Notes on Audience-Taste, Education and Capture

Disclaimer: This convoluted essay is a product of me processing recent events and my writing projects in Media Studies. But just because this is related to a school project, doesn’t mean I do not take these seriously. In fact, I’m probably more serious about this now more than ever. Writing these down to at least make it available out here, and to get back to it later. Then again, this disclaimer is from me asking for apology for writing this essay so convoluted that what I am saying might slip.

Let me know if there are things that aren’t clear. I could sure use some conversation.


Philippine Cinema is lucky to have an Erik Matti: not that we are expecting him to speak for any sort of good for his liberalism is not capable of reaching that point of moral reflection. But, at least we can hear him speak for himself and the non-points that he gives every single time. Over at a recent thread (posted August 26, 2019), he, again, expressed his cynicism on the state of Philippine Cinema, which, ended with his usual guilt-tripping. Not that there’s nothing to learn from him too. The things he’s pointing out are important: lack of newness in cinematic form and content, consumption, production, complicity to capital, labor, etc. Then again, these are all in the service of retention of the cinema that he knows and the cinema he’s working at: again, he’s speaking for himself, nothing for us to benefit from, even when he speaks of this ghastly figure of “the audience.”

An important shift happened at the comments section when film director Frasco Mortiz pointed out the thing a lot of liberal thinkers has been pointing out as the root-cause of it all: education. But his point is mainly of consumer behavior: “Years of dumbing down the Filipinos have taken its toll in every aspect of our lives, including TV and Film preference.” Whether or not this adds to the guilt-tripping Matti has laid upon his post, is still to be decided.

Something is left unprocessed at the thread: is this “dumbing down” a result of the education Mortiz has been talking about? Instead of answering there directly, a longer response, I think, would be more fitting.

Let’s try to go back again with Matti’s rant: the earlier part of his post concerns mostly of content. Basically, what’s he’s on to is to roundabout blaming a certain sense of complicity of the “film artists” to the “audience’s taste” and to what’s the tried and tested formula to sell. He left a window for speculation: that maybe, there’s an audience somewhere. But the bottomline is that, the frame of reference that he’s looking at his assessment of cinematic practices is this speculative notion of “audience preference.”

To synthesize Matti’s and Mortiz’ points: the “audience preference” to which Matti’s points are framed, is a result of what Mortiz, and later on Matti, identified as “years dumbing down” of the Filipinos, which Mortiz has pointed out as an issue of education.

Let’s just say that this is true: as a supplementary to knowledge, these preferences are a result of dumbed down education. Which is to say, that what we refer to as “dumbness” is learned.

There’s a ring of truth in this, something which Matti and Mortiz has never validated. Something which liberals in general, like Matti would never validate: that education is meant to be a capturing mechanism. To validate this point, otherwise is to rid Matti of anyone to blame but the political structure, which, of course, something that liberals in general are quite suspicious of.

Renato Constantino, in his classic essay “The Miseducation of the Filipinos” noted that “The moulding of men’s minds is the best means of conquest. Education, therefore, serves as a weapon in wars of colonial conquest.” Constantino in his most insightful stance on education, reached a more clarified conclusion, that colonial education has influenced our consumption habits.

Between Matti/Mortiz and Constantino, looms this haunting image of the consumer being formed by colonial education. This dumbed-down learning, so to say, may have been a result positive for capitalism. The cinematic complex which Matti’s been keen on defending and restoring, is quite dependent on this kind of education. Which is to say, there’s really no conflict between Matti’s project of a “different” kind of cinema and this “dumbed-down” education, since the cinema that he’s trying to salvage is something which is produced through the deployment of such “mis-“education. Otherwise, the “different” kind of cinema would never even be thinkable without the “same” cinema that the “dumbed-down” audience consume.

As mentioned earlier, none of the project of Matti would benefit us, or the phantom “audience” that he’s thinking. But something along the line of Mortiz’ problem can be thought of. If the root of the problem has something to do with education, what would be your alternative? Filmmaker Lav Diaz sees an opportunity to educate people through cinema since cinema is so powerful, but does this guarantee that the same will never happen? Isn’t it with the same notion of power that colonial education itself successfully captured the minds of its subjects?

