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Faster, Higher, Stronger: 2020, Our Future Eternity


report

Vincent Le
27 December 2020






How do we begin to periodise a slice of time like 2020, a year in which complete cultural hegemony about which everyone was talking non-stop was finally monopolised, albeit not by world communist revolution but the COVID-19 pandemic which has, of the time of writing, resulted in over 1.5 million deaths, 75 million infections and the lockdown of the global economy? It is ultimately my contention that 2020 will forever after trigger traumatic flashbacks that cannot be cancelled or deplatformed when the very structure of time itself changed—or at least mutated, accelerated and spiralled a little more out of our already dubious control in an altogether different and definitive direction. What is needed amidst all the chaos is something like a mascot, a characterisation almost cartoonish in its simplicity that could nonetheless act as the year’s official spokesperson.

Fortunately, such a spokesperson already exists. The 2020 Summer Olympics was scheduled to be held in Tokyo before becoming another coronavirus casualty and being postponed until 2021. With all promotional and merchandising materials remaining the same, the spectre of 2020 will continue to haunt us well into the new year, including in the guise of the official Tokyo Olympics mascot named Miraitowa, a checkered indigoblue anime character inspired by the games’ logo. The mascot designed by Japanese artist Ryo Taniguchi emerged victorious from a mass grave of 2000 candidate designs through the Hobbesian war of all against all which was the Tokyo Organizing Committee’s cutthroat competitive selection process. Along with two other shortlisted candidates, Miraitowa was then forced to jump through hoops and over hurdles to vie for the votes of over 200,000 Japanese elementary schools, with Miraitowa eventually winning over half of the final tally. Even the mascot’s name, which we will have reason to return to later, is a product of the Tokyo Organizing Committee’s critique of judgement no less ruthless than the games themselves. Like the animal testing research unit of some sinister and mysterious megacorporation, every adorable fibre and bone in Miraitowa’s body was meticulously designed and perfected in a battle against other bright-eyed furry rivals, which were sent off to the abattoir of botched marketing ideas when they failed to elicit beaming smiles on the endearing faces of unwittingly sadistic school children. The lone survivor is now expected to help finance the games and earn an estimated 14.4 billion yen (\$130 million US) in revenue from licensing merchandise, something which will prove pivotal to Japan’s recovery efforts after the massive slug to its tourism guts during lockdown.

Therein lies one way to characterise the 2020 time slice: what writer Paul B. Preciado has called “the great mutation” is essentially an evolutionary selection process for placing adaptive pressures on modes of governance, along with the various cultures, social relations, productive forces and psychological types under their jurisdiction, thereby forcing them to self-improve and mutate in the struggle for survival.1 Where “survival”, philosopher Peter Sloterdijk tells us, “is a code word for nature acrobatics”: “Existence as such is an acrobatic achievement, and no one can say with certainty what training provides the necessary skills to master this discipline. Hence the acrobat no longer knows what exercises keep him from falling—aside from constant vigilance.”2 From international alliances and national governance to the most intimate social relations and molecular immune systems, every scale of human existence has been thrown into nature’s gladiatorial octagon where they are forced to compete in the most extreme sports, trying out random variations in the hopes of reproducing themselves stronger than ever upon the ruins of 2020. At the macroscale, the personified anime version of the virus known as Coronachan has proven to be post-political, undermining as she has both sides of the traditional left-right political spectrum, with theocratic Iran and quasi-fascist Brazil suffering just as big death counts, economic hardship and hits to their legitimacy as Western liberal democracies like Italy and the US. Coronachan loves democracy just as much as she loves fascism, as anti-science has proven to be just as fruitful for the spread of the virus as the democratic rights to freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and freedom of herd mentality. This is why socialists can argue that the free market is impotent at providing for all those falling ill or thrown out of a job at the same time that nationalists are calling for border closures, localising manufacturing and supply chains, and implementing quasi-authoritarian emergency powers to flatten the curve. It turns out that the political spectrum is more like a globe: travel too far in one direction and, without even knowing it, you will wind up going around in circles like a dog chasing its own tail.

