JEFFERSON HACK I remember doing an interview with Malcolm McLaren in 1997 where he told me, “The machines are taking over. We are becoming like machines and machines are becoming more like us.” He also described that era’s culture as “a karaoke culture—a casino of inauthenticity.” I’m interested in this idea of inauthenticity and authenticity, of authenticity as a fetishization of individuality. I wanted to ask you: What is authenticity to you? Is it a concept worth exploring in relation to your work?
FRANCO ‘BIFO’ BERARDI Just a few weeks ago, in the mess of things, I discovered something that I had forgotten, which is a piece of theatre—or a sort of opera, let’s say—that I made with some friends in 1983, titled Game Over. The piece was a musical, a rock opera based on a poem dedicated to the Gang of Four—you know, the Beijing trial, Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, and Zhang Chunqiao. (You see, I can remember their names!) Well, the Gang of Four was under trial in Beijing and at the same time I was discovering something completely new, which was the video game: the first console, a sort of big machine with space invaders inside. I was fascinated by the first generation of video games. At the end, the machine won. Every time. It was unavoidable. If you were a good player, you could go on for an hour—and I was not a good player, so I only lasted five minutes—but in the end, the machine always won. So I went to a place not far from Bologna and rented four machines (actually, the guy gave them to me for free), and I had four actors playing with the machines as the Gang of Four—and of course, the machine won in the end.For that work, I’d put together two very different things: the emerging video game and the political defeat of the Cultural Revolution in China. My point was that the revolution, the global movement of ’68, was being defeated by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The neoliberal counter-revolution was cancelling the culture of social solidarity. So for better or worse, the Beijing trial became a symbol of the defeat of the human race by the machine.
At the end of the game, the final words were: “Game over, the machine will win forever.” It was a very catastrophic, pessimistic piece of theatre.
JH Where was it performed?
FB It was performed for the first time at an amazing place called The Public Secret, which was an industrial space in the outskirts of Bologna. It used to be an ice factory once upon a time, maybe in the 19th century, I don’t know. Some friends squatted the place, put lights and music inside, and called it The Public Secret.
But let’s come back to your earlier question. You simultaneously asked me about the machine and about the concept of authenticity. To be honest, I don’t like the word “authenticity” in itself because I find it’s sort of a nostalgic, idealistic idea: the idea that somewhere in the past there was a soul we eventually lost, there was the “authentic,” but we live in the dimension of inauthenticity. I don’t think that an authentic self exists somewhere. There is nothing like the self— the self is a cultural construct, the effect of a relationship with one’s environment and other people. So I prefer to go straight to the point and say “happiness” or “unhappiness”—not “authenticity.” The point is not to go back to some authentic self; the point—the aim of political action, the goal of collective life—is to create a condition of collective happiness. I know that the words here need to be cautiously chosen, but I am not so cautious today. Can you forgive me?