Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Workers, Potters (Part III)

It may tempt one to think, as Serge Daney once put it in perspective, that "if there is something missing on the formal level there must be something missing on the political level."  One keeps one's hands clean if one can point to a chosen pantheon, or constellation, of filmmakers and say, Look!  These are praiseworthy figures.  These are artists fit for the heroic narrative.  From there, it may tempt one, to give not a thought to the structure or continued existence of that very heroic narrative.  The cinephile who thinks he is politically enlightened may have simply supplanted Hollywood's Martin Scorsese with the subproletariat's Pedro Costa ... as though the work of politics proceeds from the private pleasures of taste.  What a profoundly antimaterialist way of going about things, though! 

Still, let's remind ourselves that we are tracing through a complex and balanced situation.  The politics of taste do matter - what I am saying is that they are not however ultimately determinant of the politics of cinema/art/aesthetics.  The aesthetic domain cannot do all the work, and I suspect the amount of work it can do is often overestimated.  Another facet of what I am saying is that our tastes are not themselves free from determinants and conditions ... not even when they appear most evolved, or anyway most divorced from the dictates of the culture industry.  One is not necessarily free of anything simply because one has left behind the sweep of JK Rowling, LMFAO, Avengers, Lost, The Sopranos, Gaga, and Bieber.  Aesthetic tastes and predilections are never simply natural (i.e., physiological or predestined) but are forged.  Even what Bourdieu referred to as a kind of naive, natural taste emerges from the crucible of society.

"We must remind people that behind the auteur and his rich subjectivity there is always, in the last analysis, a class which is speaking."  (Daney, "The Critical Function")

(The word "auteur" would be better dropped in English most of the time; and people would be better suited to use the word "author."  If that sounds weird in a given context, then perhaps "auteur" was not the right word in the first place.)


"No one knows what it means, but it's provocative.  Gets the people goin'!"  (Will Farrell in Blades of Glory)

There's no need to dwell on creating a new classification system for "types" of cinema or media (e.g., the famed Cahiers categories).  What, if any, plan of political action comes from supporting one of the two major veins of popular political cinema (as I see it), meaning, (a) films which clearly demonstrate , as with Ken Loach's work, or (b) pop films that harness a particular message, as Step Up: Revolution is primed to do?

Arguments that either, or both, of these categories are simply subsumed back into the culture industry - that this is a weak "critique" acting merely as a way for capitalist hegemony to innoculate against real critique - may be true.  But they miss a crucial point, which is that audiences never consume these works in a vacuum.  This is sometimes referred to as the "hypodermic needle" model of mass culture, wherein the mindless unwashed simply take in whatever bad shit the corporations sell them - McDonald's, Two and a Half Men, and so on.  To put it another way, critics of mass culture from this viewpoint presumptively project onto the lumpen masses a condition of pure and uninhibited spectatorship, ... i.e., recreating in fact the very modernist ideal of the immersive, mainlined gaze seen in something like Anthology Film Archives' Invisible Cinema.  But whereas something like the Invisible Cinema was an elective practice for society's aesthetes, the hypodermic needle funhouse is a prison.  Recto or verso, what "haunts" these conceptions of media consumption is the fantasy of erasure of the viewing-listening subject, and the elaboration of this same subject as answerable to the mediated mechanics of ideology (as in cybernetics, another field of inquiry whose heyday was roughly contemporaneous with the height of avant-garde Western cinema as well as hypodermic needle masscult theory).  The subject becomes, indeed, subject-to.

To extend more fully - films may contain politics subject to interpretation.  For instance, we can state without controversy that The Birth of a Nation is a racist film.  But these are not necessarily the first nor final word on the politics of those films; in any event they are never, ever the only word.  This is why we can have something like DJ Spooky's Rebirth of a Nation - which I haven't seen, admittedly, but which by all accounts seems to be exemplify in its production/distribution exactly what is overlooked in the spectatorial theories of the previous paragraph: i.e., the act of reception (which entails the possibility of critique and the inevitable context of the social body).  And it is around the act of reception that the more cultivated tastes of more cultivated observers may, in fact, veil a profound insensitivity to sentiment.  More on this to follow.

1 comment:

Andy Rector said...
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