Thursday, May 17, 2007

the politics of fantasy



"the truth is there is something terribly wrong with this country"

"if our government was responsible for the deaths of a hundred thousand people"

"you are being formally charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, treason and sedition"

de te fabula narratur

[its you what there talking about]

This film is already suggesting the fragility of its worldview (this is what it sells). And yet it does not theorise alternatives, rather it reproduces a paranoid politics derived from its paranoia.

The social conditions bringing about this vexed worldview are never alluded to. Instead the film launches into a yet more unreal fantasy: the vendetta of a corpse persisting in its desires. Natalie Portman is suffering. And her desires, and by implication yours, persist only in death.

Introduction to trial by suffering: certainly a reactionary theme and some of these scenes relate to historical fascism: the sexualisation of desexualisation; puppet and dwarf; the Reichstag burning.

Fascism as a historical force can hardly follow such prompts. The point at which we are obliged to use the language of fascism will follow from the crowding out of every other alternative rather than the content of the most egregious propaganda. And alternatives still exist.

But what kind of cinema would be made by people who learned about politics from commercial newsproduct? or people who learned about sex from commercial pornography? and what kind of politics?

Can we not suppose that the figure of V is the imaginary incarnation of inculcated inaction? the representative on earth of all the recipients of impersonal communication: publicity; propaganda; pornography? a figure representing separation universalised?

24 comments:

Le Colonel Chabert said...

excellent post...


for some odd reason V for Vendetta put me in mind of a cheapish romantic comedy from the 80s, Sweet Liberty, by Alan Alda. (same musical conclusion I think) These seem to be a pair whose contrast reveals a great deal. They are both built around this defining of liberty as a position wedged between history and spectacle.

Comparing them what emerges first is the Wachowskis sheer refusal, sheer inability to confront the world except under the thick veil of "exaggeration" and fabulising, a tone like a rubber glove with which they poke at reality. Spectacle is refuge, and completely cut off from relations to the world in which the audience watches. The loathing of people, the insignificance of people, the sweeping, costly scale of action between Super Rich and Super Rogue, the scale of the Deed, the absolute insignificance and passivity and just squalid pettyness of everything beneath this Plane of Titans, which makes the spectator role only natural, the only concievable one. Says something to me about how rich rich people are now, the huge gulf that has opened, and the effects on their consciousness. Alan Alda of course was rich when making Sweet Liberty but its nothing like today's half billionaires, their isolation from an increasingly stressed middle class members of which they still may have contact with and socialise with but its not even possible for them to picture how they live for more than a cutaway from V on TV. The whole midde which used to be the focus of films ponderng liberty and authority (lightheartedly or otherwise) has been blacked out and replaced with cardboard cutouts; the film must now stick to the edges as if the middle class has become the necessarily invisible, insignificant impotent (spectatorial) background of narrative, but also the hidden heart of the unspeakable, unavowable horror.

Sweet Liberty is about a movie crew coming to a little long island town like one of the hamptons to film an adaptation of a book written by alda, an historian of the american revolutionary period. Its an interesting contrast to V also on this treatment of the founding myths behind the yearly fireworks display that is the ceremony of "our liberty". (V is much more 4th of July than bonfire night). Alda the small town earnest historian is furious at the way the director is changing history in the service of entertainment. The director keeps rattling off the rules of movies, counting them with fingers: Index finger: defy authority, middle finger: destroy property, ring finger: take people's clothes off. Alda gets his "revenge" on the director by turning his rules against him while they are shooting a recreated american revolutionary war battle....

