Monday, January 25, 2010

Postcolonialicious



Having attacked last week the persistent claim that catastrophic events such as the earthquake in Haiti and mass-mediated spectacles such as the movie Avatar must be consumed in the same manner, that is to say in the absolute present-tense of pure emotional response, untainted by historical analysis or criticism, I need to account for the opposite viewpoint: that we should in fact view cinematic spectacles, no matter how superficially naïve they may appear, as engines of debate and vehicles of useful ideas about society. For isn’t it in fact what happened with Avatar? Alongside those who were thrilled by it in much the same way one enjoys an amusement park ride - an analogy convincingly put forward by Mark Fisher - perhaps just as many have ventured to discuss its place in the history of cinema and of ideas, or what it has to say about colonialism and race relations.

It seems to me that on this front too there has been a broad convergence on a couple of key points: firstly, that Avatar contains an environmental and anti-corporatist, anti-imperialist message; and secondly, that even to the extent that it might fail to articulate it in a satisfactory manner, the fact that the film is out there and that so many people are seeing it and talking about those issues has to be a good thing. Or a bad thing, if you’re a conservative: for the case for this alleged progressive message inside of Avatar has also been made with gleeful reference to the horrified reactions of right wing commentators, for whom the commercial success of the film (cue Stephen Colbert’s line that ‘the marketplace has spoken’) is the insult on top of the injury. Thus the LA Times:
As a host of critics have noted, the film offers a blatantly pro-environmental message; it portrays U.S. military contractors in a decidedly negative light; and it clearly evokes the can't-we-all-get along vibe of the 1960s counterculture. These are all messages guaranteed to alienate everyday moviegoers, so say the right-wing pundits -- and yet the film has been wholeheartedly embraced by audiences everywhere, from Mississippi to Manhattan.

Writing for Socialist Worker in what is to my mind the most optimistic take of all on Cameron’s message, Nagesh Rao has echoed these comments:
[T]here's no denying that millions of moviegoers around the world are flocking to a film that unflinchingly indicts imperialism and corporate greed, defends the right of the oppressed to fight back, and holds open the potential for solidarity between people on opposite sides of a conflict not of their choosing.
And further:
It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that the bulldozers destroying the Na'vi forests are like the Israeli bulldozers in occupied Palestine, and that Jake's defiance of them is like the courageous stance of activists like Rachel Corrie.

Here is then the flipside of the situation I described last week: mass-mediated entertainment is no longer complicit in displacing and concealing actual news stories, or scrambling our sense of time and history, quite the opposite. Sure, if you read most major newspapers or watched most network news bulletins you could be excused to think - for instance - that the siege of Gaza has been over for several months, but the parable of the Na’vi will remind you of it, reactivate and focus your outrage.

I can hardly pretend not to think that this is in fact way too much of a stretch. Not because I don’t believe that cinema can do all of those things, send coded yet powerful messages that demand that lesser or greater injustices be reckoned with. Besides I’m a cultural critic by training, aren’t I, so that’s more or less my raison d’etre. But put in the terms chosen by Rao, it’s just all too simple, too wishful. ‘Like most sci-fi films, Avatar offers a withering critique of the world that we live in.’ Really? Is that what most sci-fi films do? Or has it become a common place, a reflex, that thing that is expected of sci-fi films?

In the comments to last week’s post Edmund and Qlipoth rightly excoriated Avatar for how integral it is to the logic of cultural appropriation and corporate greed that it is supposedly against. But even without plunging one’s critical scalpel quite so deeply, where it is more likely to inflict damage, and taking the film at face value, as a text that is more or less transparent in form and content, readings such as Rao’s ought to strike us as very problematic.

Like they taught us in high school, first and foremost there is the question of point of view. Annalee Newitz has covered it in an excellent review entitled When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?, showing the extent in which the film is a white man’s fantasy about colonialism and race, ‘about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege’. Besides the obvious and regularly trotted out comparison to Dances with Wolves (indeed, why not Pocahontas?), Newitz usefully contrasts Avatar to District 9, whose white protagonist goes through a far more unsettling transformation into the Other than Jake Sully. Wickus remains an anti-hero until the bitter end, joining in the struggle of the victimised aliens just so he can go back to being white, and that fundamental and never resolved problem of how to narrate the alien experience is one of the enduring strengths of the film even when it seeks refuge into the trite sci-fi action formula in order to bring about its resolution.

By contrast, its complete lack of nuance speaks to the other, obvious issue with Avatar: it is a very stupid film. Its characters are stubbornly two-dimensional (irony intended), either good or bad, and Jake alone is allowed to briefly transition from one state to the other. The natives are good, because they are unsullied, they are innocent, they live by traditional values and know their place in the order of things. The bad guys are cartoonishly evil, and likewise without depth. In equal part greedy and sadistic, they need to be asked to please not kill the children, which they really don’t mind doing if it means getting their hands on the precious ore of Pandora more expeditely. Hell, they might even throw in the killing for free. Which is why, in the end, Avatar is against imperialism in the same way that Tom and Jerry is against cats. It is a caricature of what critical cinema could and ought to be and indeed has been and is, if altogether too infrequently.



Never mind Dances with Wolves: Avatar ought by rights to be compared to Soldier Blue. If you want rape and pillage, a taste of genocide, and you insist that it must be told from a white perspective, then at least let us have it. Show us what it is like to maim and kill this alien scum, to dispose of them as the barbarity of a military machine sees fit. Show us the dead children. With all the technical splendour of its three-dimensional CGI, indeed because of it, Avatar cannot go there, if it even meant to. And whatever useful frisson there might be in a battle scene where the US marine corps are the bad guys (indeed, not unlike in Soldier Blue), they are still played by people, whereas the good guys are simply not there: they are computed, inserted in the afterthought of post-production, unreal. China Mieville has written briefly but eloquently (h/t: Dougal) about the aesthetics of CGI, which he describes as a ‘mannerist absurdity’.
It is straightforwardly untrue that CGI “looks real.” Are we yet at the point in history where we can all agree we could totally see the digital seams whenever Gollum walked onscreen? Can we stop pretending that the Na’vi and rendered landscapes of Pandora in “Avatar” don’t immediately stand out from the real physical actors, moving as they do with the unpleasant, jarring, parabolic precision of all CGI?

CGI may have been supposed to “look real” once, but not for a long time — quite the opposite, it draws attention to itself. It’s become crucial that CGI is visible, so the audience can obediently coo at it.

And so is that standard-issue sci-fi withering critique of the world we live in made so visible in Avatar, so that not so much left-leaning types, but anybody who’s not a foaming-at-the-mouth conservative can obediently coo at it.

But there’s something that bothers me still: why has nobody - at least nobody I came across - questioned the role of the human scientists stationed on Pandora? Here’s Rao again:
[Dr.] Grace [Augustine] is no military lackey, and her team's meticulous attention to the scientific project, as well as their moral and ethical sensibilities drive them to oppose Col. Quaritch and their corporate sponsor, in the form of Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi). The film's insistence that the aims of social science can't be reconciled with those of imperialism stands in stark contrast to the complicity of academics currently involved in the Human Terrain System program.

Granted, Augustine and her team do break rank with the evil twins and put their lives on the line for the Na’vi. But what of their involvement until that point? Wasn’t the Avatar project aimed from the beginning at infiltrating the Na’vi in order to gain their trust? And in order to do what, if not convince them to give up the unobtanium? We are supposed to believe that Augustine’s intention was that of studying the Na’vi and their ecosystem, as if that was even an innocent activity, let alone when it is carried out from within a military-corporate apparatus. Then there is the small matter of breeding the avatars themselves, which is genetic experimentation carried out on an alien race without their consent. But hey, Augustine gave them schools, right? And what does that remind you of?

How this flaming turd could have escaped the attention of the critics of imperialism out there, I shall never understand. I can only wonder if it has something to do with another split in the film’s reception, between the people who thought it looked fantastic, and those who didn’t. I’m firmly in the camp of meh, but I can’t for the life of me see stereograms either, so you could easily put it down to a deficit of perception, or a matter of taste. By which I mean that there is nothing ideological about the 3D itself.

Or is there? I’ve been grappling all week with the Chinese government’s decision to ban the film, except for the 3D screenings. What if they have a point, and it’s not about making the film too expensive for those for whom the concept of “forced relocation” may have special significance, but rather about the aesthetics itself? Perhaps those censors understand that a better, more precise control of the simulation allows meanings to be better domesticated. And perhaps so too Dr. Augustine, with her obsession to take samples, catalogue and describe, her meticulous attention to the scientific project, was the true villain after all.








Those who might be interested in following the Socialist Worker debate following Nagesh Rao's piece can read Shaun Joseph's A look at Avatar's Achilles' heel and Leela Yellesetty's Avatar is a great starting point.

On the postcolonial theme, some comments by Rawiri Taonui on the depiction of the Na'vi.

I must link to Greg Egan's review, if only for the use of the phrase "your inner exobiologist".

Annalee Newitz, again, on the subject of Avatar's realism, and Evan Calder Williams, expounding beautifully on 'total wet fecundity, illimitable hybrid biopower, interspecies interpenetration, an absence of agriculture or organized production, and trees that have developed an information network for which Google would happily displace many millions of animist, lithe, bare-assed tribes'.


74 comments:

Ben Wilson said...

My take on the scientists was that they represented missionaries. The subtext being that science is humanity's religion, and scientists are people who are well trained, educated, and often well-meaning. They want to spread the good word of their creed and find it hard to believe that people outside of it see it as a creed rather than just the truth. There is reference in the film to 'teaching' the aliens, although it seems to have ended at teaching them English.

As such, they were right there at the forefront of the colonial wave, and did indeed attempt quite deliberately to 'go native' so as to convince the natives from the inside out that they could be part of the grand vision. But of course they were followed and used (and often commissioned) by powerful colonial intentions, whose aims were never noble. Did they plan this? I don't think the film tries to portray that the actual characters did, although their own masters may have. It seems to me more a case of them trying hopelessly to change things from within, and failing because they are up against a cartoon juggernaut. It seems that they are also afflicted by the 'going native' theme, but less so than the main character, because they come from a perspective that is actually far stranger to the aliens than a gung-ho warrior who simply loves the freedom he finds in the new body. By being less involved in the alien life, by coming to it with a 'cup half full', they are not invited to partake of it so deeply, and are thus less immersed themselves.

