I haven’t posted anything in quite some time, but a friend started a new blog on politics and shit, so here’s their latest post:
Have you seen the Matrix at least 5 times? Ok, good. How about Inception: at least twice right? Ok, now how about Fight Club? Just joking. All you need to know about capitalism and ideology you can learn from the Matrix and Inception. Fight Club just made 20-yr-old men look stupid for a decade (and it’s still happening in Vegas: believe me, I was there last month), and has the dubious honour of being the most stupid of the Hollywood ‘counter-hegemonic’ films of the 90s, alongside better stuff like Thelma&Louise and the Matrix. It sucks for a lot of the same reasons Avatar sucked in the 2000s, as films that were carried by images of resistance but ultimately confirmed a range of typical white male fantasies and made the (white male) audience feel comfortable with their stupid lives: they had consumed radical politics; and it went down fine (everyone else just felt alienated and repressed it or incorporated into their constrained identity, as usual). So, if Fight Club and Avatar are the reactionary myths of the 90s and 2000s, effectively wearing and emptying out traditional left symbols of resistance, they can tell us a few things about how capitalism works (by incorporating and re-deploying everything in it’s field including it’s apparent opponents, and particularly the appearances of it’s apparent opponents). But that’s not that interesting. What’s more interesting is what differences between the Matrix and Inception can tell us about deep-seated shifts in capitalist subjectivity (or the experience of the self as we’re shaped by capitalist institutions, habits and processes), in the west, in that crazy shift between the 90s and 2000s. Hint: this is where the groundlessness in the title comes in.
That Portlandia can raise the 90s as a moment of radicalism and counter-culture to the point of a joke, as the basis of a TV show, points to some general acceptance of this idea (which is weird but awesome). The truths pointed out in Portlandia are startling: they helped me notice, for example, that the fashion markers for hip young men these days draws from the 1880s while hip young women draw from the 1980s. A fashion separation of a century between hip young men and women: what could it mean? Get real: that’s funny, not interesting! What IS interesting is that we are now getting far enough from the 90s to see how different we have become, and some of this can be seen in the warnings in various 90s preoccupations. Remember irony? This ironic (self-aware) reflection on irony (as some form of disparity between what is said/meant, done/intended, etc) was a big deal in the 90s. It doesn’t matter that Alanis Morisette’s ‘awesome’ song doesn’t really give a single good example of irony (it figures: as it happens, the potential of this song was fully realized by a committed absurdist). What matters is that, for some reason, people were preoccupied with the experience of irony. Looking back, it’s kind of ironic that we thought we were into irony because meaning and authenticity had already been completely dissipated in a capitalist culture that had just won the cold war (what one total idiot called the ‘end of history’), when in fact we were mourning the loss of a welfare state mediation of capitalism that wasn’t quite gone yet. You might say that we could only be concerned about irony back then because we had an awareness of loss that permitted us to mourn, and encouraged us to take up irony as one way of protecting ourselves against this brutal knowledge. It we don’t worry as much about irony now, it’s because we’ve already lost the markers of meaning that could permit us to understand that something’s been lost, and to have a sense of mourning that causes us to be anxious about this loss. In the 90s, we could obsess about the loss of care and hope because we still had enough care and hope to notice it was depleting. If, in the 2000s, we don’t talk much about care or hope, it’s because we don’t know what it is enough to know that it’s missing. And that’s exactly why Inception is the ONLY hollywood movie from this decade that permits us to understand something about ourselves as we are shaped by current relations of capitalism. Yeah, that’s right: that’s where the title comes in. But first more about the Matrix (the first one: the other two were video games).
SO, the Matrix blew the lid off capitalist ideology by pointing directly at it. You think you’re sitting in this theatre having a great time, BUT in reality you’re a meat-sac battery cell for a rational-instrumental machine whose sole concern is its own longevity and reproduction. It was right, and everyone knew it, and that’s why it was good. It was right because it described the experience of many in the 90s: holy shit, it was 1999, the reality of multinational corporations and global capital were just beginning to be understood (APEC 1997, Carnival Against Capitalism/WTO, 1999), as was the big unknown of the ascendence of the world-wide-web, the welfare state was just in the final stages of being completely dismantled (the tipping point in Canada was around 1996), and everyone was talking about it. The ‘true’ reality was clear once you ate the little pill (ie. watched the Matrix), and you could ‘choose’ reality over the fantasy (only the weak refused reality), with a clear enemy and some clear tools to battle with. OK, that was capitalism and capitalist subjectivity in the 90s. It may have been grounded in nostalgia for things that were imperfect and not quite gone (which some people aren’t that into: left nationalism, welfare state, big labour, etc), but it was pretty good.
Now, you’re saying: why Inception? It’s not even a resistance movie like all the other ones you’ve mentioned so far. That’s right. In the 2000s, in the dying and increasingly irrelevant west, resistance isn’t the issue (this is why Avatar truly missed the point and ended up supporting the imperialist patriarchal racist able-ist order it appeared to challenge). Finding your ground is. And that’s why it can tell us something helpful about ourselves, and the hard work we’re going to have to do if we even want to have the chance to think about something so straightforward and quaint as resistance.
Hey, you win if you made it to the end and realized there’s no ending…this is a work in progress: check wrenching.wordpress.com for more!