Stronger Loving World

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Sunday, April 25, 2004

Love Ovals with Voids

"Nothing will ever make you weirder or more culty than Geri Halliwell is. ‘Culture jammers’ are just anti-matter advertising executives. Anti-corporate activists are people who want to meet Policemen and can only do so within a socially-accepted framework of mutually agreed confrontation. As Gnostics hated ‘the Flesh’, so do Situationists hate ‘the Spectacle’.-Grant Morrison

I recently watched Douglas Rushkoff's 1999 documentary on Cool-Hunting, "The Merchants of Cool" in preparation for an article I am writing on 'fad-gadgets'. If you don't know him, Rushkoff is a kind of wandering hippy who stumbled into the alchemical world of fractal logic, chaos mathematics and new-wave psychedelia at a crucial moment in the early 90's. Though chaos culture shouldn't force us to favor agency over structure, Rushkoff attacked these issues with an interpretive framework that painted culture with a cartoonish 60's Marxist logic. A 'culture industry' theorist looking at 'commodification', 'subcultures', etc, Rushkoff was, is, a media theorist still shaking off the biases of the Frankfurt School, still whirling in the dizzying currents of global capitalism and squeezing that Greatful Dead patch for dear life somewhere in his pocket. The documentary is very us vs. them, youth culture vs. corporations, art vs. marketing, authenticity vs. simulacra, flesh vs soul, letter vs spirit, pikachu vs UltraMan. You get the idea. I'm much more interested in structures than agency.

Cool-Hunting is a strategy where independent firms seek out trends and intercept them on their way from emergence to their potential marketability. Most of these trends (I refuse to use the word memes, and I'll explain why some other time.) spread unaided, through a complex information technology called 'orality'; or 'word of mouf', as cultural theorist Ludacris refers to it. Cool-Hunting expedites the trip from point A to point B. It's information aggregation of the most exciting kind; the "cool-hunter' is charged with the task of forever stalking the throbbing pulse of the beast with no body, Zeitgeist. "Merchants of Cool" is narrated by Rushkoff in a kind of lilting, friendly, squirelly voice. Close ups of Rushkoff's face as he stares upwards into the flashy polyvalent lights of Times Square provide segues between his examinations of professional wrestling, the Insane Clown Posse, Jay-Z(I said late 90's)Wondering to himself if anything is truely authentic, if his own youth culture was marketed to him, Rushkoff's persona is a kind of avatar for the pale faced optimist caught in a culture he doesn't understand. Always wide-eyed and slackjawed, he has the perpetually entranced 'gee-whiz' of Wired magazine forever glued to the subordinate clauses of his sentences and the lower half of his cleffed chin. In the concluding few minutes, it dawns on Rushkoff...'it's a feedback loop', corporations and youth are playing off of one another, feeding eachother and co-creating consumer capitalism. Great. Was I watching a Frontline documentary or the Lion King?

If we are using the model of 'feedback loops'; the issue now is that the speed of cultural communication that has been employed since Rushkoff's documentary has tightened our loop into the eye of a needle, so dense that its elements break into eachother,a genetic cocktail, a continual '2 Many DJ's' mix of the Mind. This is Avant-Capitalism; where "the edge is the new center' and the distorted bricolage of commodified images is among the most highly potent, emotionally charged art pieces on the market. Advertising is a reverberation of Art, a mutation, genital mutilation of Art. I'll always have a place in my heart for the archetypal image of the wacky corporate ad-man--the Ad-man sculpts images, drifts zeitgeist and attempts to compose a Jungian cross-cultural access code with the fragments of image and sound he collects. F.T. Marinetti was an ad-man--his manifestos and personae were (cultural studies students, duck! razor-thin buzzword aproaching) performative, speech-acts, texts who are their authors. What I am referring to specifically when I talk about increasing speed is wireless internet access, digital photography, featherweight laptops and the synchretism between the three in scouting sub-culture. Groups like Youth Intelligence, and most famously Dee Dee Gordon's Look-Look, employ hundreds of researchers world-wide as their eyes and ears. Young people between the ages of 14 and 29 are given digital cameras and wireless laptops, and told to report on trends, pieces of clothing, tattoos, images that catch their eye. We could cower and ramble on about what an Orwellian, panoptic nightmare this is, or we could look at the entire visual ultra-text on its own level. The beast with a thousand eyes that never sees itself. Pan-Capitalism doesn't consume all it encounters. That's Pac-Man, you moron! Why do you always get the two mixed up? Pac-Man is an interesting creature. He's infinitely dense, he never changes shape. No matter how much matter he takes on, his mass remains the same. His speed is not impeded by the thousands of pellets he consumes. (The phosphorescent Ghosts are forgiven because ectoplasm is fifth-dimensional and not constrained by Newtonian physics) Pan-Capitalism, however, staggers under its own genetic instability, it's an amoeba with a hundred thousand legs made of glass and mirror, swaying in motion with all it sees. British theorist Boy George, from the 'culture club' school of thought, called this the "Karma Chameleon." "You come and go, you come and go", he said, clearly referring the Freudian 'Fort-Da' game that structures the pleasure principle.

