Non-Blind Items for a Safe Quarantine

Repeating some old ideas which still make sense, even today. Below are unorganized notes of thoughts I’ve been trying to organize for days now. It still came up unorganized and I apologize for it.

  1. Honorary fathers are often times weird. Especially, Godfathers.

    Bourgeois history is often concerned with founders, or, Godfathers. Whether or not the Godfather has anything to do with writing that sort of history or not. And with this, replicates the dominance of the singular being responsible for building something that is worthy of being written as historical. Within this historiography established around the figure of a godfather, practices and relationships are established, reestablished, produced, reproduced, and replicated surrounding what the Godfather supposedly has built. It is no surprise that fathers, or godfathers, are often the source of psychological trauma among children: psychoanalysis has long established that presence (where abuse is possible) or absence (where lack is highlighted) causes one’s own trauma. Lacan would extend this on trying to understand the sources of knowledge through codes established around a system, which we can call as language. And hence, the accusation that language (or even “language” as we refer to conventions) and the knowledge we gain which is established from it, intrinsically fall within patriarchy and its looping trauma. In the sense of Godfathers “building” something is the trauma of shame if one does not follow as the Godfather’s example.

  2. I want to tug the concept of “independence” from an old debate about “independent cinema.” The other day, I stumbled upon this post about this debate from Oggs Cruz’ old blog. Bottomline of the debate is that “independence” in independent cinema resides within artistic creation. The blog will link you to an older post by Raya Martin which reaches the same point of independence of form. While the idea is noble, it can be assessed now that the discursive liberalism of the mid-2000s indie commentators seem to fall within the same kind of entrepreneurial naivete that prosperity churches give off their followers which is why it often makes sense to me that Lav Diaz calls it Digital Cinema as Liberation Theology.

    Weirdly enough surrounding this debate on what is indie, there seems to be quite a quiet approval about its non-antagonism and coexistence with the thing it supposedly is trying to be independent of. Looking at the sides existing in the debate, the conscious choice to remain “in the fringes” plays very well for the existence of the center. Like neoliberal economic policies, their notion of “independence” is not ambitious enough to break free from debt: it is precisely their existence that bloats the debt to the center.

  3. I think we can establish now that the real historical “Father” or “Godfather” of the independent cinema is the mainstream center and not some weirdo from Bagiuo.

  4. Talks about educating the audience about “independent” or “alternative” cinema have been going around circles of “alternative” filmmakers and connoisseurs, bearing with them an automatic cynicism of non-ambition to become dominant someday. After all, they need a mainstream to differentiate themselves with.

  5. More often than not, attempts to novelty are exacerbated by identity politics when what is being considered as new is old stuff done by people with fringe identification.

  6. The independent cinema circle of the 2000s has reached a point of collaborating with the center in a very ideal set up: that they are distinguished in style. Despite some people’s disagreement, I think they are living Liza Dino-Seguerra’s and Teddy Co’s wet dream of “one cinema” now. It’s the other end of the string that needs to be addressed now: the consumers.

  7. In pre-pandemic times, watching films at home does not count as watching and is shameful to your cinephilia. It does disrespect to the Name of the Father. Even more so, most of the home-watching activities are considered illegal, because you have not paid for it. Even if you have subscription-based streaming that YOU PAID FOR are not really looked at as a very noble kind of film watching.

    The pandemic and the quarantine period that went with it has finally rendered home-watching some legitimacy, but Father needs to approve of what you’re watching first.

    Then again, what are you watching, really?

  8. To go back to the “independent” cinema and their cynicism. I read of a filmmaker who acts all rebellious on takes but sings praises to the murderers at the Armed Forces due to some sort of charity work.

    Well, this is not new. (the following is a synthesized insight with my friends’ which I won’t name just yet). The “alternative“ or independent cinema in this country has always had this non-radical-radicalism on them (or simply put, “trendy” reaction, or, say, “woke” reaction). I only got conscious of it now that I’m older but I first witnessed this on a lot of “trendy” people from my youth a lot of whom are associated with Philippine indie. Raymond Red has long been openly reactionary and is really anti-protest. I think Jerrold Tarog’s Randian Fascism has always been out in the open. In my youth, there’s a parallel between Ramon Bautista or Lourd De Veyra’s anti-activist monologs and the piling bodies of activist dead and missing under Oplan Bayanihan, while Pangilinan’s Ako Mismo campaign rolled with Bautista himself insulting activists in the ad like a contemporary Duterte Supporter. There’s one short film back in 2010 which is literally titled “we don’t care for democracy”, I’ve yet to rewatch the film, I’m not sure if it’s ironic or not. We’ve now reached a point that activists have willingly become background decorations for a romcom.

    This reflects a lot in their films. Where those who boast “new forms” oftentimes bear with them old ideas. It can be observed in the sense of frictionlessness of a lot of films produced in the “alternative” movement. If you had a chance to see a lot of Mowelfund works, say of Raymond Red, Roxlee, or Eli Guieb for example, a lot of them do not seem to problematize the image much to the point of not generating any lasting affect other than a moment of discomfort. For supposed pioneers, a lot their works do not really generate anything new with regards to signification.
    If you mix this formal aesthetic bore with the anti-radicalism, you’d get the current indie cinema.

