We have perfected the art of polish. The shine off a piece of useless plastic could be no brighter, while the packaging could be no prettier. It is incredible. Everything is scrutinized by the cold calculations of committees before the masses of anonymous internet-users, with every error documented timelessly in public databases. The digital era has not brought binary simplicity but scores of metrics, each of which must be made to reach some mystical mark. With edits taking seconds rather than days, the producer who spends days rather than seconds polishing is that much closer to perfection. There no right or wrong, only the shiny and the dull.
Look at the movies! Next to a home video, they’re masterpieces, each and every single one of them, two hours of delicious, savory visuals; in two dimensions and three dimensions, with gorgeous colors and surround sound, they rattle the imagination. It is an incredible sight, with multiple cameras on million-dollar sets, they dazzle and razzle with special effects and handsome actors. Everything from the actors, the plot, the dialogue, the lighting, the acoustics, the camera, the movements, and even the trash can in the corner of the screen is carefully placed, as if each thing had a whole team devoted to its performance. With unnerving accuracy, we can portray sets of the past, present, and future that force historians and scientists to crack open worn tomes to verify their accuracy. The scenes are grand and the actors are pretty, and little is left to the imagination. Their job is to take our dreams straight from behind our eyes and put them in front of us, as if the back of our eyelids weren’t doing a good enough job!
Yet cinematography is not enough. Each Hollywood blockbuster is filmed, cut, and spliced with such undeniable artistic perfection to call one a “film” versus a “movie” is to split hairs. The post-processors must touch the footage with their surgical hands to color grade the exciting into the dramatic. Caked on makeup must be further layered with airbrushes and clone stamps to remove the last strand of stray hair. Audio must be cleaned and auto-tuned, while music must be scored and scored again, not to invoke emotions, but to evoke feelings, whatever the difference is. Each second of suspense is scientifically timed to force boredom and fear to meet, however unwilling. More movie is made in front a screen than behind a camera.
On that note, marketing departments are downright stupefying. Sentences worthy of the greatest praise are ripped to shreds in the search for the perfect slogan. Campaigns are considered from every angle and launched to every medium, from billboards to newsletters. Models of different ethnicities and words from different regions are used to target advertisements down to the last meaningful category that could be made. Statistical tests run on focus groups work out the brains of the “target demographic” so they could be effectively bombarded with ads for the latest new toy. Their goal? Cut down a car into a 30-second commercial so a single mother working two jobs can understand why this year’s model is worth paying for. The scenic shots of a car rolling down the twists and turns of the clean, refreshing Swiss Alps show nothing, but as the television fades to black, we can only wonder how wonderful it would be to drive in a new car.
Then when we open up our pretty web browsers with minimalist interfaces and overthought layouts, we’re presented with Web 2.0, the reinvention of the just invented. Flat colors, soft gradients, and saturated pastels rule the eyes as clean lines delineate one section from another. Years are spent by teams of typographers to create each glyph for each font for each typeface, from “Arial” to “Times New Roman,” and code written to determine how each font size is different from the next. Everything from the little serif on the “f” to the size of the period and the length of the hypen is debated on print and on screen. These are the characters our eyes spend most of their time on, and thus they are perfect. The carefully sized rectangles around them simply frame the text for us, lest we need an artistic, but meaningless photo of some smiling faces all made up to give us a sense of setting. Words are regions of pixels in a sea of eye-pleasingly contrasted pixels.
Minimize that browser and see that even the desktop itself is a monument to the toil of artists. Each default wallpaper option, after being proposed, contracted, and submitted - each of which represents the hard work of dedicated photographers and illustrators - is selected by a committee that selects, say, one group of wallpapers for Americans, another for Ukranians. Then days and weeks are spent debating the merits of one default wallpaper over the next, as computers are restarted and tests run to see whether one background is aesthetically pleasing in an office environment is also pleasing in a nearly black home basement. We can make both groups smile, they say - and right they are, because no one ever changes it.
Still, what can only be chosen, not changed, is shiny. Cars of today, no faster and no tougher than cars of yesterday, are sleeker and curvier, more modern without being much more. Touchscreen monitors, rear cameras, and phone docks complement wood and leather interiors, as if a new generation of car designers needed a challenge their forefathers hadn’t taught them how to solve. So now every car must be clean on the inside too, or else the accumulation of fingerprints and food would render it unusable. The art of extensive testing has spilled from automotive reviews and crash safety tests onto lists of features that only passengers can use. Finally, the software that keeps a car interesting is almost as complex as the software used to design it. Microns of accuracy formerly used to match nut to bolt are now poured into efforts to discourage drivers from planning their trips.
It’s a beautiful world, pitch perfect, layered on smooth melodies. The perfect blend of psychology and statistics, production is refinement to specification by the audience. Everything must not only be pretty, but be pretty from all angles, from every perspective, and from each eye. With that in mind, inspiration is a steadily decreasing portion of creativity as alterations and adjustments become easier and faster to try. The easier it is to publish music, art, and video, the higher the bar to publicity will rise. Apparently, polish is perfection to the primitive mind.