Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Critical Examination of the Rape/Revenge Flick

Recently I had the pleasure of watching the early 1980s exploitation film Ms. 45. This movie has everything you'd want out of early 1980s exploitation cinema: hot chicks, plenty of violence, early New Wave fashions, ridiculous characters, and a bizzare and rather perverse message which I will describe shortly. The premise is easy enough and the film wastes no time getting down to it, much like director Abel Ferrara's debut "video nasty" Driller Killer.

Thana is a shy mute girl who works as a seamstress in New York's garment district with a few other equally attractive young women who run the gamut of typical male fantasies: a preppy blond, a brunette, and a black haired foul-mouthed tough girl with an adorable Brooklyn accent. An early scene shows Thana, the blond and the tough chick walking to the subway after work and having to deal with leers and comments from blacks, hispanics and an Italian guy who says something like, "Hey, baby come sit on my face!" With dialogue like this you know this film will pull no punches and the viewer is in for some seriously low brow entertainment.

Thana breaks off from her co-workers on her way home and along the way is dragged into an alley and raped at gunpoint by some greasy haired dirtbag in a mask. She makes it home after the attack a disheveled mess with her blouse still unbuttoned. Unfortunately for Thana her misfortune is not yet over. A few minutes after Thana arrives home a burglar makes his presence known and demands to know where the money is. Thana, mute and in a rather fragile state after the brutal rape is unable to articulate anything but fear in the form of a few squeaks. The robber then decides to have his way with her and at this point Thana doesn't even put up a struggle. While he is raping her and has dropped his gun, Thana grabs a small object and bashes his head with it. While the burglar recoils in pain she brains him effectively with an iron. After contemplating her worsening situation she puts his body in her tub, dismembers it and stores the bagged remains in her fridge. Over the course of the film she gradually gets rid of the burglar's body parts in a myriad of ways, including feeding some to her kooky landlady's dog.

Unlike other rape/revenge movies, the rape scenes are not especially gratuitous and the movie features no nudity. Those movies which engage in such graphic detail seek to draw the viewer into a strange paradox whereby one can get off sexually from watching a [simulated] rape but redeem themselves by rooting for the protagonist in the orgy of pornographic violence which is sure to follow. An example of this type of rape/revenge film is Billy Jack, where all the female characters are ultimately helpless and need the stoic Cherokee Billy Jack to protect them from redneck savagery. As I mentioned, Ms. 45 is certainly not this type of film but that doesn't make it's message any less perverse.

In addition, the violence is not particularly gory, but what it lacks in blood and guts in makes up for in body count. While I didn't explicitly keep track, I would assume that Thana kills well over a dozen men in the course of the film. The one exception to the lack of gore comes in a scene where Thana, after succesfully dismembering the burglar, hears a noise from her bathroom and upon going to investigate the viewer is treated to a closeup of pink entrails spewing from the tub drain. Great stuff! In some ways, though, this conservative sprinkling of gore makes it more effective, much like the blood filled toilet scene in The Conversation.

While disposing of a bag of the buglar's body parts, some Gino doofus follows Thana to chat her up but she panics, thinking he's going to rape her, and puts a bullet through his forehead. From this point on Thana is ready for a rampage and begins going out purposely to antagonize men to hit on her so she can blow them away. She sheds her cute but reserved style for a New Wave vampiness of red lipstick and black leather. It would also appear that the outfit she dons when she kills a couple of gang members in a park (it seems she stumbles through an alternate ending to The Warriors) is the basis for the girls in Robert Palmer's 'Addicted to Love' video. Consider:

Thana as Femme Fatal[e]

'Addicted to Love' girl

But the costumes or murders certainly don't end here. In addition to the burglar/rapist, guido idiot, and a few gangbangers, she shoots an obnoxious fashion photographer, an oil sheik and his driver and almost wastes some poor sap she meets in a bar who won't stop talking about his failed marriage, however when the gun jams he grabs it from her and promptly takes his own life on a park bench. Great stuff!