I think Look-Look's Dee Dee Gordon embodies the Avant-Capitalist, the ad-(woman) who sees herself as bold and artistic. She takes my metaphor a step further and suggests that she is empowering youth, giving a voice to the muted, providing a sounding-board for youth who would otherwise feel powerless. This is the mission statement of her youth culture webzine:

I can't help but wonder if--despite her hubris--she is right. In the echo-chamber of global capitalism, Generation XYZ,The Plug and Play Generation,Generation Pac-Man, whatever you want to call it, is the most studied and marketed demographic in history. So why do they (we?) feel so powerless? Do I care?

It's very difficult for me to write about this stuff from a human interest standpoint, because, as I said, I'm more excited by structures than subjects. When I write about communications technology, I prefer to find out what kinds of shapes are mapped out when communication finds a new way to move, when centers shift, when cultures gain new bodies. I like to see what kind of a spider-web is produced, and then point at it and say "look how pretty it is!" And then someone tugs my pantleg and asks, "but what does it mean?", and I, still smiling vapidly, say "look how pretty it is!"

Unfortunately, you can't have a structure without subjects. If I were Dick Hebdige, my subject in this framework would be 'the cool', and I would explain to you with watered-down semiotics what you probably already knew: that an emerging trend begins in the center(there are two models to use, but they're both the same; one puts the 'mainstream' on the outside one places it in the center. We'll put it the center.) and finds its way to the outside, where it is radiated to all points of the circle. A new edge emerges to replace the last until it too flows to the center and is spit out again. The circle is in different shades, so that the unit in question is always displaced in context. This leads people to adapt the retarded "pac-man" model I discuss above, wherein capitalism is ravenous and mean and chews up everything in its sight and spits it out with a nike swoosh on it. In order to believe this, you have to believe that a) Authenticity exists at all, which it doesn't. b)information can spring up in a vacuum, and that cultural information is not already composed of recombined fragments.

Why don't we balance democratic models into this without becoming utopian; let's say that the agency our actors gain when communicating with marketing executives is 'demonstrative'. Through demonstration, the subjects perform an act that not only transfers information, in this case lucrative cultural capital, but demonstrates it, allowing corporations to see not only what it is but why it is, and how the subject has been organically engaged with it. So when our Avant-capitalist masterpiece returns to us, our bricolage text, it is still outside its original context, still inhuman and other. But its cadence, movement, its rhythms and dance patterns remain. Everything that made our 'cool' culturally healthy remains, because it has been demonstrated that this is part of the market's demand. In this case, its the role of the actors and subjects to engage with their own texts and understand their own relationship to it before they decide its been redistributed in a way they see unfit. The tragedy is that Pac-Man's synthesized soundtrack will no longer be playing in the background. Is retro still cool? What year is it?

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Nomad Art

Driving around a curve, down a mountainous highway, large trucks roll by, graffiti stains all over their sides. When you are seven years old, the bright wings and tips of the letters on the graffiti are radiant and phosphorescent and glowing and otherworldly, radioactive and joyful like crayon wax. “Magical and prismatic like an Aladdin’s cave”. We can never read the graffiti-text. With its bulbous and decaying typography, it is a pictogram as well as a phonetic and often monosyllabic word… “Sen” “Speak” “Seer” “Senk”, especially now, striped across a row of white tractor trailers lined up along I-95, it’s a text always being re-written and replaced. The paint is thin and soluble, it affixes to concrete, brick, mortar and embeds itself. It needs to be re-written, replaced, destroyed, annihilated, augmented, mutated, treated to. But when the graffiti appears on a tractor-trailer, on a truck, on a van, it is already wired for self-destruction. Acid rain tears at its sides. Within days it is no longer bright, neon. It fades. As the wind lets the faces and dismembered wings of small insects crackle across its sides, tiny yellow and black dots, indistinguishable stains from unknown assailants, it blurs and chips away onto the pieces of the highway. It sacrifices its time-bias for a spatial bias. “I struggle to remember your name.” My name is part of central nervous system. Graffiti is a deliberate, explosive, self-destructive, constantly rewritten and spatially and temporally fluctuating taxonomy of selves. When you crouch underneath my window and make that rattling sound with your spraycan, it’s because you want to populate the Earth with your Self. You want to split the Subject, infinitely. You want the multitude of You’s to become separated from your body. You want a name that lives by itself, for itself. “Language perverse and for its own benefit.”

