Cop Stories

The film and TV world are useful studies because of exactly how they both reflect social reality, and at the same time, create social reality.

But it’s not that simple. Let me just make a few observations, or really, just ask questions.

How do films that cost fifteen million dollars get made? How do films that cost eighty million get made? Is is the same process? How do films that cost one hundred and sixty million get made? How do one million dollar films get made?

When I was last in Los Angeles, I made the rounds of studio’s new micro budget divisions. I found them run by the same morons who run any division at a studio. Same people. Same gold rolexs, same myopic world view, same marketing concerns and same lack of literacy. I found in many ways the same issues were in play if you were making a five million or an eight million dollar film, that were in play for a half million dollar web-isode. The people who run studios do not think of film as a part of culture, or art, they think of it as a business. Period. Marketing prols are in every meeting, and they have, largely, the final say on a lot of stuff.

But the real question I am slowly getting to is, ok, if you have bought the rights to a DC comic book, then sure, a studio might get on board and attach an A list talent (sic) and viola, soon you might have a sixty million dollar film. Of course you have to factor in nepotism hugely here. Hollywood liberals love to pretend its not a deeeply nepotistic culture, but it is. And there are sub mafias of course. The USC film school mafia, the Carnegie Mellon guys, etc. And sub sub mafias. The Barry Diller clones, the people who came up at William Morris or CAA, or worked with so and so. The various gay mafias, the various Beverly Hills High School mafias, and on and on and on. This makes Hollywood no different than any other business culture. Its who you know and that’s that. But the point I am slowly crawling toward here has to do with WHAT gets made and why and how.

Lets take actors. Actors are, by and large, pretty ignorant. Not all by any means, and usually they are, as a class, probably marginally more aware of the world than, say, executives. But still, one measure of the decline of taste would be to look at the guidance an actor like Brando got, or even a Bogart, or Tracey, and the fact that today you have actors….DeNiro for example, who one might think would have a fair degree of autonomy in what he makes, but chooses one bad film after another. I can’t think of a career meltdown quite as pronounced. His doppleganger, Pacino, has faired better. Not a lot better, but better. But the overwhelming evidence suggests these choices are largley unexamined. Does one think Ben Affleck understood exactly why Gone Baby, Gone was compelling in its authenticity? In its capture of the working class mileu of south Boston? His next film as a parody of this, The Town and right up to his recent screamingly racist piece of state dept propaganda, Argo.

Now, this is really getting close to what I want to ask about. The master narrative is a very powerful tool in the reinforcing of the status quo. This is obvious, but often I think it also passes unnoticed. The figure of authority, either military or domestic police, is so unbelievably entrenched that its clearly now a fixture in the subconscious of a large swath of the population in the U.S.

One of the real masterpieces of American film is Charles Burnett’s 1977 diploma film for the USC film school, Killer of Sheep. Burnett, however, was to follow this with studio work of vastly inferior quality. And work that featured the police as protagonists. How and why does this happen?

Speaking of DeNiro, his latest exercise is self immolation was Freelancers with 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson).

From Hollywood Reporter puff interview with ‘Fitty Cent’…

The Hollywood Reporter: How you do you pick the projects you take on now, and what in particular sort of appealed to you about this one?
50 Cent: I have a crew of people that actually sit down and read all the screenplays, and when things stick out to them, they send it to me and I get a chance to read them myself. On this project, what was really interesting is I read the entire screenplay and I didn’t know if my character was a good guy or a bad guy. Internally, he’s being pulled in multiple directions by both crews that he was a part of, from his best friends growing up and then Sarcone when he [joins the police force]. And even with his girlfriend, it wasn’t acceptable for her in the early stages [until] he became a police officer, but he did more dirt as a police officer than he did in his original life.
So that was what made the project itself exciting to me. And then when I was able to sell that to [Robert] De Niro first, to get it to him and have him check it out. His agent got him to look at it, and he was interested in the project. Immediately, I told Forest [Whitaker] he was doing it; De Niro was just interested, but when Forest checked it out already having in mind me and De Niro, that made it easier for me to get him on board.

Um OK.

Where I grew up, the police were the enemy. There was no confusion about this. The cops were the enemy, and the justice system something to be avoided at all costs, though usually that proved impossible.