The final scene of the movie is at a Halloween party thrown by the fashion designer for whom Thana works. The designer initally comes off as a typical fag (he's a fashion designer in early 80s NYC for goodness sake!) but eventually the viewer learns that he has intentions on Thana and is therefore either a hetero queen or bisexual (i.e. a pervert). Thana goes as his date to the party dressed as a nun while he goes as Dracula. Here the symbolism gets a bit obvious with the sexual repression of Thana and the parasitic nature of men laid out in open for the benefit of the most oblivious viewer. The designer whispers sweet nothings to Thana during the party and she eagerly follows him upstairs. During the initial stages of seduction Thana whips out her pistol and kills the designer. She then descends the stairs to the party and starts randomly shooting every man she sees. She even shoots some dude in drag who desperately tries to pass as an authentic member of the Sisterhood. The massacre scene is slowed down and is over ten minutes. It's great to see all the partygoes bedecked in their costumes huddling together in fear instead of just getting the hell out of there like any normal person. Right before Thana kick starts her Halloween man massacre, the party band is laying down a seriously funky jazz track which is very reminiscent of the free form jazz experiments of No Wave musicians during that time, especially Lydia Lunch and James White & The Blacks. Personally, I think it would have been better if this track continued to play even as the band scatters in fear. The track that plays instead sounds like one of those Halloween spooky sound records slowed down to half speed. Thana's killing spree is finally ended when her brunette co-worker stabs her in the back with a cake knife. Again we get hit over the head with the obvious symbolism and the look on Thana's face as she dies is one of pure shock at the betrayal from one of the Sisterhood. Clearly Thana wasn't just doing this out of revenge for the rapes she endured, but for the good of all Womankind.

The message of the film is not simply about sex being used as a weapon of repression but the inability of humans to overcome horrific events. As such, the view of humanity is rather pessimistic and sees people as weak and incapable of surmounting the brutality of others. We can assume that Thana, as a mute, may have had very limited contact with men in regards to having relationships. We might even assume that prior to the rapes she was a virgin. As such, while her campaign of revenge is certainly sexy from an aesthetic perspective (handguns, black leather, red lipstick) it is not supposed to be self-affirming. The viewer can root for her when she kills most of her victims (she's just taking out the trash) but the scene with the sad sack who eats a bullet after her gun jams is meant to show she's gone to far. The final scene shows her as a complete maniac who, Valerie Solanas-style, wants to eradicate all men from the planet. There is also a subplot where the viewer is lead to believe she has mercilessly killed her landlady's dog. The purpose of all this is to show that Thana is a desperate, delusional and damaged person, in other words, a victim. That's right, nothing to see here, just another victim. Just another client for the Therapeutic State. Of course, we should keep in mind that this is simply entertainment and for that this movie is the bee's knees.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Telling Conversation

The following is a rough transcript of a conservsation I had at dinner last night with a few friends. In addition to being funny, I found it rather ominous.

Existential school teacher: 'Live Free or Die' is such a cool motto, much better than The Bay State.

Me: The Bay State isn't our state motto.

C&B shopgirl: Yeah, just like New Hampshire is The Granite State.

Existential school teacher: What is it again? The birthplace of America?

Me: The Spirit of America.

Vintage clothing shopgirl: It sounds like we're already dead.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Some Questions for Owen Hatherley

I recently finished Owen Hatherley's Militant Modernism which is basically a study in socialist-oriented 20th century modernism with specific respect to architecture. Given that Hatherley is an Englishman, I found the most well researched and interesting parts of the book to be about British public housing. Like myself, Hatherley recognizes that both classical modernism and high modernism contained progressive and utopian elements which recognized the positive potential in human beings to create new and advanced communities for themselves. As he succinctly defines it, modernism is a "movement aiming at transforming everyday life through art, or rather abolishing art by transforming everyday life." It suffices to say that to prefer these older forms to the yuppie garbage which pass for modern today will likely get one slagged off as a nostalgic, something Hatherley is certainly familiar with. This is one of the reasons the subtitle for this blog used to be 'thrift shop conservatism' but was changed due to a new emphasis on redefining an independent Left which seeks alliances with an independent and alternative Right to "confound the corporate center."

