Herbert Marcuse proves himself to be very opinionated unswerving in his views. For Marcuse, there is a specific way that society should be run, and the way that society works right now does not follow this. Marcuse argues that media is being increasingly standardized and commercialized and perverted in its art forms. No longer is art a unique and new view on society, it rather reflects the ideas that those in power want it to. This can be seen reflected in the game Portal, as the narrative follows a human in a technologically advanced society shown in complete ruin, which is played in an artistic medium of a video game.
Marcuse does not hesitate to vocalize his views on art, claiming that “the higher culture of the West” has been distorted so that fictional characters “are no longer images of another way of life but rather freaks or types of the same life,” showing how the view on these character has change (Marcuse Chapter 3). Marcuse here tells the readers that characters that used to represent a new and fantastical world have become merely symbols of “affirmation rather than negation of the established order” in society, taking a pessimistic view on the different roles that these characters are meant to take and showing them instead as difference expressions on the same face (Ch. 3). Marcuse’s views throughout his piece “One Directional Man” are continuously negative, as Marcuse sees society on a downward path into essential ruin. There are very few pieces of society that Marcuse does not see very strong negative side effects result from.
The way society is being run contrasts sharply with the romantic images that can be used to describe its progress and advancement. Marcuse mentions that “The traditional images of artistic alienation are indeed romantic in as much as they are in aesthetic incompatibility with the developing society,” stating that the fantastical images of the perfect society are in direct contrast with the society as Marcuse sees it (Ch. 3). Marcuse even claims that the “truth was in the illusion evoked, in the insistence on creating a world in which the terror of life was called up and suspended--mastered by recognition,” already showing the world as an unenjoyable and uninhabitable place in terms of a pleasing life, which is implied when Marcuse mentions the terror of life (Ch. 3). It’s interesting to note that Marcuse sees art as a different reality, and assumes that it would be a better one originally, though it becomes more and more tainted as time (and society) progresses. These images that used to represent alienation from society have also conformed, and now no longer represent the alienation fond in society. Just as Marcuse has claimed earlier in his essay, technological advancements could be used for the betterment of society, however they are corrupted by people in power using them to manipulate people in society (Chapter 1). Building off this idea, the art form has also been tainted by the advancement of technology. Marcuse claims that art in its various forms “cut off and transcend everyday experience,” going on to claim that an “essential gap between the arts and the order of the day, kept open in artistic alienation, is progressively closed by the advancing technological society” (Marcuse Ch. 3). The thing that made art so great was its difference and variance from everyday life and the technological advancements have undermined this action.
It is this essential idea of technology overshadowing and blocking out things of beauty, such as art, that can be seen reflected in Portal. A video game that follows a character in a lab undergoing a serious of tests, Portal mirrors the idea of technology slowly closing the gap between these fantastical imagine worlds and reality. In the game, the character in control, the one giving directions, is a robot that the player eventually discovers as GLaDOS. The testing facility and GLaDOS represent those in charge, technology, and this is reinforced by the lack of other humans seen throughout the game. As the narrative progresses, the player also gets hints to the world around them, mainly that is has fallen into extreme disrepair. The focus in that society was more on technological advances rather than preserving the world around them, an idea that Marcuse brings up as well. The mirroring between technology controlling society can be seen as well, both in the literal sense as is shown in the game, or in the figurative sense where the drive to continue technological progression can be seen in society, and Marcuse describes it. Portal uses these images and parallels to show an interesting society that serves the purpose of reminding the player of the importance of things not related to technology, in the ironic form of a video game.
Marcuse’s views on technology being a positive if actually helping to further advance a society and all people in it is a driving point behind his essay. His focus on art and what that form has lost due to the focus on technological progress reflect what the game of Portal says about society. There is little to no focus on art in the game, and most of the narrative revolves around the character trying to perform a series of tests. This idea of art and technology being at odds and that technological advancements leading to repression in society are directly reflected in Portal.