  9. Duterte is a really really easy target for them. First of all, he’s ugly and has an “indecent” mouth. His murderous policies are already a given, but you can never see from them a reaction beyond conservative moralism: none of their woke productions has ever problematized the economic and cultural policies they are so much benefiting from and how those support the Presidential murders.

    Now that all the mishandling of this administration is exposed, at the height of the rage weeks ago, the same bootlicker filmmaker questioned the call for ouster, asking for “reason” and “practicality.” And that woke filmmaker told people to “wait a little longer.” Uhm, really?

  10. Cinema after this lockdown will never develop further despite the ecological and microbiological changes surrounding us without a change in economics. The dialectics of charity in Lockdown cinema ensured this: that you’ll never forget the Father. 

Theses on Terrorist Cinema

  1. The greatest invention of the 21st century is not the iPhone, but the terrorist.
  2. Of course, the “terrorist” as a concept has been around for a long time. But it is only recently that terrorism has been translated materially (as an ideological apparatus).
  3. Terrorism is a discourse of the state. Terrorism as an ideology necessarily comes from the state. Terrorism, in post-9/11 times, is the ideology of the state. 
  4. The iPhone intensified terrorism.
  5. Cinema, in the early years of the 21st century, became the main text of which terrorism was defined.
  6. Cinema determines terrorists, the state validates it.
  7. Terrorist cinema started with Steven Spielberg and ends with Kathryn Bigelow. The rest after Bigelow are terrorist post-cinema.
  8. What is seen on TV can be considered as terrorist post-cinema (e.g. Ang Probinsyano, Homeland, Blindspot, your favorite noon-time variety show).
  9. Terrorist cinema and post-cinema’s greatest legacy is the intensification of the reduction of every legitimate struggle and uprising into an “act of civil disobedience” if not, “of terrorism.” This brings the condition where it has become possible that every member of every legitimate organization forwarding progressive agendas to be considered as “terrorists.”
  10. Of course, this has been going on for a long time, even going back to Pre-Cold war times. Which highlights the backwardness and reactionary quality of the Terrorist ideology. 
  11. The government, its military, business partners, i.e. the state of the ruling class (i.e. THE state), being firm believers and theorists of Terrorist ideology can be collectively called as Terrorists in a sense that they believe and theorize the formation and existence of the terrorist as a common enemy of the order. Their apparatuses, whether repressive (military, paramilitary, law enforcement) or ideological (media, educational institutions, other social institutions), can also be included in this collective terminology. (here we will start to distinguish the Terrorist in upper-case T as the believers of ideology against the terrorist with lower-case t as the imagined enemy of the order.)
  12. The ideology of Terrorism does not reside on anything new or progressive. If anything, the theories of terrorism roots from the bourgeois-humanist point of view. War on Terror is the greatest wage for the bourgeois-humanist notion of good. War on terror is waged in the name of the “better good,” better translated as private property.
  13. The terrorist is framed. As in the cinematic framing. Conditions are being set to prepare the audience when the terrorist enters the frame. But before the terrorist enters the frame, the Terrorists define him/her.
  14. The effect of the determination of the terrorist is also metafilmic. The audience of terrorist cinema can now identify the terrorist even outside the movie theater or even when he/she is away from his/her TV set. 
  15. The audience is always invited by the state to participate and become one with them as Terrorists.

Film and Ideology

This note is something I used for my culminating lecture on an Introduction to Film subject I handled last semester. I apologize for the lack of citation, but I have noted from who does the ideas I mentioned came from.


The semester started by looking into the Feature-Length Film as our object of study, with the understanding that film is, by function, a medium that works in producing illusions. Specifically, we looked into how the mainstream film industry, modeled from Hollywood’s framework despite having relative variations, develops its products and practices throughout the years of its existence. 

We have established the following, at least in the context of the Philippines:

    • That the Classical Hollywood Narrative, along with its conventions and styles, is the dominant film language in the Philippines, with years of backwardness in its developments. 
    • The Classical Hollywood Narrative imported the practice of involving genre into its framework. Set of conventions which makes it easy for the audience to determine the narrative that they are viewing.
    • With regards to style, since the Philippine Films has adapted the Classical Hollywood Narrative, it imported also its concern over realism. Realism brings forth emphasis with coherence both in mise en scene and seamless editing. 
    • Realism is a vital part of Classical Hollywood Narrative. Realism lessens the tension between the audience and the film product. Adherence to realism erases traces of syntheticity and of being constructed. Realism is often presented in two ways: mise-en-scene and dialogue. 
    • In the country, we have also adapted the studio system of production – a manifestation of the industrial nature of filmmaking – wherein a film is not just singularly authored but is produced in an assembly-line like way, that it goes from various aspects of production (Creatives, Talents, Logistics, and Finance) to distribution (film studios, distribution companies, platforms, brokers, etc) and exhibition (commercial cinemas, specialized theaters, streaming platforms, etc.).
    • The Philippine film industry has also imported the practice of Star System, which assumes that a film’s success is largely due to the following of the actors that played in it. An actor which makes a film that becomes either box office or critical hit may be considered a star. The star system is a mode of valorization wherein the film’s value is determined by either who appears on the screen, and such, the production is planned with the actor at the center. The same kind of valorization seems to apply too with film directors, but it is seldom that audience identification happens with film directors, which makes it hard to determine whether film directors actually contribute to the “star factor” of a film. 

