Virtual matters

The message of the first 20 seconds of this Reason Video on Axanar resonates.   The original series for Star Trek impressed me when I watched the original airings when I was near 10 years old, and yet I never really got that interested in any of the following series, movies, or fan meet-ups.   Despite the lack of interest in keeping up, the basic message rings true to me: a desire to be part of story as outlined in the original series and that modern technology makes possible the virtual participation in that world.   The rest of the above video is for me completely summed up by the first 20 seconds.

I turn this sentiment around, though.   Instead of desiring teleportation into another fictional world, we are already living in something very similar.

Nearly a year after the last presidential election, I’m still pondering what happened in 2016 that gave us a choice between the candidates that mirrored the choice of preferring Star Trek or Star Wars.   Instead of a political contest, it was a contest between two franchise copyright holders who are strict about who they admit into participating in their worlds.   Just like the above video where the copyright holders bar others from participating in the franchise, the two political candidates were brand Clinton vs brand Trump.   The election was analogous to debates between fans of different science fiction universes.   The fans are energized and motivated to defend their preferences despite being barred from directly participating within or influencing upon those brands.

2016 was the final step in transforming voters from democratic participation in government to fans of copyright-protected franchises.   To me, this helps explain the political events in 2017 as a competition between fans of two competing franchises.  Much of the political debates have very little to do with substantive policy, and those that do are more similar to arguments between fans of Star Trek and Star Wars than it is about actual governance.

National debt, tax policy, health-insurance reform, immigration, foreign policy, etc no longer matter on substantive terms.  The only thing that matters is whether the current policy belongs in one franchise or the other.   Either case, we’ll get the same thing.   Politics is now only a matter of which logo gets placed on each piece of established policy.

Personally, I have lost interest in politics in much the same way as I have lost lost interest in either Star Trek (after the original series) or Star Wars (after the original movie).   The subsequent sequels, reboots, etc, offered nothing that interested me.   In all cases, my participation in the franchise would be strictly as a passive consumer.

I don’t know the details about Axanar as I just heard about it today with a brief introduction.  I have heard there are controversies as such as whether this had a serious chance at successfully producing a feature-length movie.    Also, several elements of the movie seemed ridiculous to me until someone can explain to me why star-ship battles occurred in walking-distance proximity and the rapid production of such space ships.   However, I was impressed with the spirit behind the film-making, that of fans directly participating in the story.

There was a copyright and trademark lawsuit that was eventually settled.  I agree that it is a clear case of copyright infringement, but I think there was merit in the defense.

The original idea of a copyright involved a single work.   Copyright life can be extended by issuing sequels or remakes.    However, in the case of modern block-buster universes such as Star Trek and Star Wars, or Bat-man and Spider-man, there have been so many remakes, sequels, and derivatives that they have become part of popular culture to the extent where people feel much more part of that world than just being passive consumers as illustrated by the growing popularity of comic-cons, cosplay, and fan fiction or fan movies.   There must be some point when the copyright or trademark dissolves into public domain because the public domain becomes one with the central story and story elements.  The case would have been lost, certainly, but the lost case would expose the reality that these have become an indivisible part of the actual culture.

Underlying the debate about fan fictions and films encroaching on copyrights and trademarks, is the phenomena about a new modern culture absorbing modern fictions and fantasies while at the same time completely severing any ties to inherited traditional cultures.

One way to understand the political and social commentary of 2017 is to recognize that the culture is fundamentally different today than it was even a few year ago.   Certainly, there are fragments of the inherited traditional cultures of democrats, republicans, liberals, conservatives, libertarians, etc.   These fragments are pushed aside by a new culture that is built entirely on recent ideas.  Many of these ideas originate out of fiction and fantasy instead of philosophy, economics, or social sciences.

It is possible that cultures can be based entirely on fictions, and these new cultures can dominate the population.   An analogy would be the atheist’s view of religious-based cultures, or the other way around.   What is different today is that cultures can emerge and capture a major faction of the population so quickly.   Within a span of a few months, we’re suddenly living in a country filled with racists, oppressive misogynous patriarchs, foreign bosses, Illuminati, and traitors.   It doesn’t matter if this is real or fantastic, we have to deal with the truth that is the culture we are living in.