There was no ambivilence. The urban landscape of the U.S. features the police to a degree unimagined in the rest of the world. One should not be surprised then that fictional creations, narratives, will feature cops. If one compares the work of Eddie Bunker, who I knew and worked with, you don’t see the police as in any way ambivilent. There are no noble cops, or redemptive encounters. Bunker’s pov is that of the criminal, of the outsider, of the poor and marginal. Bunker is, however, the exception. The bourgois perspective on narrative structure demands redemption, demands consolidation and a restoration of stability. This must happen on both a material level, and on a psychic level. The outsider needs to be re-incorporated into society, domesticated and obedient, or needs to be either killed, or condemned to exile. The figure of the exile, which I touched on with Adorno in the previous post, looms large in the 20th century unconscious. It links to anti semitism, to totalitarian themes and to that periphery that stands for a dangerous failed state, both of mind and of society. The inside and the outside. The most threatening trope, in a sense, to institutional cultural production, is that of the voluntary exile, a figure that embodies mysteries that exist outside a logic of bourgois understanding.

Eddie Bunker (note he has an ‘A’ number…in the California system, I think they are on double z by now)

I think the role of crime is almost inexaustible in narrative, probably forever, but from the industrial revolution onward it’s taken a very specific form. Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Melville, Dickens, and Robert Louis Stevenson, through to Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Chandler and Hammit. In the U.S. the outlaw is part of the foundational myths and one that is, I would argue, more indelible than any other. Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines, Malcolm himself, and Bunker and Malcolm Braley, Genet, film noir and German Expressionsim. The figure of the criminal continues to unintentionally suck the energy of all narrative. Institutional product, if one really steps back a second to examine it, is in the business of domesticating the criminal. There is no more popular figure in studio film that an outsider brought safely to the inside. If I were to, almost randomly, pick a variety of products, films and TV and fiction, I could point to that same reality found in Milton. Satan is where the sexual energy is. Its where LIFE exists. In Dr Zhivago its Tom Courtney’s character, a stand in for Lenin, who is the most sexy (when I was 12 I highly identified with that character). The failure of the Coen Bros mal-adaptation of No Country for Old Men was to mis read the racial colonial sub text of Chigurh. The blue eyed demon of the book became a Spaniard. The petit bourgois sensibility of the Coens unconsciously reacted by attempting to simplfy the implicit critique of McCarthy’s novel. The pathology of gunfighter figurs, Billy the Kid or Wyatt Earp, is neutralized, usually by casting, in studio product. The OK Corral is now the American passion play acted out almost compulsively.

The refusal to accept domestication is probably the biggest sin in the corporate imagination. Stability translates to acceptance of domination. One of the more popular narrative models is that of brothers, one of whom becomes either a cop of priest, and the other a gangster. And at this intersection we arrive at Christianity. Figures such as priests, cops, and gangsters are now iconic, they are signifiers and have no real meaning outside their symbolic purpose. For narratives that feature black and brown, there are an entire sub-set of cliches that are latched onto. Same, today, for Arabs. The role of women is probably even more complex, and worthy of a seperate posting. The acceptable parameters for female protagonists is linked to women creators of this product. In other words Kathryn Bigelow is now an honorary man. Her persona cannot be seperated from the junk she produces. To some degree this is true of black “stars” as well, which sort of leads us back to Ice Cube and 50 Cent. One of the problems in writing about this stuff is that an exhaustive analysis would require a book length entry. For the de-sexualizing of American popular culture is a topic difficult not to include here. The puer aeternus syndrome…and here I would have to disagree to some extent with Jung, for the eternal youth of this designation is now really more a marketing creation than an eternal psychological type. Its not Peter Pan so much as it is the eternal teenager. And it’s not the shadow of the senex, the corrective to Apolonian order, as it is a sub catagory of that symbol of order. The destruction of liberating youth, of sexual intensity and potential for growth is narrowed down to simply the failure to ‘mature’. The definition of maturity in US capitalist world view is obedience. Respect for authority and a limiting of dissent. Dissent equals immaturity.

An interesting exception to this might be Gus Van Sant’s Drugstore Cowboy. Its one of the few films in which the tension between social order and a search for self fulfillment is played out in a narrative of societal oppression. I can think of a half dozen classic noir films that exhibit something of this as well. The German Jewish emigre directors were reflexivly frightened by state power.

