@voyou SMH this degrowther wants us to wash our clothes so we can reuse them. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/paper-dresses https://twitter.com/Leigh_Phillips/status/1614307941859086336 18 Jan 23 Reply Retweet Favorite

Non-speaking beings

W. is impressed by my stammer.—‘You stammer and stutter’, says W., ‘and you swallow half your words. What’s wrong with you?’ Every time I see him, he says, it gets a little worse. The simplest words are beginning to defeat me, W. says. Maybe it’s mini-strokes, W. speculates. That would account for it.—‘You had one just there, didn’t you?’

Perhaps, W. muses, my stammering and stuttering is a sign of shame. W. says he never really thought I was capable of it, shame, but perhaps it’s there nonetheless.—‘Something inside you knows you talk rubbish’, he says. ‘Something knows the unending bilge that comes out of your mouth’. (Lars Iyer, Spurious)

Equality is a central term for Rancière, but it is quite a circumscribed equality, the equality specifically and only of speaking beings. Which immediately raises the question, what about non-speaking beings? Read more↴

Üniversals and I

“Yoü and I” is comfortably the worst song on Born this Way (well, on the standard edition; bonus track “Black Jesus / Amen Fashion” is basically everything bad that people who don’t like Lady Gaga say about her songs); an all too accurate re-creation of a dark period of early-90s MOR, painful for all of us who remember the 16-week reign of terror of  “(Everything I do) I Do it for You.” The video is good, though, following Gaga’s usual pattern of stitching together signifiers in the hope of creating some kind of theoretical life. My favorite thing about the video is the presence of Gaga’s drag alter-ego, Joe Calderone. Partly this is just because of a personal, erm, interest in women in masculine clothes, but it also brings up, or at least reminds me of, various questions about essentialism and gender. Read more↴

Robots in gendered capitalist relations

I think it’s pretty clear that the Transformers films are pathological, but it’s difficult to determine whether the pathology lies in society, the film industry, or in the individual psychology of Michael Bay. Maybe there’s plenty of blame to go round, we can blame the film industry for allowing a series of films to exist in which Micheal Bay’s creepy individual peccadilloes are magnified to such an extent they end up showing something more general about society. One of the more subtle pieces of creepiness in the first film is the way in which it suggests a world filled with a barely-hidden hostility. The film’s macguffin is a thing called “the cube,” which has the power to turn everyday objects into Transformers, but the robots which it creates are uniformly and absurdly aggressive:

I take it that Michael Bay has some kind of unconscious awareness of the intuition behind Evan Calder Williams’s Hostile Object Theory. Williams argues that objects under capitalism “are the material organisation of all the toil, struggle, and negative affect that went into them, that thwarted, pissed-off agency, a clenched fist that keeps pulling punches and punching clocks,” and they hate us because of it. The second Transformers film, Revenge of the Fallen really doubles down on the hostility of objects, but goes beyond Williams, primarily in terms of creepiness, but also theoretically, by sexualizing the hostility of objects.

A remarkable proportion of the runtime of Revenge of the Fallen is made up of this kind of body horror, showcasing Shia LaBeouf’s horror as feminized robots attempt to insert parts of their metallic anatomy into him. The robot as hostile object becomes, for Bay, a simultaneously horrifying and arousing object (and horrifying because it is arousing, and perhaps also vice versa).

There is, of course, another sexualized object in the Transformers films: Megan Fox. As LaBeouf puts it, “some people think [Michael Bay] is a very lascivious filmmaker, the way he films women,” although LaBeouf disagrees, saying that “the one thing Mike lacks is tact. There’s no time for  ‘I would like you to just arch your back 70 degrees'” (I guess specifying the precise angle at which you want an actor to arch her back doesn’t count as lascivious; to her credit, Fox responded by calling Bay “Hitler,” and getting herself fired). The films then provide an interesting mirror image: women sexualized by objectification, and objects sexualized by feminization. I think the hostility of objects is the truth underlying this mirror image. The way Bay objectifies women is, as LaBeouf’s attempted defense shows, about control, and underlying this desire for control is a fear of an assumed hostility about to break free of control. The hostile robots in Transformers, that is, are the return of the repressed of the portrayal of women in the films.

What Williams’s Hostile Object Theory emphasizes is how the hostility of objects results from the place of the commodity in capitalism; applying this to the particularly gendered objects in Transformers reminds us of the way in which the commodity is gendered. Dumb but treacherous, commodities have something in common with misogynist depictions of women reaching back to Rousseau’s Sophie (we can also see the feminization of the commodity in the connection that is often made between femininity and consumerism, so ably criticized by Ellen Willis back in 1969). This should, I think, encourage us to be careful about construing our opposition to capitalism in terms of a proletariat which is defined by its subjectivity. My worry is that, as the category of subjectivity has a long association with masculinity, emphasizing the subjectivity of the proletariat risks repeating a pattern of gendered subject/object hostility.

Bicurious cheerleaders: vanguard of neoliberalism

Hellcats is no Gossip Girl, but it’s quite an entertaining show; its also a troubling one, in a way which I think may be revealing. The show is basically a TV version of Bring it On, portraying the world of competitive college cheerleading, but the main attraction is the adorably subtext-y relationship between the two main characters, Marti, a law student who would probably be described as “feisty,” and Savannah, head cheerleader and lapsed (or lapsing) Christian fundamentalist. This may have reached its high point in the recent episode in which the two settle a disagreement with a pillow fight, the classic nudge-wink signifier of lesbian eroticism (though unusually played here as sweet, rather than titillating).

What’s not so good about the show is the weirdly excessive individualism. Read more↴

I should know better than to read Dissent Magazine

I should certainly know better than to read Dissent late at night, as I did yesterday with this article on the supposedly recent “politicization” of theory, because it’s hard to go to sleep when you’re really pissed off. The article starts off with the smug, incurious moralism that is characteristic of the magazine, with the author, Kevin Mattson reporting his response to Joan Scott:

She questioned Thompson’s faith in “rational” politics and the “abstract individual, the bearer of rights.” … And I remember thinking to myself: aren’t rational arguments in favor of rights a good thing? And especially for anyone who claims to be on the Left, seeing that universal rights are the basis of…well, just about everything?

Well, yes, those are questions you might ask yourself. Read more↴

“Sexy,” in quotes

Katy Perry's 50s cheesecake aesthetic cites a particular construal of pornography. Now that I think about it, Katy Perry’s unsexy sexyness isn’t so unusual. This presentation of sexuality which is designed to fail is the stock in trade of lads mags like Loaded and Nuts. I’ve noticed this before, but never really thought about it; on reflection, though, it perhaps tells us something about the point of these magazines. While there’s been a fair amount of concern over these magazines as part of a “pornification” of society, I’m not sure that they quite function as “porn,” at least if by porn we mean something intended in a fairly causal way to get people off.

I read somewhere that, when Hugh Heffner first set up Playboy, he intended it solely as a lifestyle magazine, introducing men to fashion, interior design, culture, and other signifiers of the high life. Read more↴