Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#2 Bilwet 1 Jan 1993

Drug Triptych

Die Kunst hat ihre Geschichte und insofern ihre Zeit. Es ist jedoch noch etwas anderes, Vulkanisches in ihr verborgen, ein Urstoff, der unter der Gestaltung wirkt.

Ernst Jünger

Drugs as Media

As soon as the toadstools begin to speak, we enter the domain of true knowledge: I am old, 50 times older than thought in your species, and I come from the stars. We ask the toadstool how it came to Earth, but it does not want to tell us: If I showed you the flying saucer for five minutes, you would figure out how it works. Why are you a toadstool, actually? Listen, if you're a mushroom, you live cheap; besides, this was a very nice neighborhood until the monkeys got out of control.

Drugs of vegetable origin are teleports that give access to the parallel world. The also make immaterial data visible. We see words fly from the mouth to the ear. But do the drugs themselves contain the information clusters or are they only channels for insights that originate somewhere else?

That McLuhan was a drug user is apparent from his claim that the medium is the message, while he did not even use plant drugs. The sixties generation was forced to conclude that McLuhan's body made its own lsd. A strange thing about the media guru was that his trips appeared in the form of aphorisms, while the modal user, without attaining the level of this erudite, scholarly recluse, only received images in which the information content per synapse reached dangerous levels. The democratisation of total insight did ultimately result in a new aesthetics of the image, but almost never in texts that draw the reader into the universe of drugs.

Knowledge of gods, golden eras, aliens, little green men, the proto-horde and global conspiracy is now generally available, but has turned out to be hardly usable in practice. At best, it stops us from acting and leads us to successful success-strikes. We are on the verge of kingdoms, unnameable, where no victory is to be had (Benn).

Drug consumption goes no further than tourist trips to the most recent paradise and is thus entertainment by definition. Just getting away from it all for a bit. Variation in narcotics is to be found in the dosage: do we take heroic doses or do we remain weekend users? Every medium creates a mass, and drugs, too, have conquered a world market of their own. No creation without recreation. If there is room in your pocket calendar and your bank account, then those same old boring surroundings can suddenly become astonishingly suspenseful.

Drugs deform and intensify local experience and thus contribute to the acceptance of the world as it is. Everything is in order and the other is Okay. The capacity of books and films to create coherence among a mass of unconnected details can be achieved through vegetable means, too. A walk around town can become a music video, the carnival at Rio, a Flemish primitive painting, a Robert Frank photo album, a Godard film with non-corresponding soundtrack and image, the visual version of Soft Machine or end with a meeting with the zombie. Here, too, a happy ending is a question of proper dosage.

Media as Drugs

The creation myth of television is a curious one. When the cia was confronted in the fifties with the question of what was to become the post-war drug of the masses, it hesitated between lsd and tv.

The possibilities for control originally found in psychedelic drugs turned out to have undesired side-effects after several years. The subjects developed cosmic awareness that could get along quite nicely without social structure or ambition.

Then the decision was taken to increase the tv's disappointing capacity for consciousness manipulation by large-scale expansion of tv sets and programs. The dulling capacity of the new medium could only be made effective by a radical colonisation of leisure time. The images offered by tv are easier to control than the sovereign phantasms of the drug trip. tv's side effects are barely measurable. Only a handful of civilisation-bewailers remain who believe in such a thing as 'tv addiction'. The rest accept the existing fascination and the democratising effect of the electronic drug.

Only when a new drug is introduced does it have an hallucinogenic effect. Think of your first bike ride with a walkman on, or first acquaintance with cyberspace. The mild intoxication of information-overload ('kicks for nix') disappears as soon as the user learns to drain off 95% of it to the subliminal level. The information in a two-minute long trailer is sufficient to deduce the entire feature film. The hysterical montage of a music video contains the 5% necessary for a coherent story. Suspense is only created when the superfluous 95% is presented as essential and the meaningful 5% never shown, as in Twin Peaks.

tv continues to exert its enlightening influence undiminished: year after year it bobs up and down in a sea of information that has nothing to do with its own existence. tv must continue to appeal to us in a 'touristic' fashion: 95% bullshit, with the promise that the other 5% will someday come. Zapping multi-media users are compelled by their obsession not to miss the crucial moments. In the meantime, they swim on merrily, accepting the stupefaction.

Media and Drugs

Sober perusal of the media message quickly results in a state of emergency. To prevent this, coffee with the news and beer with the main feature were introduced. The overflowing ashtrays are emptied at the end of the evening.

Yet the foggy state of the recipient is a forbidden subject in media criticism. Film critics become nauseous at the thought that the movie house audience is generally drunk and stoned. The tipsy interpretation appears to be an insult to the work of art. Drug and sex pleasure must be confined to the screen. Western civilisation holds that the distance between the work and its appreciation must be respected. It is not acceptable to hand in one's social baggage with one's ticket and to watch the film not from within a social framework, but to step into the framework of the film itself.

The impending overdetermination by consumed drugs frustrates the transmission of culture. You may read an original story into the film, but not misuse the images to make a journey of your own. With heightened awareness, you can understand the film in a single instant; the social ritual of talking afterwards is made to look the ass. The only entertainment that remains is to sniff, smoke or swallow something and go off in search of the next kick.

However, drugged data-creation is bon usage. Musicians have carefully adjusted the interval between drug-use and going on stage and the audience makes grateful use of this to adapt its own drug level to that of the volume. The computer industry accepts the cocktails consumed by software writers, like the trips that make the money markets so profitable. American artists pride themselves in their a-dealer, while novices must rely on street dealers. Practiced readers can flawlessly trace the drug content of their authors. It is not writing about drugs or filming the deed that is interesting; it is Ronell's writing on drugs, Lynch's stoned shots, Benn's coffee oeuvre, Madame Blavatsky's hashish revelations, Adrien Turel's bourgogne philosophy, Baudrillard's cigarette hype, Scholte's coke paintings, xtc art à la Perry, Bob Marley's ganja songs, punk's speedy tempo, Robert Altman's marihuana dialogues up to and including Clinton and Gore's High Politics.

Drugs and media are equal partners. Until the computer is directly connected to the brain (and thus to the creative process), accelerating and decelerating drugs will be necessary to keep a cool head amidst the inconceivable masses of data interactions that underlie the production of artificial realities. Drugs can be used as meta-media to turn the technical media to one's own advantage. Without them, the limit of toleration is quickly attained. Drugs allow one to communicate with (non-) earthly intelligences. But they simultaneously turn one's own nerves into technical media that function at the same rate as extra-corporeal equipment. Now that data creation has become inconceivable without drugs, it is time that drugs had their say. Bring on the coke of Windows.

translation jim boekbinder