds of mythological creatures and a UFO or two if they get the chance. Behaviour or ecology of these creatures do not matter much to them, nor the types of rainbows they come along with. All they need is the documentation.

Thirdly, there is the group of atheists who say they believe in the unicorn (sometimes pink…) as a metaphor to rhetorically prove to religious people that God doesn’t exist. That could sound like this: “Hey religious guy! Do you think unicorns exist?” “No, dear atheist man” “Why, not?” “Because nobody ever saw one.” “Well, religious guy, that’s why I don’t think God exists.” The internet examples where the unicorn is brought forward as the terminator of God are endless.

What does the prevalence of the unicorn in an otherwise secularising global society mean? For one thing, I think it is an indication that the appreciation of the supernatural is still alive among us. It even gives atheists a smile on their face. Are we guarding our mental state of the child’s fantasy, perhaps? Silently protecting the thought that there may yet be something more? Luckily that hasn’t died.

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Mental life

If you’d start a religion today, would you ban or allow violent video games?

The reason why I ask, is that my sister gave me Grand Theft Auto V for my birthday. Playing it brought me back to my teenage years, when a big part of my worries could be narrowed down to the question: “how can I beat the next boss and get into the next level?”. It also helped me see this game for what it really is: a piece of art.

GTA V, not unlike earlier versions, has so many facets that it is hard to know where to begin talking about it. The game holds a tremendous amount of possibilities: you can shoot down people in the street, do some yoga, blow up busses in a drive by, play tennis with a real or virtual friend or you can just light up a joint and enter in a fist fight with one of the innumerable clowns that materialize from the smoke. GTA V has storylines in which you make choices and feel the consequences of your actions and characters that support you or fuck you over. All of it happens in a world full of detail which would take you about half an hour to drive around in one of the faster cars, stolen or bought.

The game comes with an excellent package of sarcastic jokes about all aspects of western society, in particular media manipulation, New Age gurus and consumerism.  The in-game equivalent of Facebook, for example, is called Lifeinvader. It has its own office building in Los Santos, which you can enter to mess with the technology. Another example: the day you steal nerve gas from a lab somewhere in the mountains, the presenter of the news on the radio wonders why “the criminals went to great lengths to get their hands on a formula for cheap perfume”. Afterwards, the same radio channel broadcasts a commercial on why “Flow”, with its great packaging and advertisements by famous people, is far better for you and your self-esteem than tap water.

The game has the perfect combination of qualities to suck you out of your daily trouble into a dream where you are the ruler of your destiny and that of the imaginary other. It has doubtlessly had more attention than the Mona Lisa – during the phases of crafting as well as appreciation -, has brought in more money than most blockbusters and has probably made more people happy than Jesus.

Still, people world-wide fight a battle against the virtual violence in such games which has little more consequences than getting some virtual cops on your virtual ass. Easy to shake off once you have some experience. Opposers of the GTA franchise argue that the violence promoted rewires the back of the players’ brains. They believe that shooting people in a virtual world will alter the subjects perception of life and death in the real world, reducing the barrier to shoot people in real life. Personally, I have to admit that after playing GTA for several consecutive hours, when going to the almost closing supermarket for a beer and a pizza, the thought of blowing someone’s brains out may occasionally cross my mind when a random bastard walks in my way. Of course, it wouldn’t easily happen: I don’t usually carry a minigun around.

The discussion raises an interesting series of questions about the perception of the real versus the illusory, quite relevant in a society where virtual and casual reality overlap more and more. How big is the influence of actions in virtual worlds on our actions in real life? Can the power we feel while playing such games settle inside us as a day-to-day desire? Or could such games satisfy desires we already have, and thus make us live our normal lives in a calmer way? Would that just be a superficial thing, or could virtual lives be deeply nurturing?

Mankind has made fantasy more tangible. Young generations are growing up alternating between real and virtual worlds. From a young age onwards, we learn to discern the two from each other. I do believe that being in touch with virtual worlds helps us relativize our own lives, by making us accustomed to be view things from a distance. I’d guess that rather than having us irrationally import behaviour from one world to the other, games help us see things in their contexts and act according to the circumstances. So next to being masterpieces, I believe they might have educational value.

As long as we still eat, sleep and jump around from time to time in real life. Let’s not forget that.

Organized Judgement

We live in a society where judgement is an institutionalized norm. Even though we read books that say we should leave judgement up to whichever divine entity we worship, we are totally okay with apps such as Tinder or cultural phenomena like Facebook.  We are thrilled, even, when watching programs such as X-factor, the Voice or So you think you can dance. They are programs where we are stimulated to judge. It feels rewarding.

Consider the job interview structure. It is a generally accepted fact that the choice if you’re in or out is made within the first few seconds after meeting. Still, we all look upon it as an adequate way to determine who is going to work and who is not. But if there are 100 working hours for two candidates, why don’t we divide them 50-50? Because one of them is better at promoting himself? We believe that by judging both, we make a wise selection. That’s also why we vote for politicians. The truth is: we are guessing in the dark. Judging just makes us feel in charge. But do we really need to?

In the Netherlands – a country that’s supposed to be developed and tolerant – the more pigment you have in your skin, the harder it is for you to get a good job. Darker people are more likely to be searched by the police and less likely to be accepted into classy bars or clubs. And yet we keep believing that our views help us separate the wheat from the chaff. What’s more, we want to be judged by others, equally blind, as the ‘good’ group. Why else do we dress up nicely, post duck-faced selfies online and correct our exteriors with surgery?

Even if a part of this behaviour has natural roots, these issues should be publically put into question. Whoever is hip today will be forgotten tomorrow. I wonder how aware people are how much we collectively praise judgement, yet at the same time carry the burden. Is that truly necessary? Could we change this in society? In ourselves? Would you?