Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff

Bio

Douglas Ruskoff‘s previous books–including Cyberia and Media Virus–have been translated into thirteen languages. He is the Technology and Culture Consultant to the United Nations Commission on World Culture and a regular consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and he writes a bi-weekly column for the New York Times syndicate. He teaches at the Esalen Institute and Banff Center for the Arts, and will be adjunct professor of Media Sociology at New York University in 1999. He lives in New York City.

Douglas Rushkoff is currently featured on ZDTV’s “Big Thinkers” series. Check out the site at www.zdtv.com/bigthinkers.

Douglas Rushkoff

Douglas Rushkoff

Books

Q&A

Douglas Rushkoff interviewed at the time of release of his novel, The Ecstasy Club.


You’ve written five successful non-fiction books. Why a novel now?

Because I want to finally tell the real truth. I find that in non-fiction the facts sometimes have a funny way of obscuring reality. That, and the potential for libel. When I make up the people and institutions, I can tell much truer stories about the world I’m exploring than I’m free to do as a journalist. Just think of how many movie stars we all know are gay, but who the press pretend are straight. It’s not out of respect for their privacy, that’s for sure.

In your early books you tend to celebrate the culture of cyberpunks, ravers, and psychedelics users. Here, you appear to attack them.

It’s not attack as much as satire – although the behaviors of these characters are not so far from how many real people think and live. I guess I felt, when writing non-fiction, I needed to bend over backwards to give fringe cultures a fair shake. No one else does. I’ve been inspired by these folks – by Timothy Leary, R.U. Sirius, rave kids around the world, psychedelic thinkers, media hackers – and felt the need to let the world in on the terrific stuff they were doing. Most adults don’t appreciate the creative intelligence of young people, especially young people taking psychedelics and dancing all night.

Personally, I feel like I’ve pushed through all this and come out the other end. The naïve optimism of the early cyber years and rave clubs were terrific breaths of fresh air. It’s what allowed for so many of the great insights that have led to terrific new art and technology. That’s what Cyberia is about, and I don’t regret having celebrated that.

But there’s a danger to taking the “designer reality” idea too seriously. These kids are so creatively intelligent, and see so many patterns in everything that it’s easy for them to fall into paranoia. I’ve met people in the San Francisco “South of Market” scene who really do believe there are covert operatives following them around. And they have a very abstract set of notions about the world. They seem to want to remove themselves from the real world with all its real-life contradictions and confusion, and move to a sterile, experimental world of absolute peace and harmony.

Ecstasy Club is about what would happen if one of these people, say, got pregnant. Try living in a zone of “infinite timelessness” when you’ve got a fetus growing in your belly.

Is that what this book is about, then? “Three ravers and a baby?”

Not exactly. It’s about a rave collective – a cult really – formed with the best of intentions yet vulnerable to its own slightly paranoid tendencies. It’s a spoof on conspiracy theory; a comedy of manners set amidst a bright group of ravers who think they’ve got the drugs and technology necessary to touch the next dimension. They’re really quite sweet people – they just don’t understand yet that the greatest spiritual challenges in life are usually right in front of your face.

I also take some of these giant TV cults to task. It becomes quite the action yarn when the kids realize they are up against some indeterminable combination of city police, government officials, TV cults, computer magazines, and even extra-terrestrials. They end up kidnapping one of their enemies and – well, it’s a long story. There’s lots of raves, road trips, and veiled cultural criticism in there, too.

Sounds like a movie.

Yup. Miramax bought it. We’ll see what happens. The screenplay could never be quite as convoluted as the book, but I think the dance scenes and action at the end will translate well. It’s certainly a fun world to make a movie about, and no one’s tried it before. I remember when my agent had to pitch it to the Hollywood people. It boiled down to something like: Altered States meets Trainspotting meets Flatliners, but with a rave soundtrack. I just love the deconstructed language of references those guys speak in.

And we hear you make all sorts of money as a media consultant to television and movie companies. What are you, a writer or a businessman?

I’m not a consultant – I’m just a writer who once in a while gets roped into telling businessmen to stop trying to program youth culture. I go places like the United Nations, and give talks about rave culture and internet culture — and why we should embrace them. As for the media companies who call me, I guess I’m inspired by the same media-savvy qualities in young people that seem to frighten media executives.

Really, I’m just a guy who has a lot of fun exploring the weirder, darker communities in our midst, and then writing about them for other people. I get to have experiences, ingest chemicals, and meet people that very few other folks get to. The least I can do is share what I’ve come away with in as entertaining a manner as possible.


So, it appears from this novel, anyway, that you think conspiracy theory and paranoia are on that horizon?

They’re already here. The Ecstasy Club is absolutely a novel about our paranoid times. Between X-Files, Dark Skies, Independence Day, JFK, our culture has gotten about as paranoid as it’s ever been. Maybe more so. I see it getting worse. What I tried to do in the book is take conspiracy to its logical extreme – give people a taste of what it would be like if all this were true, or at least if we believed it all to be true. That’s really the joke of the whole book: it doesn’t matter if “they” are really out to get you. If you believe it, and act as if they are, then they’ve already won.

As a cultural theorist, though, what would say are the reasons why we are living in such a paranoid culture?

The reasons are everywhere you look. You can’t walk into a store without being photographed, behind every news story is a cover-up, and nothing is quite what it seems to be anymore. It’s as if history itself has been reduced to hype and spin. Every event we live is the result of the hype that went before it, and the spin with which it is reported and remembered after the fact. That’s even what most modern spirituality comes down to: spin and hype, hype and spin. In the book it becomes a method of time travel, actually. You can influence the future and rewrite the past with good public relations!

But the book ends up looking like an advertisement for family values, don’t you think?

Well, the main characters do opt out of the Ecstasy Club, that’s true. They’ve had enough of trying to touch the next dimension. They’ve realized it’s all hype, and want to tackle the real challenges of life, like how to make money without screwing over your fellow humans, how to eat without letting others starve, how to have a relationship without being untruthful or abusive, and even how to raise kids without projecting all of our own crap onto them. Life itself is as big a challenge as anybody needs. To create new challenges, or invent phantom enemies – that’s just nuts. Funny, but nuts. I guess that’s the whole point.

I don’t recant my earlier books. I just think people take all of this a bit too far. And people who take things too far -even with the most earnest intentions – are ripe for satire.

And what’s next?

I just finished the manuscript for a new non-fiction book called “Coercion: Why We Listen to What ‘They’ Say.” It’s about coercion and manipulation in everyday life. You can’t walk into a shopping mall without being subjected to an onslaught of psychological manipulation. Everything from the color of the walls to the texture of the floor has been engineered to direct your actions. In the book, I trace the development of these