Dystopia and Other Bourgeois Fantasies

Notes on Star Cinema’s Block Z

Block Z Trailer - 'Block Z' - Mikhail Red - YouTube.mkv_snapshot_00.56.391

There is a scene from Star Cinema’s Block Z where we see soldiers barricading the school campus exit / entrance, blocking anyone who attempts to go out, as an act to commit a command. The living people who are blocked from escaping the campus are threatened to be fired at the moment they attempt to get closer to the gate. These living people, of course, are running from swarming zombies who are out to get their necks. The panicking people run towards the gate. The commander present clearly shouted to hold fire, however, panic has also reached the soldiers and they continue to indiscriminately fire at the people who are running, then the zombies. 

From that sequence on, the film, Block Z, set itself towards a conclusion that would lead its world towards dystopia. 

At some point in your petit-bourgeois life, you’ve probably encountered a conversation of similar imagination among your fellow petit-bourgeois: speculation about a zombie invasion and the kind of violence you’d prefer to fend off the attacking ghouls. Block Z’s setting up of dystopia sets itself on a similar tone: it imagines dystopia as an excuse to get violent. Contemporary popular dystopian tales make use of the very setting of social decline, epidemic and/or authoritarianism as a pretext (pretense) for resistance. Block Z is not quite far from this pretension.

However, Block Z’s approach to dystopia comes with it a kind of perversion. The scene which I cited above works with a flattening allegorical function: dystopia became an excuse for an argument of indiscriminate state violence that does not look at social classes. That the sheltered elites, too, are also at the danger of facing state violence, given extreme situations. What made this scene perverted is its relation to the state violence it tries to allegorize: the state would never really hurt and abandon its own elite, as shown by the other Mikhail Red-directed film, Dead Kids. Since it is very far off the actual conditions, such indiscriminate violence by the state against the elite can only be but the elite’s desire to win over two things: boredom and the working class.

To cover this perversion up, the very sequence of indiscriminate violence found its exit: since this is very far off the actual living condition, the film reproduced the state’s discourse on its violence against the working people. None of what happened is the commander’s responsibility. The foot soldiers acted on their own. The myth of individual responsibility.

Individualist ideology and dystopia bring about the very perversion that I’m talking about: the desire of the elite to suffer for once. A lite version of sadomasochism. This desire made them more creative in crafting their imaginary deaths, as seen in more contemporary dystopian fiction. And by being creative about their imagined suffering, such tales displaces actual suffering by flattening the discourse over violence and suffering towards a generalized notion of it: “we suffer in different ways.”

Dystopian tales, historically, was done to paint socialism or any form of collective governance in a bad light. It seems like even contemporary approaches to dystopia weren’t able to subvert it. Attempts to critique capitalism and capitalist ideology tend to get reduced into individualist account of greed and selfishness. Attempts to critique bureaucracy tend to conclude with cynicism. It is fitting, given this setup, that Mark Fisher started his book Capitalist Realism with a chapter involving an analysis of Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men. The cynical attitude of giving up and heading towards decline is the very belief that capitalism reproduces every single time. Block Z never went beyond reproducing the same belief. The film concludes with the very elitism of neoliberal social Darwinism: that there are people from lucky gene pools that are immune from crisis, and they will prevail, like an Ayn Rand hero.

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