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Posted by on Sep 25, 2010

Bendito Machine Parts 2 & 3: Consumerism and collective morality

I was intrigued b y the Bendito Machine to the point that I went back to YouTube in search of antecedents or derivatives. I stumbled across the first two episodes of the Bendito Machine, which have less to do with the ominous effects of media technology, and more to do with the effects of public hysteria and the desire to supplant decision-making, entertainment, and social authority with machines (or at least the machine’s capacity to supplant all of these things intentional or otherwise). The second of these two episodes intrigued me the most, being a spirited dig at consumer and mass hysteria cultures (as well as subtly driving at the underpinnings of drug cultures).

The creation of the beverage that intoxicates its consumers is interesting enough as it reaffirms the notion of something being created from something else, not, as some would believe, from nothing. In this instance, the cow (as a pinyata-keeping with the Spanish Bendito theme), while not representing necessarily a sacred relic, represents something of great utility and respect for the people. It gives them something, hence the children absent-mindedly striking it like a Pinyata to open its wondrous, yet mysterious, contents.

On comes the innovator, the technologist, the huxter. He harnesses the cow to maximize its wondrous output, runs it through a device of even greater complexity (than the Pinyata and altar like edifice), and bottles it. An instant unit of barter, of perceived value. He then builds anticipation for the drink through a spirited marketing campaign, draws people to an event, has them buy it, become intoxicated by it, and things spiral out of control. A relatively insightful on brash consumerism and media-driven anticipation.

However, I am interested in the theme of these episodes of supplanting traditional, social authority (indeed, even traditional morality) with a technological one (or a derivative of technology-the drink itself). The people succumb to the allure of the drink based primarily on the spiritual effects of the marketing campaign (spirituality as an explanation of the unknown, which is what the drink essentially is). Unlike spirituality and its offshoot religion, the drink delivers immediately, offering the consumers an intoxicating effect (a spiritual experience?). So, the people eventually transplant their own moral code with their desire to acquire this drink (primarily for the intoxicating effects). Is this episode intended as a direct analysis of spirituality in humans? Probably not. It is seemingly geared much more towards mass consumerism and marketing, but the spiritual and moral implications are still there and these offer good insights into digital cultures.

I am thinking of Poster’s “The Good, The Bad, and the Virtual” in this context and the relation of online media and the moral implications found online. Poster specifically refers to conflict online, conflict that had little parallel in physical life. This is a good parallel to this episode of the Bendito Machine. The drink is a completely artifical construct. It simply did not exist before, therefore the morality of the people in dealing with its implications were not present. They couldn’t be expected to develop a response to something they hadn’t encountered yet. There was a gap in their moral compass that was nefariously filled by the consumerism spawned by the drink. Poster points to spamming and flaming as evidence of conflict in digital cultures, conflict without precedent in the physical world (does filibustering map to spamming?)(146). However, while consumerism does have a parallel in physical culture, its supplanting of collective moral authority is more radical than in the physical world where sanctuary exists(when all else fails, go to church).

So, what about redemption? What online apparatus exists for that? How do collective networks regain their moral authority and self-regulate? Does redemption exist online, the ability to retake or develop the collective moral authority supplanted by consumerism? All questions that will remain unanswered, but the Bendito Machine series is certainly food or thought.

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