Discover more from Satellite Cult
satellite cult 11.11
technocapitalism, active ambiance, neolands
welcome to this week’s satellite cult dispatch. i’m so glad you’re here. i hope the artifacts i present you with will become waves on a utopian virtual beach, lapping away at your ankles as you wade across the shallows. see the clear skies and sun in the distance? they’re brought to you by RealVirtua Corp.; if you look closely, you can see the grid further out on the horizon where the simulation ends.
please be aware that the void dive section below contains flashing gifs.
i write and research satellite cult each week because i love it, and it’s important to me that it remains free to read and subscribe. but if you want to give altar offerings for the time and labor i invest, you can support me on Ko-fi.
if you enjoy what you find here, like, share, and consider subscribing to satellite cult.
welcome to the dungeon
while it’s common for musicians and producers working in web scenes to reference the tone and aesthetics of retro gaming, it’s less common for them to embrace fantasy so overtly.
Drangonrando! owes itself to the first game in the Dragon Warrior franchise (if you’re a little younger, you may know it as Dragon Quest), and while its production elements are squarely rooted vapor, its source material gives the album a sense of dungeon synth uncommon to vaporwave. there are certainly well-known examples of vaporwave that embody fantasy, like MIDI Dungeon by esc 不在 (a Vektroid project). but where many releases still lean into a tone that evokes playing Dungeons and Dragons at a mall food court, Drangonrando! feels more like what would happen if you gave the dragon a synthesizer.
bring me to utopia
you could argue that utopian virtual is the opposite of a dungeon, or maybe the same thing, just in a different time and place—are you trapped underground by stone walls? or are you out in the open, constrained by technocapitalism?
Dream.Corp’s Nostalgia presents a techno-corporate retrofuturistic utopia in which citizens can retreat towards the past to temporarily escape a soulless, homogenized present where personal autonomy exists at the mercy of men in suits. the ideological root of vaporwave is commentary on nostalgia and capitalism, a complex acknowledgment that we can be comforted by the things that harm us, that liminality is terrifying and glorious all at once, and tempting to embrace when you can’t muster feeling or purpose. nostalgia is both distraction and commodity in a world where our lives are increasingly dictated by the whims of CEOs; no one is safe from its power. ultimately, utopia is a myth when it means giving up everything that makes us human.
listless in the night
what is the difference between solitude and loneliness? i used to think it was choice. but it’s too easy for time alone, late at night, the tv blaring infomercials or a decades old-sitcom, to transform into spiraling panic, which in turn may transform into a floating, trickling sense of unfeeling you can’t shake until the next time you find yourself among people who love you.
Perpetual Exile’s Only in my sleep, can I find solace captures an experience of depression that is so specific yet so endemic—who do i know who isn’t self medicating on their own with streaming content, Youtube clickbait, and FYPs after the sun sets? it’s not for lack of wanting something more than pretty pictures on a screen. but what else are you supposed to do when you’re working too hard and too much? when you’re not just tired but fatigued? when you live alone, or even with others, and everyone needs to do different things at different times, just to stay alive? it’s not technology that makes us lonely, but the system. it is designed to separate us, designed to make us good little workers and consumers, designed to manipulate us into choosing commodities over people when seek out sources of comfort, designed to replace art that evokes feeling with mere content.
i don’t often read The New Yorker (it’s a little stuffy for my taste), but i spent my single free article for January reading this piece on the rise of ambient tv. the author, Kyle Chayka, considers the example of Emily in Paris, writing
“But all of that barely matters. The purpose of ‘Emily in Paris’ is to provide sympathetic background for staring at your phone, refreshing your own feeds—on which you’ll find “Emily in Paris” memes, including a whole genre of TikTok remakes. It’s O.K. to look at your phone all the time, the show seems to say, because Emily does it, too. The episodic plots are too thin to ever be confusing; when you glance back up at the television, chances are that you’ll find tracking shots of the Seine or cobblestoned alleyways, lovely but meaningless. If you want more drama, you can open Twitter, to augment the experience. Or just leave the show on while cleaning the inevitable domestic messes of quarantine. Eventually, sensing that you’ve played two episodes straight without pausing or skipping, Netflix will ask if you’re still really watching. Shamed, I clicked the Yes button, and Emily continued being in Paris.”
the author isn’t wrong, but maybe a little behind the times. even before the advent of streaming, tv networks engaged in ambient broadcasting, airing syndicated procedural dramas and sitcoms just to fill time slots for decades. when i still owned DVDs, i’d put my favorite shows on in the background, in the same way people listen to podcasts, not to actually listen, but just to have something to fall asleep to. ASMR and ambient genres of music exist for this purpose. Adult Swim produces entire series of ambient visual content to consume when you’re high. i would even argue that Buzzfeed listicles and quizzes from a decade ago constitute ambient content. the issue of detachment has been a long time coming, and while it’s maybe more recently seeped into the way television is produced, it is unsurprising.
is ambience always detachment? i don’t think so. when i watch compilations of old commercials while working, i often end up turning them off. it frustrates me when i can’t pay attention, because i like to engage with them and what they tell me about the world 40 years ago, a time that feels so far away to me, but isn’t actually so displaced—i’ll turn 30 in September, after all. and here i am agonizing over the seemingly contradictory nature of active ambiance.
mapping the net
Neocities user Bluwiikoon is working on an interactive map of Neocities sites, taking the concept of the webring a big step further. i don’t know much about the creator (it looks like he also runs a Pokémon fansite i might browse later), but the project is interesting. you can check it out here.
after school specials
speaking of Pokémon, eliteteamrocket.neocities.org catapulted me back to surfing the net as a kid, trying to figure out if Pikablue was real. it looks like the site hasn’t been updated in a couple years, but there’s still a fair amount to explore.
retro sites live
did you know that OtakuWorld! is still online? the site hasn’t been updated since 2014, but it’s existed since at least 1995. especially if you like anime and manga, it’s a fascinating time capsule of an old web fan community. you can even still download anime desktop themes for Windows 95 and 98.
Thank you for joining me. Until next time.