Globally, Graffiti art is an intertext, a rhizome. Thanks to Web Portals like Art Crimes and Graffiti Archaeology, the pieces of the text can connect rhizomatically; each unit providing a window to every other unit. The phosphorescent yellow and green tags that the Dominicans across the street sprayed on my wall are turned into snapshots and uploaded on my website. Japanese street-bombers pick up on it, observe the cartoonish curves and the sloppy deformations, reproduce the letters exactly but in the context of an alley in the Shibuya district. In this way, the text produces another unit, and each unit becomes a “multiplicity”, connected to every other piece of graffiti. It is a text connected in orders and gradations. In it is non-linear and unending. It is regenerating and constantly being re-written. Like the Body Without Organs, it never allows itself to be enunciated. Deleuze wants us to imagine a totality without differences; without striations, lines of demarcation, territorialization. Graffiti is a Visual colonization of the urban environment. But the body with organs, the organism, frightens us: when those differences appear, signification occurs, the unit is encoded and decoded as a text in a field of differences. The subject speaks. We are trapped in Jameson’s “Prison House of Language”, from the moment the subject appears, it is ripe for colonization, it is ripe for taxonomy.

Nomadology- Mobile graffiti is a survival mechanism. It is an extension of the brick-patterns and urban street-art. It is a body without Organs. “Keep moving, never stop moving, even in place, never stop moving” says Deleuze. With trucks, vans, tractor trailers, busses, and cargo crates, the subject becomes elusive. It is where it isn’t, deterioriating into the tarmac before it rests at another truckstop, vandalized again in the middle of the night, a new text replacing the last. No geographical stasis; no difference. It is a becoming; not an object. It will never be signified, but flashed, traced, impaled, vanishing and replaced with a new subject. “Something inhuman, at the limits of communication.” We are the egg with no cellular differentiations, the history written according to a culture still in migration.

Monday, April 05, 2004


My #PhonePunk# interview with Oliver Cobol, entitled "Politics of Play", runs on today. Check it out, and let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Jesus in Furs

Quit your whining!

I just saw Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ", and I must say, I'm speechless. Not because the film was shocking or blew me away, but because it is clearly having such a huge impact on audiences and has done phenomenal numbers despite being nothing more than a high profile snuff film. The woman sitting next to me was holding her mouth and crying at the end of the film. Half of the audience refused to get up at the end, preferring instead to sit through the credits. Did I enjoy it? Yes. But I enjoyed it much in the same way that I enjoyed Titanic; it was perversely, perversely thrilling, even sexually exciting, to witness this excessive brutality around one single character for a whole film. There are very few analogues I can come up with for a film like this, maybe Requieum for a Dream, that plotless junkheap of purified cinematography dancing eloquently down into the trash compactor of oblivion. The other might be Die Hard, whose macho protaganist is subjected to such tooth-grinding physical pain that you can't help but wince and then root for him when, say, he must scale a bathroom covered with shards of glass in his bare feet. I might also suggest, perhaps most poetically, old Warner Bros. cartoons, in which the only gags are repetition, defeat, and consistent physical pain. One imagines "The Passion" opening with a shot of the roadrunner sprinting through the desert, scientific species name apearing at the bottom of the screen in Aramaic. Jesus chases on foot, eventually descending off of a cliff, a long birds' eye shot shows him falling into a ravine as a gentle puff of smoke marks his impact. Beep Beep!

The true cross?

