I think I liked Revenge more when it started as Gossip Girl meets The Count of Monte Cristo, before it turned into 9/11 conspiracy theorist Batman. The first season, in which Emily remorselessly enacted revenge on the family that framed her father, did have a war on terror connection, but it seemed properly post-9/11 in that terrorism was almost purely background (I initially thought, on the basis of some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that the terrorist event that formed the backdrop of the show took place in 2001, although it turns out there was an additional chunk of the timeline that puts it nominally pre 9/11). In the second season the terrorist attack becomes a more direct focus of the show, with Emily now targeting the vague conspiracy of politicians and businessmen who planned it (under the guidance of the man who taught her the Batman skills necessary to her quest for vengeance). Read more↴
I think Farrah Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended is a pretty great album, and anyway since Alex Macpherson drew people’s attention to it, the consensus does seem to be at least that it is an interesting record. In the ensuing discussion, though, people have got stuck up on the question of Abraham’s intentionality: can a reality TV star really have “meant” to produce such a strange, dissonant and disturbing album? Perhaps I’ve just been immersed in postmodern theory too long, but I’m not sure what this means. Unless you want to contend the album is the result of random chance or the blind working of natural laws, of course it’s intentional; what does something so obvious have to do with aesthetics? Read more↴
In a piece written in 1990, Judith Butler writes of defensive feminist responses to postmodernism, in which postmodernism is the sign of “an impending nihilism” with “dangerous consequences” because politics, and particularly feminist politics, “requires a subject, needs from the start to presume its subject, the referentiality of language, the institutional descriptions it provides” (Feminist Contentions, 36). According to the view Butler is criticizing here, feminist politics needs to be defended from postmodern theory because postmodernism undermines “the referentiality of language,” that is, the idea that the meaning of language is fixed and under our control, or that language is a medium through which we can express our intentions. Two developments of the past few years make me think it is worth re-opening this discussion of the relationship between feminist politics and the referentiality of language: the feminist blogosphere and the lyrics of Taylor Swift. Read more↴
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↴
Given the amount of time spent discussing the handful of bank windows smashed during Wednesday’s Oakland general strike, you might imagine that many people care about property damage; and yet, if you look for such people, who are they? Liberals complain about property damage during the various marches and actions, but they’re quick to add that it is not they themselves who are disturbed or offended; rather, they are concerned about the effect this property damage will have on others, particularly the cops who will react violently and the media who will focus on images of destruction to the exclusion of whatever else the demonstration achieved. The liberal’s position here is perverse in the Lacanian sense: it expresses itself not as an actual desire, but as a desire to be the instrument of the desire of some fantasized other. Part of what supports this disavowed desire is that the objection to property damage can present itself as neutral, even expert, strategic advice. It’s bad strategic advice, though, and I think in a revealing way. Read more↴
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.