It’s Mattel’s Hyperreality, We Just Live in It

A lot of people have been talking about this article in Variety about Mattel Studios’ somewhat desperate attempts to bring their toy portfolio to the big screen:

Warner Bros. is in prep for “Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling and directed by Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the screenplay with partner Noah Baumbach. They’re also at script stage on a Hot Wheels film. In July, Netflix will shoot the anticipated remount of “Masters of the Universe,” with Kyle Allen starring as the buff, blonde He-Man. Universal Pictures is at work on a horror franchise based on Magic 8 Ball with Blumhouse, and the studio is bringing Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots to life with Vin Diesel. At Paramount, Tom Hanks will embody his childhood favorite Major Matt Mason, the astronaut action figure, with “A Beautiful Mind” screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, and MGM will put forth Polly Pocket with writer-director Lena Dunham and star Lily Collins.

It feels like an excellent excuse to share an excerpt from Mark Fisher’s PhD thesis: “Capitalism as Toy Story”:

If, in the context of cybernetics, Freud’s dismissal of animism seems hasty, so does his confinement of children to an early stage of development. Turkle’s work reinforces the observation – which, although well-worn, is more than glib cliche — that children know more about computers than their parents; and the early encounter with such cybernetic systems pre-emptively disables much of the metaphysics the adult world seeks to impose. Children, that is to say, increasingly live in a Gothic Materialist chaosmos. “Children, instinctual animists, identify with toys and dolls, subjecting themselves to and projecting themselves onto the inanimate: every 12-year old knows that I is an other and another and another.” Under capitalism, the idea that toys do not have a certain agency becomes increasingly questionable. It may be the case that children take for granted, not only a Freudian animism, but a neo-Marxian picture of  “necromantic” capital. It would only be natural for children to share what, in Chapter 1, we saw Judith Halberstam characterize as Marx’s “Gothic” picture of capitalism. Blitzed with capitalist hyperstimulus, children are already participants in capitalism. In many ways, children occupy the frontier-zones of capitalism, operating as probe-heads in what, for adults, is the future. Indeed, the Freudian model of regression could be radically reversed: it might be said that the child’s universe of animist presences and animal-becomings has far more purchase on capitalist (and schizophrenic) reality than adults’ continued belief in subjective interiority. “To a certain extent, we can look to children to see what we are starting to think ourselves.”

Capitalism, it could be said, is giving an agency to toys far more far-reaching than was achieved by Hoffmann’s clunky automaton. Naturally, the role of fiction is absolutely central to the toy-child relation. But it is a fiction which enjoys a peculiar relation to the Real. Increasingly, children are presented with toys and fictional systems which emerge together, in a loop. Where once there was a serial trajectory – comic books – toys – films or toys – films – comic books – now toys, films, comic books (and innumerable other examples of merchandising) are issued simultaneously. The notion of the original and the copy is systematically eroded by a digital uncanny which generalizes simulation by fusing capital and fiction. Take the example of Disney’s Toy Story (cybernetic capitalism’s riposte to Freud’s “Uncanny”?) Here, in a film that was entirely generated by computer animation, digitized versions of old toys are presented next to new, “fictionalized” toys. But fictionality has a new sense here: it no longer has anything to do with a fantastic unattainability; on the contrary, the toys onscreen are available, immediately, as consumer objects, as soon as you leave the cinema. The toys really are toys. In an increasingly familiar pattern, the film functions as an advertisement for the toys, which function as an advertisement for it, in an ever-tightening spiral. The fictional is immediately real, in the most palpable sense: it can be bought. This, then, is hyperfiction: a process whereby fiction and reality are radically smeared. Unlike metafiction, hyperfiction assumes no special role for the author (or indeed for the text). On the contrary, it is only when the author and the text have become immanentized that a hyperfictional circuit is in place. (Who cares who wrote Toy Story?) What is crucial is not the representation of reality, but the feedback between fiction and the Real. (Toy Story doesn’t reflect reality, it actively intervenes in it, inducing children – via their attached servomechanisms, parents – to consume commodities.) Hyperfiction, then, can be defined as fiction which makes itself real. What connects hyperfiction with animism is precisely the escape of agency from the subject. Fiction itself gains an agency, an ability to intervene into the Real.

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