This being said, as a fan of his writing there are some things which I would like to see addressed with more clarity. While I found Hatherley's defense of Brutalism in British public housing admirable, summed up with the phrase "nothing is too good for ordinary people", given the history of public housing as well as other uses of Brutalist architecture (which I will soon get to) certain questions are raised which cannot afford to be critically avoided.

The first is a question about public housing itself. Hatherley, like so many detractors on the Right, seems to make little distinction between British midcentury social democracy and Soviet socialist republicanism (i.e. the Lenin years) as Militant Modernism jumps between these two very different socio-economic systems using the common denominator that both were leftist and employed modernist housing schemes. As such he seems either unaware or unwilling to address the role of the state in all of this. In other words, what the state giveth it can also taketh away. Of course Hatherley is certainly aware of this as it became a Thatcherite policy continued up to Brown to either demolish or condo-ize these relics of postwar social democracy. Now I certainly support affordable and utilitarian housing in the shape of modernist high rises for ordinary people. As someone braving the gratuitously overpriced Boston apartment market, a concrete high rise with a balcony and all mod cons (defined as heat, hot water and laundry) would be ideal for someone such as myself. It can be pretty bare bones as long as my books and clothes can all fit. Of course, the same policies have affected this country as well as the far fewer working class high rises this side of the pond have also been either demolished or yuppified. So the question remains as to the price of such social housing policies. Can we really rely on the state to consistently provide affordable and utilitarian housing for lower income folks if it will only sell it off to the highest bidder or simply destroy it when it becomes a budget burden?

Taking this a step further, I would also question the liberatory nature of such social housing. Hatherley uses examples which utilized then cutting edge architectural styles and provided such amenities as balconies and skywalks, as such these were certainly the cream of the crop when it came to public housing. He neglects to mention the much more common housing projects most people associate with social housing policies. Here in Boston, projects like Bromley Heath are neither modern or futuristic in any way. They are cesspools of crime and poverty where residents are met with security cameras outside their doorways and find their common areas patrolled by a projects-specific police force. They are little more than open air prisons with the residents representing a caste under state capitalism roughly equivalent to that of peasants under feudalism with the Boston city-state filling the role of the Medieval landlord.

This leads me to a questioning of the uses and ideology of Brutalism itself. While I am grateful for Hatherley's publicization of the aesthetically forward and socially populist aspects of Brutalism, I have yet to see him bring attention to its uses as the architecture of the intrusive state. As an example, I use the photos featured in this post of the John F. Kennedy Federal Building which now houses the Department of Homeland Security. While I personally appreciate the design and often enjoy sitting on the minimal, concrete benches in front before I have to go to work, the ideology inherent in the architecture which touts the power and omnipresence of the federal government cannot be ignored. For another example, I turn to this previous blog post featuring a rather Mussolini-esque moment for former HUD director Robert Clifton Weaver using a Brutalist backdrop to emphasize his point.

Going back to my first example, I will end with the lyrics of the Jonathan Richman song 'Government Center' (where the JFK federal building is located) which touches on the psychological aspects of working in that concrete palace of statist glory:

"Well we've got alot alot alot of hard work today
We gotta rock at the government center
Make the secretaries feel better
When they put those stamps on the letters

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The World As We Presently Know It

As my brief post 'The Forest for the Trees' defined what the establishment and its opponents will look like in the coming years, the intention of this post is to define the establishment as it is currently and the differing views most people hold regarding what shape it should take. For this I again return to Gary Ulmen's introduction to Confronting the Crisis:

"Today, practically everywhere in the West, Left and Right mean very little and designate, at best, free-marketers advocating a classical 19th-century liberalism, predicated on minimal government and unrestricted economic freedom, and statists preferring its 20th-century welfare-state version, where the state turns into the most important economic agent and seeks to control and regulate all features of everyday life."

