Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Scribbles

(Colossus: The Forbin Project, dir. Joseph Sargent, 1970)

Serge Daney dit: "The word “power” came at one moment, synchronically with Foucault... We can say that our cinephilia helped us to go forward. For a cinephile, the power of the cineaste, even if it’s really imaginary, is out of proportion socially and real in regards to what he manipulates as material. Therefore, we see a moral preoccupation which comes back to Bazin, which is to evaluate films not really on their aesthetic quality but in ethical terms. It’s a period when we speak of “direct.” Then there’s a third period when, from the idea of power, we moved to the realization of the power of media. Power today is the new management of media which is a problem on which the Leftists have been nil, pre-historic, with the exception of someone like Baudrillard. But let’s say that, in general, Marxist reflection on media is nil. This is a little bit the Mattelart period. From then on we saw how we could re-interest ourselves in cinema, in films that were coming out, to become once more a film review while being a little bit ahead which consists in recognizing that film is one piece in the more general game of the media and that we can’t disassociate them. To approach these media, everything we learned before 1968, in psychoanalysis for example, is helpful." (h/t, of course, to Kino Slang)


Daney's suggestion about leftist or Marxist reflection on media seems both true and untrue - maybe less true now, some decades after he made the claim.  Still, there's a barb that remains: we haven't come very far.  Especially when Michael Moore and Slavoj Zizek seem like very tenable "choices" for significant portions of what we'd call, I suppose, a "progressive" public.  Some tentative postulates - 

  • Culture always involves trade-offs.
  • This doesn't mean that the complexity, richness, and nuance of culture at any time and situation equates to the proposition - or excuse - that culture is always "too complex" to make any political judgments about it.
  • That said, judgments can come from puritanical positions as well as non-puritanical positions.  The puritanical positions hold virtually all sway in society.  "False choice in spectacular abundance, a choice which lies in the juxtaposition of competing and complimentary spectacles and also in the juxtaposition of roles (signified and carried mainly by things) which are at once exclusive and overlapping, develops into a struggle of vaporous qualities meant to stimulate loyalty to quantitative triviality.  This resurrects false archaic oppositions, regionalisms and racisms which serve to raise the vulgar hierarchic ranks of consumption to a preposterous ontological superiority.  In this way, the endless series of trivial confrontations is set up again, from competitive sports to elections, mobilizing a sub-ludic interest.  Wherever there is abundant consumption, a major spectacular opposition between youth and adults comes to the fore among the false roles - false because the adult, master of his life, does not exist and because youth, the transformation of what exists, is in no way the property of those who are now young, but of the economic system, of the dynamism of capitalism.  Things rule and are young; things confront and replace each other."  (Debord, Society of the Spectacle, section 62.)
  • It seems important to reject an overly simplistic "false consciousness" model when it comes to a population's consumption of media, and their affective, social, and political relations to media.  At the same time, it seems foolish to overlook the possibility that no deception is happening anywhere, when probability deception is occuring more than almost anything else.
  • Anyone looking for a simple formula that consigns, to ethico-political statuses, a particular "kind" of film - art film, auteur film, slow film (like slow food?), "popular" film, popul-"ist" film, people's film, mise-en-scene films, avant garde film - is probably wasting his or her time.  (Cf. bullet point one.)  The Cahiers du cinema "categories" from that famous editorial are intriguing, perhaps useful for analysis, but in fact a clumsy way to start going about political analysis of cinema, let alone media more broadly.  (Still, it is a start, which is more than most can ever say.)
More to follow in this vein later ...

6 comments:

Nathan said...

Nit-picking: shouldn't it be "out of proportion" rather than "ours of proportion"?
Otherwise, interesting thoughts.

Matthew Flanagan said...

re: 'Then there’s a third period when, from the idea of power, we moved to the realization of the power of media. Power today is the new management of media which is a problem on which the Leftists have been nil, pre-historic, with the exception of someone like Baudrillard. But let’s say that, in general, Marxist reflection on media is nil.'

Reminds me of something Paul Mason writes in his much-linked 20 reasons... blog entry, which comes up again in this great piece (very much a leftist reflection on media) by DSG:

'People have a better understanding of power. The activists have read their Chomsky and their Hardt-Negri, but the ideas therein have become mimetic: young people believe the issues are no longer class and economics but simply power: they are clever to the point of expertise in knowing how to mess up hierarchies and see the various "revolutions" in their own lives as part of an "exodus" from oppression, not - as previous generations did - as a "diversion into the personal". While Foucault could tell Gilles Deleuze: "We had to wait until the nineteenth century before we began to understand the nature of exploitation, and to this day, we have yet to fully comprehend the nature of power," that's probably changed.'

I'm not convinced that class or economics are no longer as significant an issue in this way (in my experience as well as general impressions), but otherwise it gives a sense of where we're at, perhaps. Your point that we haven't come very far is no doubt true -- certainly, we haven't come far enough...

'it seems foolish to overlook the possibility that no deception is happening anywhere, when probability deception is occuring more than almost anything else.'

Unquestionably. Dan Hind's recent book is very strong on this, particularly because he's one of very few on the left coming up with concrete strategies for media reform as well...

Zach Campbell said...

Nathan - you're right! Thanks for catching it.

Matthew - I appreciate the thoughts. I'll look at that Hind book sometime. Ultimately the question of media and social, participatory politics appears like a broken record (to me). The same things keep happening, with hopes getting pinned on technologies. But these optimistic prognostications continually assume that the capitalist structure into which these technologies emerge will remain static, beaten back by the "dynamism" of new media tech. I think this will actually be one of the key questions informing my scholarly work over the next couple years, actually ...

Matthew Flanagan said...

In that such optimism terminally underestimates late capitalism -- agreed. I remember that some writing on social media during last year's protests and occupations here (in the UK) came up with rubbish like 'dissent entrepreneurship', a good way of falling directly into that trap. Lulz-based activism is an interesting development, though, and hopefully it will be worth keeping an eye on...

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