Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dei ex Machinae

So, the first full-length play I ever wrote bore the title Deus ex Machina. My one-sentence description of it was, "A satire about the influence of the media on teenagers." In it, an average American teenage boy gets picked to host a tawdry television show (some unholy mash-up of American Bandstand, Total Request Live, and a softcore porno), causes sexual awakenings in millions of girls across the country, dumps his innocent hometown girlfriend for a scheming temptress, becomes as greedy and venal as the producers of the TV show, and does nothing to stop the airwaves from filling up with more and more lubricious junk.

OK, I was an angry, elitist teenager who thought that pop culture was exclusively for idiots, and despite being a liberal Democrat, I wrote a play that might win approval from social conservatives (for its "pop culture is a cesspool of sex and violence! hookups will be the ruination of America!" message). But it was, at least, a fast-moving and darkly funny play, maybe even a good one -- it won a national contest. I say all of this as preamble, mainly because I'm really surprised I've never mentioned it on this blog before.

Anyway, the (somewhat pretentious) title came about because the literal meaning of "deus ex machina" is "god from the machine," and I thought that my peers were treating their TVs (machines) like gods. False gods, greedy gods, gods who demanded human sacrifices -- but gods nonetheless.

And now, I just learned that a new novel about reality television, by Andrew Foster Altschul, is about to be published -- and it's titled Deus Ex Machina. The Rumpus is promoting it right now as their book club pick (Foster Altschul is their books editor) -- go check out their interview with him and other coverage. Also mentioned favorably on Bookslut, it sounds dark and existential and cynical -- I mean genuinely so, whereas my play was sentimental with a veneer of modish cynicism.

Perhaps this speaks more to my own solipsism than anything else, but due to the good press and weird title-connection, I'm putting Deus Ex Machina on my list of books to read...


Dr.J said...

Well, your Latin is probably better than mine (funny that in Spain one can get through the High School without a single year of latin) but I think that the original of the expression is from ancient greek theater itself: the image of a deity that is taken into the stage by means of a machine; thereby getting the metaphoric sense of a situation out from the coherence of the plot just to solve the problem of the play. But philosophy uses Deus ex machina for a Creator that leaves the creation alone (out of the machine), is Demiurg the english word?
Am I right? at last I am just a poor science fellow!
By the way: why do you use MM/DD/YY in the States? none seems to know

Marissa said...

Ha, you think Latin is required in U.S. high schools? Not at all!

In philosophy another term for "demiurge" (creator god) is "divine watchmaker," so a god who MAKES machines, rather than a god FROM the machine...

I don't know why we use month/day/year in the States either! Perhaps because in English we say "January 14, 2010" and not "el 14 de enero 2010"?