Contre le cinéma

Culture, Media, War and Politics

By the end of the week, I found myself wondering if a better society wouldn’t have kept Boston open and shuttered CNN. Did we really shut down an entire city to catch one wounded boy? Have we overextended the First Amendment in granting the press effective immunity from responsibility even as we become a nation intent on revoking the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth? There’s a temptation to read the scenes of deserted streets and paramilitary police as teasers for the sort of incipient totalitarianism, and maybe it is, but as an aficionado of conspiracy literature, I find that this analysis tends inevitably toward the conspiracist’s biggest flaw, which is to over-read intention and to presume that history has a narrative.

If you asked me to describe in one word a culture that dispatches the black helicopters and assault vehicles in response to a dyadic pair of wayward, violent youth, I’d say, decadent. London kept the dance halls open during the Blitz, but Boston shut Fenway because of a pipe bomb. There’s some truth to the claim that Americans are uniquely deferential to authority and prone to authoritarian solutions, but we’ve also become a culture that’s largely adopted the values of an aristocracy: we want perfect safety and perfect comfort, although we’ll complain mightily about the cost of service these days. For all the John McCains looking up from their thin soup to demand that we Torquemadize the surviving brother in order to discover whether or not this was all part of Cobra Commander’s plot, the predominant sentiment behind the desire to prevent the kid from “lawyering up” and fitting him for concrete boots instead seems to me to be that putting him to trial would just be such a bother, and so expensive.

For all the praetorian hoo-hah on display all day in Boston, the thing that broke the case was some dude going outside to burn a square once the cops gave everyone the all clear. What purpose, then, did the lockdown serve? Well, yinz ever hear of a little thing called The Society of Spectacle? A culture of universal surveillance is a karaoke civilization; the lockdown of Boston was demanded by its own image; CNN’s et al.’s fake reporting wasn’t just the result of an immense, confused official response, but also in a very real sense its cause. Not for nothing does the footage resemble an action flick. The line between reality and fantasy is blurring, yes, but which is really shading into the other?

And this, too, is why the subsequent investigation and trial seem so odd to so many Americans. It reeks of anticlimax. How many more goodbyes do we have to endure before Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellan pack the Bagginses off from Middle Earth? Isn’t there something better on? One reason Brave New World holds up better than 1984 is that Huxley had the good humor to pick a winner, not a boot stomping on a human face forever, but orgy-porgy; not violence and death as a threat, but violence and death as entertainment. Hey, do you guys wonder why something as basically dull as The Hunger Games is so extraordinarily popular. It’s not because it’s fantastical. It’s because it’s recognizable.

We can no more tolerate a plodding police investigation and boring trial than we can stand a sensibly edited fight scene in a movie. It isn’t by accident that the fools on cable news say that a story is “fast moving.” Civil libertarians will argue that we turned Boston into a kind of war zone, but no, we turned it into a soundstage, and we turned the population into extras for those emotional establishing shots of regular citizens gazing through plate glass as the Avengers zoom by. So, you know, look: Lindsey Graham isn’t the villain, here. Actually, he’s the nerd telling everyone to sit down during the credits ‘cause they’re gonna miss the post-credit villain reveal!

31 thoughts on “Contre le cinéma

  1. even as we become a nation intent on revoking the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth?

    And Third; I have friends in Watertown whose yards and living rooms were used as staging grounds for National Guard deployments.

  2. And of course the media response also caters to those who like their entertainments “emotional” rather than “spectacular,” by profiling every victim in the most maudlin way possible. You too can share in the families’ grief… until you get tired of it, when you can simply flip the channel. A rerun of Terms of Endearment has nothing on this.

  3. Let’s not forget the comic relief uncle.

    I think you’ve written about the conceptual bloat of the modern action flick before. The stakes have to be the survival of the universe itself; saving a village from bandits doesn’t cut it anymore. Immediately after the bombing occurred we had to be told this was an attack not merely on the marathon, or Boston, or America, but on the WORLD itself. Er, ok.