I don't agree that there is no character development for these people in the film - almost all of them seem to go through the arc of falling out of faith with their species. In their case it is actually an even bigger arc because they clearly had pacifist intentions, taking up arms was not their thing, not least because of the obvious futility of it, long term. I'm thinking the sequels here.

Ben Wilson said...

I can't recall who said it on Public Address, but the suggestion is plausible that the Chinese only banned it in 2D was because the 3D priced the masses out of the market, and was thus less subversive. But it is interesting to think they find the film subversive at all. It's been curious to hear the number of people for whom it struck a chord who are not white.

Giovanni said...

I can't recall who said it on Public Address, but the suggestion is plausible that the Chinese only banned it in 2D was because the 3D priced the masses out of the market

Jack Elder, I believe. "Not so much crushing dissent, as ovepricing it." Heh.

I'm still mulling over the missionary analogy, it seems to me to have merit. If indeed Augustine's role (I mean look at her name, right?) is to define the Na'vi as having a soul, as it were, it would be a powerful counter-argument.

Giovanni said...

(And to clarify, you'll see from that link that it isn't an outright ban - more a matter of the film's popularity needing to be curbed in order to give local productions a chance. That's the official line anyhow.)

Ben Wilson said...

I mean look at her name, right?

Right. Not that I can remember any names from the film, the dialog just didn't hold my attention. I made the assumption early on when I heard that the scientists had set up schools that they were missionary in nature. And I tend to think it's actually a valid point about Western science, particularly in terms of colonial aggression.

I wonder if she will reappear, given that she was communed with Eywa just before death. As a ghost or something? Seems a waste of Sigourney Weaver, in a film otherwise bereft of stars.

If indeed Augustine's role is to define the Na'vi as having a soul, as it were, it would be a powerful counter-argument.

To the humans? To us viewers? They were never portrayed as soul-less even by the baddies. Just value-less, by the baddies and I took Augustine to be pushing the line that they had immense value from a scientific perspective. That she took this perspective was part of her problem with them. For their actual trust she should have been pushing that they had value from a moral perspective. That they had value in themselves. And perhaps this is an unfair reading of her, perhaps she was simply pushing that line to the Establishment, as a more 'realistic' way of saving what she already saw as valuable.

George said...

Avatar's trailer, spliced with that of Pocahontas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdIIqoDakHU&feature=related

George said...

Oh wait, that will teach me for not clicking the links...

Ben Wilson said...

It was still well done, though. They worked to coordinate the voice snippets in that parody.

EM said...

Some thoughtful points and questions raised here.

But a quick correction re: China. AVATAR is not banned there (the report linked does not say this either), rather, its run was shortened because of financial interests: CONFUCIUS was due to open, and was priority treatment since it was state-funded.

Also, I'm not entirely convinced that the message of AVATAR itself, intrinsically necessitates capitalist imperialist appropriation of the Other, or the message of anti-imperialism -- though I wouldn't be able to defend the inevitable merch spinoffs that will no doubt proceed after it. But I would defend Cameron's film at the level of the Idea: it is better to make a statement against colonialism and imperialism (yes, even on behalf of the Other if you mean it) even within (since where is there authentically an outside?) cultural productions of capitalism than not. What is important is to formulate a way of preserving the Idea, and extending it somehow.

EM said...

One more thought: a difference does exist between

(a) statements against corporate imperialism made by an agent operating within corporate cultural production [Cameron's AVATAR], and

(b) exploitative "charity", the infiltration of the Other's economic means [Neoliberal imperialism like US-led invasions of Haiti].

Anonymous said...

http://open.salon.com/blog/ezili_danto/2010/01/04/the_avatar_movie_from_a_black_perspective

Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver, says at one point in defending the Na’vi tree "This isn't some pagan Vodun, this is their home and destruction of the Hometree will affect the biological connection to nature's lifeforce of all Na’vi organisms." Something like that.

This is the same anthropologist who, later on, in the movie would be rushed to the Tree of Souls and Mo'at, the Na’vi high priestess, for healing through the making of a sacred connection to nature's lifeforce to save her. The whole chanting ritual and raising up of sacred energies pretty much looked like Vodun (in Haiti, Vodun means lifting up "sacred energies".)

If James Cameron was indeed doing what he said he wanted to do and writing from the indigenous point of view, if I took him seriously, than I would not have to see how Grace, the white woman's life was made to be so important that in the middle to their grieving of all that they had lost from the shock and awe attack upon their village, that HER HEALING was the priority. She's so important to Jake, the whole village that's just lost its beloved king and perhaps thousands upon thousands of their people, take time to value THIS LIFE above all else and sit in unison to chants for her wellbeing! But alas, Dr. Grace dies. But wait, all is not lost. Her life is so unique and valuable, that her lifeforce gets to be DESERVING enough to join into the collective Navi's Goddess (Eywa) vibration.

This is such an obvious white fantasy in a long, long line of the noble white savior films. After the Sigourney Weaver character's Hollywood demonization of Haiti's sacred way, her demeaning "Pagan Vodun" comment, it would have been poetic justice if Cameron truly wanted to speak from "the others" point of view, if the good doctor's spirit had NOT gone directly into the blissful Navi Eywa collective soul but spent some time in some Christian purgatory or some such place!. For that privilege too reminded me of the foreign Vodun converts who come into Haitian culture and claim our ancestors, priesthood and to be Vodun spirit masters in just one generation of submission.

If I were to take James Cameron's sci-fi movie seriously I'd say it was Richard Pryor who once remarked, Do you have any dreams? They’ll want them too.

Giovanni said...

@Ben
I wonder if she will reappear, given that she was communed with Eywa just before death. As a ghost or something? Seems a waste of Sigourney Weaver, in a film otherwise bereft of stars.

You know, I don't think I'm ready to entertain the possibility of an Avatar sequel quite yet...

If indeed Augustine's role is to define the Na'vi as having a soul, as it were, it would be a powerful counter-argument.

To the humans? To us viewers?


I meant to my reading. Not that I think that missionaries haven't been instrumental to corporate, military and political colonialism, of course, but the narratives aren't always perfectly aligned. And if the missionary's verdict is that the indigenes are people like us, as it were, then it can also work as a counternarrative.

Giovanni said...

(And thanks to Anon for the link to the critique of Augustine on Salon, great piece.)

Giovanni said...

@EM
But a quick correction re: China. AVATAR is not banned there (the report linked does not say this either), rather, its run was shortened because of financial interests: CONFUCIUS was due to open, and was priority treatment since it was state-funded.

You're quite right, yes, besides linking to the article I made that point upthread. Still the upshot is that the film can only circulate in 3D.

it is better to make a statement against colonialism and imperialism (yes, even on behalf of the Other if you mean it) even within (since where is there authentically an outside?) cultural productions of capitalism than not.

I agree with this comment, and so does Philip Matthews, who picked it up in his blog. I have said in the post that I don't think it is an impossibility to offer a critique from within that particular apparatus, although it must be a great deal harder when you make a film as big as Avatar. Consider this: the budget of the film was $400 million, as we all know, but fewer people might be aware that more than one third of that money was global marketing by News Corp. This underscores I think Qlipoth's killer point in the comments last week that the business of Avatar is in fact imperialism. For any critical added value to still emerge, the film I think would have to be a lot better. And I'm just not convinced that it is.

(On the subject of the critism that is possible, Qlipoth took me to school - to an extent that won't be fully appreciated since part of the conversation spilled in other comments threads - when I tried to counter his withering attack on The Wire. A brutally challenging post.)

EM said...

Thanks for the response, Giovanni.

I took a look at Qlipoth's post on THE WIRE, and was quite taken aback at how off-the-mark it was despite its evident detail and labour.

echeneida said...

Liked this post a lot, Giovanni, but:

You're quite right, yes, besides linking to the article I made that point upthread. Still the upshot is that the film can only circulate in 3D.

Upthread, not in the post itself? Sorry, I hate to be a hectoring dick about this, but I think your musings on 3D are actually less important than the eager promulgation of absurd legends about Chinese Red Totalitarian Fascist Oriental Censorship. I'm definitely not trying to start some fruitless argument over how politically motivated any weirdo marketing decision in the Chinese movie biz may be; that censorship in China is awful, surely, hasn't escaped anyone; that by Western imperialism's standards this reality isn't shitty enough, that on top of it we have to drool over fantasies of how it's just like 1984 over there, my god!, is unsurprising. I'd like it though if anglophone leftists were more on their guard about this sort of thing?

Giovanni said...

@echeneida

Oi! Who are you calling an anglophone?!

Sorry, I see my clarification introduced further confusion as to what I meant in the post. I linked to the particular article that I linked to, because it seemed fairly neutral compared to others, but I chose my words with reasonable care, and I'm sorry but "Chinese government, "ban" and "censors" stay. We're talking about economic imperialism, surely we are allowed to also talk about economic censorship? And that's without even injecting the proper skepticism into the official line, as expressed in the following two paragraph from the linked article:

Zhang Hongsen, deputy head of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, denied that the government had imposed the order, saying in the Wednesday edition of the Beijing Morning Post that it was a commercial decision.

"The box office returns for the 2D version of "Avatar" is very low, only making up one-third of the whole revenue. Most people are choosing the 3D and IMAX versions," he said. "When new movies arrive in theaters for Spring Festival (Lunar New Year), it's quite natural to pull out 2D 'Avatar,' which complies with market principles."

Giovanni said...

@EM

I took a look at Qlipoth's post on THE WIRE, and was quite taken aback at how off-the-mark it was despite its evident detail and labour.

That was my initial reaction too...

echeneida said...

Yeah no, I'm not posting in the hope that some words will be excised; like I said I'm not really interested in whether the "Chinese government's" "censors" "banned" the film, or in speculations on political motivations that are impossibly obscured by how domestic film policy works in China.

