Outside the major Casinos and their carefully controlled Arena, there is a second-string of third-rate Arenatainment Affiliates who develop and distribute the Dumbshows--literally violent entertainments aimed at the lowest common denominator of any given marketing niche or isolated demographic. The black marketeers of Corazune finance many of the Dumbshows. They are exceptionally well-received amidst the lower ranks of the popularity-driven mediocratic Corazunian social hierarchy. The Dumbshows are also the last bastion of disreputable genartists, genehacks, and other biomantic scum who have abandoned any pretense at morals, turned their backs on the venerable Code of Conduct all Genartists (yes, even Boluth and Lorshal) share in common. The depraved showbiz families of the Dumbshows are all made up entirely of clonechildren designed, derived, developed and delivered into a life of servitude directly from their geneparents. They are literally their own slaves, their own property. The showbiz families breed their own specially-prepared and modified clones, all of which are just barely at the threshold of consciousness, and thus technically little more than ambulatory tissue cultures, and thus property, not people. The matter has been hotly debated and contested innumerable times over the years, but no regime or government has ever successfully addressed the question of clonetestant rights. Young and non-tenured conspiracy-advocates often delight in demonstrating the tangled web of conflicting interests and unethical manipulations, assassinations, extorion and worse that has grown-up in the foul shadows of the Dumbshows. Those that make their point too well usually wind up deleted, abducted, or rendered nonpersons. Those with tenure don't discuss such sensitive matters outside of certain approved academic circles.“The Blue Room had in prehistoric times been added to by taking in a superfluous passage, and so not only had the advantage of two doors, but enabled us to get to the head of the stairs without passing the chamber wherein our dragon-aunt lay couched. It was rarely occupied, except when a casual uncle came down for the night. We entered in noiseless file, the room being plunged in darkness, except for a bright strip of moonlight on the floor, across which we must pass for our exit. On this our leading lady chose to pause, seizing the opportunity to study the hang of her new dressing-gown. Greatly satisfied thereat, she proceeded, after the feminine fashion, to peacock and to pose, pacing a minuet down the moonlit patch with an imaginary partner. This was too much for Edward's histrionic instincts, and after a moment's pause he drew his single-stick, and with flourishes meet for the occasion, strode onto the stage. A struggle ensued on approved lines, at the end of which Selina was stabbed slowly and with unction, and her corpse borne from the chamber by the ruthless cavalier. The rest of us rushed after in a clump, with capers and gesticulations of delight; the special charm of the performance lying in the necessity for its being carried out with the dumbest of dumb shows.”
'The Blue Room' from The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame
Send in the Clonetestants
Each microcephalic clone is reworked, tweaked, customized and equipped according to marketing research, online polls, viewer feedback, and a host of other means and methods of which the Marketeers of Corazune don't discuss outside their Chambers of Commerce. Various grades of prosthetic AI are used to provide the clones with a precisely calibrated and hierarchically comparable form of basic intelligence. This levels the playing field. All the clones begin at the same, exact level of stupidity and only by their specific experiences, unique interactions and personal explorations can they learn anything or develop any sort of repertoire over and above the baseline. The clonetestants enter the stages and sets of the Dumbshows virtually blank slates. They either learn quickly, or they get cancelled, often gruesomely and spectacularly, for the Audience craves excitement, enjoys audacity, demands satisfaction--but it will always accept blood, guts and gore. The Audience is a faceless mob caught-up in the exhiliration of visceral feedback and the addictive ecstasy of second-hand violence.
Clonetestants are configured along the accepted norms for Basic humanoids, though some family-stables have allowed various forms of semi-controlled mutation amongst their offspring in the hopes of developing a legal and permissable edge. Some are cybernetically-augmented, but these sorts of clonetestants compete in their own categories and under very stringent rules that date back to the Mechistophelean Jihad.
The various family-stables of clonetestants are managed directly by the core-parent, the gene-donor from whom all that lineage of clones are directly derived. These Manager-parents have a direct, immediate, and totally personal stake in their showbiz family and they literally live or die based upon the performance of their hyper-modified clonechildren. The Audience feedback is not limited to merely votes, it escalates as the stakes rise and the clonetestants pass each stage or set, reaching incredible levels that are not only deeply damaging, but more addictive than either politiporn or murderballadry combined.
