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Kawts Kamote will be no more

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You are now here and not in that dark-themed Kawts Kamote blog.

I’ve been trying for a long time to switch to WordPress. Fucking blogger templates are not hipster-friendly and they eat a lot of bandwidth. I only had the time and the “wit” (yikes) to think of a blog name.

So this is now “Missing Codec” which, as you may now, a common error for those who were starting to use PCs to run media (films, music, whatever) files they have downloaded over the internet or for those who are editing videos using old versions of Video Editor for PCs. Recently, these thought of errors by missing supporting files have been attractive to me as much as it irritates me back then, goes to show how much further does the science of computing need to go to attain the Ultimate Stand-Alone program to be released. But, as you may have realized now, stand-alone programs are for the lazy, codec packs are still the way to go, and they are fucking open-source, so, better.

The title, I think, also is going to be the central idea that would unite all of those which I’ve written before and what I would write in the future. I’ll be transferring some posts (especially recent ones) from Kawts Kamote, (which, by the time of this post, is going to be disabled and unpublished) with supplemental editing and commentaries for some.

This will be the new domain, and I thank you for visiting my new mistake.

New Age Maoist Aesthetics

A trend seems to be happening among young, urban activists and allies: they get easily fascinated and responsive of positive representation of politics, rebels and activists on any platform, especially on popular capitalist art. Cultural representation seems to be the name of the game. What is formerly subversive has now become a default setting. Cultural representation is easy and, in the era of neoliberal multiplicity, profitable. In fact, contemporary cultural products tend to capitalize into notions of diversity and multiplicity (rhizomes, anyone?), only to the point that what is represented is not the marginalized being presented in contrast and as alternative against the status quo, but the marginalized performing (for) the status quo. A kind of trickle-up effect: productions representing the oppressed are revaluated and appreciated with ruling class criterion and are being produced for the expropriation of value by the ruling class.

Representation is comfort food. Representation made the privileged from marginalized origins feel empowered. As for people from privileged origins being newly organized on political movements, positive representation of protesters, activists and rebels is hoped to bring about a reinforcing effect. But the effect is floating, since the source of reinforcement is merely imaginary. Of course, I’m not saying that efforts for organizing the petit bourgeois and the middle class stops with this, other organizational activities are being done, of course. I’m not addressing organizing here. I’m addressing the aesthetic appreciation caused by these practices.

It seems like the form of appreciation of what I call as New Age Maoism only get from Mao’s assessment of art his response to the 2nd problem, extol or expose, but without its element in class analysis. What makes it “New Age” came from a certain mystical disappearance of the other aspects of Mao’s problematics in art. Most specially disappeared are the more important problems: the problem of class-stand and the problem of Marxist scholarship. New Age Maoism happens when organized petty bourgeois tend to extract a comfortable portion of Maoist thought compatible or tolerable for their class origins. A complete reversal of the requirement of transformation in Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which seeks for the person to delve into the difficult task of criticism and self-criticism: of self-consciousness of one’s own class origins and of contradictions and antagonisms.

New Age Maoism is a Maoism devoid of any antagonism. It’s an impotent version of Maoism. It does not enable weaponization, that is, as a mode of aesthetics, New Age Maoism do not fulfill the task of art and literature to “fit well into the whole revolutionary machine” since such mode of appreciation do not abstract the work to contribute to the struggle. If it does so, only for aesthetic appreciation.

New Ageism abhors contradictions. New Age encorporated to Maoism demolishes the most significant aspect of its theoretical line, which is the acknowledgement of contradictions and intensifying them to the level of struggle. It exchanges acknowledging and dismantling antagonisms for “conflict resolution” and harmonious existence between antagonistic class interests (most of the time, benefiting the exploiting classes).

As aesthetics, New Age Maoists are overwhelmed with representations of many kinds. Influence of liberal intersectional politics makes a good trap for New Age Maoists. With the overabundance of representation in popular cultural products, the attention given by New Age Maoists contribute not with the cause of the struggle, but to the validation of the products and its audience. Jonathan Beller noted on how before the turn of the 21st century, paying attention became a source of capital’s extraction of surplus value. In the age of communicative capitalism, paying attention and giving reactions to images contribute to the capitalist expropriation of value.

New Age Maoists celebrates the image. But in the overabundance of representation, these images of representation floats around with other images of funny cats, Wojack Memes, feel good quotations and other poor images widely exchanged and further compressed for faster transmission and value extraction. The celebration of the image denies class struggle. It exchanges the actual participation to political struggle for the representation of activism or politics; actual revolutionary thinking for a revolution in thought.