I gather you're not interested in these motivations either, that you're more interested in how ideology functions regardless of intent, which is why I'm surprised that you're disinterested in how people in Western imperialist states talk about these states' competitors, and are okay with language that uncritically -- without comment, without even brief qualification -- transmits a narrative about phantasmic ulterior motives (invariably sinister) behind everything that happens in Chinese theaters.

Giovanni said...

I think the official explanation is dodgy, the questions asked of the authorities entirely valid, but more importantly I think there is nothing not sinister about withdrawing a film in a manner that complies with market principles.

And it's not just China. Rossellini had a pretty hard time showing Rome Open City in Italy, and political filmmakers in the West cannot pierce the wall to wall saturation of Avatar-like spectacles which are so successful also if not primarily because they are marketed to ensure their success. The fact that in China these mechanisms are overseen by state authorities makes them more loaded, or loaded differently, but the differences end there.

Giovanni said...

That said, if I needed to qualify it so much then it did need qualification - I can see how it could have been construed as irksomely casual, apologies.

Qlipoth said...

hey sorry didn't mean to school you, and that was I Anon linking to Marguerite Laurent's take on Avatar.

speaking of the wire, this cracked me up:


The typical viewers’ response to The Wire is characterized by a combination of childlike joy, politicized inspiration, and an impatient desire to convert. These effects can’t just be attributed to the show’s labyrinthine, suspenseful plots that weld humour and tragedy, or its nuanced performances and richly layered scripts. A specific and crucial part of the excitement surrounding The Wire is its inherent, instinctive political morality. The Wire‘s principally black cast is an anomaly on TV—the fact that the script confronts racial politics without losing itself in dogma or obsessing over black versus white sometimes seems miraculous.

...It’s the program’s instinctive sense of justice that makes it difficult to accept that The Wire has betrayed women, and it’s this that makes the betrayal saddening and important in a way that the inbuilt sexism of most mainstream TV is not. That one of the most progressive TV shows in the medium’s history is also one of the best is deeply heartening. That one of the most progressive TV shows in the medium’s history consistently demonstrates its ignorance of and disinterest in gender politics is utterly depressing.


http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/women-and-the-wire/

It's like the betrayal by Prell shampoo. But also in the same vein as rather a lot of the Avatar commentary. Especially Newitz, who really expected more from NewsCorp; after all there doesn't seem to be any reason that all our mass culture can't be radical critiques of capitalism and imperialism.

Qlipoth said...

that this pay cable cop show demonstrates "its ignorance of and disinterest in gender politics is utterly depressing." We're well trained of course for the assumptions here to be incontestable and invisible. But we could pause to wonder why this would be noticed by anyone or found depressing? Do we want our " gender politics" in pay cable cop shows? Did this author actually watch a shoot em up soap opera for some "gender politics"? Lessons about? Experience of? Don't we get enough of these "gender politics" in the Nike ads on other channels?

Or do we feel so generous we want these our own gender politics to be the private property of time warner shareholders? we see all this lost revenue in potentially reproducible gender politics that are now just romping around naked in the public domain or common? Time Warner needs to corral that shit, it's valuable.

But don't they already own enoug? so many of our favourite jokes already? and the images of our beloved cartoon characters? They have to own this woman's "gender politics" also? It's as if one fears if this isn't captured by a respectable corporate Authority, imaged and offered for sale, it just can't exist. Like those postcard accordions one used to buy to prove not only that you were on holiday but that the Piazza Navona was really there.

Giovanni said...

It's like the betrayal by Prell shampoo. But also in the same vein as rather a lot of the Avatar commentary. Especially Newitz, who really expected more from NewsCorp;

...

Or do we feel so generous we want these our own gender politics to be the private property of time warner shareholders?


Who then lease it back to us. I'm not insensitive to this argument, and you express it very well, but consider this: Toni Morrison's Beloved was published by Alfred Knopf, which is owned by Random House, which is a subsidiary of the German mega-conglomerate Bertelsmann. So there may be a sense in which the race and gender politics of Beloved belong to Bertelsmann, yet I don't expect you or anybody else to ever say "as Bertelsmann writes in Beloved..." or "I expected more from Bertelsmann" if you find a new book by Toni Morrison to be a disappointment.

And besides they don't really own those words, do they, just the right to profit from their distribution for the duration of a contractual term.

(Actually, Bertelsmann recently sold its stake in Sony BMG to the Sony Corporation of America except for bits and pieces that are going to form the basis of BMG Rights Management, a company dedicated (as per Wikipedia) to "building, managing and marketing artist rights". They're right in the freaking cusp.)

So we're back to the validity of EM's comment upthread picked up by Philip in his post, which he appropriately entitled Uses of Avatar. There is nothing that absolutely prevents a production like Avatar from having critical value, or from generating critical value in its reception. (I think for instance about how the film might be read in a different cultural context from the one that produced it - say, in China. Not that I'd want to speculate on the details, mind.) And cinema with critical value does exist. I'll take Soldier Blue over Green Berets, District 9 over Avatar, Il divo over W, The Conformist over... well, I'll take The Conformist over just about anything else, actually.

Cinema is both an industry and an art. To the extent that it's an art, it will never manage to completely close off its meanings, much as in its black industrial heart it nearly always aspires to.
The Socialist Worker debate and Evan Calder Williams' excellent post on Avatar and plenitude demonstrate how there can in fact be critical value in the reception of the film. But just the other day Evan also asked very pointedly why we should care at all about the stuff, observing that "so much of criticism and analysis just transforms banal shit into banal shit with an essay written about it" (ouch). Insofar as it refers back to Brecht's reflections on popular art and realism, his piece could link with our conversation on The Wire as well, and I find it to be generally excellent.

Giovanni said...

(Before I forget: Dan North has compiled a very comprehensive digest of reactions to Avatar. I'm half posting just so I remember to go back and check it, it's very thorough work.

Qlipoth said...

"Toni Morrison's Beloved was published by Alfred Knopf, which is owned by Random House, which is a subsidiary of the German mega-conglomerate Bertelsmann. So there may be a sense in which the race and gender politics of Beloved belong to Bertelsmann, yet I don't expect you or anybody else to ever say "as Bertelsmann writes in Beloved..." or "I expected more from Bertelsmann" if you find a new book by Toni Morrison to be a disappointment. "

Well you don't expect me or anyone else to say this because you assume we can all tell the difference between mass digital entertainment commodity production and the production of literary novels. But then oddly you seem to bring this up - that we can all tell the difference - as proof that there is no difference. Is that right?

Qlipoth said...

"Insofar as it refers back to Brecht's reflections on popular art and realism, his piece could link with our conversation on The Wire as well, and I find it to be generally excellent."

What relationship do you suppose a mass culture commodity, product of the culture industry, like The Wire, has to popular art? Or are you using the term "popular" to mean commercially successful, not in the usual sense implied when it modifies art or culture?

Qlipoth said...

oh sorry, no you refer to Brecht's comments on popular culture. So what relationship might mass produced culture commodities like Avatar or the film of Beloved have to the popular art Brecht was concerned with? (Are media transparent and irrelevant, mere conduits for content? Do things Brecht said about say Grimmelhausen stories simply apply to Warner's Batman movies and merchandise?)

Qlipoth said...

(Funny the Conformist is one of my favourite movies too. Was my clear favourite for a long time.)

"There is nothing that absolutely prevents a production like Avatar from having critical value, or from generating critical value in its reception. (I think for instance about how the film might be read in a different cultural context from the one that produced it - say, in China. Not that I'd want to speculate on the details, mind.) And cinema with critical value does exist."

You imagine so probably very sincerely. But it will be a pain in the arse if I ask you to demonstrate it's existence. People have been asked since the invention of cinema and no one has ever been able to show that cinema is anything but anti-critical, dulling critical capacity. It seems it doesn't really matter what's on the film.

In claiming that you've witnessed 'critical value' arise from people watching films is much like claiming to have seen a vision of the virgin mary. no one can say you didn't see her, or that EM didn't, or that she didn't whisper to you what you claim. It's probably not even worth discussing. The assertion about something, something intangible, some payoff, from culture product consumption is limited informationally to illustrating the subject who makes it. The only thing worth determining when someone starts to make these claims of encountering this woowoo is whether the claim is that the benefit arising from the subject's personal consumption of Avatar was solely to that individual consumer, or the more frequent claim that the humanity generally, the commonweal, maybe even other species as well, benefitted in some ineffable way from this person having consumed Avatar.

If this is really meant to be politically beneficial, that is, favourable to socialism, then obviously the effectrs, if there are any, are far too small to see, because we are clearly in an era of capital ruling class aggression and a chain of almost unbroken successes; the saturation of populations with audiovisual entertainment commodities has coincided with immense victories for capital carryong out the most extreme agenda, and it has been characterised by high levels of consent from that very population who consumes most of this stuff. So to advance a line of reasoning counter to this screamingly obvious massive heap of evidence for the real political effects of the culture industry, critics who love this stuff passionately tend to resort to Robinsonades, based in the aburdity of individualism, which allow some illusion to be created of the possibility or revolutionary movie and tv watching.

Qlipoth said...

"Cinema is both an industry and an art."

Okay. and if one has a religious attitude toward art then the implications of this would be clear. But there is no persuasive case to be made for the tenets of idealist aestheticism. One believes, or not. The believers shouldn't have to justify themselves, but it is a distinctly believer habit to beg the question. For example, when you say 'cinema is an industry and an art', and don't support this statement, it seems that you are just demanding agreement, the recognisition of the talismanic power of this platitutde,and the acceptance of an idealist conception of "art" implied, in a certain antagonistic relation to "industry". Then the comical vision of this antagonism - the lofty spirit which longs to soar to the heavens, the greedy grubbing flesh that drags it down....it's...sorry... superstitious. There is nothing to be gained, no understanding of this massive industry and its (important) role in the maintenance of the status quo to be attained, by thinking this way.

Qlipoth said...