Not So Stupid
But the Dumbshows are not simple gladiatorial matches nor are they vulgar battles staged with no narrative or style--far from it. Holophasic recreations of the greatest battles fought within the warzones and even deep within the Maze of Patriots are already available and in widespread circulation, mostly derived from the distilled memories of Veterans or compiled by very expert revisionist scholars. The Casino-Arenas have a monopoly on nearly all sanctioned gladiatorial combats, and related violent Arenatainments. All the accumulated programming, data and corpus of popular entertainment from the centuries was in the Public Domain. Not sanctioned by one of the Great Houses or some other Power, the Dumbshows are barred from contributing competitors to the Great Games, so the Dumbshows have had to pursue a more novel and peculiar avenue to carve out their own particular niche within the entertainment-ecology. They allow the Audience to design and construct challenges, mazes, labyrinths and other puzzles or obstacle courses for the clonetestants to explore, battle within, or escape from--all depending upon the Audience's level of participation and whatever special features the parental managers deem appropriate for the current installment. There is a thriving underground market for pre-designed Dumbshow stages and sets which then get lobbed into the voting frenzy to compete with the sketches of wicked children, scenario-maps submitted by aging eremite-gamists, holographic construct-diagrams contributed by slumming Jontolon virtulects with low tastes. Those designs, ideas or fragments of ideas get compiled and jumbled together--often randomly--into a fresh hodge-podge of deadly and delightful surprises for the clonetestants to experience.
Set & Setting
The stages and sets used in any particular installment of a Dumbshow is voted on as though it were one more clonetestant. Particularly well-received and popular stages or sets get re-used and entered into tournaments against other stages and sets, the ultimate winner of these contests becomes one of the Top Twelve All-Time Greatest Challenges which are only viewable to registered subscibers and the usual pirate accounts. Those members of the Audience who have contributed the most work to the competing stages & sets are a highly motivated and competitve group. They live and die by merit of their reputations. Sometimes literally. Not only do most of the top designers engage in duels over their designs or to enhance their reputations, those who ascend to the Top Twelve rankings are expected to stake their own lives on the outcome of an installment utilizing their personally modified and enhanced designs for their masterpiece stage or set. Those who decline the challenge lose a great deal of prestige, suffer a major lose in reputation and drop in the rankings to the point where a lot of up-and-comers are almost certain to begin challenging them in order to leap-frog the apparently lame duck. Disappoint the Audience and your career is finished. At least until you can stage a comeback, but those rarely go well and very few ever succeed, and none do so without substantial backing from the more prominent showbiz families, focus groups, or one of the Casinos who sometimes try-out the Dumbshows as a possible low-end investment.
Clonetestants who make it through each stage or set are allowed to keep whatever weapons or gear they can pick up along the way. They can also gain credits that their parent-managers use to upgrade their sub-systems according to the Blue List. Unlisted mods are frowned upon and can result in the suspension of a parent-manager and the termination of their family-stable. The types of shows that make use of freely modified clonetestants tend to be very marginal, short-term, and ultimately not terribly popular, mostly because they are so unbalanced and just not very entertaining, at least amongst the more civilized worlds--there are very idiosyncratic versions of the Dumbshows based in Gilpoy (a sub-node dome-clave in Xembor), as well as a rather bizarre off-shoot featured in Jezeal that has subsequently began to filter into the Jevpa/Bazra markets within the Domain of Three Suns. But for the most part, these are very small-time and obscure programs of little note except to a dedicated enthusiast.
Vote Early, Vote Often
The most popular Dumbshows combine the interpersonal dramatics of antique reality scripts and traditional soap operas with challenging athletic competitions and loads of crowd-pleasing violence. But unlike minimalist wrestling, clone combats, Casino-run gladiator matches or the hyper-regimented puglilist fights, Dumbshows employ narrative to frame the violence and to give each installment more appeal, both in terms of the livecast and the archived (and edited) recasts as well. The Audience votes for their favorite scenarios, the best clonetestants, and for the specific stages & sets used in each installment. Those receiveing the most votes get the most perks or a shot at going on to the next round. Those getting the lowest voter turn-out are retired or sent to one of the Farms for revision and restructuring, unless the parent-manager decides to just recycle the matter or reprocess the tissue/biomass--sometimes they will auction off particularly valuable offspring to collectors, fans or artists such as the insane genius Grigmar. In the Dumbshows, a clonetestant's life and death depends on the votes of the Audience as much or more as their ability to beat the various tricks, traps, obstacles or challenges they must face.
The Top Twelve Dumbshows
- Molly & Polly
- Snuffles the Deathclown
- Down the Tubes
- Audience Choice (New Format)
- Ten Little Lost Lambs
- Bad Land Battle
- Survival of the Fittest
- Hey Piranesi!
- Break Out Or Die Trying
- Deep Dark Downwards
- Deathscapes & Murderscenes
- A Better Mousetrap
There are rumors of cults and other collectives forming gene-consortiums that could break the monopoly of the showbiz families once and for all. These consortiums would be able to draw upon a much wider range of genestocks and inheritable traits, making them more versatile and adaptable than the monoline ultra-inbred families that dominate the Dumbshows currently. Perhaps this is another scheme by some mid-level Promoter from one of the Casinos, but there are those who believe it is the carefully orchestrated plan of some Jontolon-based Gamer who is playing at some weird sort of macro-game.