“The men construct an image of a high-born woman (‘white countess’). They then worship that image, which must be asexual. They persecute the sexuality of the ‘low-born’ woman — proletarian, communist, Jew (=whore) — by first making her a prostitute, then murdering her; meanwhile lack is maintained in relationships with their own (child-bearing and asexual) women through their exclusion (as nameless wives) from social productions and from the contrafraternities of men. All of these forms of oppression — adoration, murder, exploitation — are related.”
Writing about the origins and characteristics of “realism” has led to a series of semi-disparate observations.
Misogyny, militarism, authority — are expressed in popular culture through a lens of both race and gender. What is overlooked in recent film criticism, for example (as Jared Ball points out), is that it is always a de-facto white male perspective. Slavery as something white men had to deal with, rather than black people. The same extension is seen today with anti-Arab imagery and narrative. The “war” in Iraq for example, is a problem for the white warriors, the white nation (for there are often minority soliders) battles with the complexity of international geopolitics. If Arab or Muslim characters are inserted into the narrative, their problems are seen through a lens of what they do to, and mean to, white men. White America sees gender in the same way. Women’s “problems” are really men’s problems in dealing with women’s problems.
Even allegedly feminist criticism (like this http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/03/01/girls-the-last-frontier-of-feminism/) too often fail to think outside of the goal of acceptance and approval from the establishment. Hillary Clinton, ghoul and war criminal, is not progress. It is hopelessly undialectical thinking. This is a show approved and vetted by white male executives. There is something disturbing in the ugliness of the entire show. The “unnatractivness” is structural, is meta-narratively exposed in the default setting for success and in the misogynist treatment of the “pretty” girls in the group. When one suggests this is a white patriarchal show, one is met with derision (I have found).
This leads directly to the constant of what realism means, as a reference point, in the cultural products of corporate creation. “Girls” is realism. It doesn’t correspond to the material world, but it’s realistic. White girl snark.
It strikes me that expansion is the guiding principle of capitalism, it is reflected in the expansionist male body. The Reichian character armoring that suggests a material correlate in military armor, police kevlar, and in the fantasy super heroes of Marvel and DC comics, is connected in a masculinist ideal of hardness, a shiny carapace covering a guilt inducing soft core that must remain secret. The allure of abandoned buildings, which I link directly to that sense of the uncanny, or forgotten childhood trauma and childhood dreams of sexuality, is more and more visible in contemporary photography and film. The appearance of this is worth noting, and probably is indicative of an instinctive longing for the mythic. The genres of horror and slasher film, as well as dystopian science fiction, traffic in the symbology of dark ruins, closed off zones of quarantine, and zombie hives, but it is a darkness that needs to be lit. The fear of the dark, is, in one incarnation, a fear of the hidden core. The hard shell fends off the hidden.
A fascination with caves and ruins dates back to antiquity, as transitional realms leading to the underworld. That the catacombs of various societies share this same structural aspect only heightens the associations. The place where one seeks access to the Gods remains secret and hidden. Dark and forbidden.
Today the kitsch genres of horror and sci-fi demonize these places as sources of contagion and infection. Places to be cleansed by men in armor. As Victoria Nelson points out, the lowest level of today’s parking garages are usually the site of stalkers waiting to pounce on unsuspecting victims (usually women). That this might actually be the site of a lot of muggings, actually only reinforces the truth of this (though I suspect it’s not).
The boy science projects, the comic book level male fantasies of empowerment, fueled by resentment and feelings of inadequacy, now make the abandoned and ruined sites of industrial history places in need of nuking. The entire speculative fiction sub-category of narrative is infused with an adolescent wish-fulfillment of compensation and anger. Here one could profitably introduce Theweleit’s analysis of the misogynistic fears of the fascist personality. Comic books tend toward good girl virgins and demonic temptresses. In fact most of popular culture does. But it is the treatment of these symbols that differentiates kitsch from organic culture.
It is worth noting that filmic depictions of the stereotypical Muslim terrorist includes a cave as home base for the savage and bearded pagan. In ghettos, or barrios or Chinatowns, the terror lurks in the shadows, in the garages and back alleys, and the basements. SWAT teams come to ‘clean up’ these places.
The Orientalist backdrop for widely accepted films such as Argo is blatant. But then all race stereotyping finds popular mainstream acceptance.
So there are several threads in all this: the sexual character of the aggressive male, and the rise of Capitalism, Colonialism and Imperialism, as well as the deeper level of psychic constitution, psychic architecture of of modern humans. While the Freudian spatial model seems much derided today, I still find it has a poetic truth.
The sub-culture of male body building, the normalizing of the steroid aided physique, reflects the expansionist male ideal, the hard insect-like shell designed to dominate. It is tricky, though, to be too reductionist about this, because it is never that simple. The body builder is also a weird subsumtion of macho/femininity.
“All reification is a forgetting: objects become thinglike at the moment when they are grasped without being fully present in all their parts, where something of them is forgotten.”
