Amoeblog

Cold Storage: A Hazy Recollection of My Sick Days

Posted by Charles Reece, November 14, 2010 11:55pm | Post a Comment
I've had a horrible cold, and when I'm sick I lie around, sleep through DVDs and aimlessly look about the Web for things to entertain me. Here's some stuff that occupied my time:

"A hero to most," including me, I guess:


Ideological analysis as occasionally practiced on this blog can be tricky. One thing I don't like about so called culture studies (if I can make a blanket statement about a blanket term) is that while it's helped open the possibility of thinking seriously about pop culture, the aesthetic content of its subjects is often lost.  Notions of evaluation are either dismissed or ignored, treated as if they're otiose and old-fashioned. Contrariwise, I'd suggest that even if, in their respective times, both Frank Sinatra and Katy Perry served parallel functions in Ideological State Apparatuses, one shouldn't reduce them to the same level of aesthetic quality. There's something about art, even popular art, that's not reducible to the Culture Industry. Some commodities are constructed better than others. Now, usually I feel like I'm bungling my way through the history of ideas obtained from half-read books which I don't quite understand or explain properly, but when re-reading an old discussion I participated in a few years back, I actually (now from a distance) agree with the thought I was attempting to formulate. So, for posterity, here 'tis: 

Elvis was far more successful at doing rock & roll than his black predecessors. That's in large part because of the cultural context -- racism, in particular -- and how it shaped the music industry's expectations of what would sell and what wouldn't to a "mass" (read: white people with some disposable income) audience. Acknowledging (or analyzing) such reasons as his whiteness and male beauty shouldn't be a substitute for his very real and obvious talent. It wasn't merely because his music came in a readily digestible package (though it did), nor merely because he was more "iconic" or "mythic" than Big Mama Thornton (which is just another way of stating he was more easily commodified than a fat black woman in the 50s). The culture industry was what it was, but Elvis was what he was, too. [...] Lomax could've recorded Elvis on a porch in the hills and that talent would still be there.
-- from a thread on a comic book messboard in 2007

In other words, Chuck D was wrong to reduce Elvis' appeal to racism only. I had a lot of fun reading that discussion again. It's the kind of saltatory debate that could happen only after geeks began forming subcultures on message boards. Maybe it's just me, but with blogs now having taken over, you don't quite get the same level of wild rancor in tête-à-têtes between rival geek ideologues.

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Marxist Tales 3: Falling Stars, or When Art Imitates Art

Posted by Charles Reece, January 5, 2009 11:00pm | Post a Comment

Madonna falling in Rio back in December got me to thinking, naturally enough, about Mulholland Dr.'s use of "Llorando," Rebekah Del Rio's Spanish cover of "Crying." There's a lot of gravitas to gravity -- with one slip, the reality of artifice can be exposed. At the club Silencio, when the character of Del Rio (played by Del Rio) falls, but her singing continues, David Lynch is playing around with Bertolt Brecht's epic theater and his notion of estrangement. By having the work remind the audience of the layer of representation intervening between them and the emotions they're experiencing, Brecht hoped to create a more politico-rationally engaged experience -- that is, one of empathy, not sympathy (the former being of intellectual understanding, not the latter's identification).

rebekah del rio mulholland dr.naomi watts laura harring mulholland dr.

However, Lynch turns estrangement on its ear by using lip-synching as the emotional crux of his film. If you'll remember, the scene occurs at the point where the fugue world of Betty is fracturing, and the reality of Diane is seeping in. Diane had killed her lover, Camilla, out of jealousy, replacing her in the dream with the amnesiac Rita. Of course Rita can't remember who she is, because she's a manifestation of Diane's oneiric state, a displacement of Camilla, with all the bad stuff repressed. As Rita, she's a ghost, pure desideratum, or Diane's objective (objectified) correlative of the real deal. (In fact, the same applies to Betty; she's Diane's idealized self.) Just as the illusion of the film's representational quality is most exposed (Lynch's "eye of the duck" scene), Betty and Rita begin sobbing -- and (provided the Silencio sequence works properly) the audience along with them.

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Marxist Tales, Part 1: The Lives of Stars

Posted by Charles Reece, December 11, 2007 02:00am | Post a Comment
The celebrity, the spectacular representation of a living human being, embodies this banality [pseudo-individualism by way of what you want to buy – think of a hippie rebelling by driving a VW] by embodying the image of a possible role. Being a star means specializing in the seemingly lived; the star is the object of identification with the shallow seeming life that has to compensate for the fragmented productive specializations which are actually lived. Celebrities exist to act out various styles of living and viewing society unfettered, free to express themselves globally. They embody the inaccessible result of social labor by dramatizing its by-products magically projected above it as its goal: power and vacations, decision and consumption, which are the beginning and end of an undiscussed process. – Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle #60

I’m always left slightly annoyed every time I hear some star kvetching about how he or she is stalked by the paparazzi.  It’s as if a piston suddenly started to resent its function within the engine.  More often than not, a star is designed, by luck of genetics, familial ties, or modern surgical techniques for fitness to Hollywood’s nature – pop culture's own form of eugenics.  It’s rarely based on a meritocracy.  Not that there’s no inherent talent, or craft, involved, but similar to choosing a good dentist on a friend’s recommendation or insurance coverage, some other beautiful guy would’ve been People’s most eligible bachelor had the astrological rules played out a bit differently.  When stars start complaining about being photographed or gossiped about, it’s because they’ve bought into the myth of the spectacle (image as consumable reality), believing that their position in popular culture is one of true individualism, rather than a simulation of individualism.  They’re assuming control of their image, rather than their image being a mediation between an individual and reality.  It’s the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, confusing the map with the mapped.  Their image is there to be consumed like every other product in the market; the shinier and newer it appears, the more likely it’ll be desired.  The trick of the publicity machine is to perpetually churn out novel-seeming stories about stars that don’t fundamentally alter our desire for the star.  Stardom isn’t sustained by the films in which the actor is in, but by our interest in the stories being told about that actor that keep us returning to his or her films, regardless of what kind of shit they’re getting paid to be in.  The star represents who we’re supposed to want to be.  And with exceeding frequency in our media-saturated culture, we do want to be that star.  Hell, even the celebrities desire their star-images.  As Debord pointed out, it’s a dream of pseudo-power, the ultimate ability to consume without any real control over what the caviling star mistakenly assumes is his or her image of selfhood.  Ultimately, the star is nothing but the photograph to the culture industry’s camera, a postcard of a place where we’re all supposed to want to visit.

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