At the microscale, the pure and empty form of quarantime has seen the beta revolution strike back through the incelisation and enforced monogamy of human populations en masse as individuals self-isolate and keep their distance by implementing ruthless selection criteria for deciding which friends and loved ones are really essential in a world where every greeting could be a kiss goodbye. Having barricaded ourselves in bedroom bunkers like an increasingly impotent Führer during the fall of Berlin, the isolation and necessity of putting all our plans on indefinite hold has led depression and suicide rates to skyrocket higher than any gold medalist high jumper, with nihilism and ancient atomism becoming official state-sanctioned policies. At what is the most open and darkest level, we have even seen a full-blown eugenics project revived whenever hospitals in the US or elsewhere find themselves overrun with the infected, forcing them to cancel elective surgeries and decide who will be treated based on their chances of survival. That is, of course, if they are not rich old white guys like Prince Charles and Donald Trump who receive the best healthcare regardless of their age or pre-existing comorbidities. Try and argue with a virus, you will just get deadly droplets on yourself. Dialectics is cancelled after curfew and there can be no more games of giving and asking for reasons once the social distancing measures take effect.

The official character profile of Miraitowa sheds even more light on the 2020 time slice than the acrobatic selection process from whence it emerged: the mascot has “a special power to instantly teleport anywhere it wants” in keeping with the Tokyo Organizing Committee’s belief that “it’s important to showcase the latest technology”.3 Those brave—or stupid?—enough to attend the games in person are thus most likely to encounter Miraitowa in the form of robotic clones and automatons which can wave and shake their hands (or perhaps bump elbows) and express emotions like the beaming emoji love hearts in their eyes. Semi-autonomous robots are even expected to help collect javelins and hammers and film the games through built-in cameras.

Technological innovation has been another hallmark of 2020 just as much as it will be at the Tokyo Olympics as Coronachan has accelerated the development of emerging technologies and existing trends much faster than even the masterminds behind Zoom could ever have imagined. Distant learning, telehealth services and remote work from home are all doing their bit to upload our collective consciousness to mind-computer interfaces with most of our lives now taking place online through computers which have undergone rapid improvements to cater to increased demand and proliferating use values. As their meatspace competitors are closed down as non-essential businesses, it is streaming services like Netflix, transportation and delivery apps like Uber and online marketplaces like Amazon that have proven to be the biggest beneficiaries. It is hardly surprising that one of the most common tin-hatted conspiracy theories trending today is that the virus is just a scapegoat for the harmful effects caused by 5G technology.

Short of becoming full-blown biotechnologically enhanced cyborgs with superhuman prosthetic body mods, the only thing that can now wander the streets with impunity are drones and other autonomous robots. No wonder they are being ramped up for use in the production and distribution of goods and services like delivery, surveillance and disinfecting uninhabitable hot zones beyond the bounds of possible human experience. The need to minimise physical contact with others is also behind a further push for the digitisation of money through contactless payments and cryptocurrencies, with drug dealers now standing as the unlikely last line of defense for the cash economy. If we dare to venture outside, we will find ourselves constantly surveilled like never before by cameras, drones, temperature detectors and even our own smartphones’ location data through contact tracing apps and QR codes. All of this is just to say that 2020 has brought about an unprecedented acceleration of both emerging technologies and existing tendencies—from mind-computer interfaces as we isolate ourselves in the discomfort of our makeshift panic rooms, to self-organising machines that alone roam the deserted streets after curfew. It’s all in the name that evokes 2.0 not once but twice, as if something were being amplified or intensified—and then some!

The name Miraitowa is a compound of the Japanese words “mira” meaning future (未来) and “towa” (永久) meaning eternity, which is meant to represent without any irony “the wish that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will lead to a future of everlasting hope in the hearts of everyone around the world”.4 While it now seems unlikely that 2020 will trigger anything but universal despair, the year has been in keeping with the idea that Miraitowa’s name marks “a tribute to both the respected tradition and modern innovation of Japanese culture”, recalling the age-old proverb to “learn from the past and develop new ideas”.5 In more ways than one, the 2020 time slice marks the violent collision of both the future and eternity, of the progressive, linear sense of time based on the line and the ancient, cyclic calendar revolving around the circle into an anomalous hybrid beholden to something more like a spiral. As per the calendrical systems of the ancient East based on recurring seasonal harvests, the circle is a monotonous movement of pure repetition. As per the Western enlightenment belief in historical progress, the line moves to the rhythm of a linear succession towards some final goal or all-encompassing telos. The spiral steals a little from each while subverting both. It partakes in the monotonous harvest motions of the circle, but it does so only to generate novel phase shifts like the line. Spiral time is thus akin to the mad philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return, not exactly of the same, but of the eternal present as it undermines our faroff, fairytale ideals and teleological dreams through its ceaseless becoming in much the same way that the second, third and nth waves of quarantime subvert, or at least postpone, all our plans and ambitions for the foreseeable future. It is only fitting that the Olympic symbol of the spiral of five interlocking rings is branded front and center on Miraitowa’s forehead.