Education supplements capitalism, colonialism or any form of subjugation, through input and endless consumption of information. In the chain of production, the consumer learns through education what it is going to consume. This framework of education relies to positive feedback to the informational input to be harnessed more as exploited labor (either through an extension of working hours or through consumption). In here, production and consumption of cinema is not excluded: whether or not you assumed your “freedom” as an artist either to do “the same” or “something different,” the fact remains that once let go to the market, your film-commodity becomes one which demands positive informational/capital feedback upon consumption to sustain itself. An openly “educational” cinema would perform the same, only to produce surpluses.

Suppose, we suggest education as another key, but what are we going to teach? The “truth” is illusive, especially for those same people who advocates for “education” as the mere key for change. Not that we should dismiss the education project, the method itself is very important, given the fact that Constantino raised regarding its capability for “capturing minds.” In this end, we can propose a strategic end to which education should lean on: an education which unlearns instead of learns. Tentatively, we can call this negative education.

This kind of education is something Paulo Freire already hinted on his classic book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He noted that the condition for human existence (that is to exist humanly), is the capability to name the world in order to change it. In this sense, “naming” becomes a form of abduction and abandonment: you capture something to let it go or shift it to another. The “reappearance” of the world is important in this aspect: which can only be possible if the named is changed which requires new names.

In the light of Freire’s naming, Negative Education would bring about changing “dumbed down” education through unlearning it. But before one unlearns something, it must be acknowledged and learned first that that something is learned. “Being dumb” or “ignorant” is learned, and since it is learned, it can be unlearned. Negative Education wagers on Reza Negarestani’s project on cultivating intelligence which, for him, only matures with unlearning its slavery.

Standing in the conditions of intelligence, Negative Education do not see power through control as “evil,” unlike the petty Manichaeism of liberal philosophy. Negative Education completely harness control as an operational motivation to build its own tools to help with his continuous unlearning of slavery. It is in complete contradiction with capitalist capture of positive feedback: it excretes rather than accept information.

This unlearning will become a means to produce new knowledge. It will not guarantee, however, to that these knowledge to come will support Matti’s ideal cinema, as his ideal cinema is only possible through the capture of the minds as slave. Negative Education will actively reject capture as it strive for unlearning.

Advertisements

Narrative Conflict and The Elite

During the past few weeks, I was faced with a challenge over at a writing-gig/sideline to write about the “ultra rich,” as our creative head put it. He’s having me and my co-writer imagine their life. Of course, with the lack and impossibility of social practice, i.e. my class disposition, I am slumped to take the road again, of a commentator rather than the medium which is what us industrial writers should be.

The whole process of writing that piece, something which we were only able to finish yesterday morning, made me rethink of one of Alexis Tioseco’s wish: “I wish someone, anyone, would make a good, thought-provoking film about the Philippine upper class.” The context of which, back in 2009, is of course as a knee-jerk reaction  to what was termed as “poverty porn” years later. Even back then I am within this limbo as to whether I’d take this wish seriously. Perhaps even Tioseco did not think much about this.

This puts the question in front of us: “how are we going to think of the elite, creatively?” I can only imagine the bourgeois narrative conflict in this sense: that is, if we, writers not from the elite, are to write them, the limit of us thinking about them relies on the very conditions that we both share in the mode of production: they own it, and we work for/to it. Them having all the privilege of ownership are only in-conflict with us. The common practice among writers (industrial or otherwise) is to rethink them in-line with their privileges, for what are they without those, right? Bourgeois apologists among the middle class is, of course, set to disagree: they need nuance. But what nuances do they even need? So our tendency as writers not-from-the-elite, if we are to write a story about them, them being in-conflict with one another is to see them in these two possibilities: either that conflict will be very petty; or, it is psycho-pathological, which is of course, still “petty” in a narratological sense.

In the call for nuance, the elite narrative succumb to a kind of psychologism, instead of a rational world-building. Think of the more recent attempts to “humanize” the elite. Say, the films of Gino Santos (The Animals, #Y). At the very least, those are very honest films: there’s really nothing “on the outside” that makes them “special” even on their standard of humanity. It is therefore an imperative within the bourgeois narrative to “look inward.” That is, in the psychology of the characters. And, of course, by “psychology”, most of what their narratives think of are psychological pathologies. Suicide as a recourse of an “unhealthy psychological state” is a bourgeois narrative trope.