So, the question of choosing police state narrative as the default setting for legitimacy seems a genuine one. There is a deep need in a frightened U.S. populace for familiar symbols of order. I often wonder at the obvious fantasy elements in a show like Homeland and whether the audience, in general, really believes them. I suspect they don’t consider this or experience it at this level. They don’t question it. It is the virtual world, the private screen in their psyche were life can be negotiated safely. The paternalism of the state is the backdrop against which various story lines are played out, always with the unspoken assurance that problems will be rectified. So, the projects that are chosen are the ones that cohere to this semblance. The only ambivilence involved will be with superficial plot aspects (per the 50 Cent interview above). The realities of things like racism are simply not thought about, unless in terms of superficial reform.

I was reminded of the master discourse this week when the PR campaign began on Malala, the 14 year old girl shot by Taliban. So the story goes. Its not important if this is true or not, only that it is curious how many great photographs of studio quality seem to exist of this girl. But never mind, she is, as Margaret Kimberley says, a “worthy victim”.

The victims of empire are not worthy. The children killed by domestic police are not worthy, and certainly Arab children are not worthy. So, here are simultaneous narrative currents, one which is produced by the Spectacle, and therefore unquestioned, because it’s truth isn’t the issue. It’s purpose is to provide that comfort zone, that reliable screen for personal viewing. The other is reality. But reality is much messier and begs questions. How much the master narrative influences daily experience is a real question. How and what these mechanisms do is a complex topic. Clearly, though, given the denial exhibited by the U.S. public during this election season its obvious that the effect is pretty severe.

The overt racism of Argo isnt really addressed in reviews, at least that I’ve read, in the same way it’s not questioned with Homeland, or a dozen other films such as The Kingdom. Cognitive dissonance is no longer even dissonant. I’ve written already about the blurring between TV shows and electoral politics. There is such micro-managed stagecraft involved now that things such as the debates are nothing more than corporate PR presentations.

That the corporate institutions of culture now produce very specific storylines and more importantly, perhaps, specific characterizations set against specific backdrops (urban black menace, urban latino menace, gang warfare, drug dealers on every corner, an embattled police force, an omnipotent CIA and DEA fighting an endless war against terror .. meaning against Muslims…)is clear, and so it’s not really any surprise that actors and directors and music celebrities, simply cleve to the established system, and play their uncritical role in this continuing spectacle. Now I only point this out because I feel that cultural awareness is now so infected with celebrity, and with fan worship, that the same blurring we see between politics and TV is seen between critical judgement and fan worship. And if not worship, at least a dilattante taste (oh, I think Keira Knightley still shows promise, etc).

The appropriation of grass roots talent is built into the system, and the final backdrop is always Capitalism. There can be no world without Capital. Making it, means MAKING MONEY. And no matter how reactionary a Jay-Z may be, he gets a pass because he ‘made it’, he is the american dream trope personified.

Exceptions slowly get less visible (Harry Belafonte comes to mind). The work of writers like Iceberg Slim still defies comfort. But today there is a cottage industry for a certain kind of branded outlaw art. The more obvious examples were exposed (JT Leroy, Margaret Seltzer, or Mischa Defonesca) but the posture still seems to be a pretty guaranteed income engine. Everyone from Jerry Stahl to Mary Karr, to David Carr has carved a niche market in an over saturated genre. The fact that Jim Carrol or Burroughs even, still seem profoundly superior mostly has to do with an approach to sales. Again the sheer volume of product makes the entire question of culture up for debate. What is culture for at this point?

Sometimes I think, well, if it’s for sale, it is somehow infected. The fact that commodities reproduce these relations of exploitation cant be denied. The answer isn’t to abandon culture. The answer is to stop paying for it. Every year children of the rich or merely affulent trek to New York to find a career in some form of cultural activity. As curatorial assistants, magazine editorial assistants, or just as artists. They plug into the vast apparatus of cultural reproduction. And they play assigned roles as curators of institutional product.

So when the children of the underclass, in far fewer numbers, look to engage with the societal machine, they do so from another direction. Fewer are chosen. But if chosen even fewer refuse the annointed blessing of the corporate suits. I certainly blame nobody suffering under financial duress. Everyone of us accepts money. There is no such thing as blood money. Its a tautology. All money is blood money. We are all caught.

