I like to think that 30 years ago, Robert Zemeckis put on his old-timey director’s hat, walked onto the set of Back to the Future II and yelled through his old-timey director’s megaphone, “Okay team, we’re going to make the most insane version of the future we can imagine! Michael J! Your shoes will lace themselves! Christopher, your flying car eats garbage! Everyone is going to ride hoverboards and watch Jaws 19 on a holoscreen, and people will eat miniature pizzas that will turn into big pizzas and windows will be TVs! ACTION!”
If you sent me back to 1989, my vision of the future would have probably been along the same lines. Maybe more gigantic pizzas. But now I am in 2019, and nothing could possibly have prepared me for the hypercolor slimescape in which we have arrived.
I just saw a video of a gaming streamer dressed up as an ice cream singing about a horse to an anti-vaxxer and it was… what life is now?
This neon nightmare turned up on an episode of The Masked Singer — America’s latest reality singing contest, airing on Fox. Celebrity contestants sing karaoke in hideous costumes as judges (including Robin Thicke and Jenny McCarthy) try to guess who they are. There. You’ve just had your site induction on TV’s newest fad, you may collect your certificate now. (The show originated in South Korea and has been picked up by close to 20 countries around the world. The Masked Singer Australia airs on Network Ten, which is owned by CBS).
It’s a novel concept for a TV show. Certainly a valiant effort from TV execs no doubt so exhausted from strip-mining the rapidly-dwindling seam of content ideas available for television in 2019 that “a guy is singing but ya can’t see his face” seemed like a great option.
But it’s also clear proof that existence is meaningless and satire is dead. We live in the sunken, 15th reflection of a Black Mirror episode and life is nothing but a mise-en-abyme of pop culture nightmares.
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It’s Robert Zemeckis meets Aldous Huxley. It’s MTV meets the Thunderdome meets… that scene in Batman Forever when Robin competes in a cross-town neon motorbike race? Look, it’s a lot. The pitch meeting for this episode must have defied anything futurists, satirists or Coke-addled advertising executives in 1989 could have dreamed of.
“It’s 2019! People get famous by playing video games to the world via the internet. The most popular person in this global arena is a guy called Ninja. He plays Fortnite while other people watch. He made $10 million last year! He will be our contestant. He will come onstage dressed as…
“Dressed as a unicorn?”
“No, Gavin, you IDIOT! Dressed as an ice cream! An ice cream! He will wear this glorious frozen plastic crown and sing a country song by a rap artist. People love the song. The viewers will love the song. The judges will love the song. One of them doesn’t believe in herd immunity. The other… oh, I don’t know… maybe his last Number 1 song was a banger that was criticized for trivializing the ethical quandaries of consent? The audience will applaud! Stomping from foot to foot, staring unblinkingly at the cameras trained on them, with the vacant glaze of the opiated masses. They will adore their ice cream god. They will covet his fame. Until he is unmasked! And when we pull the plasticized death rictus and jaunty cherry hat from his head we will all scream and cry and wonder who is on tomorrow night!”
I guess I should have expected this. Reality shows have become so strange. The world watched last year as the bachelor (of The Bachelor fame) replayed the climax of The Truman Show, jumping a fence to escape producers and quit the TV show that was his life. We treat contestants as friends. I have cried genuine salty tears over cake bakes that failed to rise in the Great British Baking Show. I have friends who want to spend weeks without food in the jungle because being on Survivor might force Jeff Probst to respond to their fan mail.
It’s an endless Koyaanisqatsi for primetime, airing five nights a week.
And so of course I could expect to sit down after dinner and watch the crystallization of internet fandom sing and dance inside a spherical mask that literally looked like the burning model of Planet Earth that I saw at last week’s climate strike.
But having missed the entire build-up of The Masked Singer, having missed the prelaunch marketing campaign and no doubt missing the Soma pill I was expected to ingest before watching Ninja’s video clip, I feel like I’ve woken up in the future without any establishing shots.
Where are we? When are we? And when do I get my re-hydrated pizza?