The Worst Afakens

The Worst Afakens

Months behind the curve here but I finally watched The Force Awakens–rented not bought from iTunes–on the laptop, while eating fish and chips at my desk. What do you call this? It’s like Star Wars has become an archetype. Now a direct copy––it’s not even a remix––is acceptable. An instance. For a piece of mass (hysteria) media to be so derivative shrinks the collective psyche. In order to subscribe to liking it (a separate thing from actually liking it or not) you have to forget.

Of course, the new copy is aimed at people much younger than me, who would not put up with the archaic SFX of the original. Perhaps it’s just a Generation X thing––jilted overgrowns watching kids movies and feeling left out that the makers haven’t kept them in the loop. Maybe the believe-yourself stuff pumped through Hunger Games etc is as good as any esoteric codex. Maybe kids grow up pumped with the star-seeded hero’s journey narratives of today only to end up aspiring to golf and corporate mafiadom anyway. Everything and nothing changes.

Now the Deathstar is ten times bigger and sucks energy from the sun and we must pretend for the sake of getting our money’s worth that Mark Hamill simply doesn’t and didn’t have the right face for the King of the Jedi. We may as well have had Michael J Fox. We miss Alec Guinness. After LOST I wanted more from Abrams. Only edgy thing he has done here is set the bar even lower for pressing out simulacra. Harrison Ford’s action movements are getting ludicrously ponderous, but maybe he and Chewie kind of rescue things on the nostalgia front. Maybe it’s sort of edgily cool that JJ casts English and Scots people in the Reich-like staff of the Deathstar, until you remember that the original had Peter Cushing. End of day that’s it for Star Wars, as Prometheus was death knell for Alien, as it will be for Matrix and Avatar if the rumoured prequels or sequels ever come out. I probably would collect an Agent Smith plastic figure out a cereal packet.

Which all goes to show that, everything–even (or perhaps especially) allegory about the entrapment of human consciousness–is eventually assimilated into the default post-modern, ‘scientific’, atheistic banality we are continually persuaded is “the truth”.

It’s a war of attrition, if nothing else. A relentless canoning of images at the re-uptake sites in the brain. Which is pretty much the mechanism of Evil itself–iteratively reinforcing the correctness of the ego, which will buy let’s face it pretty much anything. There is then a connection between the machine and the ego and evil.

Machines essentially repeat. Which is something different from natural production–the propagation of plants and animals etc. There is something mechanical about repeating the post-modern consensus that what there is (often delineated by rapping on the solidity of the wall or tabletop) is all there is and that is the way it always was and ever will be. You won’t hear Richard & Judy or Eddie Muir, say, say it in as many words. It is the point of view implicit in what they are saying and not saying. For the most part it is an unexamined point of view–often held by people who do not even know they are holding a point of view. The worse case is when the point of view is known to be a point of view, but is maintained for other, usually selfish, reasons. Worse still is where the point of view is known to be false and is maintained for selfish reasons.

In the Force Awakens we have a very crude awakening. The African-American child-being Fin is awakened by his conscience when he witnesses the ethnic cleansing of a village. Within a few beats he is helping the rebel pilot escape the Death star. And from there, like everyone else, he follows a character arc computed by an app or a widget in Microsoft Word. He might wield the light sabre for a moment, but Fin is basically Driving Ms Daisy. It would have been edgier to have made cast a Syrian or Afghan or Kurd.

But forget edgy. Of course the New Star Wars Movie was never going to be edgy! But ff that’s our point of view we need to urgently examine it! Is there not resignation in this acceptance that the New Star Wars Movie is pure simulacrum, fodder, mechanised distraction, laced with blue pill not red. Is it acceptable for a movie titled The Force Awakens? Is it alright that the movie encapsulates whatever might have been alluded to by “the force awakens” in the algorithms of Normal, in the mechanics of Evil? Is there anything new about the new Jedi in the movie other than that she is female? What force awakens in her and what does it do for her or anyone else? Maybe in the kamikaze X-wing pilots penetrating like sperm to the Deathstar egg we can read spirit’s impregnation of the void. Is Abrams channeling something in having the Deathstar suck energy from the sun or simply repeating what has already become an archetypal instance, a subroutine, a preset in the machine of plot-with-esoteric-reference?

Or to sum the whole thing up: is it okay to watch something called “The Force Awakens” and then go play golf*?

 

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* I often use golf as a convenient epithet for all that is Evil.