The movies are so different in style, genre, tone, but somehow they seem closely related to me, genial liberalism in a cocoon of middle class prosperity playing out its conflicting "values" as a sex farce vs this fasho-neoliberal liberalism which has no language, desperately crashing together clich├ęs. The contrast marks out the developments clearly, the changed assumptions, the changed aesthetics, this process you mention of the ruling out, the narrowing of the possibilities of what can be depicted and thought, which goes also with the paranoia and the need to keep up this tone of total crisis, of breathless extremity. Ultimately V exorcises certain consciousness by shouting but in this form of planned obsolescence. It's so yesterday already, as must be the concerns we attached to it. It sort of offers itself as a form of our concerns which we can dump them in and then throw away in a week.

catmint said...

thanks Chabert!

Today's post is in a more impressionistic style. I was trying to explain what the character V was about without using technical language.

I think a decent psychoanalyst would say about V that he embodies childish instincts, something like that, because he doesn't seem to fit in the same plane as the other characters, as if he had desires but no sense of responsibility. But I only want to psychoanalyse the idea, not Alan Moore who I think might have some talent in art if not in political analysis.

or the other thing would be in terms of Kojève's dialectics V might be an "abstract negation" of the world he inhabits - something like that.

and it occured to me that ideas like this might follow from an apprenticeship to spectatorhood that I think probably applies a bit to all classes - but isn't really hegemonic.

I think I've seen that Alan Alda film. The trailer for V for Vendetta struck me as taking place in a Britain that had a deliberate "mocked up" quality, like Disney's mock up Britain. You can sometimes read too much into these things though.

catmint said...

I think it's possible the feel of V for Vendetta is consciously based on old British tv series like The Prisoner, which I think once in a while did stage mock up historical reenactments as part of a convoluted paranoia plot.

I've read a better review of 300, here which quotes Frank Miller accepting not denying the films racist overtones. But it was obvious this was how it was or at least should have been.

You're right that V for Vendetta has already been forgotten, probably 300 too. To be honest the opposite thing is happening at the same time: it's never been easier to buy *élite* culture stuff on the high street, although there's still a *taboo* against its appropriation.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"V might be an "abstract negation" of the world he inhabits - something like that"...

Yes in the graphic novel this is the dominant aspect, but I think the film transforms this in a bad direction.

I can't follow the link to the review...there were interesting comments here:

http://www.wolvesevolve.com/blog/?p=59

and it all put me in mind of this:

http://newleftreview.org/?view=2249

does film rule out the possibility of "reading as a loser?" In 300, the thing I thought would create unease was the relishing, braggodocious visual references to the piles of bodies of ethnic others in Nazi camps. But apparently the structural invitation to "be the spartans" and "watch for victory" can withstand even so open an attribution; there is debate only among various "watching for victory" poses - the commentariat in the audience simply cannot put itself in any posture other than management and superior. It cannot admit to any suspicion even that it may not be included in the master race, and takes the "ethical" (the position of the fantasy total power pondering voluntary self restraints) posture, avowed or disavowed (ought we commit genocide? ought we sacrifice others? it is as if the very thought that the ruling class is not asking our permission or advice, that we are among those to be sacrificed, without asking our opinion, is completely inadmissible. The courage to face this terror is just not there, and every invitation to fantasise from the point of the view of the master - of course to propose self restraint and decency in one language or another - is eagerly accepted.)

That Z can propose this film as inspiring to "the Left" is grounded in his image of "the Left" (and agency and subjectivity itself) as white - it does not occur to him that the racism of the film would alienate most of "the Left" who are capable of visualising themselves in the position of the slaughtered others and who are less prompt to picture their ideal selves as these white gothic brutes. Their whiteness is neutral, a feature of "universal humanity", in his view. His racism is so unquestioned I think it really has not occured to him that only a small minority of the Left is white: but even most of the rebuttals in the blogosphere and the press accept the white yerupeen supremacist givens, that "the Left" is characterised by a posture of white people toward non white people, and that indeed both "ethics" and "politics" are postures and attitudes taken by white men toward this or that.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

This is interesting too:

The Ecstasy of Philistinism

http://newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=1870

Le Colonel Chabert said...