  4. it feels like an especially cruel trick as someone who goes to the movies for the escapism.

    but if the spectacle is “the omnipresent affirmation of the choices that have already been made in the sphere of production and in the consumption implied by that production.” this also serves for law enforcement, security industry, and military types to justify their budgets.

    is it too alarmist to see the ‘successful’ and highly acclaimed, lockdown of a largish metropolitan area as a clear step beyond “incipient” into established totalitarianism?

  5. a quic k in .. to note – i see more puppy pics with your tweets jacobb, must come back to read this ,and to look ..there , said girl puss .. . get to out siding …bicy. ear ‘h,tub

  6. to me the most astonishing part of the lockdown was letting a wounded boy escape a shootout with literally hundreds of heavily armed police critters. fuckin amateurs.

  7. IOZ you rotten bastard. Abandoning your little salon without even a forwarding address! I’m hurt. Fortunately google knows all. Anyway, nice to see you’re still at it, even if writing under some weird pen-name.

  8. IOZ lives!

    I too feel scorned; only a chance perusal of Naked Capitalism led me here this morning. But now I’m caught up. Good bloggage.

    1. Yes, Eve’s Myth delivers quality Comic Delusion of a very awkward sort, awkward because they’re serious and they really endorse that meliorist perspective and really do admire Naomi Klein and really do think that Capitalism’s Soul Is Within The Reach of Our Group/Team Effort at Soul Rescue.

      First we get elected, then we work our way up Corporate Hierarchies, then, about 100 years from now when we’re all secretly in place at high posts throughout the economy, we Throw the Switch and declare it’s All Ours Now.

      Don’t ask who is the “we” in Ours, that’s of no moment, what matters is that we have had a real meaningful sea-change here, a game-changer –if you will– of economic power-shifts. Now the “left” is in charge and you can trust them to deliver humane Imperialism and caring Capitalism in ways those Evil Rethuglicans and Dastardly Neocons never would.

      Oh, and remember, Hillary/Julian 2016.

  9. “One reason Brave New World holds up better than 1984 is that Huxley had the good humor to pick a winner, not a boot stomping on a human face forever, but orgy-porgy; not violence and death as a threat, but violence and death as entertainment.”

    Bingo. Bravo. My hat is off.

  10. “he’s the nerd telling everyone to sit down during the credits ‘cause they’re gonna miss the post-credit villain reveal!”

    I’d pay to see Seal Team 6 vs. Thanos the Mad Titan.

  11. I certainly had the impression that Boston was an entertainment, but then I realized that Boston is likely *always* an entertainment and that what I was witnessing was “Tonight, on a very special episode of . . .” As a type of entertainment, I would place it in the ASMR category — the quietness of the streets, the online police scanner feeds sending out cryptic information with long silences in between, the metaphorical whispering of the media — all of it created that strange, spine-tingling quality of concentration.

    ASMR media produce a kind of pleasurable trance, which is why it was such a bummer to point out how much violence takes place all the time in cities like Boston, no special occasion required, and that the same media covering the hell out of the bombings also conspires daily to maintain the silence of routine domestic abuse in places like Watertown.

    Does history have a narrative? It certainly has tendencies, recurring plots, and self-similarity across scale. I think the question makes trouble for us because it implies a source of capital-A Authorship, and a great many of us have hang ups about pre-Enlightenment philosophy, not to mention the Tetragrammaton.

    And yet, how can we possibly understand the Boston Bombings without regarding history’s narratives? This is weird speculation, yes, but it’s more than that. Notice, for instance, that the explosion in West, TX so obviously amplifies the pressure-cooker-as-bomb motif. In no sense would one try to connect the two events except in mythopoetical terms, and so the unspoken question that followed was whether the self-similarity would recur again in even larger terms later in the week.

    There is evidence to support this sort of speculation, but it’s never very good evidence, and has no standing anywhere but in theater, so spelling it out (without being in a theater) invites ridicule. As far as I can tell, these are the terms of service for the reality matrix.

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