Henri Lefebvre has already noted of this trope in a sociological scale. The specialization of work bring about a new kind of practice among those who are relatively well-off and not being burdened by the hard-labour of life: boredom. The capitalist boredom gave birth to stories of adventure among the elite, that there’s more to “everyday life.” Social practices of course, would disagree: nothing in this world can be built without labor. The only real conflict of the privileged is how to avoid labor. Their sense of adventure, their transcendental lives, depends on this avoidance to work. Once that they’ve discovered the whole planet, and there’s nothing more to be explored, they succumb to decadence of any form: the adventurism of the senses. Their notions of psycho-pathologies came from their very own internalized contradiction: their boredom gave birth to their own sicknesses. It is also why serial killers are a hot topic among the bourgeois: despite class disparities (sensationalized serial killers are not from the elite), the narratives of serial killers feed the bourgeois sense of  adventurism.

The pettiness of the bourgeois conflict reside within this sense of psychologism too. There’s really very few imaginable friction among them, most of which are limited to personal struggles. Why are they petty? Because they are trapped in unresolvability: in a literary-narratological sense, unresolvability of conflict make one complicit with fatalism, which requires very low level of imagination and thinking. Since their conflicts are unresolvable, the only possible resolution is stasis: a maintenance of the status quo. The notion of “history repeating itself” depend a lot from this bourgeois maintenance of stasis. It is observable among literary materials involving the elite that they go into cycles: if they are in-conflict among themselves, there really are no contradictory aspects to negate and therefore, no actual development, narrative or otherwise, is possible in the bourgeois literature. Which is why we are mostly provided with a biography of an imaginary elite and not an actual story: we mostly witness a “life” in their narratives. One gets born, grow up and die. There’s no story in there since we are presented with what we already know that’s going to happen: people die.

And, of course, we can’t really expect the elite to write about themselves: in the chain of production, them being the owners of the means, will never ever do that. Which is why they hire biographers: the elite are too dumb to even write about their own lives.

Tioseco’s wish for a thought-provoking film about the elite, of course has always happened, but not in the context that he’d actually consider as “thought-provoking film about the elite.” Their only narratological development lies on their own death. The bourgeois apologists among us middle class writers know this: which is why a lot of their bourgeois narratives end with death or they succumbing to their own decadence, but they do not work much as narrative development, but a book end. Again, there isn’t much “thought-provocation” there. Among middle class, of course, the elite are imaginable in dichotomy: as an aspiration and as hate, which are, again, psychologisms. The real conflict of the elite lies on their antagonism in the social relations brought about by capitalism: their antagonism against the working and peasant classes. And in this conflict, the real development of the bourgeois narrative is only imaginable through their own decline towards their own abolition as class.

For A Theory of Movie-going?

Last saturday, April 27, 2019, a concern over the current film industry’s overproduction of films was raised by Prof. Nick Deocampo on his talk on the Boom-and-Bust pattern of Philippine Film Economy, at the UP Film Institute. The concern centers on the concept of “demand”, something the Boom-and-Bust, being the liberal economic model that it is, seem to cover a lot. (Overproduction, i.e., we produce a lot of films which a few to none has seen).

But “demand” in any sense seem to be ghastly, more on the discussion of film. Can one really account on any film’s demand? If we quantify the list of top-selling films for the past 20 years, would it account to any fixed notion of “demand”? Can a “demand” for a specific film be established in the first place?

The notion of “demand”, in classical discussion of it in market economy, seem to center a lot of its decisions on the consumer. Consumer demand, as it turns out on recent expositions made, seem to be less concerned with what the consumers actually want. In a sense, what the consumer want is the Lacanian real for market economists. It’s that impossibility. That to get close to it, you’d only appeal to its symptoms, and not to its actuality. These symptoms can come in a form of survey, result of focus group discussions, or whatever quantitative research output economists and market researchers use.

Consumer demand, or at least the data of it, seem to be more synthetic than we can accept. It is a ghost from a community ghost story which we believe in strongly,despite only hearing it from someone, or only seeing things which are like it. Especially for a marginalized commodity as film — a commodity with very little use-value — producers and film marketers oftentimes use a lot of mechanisms to generate or conjure, to be consistent with our gothic metaphors, demand.

The hot topic of the past days, Avengers: Endgame, did conjure this ghost demand, but it does so in a very long process. Often times this could be mistaken as an “organic” process, but for a company as big as Marvel and Disney, its global audience is nothing organic or accidental. It is at most calibrated. It is capital as Nick Land would put it: an amplified response to positive feedback.

