Trajectories

Over the course of this blog’s existence, there has been some thematic continuity, but nothing I would call “focus” or “direction” or “posting regularly/consistently”.  In an effort to not only tamp down this narcissistic enterprise, but to make this corner of the ‘net they call Jennifer Does Not Understand Imperialism a more coherent/robust entity, I’ve decided to enlist some fresh blood.

Bethany’s first posts are forthcoming, but I assure all 5 or so of you that they’ll be more than worthwhile (probably most if not all of you know this first hand). She’s been a valued friend/classmate/dialogue partner/co-traveller to me for some years now, and I look forward to continuing the conversation in this space.

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State of the War Film

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The history of the American War Film is the same conflict played over and over again: anti-war film versus “apolitical” pro-war/propaganda film.  For every All Quiet on the Western Front there’s a Birth of a Nation, every Deer Hunter Green Berets. This dialectic has produced some of the best and most important cinema in the span of the 20th century, but as the War on Terror trudges on, we’re still figuring out how to make war films about our war.

The old narratives of heroism don’t convincingly map onto the War on Terror, not they ever did justice to the truths of war in the first place. But, it’s quite apparent that these narratives remain popular. Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor has been declared the most successful war film of the War on Terror era. Salon’s in-house film critic, Andrew O’Hehir, found the film to be painfully racist and jingoistic, indulging in caricatures of both Taliban fighters and American soldiers, as well as playing fast and loose with historical facts. Though the film is undeniably problematic (understatement), O’Hehir found it to be a more-than-competent thriller in its own right.

Lone Survivor’s financial success has caused no small amount of anxiety on the Left, and that anxiety has provoked no shortage of vitriol from the Right. The battle is one of cultural heritage: who gets to make the final artistic statement on the War on Terror? The box office numbers indicate those that side with power have this one sewn up. While that is undeniably true in the short term, only time will tell.

In 1968, John Wayne produced and starred in the aforementioned Green BeretsSpurred on by an all-American hatred of the anti-war movement, The Duke intentionally churned out a sickeningly simplistic and racist piece of propaganda (a Vietnam movie so inaccurate, my Vietnam-vet uncle can watch it without anxiety), and released it to relative financial success. Almost 40-odd years on, when we talk about Vietnam War films, or even John Wayne, how often is The Green Berets mentioned?

Lone Survivor’s financial success can be explained by the above images. What images would the viewing public rather see in the moment? Simple, violent, perversely comforting displays of traditional American masculinity in a morally clear environment, or the labyrinthine and shadowy world presented by Zero Dark Thirty. Men nobly suffering, or women sobbing in anguish?

The films worth talking about will be talked about for a long time. The ones that provide visceral thrills based on flawed premises will always enjoy success, but are doomed to become cultural punchlines.

Splatter-humanism

flying-car-stunts1In Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Murray, a transplant from New York City teaches a seminar on car crashes at a suburban Massachusetts college. He discusses it with the book’s protagonist, the head of the Department of Hitler Studies.

“We’ve looked at hundreds of crash sequences. Cars with cars. Cars with trucks. Trucks with buses. Motorcycles with cars. Cars with helicopters. Trucks with trucks. My students think these movies are prophetic. They mark the suicide wish of technology. The drive to suicide, the hurtling rush to suicide.”

“What do you say to them?”

“These are mainly B-movies, TV movies, rural drive-in movies. I tell my students not to look for apocalypse in such places. I see these car crashes as part of a long tradition of American optimism. They are positive events, full of the old ‘can-do’ spirit.”

Murray’s understanding of the car crash in American “low cinema” taps into something just as easily applicable horror/gore flicks. continuing the above quote:

“Each car crash is meant to be better than the last. There is a constant upgrading of tools and skills, a meeting of challenges. A director says ‘I need this flatbed truck to do a midair double somersault that produces an orange ball of fire with a thirty-six foot diameter, which the cinematographer will use to light the scene.’ I tell my students if they want to bring technology into it, they have to take this into account, this tendency toward grandiose deeds, toward pursuing a dream.”

Horror, especially in its slasher/splatter/torture permutations are treated as the signifiers of a civilization in decline, an archive of anti-social refuse consumed and championed by the marauding barbarians the exist below and beyond polite society. What Murray says of cinematic car crashes is true of every death in a slasher film. It is the car crash writ small, blood and limbs standing in for gasoline and twisted metal, each new and nauseating act of violence the result of the fevered imagination of a giddy micro-auteur and an ambitious make-up artist. The fictional destruction of the human body is not birthed out of a hatred of it, but a celebration of it. Our physical limits are both realized and transcended with every exploding head and impalement.

“Look past the violence, Jack. There is a wonderful brimming spirit of innocence and fun.”

porn and democracy

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From Hannah Dawson’s review (paywalled) of Margret Grebowicz’s Why Internet Porn Matters in the current issue of the TLS

Grebowicz […] argues that despite its theoretical potential, internet pornography tends to oppress rather than emancipate. The “free speech” that it embodies still belongs in large part to men, objectifying and subjugating other human beings. The many testimonies of self-empowerment from the “victims” of the industry are matched by first-person reports of misogyny, degradation, rape and incarceration. Rather than opening up an egalitarian space for self-construction, the file-sharing, file-ranking chatrooming online realm is creating communities all the more powerfully by normalizing discourses that preclude our saying anything new or real. “Internet pornography”, writes Grebowicz, “emerges as the perfect manifestation of the babbling political body, the speechless mass, in which every subject is interchangeable for every other, exercising its rights and expressing, more and more, telling us what we already know…

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