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Swirls

Hello? Is this recording? OK. Then. Here we go.

This is a recording of what you could call a confession. I could never ever publish any of this, or even speak about it, and live long enough to see whether anyone would actually hear, let alone believe, my tale.

So, chances are that since you are seeing this that I have disappeared. And I don’t just mean that I got killed. For me personally anything beyond that doesn’t matter all too much, but when I say ‘disappeared’, I mean just that. Not only from the planet but also from the record. They will have made sure that no trace of my existence, and possibly my family and friends’ existences will remain in human history. So if you try to check up on my tale, google my name, or try to find any evidence to support what I’m telling you, you will come up empty. And if you persist you may draw their attention to yourself, so you may want to be careful. The only thing they can’t erase is this recording, and of you want evidence check the holes they will leave when ripping me from history.

Now, it is time to start. I’m not sure how much time I have got left before I have to move on, and I may not be able to save all this recording equipment when they catch up with me again.

So, where to begin? Some context, maybe. Yes…

Reality TV. The ultimate frontier of entertainment and the holy Grail of cost efficient programming at the same time. Ain’t that sweet? Not necessarily the highest quality ever seen in moving pictures, but who cares about quality anymore, anyway, right?

I’ll tell you what. I do. Yes, I confess. I care about quality. Art even. Ha! Art, you say. Art is dead.

Indeed, I agree. Art is dead. But, as the saying goes, long live art!

You see, when reality started, the very first one, back in the early nineties, on MTV. What was it called again? The Real World, right.

That WAS art, you know, revolutionary, taboo-breaking, cutting edge media art.

Yeah it was a tad boring, and it was still highly edited and a wee bit choreographed, but it was new and exciting. And it got us all worked up about what we’d do next. Which taboo to break, which secret to expose. Great times, heady times, those were, I tell you.

But then came Big Brother and the excitement turned into something else. Nausea for some of us. A gold rush for others.

Frankly, I hated it. I hated it with the same frervor I hate religious fundamentalism, narrow-mindedness, fanaticism and other symptoms of terminal ignorance. Yeah, I know, I’m incongruous there. I should be more tolerant. But that’s how it is.

Sometimes, when I’m in an extremely honest mood, I almost admit to myself that there is a spot of envy involved there. And self-loathing for being too scrupulous to pull off something like that.

But I digress.

I just couldn’t get myself to stooping low enough to join in the gold rush, and I couldn’t help myself raising my voice wherever these things were being discussed to warn my fellow professionals: this was the beginning of the end to art in moving pictures. But maybe I was being too harsh about it, or maybe it’s just that Cassandras don’t have a lot of friends. Either way, I found myself more and more isolated, more and more shunned by the trade I loved so much and had dedicated all my life’s work to.

And in the fringes of the profession I finally found likeminded colleagues. People who saw the dangers of what was happening all around us. We didn’t agree on everything of course, actually more often than not we hardly agreed on anything, but we were all driven by a deep desire to fight the beast.

Some of them even took this fight literally and went underground to prepare what they called intellirism. Ridiculism if you ask me, and basically they were never heard of again.

I belonged to a minority even within this minority as I fiercely believed in quality. And I carried that belief in front of me like a banner and a shield at the same time. So our little group turned out high-class material created with our joint sweat, blood and tears, and kept peddling it to the beast in the hope that over time people would wake up from the drivel they were being force-fed and recognized it for what it was. And because they also knew our work they would demand more quality. We actually believed that was inevitable. What fools we were!

It wasn’t that our stuff got rejected. No, I think I sold more of my work during that period than ever before. And we even won some prestigious awards.

Which in hindsight I think was what brought about everything that was to come down on us. Or on me, rather, for the rest of our group got so complacent with their success they actually forgot why we were doing it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

While my friends basked in our little successes, all I could see was that things went from bad to worse all around us. And then they really started deteriorating. I couldn’t believe that my friends didn’t see it. They probably didn’t want to see it. They were way too comfortable in their little niche of media fine arts.

But I couldn’t, wouldn’t, give up.