In analogy to the above movies, the population infringed upon the copyright equivalent for the US democratic culture and no one can defend that copyright.   We are eagerly governing ourselves into a fantasy world where national debt does not matter, where merit can be based on factors unrelated to skills or fitness to task, where there can be universal access to a minimum of a middle class life style (universal health insurance and basic income).

The task for the modern government is to make this new concept of a government work just like it was for the constitutional writers to make possible a government based on enlightenment ideals.   Now that I think about it, in the middle 18th century, the enlightenment ideals were probably viewed as fantastic as our modern fictions.   If I had lived back then, I’d probably would have thought the same about the revolutionaries as I now do about the various modern ideas energizing may public demonstrations and debates.

The election cycle of 2016 had some elements of being in a virtual world where much of the public debate was driven by discussions in the Internet’s social media involving a sizable number of anonymous or pseudonymous commentators.   While much of the voting population may have received their news from traditional media such as television and newspapers, the online discussions had a huge influence on the content of what the traditional media presented including the selection of what should be published.   On many days, the biggest news stories centered on the most popularly discussed topics on social Internet sites instead of original reporting and independent editing.   Traditional news media spend a significant portion of their print or air-time reading online contents based on popularity of that content instead of qualifications of the author.

After the election, there was a lot of debating about inappropriate influence on the electorate.  Much of that debate centered on foreign intervention and the possibility of illegal collaboration with foreign powers.

There was an unusual source of influence on the unusual results of the 2016 election cycle, both in the choice of candidates offered for election and the final result.   Unfortunately, the focus on foreign intervention distracted us from considering the more important change in influence that Internet social media has on politics.  That influence is only going to get stronger in the future.   This is a fundamental change because many of the influence came sources that were either pseudonymous or previously unrecognized individuals.

The established political brands are being taken over by the broader population.  In the past, the politics had some brand control analogous to a copyright or trademark.   The control was in the form of careful admission into the groups considered to be qualified to discuss policy and party platforms.   That order fell apart in 2016 because the fans took over the franchises, sabotaging both parties.   The Democratic brand was infringed by socialists.  The Republican brand was infringed by nationalists or even ethno-nationalists.   Both parties lost the exclusive right to define their brands.   The population, or at least the Internet-savvy population, took over those brands and started telling their own stories using the equivalents of trademarks or copyrights of the different political parties.   This even occurred within the Libertarian party that became a label instead of a description of a political philosophy.

In the analogy of the science fiction franchises, the copyright owners obviously have a financial stake in defending their properties.   Less obvious is that they need control over the management of the narrative they created.   Even if fan films do not infringe on profits, fan fiction will introduce new characters or giving new traits to old characters.   The more popular of these innovations will have to be included in future installments, complicating the story telling as well as ownership of properties.

Compounding this problem is that the creators of fan fiction or fan movies are a very small minority of overall fan base.   This minority is very enthusiastic and motivated to create compelling content.   As a result, they will influence and transform the fan base.  The main narrative must change to accommodate these innovations.

Modern media-authoring technologies are increasingly affordable to a larger population.   Also, there is a larger population with free time or willingness to volunteer unpaid labor to produce a new product.   The future will be an explosion of many variants of the basic underlying story.   Eventually it will be impossible for any single entity to produce a single product that can automatically assure a mass audience due to exclusive ownership of the product.

This eventuality is what already happened to the political parties in the 2016 elections and the 2017 aftermath.   There are new political narratives directed by quickly changing populations of Internet social media personalities.   The legacy office holders still hold onto power for lengthy terms of 2 years or longer, but they lost any control over the intellectual property of a party platform.   The political system is taken over by political cosplayers.

The immediate sense of political chaos may be the result of the realization by the majority that we don’t know who is running our government any more.    In particular, the political office holders have no control of the narrative guiding their policy making.   That control is now in the hands of a rapidly changing set of personalities that enjoy popular attention either in Internet social media or within the government bureaucracies (such as so-called deep-state).   These voices are democratic in the sense that they are emerging randomly out of large populations, but they are anti-democratic in the sense that no one has voted them into any office and no one has vetted their qualifications.

We are entering a period of government by the anonymous who have taken over the intellectual properties of the traditional establishment, including political parties and legacy media.



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