"I'll take Soldier Blue over Green Berets, District 9 over Avatar, Il divo over W, The Conformist over... well, I'll take The Conformist over just about anything else, actually. "

yes. nice piece on il divo

so, you like some things more than others of course. so do I. no doubt we feel it's wholly individual, and only other people's predictability lead to the possibility of studies like Distinction. But yes, there are loveable movies. But this is not really at issue in the debate about Avatar. Anyone who asserts the film is not loveable is simply uninformed. Lots of people demonstrably love it.

The debate is, in contrast, about whether this movie, which some people find loveable and progressive and others find reactionary and loathesome, and a few find reactionary and loveavble, is an agent of leftist political virtue in the world. This is a very specific issue and has nothing to do with what the particular message of the film is; there's disagreement about the message, that's the nature of fiction. But the question of whether it can be an agent of political virtue in the world should have the same answer for viewers who find the message reactionary and for those who find it progressive, since the question is about this concrete object and specific concrete viewers.

Giovanni said...

I swear that arguing with you is the hardest thing. Part of me perversely wants to be saying what you're saying, as indeed in part I have in the last couple of posts. But as in the matter of the cause of socialism versus The Wire, I just can't abide by your binaries. Of course cinema is an art, I don't really think it's up to me to prove it as it is up to you to disprove it. And I'm aware that its mode of production differs from that of a literary novel, but not to the extent that the two final products, the novel and the film, are completely alien to each other. Do I think that Pasolini's films and Pasolini's literary fiction and Pasolini's criticism live in entirely separate, sealed off worlds, where no communication is possible? Of course I don't.

Am I aware of the important role of cinema in the maintenance of the status quo? Yes. Do I therefore think that every single piece of filmmaking is by definition anti-critical? No. One thing doesn't follow from the other. I think furthermore that it doesn't follow a priori even in the case of a film like Avatar, where the odds are stacked so decisevely against the possibility that the final product might have a gram of critical value.

But the question of whether it can be an agent of political virtue in the world should have the same answer for viewers who find the message reactionary and for those who find it progressive, since the question is about this concrete object and specific concrete viewers.

Perhaps it should, but it quite demonstrably doesn't. I'm not quite sure how you propose to get around that impasse, other than by saying that you and I are right about Avatar, and other people are wrong.

Giovanni said...

I love this paragraph, I really do:

In claiming that you've witnessed 'critical value' arise from people watching films is much like claiming to have seen a vision of the virgin mary. no one can say you didn't see her, or that EM didn't, or that she didn't whisper to you what you claim. It's probably not even worth discussing. The assertion about something, something intangible, some payoff, from culture product consumption is limited informationally to illustrating the subject who makes it. The only thing worth determining when someone starts to make these claims of encountering this woowoo is whether the claim is that the benefit arising from the subject's personal consumption of Avatar was solely to that individual consumer, or the more frequent claim that the humanity generally, the commonweal, maybe even other species as well, benefitted in some ineffable way from this person having consumed Avatar.

And again I am uncomfortable having to come at it head on, as if I didn't appreciate that it is true in important respects. But it doesn't demonstrate the absolute lack of critical value of a piece of film-making, or a novel, or a protest song, or anything really. You insist that I should prove a positive: I suppose I could make a case for why I think that The Conformist or I mostri or Salò are political films, part of a political conversation, instrumental to a political imaginary. Having grown up in the society where those cultural products circulated I couldn't very well separate the influence they had in forming my understanding of Italian society and that of my peers from all the other influences, good or bad, in which we were steeped by choice or by force; I would say it was significant, but how can I prove it to you?

I'd also invite you to reflect on how limiting it is to think of Avatar as something that is consumed individually rather than collectively. Look at the picture at the top of the page, for heaven's sake. Other than that wonderful dissident who refused to wear her glasses, those are all people looking at film in unison. They may not be able to talk during the film, but they can surely talk afterwards, which what we've been doing here. And I value the conversation.

Giovanni said...

Evan today cites Pasolini in The Unpopular Cinema.

Qlipoth said...

"Yes. Do I therefore think that every single piece of filmmaking is by definition anti-critical? No. One thing doesn't follow from the other. "

Okay, so

we know that cinema and television can pacify, stupefy and propagandise. We have plenty of data and this can be shown.

We don't know, but some of us suspect/hope/assume, that cinema and television can reverse these effects as well.

Sometimes we assume this just out of a disavowed convivction that the world is a certain way, (fair, well designed, overseen by a benevolent deity who is deeply devoted to consistent treatment of abstractions). But in fact you can use a baseball bat to beat someone's brains out but not to perform the delicate neursurgery to fix the damage. Cinema may be something like this. Not everything that members of humanity have devised to enable a minority to control the majority is a flexible tool which can be used for the majority’s self emancipation. The medium is as Pasolini said despotic.

Personally I feel, without being able to really demonstrate, that our favourite film, for example, the Conformist, makes deep impressions of an irrational kind that are very hard to shake off. One needs to activate one's damaged rationality in order to untangle the associations and hazy chains of ideas one has a result of it, because it stitches together visions and notions, about women, cigarettes, or a sheer curtain in a breeze, or the family, fascism, and sexual perversion...It may be a film gives these strong and memorable impressions sometimes entwining ideas and suggesting things that you would independently approve rationally and dispasstionately, but even so the impression is irrational and the process is invasive.

So I would agree with this:

"The Conformist or I mostri or Salò are political films, part of a political conversation, instrumental to a political imaginary."

But not assume that "a political imaginary" is conducive to critique or that something instrumental to the production of "an imaginary" is necessarily instrumental to critique of it as well; isn't critique the process of managing the "imaginary" from some distance?

I was going to say before though I think it's a common error to consider studio blockbusters to be the contemporary simply commodi-fied version of "popular culture". This is ruling class culture, made by the ruling class, and is the spectacle of the ruling class "playing roles" in which one watches them suffering and triumphing.

" But the question of whether it can be an agent of political virtue in the world should have the same answer for viewers who find the message reactionary and for those who find it progressive, since the question is about this concrete object and specific concrete viewers.

Perhaps it should, but it quite demonstrably doesn't. "

For many people it does. A lot of people say, well yes it has these flaws, its this white saviour thing, but isn't it still wonderful that a huge spectacle can pull in hundreds of millions of viewers and get us all talking (purportedly, not really) about imperialism and the environment?

Wasn't this the position you proposed I consider regarding the Wire? (say it is after all white supremacist, misogynist, Fabian/fascist, imperial-apologist, etc, at least somewhat, isn't it still progressive?) Isn't it the explicit posture of the author of the piece on the Wire's misogyny above? (it's abominably misogynist, "sadistic" in its "relations to women", but this doesn't stop it from being progressive?)

Qlipoth said...

"Of course cinema is an art, I don't really think it's up to me to prove it as it is up to you to disprove it. "

I don't dispute that cinema is an art.

Qlipoth said...

"I'd also invite you to reflect on how limiting it is to think of Avatar as something that is consumed individually rather than collectively."

People sit in traffic in their cars collectively in the same sense. And talk about how bad the traffic was. With mobile phones and facebook for mobile and stuff, one could say there is a wired part of the population which does everyting collectively in this sense. The arrangements of this collectivity for this kind of collective experience are evidently optimal for the purpose of reproducing the status quo of social relations.

Qlipoth said...

"Having grown up in the society where those cultural products circulated I couldn't very well separate the influence they had in forming my understanding of Italian society "

But this is the opposite of critique, right? you're saying you have applied your critical capacities to these films but finally can't even know to what extent your consciousness has been determined by them. It happesn that your critical capacities, which of course survive these assaults, judge the content of these films to be worthy of approval, and match the rest of your experience from which you judge them, but you may also have received impressions, from say the Wire, that for example African American teens in Baltimore don't fall in love, that you would eventually repudiate were you to either see a different show that impressed or moved you more, or have some more direct experience of the supposed real world referent of these fictions.

Giovanni said...

Sometimes we assume this just out of a disavowed conviction that the world is a certain way, (fair, well designed, overseen by a benevolent deity who is deeply devoted to consistent treatment of abstractions). But in fact you can use a baseball bat to beat someone's brains out but not to perform the delicate neurosurgery to fix the damage. Cinema may be something like this. Not everything that members of humanity have devised to enable a minority to control the majority is a flexible tool which can be used for the majority’s self emancipation. The medium is as Pasolini said despotic.

Not much of an argument there. However:

Personally I feel, without being able to really demonstrate, that our favourite film, for example, the Conformist, makes deep impressions of an irrational kind that are very hard to shake off. One needs to activate one's damaged rationality in order to untangle the associations and hazy chains of ideas one has a result of it, because it stitches together visions and notions, about women, cigarettes, or a sheer curtain in a breeze, or the family, fascism, and sexual perversion...It may be a film gives these strong and memorable impressions sometimes entwining ideas and suggesting things that you would independently approve rationally and dispassionately, but even so the impression is irrational and the process is invasive.

I think this is not a bad description of what The Conformist does. What it also does, is work as counter-propaganda to what the rest of Italian cinema, including the celebrated neorealist masterpieces, was doing at the time, namely erase the memory of fascism and perpetuate the enduring myth of italiani, brava gente, that Italians weren't so bad, had never partaken in the true evil. And even as some of those films did offer a very limited critique of unbridled capitalism and social inequality, it's only in comedies of the Sixties like I mostri that you get a full sense of the profound disturbances that accompanied and were caused by the country's accelerated transition into modernity. Nor is it as simple as good cinema versus good cinema either, of course, since that propaganda, the unbecoming, was a broad cultural, social and political effort. Some films, although to be sure not very many, worked against it.

Giovanni said...

So I would agree with this:
"The Conformist or I mostri or Salò are political films, part of a political conversation, instrumental to a political imaginary."
But not assume that "a political imaginary" is conducive to critique or that something instrumental to the production of "an imaginary" is necessarily instrumental to critique of it as well; isn't critique the process of managing the "imaginary" from some distance?


