DIE GSTETTENSAGA: The Rise of Echsenfriedl
a postapocalyptic TV movie by Johannes Grenzfurthner 2014
I recently had the great satisfaction to watch a preview of a very fresh postapocalyptic feature film + a directorial debut, that premiered on Austria's ORF in March this year.
It is somehow impossible not to appreciate an entirely different kind of algorithmic force(from another alternate universe for sure!) that was once again set loose by Johannes Grenzfurthner (of monochrom fame) upon unsuspecting survivors of the last 35 years of road-warrior, post-nuke, road-kill, after-the-bomb films. What would be the life of near-future anchorman and anchorwoman be like? What would news-worthy, or for that matter - what would 'news' mean in the age of abject prosumption, neuromarketing and endlessly recursive destructo-capitalist loops that really takes of the edge of tomorrowland?
As a friend just tweeted, now every Hollywood blockbuster seems to be written by some underlying algorithm. The end credits are just the cinematic equivalent to a CAPTCHA response – trying to identify the film crew as human, even if this last human verification test is untenable and obsolete.
Well, I kinda have this incredible (and maybe you do too!) and perverse desire to get to the bottom of actual directorial algorithms, pushing hard to enter the loop and be able to forget how Hollywood movie after movie manages to push an exact quota of car explosions, 3D makeover, eye-popping HD footage, hero worship, body count, family values, rescue missions ad infinitum into box office paradise.
Let's be clear, I'm overenthusiastic about Gstettensaga – because it is such a genre bender, a satiric H bomb, a horror movie and ex-auction house vaudeville going for the unexpected dialectical turns of current history, and leading us into the untrodden and definitely outrageous wastelands. A very fertile wasteland that could be populated by postironic versions of Robocop Nazis Must Die, Escape from Vienna, Cheap-Chinese-Plastic Dawn or Europa 3000?
I think that Johannes Grenzfurthner, in the tradition of gleeful and unrepentant apres- disaster storytelling manages to simultaneously gonflate and reconfigure the present we live in, by shipwrecking and beaching its contents onto the shores of Do It (to) Thyself history and lore. The more it insists on toponymic specifics, on local tabloid news and blurbs, the more it can temporally mutate and amplify diverging Austrian regionalism and separatism within a new postal or linguistic contour.
On the macro-political forecasting scale, this future chronology takes the shape of national-technological firewall world after the China vs Google Wars. The future is crap-o-tastic without doubt. The best is that it doesn't need fancy gimmicks, upload minds, bland singularities, since it is busy scavenging like a future Robinson Crusoe in the lofty ruins of past technological glory, consumer goods and fossil media, trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to get things working and functioning again.
Probably the Gstetten-saga universe should be placed along side Generation or Multi-generational Ship or Interstellar Ark stories(a personal favorite of mine!) as they are all exploring alternative or speculative anthropology trough the flesh of deep space and deep time fiction. The cosmic and historic drift of spaceship earth in the form of relentless entropy reshuffles not only tectonic plates but also hierarchies in unexpected ways. It also manages to enlarge agnatologic fissures where monopolistic feudal tycoons keep on capturing information technologies and claiming media supremacy by reinventing themselves as post-disaster Gutenbergs.
The same genetic and memetic drift affects both bodies and knowledge on the multi-generational Ark(Austrian/European) ships. Typically, on such a multi-generational spaceship, the crew gets segmented into a new caste system and the command and machine rooms have been transformed into a pretty nasty sancta sanctorum. Once-in-a-lifetime mechanical alarm signals are misinterpreted or reinterpreted as divine providence and the captain's log acts now like a Bible for the survivors who struggle to understand its obscured terminology and hidden meaning.
The vacant lot of the drifting future is not empty at all – it is populated by a constant class war shifted into zombie (worker) class war, or by the marauding tribes of subsidized EU farmers. These are some of my favourite First Contacts, although one might hash other best of sequence (such as the Occupy reference) – so watch out because of the spoiler alert further down!
The two hero figures of Gstettensaga are a he and a she, a journalist and a technician (actually a looser baby boomer and a hacktivist nerd) on the quest to interview a strange hero of the nerd underground – a talking lizard hiding away in the ruins of the former Ecuadorian Embassy. And as we know from today's world, if it's no easy task to interview Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, and greater dangers will await those who try this after the China vs Google wars.
This team resembles a lot the heroic media-wise crusading journalist as a character armed with both tekkie acumen and pluck, harking back to a distinctively dystopian VHS-flavored 80s futurism where television networks and large corporations dominate. This brand of TV broadcaster turned TV hacker, becomes an unlikely ancestor to the Internet cypherpunk whistleblower. Even if remotely related, the Gstettensaga couple somehow revived(for a brief flickering moment) the A.I. and virtual TV host Max Headroom/Edison Carter of Network 23 and his tech savvy colleague Theora Jones. In post-Google wars future, after Mountain View headquarters got nuked, the uplink TV transmissions seem to be back with a vengeance.
As the two wandering Gstetten-heroes are being kidnapped by a marauding tribe of ex-EU members of the Farmers Association they end up in one of these moments of pure futurologic bliss. Of course the subsidized peasants will become tribalized and start adorning themselves with Christmas decorations and prize-winning vegetables! Of course they will be sacrificing newcomers in a ritual of signatures and paper document filling!
After the Berlin Wall we got today an incredible “Great Brussels Wall of Paper” that bore strange fruit in the Gstettensaga world. Lo and behold! Somehow the all-powerful white flip-chart, the omnipresent markers, the cheapo laser pointers have ended up becoming sacred paraphernalia of a new agrarian cult. A cult centred around ritual signature sessions of cryptic documents on which the two captive exurbanites make out a few awe-inspiring titles: EU Funding and Application!
Let's not forget the rising trend of militarizing the police force - the federal borders patrolled by a new internal SWAT-grade militia, a bureaucratic armed muscle that can confiscate, body-check, and vaccinate at will. Gstettensaga present us with some prize examples in next phase or the future robocopism: border patrols vacuum tube-sandwich fed and speaking their own abstruse and in-comprehensive dialect.
As if the ('slow food'!) cannibalistic ritual of agrarian pagan paper-signing wasn't enough, the heroes are confronted with ever bigger odds on their way to the final Tele-O-Vision interview. They are being attacked by a group of undead miners, stuck in the depths of long-deserted shafts, probably brought back to a zombie existence while toiling for rare toxic metals to supply our endless hunger for mobile smart-phones and tablets.
Also (for those who tremble and fear for their lives: DO NOT READ FURTHER NOW!!!) the Rise of Echsenfriedl - is noting else but a covert the rise of that most terrifying AI apoptosis meme - Roko the Basilisk. It's the self-replicating meta-goatse, the scarecrow of posthumanist morale, the nightmare child of bored tech-libertarians and techno-utopian shivering, the Oedipal upload of downgraded futurists, a slick Reanimator that takes even your screaming capacities (the Hurayyyyyyyyyyyyy for the Singularity!) away.
There is lots to be said, not at least the grandiose Gstettensaga adbusting finale – where the eye-logo of the CBS Network gets morphed from human gaze in a view with a nonhuman slant.