The first group would of course include libertarians, paleoconservatives, or those who simply call themselves 'small government conservatives' while the second group properly describes the broad mainstream Left, social democrats, and left-liberals. The policies of this second group are also the most mainstream as we see the 'far right' Bush administration taking them up as noted in this previously linked article by David Michael Green. Due to this stunning revelation, the GOP and its propagandists on AM rabies radio have now began distancing themselves from the Bush years, but not for his police state policies or neo-imperialism, but because of this lazily defined 'socialism.' Of course, the opportunism is clear to anyone not suffering the symptoms of the rabies bite given that they can now return to the phony outsider status they held during the Clinton years and lob accusations of "Communist", "Marxist" and, occasionally, "national socialist" at the current regime. As is noted here, all the past Republican administrations since Nixon have been more than slightly indebted to the ideology of the man long since left to be "kicked around" and ridiculed. This can be understood as a form of symbolic sacrifice whereby the square personality of Nixon was strung up and burned as an effigy by victorious New Left youth while his policies remained entrenched in Washington to be continued and elaborated on by left and right alike. In other words:

"If you believe this story, then conservative politics was not “reborn” after the Goldwater campaign in 1964 and cemented by Reagan. Instead, the Nixonites allowed this new ideological trend to be the face of the party, but they retained control over the institutional functions of the party, as evidence by Nixon’s resurgence. This observation explains a lot of other puzzling feature of Republican politics. This is not the party of small government, it’s the party of national security. The party of individual liberty and self-reliance is actually the party of “enhanced interrogation.” The idea tying it together is national security, with superficial appeals to whatever helps win the election. "

This brings me to my next point, which begins with an examination of Thatcherism (Reaganism being simply American Thatcherism) and the bogus libertarianism attributed to it. As I've written about previously, Thatcherism and its American counterpart sought to roll back the 'Keynesian consensus' of the high modern era and usher in an era of deregulation, entrepreneurialism, sharp individualism, meritocracy and higher achievement. We all know Reagan's famous dictum about government being the problem, not the solution, therefore one would rightly assume he was enemy of the second view of the establishment quoted at the beginning of this post. While the high modern era provided the highest level of prosperity and comfort for the greatest number of citizens than ever before, it came at the cost of an ever increasing government and military. Transatlantic Thatcherism certainly rolled back the welfare state, but the size and power of the executive government in both Britain and the United States remained the same while the military-industrial complex, which is mostly publicly funded, increased. Reagan began to increase US military involvement in the world, especially Latin America, breaking with the relative isolationism seen after defeat in Vietnam. Thatcher meanwhile put British imperialism into overdrive with the ridiculous invasion of the Falklands and a brutal suppression of Irish self-determination (the response to which almost claimed the life of Mrs. Thatcher herself). This is something which I have not yet seen properly addressed by either the left or right. Namely, that the social democracy afforded in Britain and the United States in the postwar era was intrinsically tied with the war effort itself. In other words, one cannot have a benevolent welfare state (as the Left views it) without a state which is also involved in perpetual warfare and conquest and will happily crush personal freedoms at home when it sees fit. From the right, I have not yet seen a critique of the Thatcher or Reagan administrations which notes that they both continued the high modern consensus of an increasingly powerful executive government and military. Thus, it seems whether you have a socially democratic welfare state or one seeking the deregulation of markets, war will remain the health of the state.

From here I will turn to the first notion of the establishment mentioned in the beginning of the post. This classically liberal variant of the political and economic establishment was last seen with the Calvin Coolidge presidency. Coolidge represents the last of the East Coast liberal Republicans who are now at best a footnote in American political history. During his presidency, Reagan stated that he held Coolidge in high esteem, no doubt to cement his credentials as a proponent of small government. Nevertheless, I think even the most ardent trade unionist would regard Coolidge's handling of the Boston Police strike during his time as Massachusetts governor as far more even handed than Reagan's handling of the air traffic controllers' strike. After all, Coolidge only intervened on the issue of public safety after there was violence in the streets. Reagan's bias towards big business was never hidden and so the intervention of the Federal government on behalf the airline companies somehow becomes an example of minimal government in action. Nevertheless, even outside of libertarian support or lionization of Transatlantic Thatcherism, a look at the Gilded Age outside of this revisionism leaves much to be desired. Yes, it was an age where the government was comparatively minimal in respect to it's present size, but economic inequality was severe. Present day luxuries such as the weekend and minimum wage were won only from of the struggles of organized labor against the conditions which the Robber Barons would continue to have us all living under. While I don't have any illusions concerning the radical nature of present day trade unions, the fact that they were able to establish themselves as a powerful lobby for working people and have it so their members could make decent living for themselves and their families is a testament to the power of working class self-determination. A return to the policies of the Gilded Age would have the majority of us working 12 hour days, every day, for $4.50 an hour with the added stipulation that one could smoke a joint at the end of it. While the incorporation of the trade union movement within the political system certainly spelled the death of labor radicalism and from a Marxist and syndicalist perspective an accommodation with the capitalist system itself, in terms of what the British and American working classes themselves actually wanted it was a victory as it established the trade unions as their rightful representatives and an era of relative affluence for those who run but do not own the means of production. This is why, to the chagrin I'm sure of some of my Austrian minded friends, I believe social democracy is the most advanced form of capitalism as it neutralizes to a large degree the social inequalities produced by capitalism.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the High Modernist era and social democracy in general, while admirable for the relative affluence which most Americans and British citizens could attain with ease, a culture of mediocrity and conformity became the staid afterbirth. As such, the appeals to excellence and an unrestrained individualism during the Thatcher and Reagan years were a logical act of rebellion. Nevertheless, the outcome of their reign was a bit different. As is described in this review of James Heartfield's book The 'Death of the Subject' Explained:

"In his analysis of the 1980s, the decade of Thatcher and Reagan and of the slogan 'there is no alternative' (to the market), Heartfield exposes the contradictions of popular capitalism. The defeat of an already moribund left proved much easier than rolling back state support for a stagnant capitalist system deprived of its old enemies at home and abroad and obliged to discover new sources of legitimacy. The result was 'a solipsistic individuation of society', as people retreated from public life and social engagement, rather than the self-assertive individualism promised by Hayek and Popper."

Today not much has changed except that politics has taken on a synthesis of Thatcherism and social democracy, the so called 'Third Way.' Such syncretism just goes to show what sort of dead end the power elite has come up against. As such, capitalism is moving away from the technological advancements and higher standard of living which it certainly can provide in favor of an era of restraint and neo-feudalism. Rich Karlgaard of Forbes draws some comparisons between our current crisis and the beigism of the Carter 1970s:

"Thus does our current mess look like the 1970s more than anything. There are some notable differences, of course: House speculation, poorly understood credit derivatives, crazy leverage, bad accounting rules and lax SEC enforcement created today's woes. In the 1970s, it was oil shocks, inflation, tax bracket creep and a growing welfare state. Those differences aside, we seem to have wound up in the same place. We are led by a government that once again (1) distrusts markets, (2) embraces oddly contradictory Keynesian deficit spending for growth and Malthusian limits to growth (except for the government) and (3) is run by a president with a deep regard for his own virtue.

Then as now, the U.S. economy will recover. But it is hard to imagine anything stronger than a tepid recovery--occasional bright periods of growth interrupted by numerous mini recessions, oil shocks and so forth. On the whole, this will produce European-style growth of 1% to 2%. If you doubt this, then think of the American industries whose top companies will shift capital and creative energy from growth investment to regulatory compliance: banking, for one. Automobiles. Oil and gas. Electric utilities. Pharmaceuticals. Picture yourself at a board meeting at any top company in these fields. You will hear defensive talk overwhelming growth talk.

How did ordinary Americans cope in the 1970s? Many turned inward. Writer Tom Wolfe captured the decade's mood in a 1976 essay called "The Me Decade and the Third Great Awakening." Wolfe used the term "awakening" as satire. What Wolfe described was far from the religious awakenings led by Jonathan Edwards in the early 18th century or by the abolitionists of the 19th century. Rather, the great awakening of the 1970s was a national plunge into self-absorption.