That's why I often put it in terms of a text having critical value, as opposed to being a critique. We know for instance that Zavattini intended his films as socialist critique, but then it's up to us to evaluate what critical value they might or might not have, which we strive to do as you rightly observe by putting some critical distance between ourselves and the films. But that's a fraught process, isn't it? Precisely because we are so steeped in our culture and in its imaginary. Which ties me into this:

But this is the opposite of critique, right? you're saying you have applied your critical capacities to these films but finally can't even know to what extent your consciousness has been determined by them. It happens that your critical capacities, which of course survive these assaults, judge the content of these films to be worthy of approval, and match the rest of your experience from which you judge them

Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism is one of the best books I've read in a long time, but it is very nearly destroyed by its back cover praise by Zizek and Steven Shaviro. Shaviro's in particular, who wrote the following: "Mark Fisher is a master cultural diagnostician, and in Capitalist Realism he surveys the symptoms of our current cultural malaise." This is an awful, awful metaphor. A cultural critic is not a physician, the body he or she examines is not somebody else's, there is no disease that a pharmacological therapy will cure. And if the metaphor is in fact suggesting that culture itself is a disease, which I suspect it is, then it's very much the opposite of what I want cultural criticism to be. But I find it so distasteful also because I know I'm not exactly immune from thinking of myself in those terms either, and would perhaps be a tiny bit flattered if somebody of Shaviro's tonnage ever wrote that about a piece of writing of mine.

Still, it's a load of crap. We are not working in a laboratory setting, forget that. If you think that critique is the rational and dispassionate moment, that fantasy has nothing to do with it or can at any rate be easily controlled and subsumed, then I'd invite you to think of the opening sentence of the manifesto. We are all haunted by spectres. And to the extent that we 'manage' anything, it's not in the sense that we control it, but that we meddle.

Films like any other cultural text enter with society into a complex conversation. And you and I may find that it's absolutely impossible to find anything good to say about what a film like Avatar does, and we'll point it out in good faith and with good arguments to anybody who says different, but the conversation goes on, and it's impossible to say that nothing good will come of it, or that it won't succeed in wrestling particular meanings from the film and injecting it with others.

Giovanni said...

On the subject of politics, history, cinema and criticism, Dougal McNeill on The Host.

Giovanni said...

Darren Ambrose on Deleuze, Cinema and Belief.

"For Deleuze the greatness of modern cinema, particularly Italian neorealism, lies in its capability to create other forms of agency and other forms of linkage to the world that are based on new forms of belief."

Qlipoth said...

thanks for this ongoing exhcnage by the way

I'm disillusioned by the way with poststructuralist theory. I think the most vulgar marxism is much more persuasive.

"But that's a fraught process, isn't it?"

of course.

" Precisely because we are so steeped in our culture and in its imaginary. "

I don't know. It would be impossible for you to identify the political imaginary if you were so steeped in it as all that. But in fact it is fantastically easy for even small kids to name the enemy, identify "we/us" and our warriors or diplomatic agents, isn't it? Schoolkids could draw these things and be able to identify when there's a misfit between their individual self and the collective they are asked to aknowledge. Try it out on some fifth graders you'll see how good they are at whipping out pictures of all the elements of the political imaginary.

And they know when they are in fact the enemy but are being asked to acknowledge the We Hero as such and as their rep anyhow.

I think the imaginary is a bad term though, I don't buy the premise. Ideology is better; "imaginary" is more of a screen or simulacrum of a word than a word. it's there to mask that the referent is imprecise and unstable. It's there to make incoherence appear coherent, and to smooth out the seams of incompatible propositions. I think.

Anyway we're not all so steeped. I think there has been a successful camapgin by substitute bourgeois dissident theory to demoralise leftists, and this constant reassurance that we are all haiunted by spectres - which as you recall leads Derrida to pronounce that capital can never be abolished, it existed before humanity and will survive humanity - is part of it. But even with the costant reminders how helplessly bedazzled we are by our dreams and desires, we manage fantastic feats of labour. That is effort expended in a premeditated way toward a predetermined goal that is the product.

So that's why we need constant constant incessant unrelenting exposure to zombifying mass culture to control us.

Are we all haunted by spectres? Would it make a difference? Is it any different from not being haunted by spectres? (I think Derrida's book was loathesome, dishonest, also silly...) But the manifesto is another matter. The spectre in the opening of the manifesto is communism, not iterability. the spectre of Communism, that is, the concrete capacity of the proletariat to overthrow the capitalist ruling class and abolish their property. Is that just a generic spectre, like those that cavort in the daily mail's daily imaginary? Is the neologism allpowerful? It seems its worth making some distinctions here as well.

Qlipoth said...

I buy what you say about the conformist - it is a more frank statement of what I meant to say about it's content. But did you read the novel (before or after seeing the movie). Marcelo as a small boy massacres some lizards then goes through a process of justifying this act of sadism. That happens in the opening pages if I recall rightly. The movie is very powerful but the understandoing - or impression, perhaps that's the only appropriate word - of the everyday reproduction of fascism by fascists is perhaps quite different than that offered by Moravia's novel. Not only because the story is somewhat different. If I had a grant I would love to study some population of Italians to see whether movie going and fascism went together. I don't know of course but I bet fascists saw more movies than partisans. Not that I would leap to any untoward conclusion from that. But wouldn't that be your bet too?

Look at the celebrated 20th c. intellectuals associated somehow or other with leftishness who inundated themselves with cinema. Deleuze, Althusser, Lacan...

Cinema perhaps just picks up where christianity left off. It may be there is a threshhold - each individual's would be different of course - for wathcing cinema and remaining capable of thinking as a materialist and historically. I would bet there is a safe dose. But the official bourgeois dissident "radical" culture is overloaded with real addicts!

Qlipoth said...

Dont suppose I'm not aware that everything you assert is supposed to be incontestable, that you are reminding rather than proposing. And I'm not just trying to be difficult. Of course much of what you say I concede but I really think some of these assumptions are invalid, some ideological, etc. I don't mean to activate some well worn wheels just to go over a routine of what's art and wasn't nietzsche right after all? kind of thing. I don't think Nietzsche was right after all and I prefer a very practical non-mystical historicising definition of art. So that's the foundational disagreement here, which is having all these effects on the surface.

Perhaps we lost track of what we were arguing about. Avatar? So you think it's reactionary, but still of value for left politics, no? Because other people, the majority of the audience, disagree with your reading, so your reading is an eccentricity, right? It's not as if we suppose people are being surreptitiously indoctrinated by the reactionary text - it is appealing to people because it is already very familiar presumably.

harvestbird said...

Yeshua had family in Florida. The others didn't especially want to go, but really, for what, for now, was there to stay? So they went, with the clothes they were wearing, Lazarus V. as ever doing his little turn as they got on the boat, looking back.

It was Yeshua's friends, not Mary or Martha, who'd given L. his silly nickname. Now, there was no reason for it not to stick; he'd come up out of the ground! They called him "Voo" and took him to the movies. "Hey, Voo." He imagined it was "vous", some English-language misuse that included his sisters, who came too, came with Voo.

In the theatre he slept, hidden behind his glasses. Maybe his sisters did as well. The green came through his eyelids into his REM, into his dream, imaginary water.

In the foyer, Mary handed over her glasses and whispered, "I don't remember a thing". Martha took his hand. "I wonder if we're going blind." Yeshua and his friends were already in the carpark, beyond the bright lights of the interior, looking for their ride home.

Giovanni said...

Thank you HB! Linking back to the source, seeing as it is a two-parter.

Stephen Parkes said...

What a fascinating discussion.

Okay, as you seem to have moved on from discussing this at Qlipoth’s blog, I’ll put this here:

" I spoke to a few people about it since reading your post, and everybody remembered the scene, nobody admitted to feeling anything remotely resembling glee. "

No doubt all were horrified. But in a way they did not find in the least objectionable.


I’m a bit confused . Weren’t you arguing that it was objectionable *because* it was designed to be seen as some sort of satisfying revenge violence? And that’s how the audience would experience it? The audience will “enjoy the slashing of the face of a young girl”. So if Gio’s correct and the viewers are rightly horrified and not enjoying the slashing, there’s no reason to say the scene is objectionable. Are you suggesting that any fictional scene that depicts objectionable violence should itself be considered objectionable?

(I haven’t watched The Wire, and only assessed the scene from the clip in Qlipoth’s blog.)

So you think [Avatar ]'s reactionary, but still of value for left politics, no?

I may have misunderstood, but I thought he was saying it was not really of value, in its particular case, but that he would not rule out the possibility of a blockbuster film having critical value for left politics. Whereas, you seem to rule it out not just for commercial blockbusters, but for any film of any sort, ever.

Giovanni said...

thanks for this ongoing exchange by the way

No, thank you, it’s been most stimulating.

I'm disillusioned by the way with poststructuralist theory. I think the most vulgar marxism is much more persuasive.

I do too, but not because I don’t like poststructuralism, and I never quite understood the perceived direct antagonism. If anything I would say that reading, say, Spectres of Marx, has reinforced my vulgar Marxism. And some of that thinking, especially Foucault’s, seems to me to be a straight extension of Gramsci’s, so I’ve always been comfortable with it. I joked in the acknowledgments of my dissertation that I’m a pre- post-Marxist, but I’ve since come to realise it’s actually quite apt.

Perhaps we lost track of what we were arguing about. Avatar? So you think it's reactionary, but still of value for left politics, no?

I wrote a convoluted response but it amounted exactly to what Stephen wrote in the meantime, and more succinctly. So yes, what he said.

I don't know. It would be impossible for you to identify the political imaginary if you were so steeped in it as all that. But in fact it is fantastically easy for even small kids to name the enemy, identify "we/us" and our warriors or diplomatic agents, isn't it? Schoolkids could draw these things and be able to identify when there's a misfit between their individual self and the collective they are asked to acknowledge. Try it out on some fifth graders you'll see how good they are at whipping out pictures of all the elements of the political imaginary.