Not that New Age Maoism doesn’t have a problem. In itself, it depends on the unity of petty bourgeois class standing and revolutionary aesthetics. This is resolved through the dismissal or unthinking of the revolutionary in the revolutionary aesthetics, and only consider its aesthetic side. Or worse, a consideration of revolution but only in aesthetics. It seeks to salvage cultural products, especially what we call political art – regardless of the political economic rubric of its production – solely based on its representation of politics. It is not that salvaging and extolling revolutionary elements in a work is not important, the problem is that, to salvage is the first impulse of a New Age Maoist. More importantly, and more dangerously, New Age Maoism forgets the conditions on how art, literature and newer forms of representation like film are produced under capitalism.

The danger of forgetting the conditions of production in exchange of extolling representation is in the blindness of the forces of exploitation which lies on the production of the images being celebrated. Greatest recent case is the extolling of the film Heneral Luna (2015) produced by corporate-bourgeois comprador studio, TBA, owned by Fernando Ortigas and Eduardo Rocha. The titular general, extravagantly performed, is seemingly anti-American. But the film isn’t just about him. It does not really uphold an anti-imperialist stance. But the images of extravagant and violent hero sold better, and as intended. New Age Maoism do not contradict marketing: it effectively affirms it and re-interpellates the activist to being a consumer.

This “forgetting” seems to be an unconscious act. And the fact that it is unconscious bears more danger. It reflects a lack in theoretical and practical understanding of modes of production, most probably due to a lack also of a practical application in the understanding of things. Marxist-Leninist-Maoist analysis is admittedly an uncomfortable thing to do as it involves actual intellectual – and to some extent, manual – labor contrary to the comforting thoughts given by petit bourgeois essentialism. For the analysis of mode of production be not-prioritized and be shelved into forgetting even in the analysis of seemingly trivial objects (like art, literature and film) poses a danger of repeating the ruling class discourse. People from the urban movement defending Quark Henares’ statement on “film and music as modes of self-expression” – assuming a political autonomy in the production of cultural products under capitalism – missed the point of a Maoist critique of art. Universalizing statements from the ruling class and their stalwarts like Henares bears no universal position on truth just yet on the function of things: what art, literary and film production mean now are still to be determined by the outcome of the protracted people’s war.

Symptoms point to possible remedies. Since the dismissal is unconscious, a conscious – if not, self-conscious – attempt towards further abstraction and theorization of the analysis cultural products in the theoretical line of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism needs to be revitalized. An insistence of a theoretical practice (praxeology) is needed. Admittedly, with the demands of the time piling up among organizers and activists – with the deepening crises of accelerated global capitalism, intensified anti-people campaigns of the reactionary government – a day’s work seem to be lacking to address another point of a problem. But in this mess of chaos that a correction and realignment in thought of the theoretical line is needed. Positive activities are happening though, in the recent educational discussion festivals organized by different sectors: seems like the necessity for addressing the problems in the theoretical line are being resolved. What needs to be done is to resolve – again, addressing Mao’s 4th problem in the Talks at the Yenan Forum – the study of theories of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism for more effective and intensified aesthetic-critical interventions.

This remedy being suggested is also a prevention for further aesthetic opportunistic use of the revolution and revolutionary aspects of the people’s culture for the benefit of one’s petty bourgeois desire and art. Mao’s intervention on art and literature seeks the reverse, and rightly so: for art to be of use for the people and the people’s struggle. And for that to happen, it necessarily places art not in the final instance, but art is reduced into a tool as it bears almost the same liberalistic potential as the violence of a gun. Not in the expense of choosing between the two, but using both cultural and political struggles as means to further the agenda of the people.

Much as the cultural and political struggles are both of equal significance, so is the determination and analysis not just of form and content in art and literature, but also what enables their production. Such a task tend to convert an analysis to criticism. Mere aesthetic appreciation is impotent and useless, criticism sets analysis in motion. But it is a criticism not to further liberal agenda for art. It is a criticism which carries a “struggle on two fronts”: it demands a resolution between politics and art, not in the sense of representation or a “mixing” of it. Dialectical resolution demands a struggle in-process and not just mere unification. Dialectical resolution demands for art and politics to be raised antagonistically within the form and content of both art production and criticism. And these cannot be done through a simple salvaging of “progressive” content from reactionary sources. The task is to break form, content and political economy: the practices of producing the form, the practices of producing what is being said in the form, and what enable the production of these. As Mao places it: “The criterion for judging subjective intention or motive is social practice and its effect.”

Fragmented notes on Materialism, Ethics and Anti-Capitalist Praxis as a result of a Friday-night conversation over beer which I never really drank

For Mike Esteves, Vic Teaño and Adrian Mendizabal

 

In his Theses on Feuerbach, Marx differentiated what he sees as the “old” Materialism and his then “new” Materialism. The old Materialism, Marx defined as inattentive of “human sensual activities.” Terry Eagleton would later thread into Marx’ categorizations as materialisms which coexists with different projects. A scientists’ basic task is to be at least a materialist. Empiricism pervaded scientific thought earlier in the Enlightenment which made materialist thought rigid. The same can still be seen with scientific-reductionism of Richard Dawkins. But this speaks to us one requirement of materialism, that is, to acknowledge the realities of science, if not as scientists, as sentient beings. But, as the implications of this introduction show, we can’t talk of Materialism now without even looking at the ghost of Marx and Engels.

