Stronger Loving World

A Cultural Criticism WeblogE-Mail Murdervision

Friday, January 23, 2004

Note:This essay is so unfinished, it's not even funny. I'll get back to it later.

I've heard you say it under your breath at the Starbucks. I've heard you whisper it to a friend after breathing in the toxic aroma of a cigarette at an anti-globalization rally. I've heard it in the spas and gyms. It's the sneer in your lip, the furrow in your brow when you see a Che Guevara t-shirt. It's the smell of a paycheck. It's the glossy feeling you are overcome with, when reading the new Adbusters, you are taken less with a sense of irony at reapropriation than the sheer aesthetic thrill of the original advertisements. You're sick of the discourse on Globalization. You're sick of critiques of "pan-capitalism", and cultural theories seminars that graph dislocated, decentered semiotic graphs to map how a global economic system is making your culture meaningless. Gag me with that new Luis Vuitton blouse! My corpse would look gorgeous in this season's model. Besides, you're getting used to something. You can feel your way around the curves. Your fingers are sliding from pocket to pocket, from side to side, from handle to handle, a pinball is flying around in front of you. Where you used to see adversity and competition, now you are starting to see patterns reproducing, falling down and reconstituting themselves. Where you used to see a hierarchy, now you have a full view of the structures and ultra-structures folding complexly, sliding into pentagons and splitting diagonally before you. The flat linear is now the multi-dimensional, the geometric. Top-Down is now sideways and inside-out. Where you used to feel opressed, now you feel integrated. Where you felt like you were being strung along, now you are navigating. Where there was friction, now there is only play.
As I usually tend to do, I come up with my best ideas rambling drunkenly to innocent bystanders in bars. In yet another secretive hole in Williamsburg, I'm flailing my arms about and grinning self-importantly while asking whether or not any one at the table likes Capitalism. "How do you mean?" Like, as an object. What do you mean,as object. Like, a constituted thing, embodied materially, with a function. Give form to your abstractions; As a structured, fully-operational, interactive..thing. Like a game? Like a Game. Like, ( I place my hands to either side of the imaginary machine) as a pinball machine, (I carve its shape in the air like a beatnick describing hips.) "Like if it were a pinball machine", I ask, "Would you like to play it? Would you still stop to glance at it afterwards, notice its color and its shape, the kitschy decals on its front?" Is Marxism an Atari-5200? "I'd rather be playing Frogger."
A recurring cultural studies debate is the discussion of what is and is not being "co-opted" by the "mainstream". How is it that we can freely express ourselves without being reclaimed, re-branded and redistributed for the gains of capitalism. How is that we can have our meanings, our own languages, our own forms of expression, how is it that we can "own" anything in culture when that cultural information demands no ownership, when our identity is created and subsumed by a larger force. It is a rather selfish question, of course. Following Daniel Bell's aphorism that "information wants to be free", as most left-leaning new media types do, then cultural information wants to be free from you, you goddamned over-possessive asshole. New forms of musical expression do not want to squat in hovels in Portland forever, they want to replicate, as all ideas do, infinitely, they want to reproduce like alien viruses on the buzz of a new protein fragment, and they will take over the moon if they have to. Even the model I used in the previous run-on sentence, memetics, is built on the foundation of game theory. In order to visualize ideas as existing for the sake of reproduction in the manner of genes, we have to cluster our thoughts around the series of competition-based structures that organizes social behavior, evolution, and society right down to the micro-biology of our physical environments. There is no “mine” and “yours”, there is no need to “own” an argument, there is no us vs. them. Magazines like Adbusters attempt to hijack the form of traditional consumer capitalism, its gloss, its shimmer, and re-brand it so that it means something else. Inevitably, the nay-sayers will point out that even Adbusters can not circumvent the need for advertising. They’ll bandy around the word ‘hypocrite’. The true failure of the magazine, however, is a more embarrassing one: it is an artistic failure. It simply fails in scope, in vision. It is unimaginative. It has no eye for a pretty picture. The issue is not how quickly something considered subversive is
“reconstituted by the mainstream”, or, if you are a Hebdige enthusiast, how fast a subculture bubbles up and is re-created as part of a ‘culture’. If we can imagine that all art is reconstituted by corporations, it is not a huge leap of imagination to visualize how all corporations are reconstituted by art. If you want to insist that two are so chemically bound, then flip the equation.


Post a Comment

<< Home