 

 

 

 

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Ex-army irvine eights

Very thought-provoking video series by Kirby Ferguson on vimeo:

Everything is a Remix Part 1 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Everything is a Remix Part 4 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

The Nature analogy is apt. Humans, plants, animals and everything in between are all “remixes” of ancestors. Exposé of the corrupt patents and copyright industry is very timely, as is the ludicrously bellicose language of gentle giant Steve Jobs. The issue these videos are getting at is attachment, i.e. identity. Which is not to say that we must do away entirely with it – a question mark as to whether we can – but that there has to be a politics of identity, which is what the first video talks about in the original manifestation of the copyright laws. A window of protection to allow the one who has been working on something, not to be ripped off. As with everything else, the true spirit of this got hijacked…

There is perhaps deeper irony lurking inside the idea of selfless copy/transform/combine dynamic of Nature: which is the selfish gene idea…

Possibly, the films are tautologous in that they select those examples of music and film which demonstrate the point. Another film could perhaps be made about ‘singleton’ plants/animals/pieces of music…but this would be ‘guilty’ of the same trick.

If art arises from the soil of the subconscious, which is a collective pool, then the inspiration is available to all. And yet there was/is only one Salvador Dali, Freddie Mercury, J.K Rowling. The self, inevitably, quite naturally attaches to the originality of the channeling. It is only by disciplined effort that we avoid falling into the ego trap of having been The One to channel something.

Funny dictated

The 911 scene

The 911 scene from The Dictator

I sat down to write a simple review of The Dictator and found myself hesitating and thinking twice, thrice before writing anything at all. It’s difficult to comment on the film without being drawn into the highly complex territory of ‘Anti-semitism’.

I sat through the 90 mins of toilet humour (including rape jokes) trying to work out the film’s agenda. Conclusion? The film is a mashup, memetically all over the place by accident, on purpose, or accidentally on purpose. Probably the third option.

The sense of non-plussed bemusement rather than challenging confusion or outrage I experienced I put down to the film’s use of triplespeak: pretend to pretend that the ‘pretend’ agenda blasted all over it is just a joke.

Which, once you cancel out the pretending-not-tos, winds down to a fairly simple proposition: that the Middle East’s Only Democracy is streets ahead in terms of the politics of memes. Which, of course it is. I may be oversimplifying. I may have missed an ironic turn in the equations here.

The scene near the beginning – you will recognise it from the trailer at least – where The Dictator runs the 100m in his own Olympics, which he must win at pain of death to other competitors, is quite funny. As is the comic refrain of Aladeen making throat-cutting gestures to order so and so’s  execution – for such ludicrous disagreements as getting in his way on the stairs. And other slapstickiness that other commentators have commented echoes Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy.

But Baron Cohen lives in a different era. The Dictator’s name is Aladeen, i.e. Allah deen, ‘faith in God’. Muslims will have to suck that one up or be seen as humourless anti-semites. Haha! Arabs will have to take leaves from Kazakhstan’s book on how to see the funny side of being portrayed as rapists and goat-fuckers. Women will have to schlerp it on being portrayed as bed fodder. Sexy Beast fans will observe Sir Ben’s Kingsley’s now irrefutable status as Prize Arsehole.

And anyone attuned to more intelligent (and more funny) humour a la Chris Morris, Stephen Merchant, Ricky Gervais etc etc will I think wonder who finds cock and jizz/ hotdog and mustard jokes funny. There is a weird, low-brow broadside to the film. As if it’s begging for someone to, Irvine Welsh style, haul up the sash window and shout out ‘THAT’S FUCKING SHITE!’

But it’s more complicated than that.

What are we to make of the “911 Scene” (pictured), where Aladeen (Baron Cohen) and Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), take a tourist helicopter ride, and pretend (i.e. pretend to pretend to pretend) to discuss a 911-style hijack in mock-Arabic that neither actor can quite keep from sliding into mock-Hebrew. The two languages are semitic after all. All those ‘kh’ sounds.

We could complain that Baron Cohen and Mantzoukas are openly mocking Arabs. Sure, there is much to be mocked about Arabs; there is much to be mocked about anyone and everyone. We could say the whole film mocks Arabs. Borat body-swerved being anti-Kazakh by ‘in fact mocking American midwestern anti-semitism.’ Does the same body-swerve work here? Is the mockery of Arabs in fact only pretend – the real mockery being of American paranoia about 9/11, as represented by the two American tourists in the helicopter? I can’t work it out.

I was also bemused the film’s climax, where Aladeen decries the film’s treaty to democratise the fictional dictatorship Wadiya as a smokescreen for corporate grab of its oil and other natural resources. There then follows a remarkable excursion into ‘leftist’ politics, viz:

  • Imagining America as a dictatorship (Dick Cheney has been mentioned earlier among Khadaffi and Kim Jong Il as one of the world’s great dictators), and then
  • Keeping 99% of wealth to the richest 1%
  • Taxing the poor
  • Filling prisons with “one particular racial group” [camera closes on an African man]
  • Using the media to scare people into support for policies against their interests…

And at that point The Girl enters, allowing the device of Aladeen looking at her and declaring his love for Democracy, with all its imperfections.