Cinema and positive feedback to it, as the social practice of blockbusters go, never seem to care much of “aesthetics”, or morals, or ethics, so to say. Its mystique comes from what Pauline Kael, in her classic essay “Trash, Art and the Movies,” call enjoyment. For Kael, enjoyment is the basic thing that we want to get from the movies, everything else is secondary to it. Weird thing that Kael do not want to equate what’s good in the movies — which is its fun — with art, meanwhile, Hito Steyerl would note that art needs to be salvaged for it is one of the sources of fun.

In any case, Kael’s point is never about art, but rather why do people go to the movie houses. Kael would note on enjoyment as something which is never really the same for everyone, but she nonetheless points out what she finds enjoyable on films that she sees. I think this dynamic of going to see a movie is something which is less considered when market study of films are being done. I’ve yet to look though, if studies are done, at least a survey, on why people are going to the movies. Of course, a hunch, just like Kael’s, is to enjoy. After all, enjoyment is the most basic of the use-value in consumerist societies.

Going to the movies costs a lot. It better be worth it.

Chris Fujiwara’s notion of the film critic as an organizer I think comes in here. We can understand why a lot of film critics stretch their hands to reach out to people and tell them to see this possibly underseen independent film or arthouse film. Fujiwara noted that at the most basic, you’re supposed to share the pleasure of watching the film on every review. In the context of the Philippines, however, there seems to be quite a few who are being honest on their own enjoyment.

See, for example, this review of Tristan Zinampan of Citizen Jake. It is mostly in the parentheticals that we can see what can possibly be enjoyable with the film. Mostly, the review goes back and forth between its director and the “political message” the film supposed to bring, very few on the plot points, fewest about what made the film worthwhile seeing. If the film, as the title suggest, is worthwhile as a wake-up call, it never really mentioned in the review how does the film wake you up. It just tells you things you already know.

The general tendency of film reviews center around either this form of moralism, or a point of snobbery. Most of the time, the fault is two fold between the critic and the filmmaker. Most especially, those who treat film in line with the fine arts. It is in this sense that Francis Joseph Cruz flat-out only made a review for a Lav Diaz film, and never really attempt to reach out for more audience, in his review of Ang Panahon ng Halimaw. He can choose to fault Diaz over this: on why the film seem to be a film for specialists. As it stands, his review seem to reflect a lot from which we can enjoy the film from, however, it may be as intimidating also as he said it would be.

There’s something I quite find unassuring however, of both reviews’ conclusions on both films. A wake up call and a call to arms. Both reviews merely survey the manifestations, but never really pointed out how they worked as such. Are they just working metaphorically? And if the times are as they say (dark, violent or whatever), aren’t these kinds of work… useless? For surely, who were they supposed to wake up? Who are they suppose to arm? Their already-assured audience?

Then again, if we go about fetishizing auteurs, no one would really watch a Mike de Leon film because one wants to wake up, or a Lav Diaz film because we want to bear arms. Those who follow them as artists already know how and where they stand politically, does it warrant for a repeat on the reviews of their films? What about what made them stand out as films? Isn’t that considered into equation?

It is unfair to fault an audience-base who do not know what they are dealing with to not see these kinds of films. No one even made a good case on whether anyone would have an enjoyable– if not, interesting — time watching those films. The cases which were raised by almost everyone who’d make you want to see Citizen Jake is its wokeness. But what if you don’t buy wokeness? What if you don’t buy film directors either?

Is it time for critics to consider the basic question, why do people go and see the movies, and consider them on their written pieces?

Time and again, the so-called nationalists virtue-call cinemas for blocking their screens with an all-day screening of, and fault audiences falling in line to, the next hollywood blockbusters. They also fault capitalism, “because business”, which, of course, the boogeyman we need to slay, but never really make a good case how did we come to this. This is a good case of call-out vs critique. The latter, is what we always lack when looking at this predicament.

Rather, we are afraid to critique this side of movie-going. Because it necessitates a “downgrading” of cinema from an “art” to a “mere” commodity. Critique of the cinema distributing system in a society like ours would necessitate a critique of the structure and system that enables it. And that will start always, in looking at production, modes of production, and commodities. That production, in the context of capitalism, is not art-production, but commodity production. Because these goods are exchanged for other commodities, more commonly, money. Cinema is a commodity. There’s no use crowdsourcing over at twitter on what your speculative audience want to see. We can only figure out why people go to see Avengers and not our movies, not in-lieu of their desires — these are merely the symptoms — if we start looking at films like in the manner of how we gauge our consumption of coffee.