During a ceremony at the modern Tokyo Midtown Hibiya, Miraitowa made full use of its teleporting ability by miraculously appearing (through people dressed in identical costumes) at the ancient Asakusa temple in the center of old Tokyo. By simultaneously popping up in different places and times from Japan’s traditional past and hyper-modern future, Miraitowa evoked a sense of future shock, of the many different revolutions and phase shifts that have come and gone over the course of the country’s rollercoaster history ride. Far from betraying a hopeless Proustian lover boy’s nostalgic search for lost time, Miraitowa actually affirmed the future by disorientating onlookers with the sense of constant change and ever-increasing complexity over the archeological ruins of time. If Miraitowa is the perfect mascot for 2020, it is because the year marks precisely the moment when time definitively spirals out of our control as it travels back to the past, if only to create something unprecedented from the angel of history’s ashes. By now, it is a platitude to point out that Coronachan marks a rerun of past pandemics that have always heralded historical events of seismic upheaval, from the black plague that ushered in the Renaissance and the European colonisation of the Americas whose original weapon of mass destruction was smallpox, to the Spanish influenza on the infected tailcoats of the first world war. Although 2020 did see us time travelling to the past, it was precisely to those moments of great mutation where history reaped its revenge. And, as Sloterdijk warned us in theory before Coronachan punishingly showed us in practice, “all history is the history of immune system battles”.6 It is the same thing that those on the left who say—in admittedly ever fewer numbers and ever softer lamentations—that 2020 marks yet another terminal crisis for capitalism fail to realise: eternally recurring crises are capitalism’s fundamental machine part by means of which it has always adapted and reinvented itself anew through an incessant process of creative destruction. The death knell of capitalism is only ever a relatively peaceful calm before the Poseidon’s storm of new money Gatsbyians who “keep the capitalist engine in motion” through “the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organisation that capitalist enterprise creates”.7 As Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter continues, this is “the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionises the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism”.8 It is not Mao but capitalism, or Mao as a capitalist, who can say with any sincerity “there is chaos under heaven; the situation is excellent.”

The Olympic Games are no less exemplary of the spiral of time inasmuch as they puncture history every four years with a series of sporting events in which thousands of athletes from around the world push their bodies and minds to their inhuman limits to prove themselves the best of the best—what Sloterdijk has called “the most comprehensive organisational form for human behaviour of effort and practice that could always be observed outside the worlds of work and war”.9 Through the opening and closing ceremonies, each host city of the games is just as competitive as the athletes themselves as they seek to showcase their world-historical importance by beating their predecessors in memorability through evermore expensive and complex displays of singing, theatre, dancing, music, culture and technological prowess. While the modern Olympics might seem like an exercise in neoclassical nostalgia for the ancient Greek tradition, what is really being repeated is the recursive self-improvement of the athletes and host cities as they take ever higher leaps towards Mount Olympus every time. Although these adrenaline junkies’ various endgames of winning by x points in y rounds or seconds are relatively arbitrary, the universal means of mental discipline, physical endurance and all-around self-cultivation are anything but.

