27.3.14

The New Porn for the Unemployed is made in Hollywood: the Sex Appeal of Fear



                                                                      





If we followed the example of that nutcase French author, Gustav Flaubert and made a dictionary of boring ideas of our age of fear – something like a crisis-vocabulary of banality, platitude and stupidity - then one of the most distinguished phrases would be the following : '' the world is burning and you sit and watch movies, porn and facebook –  you watch the Idol of ‘You ’ -- you are a self-obsessed social media - ego-junky''. 
                                                                                     
                                                                           






A whole new spectrum of panic and catatonia is compressed in these few phrases: facebook, cinema and… self-horniness threaten your life.  Most important of all – media spectacle '' is '' a place '' of hypnosis '' – a place where you sleep (dreaming of a fantasized version of you) while the world around you dissolves into nothingness. It is a modernized version of a funny-sounding Greek saying: ''The world perishes and the pussy combs itself ''. Leaving aside the madly-gender-charged connotations of the term '' pussy '' - I would like to grapple here the tensions surrounding the verb ''comb. '' One of the most famous and sensational encounters between combing and horror comes from the story of Leonidas’ 300 who – as is testified by Herodotus --  used to comb and groom their hair before battle . They also exercised and toned their muscles. They wanted to look fab in their appointment with death. In this graphic anecdotal picture the battlefield becomes a catwalk. While the body of the warrior is transformed into a spectacle, the act of combing collapses the distinction between stupidity and heroism, militarism and modelling and more importantly, ‘’life'' and ‘’representation’’. The soldier voluntarily adopts a role – he plays his ‘’life’’ - even while dying. The acting of ''ethos’’ (which in Greek means role-playing) is here a way of stylizing your body in death. The posturing of the warrior frames the way he understands himself morally:  to comb -- at war -- is to create a moral self-image. Death on the battlefield is self-edited like a film: the soldier does not stylize his hair in order to seduce the enemy (although this is not necessarily out of question) but mainly to look well in the screen of his mind. From this viewpoint, the ancient battle was a type of pre-cinematic performance. If the screen is the continuation of self-deification by other means, then the genealogy of  ''stardom '' extends deep into the ancient time. 


                                                                           


The idea then that vanity is incompatible with disaster is profoundly ahistorical - and mainly - banal: people are obsessed with the art of self-presentation even when they are absorbed –like kebabs -- in the stomach of chaos. I want to press this point against the banalities, stupidities and clichés that surrounded the release of (another plot-less) Hollywood film, the 300 II: The Rise of the Empire.  What I want to critique here is a series of one-dimensional connections between spectacle and fear – namely, the idea that the media spectacle of terror distracts its audiences from the terror of historical life.
What is silenced in this statement?  A simple (but often unnoticed) truth:  when your life is in constant crisis – your perception of spectacle changes radically. Adventure, terror and panic are no longer materials of fiction – they move beyond the land of peculiarity or exoticism. They are now the mundane and trivial vocabulary of reportage, documentary and gossip: When your right eye catches an ancient warrior landing on a Persian ship in youtube, your left one captures the neighbor committing suicide -- jumping from the roof to her death-- blaf! The ' irregular ' is now a regular phenomenon of everyday life. 
                                                                                      


                                                                               



We live the banality of horror: the grotesque is the mise-en-scene of your neighborhood - a visual cliché of the '' real''. What once sounded like an intellectual nonsense – is now turned into a form of mass consciousness and experience. On and off-screen, life is a representation. When I explain to my landlord why I have not yet paid my rent – I reenact myself – I produce a '' moral '' (and militant) self - image. When I am writing a CV/cover letter, when I apologize for my failures at the job center or when I beg for money -- I chronicle, spruce or dramatize the armor of my personality. I play, narrate or visualize ‘me’ incessantly. I do the same when I recollect the years spent aimlessly - or the future that does (not) await me. We record out and promote relentlessly the agonizing story of our self in time – and then post it on facebook as a photo- textual sequence – a non-stop cinema of subjectivity. Against these stories of (horror), the suspense of the big screen does not necessarily work as ''escapism '' - but as a visual continuum or a semiotic wrapper. The big screen (or the pixels of the computer) are pages of a multi-polar plot. The cinematic experience is more than ever a synesthetic phenomenon:  We don’t just see ‘’movies’’ – we experience them with all of our senses - just like dreams, night-news and the suicide of the neighbor.