this resistance to "reading as a loser" also I think accounts for the widespread failure to acknowledge how the spartans are treated by the film, how controlled (they move as slaves of the joystick), instrumentalised, nearly naked, tortured unto death for audience pleasure. It's blatant but refused because they are the figure of safety, the human shells (whiteness, yerupeenness) in which "we" are supposed to be "safe" from (under the wing of) the Capitalist Ruling Class that is the totalitarian power in the film, flaunting its mercilessness and its contempt for human bodies. It is as if the film is really saying "hurry! get into these bodies if you can, this armoured white yerupeenness, this obedience, this whiteness, maleness and obedience are the last lifeboats" but then the despot of the film just ends cackling as it sinks those boats and blows them to bits after they've served their purpose. The film says ultimately, faithful supermen, yerupeen elites, thanks for your labour power but your human strengths are a joke compared to our weapons, our technology - you can kill these racial inferiors but only with our help and under our total control, and we can pick you up off the ground, whirl you around, turn you upside down, make you howl or flip or just leave you hanging in the air, and then cut you to pieces and throw you away on the big pile of our used up humans when we're done.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

perhaps this is why it is a hit with nerds...the film flaunts the power of the geeks at the machines to master, control and kill all these people including their own "sandals on the ground", and celebrates this as the proof of their superiority/virtue according to the current reigning official values (aesthetic):

http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/11/03/1431222

US Military Spokesperson Compares Iraq to “Great Work of Art”
Meanwhile, the chief US military spokesperson in Iraq has compared the ongoing violence there to a work of art. Speaking in Baghdad Thursday, General William Caldwell said: "Every great work of art goes through messy phases while it is in transition. A lump of clay can become a sculpture. Blobs of paint become paintings which inspire."

catmint said...

there's still...

catmint said...

"perhaps this is why it is a hit with nerds"

yes, I think it's a film about nerds, the worldview of language of nerds, reproduced via an aspirational male body - as if there was now a third sex (nerds) who were sometimes permitted to dress up as the first sex (spartans).

I think the whole thing of people identifying themselves as "nerds" testifies to the degradation of communal language. It's a designation from No History - it doesn't connote an excess of mummy-love or an excessive desire to know, anything like that, it's just a pathological label, but from no actual pathology. An absent social pathology.

and the same thing happens with the framing of it; how it's like a computer game: the encouragement is there to consider the spectacle as transendental and transhistorical, rather than being socially constructed for the prosaic reason of making money

I wondered if Zizek liked the spartans because they fed into the old ideas of the liberal revolution: the industrious classes and the useless classes, as per his actual politics.

catmint said...

this is very good too

Le Colonel Chabert said...

I suspect Z's take is actually his doing "a favour", like his strange piece in the LRB about how George Soros is personally evil incarnate just after Soros called the Bush regime fascist enemies of the open society. My feeling is he's really just a kind of hustler.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

