A Story of Capital



The great electoral spectacle is over.

I have been trying to analyse just why so many, at least outwardly, intelligent people I know seem to suspend critical judgement when it comes to things like elections. In particular though, the Presidential elections. When you think about it, Obama is clearly a war criminal, a mass murderer, and a shill for wall street. I mean this is obvious, and yet people will wring their hands and cluck nervously about how scary the idea of Romney is. What actually is worse than signing away the rule of law? What is worse than terrorizing a population with drone strikes?

I think this absolute moral failure can be attributed to a few things. First, I realized — and yes I know this should be obvious — that progressives and liberals and the like are also believers in Capitalism. A world without capitalists is impossible for them to even imagine. Literally. Once you accept that somehow this system of exploitation and pillage is akin to a natural law, you begin to self-erode your moral being. I think one of the hidden tendencies in the spectacle of advanced capital, is the way in which buying and selling, commodification of everything, eats away at one’s soul. Selfishness is paramount in capitalism. The exploited are as selfish as Nelson Rockefeller. As selfish as Dick Cheney. And this selfishness demands a degree of delusion. This delusion, which suspends the fact they likely work at jobs they hate, are likely disapointed in their careers, but will still identify with the oppressing system. They blame themselves, perhaps. I hear that a lot, oh, I made bad decisions. Oh, what was I thinking. For some reason the fact that 99% of people have similar feelings of disapointment seems not to occur to them. Then begins another round of hang wringing about Obama.

So — how does this translate in terms of pedagogy, or in terms of aesthetic resistance and education? Well, this was the reason I started this blog. I think an inability to read narrative….in the case at hand, to read Obama versus Romney, is linked to an inability to read at all. And inability to reflect on complex narratives. It’s not as simple as just accepting the propaganda, although that’s an element in it. So, why does a known mass murderer elicit such devotion from people who are themselves not mass murderers? How does that work exactly? The answer has to do with a belief in the system. A belief in Capitalism. And capitalism is predatory, its based on inequality and even if people don’t want to admit that to themselves, its rooted deep in the psyche. It began on the playground in kindergarten. The relentless hammering away about being the best, being the most advanced, the most powerful, and how, the American Dream was there for anyone. I remember in the sixth grade, or start of Junior High, going to class to read stories about how to become a success. I remember distinctly. And I also remember wondering if my threadbare sad looking social studies teacher believed this. If he didnt feel dissapointment as he stood there in this shitty underclass neighborhood school teaching how to get ahead in life.

But those most affected will double down on the private narrative. I am sure that social studies teacher went home and voted democrat or republican, and I am sure he saluted the flag and argued about whatever fake topics the spin doctors of the time would trot out for consumption.

There seems no quite so indelible a narrative as Capitalism. I have a suspicion that language itself as production reflects something about how we organize the world. Clearly, at some point narrative began to reflect factory production. Not just in content, but in form. The rise of the visual, and of film certainly, organized people’s sense of how to read narrative through industrialization. Now, from its begginings, film has been capitalist. Notwithstanding the Soviet experiments of Vertov and Eisenstein. In fact the greatest Russian film might well be Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexican travel diary, Que Viva Mexico, in which narrative returned to pre-industrial fairy tales.

Que Viva Mexico

However we got there, today the image is commodified, and its circulation is its real importance. Even the most sort of liberal film, remains staunchly pro Capitalist. The final and last truth is always Capitalism equals life.

Here is Beller…
A couple of points gleaned from Soviet cinema: cinema’s montage is
the abstraction of the assembly line (the chaine de montage in
French). Additionally, in claiming the revolutionary potential of
cinema, the dominant means of representation is posited as the
dominant means of production. Eisenstein’s and Vertov’s work
clearly marks what was rapidly becoming a generalised
industrialisation of the visual: in short, cinema brings the industrial
revolution to the eye.

Well, what is interesting about Que Viva Mexico is that Eisenstein’s visit, like Matisse, the profound power of the religious icons inserted themselves as a form of dreamwork within the creative work of both men. The narrative became unconscious in some fashion. Whatever reductive interpretations Eisenstein felt compelled to impose on this bit of ethnography staged as fairy tale, the power of the photography and the images is undeniable.

Whatever the analysis of the evolution of our new cognitive economy, there is a clear relationship between film, the screen, and how we organize our senses. And also with narrative.

Beller again….