Seeing that the constructive approach didn’t work, I went back to the proverbial drawing board and re-evaluated the situation. At least that’s how I liked to think about it, liked for others to hear about it. More honestly, closer to the truth (whatever strange chimera that is), I would have to admit that I all but lost it, then. Alcohol, lots of it, of course. But that was only the beginning. Pills were the logical next step, and when they finally failed to deliver me, even when washed down with booze, I…I can hardly get myself to say it. I…I actually started watching TV. There, I said it. It’s out there. I was watching TV. Dampened and spiked the effect at the same time by continuing my self-medication, and there, finally, I found oblivion. Looking back I know that I experienced for the first time first-hand why the masses were going for crap rather than cream.

And I watched it all, immersed myself in every talk show, game show, and reality show I could find, avoiding scripted entertainment whenever possible, finding it more and more difficult to follow even a sitcom.

I lost track of time, stopped bathing, lived on instant noodle soup and booze, and slept only the occasional hour here and there in front of the screen. I might have perished eventually, but the very stuff that I had despised so much and that had now become my manna delivered me. Well, some of the substances I was using at the same time may have played a role, but in the end it doesn’t matter what triggered it. What matters is that one morning I woke up, not from a night’s sleep because I hadn’t had any of those in quite a while, but from a night spent on a cable channel running the most voyeuristic reality shows yet.

And I woke up with the solution completely formed in my head. I wouldn’t try to win with quality anymore, I would beat them in their own game. I would take reality to a level where no one had dared taping before: Murder, we see! was born.

The concept was as simple as it was nauseating: We would find people who were plotting to kill someone and wouldn’t mind being caught if it happened on TV. We would equip them with a clothes-mounted camera and a transmitter, and they could direct themselves. Most we would have to do would be some editing. Simple, cheap, fascinating to the masses like nothing since the early Christians got to play with the cats in the roman arena.

Nauseating, as I said. And my plan was to expose the whole profession for what it was becoming and by playing their game finally be able to stop it for good.

Good plan. Only a little too good, unfortunately.

I pitched it with an agent I knew, wanting to not just sell it but sell it with a splash, to the biggest and most ruthless of the major networks. I’ll never forget the expression on the agent’s face. Disgust and greed were vying for her facial muscles with such force that I thought for a moment her Botox-treated liftings would give and make a mess all over the meeting room table. But she caught herself. And went on to sell Murder, we see! within twenty four hours. To the kingpin of global networks, for more money than I had ever thought possible.

Now, I know what you are thinking. If it made such a splash, why haven’t I heard of it, or seen a single episode? Did the lawyers roll in and stop the show? Or, as unlikely as it may seem, did the media people finally come down with a conscience?

No, far from it. They got bought out. Or frightened out. Or a little bit of both. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

What was that? Did you hear that? Are they coming already? I thought I had more time…

No, they’re not that close. But still, I should not dawdle anymore.

The same night I celebrated the show deal with my agent, they waited for me in my apartment when I came home. No signs of a break-in, nothing disturbed. Very civilized. A guy and a girl, completely relaxed and at ease in my living room. Sipping coffee.

With the big deal, an opulent dinner and some wine in me I was in an expansive, generous mood, and so I didn’t make a fuss. I went into the kitchen and poured a cup for myself and then settled down opposite my visitors and just smiled, matching their coffee-sipping, relaxed, attitude, as if this wasn’t unusual at all, as if we were old friends who had just spent a nice evening together and were enjoying a non-alc night cap.

“You have an interesting project,” the girl said, not wasting time for small talk. “We have a proposal for you that you might find rather intriguing, based on your work for Murder, we see!”

I managed to take that in stride, too. This was supposed to be top secret, but my new friends looked like they weren’t quite aware what that word meant as long as other people’s secrets were concerned.

“Let’s hear it, then,” I replied. “I am rather attached to the new show, and I’m a tad curious how you’re going to one-up that.”

“You will find our offer to be very hard to refuse,” said the guy, a hint of hardness just underneath the jovial smile. So, they were playing good late-night-visitor, bad late-night-visitor. Cute, I remember thinking. If had only had had a near-fatal accident on the way home that night, ending in a coma. That would have spared me what was coming.

The girl looked at the guy, smiled a little more pointedly, and then continued to me, “We know why you invented your new show.”

That almost got me. After all I wasn’t even quite sure myself anymore why I was doing anything in those days. But I managed to keep a straight face, just raised an eyebrow and let her continue.

“What we are going to offer you is to your show as Michelangelo’s David is to Barbie’s Ken,” she said, looking at me as though she knew she had me.