So here we are: the military-industrial complex and the executive government has been ever expanding since the beginning of the 20th century, untouched, in fact cheered on by those supposed supporters of small government in the 1980s. Meanwhile, relative affluence and ease of life (i.e. not having to worry too much or struggle over the essentials) is now left to the nostalgics. A culture of self-absorption and perpetual adolescence has prompted a new view of society: one outside of class or culture and brought on by a levelling humanism which now sees individuals as either victims or professionals (i.e. those who manage the victims and their affairs). Western capitalism has retreated from production and advancement and now speaks of sustainability and the so called 'New Economy' based around service and security. On either the Left or Right there are no longer any actual bottom-up political or social movements, just useful idiots trying to make the agenda of power elite seem chic. Environmentalism, anti-consumerism, and various charities mark the revival of a Victorian morality whereby regular folks are supposed to feel guilty about their "privileges", like owning a car and a house, and give something back. It has been said that aid to Africa (and related schemes) are the means by which poor people in rich countries give money to rich people in poor countries. In addition to this I would add that the current vogue of charity is really an attempt by the American and British ruling classes to preserve some sense of legitimacy where they can still imagine they are on top and thus in a position to give something extra to all the little people around the world. Meanwhile both countries are steadily on their way to resembling East Germany or Communist Yugoslavia. In closing, I would normally ask readers which brand of poison mentioned in the beginning of the post they would prefer. However, thanks to the Third Way we needn't choose as we can have the worst of both! The economic feudalism of the Gilded Age nostalgics with the ever present statism and beigism of the social democrats. Backwards to a Brave New World which is neither brave or new.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Subconscious Modernism of Graffiti Removal

I was aware of the existence and thesis of this film, The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal, since it was screened at my alma mater but I hadn't actually seen it until now. In some ways this is actually a good thing as my opinions on art and the-state-of-the-world have only progressed since I was an undergrad art school student. That being said, while the film, like most contemporary art, contains a certain tongue-in-cheek element which unfortunately runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of what is being said, I agree wholeheartedly with the thesis of the film. In addition to this, I will take it a step further and argue that the unintentional abstract art being produced by graffiti removal workers is far better than the intentional art of hipster taggers.

For one, the removal pieces are very much within the tradition of abstract modernist painting, far more so than contemporary 'street art' which is far more indebted to advertising and guerrilla marketing. In addition to the comparisons McCormick makes between the geometric style of buffing and the works of Mark Rothko, I would say that the ghosting style has much in common with the works of Clyfford Still while the radical style mimics the works of Hans Hoffmann, particularly the appropriately titled Golden Wall.

Secondly, the removal pieces blend organically with their urban environment producing a holistic approach to modern living. Here the blotches of color on the walls match the geometricity of city buildings which hint at an integral approach to urban society: one where all the puzzle pieces fit together and each service and job is linked inextricably to the principle of enjoyment for all of the city's inhabitants.

Tagging, on the other hand, is purposely disjointed and unassimilable. It often commits the visual faux pas of trying to walk the line between text and abstraction, leaving the viewer in limbo trying to either appreciate the line work or decipher the meaning of the tag itself. Given the difficulty with and outright hostility to the english language which seems to afflict the tagger community, one would do better to find meaning and intention in the crude scrawlings found in public lavatories.

It is no wonder that urbania (my personal term for the scene encompassing tagging, stenciling, and hipster fashions which often feature the previously mentioned styles printed on clothes) has become the It aesthetic of the cultural classes, just consider the current fame being bestowed on Shepard Fairey and Banksy, when one considers the ideology behind such works. Despite the apparent celebration of the urban environment, this aesthetic actually reinforces the most negative views concerning urban living and the modern cityscape. Looking at a wall covered with tags or an electrical box swarmed with stickers and stencils, the lack of a focal point, something present in all great artworks, is the first thing the viewer notices. As such, the conclusion one is to make from this is a celebration of the visual schizophrenia cited by detractors of city dwelling. The onslaught of various floating signifiers which reign down on the isolated individual producing only confusion and despair. Here the connection with advertising becomes apparent.

The ideology inherent in urbania views the modern city not as a potential Athenian city-state but as a concrete jungle inhabited with modern primitives who compete with eachother over resources for survival, this constant struggle being the only common factor uniting each individual. Nowhere is this more obvious than with tagging. While visual advertising seeks to stand out from the environment in which it is placed so as to impress upon the viewer it's message endorsing a certain service or product, tagging uses the same technique to simply advertise a cool personality or individual, someone to come to your loft parties and drink all your beer and smoke all your weed. As such, tagging and the culture of underground celebrity it perpetuates is no different from the mainstream media's cult of reality TV 'stars', people being famous simply for having their face or name disseminated into pop discourse.