Now, of course, the programme is being extended to sound, smell,
touch and taste – music and game sounds, obviously, but also
programmed shopping environments (which themselves extend into
the urban fabric) organised by architecture, texture, scent, and arguably salt, sugar and fat. These innovations and their
convergence (towards the omnipresent, omnivorous and indeed
omniscient cyber-spatialised mall-military-prison-post-industrial
cosmopoplex) bring about new levels of interactivity as well as new
and ever more elaborate metrics for the organisation and parsing of

This is the story “Capitalism” which is rewritten, re-shot, and re-edited almost daily. It is the Obama election, it is Breaking Bad, it is Avatar, it is a soap commerical, or a photo op for the Clintons, the vampire marriage spliced out of True Blood and into CNN.

So, the edge of psychic vertigo felt collectively is linked to a sense of failure, of disapointment, of personal insufficiency in this vast system of mall-capital. The failed buyer, the addicted carcinogenic self, ever re-narrating the same painful story of Capitalist glory, and self ignominy. The applause for war criminal, the vote for death and terror, the sense of personal moral failure must be propped up by more screen time, more spectacular explosions and more mechanical sex.

As much as education has come to simply mean a training for obedient worker, the most successful will become the caretakers of technology. As much as daily life has come to be dominated by iPads, cell phone screens, computer screens, film screens and TVs, the potential for awakening remains. The destablizing effects of culture remains potent. A recent study concluded that neural pathways are actually carved in the brain through reading. Through extended reading and focus. Capitalism is about fragmented attention, and partial reading, about interruption.

Attention is unstable, the hand held camera, the rapid cuts, the abridged sense of character. This is part of the Capitalist narrative.

The unfolding of daily life is now pegged to trips to various screens. Our identity is pegged to messages, enfolded within social media platforms. The value added is corporate food, the sugar saturated, or GM produced, plastic packaged non-food, designed in marketing rooms and labs with ONLY profit as the goal. Sex has been pegged to imaged-commodity, distant masturbatory smell and touch free sex. The rise of pornographic self commodifying, only reflects this.

The amnesiac dimension of so much fragmented storytelling is also enclosed within the demand for repetition. This additionally seems to reflect a masturbatory quality in our erotic life. Desire is forgotten, re remembered, and forgotten again. Capitalism is never fogotten. We long for personal explosions, and find only amnesia and remorse.

Our ability to read is disrupted, and replaced with the commodity image. Our alienated existence is more and more mediated with technological forms of control, and our sense of narrative understanding receeds along with real experience. Our senses atrophy, except for the eye. Thinking is visual organization. The moral complexity of drone terror, or an open admitted war criminal running for president, smiling, posing with adoring fans, kissing babies…..this all becomes possible because our attention and focus now resembles that of a goldfish.

A pre-arranged narrative for the election is laid out for consumption. I suspect half the participants in this election follow the same psychic diet, the same pre-digested narrative shards mixed with the ghosts of longing for more, all of which must be re-introduced a few seconds later, because, well, goldfish don’t remember much. The torture of other humans, the murder by anonymous remote controlled drone, the pathological lying, the actual inability to tell or even know the truth, is psychotic. Those who embrace the story are at least second degree psychotic. There is very little excuse to not make the effort to see behind the mask. How does one forget there is a moral force and CHOOSING to vote for murder out of perceived and very narrow self interest, is moral bankruptcy.

“Please tell Mr. Eisenstein that I have seen his film Potemkin and admire it very much. What we should like would be for him to do something of the same kind, but rather cheaper, for Ronald Colman.”
–Samuel L. Goldwyn


  1. Joanna Perry-Folino says:

    In light of the latest spectacle of insanity/pointlessness, I shall be focusing on reading the list of books etc you recommend. This particular blog is very powerful. Thanks for writing it, John.

  2. Patti Maurice says:

    John, I can’t find the words to express what this blog means this morning to me. Thank you. You seem to have taken the disparate aspects of my concerns about the world today, about the sheeple who go along with anything if it means they don’t have to take risks, moral or otherwise, don’t have to think or try to understand more than a sound byte or ad lingo, and placed those concerns into a cogent and accessible commentary that makes complete sense and surprisingly provides me some hope for our future, as ugly as it is likely to be.

  3. Thanks. Took the words right out of my mouth, rearranged them a little…
    I do believe that the American people, although historically blindered by an innocence not experienced in Europe, for example –– not having been attacked, really, by anyone, and awash in money for white people –– were nonetheless closer to reality in Eisenhower’s time. It’s as though a collective decision has been made since Dallas to turn our heads, to reach for the reassuring fables. Otherwise intelligent friends of mine are relieved that a war criminal won and an incipient, would-be war criminal lost. Now we can bomb Iran and take a piece out of Social Security and the people will learn that these things were necessary for our security and our success.

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