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The fascism of Baby Yoda’s face

Obviously, The Rise of Skywalker is not a good film. A ton of stuff happens, none of it’s developed, and much of it is stupid. One of the stupidest things is the return of Emperor Palpatine, which undercuts the ending of The Return of the Jedi in order to avoid developing a new antagonist for the sequel trilogy. Stupid, and yet….

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If We Could Feel Beale Street

In his review of If Beale Street Could Talk, Mark Kermode praises the film for finding universality in its presentation of a story of a very specific time and place. Kermode suggests that it is this very specificity which allows the film to be universal, or, rather, a particular sort of specificity, the detailed drawing of the characters’ specific emotions. The idea that emotions have a universality that allows them to transcend the positions of the individuals experiencing them is a common one (I’ve used it myself), but we should be wary of erasing the specificity of experience in the supposed universality of emotion.

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Against the homophobia of innocence

In a post on the NYRB’s web site about Carol, Francine Prose writes:

Ramping up the drama is the fact that we are never permitted to forget the social pressures and restrictive mores of the mid-twentieth century. In one scene, the bewildered Therese asks her even more clueless boyfriend Richard (Jake Lacy) if he’s ever heard of a woman falling in love with another woman. It’s an innocent, almost comical moment…. Therese asks if he’s ever heard of ‘two people who fall in love suddenly with each other, out of the blue. Say two men or two girls’. Has he ever been in love with a boy? Of course not, says straight-arrow Richard.

I think this misses something important about the film, though, which is how clearly it rejects what you might call a homophobia of innocence. Read more↴

Queering abstinence

Supposedly, statistical studies of areas that have introduced abstinence-only sex education show that one of the most consistent effects is a marked increase in the numbers of teenagers having anal sex. I don’t know if this is true, but I hope it is, because it would be a great instance of the heteronormativity of these abstinence programs rebounding on itself. These programs involve saying “no” to a sex which is cast as necessarily involving a penis and a vagina, but the result of this obsessive negative focus on a heteronormative conception of sex might not be a rejection of sex, but a rejection of heteronormativity; a diffusion of sex into diverse and queerer forms. Read more↴

The pleasures of franchising

I think I may be the perfect age for the appeal of the finely-tooled nostalgia of The Force Awakens. The obvious target for Star Wars nostalgia is someone like J J Abrams, who saw the original films in the cinema as a child; I was too young for that, growing up in the 80s after the films had left the cinemas, but before video recorders made it easy to watch the films at home. So I first experienced the films by catching bits of them when they happened to show up on TV, or, even more, through the clouds of content thrown off by Lucasfilm’s franchising efforts (I have particularly fond memories of animated C3PO and R2D2 buddy comedy Droids). This diffuse omnipresence played brilliantly into the mythical feel the films strive for. So it’s fairly unsurprising that I enjoyed the new film, but what I hadn’t expected is that the film quite clearly dramatises this condition of franchise-dependence, and also has some quite thoughtful things to say about it. Read more↴

Cath Kidston as utopia

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film FestivalIn the essay “Utopia as Replication”, Jameson suggests we consider Walmart as an example of how “the most noxious phenomena can serve as the repository and hiding place for all kinds of unsuspected wish-fulfilments and utopian fantasies”. Jameson intends this as a bit of a provocation, but I wonder if Walmart isn’t actually too easy a choice for the “paradoxical affirmation” of “what is most exploitative and dehumanizing in the working life of capitalism”. Walmart’s vastness of scale and remorselessness give it an aesthetic alibi, allying it with a tradition of modernist creative destruction which is likely to be attractive, at least to the sort of people who read Jameson. To really follow through Jameson’s project of unearthing the “utopian impulse”, we need to consider an aspect of capitalism that is not just exploitative but also in bad taste; for a certain strand of contemporary opinion, that would be “twee”, the kind of cutesily-retro faux-petit-bourgeois capitalism of cupcake shops and Cath Kidston. Read more↴