My Key Take-aways from the Zizek-Peterson Debate

_1_peterson_zizek (1)

  • Peterson is, of course, a conservative. That we do not need to verify over and over again, but something worth noting. But is he a conservative in the worst sense? At the most, he isn’t quite a fascist, but sure harbors ideas which can possibly help forward authoritarian agenda.
  • Reasonable leftists watched this to enjoy. I got in at the last hour or so, and I enjoyed listening to both.
  • Both present clear challenge not to each other, but to the whole liberal-capitalist world. Both challenge the notion of forced-diversity and political correctness but only differ on the other end of the thread. Peterson favors, of course, a kind of restoration of authoritarian, pre-Kaynesian capitalism.
  • I know my Zizek, I think, so I don’t seem to get more surprised at all with him. Peterson is admittedly, an interesting character. What interests me the most how he poses more similarity with a lot of sides of all the political spectrum. He harbors values which, I wouldn’t say essential but, are useful to leftists: mostly with his disdain of the postmodern anti-narrativism which trapped us all in this forced-diversity and political correctness. Only this useful character of his is in the service of the restoration of capitalism.
  • The debate seem to try to resolve behind it how the two camps would address the post-2008, post-Brexit, pro-Jack Ma, pro-Elon Musk, crisis-driven neoliberal world that we’re in right now. They’re not really talking to each other. They’re talking to their respective audiences.
  • Zizek’s last note poses very serious challenges to urban leftists. The first challenge is to “not oblige one’s self to be politically correct.” The second, is to “not be afraid to think.” The first poses a total overhaul of the “gains” of the postmodern turn of the left. The second relates to the first one in a very demanding way. Zizek noted of the dangers of political correctness which comes with quick reductions, symptomatic of lazy thinking.
  • Relating to the last bullet point, what happens with this quick reductions and lazy thinking is a lack in dialectical process in thought. None of the both resolves anything, and never even get to the point closer to self-conscious thinking. It is in this sense that Peterson got it right how it becomes symptomatic of the left to pose for moral high-grounding just because of a sense of high-duty, as supplemented by Zizek as a product of new age thinking, which also has become a part of the postmodern turn.
  • It is in this New Age thinking that Zizek cornered Peterson, and where Zizek also exposed the weakness of the politically-correct left. Political correctness assumes that all conflicts has been resolved already, that giving out the correct pronoun resolves the power-relations surrounding all sources of political issues of identity. Zizek exposes this link between new age and fascism through citing the life and military command Heinrich Himmler, who carries with him a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in war. In this sense, the new ageism of political correctness and intersectionality only repeats the new ageism of the SS in their command to atrocity only happening as a consequence of universe resolving everything but in the present context, not in a sense of a grand accident, but the pseudo-participatory / pseudo-democratic stance of guilt-tripping people into being politically correct.
  • It is in this sense that the call of the Neoreactionaries for intelligence comes of importance. I think the extreme intensification of contradictions placed to us by the multiple crises of neoliberalism and global capitalism has given us the answer to the question “for whom” more clearer than before. The most essential moral question has been answered already and was being reiterated whenever we have a chance. The call for thinking, the call for intelligence, requires a review of method. The current age, I think, is not asking “for whom”, but is now asking “how.”
  • Addendum: I think if we — the urban left from the Philippines — are to move forward with these, in developing a culture of intelligence in the service of the working class and all the underprivileged sectors in the country, we need a total overhaul of how we do things: from our half-serious (rather, post-ironic), almost ritualistic, attitude towards the parliamentary to the way we self-criticize. And it must start, I think, by redefining–and quite possibly revising/updating our notion of liberalism stemming from Mao’s classic text, for us to be more effective in combatting it.
  • Addendum 2: “Seriousness” isn’t revolutionary.

Chris Fujiwara on Film Criticism and Programming

plus some commentary

 

chris fujiwara

Chris Fujiwara and his presentation

Yesterday, March 21, 2018, I was able to catch up with Chris Fujiwara’s lecture (albeit, very late on his lecture) on Film Criticism and Programming at the University of the Philippines’ Film Center. The lecture was part of the on-going Working Title workshops organized by Japan Foundation in Manila for young film programmers from East and Southeast Asia.