So what is the future for culture? What part does it play in pedagogy? In social change? How does it intersect with the commodity form? This is maybe one of the central issues I started this blog to talk about.

So, one thing is clear. Unless mass corporate culture is rejected, awareness of what class is, what authority means, what fascism is and racism and gender exploitation….all of it is msytified by the culture industry will remain obscured. The culture industry is there to further societal control and domination. I often think the numbers of bad poems written in workshops across the U.S. The number of bad stories in MFA programs, and the bad student films. The amounts are astronomical. The need for reclaiming something pre-capitalist seems quite clear.

Maria Louise Von Franz:

“Some women want a passive man if they want a man at all; the church wants a tamed man–they are called priests; the university wants a domesticated man–they are called tenure track people; the corporation wants a team player, and so on…. Passivity increases exponentially as the education system turns out “products.”

The desire for the outside runs counter to the comfort zone need created by a system of domination. Of profit. Of war.

“In order to keep the grandeur feeling a child may refuse to remember ugly facts of childhood, may look away from disorganization, abuse, abandonment, lack of protection, and skip over our parents’ indifference, addictions, or dark side.”
Robert Bly

That this system has its default setting on a bland generic sadism has created a blinkered narrowed desire for narrative that suggests virtue lies in professionalism, in a detached morality of efficiency. It isn’t really efficient, but it provides that impression. Cops, politicians, and salesmen. These are iconic roles worthy of stories. The very people who have no inner lives. The truth bleeds through, of course, but it’s just as quickly supressed. The puppets of empire refuse to believe in the suffering of tens of millions. I saw a posting on facebook about Bill Clinton. Praising the fact that there were no wars under his Presidency. How can even the most stupified believe this? These lies are the currancy of Empire. The escape valve is exactly what propaganda has always used, demonize the most powerless. Demonize arabs, inner city black youth, barrio youth, undocumented laborers. The pleasures of the culture industry seduce all of us. And I dont think that matters, in the end. I think when we arrive at a place where there is no alternative, then I will start to worry.

A poem from Vallejo: (Bly trans.)

The Black Riders

There are blows in life so violent—I can’t answer!
Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them,
the deep waters of everything lived through
were backed up in the soul . . . I can’t answer!

Not many; but they exist . . . They open dark ravines
in the most ferocious face and in the most bull-like back.
Perhaps they are the horses of that heathen Atilla,
or the black riders sent to us by Death.

They are the slips backward made by the Christs of the soul,
away from some holy faith that is sneered at by Events.
These blows that are bloody are the crackling sounds
from some bread that burns at the oven door.

And man . . . poor man! . . . poor man! He swings his eyes, as
when a man behind us calls us by clapping his hands;
Swings his crazy eyes, and everything alive
is backed up, like a pool of guilt, in that glance.

There are blows in life so violent . . . I can’t answer.


  1. Jack Littman says:

    This may be one of my favorite of your posts. I will only say that in Los Angeles, I’m beginning to see an alternative culture. Without capital. Literally hundreds of kids dont even have the cash for a 9.50 dollar movie showing (thats now the MATINEE price!!) I know kids who HATE TV. Dont even own one. I can see my parents and friends parents enthralled by watching the spectacle of debates and cop shows and especially Military Wives season II. But my generation where I live (maybe I’m being too general, but speaking from a strickly lower class and poor perspective) … They just arent responding to corporate product the same. The system is eating itself down to the bones and I sense a new awareness coming at least in my area, beyond the priveledge, theres a desire for real experience.

  2. John Steppling says:

    Thanks Jack. I suspect you may be right. I tend to minimize the changes taking place, i think because they are invisible to mass media- and I, like everyone, is influenced by the spectacle.

    When I was living up near Joshua Tree and then down in and all around Coachella, I got that sense too, of this rejection of commodity culture.. It was hard to read because that was an area attractive to those who WANT to off the radar and off the grid. But its always been the case that resistance is going to presented as minimal, when its often not at all. So its interesting to hear.

  3. I’m guilty of that too. Especially since leaving LA where there really is an outside. It’s different here though it also has to do with the spaces I work in and the neighborhood where my office is located.

