Cities in Sci-Fi where media is the way of life?
October 29, 2017 6:15 PM   Subscribe

I need help finding sci-fi (or any other forms of fiction) titles that contain cities (or hubs, markets, or what not) that are dominated by media or where media is the central economy/culture/way of life, etc.

This is a bit of an odd question, but it's related to a project I am trying to begin. I'm thinking along the lines of the bootleg black markets that exist today in place like Russia or Asia where the only way of making money is to either generate media (music, movies, ads, books, etc), sell it, bootleg it, etc., except these are entire fictional towns or cities or utopias. I am not certain if this even exists or why it would (I feel as though I have come across this sort of idea at SOME point, but I can't think of any specific titles), but if this rings a bell in any science fiction or fiction or comics you've read, I'd be grateful to have sources. Thank you!
posted by Young Kullervo to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Gibson's Bridge Trilogy certainly touches on the concept, with the virtual simulation of Kowloon Walled City and entirely virtual celebrities.

The miniseries Wild Palms also had the idea of a drug that would cause the brain to perceive holograms as real and a black market for idealized holograms that sold to the junkies.

And to an extent, you're talking about what was written about with reckless abandon when Second Life had the zeitgeist.
posted by Candleman at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mojoworld from the X-Men is a very extreme example.
posted by codacorolla at 6:45 PM on October 29, 2017

Extras by Scott Westerfeld qualifies. It's set after and in the same world as the Uglies trilogy, but I think it could be enjoyed as a stand-alone.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 6:47 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sleep Dealer kinda fits your bill (though it's a film)
posted by halation at 6:48 PM on October 29, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 is, per the author, entirely about a society where TV is the only way of life in the city/'utopia' and everyone who finds that the least bit boring is a very odd duck indeed
posted by Jacen at 6:59 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

A few other ideas:

I've never read it, but Station Eleven is sort of that idea. It's a post-super-flu world with some apocalyptic trappings, but instead of following heroes and villains it follows a group of Shakespearean actors who make a living by providing entertainment in a world without electronic media. Not about a city, but it is sort of close to the idea of entertaining for a living in a marginal economy.

Strange Days is set in a futuristic LA where VR experiences (SQUID Discs) are a primary form of entertainment. It follows a SQUID dealer who becomes engaged in an noir story-line revolving around black market snuff film discs.

A lot of Black Mirror episodes cover similar group. E.g. in 15 Million Merits society has undergone some catastrophe, and the survivors remain in an underground bunker that is largely preoccupied with keeping people entertained. A higher class are the entertainers, who have a celebrity based ranking system that determines their societal worth. More reality TV than traditional media, but a similar idea. Similar idea in Nosedive (a social ranking system that rewards being genial and entertaining), but is more grounded in our present reality. The American show Community played with a similar idea in App Development and Condiments, where a new social media app that allows people to rank one another takes over the campus, putting the most entertaining and likable people in the upper echelons.

If you want a real life example, then the idea of being an 'influencer' or a 'lifestyle celebrity' has really taken off over the past few years. YouTube personalities, Twitch streamers, and Instagram stars are all examples of people who generate income by being personally likable and entertaining while creating 'free' media content for a platform. Not fiction, but this New Yorker profile of #VanLife people is... stranger than fiction. Essentially the couple has a full time (meaning all of their available time, not just 40 hours a week) job of creating a personalized brand for themselves, and then they rake in money off of endorsements.
posted by codacorolla at 7:13 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

In Max Headroom TV networks rule the world.
posted by Adridne at 7:14 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

These are both more media / branding / advertising than media / entertainment, but:

I love the George Saunders short story Jon.

Jennifer Government touches on this in some interesting ways as well.
posted by Mchelly at 7:39 PM on October 29, 2017

I really enjoyed the movie Branded, which seems to match your criteria.
posted by houseofleaves at 7:58 PM on October 29, 2017

In addition to the aforementioned Black Mirror episodes, here are a couple more things where being able to upvote/downvote people has created the dominant form of status measurement:

"The Orville" from last Thursday, "Majority Rule," episode 7 of the first season. Everyone wears a badge, and once they get downvoted enough, they become subject to justice by popular opinion. Outside of barista and a magazine salesman with a very convenient side business, we don't really see any non-media people working jobs, but of course this is just a slice of the world.

Gun, with Occasional Music, a noir detective novel (and Ray Chandler pastiche, strongly) by Jonathan Letham, in a world that has given up reading and it's unlawful to ask questions without a license. People have a Karma score which is like points on a driver's license-- when run out, you go to prison.

Back to your core question, there's The Congress (YTL trailer), which begins with an actress (Robin Wright, playing herself) who sells the rights to her image, past and future, to a movie studio conglomerate, and has her face and body and physical expressions digitized to be remixed into future media. The movie eventually carries us down the slippery slope, in which a media-corporation-produced cartoon overlay that sits atop the reality. It's based on "The Futurological Congress" by Stanislaw Lem, which involves a pharmacologically-induced version of life which sits atop reality.

Also, it's been too long since I read it, but Hiro Protagonist (yup, that's his name) of the Neal Stephenson novel Snow Crash lives in an anarcho-capitalist California that is one of the fragments of the former United States, and delivers pizza for the mob while also working and living in a kind of cyberspace VR realm called Metaverse. At some point early in the novel he notes that the main export products of his nation are Code and Movies, basically. He had a pithier way of expressing that.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:09 PM on October 29, 2017

The webcomic "Buying Time" (some pages NSFW) is set in a society where you must purchase time credits in order to interact with others. Even the smallest in-person conversation is tracked and billed. To communicate freely you have to either go outside the city into the unregulated wasteland, or go down to the lowest level of the city (basically the slums). However the storyline revolves around a male-male romance and it does get NSFW. Also, it requires the flash plugin and therefore a desktop to read. Having said that, it's an interesting commentary on the monetization of our social interactions, and more importantly a unique and brilliant use of the medium (webbrowser) to tell a story. I have not seen anything quite like it since. Well worth reading the first few pages to get a feel for the world and experience the unique delivery.
posted by rakaidan at 9:04 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom sort of touches on this, although it's background to the plot most of the time. The currency is Whuffies and it's reputation-based, earned and transferred via media engagement or one sort or another.
posted by ninazer0 at 9:42 PM on October 29, 2017

E.M. Forster's short story "The Machine Stops" from 1909 is an interesting example. He depicts a world where everybody lives alone in pod-like rooms - only communicating remotely via "the machine":
And even the lecturers acquiesced when they found that a lecture on the sea was none the less stimulating when compiled out of other lectures that had already been delivered on the same subject. "Beware of first-hand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them.
posted by rongorongo at 11:42 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Transmetropolitan - media play a big and ambivlent part in the stories.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:39 AM on October 30, 2017

The US economy in Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart) is sort of like this. Most of the productive economy is gone and people hustle to be able to turn parts of their lives into media products. Utopia it ain't. But it's an attempt to answer some of the questions you're asking. Shteyngart is a very charming writer, although he has better books in my opinion.
posted by grobstein at 11:46 PM on November 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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