But I wasn’t in the mood to just lie down for her like that, so I took a moment before I replied, “What if I’m done with art? I finally found the key to fame and riches, not to mention power, and it feels a lot better than unappreciated art, thank you very much.”

I don’t know whether my face gave me away, or my voice, but she just smiled at me with that same expression as before. She knew she had me.

But then the guy spoke up and I realized that they had me no matter what.

“You seem be under the impression that you have a choice,” he said, his face displaying the most predatorial grin I had ever seen on humans or animals. “That is a misperception.”

With a rather dirty look at his female associate he added “We don’t have time for this tap dancing. I suggest we get to the point.” And without waiting for his colleagues reply he continued, to me, “Your show is dead, pun intended. As are you, professionally. So it doesn’t really matter what you prefer. And…”

His colleage put a hand on his arm to stop him, and said, “Look, we’d really rather have you work with us of your own volition than by force. But my esteemed partner is right. The choice you have is limited to your mind and attitude. We have arranged for, say, a certain lack of options on your part to make sure things go the way we want them to go. You will learn that we generally prefer that.”

I decided against testing their ultimatum immediately and asked, instead, not having to feign my curiosity at all, “So, David instead of Ken you say. Tell me more.”

“I shall,” she replied, “but not here. We have to go. We took the liberty to pack some things for you.”

She pointed at a suitcase that stood next to the sofa as they both stood up with the same liquid grace certain big cats display and some heriditary instinct deep inside me propelled me out of my seat, too.

As the apartment door closed behind us I knew that I would never see this place again.

I hardly remember the way down to the garage and after they ushered me into a completely inconspicuous car (black minivans and helicopters, my arse, they aren’t hiding anything, they don’t have to), my memories become rather patchy.

My inner narrative cuts back in when they delivered me to my new realm. You couldn’t call it an office or a studio or a production facility. It was too big for any of these words. Technically it wasn’t really ‘my’ realm, I have to admit, and the first fresh memory from that part of my history was when they brought me before the one who’s realm it was. Technically.

“Thank you Lucy, Gabe”, he said, dismissing my captors with a slightly absent smile. “See you at lunch.”

The two of them left, efficiently, quietly, and the boss turned his attention to me.

“Welcome on board!”, he beamed at me, and I felt like my doubts and anger at getting dragged here evaporated despite my best efforts to hold on to my grudge, clinging at it for my life. “I have to apologize for the somewhat rude approach of my agents. I sometimes think they identify too much with some of the help we employ. Can’t really be upset with them, though. Eternity can get a tad boring. But still, I would have preferred you to be brought in a little more, say, harmoniously.”

He paused and looked at me, as if actually asking for my forgiveness. Strange upside-down feeling, metaphysically, I can tell you. But, hey, what can you do? It turned out I couldn’t do much to resist, anyway, and so I found myself nodding more enthusiastically than I thought at all possible, and then finally dared to ask, “Why am I here, though? Those two weren’t too forthcoming with explanations, but from what I’ve seen on the way in you seem to have a major production enterprise here. What do you need me for?”

He grinned so mischievously that he’d get arrested on general principle in any city I’ve ever been to, and said, “I’ve seen your proposal for ‘Murder, we see!’, and I knew you had the talent we need here. Let’s say we are producing what passes generally for reality where you come from. Puck will fill you in on the details. He should be here already. Ah, here he is, as always on cue.”

With that he gestured to the room behind me, and as I turned I found myself face-to-face with another cliche. This ‘agent’ didn’t go for men-in-black. Instead he wore the loudest checked suit I’ve ever seen. And I spare you the description of his less redeeming features. Suffice it to say that his appearance didn’t say “trickster”, it yelled it, projected it in building-high neon. This obviously wasn’t one for subtleties. But then, neither weren’t the ones the boss had addressed as Lucy and Gabe.

He thrust a hand in my face, and I almost didn’t take it, expecting the buzzer-gadget or something worse, but seeing my expression he grinned and showed me the empty palm.

“Welcome”, he said, as we shook hands, “sorry for the uniform, I just got back from a PR assignment. Hang on.”

With that he seemed to morph into something altogether more human-sized. I would say ‘normal’ but ever since Lucy and Gabe had made themselves at home in my apartment I found it increasingly difficult to use that term. The only concession to his apparent role here was an oversized plastic-daisy in his lapel that would have shown it’s plastic nozzle to even the most short-sighted observer.