  4. Jack Littman says:

    Yes, Lex. I was just touring through NY and played mostly in Brooklyn. (sorry I missed you guys) I found that actually, there was very little outside of the mainstream. The Colorlines article you posted about Brooklyn turning into a bourgeois area for affluent white youth was very interesting compared to what it used to be. Also just heard from Moyers that NY has the most income inequality of any large US city. I wonder if that plays a role. Besides the work you’ve been doing there, have you seen an “outside” or “alternative” culture? To be honest, I was very discouraged there….

  5. New York has been for so long the target of very deftly managed counterinsurgent, reactionary urban planning — from the containment of Union Square to the refurb of Bryant Park and Thomkins Square park and times square…with needle park and columbus circle between…

    (seen this? )

    Not being a car culture, the counter culture always required low rent *central* spaces – the last (very “aspiring” commercial) counter culture last seen in the 80s in alphabet city, tribeca and hell’s kitchen – to take in the whole city.

    One of the oldest difficulties for radical organizing in NYC was that Harlem/South Bronx was so very far from Bed Stuy East New York Brownsville etc.

    “Brownstone Brooklyn” remains the kewl kids place, has all the disposable income for live music and cafés and stuff, but has radically gentrified, with the lower rungs of the ruling class planted now in the very core of it.

    Still, historical inheritance remains strong and it and lower Manhattan remain the “youth” cultural magnet area of NY – and it’s a long way to Harlem!

    But Upper Manhattan seems to be where there does remain an outside; and socialism (not hipster anarchism) is a more live and growing project.

    I don’t know how this political radicalism affects “culture” product in the narrow sense (what kind of music…) Hip Hop is kind of unique in containing both extremely commercial work (as bell hooks says produced by young black men “working on the cultural plantation” of white supremacy, and made to please a white audience and fashioned as convenient for the othering of white mass culture’s evils and scapegoating etc) and the most advanced radical American communist international politics.

  6. “he culture industry is there to further societal control and domination.”

    John this is more of a functionalist posture than you usually take, no?

    Doesn’t culture industry exist like bottled water – people people make and consume culture product and proprietors get control of it and use it for domination and exploitation. Although the level now of the audiovisual bombardment is so blatantly extreme, yet stepping back we see it is the insertion of these screens as mediation and toll gate in human relations.

    But so what’s the final thing? The culture industry is playing a crucial role in the reproduction of the status quo? Then the questions a) should we help? bn) should we disrupt it? c) how can we disrupt it?

    Now we notice that our impulse – guided by interest and pleasure, by our hunger for certain kinds of sensual, emotional, intellectual stimulation – is to talk about itn, engage it in detail, produce “critiques” of each item (rather, those we like and maybe those as kaspar says everybody sees, that can’t be avoided because the trailer and ^postyer is everywhere) treated as discrete. And doing this is the first kinda naïve way we react with the intention to distrupt – to expose the stuff, to show how it does what it does. And this is legit. And in the course of this we wind up finding a lot of this actually appeals to us and we talk about that too and celebrate it. Because it is made to appeal to us – by people very much like us who know what appeals to us. So this response, which is our initial way of disrupoting tyhis reproductive ideological function, ends up co-opted, pretty easily, but the industr(y. It’s a niche of the industry we work in, many of us for free, making accessories to the products (readings, critiques) and advertising it, in many ways contribution and luring attention and increasing the value which is accumulated by capital indifferent to the ideological function of the products (and cars also are ideological. Driving is individualising easily as much as watching films that preach individualism and celebrated and eroticise driving or cooking or shopping or crime or fighting crime. We need more anthropology in our literary theory probably. And better and more critical. Hard to believe how the academic discourse has actually degraded from the level Sennett and Sassen sank it too, so that they, liberal progs at bottom; seem more capable of questioning common sense and “the way things are” than most critics advertising themselves as super duperly radical left whatever )

    Okay so we begin our attempts to disrupt by exposing and critiquing individual discrete commodities of the ubiquitous digital spectacle. And this is not worthless (even beyond the fact that we enjoy doing it)…it could help people wise up who are blinkered to the messages but it also is a way of bonding, the likeminded are forming communities through stances taken on, these commodities. Than fan communities are pernicious, but there are other communities, dissident communities, that also bond and share through the discussion of the specatcel. It’s kind of atrap but is there a way out? I dunno.

    So this stuff is coopted, becomes means of expropriation and accumulation, but itt’s the whole story of course, it’s not that advertising is “the secret Truth” of critique (we don’t think this way; we’re dialectically minded).