The official Olympic creed could not have summed up better the way that whatever goals they think they are pursuing are actually just an excuse to unleash the means of realising those goals and the self-transformations they entail when taken to the utmost extreme: “The most important thing in the Olympic games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”10 Or, as the official Olympic motto puts it even more memorably, “citius, altius, fortius”, meaning faster, higher, stronger.11 Every four years, the games alert us to the fact that time is not so much hurtling towards the fulfilment of our desires and dreams in the static fullness of being as much as it wraps us around an incessant and restless becoming which no virginal angel of history or beta world spirit could ever control and subordinate to its own narrow-minded ends. It is all too fitting that the only years the Olympics have been cancelled were 1916, 1940 and 1944 when the world was competing in a not altogether different, if much more bloody armed conflict, as well as 2020 when every city on earth was already too busy displaying spectacular feats of nature acrobatics. Even though the games didn’t take place, 2020 was no less Herculean, and indeed more so than any other Olympic year to date inasmuch as the four-year timespan was halved into a consecutive two-year condensation; first as a planetary pandemic, then as a more traditional sporting event. With drones, robots and autonomous machines set to be on full display at the Tokyo Olympics as much as they are during quarantime, it would seem as if the future is getting so much faster, higher and stronger as to jump beyond the human altogether and into the mountain clouds where the gods themselves reside.

By now our terror management mechanisms might be working overtime by objecting that Miraitowa is just an innocuous marketing gimmick without any further significance. But as natural selection and the Invisible Hand taught puppies and advertising executives long ago, Miraitowa’s cuddly kawaii aesthetic might just be the tactical means to camouflage its true intentions and deceive us into letting down our guard until the time is right to strike. This is something that we are only just beginning to learn as we come to don masks whenever we wander outside to survive the pandemics and bushfires as a dying Gaia coughs out its last breath. It is easy to forget that Miraitowa’s cuteness was bred through a selection process no less nasty, brutish and short than what gave rise to kittens and puppies insofar as it is a means of rebooting Japan’s economy so that it can compete once more in the world market, particularly through its robotics and AI industries. If such machines are to ever spiral out of our control, it won’t be as terrifying Terminators with gatling guns for arms, but as deceptively endearing big-eyed anime girls like Alita Battle Angel. It will thus be all the more disquieting to see adorable Miraitowa automatons throwing javelins, wielding hammers and spying on crowds through built-in cameras at the 2020 Summer Olympics. When all is said and done, Miraitowa is far more monstrous than any Lovecraftian shoggoth or cthulic abomination.

In masking our future eternity as an entertaining fiction in the present until the trumpets of judgment day are ready to blast, Miraitowa is like the many movies about killer plagues and runaway viruses which have seen a resurgence in popularity due to their uncanny anticipations of the COVID-19 outbreak. In particular, the 1988 anime film Akira stands out for a single scene depicting a billboard counting down 147 days until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with “just cancel it!” graffitied over it. If such ominous fictions as Akira and Miraitowa tell us anything, it is that 2020 is the year when natural and commercial evolution, technological acceleration and even time itself finally made us realise that the human race is being cancelled in favour of something more acrobatic, more competitive and Olympian—in sum, something more like a god. Happy new year! Welcome to our future eternity! Faster, higher, stronger! Leave your other resolutions in the past. You never did keep to them anyway. Where we’re going, you won’t need them anymore.


  1. Paul B. Preciado, “The Losers Conspiracy,” Artforum, 26 March, 2020, accessed 29 March, 2020, https://www.artforum.com/slant/the-losers-conspiracy-82586

  2. Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics, trans. Wieland Hoban (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), 118, 63. 

  3. Tokyo 2020, “Tokyo 2020 Mascot,” Tokyo 2020, accessed 14 August, 2020, https://olympics.com/en/olympic-games/tokyo-2020/mascot; and David Wharton, “Robots Will Be Part of the 2020 Olympics Experience in Tokyo,” Los Angeles Times, 22 July, 2019, accessed 14 August, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-07-22/robots-will-be-part-of-the-2020-olympics-experience-in-tokyo

  4. Tokyo 2020, “Tokyo 2020 Mascot.” 

  5. Tokyo 2020, “Tokyo 2020 Mascot.” 

  6. Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life, 451. 

  7. Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (London: Routledge, 2003), 83. 

  8. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 83. 

  9. Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life, 83. 

  10. The International Olympic Committee, “The Olympic Motto,” Olympic Games, accessed 14 August, 2020, https://www.olympic.org/the-olympic-motto

  11. The International Olympic Committee, “The Olympic Motto.” 

NOTES