i can't help feeling though a lot of the aghast reactions to this are pleas for our more typically noble white western heroes and whatnot; more attractive role models triumphing over more disturbing enemies and saving the barbarians from themselves. The film is upsetting a certain complacency about white heroes with its unashamed gleeful barbarity and supidity. When it's ever so slightly covert - as in mel gibson films - this same audience is comforted and reassured by the same ideology. The sivileyzed don't like being offered no representative inside the film except for genocidal brutal porn star action figures facing waves of cartoon racist caricatures that are not even trying to pass as the real barbarian enemy. The film is mocking in a sense by literalising the propaganda and rendering ridiculous these fears and loathings that the audience prefers to be reminded are reasonable and justified (compare the threat to absorb, dilute, disintegrate whiteness as it is manifest in the persians in 300 to its manifestation as black folks in brooklyn in half nelson). The spartans are degrading simulacra to the audience that is accustomed to being provided with a representative it can recognise and "forgive" and accept without reserve as at the very least meaning well and centred. That's not our history! That's not our imaginary! That's an affront! There is this puzzle of why the film did so well with a demographic who doesn't like the genre normally (young women) - it may have something to do with the universal contempt this film shows, its offering up this superbrutes as objects of audience delectation and contempt together. the audience is offered the royal box at the gladiatorial spectacle and it is licensed to simply hunger for a good show and everybody's blood, to find satisfaction in all the killing and not to be chagrined by any of the gladiator's fates. There are complaints that the film "admires" the barbarism of the spartan society, but this barbarism is what makes them entirely fit for dismemberment as spectacle without anything but audience thrill attaching to their deaths. I don't think anyone watching is invested in their well being or survival - and this is what I sense is irking much of the mainstream about this film. You have to want Buffy to survive and prevail, and V to survive and prevail, to give their risk, the death that menaces them, the dignity and the terror to affirm them as life in the fascist sense. The Vitalism of Nietzsche, Klages, Junger, D'Annunzio and Heidegger is purportedly revering and rousing an intensity of life which can be felt only in the face of death. What is missing in 300 is all life: neither nature nor the human figures are living. They are already dead from the start, mere weightless spectres of corpses, puppets of the machine, they are dead before they are chopped up and punctured, even the largely iirelevant narrative emphasises from the opening that we are to be witnesses to the story of the dead at Thermopylae and visually emphasises that it is to be told as a puppet show of sorts, the old favourite fascist myth is a pretext for a harmless orgiastic animation. It is as if the computer has retrieved some arms and legs from the big heap of body parts that is the film's centre, put them in motion in a clearly dead world of dead nature, with fake sterile scenery, to offer a "ballet of death" predicated on the prior abolition of life. It seems to me this is more about the assertion of infinite commodification and an ideology of modernity that was the target of the fascist "critique" than it is about the fascist narrative it commodifies and recycles. The result I think is aiming for atomising rather than bonding, alienating rather than fusing, to encourage an intense solipsist sadistic individualism and competition, an intense selfishness, rather than self sacrifice. Notice the defenders of the film defend their personal pleasure in it as such , in hedonist terms - sort of "well who are you to tell me my pleasures have to be politically correct or socially acceptable? I really liked it and don't care what anybody else thinks, and its not political, it's just fun". Total libertarian consumerism, very far from the consciousness and language of fascism. The film stages for audience delight a battle to the death between monstrous neoliberalism (the persians) and monstrous neoconservatism (the spartans) and weds and reconciles them, fusing the inner "victory" to the "spartan spirit" with the outer victory - the ideological victory - to the "hedonist" neoliberal empire. That was the irony of antigram tryng to convince kat brown that she was being seduced by fascism, by the spartan spirit, scolding her for her individualist egotism which prevented her from recognising any depicted horde as herself and her insufficient sensitivity in his view to the need for disciplined dissolution of the ego into the community, with her replying basically "but the Persians are so kewl". Zizek is the only one who has (pretended to) had/have an actually fascist response, who has said the pleasure he took consuming the film was really a sacrifice he personally has made for the commonweal.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

here's something interesting about the lunatic war historian who has written a foreward for the book about the making of the movie:

http://parsikhabar.net/microphones-planes-and-stereotypes-those-behind-the-making-of-300/

catmint said...

I think the war historian is the same guy Gary Becher has some fun with in the exile article

I think you're probably right about Zizek, I was just trying to be creative

catmint said...

Chabert, I think your analysis is brilliant but it's far too complicated, I'm sticking with my initial idea about the phalangism being the central idea and the rest being constructed around it.

The phalanx, in my opinion, is an anologue of Edgeworth's desiring machine, which is the ideological basis of neoliberalism, but I'm not in a position to properly explain this at the moment.

In relation to the film selling to young women my first thought would be to see what kind of press the film got in entertainment magazines that are tilted more toward women. If the makers can get Zizek they can surely get good PR.

I'm not sure if you feel Kat Brown was wronged by Antigram. I don't think she was too bothered once she realised she wasn't being victimised by a dangerous sociopath.

catmint said...

