"For ideology, which once was a road to action, has come to a dead end" (Daniel Bell, 1966:393).
In the postindustrial world there would be no place for ideology, Bell argued. Pragmatism, over-professionalization, and technocratic logic ruled. While this "end of ideology" thesis was heavily criticized by the Left and seemingly proved wrong by the events of the Sixties, Bell's thesis returns now to haunt us. The corporate forces constructing the neo-liberal ideology that underwrites the information age now declare that 'information replaces ideology; access replaces praxis.' This end of ideology stance is articulated in Oracle's "Revolution" ad.
Sutured together out of disconnected images of civil violence juxtaposed against landscapes of peaceful prosperity, this 1998 Oracle commercial captures a central tenet of post-industrial capital: that the speed at which information circulates is negatively correlated with conflict. This proposition informs both micro and macro relationships. As long as there are open channels of communication, relationships can be saved. Communication is therapy. Likewise, as long as information flows freely across electronic circuits, the social order will function smoothly. Yet the electronic circuits are invisible.
The privileging of the act of communication in a therapeutic society parallels the primary narrative of global capital. Communication technology frees us from previous kinds of political/ideological conflicts. Structural constraints, anomic cultural conditions, ethnic hatreds rooted in history lose their material weight in the weightless world of electronic data. In this Oracle ad the material struggles for freedom, justice, and equality have been supplanted by purchasing the right software package.
Ominous music signifies the failure of the Enlightenment project. In a whispered but serious intonation, the narrator proclaims:
- A revolution is in our destiny.
- This revolution however will not be fought with guns or soldiers.
- It will not be a war of words or of countries.
As the narrator speaks, generic images of terror and civil war, state violence and oppression stream past: a la Vietnam, a bicycle taxi and an Asian couple on a motorcycle fleeing a bombing scene; Asian rebels in black garb and red bandanas with automatic weapons battle in the street; a young mother and daughter run to escape the violence; Euro-police stand guard in riot gear; Russian and Chinese diplomats leave a state house. These images are stripped of exact historical referents. Though unlocatable as such, these images do connote vague historical allusions. The early images all allude to the civil wars carried out by warring national liberation fronts in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. But these images are not about specific conflicts, rather they refer to a kind of nationalist conflict that seems nearly endemic throughout the "undeveloped" third world during the second half of the 20th century.
But the Oracle ad directs us to view this scene as the Past, asserting instead that in the emerging era the volatile mix of politics and military violence will give way to a peaceful Information Era. Oracle suggests that in a post-State world predicated on freely available access to knowledge there will be less interest in the physical havoc one can wreck on opponents.
|Like Cisco and Microsoft, Oracle posits a post-state world based on computer-based access to information.
Of course, in these texts, matters of States, competition, violence and a new world order are nothing more than abstractions given meaning and affect by the narrator's words, his tone of voice, and the musical background. An uplifting operatic female voice signals the world-historical transition with a change of tone in the commercial, as the narrator continues.
For this revolution will be about knowledge and access
About progress and opportunity
An orange-robed Tibetan monk - currently the numero uno universal signifier of knowledge in the information age (the use of the monk as a signifier is similar to how the green-eyed tree frog was used to signify the environmental movement in advertising) -- is joined to the word "knowledge." The signified of the images shifts from desperation to hope and utopian possibility: black adolescents play ball in front of a graffiti-marked wall; an Indian couple look out from an office tower; a computer monitor sits in front of a circular building; a young boy rides an elephant through a river towards a templed city; a girl stands before geological formations on the Chinese coast. Occasionally a red chair enters the frame. In case we miss the point the narrator refers to this 'out of place' object as the ubiquitous "seat of knowledge."
The narrator contextualizes these image fragments into a new infolightenment narrative motored by global capital, in this case, Oracle.
- It will use information networks to make computing simpler,
more efficient and vastly more affordable
- Where do we come in?
- We make the software that manages information
- That will enable anyone, anywhere to sit at the seat of knowledge
- Oracle -- enabling the information age.
The commercial ends with the light-drenched red chair in a darkened doorway of a temple. There are some interesting shifts here. Traditional Eastern religious signifiers (such as the temple, the red chair and the Tibetan monk) now represent the new forms of universal knowledge supposedly made possible by Oracle software.
An Equivalence is established between knowledge attained by reflection and meditation and that attained through an Internet connection. Are these similar forms? If so, why do traditional societies attempt to defend their national consciousness against unwanted information flows? Even the purely arbitrary name, Oracle, signifies knowledge of the future. Throughout the commercial persons look directly in to the camera in what we might call the reflexive gaze that suggests, "I am deep in thought." Yet, the gaze seems empty. It never answers the question what am I thinking about. As Roland Barthes asks of the photograph, in Camera Lucida, "How can one have an intelligent air without thinking of anything intelligent?" (1981:112). Information flows are imagistically transformed into a desirable component for self-construction. Ironically, it is the very qualities of depth and wisdom that postmodernists declare have been lost to the accelerated velocity of information flows generated by both technology and capital (Harvey, 1989: Lyotard, 1982).
Political power struggles conveniently disappear in the information age. Efficiency replaces politics; affordability replaces distributive justice; information flows replaces the state practices; the circuit replaces the citizen. In this vision the political state and politics itself is an impediment to a techno utopian future. The State has no place in this narrative.