atire depends on the constant awareness that what’s being presented is false. It requires frequent acknowledgment of that: winks to the camera, giggling breaks of character. The meaning comes directly from the disbelief. It depends on two conflicting mental processes happening at once, rather than the suspension of one in service of the other. It employs cognitive dissonance, rather than bypassing it. In that way, satire and kayfabe are actually opposites. Kayfabe isn’t merely a suspension of disbelief, it is philosophy about truth itself. It rests on the assumption that feelings are inherently more trustworthy than facts.
Alex Jones’s audience adores him because of his artifice, not in spite of it. They admire a man who can identify their most primal feelings, validate them, and choreograph their release. To understand this, and to understand the political success of other figures like Donald Trump, it is helpful to know a term from the world of professional wrestling: “kayfabe.”
This sanded-down, polished, slippery-slide smoothness isn’t exclusive to Google Earth. Within the Smooth Earth there is the “Smooth City” — a term coined by architect and critic René Boer to describe the sanitized urban condition that is becoming ubiquitous, in different intensities, across the globe. In the Smooth City, “public spaces are well-designed, well-maintained, clean and safe, if you conform to the rules … However, it can also be a highly normative, controlling and arguably oppressive environment, in which gradually all opportunities for productive friction, sudden transitions or subversive transgressions have been eliminated.” Inside the Smooth City, one might find Smooth Citizens, who aspire “to become as smooth and impervious” as their devices, as Nikki Shaner-Bradford has described. We also have “Smooth Food,” textureless and surreal, glistening with slimy and jelly-like surfaces, which journalist Jenny G. Zhang describes as “food without bite to it.” Zhang concludes that our attraction to smooth food is a reaction against our unsmooth era: “Smooth food is for when you want to close your eyes and rest your head, senses off, save for the heightened feeling of running your fingertips over the satiny surface of a plane that never ends; it continues, uninterrupted, in all directions.”
In The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Guy Debord writes:
When the real world is transformed into mere images, mere images become real beings — dynamic figments that provide direct motivations for hypnotic behavior. Since the spectacle’s job is to use various specialized media to show us a world that can no longer be directly grasped, it naturally elevates the sense of sight to the special pre-eminence once occupied by touch.
One reason the mathematical-cognitive trope of autoencoding matters, I would argue, is that it describes the bare, first act of treating a collection of objects or phenomena as a set of states of a system rather than a bare collection of objects or phenomena—the minimal, ambient systematization that raises stuff to the level of things, raises things to the level of world, raises one-thing-after-another to the level of experience. (And, equally, the minimal, ambient systematization that erases nonconforming stuff on the authority of things, marginalizes nonconforming things to make a world, degenerates experience into false consciousness.)
Being an attractive person will once again mean nothing. The ability to swap models for 3D renders of models will cause humans to begin to compete with their own imaginations. Without the constraints of reality to set the rules, the idea of a human model will become obsolete.