“Gotta have something”, he commented my look at the aesthetically offensive item, “or I’ll be mistaken for a clerk.”

He visibly suppressed his mirth at what had to be some sort of insider-joke, and added, “Let’s go, we have a lot of ground to cover before you can get to work.”

And it turned out to be a lot of ground, indeed. Literally. He marched me through the production facilities as he explained what they were doing and what I was expected to contribute to the operation.

I have to cut it short. They are almost on to me now.

I had thought reality TV and non-scripted programming was bad. I had believed that the media and the businesses behind them were corrupting humanity by streamlining their reality to the point where it would resemble a large shopping mall. And I had thought that Murder, we see! would wake people to that truth, would rouse them from their stupor and free the mind of humanity. How wrong I was!

What Puck showed me that day and what I did over the following years lets my worst nightmares about the corruption the media were bringing appear like a few drops on a sunny day compared to the worst hurricane in the history of this planet. And then some.

I had had it all backwards: The problem wasn’t broadcasting boring reality on TY (or later, the Internet), but programming reality. Not non-scripted TV but scripted reality. Puck ran me through the history of what they were doing. In old times all you needed to create reality were some charismatic people who could spin a tale. Myths and legends and stuff. The printing-press made things a tad more difficult for them, but they soon found that the written word was even more credible than the the world’s best story-teller. So, all they had to do was take care of the people in control of the publications and they were pretty much in control of reality. Not that what they did made much more sense to me, even when presented by Puck, than it had in what I remembered from my history lessons. TV was to them only an extension of the printing press, and they applied the same method to control reality.

So far I had no problem to follow. This was, if anything, more paranoid than I had ever seriously considered the world to be. But it fit observation. So, fine by me. But then he came to the Internet and the fact that no matter what they tried, they weren’t able to get a handle on it. They just weren’t suited for anarchical, self-organized structures. And when, after the gloriously staged events of September 11, 2001, with the media outlets all playing along nicely, the Internet slowly gave rise to dissent, they knew they had to find a different solution.

And they found it, and that is where I came in. Or, where they thought I would come in. They had seen my treatment for Murder, we see! and had blindly assumed me to be the world-class cynic the show’s concept suggested me to be. They weren’t able to see below the surface and perceive my real motivations. So they brought me in because they thought I could help them launch something that…

I’m rambling, I have to cut myself short here. They will be here any moment now.

What they found was a way to stage reality. Not just send a couple of un-manned planes into sky-scrapers and then produce fake evidence that made it look like good old-fashioned terrorist’s work. No, they had had that down pat ever since the Reichstag burned in Germany to give the Nazis an excuse to prosecute the communists. No, they developed a technology that could actually produce the events, and thus, the reality they needed. This way the Internet could be as diverse as it wanted, and it would still produce a lot of controversy, but the events were authentic.

And I was susceptible to the temptation this presented. The possibilities seemed endless. I figured that it was better to work with them and change things from within. What a fool I was, but it is too late to lament. I can only hope that this recording will reach enough people to finally make a difference. You have to expose them. It is the only way to put a stop to what they are doing to us.

OK. This is the moment I dreaded. Here goes. I helped them stage the climate catastrophe, made it look like some people on the planet were actually trying to do something about it, but the powers-that-be didn’t listen. The global displacement and wars for water and food that ensued, and when that didn’t bring about the outcome they were expecting, we brought in the aliens.

Despite working with them for many years, I still don’t know what their true intentions, are. Every time I thought I found out they came with new orders that seemed to change direction. So, now the world is in ruins, the war with the extraterrestrials escalating out of control (as the war on terror was never able to, much to the chagrin of my employers), I don’t see what I can do anymore to make things better. Soon after I started I learned that I wasn’t allowed to actually control the production units. I was doing the scripting and production planning, but it was executed by others, and only after careful consideration and no little degree of censorship. So, no matter how much I tried to nudge things in a better direction, they would always get worse.

But I found a weakness of their system. And that is my message to you. When this reaches you, I will never have existed. Perfect deniability, my arse. I found a way to deliver the message, that is what counts. Their reality engines only control the outer layers of your mind….

I have to go, they are finally here.

Look for cracks in your dreams. That’s where they hide the cuts and seams.

If I make it out of here alive, I’ll see you there, too.

Your dreams…!

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