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BG42 – Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis for Aesthetic Judgement

August 18, 2011

Futurismic have my latest Blasphemous Geometries column.

This column is probably best seen as an exercise in consolidation as it tries to tie together some of my more recent critical obsessions.  I begin with not one but two reviews of the recent sandbox game Infamous 2 (2011).  One review praises the game’s thoughtfulness and its addictive qualities while the other uses that addictiveness as the basis for an accusation that the game is manipulative and dishonest.  My drilling down into the question of whether ‘manipulation’ and ‘addictiveness’ are necessarily bad things, I am trying to make sense both of the process of aesthetic judgement (i.e. how we decide what we like and what we hate) and the way in which our culture praises some forms of emotional manipulation whilst demonising others.  I’m not sure that I reach any firm conclusions and the column does revisit some ground I have already tended but it may well be of interest to the people who were horrified by my recent defence of Michael Bay:

Works that ground their appeal in quirks of human neural architecture challenge the view that humans are self-contained and perfectly rational beings. By playing on deep-seated fears and weird cognitive biases, these works cast doubts upon all of our thoughts and feelings. After all, if Michael Bay can manipulate our brains into caring about fictional giant robots, what does this say about the people we really do care about? Is love nothing but a squirt of chemicals? Is religious transcendence but an electrical fluke? The true crime of mindless fun is not that it is stupid or that it is politically reactionary, but that it reminds us that we are nothing more than an arrangement of neural circuits and chemical ejaculations that happen to produce this thing we call consciousness.

It seems to me that, a lot of the time, aesthetic judgements are nothing more than elaborate displays of identification.  When we proclaim our love for such-and-such an author and such-and-such a work we are not just expressing our opinions, we are also trying to identify ourselves with the values and social symbols that surround that particular author or work. “I love Glee!” also means “I wish to be seen and judged as a person who likes Glee!”

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