Leftist credentials established via apparent criticism of the Invasion of Iraq, we rewind to the early scenes of the film, where we see Aladeen making his first public speech, announcing that Wadiya have enriched ‘weapons grade uranium’, and sniggering that it ‘is for peaceful purposes’. This scene can only be seen as a step firmly in favour of the current hardline stance towards Iran – most vociferously put by Israel, which, it says is entirely justified given Iran’s hardline towards it. The complexities are nutshelled by Aladeen’s line at the end of this speech: “…will be used only for purposes of medical research…and will certainly never be used to attack Is…Is…Oh boy.”

Here Baron Cohen pretends to body-swerve the furore that follows mention of  Is****. Why did he have Aladeen ‘almost’ say it? (Why daren’t I mention it now?) Struggling a little with Peter Bradshaw’s uncritical review of the film, I arrived at one of the comments at the bottom of the page…

…actually I was only pretending to have done that.

In actual fact I arrived via google on ‘Peter Bradshaw’ at the CIFWatch web page. CIFWatch, for those who don’t know (I didn’t until now) is a website dedicated to monitoring the Guardian’s Comment Is Free pages. Its mission is stated on its masthead:

The particular page I arrived at singles out one particular response to Peter Bradshaw’s review:

Screen Shot of CIFWatch's screenshot of Guardian

Screen Shot of CIFWatch’s screenshot of Guardian

Which CIFWatch dissect as follows:

Unpacking this comment (which has thus far garnered 39 ‘Recommends’):

  • Conflating of Jews with Israelis: Cohen, a British Jew, is immediately tied to Israel. (Also, see this CW post about a similarly bigoted attack on Cohen by the Guardian’s Michael White.)
  • Classic projection: The suggestion that Israel is an extreme anti-Arab, anti-Islamic country is a perfect moral inversion in light of the Arab world’s malign obsession with Jews and Israel, and endemic culture of antisemitism. It takes a lot of ideological conditioning to see the last 64 years as the Israeli/Jewish war against the Arab/Islamic world.
  • Thinly veiled Nazi analogy: The reader sees a Jew mocking Arab dictators as somehow analogous to Germans mocking Jews in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

This off-topic, gratuitously anti-Zionist (and ad hominem) attack on Cohen has not been deleted by CiF moderators.

If you visit the Peter Bradshaw review and click through the comments to page 4 you now find:

Screen Shot of Guardian Comment page

Screen Shot of Guardian Comment page

So the comment has been removed. Why?

Perhaps the Nazi analogy was the straw that broke the camels back (Haha – joke, guys!) The ‘Classic Projection’ accusation – the absurd and abhorrent suggestion that Israel is anti-Arab (where in Gaza did ATTW get that idea?) is a piece of simple Doublethink not worthy of our attention here. Nor is the tacit admission of CIFWatch’s gratuitously Zionist stance in their final comment on the comment.

The first point is the interesting one: Conflating of Jews with Is****is. Baron Cohen is British and Jewish, and therefore tracing a route to Is…Is…Oh boy! Is an illegal move. We shan’t delve into Google search results to discover the countless rebuttals of criticism of Israeli policies – esp with regards the Palestinians – as “anti-semitic” – including by CIFWatchers.

No, we shall simply return to that masthead:

  

“…and the assault on Is****’s legitimacy…” I think makes the site’s connection from Jews to Is**** quite clear.

The quote from CP Scott simply baffles me. Is it another ironic twist? Who was CP Scott anyway? Wikipedia:

Charles Prestwich Scott (26 October 1846 – 1 January 1932) was a British journalist, publisher and politician. Born in Bath, Somerset,[1] he was the editor of the Manchester Guardian (now the Guardian) from 1872 until 1929 and its owner from 1907 until his death. He was also a Liberal Member of Parliament and pursued a progressive liberal agenda in the pages of the newspaper.

Hmmm… So a quote from a former editor of the Guardian, viz the voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard” appears in the masthead of a website dedicated to monitoring the Guardian’s Comment is Free pages. Whether CIFWatch had anything to do with the comment shown above being removed or not is of course speculation.

 

Conclusion

I hesitate to come to a conclusion.

The Is****i-P****tinian “issue” is well documented elsewhere.

Rather than appearing (or pretending) to outline any “agenda” on behalf of Is…Is… (any such thing is therefore Classic Projection on the reader’s part) I hope to have induced in the reader a certain confusion. A stumbling from proposition to proposition, from pro this to anti that and back again. This is the feeling that accompanied my viewing of The Dictator. I am tempted to say that the film is smokescreen, blurring vision of the complex terrain of the Middle East. But that would only be Classic Projection on my part. I am finally tempted to say that, whatever agenda the film simulates, dissimulates or simply doesn’t have (Ha!), attempting to progress a politics of memes by attrition, by spinning doubly and trebly around them, is surely a hiding to nothing. But that would only be thinly veiled analogy.

The author disclaims knowledge, inference, deduction or any other form of cognitive production of any connection between the members of the movie industry mentioned above and the Middle East’s Only Democracy.

More on Triplespeak in my article on Rachel Corrie.