Wednesday, May 12, 2021

No Such Thing as Society (Hollywood Squares)

Guy Debord writes in Society of the Spectacle about how “In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation. The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudoworld that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving.”

Hollywood Squares has existed, in various forms, since the 1960s. Its format is one of bland simplicity: nine celebrities of varying levels of actual fame sit in the titular squares. Two players take turns picking squares. The celebrity is asked a trivia question, and the player must decide if their answer is right or wrong. If they guess correctly they claim the square; if they guess incorrectly their opponent does. Beyond that the game is one of Tic-Tac-Toe. 

This banal setup is, in reality, simply a frame to hold the real and equally bland dynamic, in which the celebrities came up with humorous wrong answers, called “zingers” by the production sta. Which is to say that the core dynamic of the show is simply celebrities making dumb jokes with a broad structure of a game show to guide proceedings. In truth, all of these interactions were functionally scripted; the zingers were supplied along with a right and plausible wrong answer, the celebrities relied upon only for entertaining delivery, which, to be fair, was in fact many of their jobs. 

The Nintendo version strips even more of this away. The likenesses of actual celebrities are, after all, expensive. So instead there are nine sprites given arbitrary names—only nine sprites, to be clear, although there are more names than that, so that these fictive celebrities seem in fact to cycle through an endless number of identities, all of them less distinctive than their actual animations. One is left to think of them in these terms: the annoying bro in the center square, the granny underneath her, the one Black dude in the upper right. Their names become meaningless, empty non-signifiers. Meanwhile you answer trivia questions for money that does not exist, and get an opportunity as a bonus to try to win a car that also does not exist. 

It is a simulation of a simulated situation with all of the markers that gave meaning to the original simulation stripped away. Looked at now, nearly twenty years since any version of Hollywood Squares has been on television, its vapidity becomes a hollow, frightened thing. Nine haunted visages of a spectacle so comprehensively unreal that it is impossible to imagine it demanding, over and over again, to know if they are lying to you.

1 comment:

  1. What ridiculous luck to revisit this project after so many years, only to find that you yourself have decided that this is indeed the right and proper season to re-light the torches! I cannot fully name the caprice that brought me back tonight - nostalgia for the emotional richness of Bubble Bobble, or the arch poetry of Color A Dinosaur, or perhaps simply a hunger for your particularly personal approach to the hermetic workings of the world?

    In any event, thank you for this unlikeliest moment tonight. Exhilarated to see what comes next.