    Is there some other way we could disrupt the culture industry? Would we want to? ISet aside the question of one’s personal purity and stuff – could people you have no stake in liking or disliking, admiring or resenting, disrupt this industry which is so central, so crucial to the reproduction of the status quo of property and power?

    Or do we have to settle for the most obvious and common form of progressive engagement (based on the consumer power to shape demand and through it impact supply)?

  7. John Steppling says:

    Mike Davis’ City of Quartz was great in detailing how labor was balkanized ,,in a sense in california, as compared to eastern industrial cities like Pittsburgh, cleveland, detroit, etc. And that counter revolution in space took place in El Lay as well. Bunker Hill being the prime example. The liberal money went west side….liberal jewish film money, and the old LATImes Otis money, and the like, the garment industry captains etc, stuck to downtown until finally they left too (some stayed in pasadena). But its happening now, or there is an attempt to, with Hollywood. With that corridor out to Universal studios. Tourism. The thing with LA is that there was never that concentrated cultural mix caused by proximity. The culture of LA formed in different ways, through migrant worker communities, the old PCH surf bum, post WW2 GI bill influx that started around San Diego, where the shipyards were and the navy. There was actually a lot more cross pollinating going on in southern california than in northern, because of these factors. And the studios built up…..first in santa barbara and then down in Hollywood. So you had mexican east LA, jewish radicals in Boyle Heights (right next to it) and blue collar steel works out in Colton and Fontana. .. where a whole culture of proletarian music, etc existed.There was so much going on, but spread out — the biggest push again was after WW2. Everything from developments like Lake Havasu and the Salton Sea, to Palm Springs, and the date farms….and then the central valley agriculture. All had specific cultures. Mostly spanish speaking, except for the GI bill vets who settled along the old PCH. From San Diego to La Jolla to Del Mar, to Oceanside (and the biggest marine base in the world for a while) through to that weird south orange county culture of white flight. —-Orange and lemon farms from north san diego county all the way to city of industry. Anyway, I mention all this because it all created a very diverse and amazingly productive culture. People think of LA as hollywood, culturally. But in fact i would argue its been the most diverse cluster of influences of any cultural landscapre in the US. What intersected however, was the intense efforts of landowners and big agra to suppress labor……..all the way to cesar chavez. And it was long segregated in a way not true of eastern industrial centers. So Cal produced iconoclastic artists…..some who wrote for studios, but also painters and musicians. Not to mention the post war german immigrants…Brecht and Mann, and others, who stayed out in pacific palisades. It was just never centralized at all.

  8. John Steppling says:
  9. @ Molly yes, in Harlem you still find quite a bit of really great organizing and discourse happening. The Schomberg center, and lots of spaces throughout East Harlem as well, including stuff I know I haven’t heard of. Also, the Manning Marable Conference was amazing. Funded by the Ford foundation lol.

    But L.A is a place I took for granted. There is a sense of anything is possible, and the “homie network” where assets are organically mapped out and the work happens from there. Very little grant writing, or anything like that. I could go on and on as I know I am being really simple but I don’t have the time. I think Molly’s point about space and urban planning make a lot of sense given my experience so far working and living in Brooklyn. I’ve never experienced commodifide space and class, and class identity so acutely.

  10. manning marale changed my life, i took a summer session class with him between high school and freshman year at uni. he introduced me to gramsci and much else people were talkin about the air traffic controllers saying but it has such a widespread effect, if they wont go to work and he said YES THAT IS THE POWER OF LABOUR. it gave me the impression university would be great, what an error that was. he was rare.

  11. His work on Malcolm is a masterpiece. Wish I could have taken a class with him. Beyond that, I am pretty glad I never went to college.

  12. Interesting you mention Marable, as he summed up the hip-hop generation with one word: Defeat. I think it’s a lot more ambiguous than that, as it was the first generation to be fully saturated by Spectacle (even without videos, it’s the most ‘televisual’ musical form there is). But it also has a much more ambiguous relationship than most assume to the old archetype of the American Outlaw.