I'm going to have to rewrite this article again - I don't know how these books on vitalism ever got written

Le Colonel Chabert said...

ah well, no sale!

no i don't think she was wronged, just it's a sort of symptom; antigram said at Lenin also he was hoping to see google start censoring blogs for content to protect people from fascists of the not well funded type who throw bricks through windows. I just think the message here that is missed is the message from Time Warner not from some strange extremists in league with skinheads, and that hearing this message and identifying the sender is necessary, because to a point the threat of fascism in the strict sense is serving in the place of anticommunism, an apology for capital, in multiple ways (for the right and center-right there is "islamofascism", for the center left and left there is old style; google and time warner are offering themselves as the sane order in contrast to these bogeys reallysuccessfully - its amazing that time warner releasing a fascist film actually turns out to have the effect of enhancing time warner's posture as anti-fascism; the spectral fascism it creates is simply imputed to its audience; it creates its own spectral fascism as its foil). So on the dm/kb thing, its just it is easy and wrong to blame the bad taste of consumers for what huge corporations produce - like militant consumer recycling programmes in the absence of restrictions on industry - and whatever one thinks of the film, there's just no evidence that anyone who percieves it as fascist is liking it or that it is having a kind of extraordinary impact. What it tells us about its producers mentality and agenda (nice quote from debord above, and exactly to the point) can't simply be imputed to the pleased audience, and flagellating the pleased audience while continuing to enrich the producers seems to me just the choice the producers prefer to see. Also that it could be made at all suggests the ideological conditions are already there; its not out of the blue. Not that it's not possible to imbibe fascism unwittingly, or other similarly odious ideas - the racial ideas are not by any means exclusive to fascims and here they work out an american paradigm - but if so one needs to look closely at less obvious examples of these assumptions produced by culture (like Zizek, or David Lynch) which one takes more seriously. If the film is even intelligible as racist, for example, it is because of all this cultural support, and a backlash which more elite culture product has decidedly assisted in creating. There is I think a problem with seeing this film as really egregious even though it is certainly at an extreme; its so blatant racism for example is arriving into well prepared ground. Furious denoucement of 300 on the same page as the "hermenuetics of innocence" style celebration of Lovecraft and Lynch: these products are functioning together producing race, imperialist ideology, whiteness and both the complacency and paranoia of aryan masculinity for different though overlapping audiences. Ultimately this is a tactic of self-justification; the learned clerks can handle Loveccraft and Zizek, so they think, without becoming genocidal racists, (they can bracket the racism for the kernal of untainted artiness or "insight") but 300 is dangerous to the swinish multitudes incapable of such delicate dissections, or something like this. Yet it is the respectable product which really creates the ground of the ideological environment in which the crap takes root. In reality, the role of Lovecraft and Lynch and so much else in preparing self styled nerds for the push button ecstasies of 300 may not be negligible.

With young women, the film tested surprisingly well before any promotion, so that after early tests more Gorgo was added for them. I suspect it is just the bodies and the way they are displayed.

catmint said...

I don't think the film produces fascists either - in fact I'm not sure that a lot of the viewers really got how it doesn't fit mainstream cinema, which absolutely is built around stereotypes. I think maybe Kat Brown just assumed it was made by people like her and read a campiness into it that the makers didn't intend, just as a modern viewer can find a kitsch quality in the sculptures of Kolbe or Breker (above).

I thought 300 changed the rules, or demonstrated the rules had been changed, and I wanted to note this.

anyway, thanks for your comment

catmint said...

Chabert, look at the ideas about work and leisure in 300 - it's a fasho film but it's built around neoliberal ideology. It's saying:

"there is no surplus value, all that is real is rational, all that is rational is real"

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"there is no surplus value, all that is real is rational, all that is rational is real"

the narrative, the script on paper, yes; the film I think is inviting the viewer to participate in the celebration of surplus extraction - the whole thing is the surplus, the image-commodity which results from the commodification of everything (of this vitalist idea of "life" too, put through the paces of production and disposal) and this cocaculture, infinitely reproducible ersatz life, is the object presented to be cheered.