It is in a related sense that one can take note of another characteristic of genre. In crime, sci fi, or horror, deep religiousity, questions of immortality and life after death, of God and the Devil, good and evil, are discussed openly. In “realist” drama, this rarely happens, because questions that fall outside instrumental thought, means over ends, method, are seen as objects of ridicule. The armored male character structure, literalized in the steriod action figure body, is used in genre narrative to eradicate those dark places where disease lurks. They often must do battle with the devil. They are violent, but usually express the most sentimentalized emotions (handing candy to a crying child, after blowing up her family…as in Peter Berg’s The Kingdom, for example), or Charles Bronson handing chewing gum (as I remember anyway) to a frightened little girl in Magnificent Seven. It is worth pondering at the many implications of this, but one thing is clear, and that is that the male fantasy has it that women must tremble before the god-like power of MAN.
The demand for worship is part of the comic book boy fantasy for physical power and potency. Now, it is also worth noting, that this is the regressive genre of a marketed sales driven corporate white culture. The narratives of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, or directors such as Edgar Ulmer and Robert Siodmak, are creating something almost diametrically opposite — for they are elevating the darkness to antechambers of the divine.
“The darkness in which the No (theatre) is shrouded and the beauty that emerges from it make a distinct world of shadows which today can be seen only on the stage; but in the past it could not have been far removed from daily life. The darkness of the No stage is, after all, the darkness of domestic architecture of the day…”
Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows.
The darkness of the soul is what Thompson writes of. The darkness Hollywood film must destroy, must bring light to, is the projection of a sado/masochism nutured in capitalist evolution. The noir of the 1940s, the novels of Thompson or Hammett, are not realism. Realism is the aesthetic of the strip mall, of the bowling alley and military base. The psychic architecture of white male aggression and snark is akin to the holding tank at the local sheriffs sub station. There is a poetics to the cheap hotel room in a Goodis or Cain novel. The actual distinctions return to questions of empathy and compassion. From the empathy is born the tragic, in its modern form. The protagonists of Black Mask writers suffered. Fallen men, victims of a rigged system, failures at something they may not even have ever wanted. Today, the Stallone or Arnold action hero is sadistic and robotic, almost autistic and always brutal.
“Birth envy is not a male fantasy. Men know that they themselves create and
procreate–not by carrying the baby inside the body, like women, but by taking away
the children that the women carry to term. At age two or three, the child is handled in
such and such a way, enters the school, then the factory, or the army, and is remade
all down the line. Only toward the end of Male Fantasies di I recognize that many of
the mothers who were so enthusiastic about sending their sons to war were in fact
glad to get rid of them: they had these monster sons, in whom the feminine and the
animal had been erased. They didn’t want the anymore, and were ready to see them
go. The male body raised up through the ranks of all-male institutions is not biological,
not sexual, but functional.”
The logic of neo-liberalism hasnt changed since the Industrial Revolution; the logic is control. School, hospital, prison. The same outward containing of the masses. Driven by the need to exploit.
“The diminishing erotic and intensifying sexual energy, the technological reality limits the scope of sublimation. In the mental apparatus, the tension between that which is desired and that which is permitted seems considerably lowered, and the Reality principle no longer seems to require a sweeping and painful transformation of instinctual needs…The organism is thus being preconditioned for the spontaneous acceptance of what is offered. Inasmuch as the greater liberty involves a contradiction rather than extension and development of instinctual needs, it works for, rather than against the status quo of general repression — one might speak of institutionalized desublimation.”
The creation of ‘space’ that I wrote about before, in relation to the preconditions for artworks to dis-unify, and allow for those glimpses of the uncanny, the forgotten expelled material of the pre-linguistic child, is the space of myth, of oracles and is recorded in the historical traces of a failed industrial landscape, in the amnesiac landscape of dying cities such as Detroit, or Toledo, or the other former production centers of the rust belt. There is an acceleration of memory loss in the advanced west. An acceleration of the loss of affect in the person, and an almost disability in terms of reading complex narrative. There is, at the same time, an increased inability to ‘read’ image. It may be an ever more visual culture, but it is not a visually literate culture. The normatively neutral technology of the system, of the state, of the military, is in the service of memory loss. It extends the white male lens to both the past and the future.
Public decisions are limited to means, not ends. How *better* to secure the “homeland’. Not how to not have a homeland. Not what the fuck IS a homeland.
The lens of white privilege, white male privilege, is so entrenched, so profoundly established that it remains largely unrecognized….unless you happen not to BE white. The co-opting of dissent (such as the piece on Girls, linked above) serve to demonstrate the near complete failure to distinguish in a class of educated liberal — that Hillary is seen as progress in women’s rights is very disturbing, to say the least. Its a bit like saying Pope Rat & the catholic church are progress for the spiritual life of children. Yet these charades pass without much comment, really.
Realism is a passive acceptance of institutional authority, it is the defensive snark of white privilege, and it is a belief in means over ends, in efficiency, and in technical solutions to even human problems. It is also the acceptance, even if coerced, of male perspective, WHITE male perspective, in all narrative, in all public discourse. The voice of the non white, of women, the poor, the criminal, the insane, of anyone ‘other’ is to be expunged.