Materialism is not without its drawbacks. One thinking in a materialist way knows that it is an uncomfortable thought. Materialism makes one realize human “frailty and finitude.” (Eagleton, Materialism, 6) Eagleton noted that this acknowledgement do (or should) not foster nihilism, but realism. Much as this should have been a comforting notion, the greatest drawback of materialist thought came from its dialectical opposition with the (non-)narrative of pervading neoliberal thought which is perpetuated with new age (i.e. neoconservative) essentialism. Realism, in this age, bears with it a negative affect which eventually leads to a certain kind of nihilism. Materialism contrasts Herbert Marcuse’s diagnosis of a society without opposition. A society which is “comfortable, smooth, [and] reasonable,” (Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man, 3) formerly pervading American industrial society, is now replicated even in the third world through UN’s globalization powered by Netflix.

I’d like to believe that the main positive sense of materialism came from its acknowledgement of the existence of materials themselves. Empiricism acknowledges reality as such, and nothing more. Going over the danger of humanist essentialism, materialism, as I’d like to believe, sees materials as ingredients for construction or as pieces to destroy. Much of the modernist practices of art sees the world this way: an art’s essence, if not shit, is something that is constructed and is always in negotiation. The same thing goes with every essence, if one is to look into essence in a materialist sense.

Construction is physical. The construction site adds value to the location where the establishment is constructed. So is essence as a construct. The materialist response to essence and essentialisms, I think, is not an impulsive renouncement of it, but through a critical inquiry of its construction site: not purely of the location of construction, but also of what is being constructed. Criticism meant to be a test of strength of materials. Its mechanics necessarily thread into the specifics of the materials whether they could stand the strain, to clear the cloud of essentialism and expose the level of plasticity of the construct.

Destruction is physical too. But what’s interesting with materialism is that, it destroys because it needs to construct. Material mechanics of essentialisms, once strength and plasticity are acknowledged, may construct material thought through the very destruction (or deconstruction) of essentialism: the fact that essentialism can be deconstructed and sourced to a certain location, means that the essence is material and plastic.

In literature, for example, its criticism tests the words as materials, which for Edel Garcellano either define or betray its location. (Intertext, 108) Once the material is identified, it’s only a matter of mechanics to see whether it supports or can positively destroy its location. The strength of a material, I think, is more defined in a society like ours, where contradictions abound on extreme levels. On a recent writing, I noted of an overdetermination of contradictions which defines our daily realities. Although, a materialist acknowledgement of contradictions never really gets confused of overdeterminations. Rather, these stacks of layers are considered as materials which define itself the contemporary so-called identity. In this sense, materialist thought necessarily partakes, or rather itself a partisan stance, to clear the cloud globalist neoliberal essentialism spread over the intellectual atmosphere of the third world.

As mentioned earlier, materialism actively supports constructions and do not just differentiate, say, the forest for the trees: it also acknowledges how trees or forests are cut to build either a toy car, a scrabble tire, the President’s chair, or fences around a still feudal-owned land. Materialism completes its thought through construction. It takes a commitment to construction of materialist concepts or destruction of essentialism before one can be acknowledged as a materialist.

This commitment to construction/destruction, I think, should only be the only ethical barometer of anyone thinking in a materialist sense. But its ethics, of course, is no more important the act of construction itself.

The common mistake of those who claim that they think materially, is that, when ethical questions arises, they responded with moralism. I recently responded to a thread by a “collective” over at Facebook to address an ethical question. [See Ibong Adorno’s Page] The problem by which its responders address is a fault of material mechanics: the materials being tested are not of equal calibration. There is a concern over an ethical practice of writing and its problem of political economy in award-giving bodies. Which, I think, can only be solved if writing itself is abstracted into the level of political economy: on how under capitalism, for example, writing itself cannot exist apart from being a commodity, and how the practice of commoditization itself — the cyclical extortion of human labor by Capital — is the main ethical concern, that the award giving bodies themselves are merely symptoms.

Capital makes victims and accomplices from one’s body. It coexists inside a so-called being. Under capitalism, one’s production, in the case that I’m addressing (and I apologize if this came late) is art or film, is already caught within this webmess of contradictions. Complicity with Capital do not begin and end with production, it’s there before you even participate. I agree, definitely, that self-reflexivity and acknowledgement of these realities and reflecting them into your produce, or art-piece, or film do not make it more ethical.