Fujiwara was talking about the task of the critic as an analyst, which for him, was never really about “producing knowledge” but of imparting pleasure and presenting assessment of the work. I wasn’t able to catch how he built up leading to this, but his summary provided a good entry point to his whole thought on the matter.

If a critic does not produce knowledge, what does he produce? Fujiwara notes of these three things: pleasure, distance, and community.

From what I get from his discussion, a critic and programmer produce pleasure by providing different ways of looking at things. A film may mean one thing, but by writing what the critic thinks of the film, the critic, one way or another, provides different avenues to which the film can be differently appreciated. For the programmer, is this organization of a film or number of films to a kind of framing – a framing which can be thematic, operational, etc.

These for Fujiwara, again, do not amount to a kind of production of knowledge. Fujiwara added how “pleasure” can also be derived from encounters with the uncomfortable (which, may be the case of programmers curating experimental or unconventional works) and pain (in the case of the film critic, can be the displeasures one can encounter from watching certain films, which can be turned into an avenue to its appreciation.) Fujiwara evokes what Lacan, and those who come after him, noted of the jouissance as the enjoyment which comes from non-pleasurable encounters, such as pain. Validating, of course, the perverse nature of Cinema, as per Zizek.

The most important thing, I think, that Fujiwara has noted is that the critic and the programmer necessarily produce distance. Over at the quick Q&A, he further expounded his point on how global capitalism and neoliberalism necessitate blurring of lines between cinematic realities and reality-as-such. This blurring of lines, for Fujiwara, results to a non-coherent understanding of cinematic plasticity and mediation. He refers to this process as the “disintermediation” of cinema. The critic, for him, should necessarily bring this mediated reality forward. This brings his discussion back to the task of the critic as an analyst, which, to my understanding, necessarily highlights the effectivity/non-effectivity of the mediation – film criticism as an analysis of cinematic quality, first and foremost. This is mostly a good response to the kind of contemporary audience which needs a constant reminder that they are watching a movie.

The first two points build up to Fujiwara’s last point. But how does one produce a community, really? At first look, for criticism and programming to produce a community seem to be a grand (delusional) vision of its tasks. But then again, conscious efforts for film curating most especially, seem to go to that direction of a community being “produced.” But is this community single-handedly produced by the programmer and the critic? Fujiwara never pointed such a thing. However, his discussion leads to how desires and pleasures derived from multitudes looking at a single movie can possibly give this sense of community.

What Fujiwara left out from his discussion is a synthesis of these three items the critic and programmer produce. Fujiwara does not seem keen to suggest anything outside of these three, although these may seem to suggest an organizational function for the critic and the programmer. It can easily be thought for the film programmer, but for the film critic? I guess, for the film critic, this synthesis – the film critic as an organizer – can be derived from his 2nd suggestion that the film critic produces distance.

I’m going for a stretch here to extract a different reading of “production of distance” as the organization of space. This space includes highlighting what’s between cinema and reality. But answering to Fujiwara’s concern over blurring of realities in the neoliberal, global capitalist realm, this also necessitates a qualification of cinema to its own current historical realities. The task of the critic and the programmer to lead social organization need to address the conditions which produce cinematic realities and how they become ubiquitous – referring to Fujiwara’s concern over the blurring between the cinematic and reality – in the same way that digitization of things is becoming ubiquitous.

Producing a community, as the aspiration Fujiwara leads his discussion of the tasks of the critic and the programmer, necessitates the organization of desire. If any, the spatial organization provided by the production of distance should also lead to the differentiation and synthesis of the desire with those of the organizer. This, I’m guessing, was already addressed by the first thing that the critic and the programmer produce: pleasure.

As it stands, this discussion probably made things even grander than it’s supposed to be, but I guess, this is one way where an act organization needs to go. Flatness, as already defined by Fredric Jameson, is already one of the qualities necessitated by global capitalism to sustain itself. And imagining a community to be organized against flatness, to the point of seeming delusions of grandeurs, might be just what we need. But being self-conscious about its ramifications, or even just about its own qualities, do not place organization in being delusional. If anything, this, I think, is the only task that one must do.