    The exile, the outlaw, the maverick – there was a documentary last night about Donald Trump’s evil machinations to evict people resisting his golf course in Aberdeenshire. The film-maker being constantly harassed (and arrested at one point), compared to Trump’s smears about the residents at press conferences and Letterman. It occurred to me that the modern American ‘outsider’ or ‘outlaw’ may now be the capitalist – breaking the rules, showing off their eccentricities, kicking ass, building a rep, fighting the ‘squares’. It’s everywhere from HBO dramas to how they’re discussed on the news. From Jay-Z to Batman. Seems to be something that developed in the 80s. The lower-class outlaw became rebranded as a ‘wacko’ (Ted Kaszinski, misfit assassins, various serial killers, ‘postal’ mass-murderers), when not presented as racial demonization. We now have the weird situation of ultra-right presidential candidates presenting themselves as ‘mavericks’ (goes back to Goldwater I suppose, but it’s become default mode for these creeps now). ‘Rebelliousness’ from the marginalized is to be ignored by the Spectacle as much as possible – it’s only worthy of attention when it wins big in capitalist terms.

  13. john steppling says:


    I think there are three things going on in what you say. There are, clearly, ‘capitalist outlaws’…. I mean Sam Walton is described this way, and Trump, and others….its part of this contracting of the discourse, of the canvas — you have only capitalists to talk about. The whackos are usually those pathologized…insane, criminally insane, and this I suppose sort of bleeds into the pathologizing and criminalizing of everything as part of a marketplace of fear; killer storms, killer bees, etc. But its also that nazi-fied use of disease imagery. The infectious other. The underclass criminals are infecting our neighborhoods, our schools, and must be cleansed. But I think a Jay-Z , being a corporate product and proud of it, isnt really seen as an outsider.

    To be at risk (this was one of randy martin’s ideas) is to be morally inferior. You havent managed your life. You havent fit in. The US populace hates those at risk. Managing risk is the highest virtue……its like this financialized metaphor. We seem to have military and financialized metaphor everywhere. But the outlaw theme still runs alongside this, Id say. Even as the spectacle works to enclose it.

    Its interesting that a new (yet another) Sherlock Holmes show is on US TV….jonnie lee miller…..and a lucy liu as Joan Watson. But Holmes is a recovering addict. Its this idea of the pathology of intellect. The need for correction. Holmes has to go to 12 step meetings. He is flawed, weak, imperfect. The 180 turn from the original. In Homeland the female protagonist is bi polar. Imperfect. Her heroism is tainted with misogynistic attributes of imperfection, but also her genius (as it were) is simultaneous weakness. She thinks too much. I suspect something of this could be found in all post modern revisionist takes on iconic myths of the outlaw. The therapeutic culture of adjustment. Holmes is at risk as a recovering addict. Better he become more obedient. For the Carrie character in Homeland you have her need for protection from the boring civil servant, her superior, a man, who aids her. Im just riffing here……..but what is happening with outlaws is that they are, as a myth, being included in a society of adjustment. If you cant adjust, you should be exiled or killed.

    The fascisms of obama and romney is glossed as who is the best manager. “Managing” the US economy, the commander in chief as manager.
    Batman is a vigilante. But underneath he is a millionaire. Dissent is whacko……..conspriacy nut…tin foil hat wearing fringe people. All dissent is only conspiracy. Black america is represented as one large RISK…pathologized and a threat….from which on occasion a corporate managerial form emerges…Jay Z. Im still trying to figure out the “ghetto street to cop” trope. Its like some weird stockholm syndrome………admire and want to digest and become those who throw you in jail. Im sure im missing something in that. There is also the puritanical legacy……..sexuality is pathology. Notwithstanding Sex and the City………where in the end, the sex is just careerism…….and Mr Big is the ultimate career trophy. But sex for pleasure is criminal and unwholesome, and usually in narrative its punished. The sex negativity of this culture runs alongside its increasing pornography. Its exhibitionism. Its very masochistic that way. But I find its often also a masturbatory sexuality. Its visual…….its hygenic. There is a very big fear of infection in this culture, both literal and metaphorical. You see this in all the representations of arabs. DIRTY. Smelly, and unwashed. That was clear in the recent Batman. The unwashed hordes invaded those townhouses on Park Ave. –gasp—-.

    and yes, rebelliousness is just invisible, if possible.

    OWS in the mainstream media was always joined with discussions of sanitation.