But to leave all these contradictions aside, for the sake of “craftsmanship”, so to say, is even more unethical. Recent developments in global capitalism assures more effective extortion of labor value from the participation of creatives and campaigns of diversity (whether in style or identity). The model of attention economy is more important now more than ever. Media-streaming conglomerates expropriate even moments at-rest of laborers, to make it value-producing, with the ubiquity of binge-watching. Unethical, because, “craftsmanship” alone do not materially construct nor destroy. Craftsmanship itself is the name of a fetishized continuation of new-age essentialism in art. (Say, Mike’s criticism of John Torres’ oppressive practice of enforced meaning in both Ang Ninanais and Mapang-Akit, if looked at materially, is no different than an indie filmmaker’s participation with Star Cinema and leaving it for a pursuit of “artistic autonomy” — they are as unethical as they are both products of a bourgeois artists’ privilege.) It is on the same vein where deviantart, tumblr, instagram or facebook extorts artworks as contributed contents from possibly underpaid or unpaid freelancers waiting for their next client to make them a prototype of their new company’s logo. It is in this sense that Mao critiqued “art-for-art’s sake” tendencies of bourgeois artists: aside from its apparent uselessness as materials, they extort labor-time.

Dialectically, I do not really consider creating political art alone as potent. It’s probably the same as neoliberal craftsmanship, with heightened opportunism. It is only from commitment also for materialist construction and destruction which I see the fulness of a truly ethical production. Not in a form of “playing around” the rules of neoliberal capital, but in a construction site outside it or on the site after the current locations has been destroyed. Criticism and (art and film) production themselves are not ethical if not done so as a continuation and extension of the materialist construction and destruction of and for new realities and thought. Criticism and production’s progressive potential do not come from themselves — whether in form or content — but with one’s participation with the said construction and destruction. Whether criticism and art be useful once materialist construction and destruction has been done is of another issue.

28 Years Into the End of History

28 years into the end of history, we are experiencing eternal contemporaneity. What the recent times has assured with Mark Fisher’s declaration of the ‘slow cancellation of the future’ is the making-contemporary of what was 5 years ago can be considered as nostalgia.

Nostalgia does not exist anymore, 28 years into the end of history.

Renato Constantino did not help stop the flow of his feared ‘synthetic culture’ with his critique. His fault mainly lies on the assumption of an organic development, when, in the first place, culture, being a human invention, is already synthetic. What he helped clarified is that transnational capital’s synthetic culture brings in itself death of some sort. The end of history, however, championed under liberalism, guaranteed an extended life-span, albeit, not temporal, but spatial expansion. Transnational capital’s synthetic culture only initially focused on urban centers. It is only recently, 28 years into the end of history, that it expanded beyond urban centers. Post-crisis consumerists drunk with Zen of culture coming from all over the gaia- and cyber-space anoint themselves warriors of Apo Whang-od’s tribe by availing themselves a tattoo made by her. Citizens of the world aiming to be either archives of extinct cultures or necromancers of dead ones.

The jouissance of reliving the time has become a general encounter of everyday lives. From pop radio to franchise cinema. Kenneth Goldsmith’s cybernetic conceptualism will still insist on the critique of these than with attempts to break with novelty. Not that novelty has become impossible: with the rapid expansion of information technologies, more and more of the limits of ‘creation’ are being exposed: repurposing has become a general practice sans the subversion of intellectual property. Post-crisis cybernetics is a franchise, cyberpunk is a brand.

The lack of imagination beyond our time, beyond the end of history, has also set the limit of imagination of imperialism. Imperialism is still a spatial act: historico-temporal imperialism is yet to succeed. Which is why time-travel still fascinates us.

Time-travel, however, is yet to become science-fiction again.

Time-travel seems to fill our hauntological yearnings. As a plot device, time-travel seems to be the cure for a flawed denouement. To kill the tyrannical cabesa, in Babylon, to “correct” history; or as a turning point in Unli-Life. Time-travel has become a mechanism to ensure and reproduce the fantasy of historical singularity in favor of the end-of-history in the Philippines.

Reluctance to acknowledge contradictory forces, in the denial of actual complications in the construction of history, is but an effect of a declining and effacement of materialist conception of history. Time-travel, which has its most potential in dialectics, is becoming a senile reactionary tool of excuse for Zen cynicism. For psychopolitics. For capitalist realism. Time-travel, 28 years into the end of history, is just another experience of eternal contemporaneity.

Contemporaneity and psychopolitical immateriality supplements each other with the recent promotion of psychologism. Best reflected in the experience of Okabe Rintaro of a million time-leaps looking for the right time line to save everyone. It can be easily reduced that the struggle itself by Rintaro for confronting time is not historical, but personal-affective-psychological. His multiple time-leaps is accompanied by his flowing in and out of the channels of Akihabara – jouissance-machine par excellence. While moving in time, albeit only hours and days ago, Okabe is assured by the contemporaneity of the glow of idol cafe, strips of electronics stores, and busy people passing through.

Eternal contemporaneity’s greatest symptom can be found yet again in a flow — rather, a wave. Flowing from Imperialist America’s greatest ally in the far east, Hallyu crashed into the shores of the world, with everywhere it touched decayed into extreme consumerism.