One can't but also note the class difference between the graffiti removal worker and the contemporary hipster. While the former works humbly works with his hands for a paycheck in what is often a public sector job, the latter can't help but impose his personality on everyone under the guise of art in what is nothing more than the aesthetic equivalent of, "Hey, look at me! I'm fucking cool." Perhaps the tagger thinks that he can use such works on his resume when he applies for a graphic design job making corporate logos. So while the abstract buffs of graffiti removal incorporate the general aesthetic of the surrounding environment, aiming for a cohesive and enjoyable visual experience while being produced anonymously, tagging has no respect for it's context and is wrapped up in bourgeois notions of authorship.

As such, the art of urbania, despite it's occasional bogus radicalism (see my previous post on Shepard Fairey), openly celebrates the barbarity of present day capitalism and the accompanying culture of childish individualism and insincerity. This being said, I do not intend to make a blanket statement which seeks to paint all street scrawlings with the same brush.

The face pictured below (featuring two views of the same work) is to be found under a bridge in the center of my hometown. The minimal line work is reminiscent of some of the single cell cartoons featured in mid century magazines and also reflects the linear cuts of the concrete on which it is painted. The face itself contains an element of humor which puts a smile on the face of the passing viewer. This simplicity and humor also seeks to humanize the urban environment in which it is found.

Another street artist whose work I have reviewed in the past, is Oneiric Imperium. Of course, to simply call him a street artist is to deny him some much deserved credit. Bood Samel's gestamkunstwerk includes stickers, drawings, power electronics recordings and performances, photography and experimental film. What ties all these diverse mediums together is a world view based in a mystical individualism which find fragments of transcendence and otherworldliness among the grime and vacated spaces of his native Philadelphia. Rather than imposing an inauthentic personality on everyone and everything, Samel's street pieces provide an area where the irrational and symbolic elements of one's subjectivity can be linked with the external environment. As such, it constitutes a form of psychogeography whereby one can manipulate the urban environment in accordance with one's own dreams. The map is not the territory, indeed!

In closing, the urban environment is not necessarily the concrete jungle which it's detractors make it out to be. In fact, the city could be the nucleus for a decentralized, communal democracy in which the unchecked potential of creative individuals thrives alongside a sense of collective responsibility. For this to occur, however, urban art forms which encourage and glorify competition for it's own sake as well as a crass and puerile individualism need to be recognized for what they are and scrapped.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Unsubstantiated Blanket Statements

Other readers may already be familiar with the case of the 'Craigslist Killer' as it has made the rounds in national news given all the lurid details which American society, simultaneously repressed and overexposed (i.e. bored), loves. As a quick aside, I just want to say that the title 'Craigslist Killer' should really have been saved for someone who kills more than one person (I think the Hotel Hooker Homicide should have be used if only for the crassness and clever alliteration), though perhaps it will become more apropos as this jerk-off has promised that there is, "More coming out." Maybe Markoff is putting the serial in serial murder and truly making this case more like a contemporary pulp novel than anything else.

Either way, this post is really a follow up to my previous one on the death-cult, isolated individualism born of the Reagan/Thatcher era. This Markoff kid being another prime example of it. On the outset we have a sloppy preppy Med student from Boston University (more on this later) who lived in a Quincy high rise and was soon to be married, just another unassuming yuppie-in-training piece of shit. He was going through all the rituals for entry into bourgeois society: Doctor job (√), T-accessible, utilitarian pad close to the city (√) and a love-less marriage (almost). But then the dark stuff comes out, he's seeing prostitutes in hotels (who he met through the internet!) and instead of just fucking them like a normal person he's robbing them and even kills one. It is also rumored that he was stealing because of a gambling addiction, which is quite possibly the lamest addiction there is (what? nobody does coke anymore?) Of course, it is understandable why all the accouterments of bourgeois living didn't do it for him, but instead of dropping out or at least living a double life he turns to a fatalistic spree of prostitute robbery and murder. Why? Because There Is No Alternative! Once more, the lyrics from Billy Childish's Thatcher's Children ring true in our ears:

Thatcher’s Children/ The headlines will grab ya/ Don’t go outta your homes/ Or your children might stab ya

And now for the unsubstantiated blanket statements section of the post. As is readily obvious, colleges attract certain personalities given their strengths in certain subjects as well as the power which lies behind their name. From what I have seen, Boston University is a mediocrity factory which attracts only the most mundane and vapid of students. The University has ruined an entire section of the city (half of Commonwealth Avenue) with it's horrid, faceless buildings and dormitories. Those students who don't live in the dorms litter the destroyed neighborhood of Allston like all the other refuse found there. If one wants a snapshot of Generic College Student, BU will offer you an extensive array to choose from. Now while the argument can be made that the colleges of the empire (note to the LaRouchites: universities in a third-world backwater like Florida don't count) attract those only motivated by money and power, BU simply doesn't hold the prestige of those institutions and thus we can assume that those who make up the hordes of body snatchers who clog up Comm Ave are really honestly excited about a banal existence in middle management somewhere. As such, and the Markoff case just proves it, with notable exception, I can truthfully say all Boston University students are sociopaths.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The LaRouchian Madness

The above featured chart comes from a LaRouche PAC rag titled The Noosphere vs. The Blogosphere: Is the Devil in Your Laptop? which starts with the rather wild claim that there is a fascist mass movement based on college campuses these days which has three faces: Facebook, Myspace, and violent computer games. Now obviously I am not going to seriously entertain these claims, nevertheless I find the chart itself interesting on a few levels:

a. I find conspiracy theories (the more intricate & wild, the better) fascinating for they represent a battle between individuals interpreting their own reality in the matter they see fit and the imposition of the Establishment weltanschauung (subjective rationality vs. standardized, objective rationality.)

b. Building off the last point, even by the standards of an objective rationalist (one who believes that something actually exists outside of the collective consensus of individual subjectivities which we can label reality) the conspiratorial view of history or events at the very least qualifies as an existential escape from the mundanity of everyday life. An effort to create an elaborate narrative which makes participation in life exciting. Hence, while I certainly do not truly subscribe to all the theories of Michael A. Hoffman II or James Shelby Downard, their works are on par with the greatest fantastic fiction.

c. Maybe they are really on to something...

Now the LaRouche crew can warrant an entire study all on their own (in fact, they already have) and have also been of particular interest of mine for quite some time mainly because they seem to be the only fully organized, international, youth-based political organization with regularly publishes multiple publications who are beyond the false left/right dichotomy. Nevertheless, this post-spectrum perspective is not generally a good thing in that they essentially support a technocratic, military keynesian system which only differs from the one presently in place in that it would serve their own bizarre projects (Eurasian land bridge) and is based off their own conspiratological metanarrative. So it is that that they at least provide a direct line of connectivity, albeit from the opposite perspective which I hold, from the current social plutocracy to it's origin in the proto-state capitalism of the American School, as presented here:

At that point, Vecchio asked LaRouche to give his view, as an economist, on American economic thinking, and on John Maynard Keynes. LaRouche explained that many people in Europe tend to concentrate on Keynes, when they debate free-market economics, as opposed to other schools in economics; but that the American school of economics actually goes back to President Abraham Lincoln.

Economist Panizza underlined the importance of what LaRouche said regarding three "American System" economists—Alexander Hamilton, Friedrich List, and Henry Carey—given the demonstrated failure of present economic theories to face the world financial crisis.

Now I just want to clarify that I would be open to supporting a global welfare system, but only if it was structured along the lines of something like this. I also want to say that on an abstract level, the methodological nature of the LaRouche crew is something to be admired and replicated along different ideological lines: a tightly knit network of activists organized through meritocratic means, with many methods of propaganda available, around a complex grand narrative which offers a New, Revolutionary world view which combines the best elements of Archaic and Enlightenment values. Of course, the biggest aspect of the LaRouchies which needs to be scrapped is the cult of personality, lest we end up like a certain cretinous family.

[Ed. note: I apologise for the poor scan quality of the chart provided. For a better look, I recommend opening the image in a new window and utilizing the magnifying glass tool available on Macs.]