Fascism as performance art

The following are the notes I’ve prepared for SIKAD’s activity, Usapang Komyu, which focused on Art and Fascism. All of the citations came from Hito Steyerl’s “Let’s Talk About Fascism,” which is to say, none of these are “original,” so to say, but a processing of local experiences of Fascist tendencies with Steyerl’s observation with contemporary Europe Far-Right uprisings.

***

Fascism feeds on the perceived ineffectivity of politics, most especially of democratic representational politics. “Where representation collapses or spins off into precipitous loops and feedbacks, fascism seemingly offers easy answers. It is the panic button for blocking off annoying remnants of reality.” (178)

Fascism is a politics of comfort. It does not try to resolve contradictions and also do not try to make way to resolve diverse needs of diverse groups towards real economic equality. Instead, it “tries to replace equality by uniformity.” (179). The condition of San Roque is a derivative of fascism: the state does not and will never acknowledge such diversity of life and struggle, and would rather prefer gentrification and privatization of spaces. The flattening of the city. To have the same malls and commercial centers as the other district within the same city. All calls for more efficient government policies on housing are being ignored, in exchange of corporate taxes from places which the majority who will never really need to access.

Contemporary form of fascism is the government hijacking itself to justify authoritarian control, in the guise of “emergency” and “necessity.” Our local strongman play dumb and weak to justify more military, extramilitary and paramilitary interventions. Our local government and other national office officials deliberately wasting public money on useless projects such as film festivals, art fairs and VIP parties here and abroad to highlight the excesses of libertarianism and liberalism, then act as if it is against to it. The president acting against corruption while making high ranking government officials richer from unexplained bonuses and fat cheques while job orders and part timers barely live off their monthly wage. All to generate a populist outrage, while making you feel powerless.

Government’s derivative fascism in the form of performance art.

Economically, Fascism do not stray far from neoliberal economics. It would explain the existence of Salvador Panelo as adviser. In the same manner as the original Fascists of Italy, contemporary derivatives of fascism is comfortable with private profit and are giving more incentives to big business. Neoliberalism – with its incentives for individual pursuit of profit – has benefited a lot with the governments’ implementation of price deregulation and privatization of a lot of industries. This goes as far as the Marcoses, which the succeeding administrations from the Older Aquino to the relatively Younger Aquino continued, that instead of founding national economies, instead of more effective economic policies to support nationalization of basic industries, they opted for total privatization of industries. Market liberation at the expense of Import-dependence and export-orientedness and more imperialist-backed militarized support for foreign businesses. Which justifies below-living standard minimum wage, land grabbing and wide spread povertization of the population.

As a performance art, the Government’s derivative fascism’s form is indiscriminate violence against the poor. From actual killings to forced eviction. The state’s “monopoly of violence” itself has a neoliberal property: the violators are either employed uniformed men sidelining as mercenaries, or freelance killers, or members of “security companies or outsourced gangs.” While criticisms of such killings pervades mainstream media, such feedback feeds positively into government action: chaos abound, and therefore, the need for more aggressive intervention. More militarization. We are in crisis. Fascists thrive on crisis, the same as neoliberalism.

While the acts of “ineffectivity” might seem performative, the implications are real. Real people are being displaced, killed. Real lives being dismissed. Real rights being disregarded. All for the benefit of myths. A myth that all of these will be resolved by a single strong authority. The 3-6 months myth that we are promised to. The nationalist myth, while air strikes and systematized murder are being given to national minorities. Myth of going back to pre-filipino language through the promotion of baybayin while Filipino subjects are being removed from college curriculums. The myth of a national identity outside of actual struggle for nationalist independence.

Like all performance art, it is comforting only to the few of whom the “performers” are performing to. The objects of the performance, being displaced, destroyed, thrown around, being shot at. And like all performance art, it capitalizes on the interesting. Like how interesting it might be for urban planners to displace more community settlements for further corporate developments.

In the light of these, we are inviting all the artists first, to explore the nature of these derivatives of fascism. To have a dialogue with communities which are dealing with these violence on a daily basis. This is less of a condemnation of art but a provocation for artists: in the light of fascism, what is the role of artists? I know, we are all looking for autonomy. But in these kind of condition, is autonomy thinkable? In the same vain as the effectiveness of fascism as performance art, detached from any form of real community involvement, what does it make of our artwork if it is also detached from the community?

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 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.