From an interview with William Gibson:

I read an account somewhere — very possibly in Karl Taro Greenfeld’s “Speed Tribes” — of an actual idoru in Japan who had not existed at all. The real idorus, as the Japanese have known them for a while, are little assembly-line girl singers who are just turned out, like 20 a month, I gather, in a way that people here just wouldn’t buy. The Milli Vanilli factor is really high — everybody knows that when you hear the record, it’s probably not the girl actually singing.

So somebody took that one step further and brought out an idoru who didn’t exist at all — there simply wasn’t any girl there. They had the record, and they had the pictures of her, and she became really popular. Possibly because kids knew she didn’t exist.

It’s a point that’s been made before, and a point on which knowledge probably doesn’t get you very far, but I think it’s a point worth making again: People are not well-served by their natural instincts as they move through the modern media environment.


How do people feel about the universe? Specifically, on an instinctual level, are people inclined to take the view that it is cold and indifferent to them, or do they tend to believe that it is, in some sense, about them?

I believe the answer is well presented in Descartes’ “Fourth Meditation“. Descartes, having previously concluded both that he exists, and that a “complete and independent being, that is to say … God” also exists, argues that:

I recognize that it is impossible that he [sic] should ever deceive me, since in all fraud and deceit is to be found a certain imperfection; and although it may seem that to be able to deceive is a mark of subtlety or power, yet the desire to deceive bears evidence without doubt of weakness or malice, and, accordingly, cannot be found in God.

I think that the attitude on display here — the universe cares about you, and isn’t lying to you — is the basic human assumption, whether or not explicitly justified by philosophy or religion. It’s just how we see the world. I think this assumption leaves us poorly equipped to deal with the media marketplace of today.


Your attention is valuable. People want to persuade you, sell you, influence you. People will pay for the opportunity to do so: obviously in the form of advertising, less obviously in the form of public relations. This fact defines the media marketplace. For instance, the real clients of mass media — the people who pay the bills — are not the consumers of that media (the readers, viewers, subscribers, and so on); they are the advertisers who pay for the opportunity to reach those consumers.

Because your attention is so valuable, I believe that almost everything you notice in the media is there, at least in part, because someone wanted you to notice it for reasons of their own. Our Cartesian worldview leads us to believe that what we notice in the world was placed there for our benefit. In our less narcissistic moments we might believe that what we notice just happened to be there, but we’ll almost never jump to the assumption that we’re being gamed — that we’re being shown something for someone else’s benefit.

This might seem like an extraordinary position to take in such a “worldly-wise” age. Nevertheless, I claim that, however consciously “sophisticated” the modern media consumer might be, in his bones he just doesn’t assume that he’s being played, when he really should. Furthermore, I suspect that none of us are really constitutionally capable of making such an assumption, as a general matter.


Our own celebrity culture might be less openly ironic than that of the Japanese idoru, but I doubt it’s any less synthetic at its core. Take this “Lady Gaga” creature, for instance. She is known for her outrageous outfits, and predilection for fashions which obscure her face, but I wonder if the significance of the latter has been fully appreciated. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that there were two or three of ’em that the record company swaps out as needed.

Even if that’s not the case, it ought to be.

Editorial note: That may seem an odd coda for the post, but it was the germ of the idea that led to everything else. And if you think I’m going to pass up the opportunity to stuff Rene Descartes and Lady Gaga into the same post, you’re nuts.

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