I’m going to tuck this away and think about it real hard. I don’t want to put my eight year old in charge of this or any other country, but it’s a most stimulating point. Regarding the distinction between imaginary and ideology, I take your point, I just don’t think the two entirely overlap. And I’m not suggesting that we are steeped or haunted to the point of stupefaction, either, although certainly some fantasies do operate that way, but rather that having a political objective - say, to overthrow the capitalist ruling class and abolish their property - is not sufficient, and cannot be achieved by force of reason alone. We need to imagine what a post-capitalist world would be like and look like, and that at the present time is incontrovertibly a fantasy. As Gramsci tells us, of course, to make those imaginings wither and die is precisely the business of the ideology of capital. And so we must fight back not only with cold analysis, but also with useful fictions.

(On this, obliquely, k-punk.)

Qlipoth said...

"So if Gio’s correct and the viewers are rightly horrified and not enjoying the slashing"

Gio said he "didn't read anything" in the scene. that is was sematically and semiotically blank. Mise en scene, montage, casting, dialogue were all meaningless.

Do you believe that.? And is that really a strong case for how good this show is? That it is meaningless, illegible; uninterpretable, vacuous? Meaningless random pictures and sound?

Of course being horrified, or faux horrified, is one of the many pleasures of watching violence in cinema and television. Even though for Gio the only horror was the failure of the school to provide a safe environment - the only content the whole sequence conveyed, and the school, after all, is fictional, it's good or bad environment is inconsequential since it's a made up place - presumably for most in this quick survey the horror is at the character Laetitia, she is horrifying, her violence is horrifying, her behaviuour, just as for the character of Prez in the scene. His is after all the privileged point of view.

So the pleasure of this scene - and not everyone partakes in it, but for those who do - is that the audience is permitted to be horrified by its own violence displaced onto this character Laetitia. This is what a scapegoat IS.

How else do you read the sequence? The closeup of her brooding, looking side to side, coming to a boil as the annoyance the audience is to feel at Chiquan is racheted up. How to you read the way she is 'maddened", by the light in her eyes? Her hair? The comparison of the two girls, Laetitia and Chiquan, dark and light, plump and slender, unkempt and groomed, silent and verbal...is all of this really semiotically inert as Gio says? Means nothing? The scenes dialogue, its content and pace, is random and meaningless? Grace (poole) Samson the sergeant, slap! and then the dark, silent, plump, unkempt, violent girl crouching panting on the floor?

I meant jeez loueez, Is there or isn't there an "imaginary"? A racist imaginary? an urban imaginary? A sexist imaginary? None of this rings a bell, strikes a chord, seems to relate to anything you ever say before or heard before?


Maybe some people are that steeped that they can't percieve, or at least when there is the appropriate incentive.

But for those who do recognise the topoi and the narratemes and the familiar types, figures, tropes, can they, or not, after all and finally remember there is no Laetitia and no Chiquan? And since this is true, factual, indisputable...can we ask, what on earth could possibly horrify an audience about some young women playing make-believe? Can these viewers be serious? What do they mean?

What could be horrifying them? Not that they think this is real surely. are they horrified because then they think things mike this happen? And what does that mean? How much like this? Are they horrified by the thought that people are hurt, that flesh can be cut with razors (thought doesn't make that thrilling sound)? Or is it more specific, are they horrified by young black girls? By the curelty and violence of adolescent girls? (is that neutral? for a middle class american audience to be incited to be horrified by adolescnet girls? does the imaginary have anything in it about adolescent girls?) Or is it even more specific? To black adolescent girls?

Qlipoth said...

" I never quite understood the perceived direct antagonism."

idealism vs materialism mainly

but eccentrically -
crude technological determinism (Derrida for example) vs. historical production of reality through process

" reading, say, Spectres of Marx, has reinforced my vulgar Marxism"

incredible. I own amazement. Why? What persuaded you in that book? (i won't believe you unless you are specific!)

Qlipoth said...

"I just don’t think the two entirely overlap."

No they don't. Ideology is finite. Imagonary is mystical and infinite. this is why the shift - not just for re-branding but for content. "Imaginary" is not a real word it seems to me, as I said, rather an image of a word used as a screen over a void or confusion.

It gives an illusion of content, density, information when inserted in a sentence that without it would be vague and either banal or mystical.

One of these instances I think of the cinematisation of language.

"theorists" in the soft regions of stuff often want to make some kind of assertion without really ahving something to say. they sense a connection of relation of some kind between this and that, but don't really have an idea what the relation is or how it works. Academia has developed a lot of phrases and figures to cover this vagueness up. "particiaptes in" "is informed by" most crudely. But "imaginary" as a noun in that usage is like fairy dust for every vague hunch or fragment of a notion that wants to pass itself off as a proposal or "insight" (another one).

Qlipoth said...

" We need to imagine what a post-capitalist world would be like and look like,"

i think a big problem with the petty bourgeois left is they want to be the key to the revolution, so they insist their work - imagining stuff - is the most important thing. when it's probably totally superfluous if not destructive. the idea of this whole different unimaginable world, and a different species in it, is insane petty bourgeois bullshit actually. as Gramsci knew, communism would be different, different property arrangements, but not all that different - same species, same detachable shirt collars because there is nothing exclusively bourgeois about cleanliness and convenience, still reading and loving Dante, still stirring the risotto, falling in love much the same for a long long time even though that has origins in a particular social order and mode of production... exaggerating the change involved in the redistribution of wealth and the abolition of private property in the means of production is one of the elements of the petty bourgeois dissident task to demoralise leftists.

Seems to me.

And I don't think Gramsci can be roped into the scifi punk psuedorevolutionary canon.

Here's something that made a big impression on me years ago and stuck -

http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=1472

Qlipoth said...

sorry to say bullshit, but this drastically new world thing...just is nutty. we should be able to have communism right now without even moving a traffic light. the idea that humanity needs to be improved first, and then it needs to do a lot of special new architecture, to build the future like a movie set, is a distraction. Communism right now, then how customs develop, we'll see. The whole world redesigning, this fabian fascist impulse, is really offputting too. The assumption is always of these very authors in charge...petty bourgeois dissidents fantasising their own despotism leads to the conviction that it is difficult to imagine the end of capitalist property relations. When it's reazlly easy. as for lifestyle, well to do retirees have bnasically the lifestyle people in communism would have. with some differences obviously. Thinking about comunism should not be like overexcited adolescent fanboys dreaming up some sci fi fantasy adventure. That's not helpful.

Qlipoth said...

"When it's reazlly easy"

to imagine. to bring about, hard, because the ruling class will defend the status quo and is well equipped to do so, more powerful than ever, and at this point could, and probably would, destroy all humanity rather than surrender its dominance. and it is this desturction tht it is so often inviting the sellers of labour to imagine, and some overexcited fanboys have gullibly taken this as proof of the difficult of imagining the end of capitalism compared to the difficult of imagining the end of the world. They don't really even mean imagining anymore, they mean "remembering a movie thayt showed." It's easier to remember a mpovie depicting the end of the world than one depicting the fall of the current ruling class and a transition to communism. That doesn't mean it's easier to imagine unless you really buy your imagination as entertainment commodities. Which no doubt some "culture critics" actually do.

Qlipoth said...

"We need to imagine what a post-capitalist world would be like and look like"

Seriously, what could this mean? You and six billion other people are going to agree on a fantasy? You really think that many people can agree to imagine the same as yet unrealised future? And if not, are there going to be elected imaginers much like there are in capitalism? Who imagine and then make 3D adventures to dissemate to oithers? How is that so radically different?

These very calls for the imagining of radically different world exhibit the poverty of the imagination of those making them. It's becoming the most worn out cliché. that post you linked - is there a line in it that isn't from a script that has been incessantly read and reread for fifty years? It's like if you were asked to write a skit spoofing petty bourgeois radicals to amuse old blue haired ladies in attended residences in boca raton, isn't that post exactly what you'd write?

Qlipoth said...

Isn't the idea of this imagining as a political project - we have to close our eyes, and imagine, wish wish wish really hard, and pray - itself the most hackneyed bit of some disney canned "utopian imaginary" sold in the hope of infantilising everyone?

Giovanni said...

Isn't the idea of this imagining as a political project - we have to close our eyes, and imagine, wish wish wish really hard, and pray - itself the most hackneyed bit of some disney canned "utopian imaginary" sold in the hope of infantilising everyone?

I like you more when you chose not to caricature my position quite so ludicrously. And we could have a discussion concerning the extent in which more classical, 'correct' Marxisms infantilise their subjects. But let's not, time in the universe being finite and all.

I like "we should be able to have communism right now without even moving a traffic light" a lot, just find it hard to see how it could happen when nobody (in the West at least) thinks it's even remotely possible, let alone desirable. As an idea, it's been banished, and I'll keep my modest convinction that it's also a failure of imagination.

I won't comment further, we're in going-around-in-circles territory. Except to throw in the ring a quotation I came across just the other day via Scott Hamilton. 'It would be foolish to ignore the role of fantasy in the strictest science!' My Lenin's a bit rusty, admittedly, but it's tickled my desire to read it in context (it's from The Philosophical Notebooks).

Qlipoth said...

sorry that wasn't meant to describe your position, but accurately portray, not caricature, the related element of the imaginary, assuming beliefs about the power of fantasy are steeped like all other beliefs in an imaginary.

I am disappointed you won't say what you found persuasive in Spectres of Marx. but thanks for the discussion.

Qlipoth said...

"Are you suggesting that any fictional scene that depicts objectionable violence should itself be considered objectionable?
"

Not at all. My point is that these simulations of violence are obviously entertaining to many people, though not everyone likes them.

Giovanni said...

I am disappointed you won't say what you found persuasive in Spectres of Marx.

Maybe some other time? Judging from the speed with which you went from not moving a single traffic light to confiscating my Dante and my rice pot, I'm guessing it wouldn't be a short conversation.

Qlipoth said...