Like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WcUyLNvPEo

I'm not really disagreeing with you on the "reading" of the inner text here; but I think people's reactions hint at something else really going on. What the film's fans and most of the film's critics (most of whom obliquely at least reaffirm the values of the genre in which this exists and from which this departs, many even saying 'but what happened to Athens? isn't amerika the torchbearer of yerupeen Democracy anymore?')) both come away with is a passionate conviction about the producting/owning entity's innocence (of the politics, of the exploitation). And isn't this the most important thing?

Le Colonel Chabert said...

i mean I don't mean to say "its not fascist" much less "its antifascist" but it's beyond fascist; it's surpassed fascism (and it is flaunting this)...it follows after its satires....I think because of media, which has made fascism's intermediate spectacular terms (volk, nation, fanaticism, leader, the whole apparatus) superfluous, for just the reasons debord noted. The society of the spectacle accomplishes what fascism (the fascism of the ruling class, that is) could only strive for in a low tech and cumbersome way, laboriously making the connections between individual, fascio, etc.. Spectacular property, image/commodity, is a superior mediator (superior to moneta) of these relations as mysticism...

Le Colonel Chabert said...

i mean it is telling that Z's effort to really read it as fascist -as exhorting the audience to submit itself to community of strength, discipline, righteousness to perform the great work of scourging the egoist indiwiddles and abolishing the selfish hedonist (post) moderns, is felt by everyone to be really against the grain of the film, blind and deaf to the film's visceral thrill-provocation, thought-exterminating sensationalism, irreverent/reverence of revisionism/mythification of purported historical subject matter, its self celebrating artificiality and 'newness', its occupying this odd space between young adult camp and teen gross-out, between cornballness and the extremes of irony, a new space of witless psood irony where beavis and buttheat reside.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

also the reactions to Z unaccountably accuse his reading of ignoring the racism when in fact he explicitly endorses it (this is in his view an obvious and an appropriate image of the "multicultural" "permissive" "society" of "lesbians" and "cripples" - the phallically challenged society - that is the enemy of the pure, homogenous and virile "left", a typical formula in his work), while the cheering fans of 300 really are ignoring the racism, not by elevating the monstrous Persians to ideals or counter-heroes but by overemphasizing (recognising but exaggerating) the monstrous (feminized/property) object quality of the spartans, all the bars placed between the audience and this identification with them - which ride on invited investment in their being butchered finally - as fascio that Z's forced reading leaps over.

catmint said...

the "multicultural" "permissive" "society" of "lesbians" and "cripples"

Zizek's too much really, this stuff's only *uncanny* for a tiny segment of the population - mainly talentless postgrad students

In a rational world he'd just write an obscure eblog (peau de chagrin: about his declining symbolic efficasy) which no-one would pay attention to.

One of the producers of 300, Mark Canton, gives an interview about the project here (the other producer, Gianni Nunnari owns the rights) and they have definite neo-lib affects, pro "savvy" (reproductive of capital) anti "cynical" (wasteful of capital):

"We’ve got a rare occasion. The people are buzzing going in and instead of being cynical coming out, they’re going, “oh, that was f–ing awesome!” So that’s when it’s really a nice time."

"You know you’re firing on all cylinders when you make a water–cooler movie that people, when they leave the theatre, like they did at the premiere the other night at Mann’s Chinese (in Hollywood, CA), and rather than running to their cars to leave, rather than being cynical like they can be in this town and putting the movie down, they stood outside and were buzzing about the way different people are impacted by the movie."

"Well, most of the people who will read this, I think, are probably online because they’re savvy and they know that something’s coming. And I think for them, I’m just glad that we can satisfy what it takes to get out of the house and go to the movies."