Simulated Experiences, Simulated Lives

by Stefan Kalt  

It is a commonplace that, in the West, we have moved from a manufacturing/production economy to a service/consumption economy. In The Age of Access (2000), Jeremy Rifkin goes further, arguing that the entertainment services - or what German sociologists  Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer oxymoronically dubbed the "culture industry" - increasingly take center stage, and have begun to define the trajectory of the service economy. The culture industry encompasses movies, television, music, theme parks, and tourism. These are the fastest-growing businesses in the United States, and Rifkin notes they give us what we want most of all: "experiences." Although Hollywood and the recording industry still constitute the largest sector of the "experience economy," the theme park business and the tourist business operate at its forefront. Here, Rifkin argues that the consumer's own lived experience - in a sense, his altered consciousness - becomes the core commodity. The culture industry neatly packages experiences of the culturally authentic, the phantasmagoric, and the far-and-away. Of course, there is no real adventure, because that would require danger and risk. Rather, all is simulated (in the case of theme parks) or domesticated (in the case of tourism) to provide a safe spectacle. As a result, the historical assets of traditional indigenous peoples are reduced to props, stage settings, and backdrops.

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