Hm? you confuze me. I'm sure "accelerationism" and "modernisation" is after your rice, your dante, and if they were consistent, your Wire DVD box set, not I!

here's the man:

Romantic conception of the innovator. According to this concept the innovator is someone who wants to destroy everything that exists, without worrying about what will happen afterwards since one already knows that in a metaphysical sense every destruction is creation, indeed one only destroys what is then replaced by a new creation. Alongside this romantic idea goes a 'rational' or 'enlightenment' idea, the belief that everything which exists is a 'trap' set by the strong for the weak, by the cunning for the poor in spirit. The danger comes from the fact that in an 'enlightenment'way the words are taken literally, materially. The philosophy of praxis versus this way of seeing things. The truth of the matter is that everything which exists is 'rational', it has had or has a useful function. The fact that what exists has existed, has been justified, because it 'conforms'to the way of living, thinking and acting of the ruling class, does not mean that it has become 'irrational' because the dominant class has been stripped of its power and its strength of influence over the whole of society. A truth which is forgotten is that what exists has had its justification, it has been useful, rational and has 'facilitated' historical development and life. It is true that at a certain point this stops being the case, that certain forms of life change from being means of progress into a stumbling block, an obstacle. But it is not true 'over the whole area'. It is true where it is true, namely in the highest forms of life, the decisive ones, those that mark the peak of the progress, etc.. But life does not develop uniformly; it develops by partial advances, by peaks, by a 'pyramidal growth' so to speak. Hence it is necessary to study the history of each way of life, its original 'rationality' and, once this has been recognized, to ask whether this rationality still exists in each individual case, insofar as the conditions on which it is based are still present. What one tends to forget is that these ways of life appear to the people who live them as absolute, as something 'natural,' as they put it, and to indicate their 'historicity' is of itself a formidable step, to show that they are justified so long as certain conditions exist, but when these conditions change they are no longer justified and become 'írrational.'

Qlipoth said...

cont'd

Hence the argument against certain ways of living and acting takes on an odious, persecutory character, it becomes a question of 'intelligence' or 'stupidity' etc.. Intellectualism, pure enlightenment thinking, against which one must struggle relentlessly. We can deduce 1) that every fact has been 'rational,' 2) that it should be opposed when it is no longer rational, no longer in conformity with its ends, but is dragging itself along with the sluggishness of habit, 3) that it is wrong to suppose that just because a way of living, acting or thinking has become 'irrational' in a given environment it has thereby become irrational everywhere and for everyone and is only kept alive by malice or stupidity; 4) that it is nonetheless true that when a way of thinking, living and acting has become irrational somewhere, this is of the very greatest importance and should be clarified in every possible way. Thus one starts by modifying habits, which will facilitate substantial changes once conditions have changed; it will make habitual behaviour less 'sluggish.' Another point to establish is this: the fact that a whole way of living, acting and feeling has been introduced into the whole of society because it is that of the ruling class does not of itself mean that it is irrational and should be rejected, On close inspection one can see that there are two aspects of every fact: one which is 'rational', i.e. economical or in conformity with its ends, and one which is 'fashionable,' a particular expression of the former, rational aspect. It is rational to wear shoes, but the particular style of of one's shoes will be determined by fashion. ...One can see, in other words, that when the ruling class invents a new utility which is more economical and more suitable to given conditions or given ends, it has at the same time stamped 'its own' particular form on this invention, this new utility. One has to be stubborn and blind to confuse permanent utility (when it is permanent) with fashion, By contrast, the task of the moralist, the creator of ways of behaving, is to analyse ways of being and living and to criticize them, shearing off what is permanent, useful, rational, in conformity with a desired end (so long as that end lasts) from what is accidental, snobbish, apish, etc.. It can be useful to create an original 'fashion' on the basis of the 'rational,' a new form which can arouse interest.

The error of the way of thinking we have mentioned can be seen from the fact that it has limitations. For instance no one (unless they are mad) is going to advocate that people should no longer be taught to read and write because reading and writing were undeniably introduced by the ruling class, because writing serves to spread certain kinds of literature or to write blackmail letters or the memoranda of spies

Qlipoth said...

Oh and -

"Whereas, you seem to rule it out not just for commercial blockbusters, but for any film of any sort, ever"

commercial blockbusters are a specific thing, I think. I would reject the idea that everything you can say about them must also apply to every kind of feature film.

But for value produced - let's say I think people are amazingly creative. And can use things in all kinds of ways, many unpredictable. Here's an analogy with blockbusters, maybe not a perfect analogy but probably expresses what I think - a friend of mine has a treatable lymphoma. And as a result his relationship with his parents has improved. I wouldn't say the lymphoma is producing the value there, but it is being used by human beings for the production of something worthwhile and valuable to them. I think of blockbuster films I guess like cancer in that way.

Qlipoth said...

sorry one last thing about smptoms and diseases, now that i have brought up the cancer of features:

it is only in the 19th century in Britain that "the health imaginary" began to conceive of disease as the depredations of surreptitious foreign intruders, imagined like the swarthy levantines or oily latins in Dickens' London, the kind of outsider criminal vulnerable to (Dr.) Conan Doyle's detective's method. (See Laura Otis's _Membranes_). Disease as concieved by other traditions than this modernism, conceptions with more complex causality than capitalist imperialist white supremacism and its lethal-foreign- microbes model of all social and physical ills, might offer better metaphors for cultural products. I dunno but it might be.

Anyhow, in 1987 Franco Moretti made an important and kind of obvious point that somehow has been forgotten:

In the past two decades, there has been a complete change in the dominant attitude of Marxist criticism towards Modernism. Essentially, Marxist readings
of avant-garde literature are increasingly based on interpretative theories—
Russian Formalism, Bakhtin’s work, theories of the ‘open’ text, deconstructionism—
which, in one way or another, belong to Modernism itself.
This sudden loss of distance has inevitably paved the way to a sort of interpretative vicious circle. But what seems to me even more significant is the transformation which has occurred in the field of values and value judgements,
where recent Marxist criticism is really little more than a leftwing
‘apology of Modernism’. We need only think of such pioneer Marxist
work as that of Benjamin or Adorno, and the extent of this cultural somersault is evident. Benjamin and Adorno associated ‘fragmentary’ texts with melancholy, pain, defencelessness, loss of hope; today, they would evoke the far
more exhilarating concepts of semantic freedom, de-totalization and productive heterogeneity. In the deliberate obscurity of modern literature, Benjamin and Adorno saw the sign of some kind of threat; nowadays, it would be taken rather as a promise of free interpretative play. For
them, the key novelist of the modern world was, quite clearly, Franz Kafka; today, just as clearly, he has been replaced by James Joyce, whose work is just as great, but certainly less urgent and ‘uncanny’.

By and large, I agree with the emphasis on the anti-tragic, or non-tragic elements of Modernism. What does not convince me at all, however, is the widespread idea that what we may call the ‘ironic’ dominant of modernist literature is subversive of the modern bourgeois world-view.
‘Open’ texts contradict and subvert organicist beliefs, there is no doubt about this; but it remains to be seen whether in the past century the hegemonic frame of mind has not in fact abandoned organicism, and replaced it with openness and irony.


(_The Spell of Indecision_, NLR)

Giovanni said...

What, Franco Moretti? Who told you about my kryptonite!

I have an unpleasant feeling you're trying to get me to repudiate my poststructuralist leanings. That's been tried before on the Internet, don't you know? But really the conversation has become a little too vast for my ability to respond to anything. Hopefully some aspects of it will become topical at some stage, on your blog or mine. Or somebody else's even.

Stephen Parkes said...

Well, as there were some direct questions there ...

Gio said he "didn't read anything" in the scene. that is was sematically and semiotically blank. Mise en scene, montage, casting, dialogue were all meaningless.

Do you believe that.?


No. But just because those things aren’t meaningless, doesn’t mean it’s impossible for someone to read too much meaning, or the wrong intent, into a scene – see things they have a predisposition to see. I wonder if that may have happened in your case, as the evidence so far (admittedly anecdotal) is that the audience may not have reacted as you seem to think they were meant to. Maybe there was no intent at all to provoke the audience to “enjoy the slashing of the face of a young girl”, for example.

And is that really a strong case for how good this show is? That it is meaningless, illegible; uninterpretable, vacuous? Meaningless random pictures and sound?

That is not really a strong case, no. So in the highly unlikely event that Giovanni thinks that it is all those things, you have a good point.

presumably for most in this quick survey the horror is at the character Laetitia, she is horrifying,

I took it be aimed at the result: the slashing itself. It was “horror” in contrast to your speculated “sadistic pleasure”. I wouldn’t say I found Laetitia herself horrifying.

How else do you read the sequence?

I still don’t think you’ve put together a convincing case for reading it as a prompt for sadistic pleasure. Not having seen the show at all before, it’s a little difficult to be sure without context, but I took the scene to be showing a bully and the reaction such bullying can have. I expect the audience were meant to dislike Chiquan strongly, and sympathise with Laetitia, only to have that twisted somewhat by the extremely violent outcome. Both characters ended up seeming like victims, and as Gio indicated, it seemed the institution had failed in its duty.

Qlipoth said...

"I took it be aimed at the result: the slashing itself. It was “horror” in contrast to your speculated “sadistic pleasure”. "

There's no contrast between "horror" and "sadistic pleasure". The former is a necessary element of the latter.

So first to clarify something that doesn't depend on how vacuous or significant this particular show is:

From wikipedia:

"Sadism is the derivation of pleasure as a result of inflicting pain or watching pain inflicted on others."

And we are talking about simulations. A spectatorial pleasure in provoked sensations of horror is incredibly common, a major feature of the entertainment industry's products. The proposal that they are mutually exclusive is odd to say the least.

As is the notion that an audience would be horrified by "a slashing" that never occured, that is only playacting, and off camera to boot. The audience sees two young women making some money and probably having a good time too. Real horror would be a grossly inappropriate reaction.

But what do you make of the scene? I don't mean what do you think David Simon is trying to teach you about his imaginary city.

What do you make

- of the tight close-up of Laetitia coming to a boil? looking this way and that, stroking her blade, frowning?

- Of the contrast of her appearance and demeanor to Chiquan's?


-Of the way the actual moment of the slashing is shot with the audience seeing Laetita's rage from Chiquan's pov, and that absurd 'exciting' sound?

- of the way Prez reactd (who has himself mutilated a childs face for sass) and Laetitia is managed by Grace Samson?