A friend of mine reacted some months ago: “I hate the K-Pop of today. They seem fake.” Little did he realize that it is this syntheticity which brought Hallyu to its height. We are engrossed of the images of impossible gloss of hypersexed conservatives, hyper-kinetic dances and beats which haunts us with a lot of familiarity. None of these are comfort in strangeness but a welcoming overfamiliarity and attractiveness. Our contradictions and guilt packaged as a huggie doll. K-pop is the great jouissance.

As a tool for the retention of eternal contemporaneity, k-pop reassures. Kept within the confines of the acceptable, your desires are fine. You can desire the attractive humans whom you can see dance but they are too good to be yours. They are at best seen at a distance, with the pain of reflexively understanding all these. You listen to them be edgy, but not too edgy. Mandatorily, one of the tracks on the mini-EP has moderate tempo. Mix of influences assures your desired multiplicity: you can now experience them all in one. They make you want to die, but never to the point of death. They keep you at ease, and they keep you busy. They keep us safe of our guilt of desire by assuring that these are just all entertainment: they after all sing of love while they themselves are not allowed to experience love at all.

Unlike other forms of jouissance, K-pop relieves you from death drive. The accelerationist mode of escape, towards collapse — supposedly to flow both from the synapses to the fiber optic cables — is being halted by the Hallyu. Hallyu is the present’s attack to the rest of time: against Landian schizoanalysis and sino-futurism, is the Silicon Valley backed Korean capital. This does not bring capitalism into a collapse. Nor does Hallyu bring the corporate scientific utopia in this third world nation. It’s effect is in reverse: the revival of culture industry and its vitalism against the allure of escape and death.

The only reason why the function Duterte-China remains on the sidelines of the imperialist equation is this apparent imperialist move by US-South Korea’s world media system. Both favors however, the retention of the templexitous tendency of the Duterte administration to perfect the dreams of Marcosian Maharlika: the autocratic nationalism favoring neoliberal economics. A project which was started in the aftermath of the 1986 EDSA Drama. (Recent accelerations in crisis will soon result to the completion of Greater East Asia’s imperialist triage: Duterte bootlicking imperialist US-S.Korea-China).

Eternal contemporaneity makes materialism appear passe. Psychopolitics assume such immateriality: since labor is automated, none of digital processes are material — as far as humans are concerned. K-pop falls into this logic too, of immateriality : that is, K-pop exists as if always-already in the realm of the imaginary. Beyond meanings, K-pop bear with it an un-human experience of the image. Songs are mere vectors: none of them are lived. K-pop has been the result of desires psychopolitically processed through automation. Which is why it is so calculated and familiar: we already imagined and desired them somewhere.

The ‘decline of symbolic efficiency’ of postmodernism brought to us the re-intensification of imaginary constructs. K-pop brings us back to our mirror phases: to see again an image of the self we don’t know and we don’t acknowledge, but never get rid of since the imaginary is all we know. Images in eternal contemporaneity also reflects life as such: life without resolve. A vitalism without a path. A condition of mere existing. It sees conflict not as a movement but a mode of existence. Which is why Philippine romance post-K-pop mostly concludes with unresolved hang-ups and what-ifs. Hugot exists in the same vectoral manner as k-pop on which none is lived. Eternal contemporaneity brings an embarrassment to speculative thought: of merely thinking speculatively about banal things.

The word lies, 28 years into the end of history. K to 12 education brought up cyborgs which process words on their personalized softwares. Favoring immanent lexical reduction, everything is an opinion. The decline of the word brought about the a signification without a signified. One student has said of a poem: “the lines have deeper meaning, which would be based on your own interpretation.” Eternal contemporaneity brought about the birth of non-hermeneutics. Semiotic machine has failed. The assemblage are just informatic machines which processes on definite algorithm of indefiniteness. K to 12 education is a producer of non-cynics: doubters without an object of doubt. A troubled mind fueled by Born again christian inner peace and mental health campaigns.

28 years into the end of history, eternal contemporaneity is templexity in the form of Zen mantra. History, 28 years into the end of history, appears as if it is in peace with itself: the resolved conflict, the triumph of liberalism, at last found its inner peace. We are not back in the age of 80s new age and 90s alien hoaxes and early internet conspiracy theories: we never left them.

On Binge-watching

serials

I just finished Kokkoku (photo above) by watching it as it is released. I talked to a friend and told him that I do think that the experience I had watching the series is worth it on the weekly set up than it is on binge-watching. It’s not that I don’t have an option on watching all at once, one can always wait. It’s merely out of habit. This habit isn’t even on the occasion of “being first.” It’s just the way I consume anime: I can’t manage to find a time to binge-watch, so I find time for it every week. 25 minutes of watching time a week for a certain material do not hurt my daily activities. If anything, it enables me to engage with the material critically.

