Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Against the Cult of Hitchcock

I can no longer resist putting this out: a tirade cut from The Cinema Effect on

the wildly overrated work of Hitchcock, whose manipulative tendencies took the total film to new heights of totalitarianism in The Birds, Vertigo, Marnie and Psycho. Hitch is cinema's Judas: he makes his films out of virtuoso playing on the cinematic apparatus, but on themes of profound misanthropy which come to their peak in the vile Frenzy, perhaps one of the first films to revel in its own irrationalism at the expense of humanity. Even the adulation would not matter, were it not that Hitchcock's Olympian style, his Nietzschean-aristocratic ethics of entitlement, in its haughty disdain for audience, producers and actors alike, seems to define what cinema can do as autonomous machine, and to do so falsely. In this way, Hitchcock's carreer follows with more precision than anyone else's the loss of innocence that overcame the cinema at the end of the 1940s. His English films of the 20s and 30s, given their dark subtexts, are nonetheless charming, at times erudite, at times frothy, frequently experimental. As his first American film, Rebecca not so much loses innocence as mocks it. That cynicism may be a legitimate response to the then-new triumph of the consumer commodity, but in its absolute claims for itself as the purest mode of film, it sells out the cinema at the moment in which the money-lenders most needed to be removed from the temple, and a rare moment in which that might have been possible.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The War on War

The world's leaders hum and hah over the Ba'ath assault on its own population with chemical weapons because chemical warfare has been a platform of UK and US weaponry at least since 1991 and deployed in the Gulf and in the Balkans in hundreds of tons. Many of us want to believe that Obama is a decent man, trying to do right in a wrong world. So perhaps he can't stomach the hypocrisy. Depleted uranium is not 'chemical' in only the most bureaucratic sense: it's nuclear, but it interacts chemically at the cellular level. Given testimony like Malcolm Hooper's 1999 lecture on the aftermath of Gulf war uranium shelling, the US Dept of defense and its UK equivalent waited till 2008 to make any kind of admission, and then only in the most guarded language, and in relation to their own forces, not the civilians still living where the material (half-life 4bn years) is. As Rob Nixon writes, this slow violence never figures in accounts of the 'surgical' strike and the 'hundred hours war', reported as spectacle and celebration, vaunted as humanitarian.

JFK's war on poverty was such a success that Reagan decided to wage a war on drugs. When that was such a huge success, Bush declared a war on terror. Today it seems the US is ready to declare war on war. God help us all.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Quantum Crowd

from a chapter called "Defining the Public in Piccadilly Circus" for a forthcoming collection on public screens and transnational cultures edited by Nikos Papastergiadis and Scott McQuire.

The public that threatened in the early 20th century to become mass became instead the lonely crowd, and the lonely crowd in turn has become a circuit of managed desires no longer adding up to individuals. When Laclau (2005) describes the unit of populist politics as demands, he approaches an understanding of this new condition, where the units are neither social nor individual but desires in movement, unanchored from biography and mobilised in currents through the tides of quotidian human affairs. The process by which communities and extended families were reduced to the nuclear family of the classic consumer society of Keynesianism continued in the Bretton Woods era to produce as unit of consumption the atomised individual. Neo-liberalism, coinciding with personal computing, internet and mobile media, encouraged the break-up of the individual, just as the previous regime encouraged the break-up of the nuclear family in an epidemic of divorce. Now only unanchored desires function as sub-individual social particles. We have moved from the molecular family to the atomic individual and thence to the quantum dynamic of desire, at which point the art of managing desires takes over from politics as the conduct of public life.