Then there are the inaccuracies, evidence that this film is less about "accuracy" and more about selling violence, brutality and suffering as not only gloriously sexy, but actually deifyng the Hollywood formula and suggesting that it is Holy. The cause of death in crucifixions is not bloodloss, the cause of death is dyspepsia and dysentery. Lack of fluid and nutrition causes the internal organs to liquefy and slide out the anus in huge chunks. In other words, homeboy shat himself to death. If Mel really wanted to show The Lords' final moments with painful accuracy, he would have portrayed the bucketloads of viscera, bile, kidneys, feces,urine,blood, and rectal mucus flooding down onto the ground below the cross. Was it...taboo? I thought this movie was all about breaking taboos? The other huge inaccuracy: there are no anthropological or historical claims of anyone being crucified in a loincloth. One is typically nude when crucified. Whether or not Mel was frightened to show the savior's uncircumsised cock flapping about in the wind is anyone's guess. But the total lack of any nudity in the film, coupled with the insane aand graphic amounts of violence, just underscore the now cliched doubel standard of Christian and mainstream American values. You don't want me to repeat it.

Jesus had a cock, you idiots. Intertextually returning to the Adam's descent and donning of figleaves in Genesis, Jesus saves us from our sins by waving his dong in the air. It's all in the Bible.

So...what does this movie "mean"? I don't fucking know. I do know that this is arguably the worst possible time in recent history to glorify martyrdom so excessively, particularly religious martyrdom. It's not a point we need hit over our heads, Mel, people are blowing themselves up as we speak for Jesus. People understand martyrdom. They love it. Dying, or sending one off to die in order to validate your own ethical binaries is all the rage. Worse, the film seems to make suffering itself as profoundly beautiful and sexy. Watching the film, a useful signification of villainy is "the smile". Anyone who flashes a grin in this film is, by default, a villain. The soldiers who beat the living fuck out of Jesus have wide, profound, ear to ear grins. The Priests who condemn Jesus smile radiantly when his verdict is carried out. The androgynous Satan character flashes a smile towards the end of every scene s/he appears in.(On a tangent: the fact that the "villain" is characterized by his/her androgyny while the "hero" was resolutely, distinctly masculine was doubly disturbing.) The demons that apear in the film take the "smile" formula even further, their demonic apearance is first and foremost characterized by a grin so large it must be computer animated to reach out of the barrier of their face. The possessed children that torture Judas flash mad, large, malevolent grins. In one scene, a baby is seen suckling Satan's chest/breast. When it stops to look at Jesus, it is evident that it is profoundly evil. Why? Huge, powerful, ear to ear grin. That's it. Jesus smiles once in the whole movie, during a flashback in which he playfully splashes water on his mother. Play is damnation. Suffering is salvation.

Jesus Saves.

This Times article discusses the film in relation to a new trend of a masculinized, 21st century Jesus, embodied in a culture war with secularism. It is related to the "Left Behind" series, in which Jesus apears on Judgement day, causing unbelievers' blood to boil and explode through their veins, their eyeballs melting, simply by speaking. Cool! Mel: Sequel? If tough-guy Jesus is the new religious model we will be forced to endure this century, than the Die Hard analogy is wholly apropriate. In the last scene, a boulder moves by unseen hands and the shroud of Turin floats down as the mass of Jesus' body vaporizes. He then apears, kneeling, much like the T-1000 in the Terminator films, arse-naked. Then he gets up and walks out, holes in his hands..just like the T-1000! But one can't help but think, watching this scene: if the man is aware all along that he will immediately return to life, that he will live as the king of Heaven, which we can all agree is a really rad position, especially in this job market, for ALL OF ETERNITY, then doesn't it invalidate all the pain he subjects himself to in this film? I mean, ETERNITY. KING. UNIVERSE. The better question is not, how brave must Jesus be to endure this, but who in their right mind wouldn't mind being filleted for a few days if the reward is that high-stakes? At least Bruce Willis' character was an athiest. And it least he was fighting to live, in order to enforce the sanctity of willpower and resolve, not fighting to die poetically to give us all a profound symbolic gesture. It's more admirable to face death when you don't know what's on the other side.

(The face of the one true God)

All that being said, as I stated above, I did kind of enjoy the film. I'd be lying if I said I didn't sport an erection at least twice. There is literally not a three minute span that goes by when the film begins in which Jesus is not being whipped, hit, punched in the face or filleted in some way. The arch of the film is somewhat rhythmic,I can imagine the chain-whipping mixed into microsound mp3s and DJ mixes. I imagine myself renting this movie in the future and watching, perhaps, during sex, timing my orgasm with the ground thumping raindrop that signifies Jesus' mortal passing. ahhhhhhhhh.