“You Have No Other Choice But To Continue…”

…That was the order given to the test subjects who administered a nearly lethal electrical shock to unwitting “learners” in the Milgram obedience experiment, administered over fifty years ago, at Yale University.

Over sixty-five percent of the test subjects followed the order to deliver the shock.

John Milgram’s conclusion: Ordinary people are likely to follow orders given by an authority figure, even to the extent of killing an innocent human being.

So, who do young people obey today? A parent, a teacher, the POTUS? Most teachers agree that the new authority, the new Big Brother–is the media itself; and the media has gotten good at promising young people that they too can become accepted, even famous, so long as they conform to the marketable stereotypes; so long as they try to emulate the queen bees, the jocks, the cool people at school.

What would you be willing to do to join the in-crowd? What if you had the power to select the coolest, the strongest, the most beautiful kids who appear on interactive TV? What if you could watch them have sex and harm each other for all the world to see? Sound dsytopian?

Welcome to the brave new world of interactive, digital broadcasting currently in production by established Hollywood studios. The future has arrived and it looks horribly seductive. I write about the technology, and the enormous power the studios will have once these next generation reality shows come to life.

My book, Cease & Desist , chronicles the next generation reality show, called “Reality Drama” in which the viewers are allowed to award the participants for having sex and committing real acts of violence. I don’t write Science Fiction. I write contemporary YA, and the “fake” show I present in my book comes from research I’ve done into shows that will be launched in the next six months. They will debut on WebTV, which has no censors.

But that’s absurd, the authorities wouldn’t allow real sex and real violence.

Wanna bet? We’re living in a world where “the realistic” can be digitally altered so that it appears an illusion. We’re living with an administration that looks like the most unreal reality show we’ve ever seen.

Mark my words: in six months, you’re going to see reality like you’ve never seen it. You’ll be watching interactive WebTV, with real sex and real violence and most of all NO real censors. And hopefully you’ll be asking what I’m asking now: who has the authority to stop this? No one, the producers are saying, or, we all do–we all have the option to censor ourselves: just turn the channel. They’ve been saying that for years. Has it ever really worked? As a teacher, I know what’s going to happen when these shows generate a congressional hearing. They’ll be hours of hand-wringing and finger-pointing and in the end, we’ll blame young people for not being more sensible, not being more “adult.”

But before you point your finger at young people, take a moment, and put yourself in their shoes. Their “reality” has been skewed by realistic computer games they’ve been playing since before they could read—it’s easy to push a button and obey the new rules, especially since–just like the participants in Milgram’s experiment, they’re really just obeying orders, (and the actors on the screen are just “acting,” right?)

We can’t blame young people for following orders, for trying to be survivors in the social battlefield our schools have become. (And the studios are banking on the fact that parents will be watching too.) And when this seductive dystopia arrives, no congressional hearing or concerned parents group will have enough power to stop it–because we value our “freedom” too much. We live in a free society, only we all know it isn’t free. We do what we’re subliminally told by the media. And the media wants our girls to be sexy and our boys to be blood-thirsty.

Hollywood doesn’t want you to read my book, Cease & Desist, because Cease & Desist is a wake-up call. If you think C & D is merely farfetched fiction, please write me so I can name a few of the shows that you’ll probably be talking about next year around the water cooler at work.

Our online lives have always been a losing battle between freedom and censorship, and since we obey an unseen authority, we’ve never really been “free.”

As Aldous Huxley warned us many years ago: You pays your dues. You makes your choice.

Trump l’oeil–What Happens When Dystopia Arrives Too Soon.

In my headline, I’ve borrowed the French idiom, trompe l’oeil–“something that misleads or tricks the senses”–to make a point about what we’re experiencing in America today. We love this notion of being “tricked” in painting and fiction, and maybe art’s greatest contribution is to fool our senses long enough to get us to believe something that can’t possibly be real. But what happens when reversals to our core principles such as equal rights, healthcare, and immigration happen so quickly that the righteous anger we feel when our freedom is threatened just isn’t enough?

We’re in a state of shock. The center cannot hold. Those values we thought were rock-solid are being destroyed and that makes us feel as if our reality has become, well, unreal. When are reality becomes unreal we turn to fiction, specifically dystopian fiction, because fiction is what we need to confront all those issues that are too difficult to take “in real life.” Sales of the classic dystopian novels–1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, are on the rise.

Dystopian fiction is deeply, cathartically, satisfying. Don’t we all love to read about a world in distress? A world that’s really a wake-up call for all those things we need to avoid. It’s all fun and Hunger Games so long when we close the book we can return to our safe, not-too-troubled world.

What if we woke up and found the most unreal dystopia we could possibly imagine right at our door? (Remember dystopia is only dystopia so long as it stays in the future.)

What we’re feeling now isn’t just righteous anger, it’s fear.

Whenever I turn on the TV, it feels as if I’m watching a reality show that can’t be real. That would be a great compliment to a fiction writer who strives for verisimilitude. But it’s real. At least that’s what we have to keep reminding ourselves.

The YA novel I wrote, Cease & Desist, was supposed to be dystopian, but most of its far-fetched notions will be commonplace by the time you read it. Soon you’ll be able to watch young people have sex and harm each other on digital, interactive, WebTV. You’ll be able to vote on who’ll be the winner, the same way the mob chose the winner in the Roman Coliseum.

Do you think I’m making that up? Think again. The future is coming at us way too fast, and we’ve got to stop it before more people get hurt.