For the longest time, I always felt that there is something wrong with binge-watching. Like movie marathon, it reduces the experience of watching into a recreational activity. Like all art, as I’d like to consider tv-materials, anime is medium-specific. Industrial models work in such a way that they were configured for a reason: maybe for digestability, maybe for the thrill of anticipation, but bottomline, TV always rely on an imagined audience and an imagined audience reaction. Let’s do this or that so the audience will look forward for next week’s episode. Binge-watching a material meant to be a weekly serial does away with all those other experiences and reduces everything into mere consumption, like I said earlier, a mere recreational activity.

The dynamics between watching a serial ‘as it is released’ and binge-watching are on different poles. If you faithfully follow a serial as it is released, you squeeze in a schedule per week, you plan it to your weekly activities. More disciplined, or rather, demanding. It is almost as demanding as work itself. While what you look for if you are to binge-watch is a free day, a free time. At most cases, you collect a lot of audiovisual materials (say, soft copies of films and series copied from friends) hoping that one day, you’ll find time to see those. And when the day comes, you can’t even decide which one to see, by the end you just either see a whole season of a serial on that free day, or browse through the files and do not decide on watching any.

I don’t think it’s an issue of qualitative vs quantitative attitude on watching. You can even see that from the examples above, it’s either watching something — one episode a week — or not watching anything at all. Maybe your younger friends have more time so you can see them posting what they watch every single time. But it does not guarantee any substantial “viewing experience.” It’s the same difference, I think, between fordism and post-fordism — between assembly line 8-5 work, to outsourced 24/7 labor market. The definition of “free-time” on the earlier is more defined, while is more floating on the latter.

This lack of substance in viewing experience can be observed the kind of reactions younger “film reviewers” have to films they are paid to review for their respective websites. This phenomenon is something I have observed from my students as well, their reactions upon the films I asked them to watch are mere reactions. They are shocked, angry, or whatever feelings they had. Not that I think this is even new, but in the light of more recent tendencies enabled by new technologies, I am inclined to think otherwise that the kinds of reactions that they have are reflections of these tendencies.

It is not also that I am not guilty of this, but I seem to have better control of my reactions nowadays. The downside of this is the lessening of prolificity. Then again, I’m not being paid to write any reviews, so I focus my energies from time to time towards criticism and theorization than writing reviews. (Thankfully, the Vcinema gig isn’t a gig and our editor over there is more than open for me to write a short theory-piece instead of a review on the films they ask me to write about.)

Again, I’m not raising an issue over qualitative and quantitative attitudes. But more on attitude on consumption in general and the symptoms of the times which are being reflected on most film reviews and reactions by audiences online. If there are any existing scholars out there on audience studies, I think this is one of the more pressing issues.

Marginal Notes on Cinema and Nation

As our Film 240 class wrapped-up earlier, I’m still trying to come into terms of how should I approach the topic of both Cinema and Nation. Prof. Deocampo said to me that the way I wanted to approach my topic, which is Cinema under the Aquino Administration, is something most students (if I heard him right) may not be excited about. He’s referring to the idea I’m proposing that the Nation is constructed. Continue reading “Marginal Notes on Cinema and Nation”

Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino in Dialogue

submitted as a paper for Media 220 – Media Literacy under Prof. Nathan Rondina

Back in January 2017, Sen. Vicente Sotto III submitted a resolution to the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to solve the problems he perceived from the 2016 edition of Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). He perceived that the low audience turnout of last year’s December fest, which he blamed to the removal of the commercial viability criteria, was “detrimental to the workers of the industry.” (Rappler) He suggests that to have the festival take place over the long semestral break. On May 5, 2017, MMFF announced that they will be accepting both film scripts and completed films for this year’s edition, contrary to just accepting completed works from last year’s. (Chua) This announcement resulted from studio films participating again in the upcoming fest.

Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) chair, Liza Dino-Seguerra announced on a press conference last April 26 about a week-long festival for Filipino films which “emulate Filipino sensibilities and culture” to take place in August 16 to 22. The films to join the festival, dubbed as Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (PPP), will be sourced from submissions and will be screened at a maximum of 60 theaters (Film Development Council of the Philippines) which later was extended to 100+ theaters. The fest was supported by the National Cinema Association of the Philippines (NCAP) and SM Lifestyle Entertainment.

Interestingly, no one has yet to point the absurd parallelism of this. Even filmmaker Arnel Mardoquio’s open letters for Dino-Seguerra have pointed out that she’s merely protecting the “EntengKabiSotto” consciousness of the MMFF by not disclosing data on the profit of the PPP, but his letters never really extend to the connection from the two statements mentioned above (Factolerin). Mardoquio’s letter, however, opened for a discussion that could be relevant to the on-going issues on labor and bureaucracy in the film scene.

Both instances seem to serve the same end. Although FDCP do not explicitly dubbed the PPP as a fest to cater only independent works, the selection of the participant films otherwise affirms Sen. Sotto’s suggestion to the MMDA. The instance has solved Sotto’s problem without MMDA acting on it. It is as if FDCP has compromised, if we are looking at it as if we are saying that the “indies” are at the losing side of this. (It is interesting to point out that the FDCP Chair’s partner-in-life has a very close affiliation with the Actor-Senator).

