A Timeless Nuisance: The Curse of Instant Gratification

Still of Black Mirror episode 'The Waldo Moment' by Hal Shinnie Still of the Black Mirror episode ‘The Waldo Moment‘ by Hal Shinnie (2013).

When in 1981 Baudrillard addressed one of the most omnipresent and threatening cases in human social development, he obviously couldn’t have foreseen its branching out and rooting in the decades to follow. In his writing on the boundary between reality and fiction, Simulations and Simulacra1, he claimed we had already entered a time of absolute simulation. A time in which we no longer experience reality, but a copy without origin, a simulacra. Fast forward from the eighties to today, and you’ll see us passing the explosive growth and publicizing of the internet, the increasing availability of computers and the intertwining of the combination in our daily lives. Portable computers became handheld computers, handheld becomes in-ear, becomes in-brain. The younger generations of today’s Western world have lived side-by-side with rapid technology and global networks, from birth. Information that used to be out of direct reached and required a library visit or a long-distance call, now only requires a reach into one’s pocket or a yell to Alexa.

One of the many things this readiness of information has brought upon us is ‘The Curse of Instant Gratification’. In the relatively short history of video games we can notice a massive shift in mechanics and gameplay, from slow-paced and content-driven in early games, to extremely fast-paced and profit-driven in current games. It seems that everyone’s attention span is shortening, or maybe everyone is adapting to games of now, that are being built with a younger audience in mind. Twenty years ago most kids didn’t have access to a computer at home, now they have their own, and they are shaping the development of computer entertainment. While TV increased child-targeted marketing massively in the previous century, the internet turned entertainment into child-targeted marketing inherently. Games like Fortnite2 are a micro-transaction haven, a mall in disguise. The only possible result is a downward spiral for man’s attention (read: gratification) span.

In-game screen capture of Fortnite In-game screen capture of the popular online Battle Royale game Fortnite by Epic Games (2017).

Isn’t it ironic that exactly now, as we enter the age of global information, and thus global intelligence, populism reaches an unforeseen high? The year of the first voters untainted by the last century, and we suddenly find ourselves subject to impenetrable borders and even the rise of Cold War-style walls; no matter how metaphoric these walls actually are. But it almost seems like a logical move, considering The Curse of Instant Gratification, to vote for the likes of Trump. In his first week he signed fourteen executive orders, effectively breaking Obama’s record of twelve. And this is exactly what people vote for, they want ‘shit done’. Trump is a goldmine of examples to explore. One of the orders called for the immediate barring of refugees and citizens from seven Muslim countries.3 Which, according to Trump and likely a majority of his voters, will protect the US against big capital T Terrorism. It appears, however, that most of the terror acts in the US, in the last ten years, have been committed by US citizens, with names like Joe Stack and James Lee. Only a few have been claimed by the Islamic State.4, 5 The people that respond with sighs of relief, feeling protected by their grand leader, prove Baudrillard’s claim: we are living in a reality staged by media and entertainment.6

Lisa Simpson is the President of the United States in Bart to the Future Lisa Simpson is the President of the United States in the Simpsons episode Bart to the Future (2000).

In the Black Mirror episode The Waldo Moment (2013)7 an animated television comedian portrayed by a blue bear called Waldo, starts a political campaign as a joke. Pushed too far, the joke turns into a reality, and soon the cute blue bear is campaigning for presidency. Waldo embodies the opposite of the political establishment and everything that establishment represents. He turns proper political candidates into a laughingstock, even though he has nothing meaningful to say himself. Of course the established politicians reject it as a farce and nuisance, but this oppressed position only empowers Waldo. He now represents not only a critical perspective on the establishment, but also a victim of oppression. His voice is being damped by those already in control. The unavoidable result is Waldo’s victory.

Black Mirror is a science fiction TV show, but The Waldo Moment, as we all know, has become reality. Three years later, in 2016, Trump started campaigning. He was the underdog, the apparent voice against established politics. Trump shares many characteristics with Waldo, both being relentlessly harsh while at the same time more entertainment than anything else. Where Waldo’s presidency was the result of an out of control joke, Trump’s seems to be a marketing campaign that worked out just a little too well. In any case Trump’s loss would’ve strengthened his brand. It would’ve confirmed his position as an underdog, the foundation of the stereotypical American dream.

Donald Trump makes a cameo appearance in Home Alone 2 Donald Trump makes a cameo appearance in Home Alone 2 (1992).

Now we aren’t just stuck with a comedian in the White House,8 we are stuck with a short attention span population that constantly wants ‘shit done, ASAP’. Twenty DMs an hour, sixty likes a minute and a news update every other second. Electronic dopamine triggers are all we need to survive now. The curse of progress has come to bite us in the ass, and the scars may never fade.

  1. Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
  2. Snugg, D. (2017). Fortnite. Cary, NC: Epic Games.
  3. United States of America. White House. (2017, 27 January ). Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. Retrieved 14 October, 2018, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states/
  4. IS says it was behind US prophet cartoon attack. (2015, 5 May). BBC. Retrieved 14 October, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32589546
  5. Noueihed, L., Fahmy, O. (2016, 18 September). Reuters. Retrieved 14 October, 2018, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-minnesota-mall-stabbings-islamic-stat-idUSKCN11O0MF
  6. In the 2000 episode of The Simpsons, Bart to the Future, Bart Simpson visits a future in which his sister Maggie is the president of the United States. In one scene Maggie is astounded when she hears the Trump administration had bankrupted the country. The Simpsons staged our reality. Marcantel, M. (Director), Groening, M. (Writer). (2000, 19 March). Bart to the Future. The Simpsons. Los Angeles, CA: Fox Broadcasting Company.
  7. Higgins, B. (Director), Brooker, C., Morris, C. (Writers). (2013, 25 February). The Waldo Moment. Black Mirror. London: Channel 4.
  8. The American comedy channel, Comedy Central, airs a comedic talk-show hosted by a comedian dressed as Donald Trump, dedicated entirely to mocking him. Atamanuik, A. (Creator). (2017, 2018). The President Show. New York, NY: Comedy Central.