- of the way Grace Samson appears in the classroom on more than one occasion, and the reaction to her?

- of how Laetitia, having been "maddened" by light in her eyes, ends crouched panting on the floor, with Dukie's mute gesture of fellowship as he crawls on all fours?

- of the fact that Laetitia is the only girl in the programme we know to be sent to juvy jail, and we have witnessed her extreme violence and dangerousness in flagrante?


Do you make nothing of any of this, really? Not even an implication regarding what gets girls sent to juvy jails?

If you don't make anything at all of any of this, why on earth do you want to discuss this sequence from this programme? Is there anything that interests you in it?

Qlipoth said...

so:
"I took the scene to be showing a bully and the reaction such bullying can have. I expect the audience were meant to dislike Chiquan strongly, and sympathise with Laetitia, only to have that twisted somewhat by the extremely violent outcome. Both characters ended up seeming like victims, and as Gio indicated, it seemed the institution had failed in its duty."

And someone would watch such a sermon why exactly? You might be extracting some moral accurately but this is no explanation of a television programme. And despite this banal moralising you find, you can still see how the packaging attempted to entertain its audience. Was not just the styrofoam peanusts in which these admonitions to be civilised are packed. It entertains, or tries to, not with dry lectures including scare tactics about the horrible horrifying consequences bullying can have. Though no doubt there is some kind of "message" here like "be compassionate boyzengirls or else!" as later with the lengthy depiction of Chris Partlow's murder of the child molester, no doubt that's just horrifying but to get across the message "don't molest kids, people, or else this might happen to you!" But I don't think this probably inaccurate regarding the suppositions about causality (do girls who get slashed in the face ask for it generally? is it generally other girls who slash them? doubtful. doubtful indeed.) but no doubt well intentioned moral instruction (is the audience imagined to be contemplating bullying and sexually molesting pubescent boys? I don't think the show addresses its audience with those kinds of implied suspicions at all) is what really won that part of the audience over who described themselves as fan(atic)s experiencing "joy" in the programme.


On the issue of the concrete audience’s reaction, it’s best not to confuse the text’s solicitations with audience results. I think the althusserian/Lacanian phase of cinema analysis created a disastrous confusion on that which survived the fall of that fashion in theory. If I was so clumsy as to imply that television shows are infallible and omnipotent psychic programming, let me withdraw that, retact whatever gave that impression, regret it excessively. No audience is under the total mental and emotional control of the television. The audience for the Wire in the US was notable for refusing every invitation of the show, every effort it made to please them: a large portion tuned out in mid programme. It did not entertain except for a minority, a much smaller audience than aimed at. But obviously it tried to entertain and one can examine the text to see how it is trying to hold the audience’s attention, to please and entertain, – you can examine a text for this even if you are the first person to see it. The concrete audience’s reactions are another matter.. But that almost certainly almost the entirety of Avatar’s audience has no sympathy at all with European far right’s xenophonic neofasho sentiments, and tens of mllions of its viewers will in fact be among the populations targeted as intruders, does not invalidate the observations Gio made in that new post regarding how the text draws on that existing public discourse and might be soliciting audience emotions in harmony with its aims. But to accept his observations you would have to concede that many more aspects of the text can be read than you are willing to concede are legible in the Wire.

Qlipoth said...

some context:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Thv7m79KiI4

http://www.thenation.com/doc/19891120/19891120reed

Qlipoth said...

If I get you

you’re saying it goes like this:

Simon arranges for the audience’s entertainment - Dislike (for Chiquan), Sympathy (for Laetitia), Sympathy (for Chiquan), Understanding (for Laetitia), Horror (for the Gods), Disapproval (of Laetitia). You are asserting that the concrete audience is having all these very appropriate reactions to something staged for them and designed to elicit these reactions.

So isn’t this staging of this relation between audience and Laetitia and Chiquan meaningful?

(Are you saying there really is nobody like Laetitia in the audience, nobody who really wants to see Chiquan hurt, who wills and desires her harm? Is this because people like Laetitia can’t watch tv? Wouldn’t like this show? Or don’t exist? )

In any case, an implied audience is walked through a relation to Laetitia assured she is Other, pathological, an object of their ethnographic, sociological (decidedly not psychoanalytic) observation. Appropriate compassion for her misfortunes followed by appropriate disapproval of her violence. Nothing more enjoyable for the audience than this satisfaction of learning about these meaningless events and having appropriate moral responses.


If this is indeed how the audience is addressed, as the agent of these appropriate reactions to these violent fictions – which have been invented by David Simon and co. as a pretext, as the means for them to have these reactions and with the hope of holding their attention through the enjoyment of this - who must conclude that the people like themselves who run the school are failing in their duty to control, protect and civilise cruel and violent children unable to govern themselves, what would be the purpose of treating the content not as the means by which producer relates to consumer and vice versa – this communing of all the observers who share their appropriate responses – but as a reality which calls producer and consumer to duty as concerned citizens, documentary footage, or unfortunate historical fact, not chosen or devised by producer to sell as entertainment to consumer, but somehow imposed on both producers and consumers, to be laid to the charge of the two fictional teens and the decrepit institution of an American Empire in decline no longer able to control them?

Qlipoth said...

oh just to lay out this admittedly anecdotal evidence of audience response:

from youtube comments:

Djjrex
dookie whats with the fan

Daddy336
it be like dat

urnikkaedwin
i love this showw

dsmo0ve
dookie is so wierd..smh

zinaasd
wen she was on the ground she said she going to die

tokiohotelluva97
Even i felt the pain. Damn

101firestar
racist ass lickin' bitch

NuisenceTV
LOL!!! @ Dukie.

Suuulan
@avonbarksdalewife

Yeah, have u thought of that it wasnt the first year? She maybe had been bullied for a llooooong time. Think out side the box(cutter) hehe

no but seriously dont even try to argue..

avonbarksdalewife
Wow you're a character, aren't you?

diamond15605
That was the type of stuff that made you go "OH SHIT!"

GisylleGlam (
dis is wat Hitler hated about ur kind

Yoshua144
@AntiSemiticJew1488

This is a social contsruct projected by your demonic controllers right?

Yoshua144
144,000

Honestly speaking!

xXNaRuToiZpRoXx
LMFAO SHE GOT SLAPED!!!

avonbarksdalewife
See this is why you shouldn't pick with people. But I don't think the girl did that much to her to get cut like that. All she did was use the mirror to reflect the sun in her face. I mean damn what was really on the girl mind to come back the next day and plan some shit like that. That's some sick ass shit. No matter how you look at it she didn't deserved to be cut in her face like that.

Suuulan @avonbarksdalewife

Probably it had been going on for a longer time. But u should be able to figure out that ur self u stupid bitch !

avonbarksdalewife (
Your very smart. Like how long was it going on since it was only the 2nd day of school

avonbarksdalewife
The teacher Ms. Sampson use to be Cutty girl. I see Cutty taught her to slap hoes around like he did to the one chick in season 3. LOL!!!

BalsamicWeevil
woah antisemiticjew1488?!!? that's really offensive, do you know how angry you're making me? if i were a cynical individual i'd almost think you were deliberately TRYING to be as offensive as possible to annoy lots of people...

drone81
no, the bottom of the barrel would be anime music videos

jellytots2008
its hilarious when the teacher slaps that girl

14997251
fat girl look like an elephant

Streetrax (
@slickrich28 ..Shes not allowed to slice someones face like that either.

slickrich28 (
@Streetrax .... thats also true tusche

MazaBLaze
Buck 50 both sides. Thas too hood!

maika305 (
omy godness i was crying

teegees1
ill slap u bitch

YunqqEarthquake360
shorty made that pretty qirl look like Omar.

YunqqEarthquake360
SON.! SHE WAS FUCKiNG LEAKiNG.!!!!

FRU1TYL00PS
whats the point of this

tripleoent
on "the wire", the girl who got cut was disrespecting the other girl so this was her revenge. one of the greatest series hbo has ever shown

Sasuke7228
is the seris over now oh and what did she cut her with

crazykillerkev
her shit leakin

xxindeedxx
lol


Youtube has a younger audience than HBO, but clearly the majority here find this pretty fun to watch. If the show's creatives and broadcaster didn't anticipate these reactions, they must be very sheltered men.

Giovanni said...

I have a feeling that, should I wish to set an all time comments record on this blog, all I'd need to do is to write a post about The Wire. Which I will, in due course, I've ordered series 2 to from the library. Patience, Grasshopper, etc.

Stephen Parkes said...

Sorry for the late response, but I haven't had much chance to do web stuff lately. I had had a quick look at the Feb 3 responses from Q, and now see another has been added 5 Feb.

I'm not sure what the point is in quoting You Tube responses. What next: comments from Men Are Better Than Women.com ? Is it relevant whether the producers "anticipated" such reactions?
Anyway, I wanted to respond to one point (may come back to the others, maybe not).

There's no contrast between "horror" and "sadistic pleasure". The former is a necessary element of the latter. ...
From wikipedia:

"Sadism is the derivation of pleasure as a result of inflicting pain or watching pain inflicted on others."
... The proposal that they are mutually exclusive is odd to say the least.


I didn’t say that they were mutually exclusive. For a sadist, there’s obviously a relationship between the things they derive pleasure from and horrific or unpleasant activities. In this context, however, there is a contrast. The “sadistic pleasure” you referred to was of the audience being provoked to “enjoy the slashing of the face of a young girl”. The contrary reaction proposed was of horror at the slashing of the girl’s face, i.e. a non-sadistic reaction. It’s in that sense I meant there is a contrast between your interpretation and Giovanni’s (and some of his friends).

They watched the scene in light of seeing much of the show. I have only ever seen the clip on your blog, and viewed it neutrally in that sense, with no desire to defend what I thought was a cool programme. (If anything, I agree with you that the scene was pretty banal; an attempt at Grange Hill for adults, to be flippant.) But I did not feel enjoyment at the outcome of that scene – the slashing of the girl’s face – and do not feel that such a reaction was intended. (And that there are multiple reactions to such a scene is not an argument against its artistic merits.)

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