But like in the 2016 MMFF, this has never been the game of the “indies” to begin with.

While the productions may have been “independent,” the distributors aren’t. Of the 12 films selected for the PPP, ABS-CBN Film Productions have 5 films on distribution (Triptiko, AWOL, Patay na si Hesus, Salvage, Hamog), Solar Films, the biggest gainer of the 2016 MMFF, has distributed 3 films in PPP (Paglipay, Pauwi Na, Birdshot), rest of the films have their own individual distributors, but all are still huge film scene players: Viva Films has 100 Tula Para kay Stella, Quantum Films has Ang Manananggal sa Unit 23B, Unitel has Star na si Van Damme Stallone, and PPP partner, SM Lifestyle, has its own film Bar Boys participating. One can’t really say that the others are actually independent studios. One should ask, independent of what? Viva Films has already been around as one of the larger studios during the late 80s, Solar is a major broadcast, cable and film player for decades now, Quantum films has been moving large capital swinging from Star Cinema co-productions to co-producing Film Festival grantees, Unitel has TV5-Smart capital circulating it, and of course SM Lifestyle isn’t actually what we can call as a company involved in any independent industry.

These events in the Philippine film scene further blurs the notion of what an independent work is in the public discourse. But the FDCP Chair’s agenda has been clear about this: “[PPP] aims to blur out the lines” between indie and mainstream. “Just well-made films,” said the FDCP chair. (Sallan) The campaign was successful. Either participant films from the studios are being dubbed/marketed as indie (Selim) or independently produced works not mentioning the term. It also helped promote with certain hegemonizing quality the notion of assessing films just with its form, as most reviews of films, both from critics and audience, point out how well-made a film is.

This flattening of the semiotic scope of “film,” indistinctive of its mode of production, was helped by the distribution machineries of the studios. In the end, both the regulation changes at the MMFF and the PPP served for the benefit of the bigger studios. By denying the dichotomy between the independents and the studios, PPP and its assessors deny the difference in labor required to produce a certain film. With these contradictions in mind, we are forced to ask, from where does the FDCP Chair speak when she says that she intends to “blur the lines”? Of whose interest really does another film fest serve?  In the end, by aestheticizing films by assessing it as merely “films”, without acknowledging its political economy, alienates the end-product to its laborers. It isn’t much different with Sen. Sotto’s argument of films as entertainment.

Works Cited

Chua, Zharlene B. “Changes in the criteria for entries to 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival stirs controversy.” Business World 16 May 2017: 9/S2.

Film Development Council of the Philippines. PRESS RELEASE: FDCP Partners with Theaters to Hold the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino. Manila: Film Development Council of the Philippines Media Desk, 2017.

Rappler. Sotto files Senate resolution for indie film fest. 05 January 2017. 26 August 2017 <https://www.rappler.com/entertainment/news/157459-tito-sotto-senate-resolution-indie-film-festival-semestral-break&gt;.

Sallan, Edwin B. “FDCP head Liza Diño slams critics of Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino.” 11 July 2017. Interaksyon. 26 August 2017 <http://www.interaksyon.com/fdcp-head-liza-dino-slams-critics-of-pista-ng-pelikulang-pilipino/&gt;.

Selim, Chandral. “‘AWOL’ joins Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino!” 30 June 2017. Star Cinema. 26 August 2017 <http://starcinema.abs-cbn.com/2017/6/30/news/awol-joins-pista-ng-pelikulang-pilipino-26615&gt;.

 

 

Two Ways of Alienation

on TBA’s I’m Drunk, I Love You

Mark Fisher, in 2009, stated: the pervading notion that the success of capitalism is set in-stone – granted by the failure of USSR to sustain its socialist-construction economy leading to its apparent fall back in 1989 (along with Fukuyama’s declaration of the end of history) –  continues to prevail and is now presenting itself as the only realistic political-economic system that there will be, despite the crisis of 2008. He calls this Capitalist Realism. Seeping through our daily lives posing as “nature of things,” is this notion that to get through the daily struggles, one must exchange one’s time and skill for a certain rate not necessarily for one’s own gain, but enough to sustain our needs and desire. This, in return, validates and enforces the following notion: that work is exhausting and draining and therefore, something to escape: who you are, then, is outside of what you do. Capitalist realism also enforces a certain kind of essentialism: since a person can’t be identified with his work, it must be in leisure time that one’s identity is to be known. In the little details, in their feelings, in the time of non-work, is where you are to be found.

