by Lewis Manalo
In all the reviews I’ve read of the new Clash of the Titans, comparisons to the 1981 original concentrate on the differences in story and the differences in special effects. Somehow Io has survived being turned into a cow, and as an immortal beauty, she provides the exposition and the sex appeal. Ray Harryhausen did the original Clash in stop-motion awesomeness, Louis Leterrier had an army of computer techs create a panoply of allusions to the original in digital CG.
But the shift from analog to digital (highlighted by the unceremonious dismissal of my homie Bubo, the mechanical owl) is also accompanied by a larger paradigm shift. In the original Clash Harry Hamlin and company were subject to the whims of squabbling gods and goddesses. The mortals and demi-gods respected the immortals on Olympus because the Big Dogs dictated the way it was. Bastard children of the gods battled for the fate of the human world, but the gods were the ones moving all the pieces on the board.
In Louis Leterrier’s version, the cosmos is a little more democratic. The gods depend on the worship of humans to survive. Zeus depends on their love for his power while Hades (who didn’t even figure in the original) depends on their fear. When Mankind soon decides to rise up against the elected divinity, the vanity of Man, the belief that he can decide his own fate, is seen as something of a virtue. Divinity is even seen as a bad thing: Perseus constantly argues against all the facts that he’s a man, not a god. He’s convinced that he can avenge his adoptive father’s death and kill Hades without the aid from above. Zeus, Perseus’ real father, keeps lending a hand to Perseus, and the snot-nosed kid keeps pushing said hand away. Rebellious and independent, Perseus contends that he is a man, and a man can defeat the gods.
Our world has moved from analog to digital, and this change in medium isn’t limited to Hollywood. What better example than the Apple iPad to highlight this shift in our personal lives? This is a product that very much has the chance to become a part of your life, a mobile device that people are already saying will change the way you live. Charlie Rose gushes over this product, saying that, infinitely easier than a laptop and free of the bondage of a mouse with a cord, the iPad’s touch screen brings the world to the palm of your hand. Anywhere you wish to be, the world is at your beck and call. With a touch of the screen, your mind has been liberated from the confines of the mere tangible. With a wave of your hand, you can know nearly everything. Like Perseus, you are now very nearly divine.
Charlie Rose’s guests David Carr and Michael Arrington, tech writers for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, agree that the iPad, like the iPod and iTouch before it, is a tool for the consumption of media, not for productivity. Apparently, it’s much easier to download and watch a movie on the iPad than it is to even type an email. All three men went on to discuss the amazing, creative things they witnessed teenagers capable of achieving with the new device. But these amazing accomplishments had to be acts of consumption.
What happens to us when the main purpose of our medium is consumerism instead of creation? We may be getting better at problem-solving, like Steven Johnson says, but the problems were’re solving are how to better acquire goods for ourselves. Kids used to collect baseball cards. They learned every player’s stats, their team histories. These little cards inspired generations of boys (and a few girls) to get out there on the baseball diamond.
Now, kids (young and old) collect “apps.” They show them off to one another, all the magical innovative feats that each new “app” can achieve. Since we’ve all been digitized we’ve become more and more creative at consuming media. We create a little, too, making our silly Smosh videos for Youtube, but Smosh is no Ray Harryhausen. Nothing on this blog can compare to James Agee. In our shift from analog to digital, we’ve also become consumers more than ever, and these kids who grow up in a digital world won’t even be able to conceive of a way of living that isn’t centered around buying intangible things.
The lesson in the iPad is the same as in Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans. Hades tries to take over the rule of Earth from Zeus. To stop him, Perseus must embrace his demi-divinity, and he must accept help from his daddy. For all our rhetoric about our rebelliousness and independence, we’re still voluntary subjects to the gods. We can laud ourselves as semi-divine for now having the world at our fingertips, but this magic power costs $499, payable to Apple.
In the real world we use our wallets, not our prayers, to pick which god to follow, and in the real world we choose to follow Steve Jobs.