Virtual Reality and Aesthetic Competence in the Twenty-First Century
" Waco Standoff Already TV Movie." That was the front-page headline in USA Today on 26 March 1993. 236 The column went on to explain that the mother of cult leader David Koresh had already -- while the siege was still going on -- sold the rights to her son's story to NBC for the making of a television movie. At the time of the sale, nobody knew that the siege would end with an FBI invasion of the compound, followed by Koresh's suicidal response of setting the site and the people within it on fire. It was simply assumed that, whatever the outcome, it would be commercially profitable to tell the story.
To me, this was a singularly troubling headline. Although the commercial sale of news for entertainment has become fairly common in our consumer culture, the sale of Koresh's siege before it ended in flames went beyond common commercialism in my mind. It seemed emblematic of a rather recent state of affairs in our culture wherein events and the stories about them -- reality and representation -- are increasingly difficult to distinguish from each other. By selling Koresh's story before it was over, Koresh's mother entered into a real sequence of events as if it were merely a story. Her entry may not have affected the outcome of the case, but it could have -- just as the coverage of the infamous O. J. Simpson trial clearly affected the outcome there.
Such mixtures of reality and representation are not entirely new. In fact, realism -- the use of techniques that create realistic effects in the arts -- has been a mainstay of many artistic styles and media throughout history. With the rise of computer and other electronic media in late twentieth-century America, however the technology for representing actual life experience has become far more realistic -- more plausibly lifelike -- than ever before. We are now on the threshold of an age of interactive sensually immersive technologies, in which the boundaries between reality and representation are regularly blurred. Indeed, the very concept of reality has changed in our time. Reality itself is now commonly recognized in postmodern theory as a stage: a sensory representation of a world