                                                    

                                               

This nervous ping - pong between the historic life and spectacle -- is expressed with unmatched intensity and irony in the catch-phrases of the promotional trailer of the 300 II ''All of Greece will fall’’ ‘’We ‘ll dance across the backs of dead Greeks’’ These quotes evoke some of the most common journalistic clichés of the last five years. Here comes the fall of Greece -- and by extension of Europe -- under the attack of an imperialist greedy power -- usually described in political terms as neo-liberalism. In this context, the golden-skinned figure of the god - king Xerxes - looks like an epic version of Scrooge McDuck - the cartoonish caricature of the capitalist who used to bath in his gold vault. Considering that the film continually reiterates that Themistocles’ Athens is a '' democracy '-- the whole body of the narrative seems to be based on a traditional political symbolism: the almighty god (of money;) attacks a progressive political ideal.  This ' heroic ' political system has its own dark holes which mark -- like gothic accessories -- the psychological costume of the central anti-heroine, Artemisia.  She describes, at some point, the political employers of Themistocles as '' bureaucracy ''.  This is an ironically anachronistic term that is taken out of the modern vocabulary of criticism against Stalinism, socialism and ‘statism’. The very construction of Artemisia’s character (a subplot of vengeance, reminiscent of the female figures of Tarantino) graphically undermines the bipolar dichotomy between good and evil. Artemisia is presented as a victim who became a violator. She survives rape, slavery and violence at the hands of the Greeks and transforms herself into a demonic war machine - a female Conan - and a gothic sex symbol. She looks like a warrior- queen version of Madonna. If the film was a disco – musical, she could easily sing ‘’do not sit and watch - get up and slaughter  me''   
  
                                                                                  


                          
The mingling of all these elements does not necessarily impose a fixed ideological climate. The important thing here is not the final interpretation of a '' movie '' - but the way that the film plays out the interpretative codes of the present. It is a traditional (and tactical) game of Hollywood with what stands in the limelight. The cinematic escape from the '' present '' returns us back to the present –more intensely and more vigorously. The viewer faces the questions, conflicts and debates which color the daily routine of digital infotainment. The screen does not counteract the actual historical time – it participates in it -- and blows it up. The promotional trailer of the film could be seen as trolling -- a web-attack that appropriates the cover of, say, Financial Times and dresses it up in ancient costumes. Cinema competes (and interacts) with the new media. Your timeline is the new ring of illusions (an attention-seeking trick that enacts the sensorial appeal of a bazaar, a street-market or a showcase).

Within this context, the '' lack '' plot of the film is superficial -- the plot is rich. Plot here is bodily, choreographic and dreamy outpouring of anguish and rage that fills the social and imaginary space which surrounds the screen. It is a style of storytelling that winks at the precarious viewer. It allows her to personalize in her own way the vocabulary of passion '' I feel anger that I'm unemployed (or subordinate employee) and I want to slaughter the time - I want to fight – to burst, fuck and conquer those how conquer me ''. The manifesto of a pop utopia. The spectacle of despair is quite flexible - it fits all the varieties of ideological outburst: the politically sensitive, the fascist, the dark-wave extravagant, the muscle-lover, the army-fetishist, the nostalgic dreamer of childhood and the manic enthusiast of extreme sports. Just like in Gravity, the effect of motion is the backbone of suspense. The cinema is experienced as a dance – it creates a visual language that speaks about the enraged, pained and strained body of Crisis. The despair expressed by the silent and visual vocabulary a ballet or a dream. The most powerful phrases are made ​​by gestures, ways of moving and physical motions rather than dialogues. The bodies fly, sink in water, move in slow motion -- mimic the kinesiology of daydreaming – and at the same time, they are deified, hedonized and slaughtered - reproducing the shifting scenery of a nightmare. The horror of history is transformed into a fairground of animosity and instinct. It is a clear and reader-friendly plot - but also multi-referential and fluid – so as to fit  numerous (and contradictory) ideological experiences of horror and hedonism. The nightmare of history turns into a massive celebration of the libido. The end of hope is lost within a carnival of brutality and horniness

PS This is carnival that fit us all - except ... the dysmorphic people who look like Ephialtes This is glaringly monstrous reference to eugenics: the morally infamous is presented as physically deformed. This racist imagery links the homo-erotic glam of the movie with a strong touch of neo-Nazi aesthetics. But let us discuss this in more detail in a different text.