In an earlier essay by Edel Garcellano (2001), he pointed out that what Fisher described as Capitalist realism necessarily governs the rules (of the game, of engagement, and even the lines of resistance) of what is being produced in literary works (and the dominant way of reading/interpreting texts) in this country after 1989: Capitalist Realism as the hermeneutics of our time. It is in the same lens of “an impossibility of thinking of any alternative” that I’m Drunk, I Love You was told. In the film, we follow a Film student, Dio (Paolo Avelino), and a social work and development student, Carson (Maja Salvador), on their getaway in La Union days before their graduation ceremonies. The film is strategically set at a time when we cannot observe who the characters say they are. We were never really given any plot points about them being the students. Never a visual cue, it requires a certain faith from the audience that they will believe that to whatever or whoever the characters say they identify with is true. The identification of the characters relied heavily on the verbal exchanges.

Not much is given about who the characters are in a material sense. We are not given an introduction of their concrete lives. The film was set up to avoid such. As mentioned earlier, the film focuses on a leisure time – a time when their labor is at rest. We see the characters merrily chatting and getting intoxicated. But this minor space in their lives is where the film situates its characters as their sole source of truth. We can only rely on what they are talking about on hints about their lives: their struggles, their concerns, their achievements or the lack of it. The film is not concerned about them being the kind of students they say they are. The film is more concerned about the feelings the characters may have on each other, and what would be the effect of these feelings on their connections. The film’s conflict revolves around Carson’s hesitance over whether or not she would tell Dio about her feelings towards him. Dio has the same dilemma over Pathy (Jasmin Curtis-Smith), an ex-partner who looks to fix their old relationship.

All of the information about the characters are relayed through and depended on their verbal exchanges. This narrative technique places a more natural sense of spectatorship: that you, as an audience-spectator, are a stranger. Although there are attempts to win your sympathy due to their concerns, the set-up remains as such that none of the larger portion of their lives are any of your business. The wall has been built between you and the film by not having seen the way they perform their supposed identities. But faith is being placed on you to react accordingly on every song, mood plays, and every hugot lines.

Alienation works in two ways in this film for the characters. First, is the alienation of their labor by privileging their leisure time over their labor-time. It has been established in the film that the relationship the characters had were founded not in the commonality of their relations in labor-production, but of their relations on commodities they could have access at and consume. They are oblivious of the fact that what they are as friends and companions are merely founded on items of which perceived exclusivity to access is the key: music gigs, local cuisine, corporate events posing as cultural festivals; relationships founded on safety nets, safe spaces and comfort food. Relationships which are founded from the exploits of their dead labor.

Second, is the characters’ alienation to their own mental faculties. It is interesting that its characters, especially Carson, tend to blurt out their kept wishes verbally as if their brains can no longer hold them. There are two scenes with Carson: first, when she woke up next to Dio, she mumbled about how beautiful a scene it was; second, was when before they leave La Union, Pathy went out for the loo, Carson took a few steps back and whispered her wish for Pathy not to come back too soon. There is probably a reason to this. There really might be too much stress in Carson’s brain that it cannot contain a moment’s wish and instantly displace it verbally. But since we are not given a chance to take a peek on her life, we can only assume things.

What I’m Drunk, I Love You succeeded the most is its conversion of the communicative feature of the cinematic medium into a merely transactional one: a complete privatization of the cinematic space of which none of the preceding events nor histories relating to the building-up of identities of the characters presented in the film really matter except those which are built on non-productive times (a feature not really exclusive with this film, but the intensity of the extension of the private space in this film is quite remarkable). In a scene where Jason Ty (Dominic Roco) plays a game with Carson to remember an act she did for Dio on each year they have known each other, what we are being presented is not much of a history which moves in progression. If anything passes as history at all, it is only that these recollections were supplied with given dates. A posture of empty empiricism, it is nothing but a quiz bee anyway.

I’m Drunk, I Love You is not a symptom, but a complete manifestation of the dominating notion of this celebratory neoliberal defeatism to capital. The formula is complete: rampant consumerism and commodification as a way of validating one’s self (remember that small conversation wherein they choose to talk about being featured at Young Star as a benchmark of a young artists’ success?) which results to a person’s alienation from labor (which denies us the concrete history of each character) and from his own psyche (paraphrasing Fisher, how does it become acceptable that Carson is this mentally dysfunctional?).

Being a Capitalist Realist film, I’m Drunk, I Love You is incapable of imagining an exit plan or an alternative from the whole system which governs Dio and Carson. As a result of its complex relation to the ruling economic and class structures, the film also tends to convert the Capitalist Realist un-imaginativeness to its own form. The end may seem to be open, but this is exactly is its limit of articulation: that it can’t imagine anything but an open end. The film’s open-endedness is not an invitation for any more speculation nor does not serve to be a nuanced one. It’s an ending which is just served “as it is”: as a sign, in case we forget that their lives are not our business.

 

References:

Fisher, Mark (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?. London: Zero Books.

Garcellano, Edel (2001). Philippine Hermeneutics: Kingpins of the Hill. In Knife’s Edge: Selected Essays. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.