  14. Maybe ‘ghetto to cop’ is older? Like James Cagney becoming G-Man, even ultra-prole comedians like the Three Stooges getting a medal off the prez after socking one to the Japs? Jay-Z made much of his ‘gangsta’ background (and a lot of his circle milked the 2Pac/Biggie Smalls deaths for all they were worth). Like all sub (or counter?) cultures now, it rapidly got divided into the strugglers and the ‘elect’. Either partying with Trump or groveling for approval on reality TV contests…

    But yeah, the hygeine imagery is everywhere now – OWS being pressured into an acceptably disciplined ‘shape’ even by those claiming to be right behind it. Definitely there in discussions of immigration, race, prisons etc. Pleasure, dissent, mixture or surprise is constantly presented as source of pain and isolation throughout the media – thinking too much, sex without drama, falling in love with the ‘wrong’ race, class or religion, trying to break the rules without approval from a higher authority. Every cop (or spy) show is about interrogating and punishing the entire person (or their whole social circle). Gone are the days when it was just the crime and how Columbo solved it. Except, perhaps, for shows clearly aimed at viewers of pensionable age. But then, I barely watch US shows now – I always feel suffocated by the world they celebrate. From ultra-omniscient cops to all that ‘affluent white ressentiment’ comedy. They’re so sealed off from the wider world they’re airless.

  15. Wow – great fucking post John. I agree with Jack that this is likely the most relevant posts to us younger resistors in L.A. I’ve been in L.A. (Hollywood) for about 13 years now, and you know I went to USC film school. 95% of my peers at USC claimed Star Wars as their favorite film and George Lucas as their favorite director. You can say I was groomed to be a product from the very first class I took, but there’s something about my race, class, and sexuality that somehow kept me on the outside (i.e. this poor Mexican faggot is not one of us). Film schools/universities claim that they want different points of view but I think it’s only to anesthetize that distinct voice of the filmmaker (How can we make him like everyone else?) A few years ago, I actually got accepted to the graduate dramatic program at Tisch NYU but couldn’t afford it at $45,000/year plus living expenses. All it took was a phone call to the director of admissions and my name was crossed off and in hopes that the name below was the son of a rich man who could dish out the cash. Suddenly, my “artistic vision” wasn’t quite so important anymore. And then I found your workshop. 🙂

    I’ll admit that I haven’t seen an episode of Homeland yet, but from my understanding Claire Danes plays a delusional bi-polar agent paranoid about terrorism and Al Qaeda? Do I really want to spend my time watching that? “But she’s bi-polar!” Ironically, it’s a reflection of our culture, but as you say, the lines are blurred. This has and never will again and before. It doesn’t matter.

    How do you get a black rapper to stop rapping about shooting cops? Make him rich. When I was in high school, I was shocked that Tupac went to art school – that shit doesn’t fly in the ghetto. Ice Cube, Tupac, Biggie all seem like big jokes on us now. They stopped rapping about issues and instead about being rich. That’s the music of my youth and I remember being so turned off by it that I turned my back on hip-hop and the NBA just in time before Jay-Z and 50 Cents and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe. But 50 Cents is a real gangsta! Oh really?

    The only real artistic scene that is alive and vibrant on a larger cultural scale is the independent music scene. And in Los Angeles we are in a haven for music of all genres. I don’t know Jack’s experience as a musician himself, but the music scene via the internet (through the inception of Napster and the like) has resisted mainstream commodification by the big labels. And look what happened… the music industry pretty much collapsed. Gone are Sam Goody and Tower Records and in their place you have Amoeba Records and Rapidshare. Radiohead saw this coming way back after releasing OK Computer and singlehandedly uppercut the industry with the releases of KID A and AMNESIAC on Capital Records (thanks for turning me on to that essay KID ADORNO) and the subsequent self-produced and self-released IN RAINBOWS, in which the band allowed the consumers to name their own price to download their record. Television is close behind, and film is too (although it’s very tough to beat the experience of watching a print of film on the big screen in a theater).

  16. Hi very great website you have made. I enjoyed reading this posting. I did want to publish a remark to tell you that the design of this site is very aesthetically sweet. I used to be a graphic designer, now I am a copy editor. I have always enjoyed functioning with computing machines and am attempting to learn computer code in my spare time.

Speak Your Mind


To Verify You\'re Human, Please Solve The Problem: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.