Can experience be created? For me, this is perhaps not so much a philosophical, aesthetic, or moral question as an issue that should be examined under a specific social context, our capitalist consumer society. That is, before asking “can experience be possibly or morally created”, I would like to ask first: “Do we consumers desire experiences to be created for us?”

 

Think of the 3D movie Avatar. The movie is made perhaps not so much to get across its simplistic ecologist morale. The movie is made, obviously, to generate for the audience a stunning visual experience. And the audience go to the cinema precisely because they want this visual experience, knowingly and willfully. The audience are not duped party who get false experiences generated by James Cameron, at least it is not what we think of the meaning of going to see Avatar.

And in fact this is the case for almost all of our consumption regarding to entertainment; all of our capitalist entertainments has something to do with seeking new experiences, especially sensuous experiences. We go to restaurant to savor our palate, we travel, we go to theme parks, we play online games, we go shopping or window shopping, we watch firework. Among the list, we sometimes play a more active role to create the experience for ourselves, but sometimes we don’t feel uncomfortable to be completely passive to be served, such as the case of dinning in a good restaurant. The question of morality is hardly asked here—is the chef immoral in serving us good food and creating for us a tasteful experience, while we are seated and are never self-reflective in the gourmet experience?

 

Colin Campbell in his famous book The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism argues a correlation between our consumerism and the Romantic ethic. His essay, which is a summary of his book, can be accessed on JSTOR: “Romanticism and The Consumer Ethic: Intimations of a Weber-Style Thesis.” For Campbell, our consumerism thrives because of the legacy of the Romantic ethic, that we as an individual should always strive to experience more. If you could recall any  of the romantic poem you have read, that of Lord Byron or John Keats, you might notice that it is mostly a poem about the poet’s inner feelings—what the poet has experienced. This is also why Lamarque marks the notion of authorship originates from the romantic age; the work of art is deemed by the time as an expression of the author’s inner feelings. Campbell argues that we are still much under the influence of the romanticism to always want to experience more, and this is also why our consumption always has something to do with the consumption of experience. We consume in order to experience more.

 

Campbell even goes as far to argue that the way “we consume to experience” has an ethical aspect in it. That is, one maybe  deemed by the society as self-abandoning if he or she does not strive to “enrich” his or her life. And this is very true for me. As a graduate student of humanities, one question that I have been often asked outside of my narrow academic circle is: “Isn’t it boring to read and write all day long?”—as if they have some right to interfere my life because I am not leading a life of a rich variety of experiences.      

 

Thus, when we are asking James Cameron if he is doing an ethical job to create for the audience a too absorbing experience with Avatar, maybe we should also question our society why we always want to experience more—to the extent that we deem it as an ethic—no matter we play an active role in consuming experiences or not?

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