Such is common practice with industrial, and even small-scale independent filmmaking that it almost “disappears” in the film product. Our craving for narrative and seamless storytelling, realistic dialogue and performances, the fulfillment of spectacular expectations from specific genres, now appears to be natural. But cravings, like desire, are learned. Nothing is natural about these desires of ours for a Hollywood-style narrative in cinema. We became receptive to films which are similar to dominant practices because precisely we are thought to view cinema in this way. To look for films these things, and not the other. This development of our desire for a Hollywood-like cinema came from decades of our practice in watching films. And from these practices, ideological mechanisms are produced, developed and reproduced. 

The production of desire is a practice that happens within the realm of ideology. Cinema is just one of its mechanism to reproduce desire, as what Slavoj Zizek said: cinema teaches you how to desire. Hinting that the role of ideology in Film in the formation of our desire is more in the way it operations than its content. 

To expound further on ideology, I want us to look into the work of Louis Althusser, a philosopher whose lifework has been to describe and make sense of ideology, a formerly phantastic notion, within the realm of material reality. Althusser forwarded two theses on Ideology:

    • Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence.
    • Ideology has a material existence.

The first thesis can be our working definition of ideology moving forward. 

The first thesis implies a sensuousness in the definition: we can refer to the word “imaginary” in the way psychoanalysis uses it. That is, in the realm of images. Using this definition, ideology is then an apparent relationship. What faces you even before “real conditions of existence.” However, due to ideology’s dependency on “disappearance” for it to work successfully, we have always accessed ideology through what Jacques Lacan, coming from Karl Marx, as a symptom. 

Slavoj Zizek defined symptom as “a particular element which subverts its own universal foundation, a species subverting its own genus.” In line with what Greame Turner has identified in his definition of ideology: “Ideology works to obscure the process of history so that it appears natural, a process we cannot control and which it seems churlish to question.”

In our last discussion on stars, we refer to mythologies in the terms of Claude Levi-Strauss as “were used to deal with the contradictions in experience, to explain the apparently inexplicable, and to justify the inevitable.” Myths work to make us believe that there is something within our world which is “natural” and therefore something which cannot change. This does not refer to any point of organic origins, but natural in a metaphysical way. Myth, as part of the discourses, is just one way in which ideology works. Zizek refers to Myths as “ideological Universals”: notions that include specific cases that break its own unity. Most of what we determine as “common knowledge”, “common sense” at present can be said as ideological. However, what we refer to as “common knowledge” is only common in so far as the conditions for the said, “knowledge” (including its learning) is met.  It is in a similar manner that cinema works exactly like ideology: what film techniques in classical Hollywood narrative do is to make it seem that “techniques” are not there. We can say that a good film is that film which erases cinema and leaves out the narrative for you to remember. 

The proof of the existence of an ideology, its symptom, can be found in these instances of the utterance of “nature” or “common sense”. Our social practices bear with its ideological content: going to churches, attending school, finding our means of entertainment. Contrary to what is commonly thought in relation to ideology, it is not all ingrained deep. Most ideological manifestations are often on the nose. 

Althusser identified what he calls as Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA), in contrast with Repressive State Apparatuses (RSA), as means where we can validate the existence of ideology. Belonging to this ISAs are cultural ISAs such as cultural institutions, artists, etc; educational ISAs; religious ISAs to name a few. ISAs reproduces dominant ideologies through the products of its specific institutions. Cinema, belonging to the complex of cultural and business ISAs, more often than not reproduces the dominant ideologies. However, looking at ISAs dialectically, it is also seen that these are also sites wherein resistance to dominating systems is expressed either in a manner that is fully militant or in a negotiated manner. 

It can be observed with the deployment of film techniques. A study by Robert Stam and Louise Spence provides an introduction in the way Colonialism and Racism are deployed through film techniques in classical Hollywood films. They emphasized, however, that the colonialist images in cinema did not begin on Film but rather “it is rooted in a vast colonial intertext, a widely disseminated set of discursive practices.” (Stam & Spence, Colonialism, Racism and Representation). Some examples they made is with casting: the presence or absence of African Americans in films which context should have their presence or absence. 

In the Philippines, colonial imagery can be seen in the way we recognize who should be on screens. Despite the overpowering presence of Malayan or Indonesian qualities in our populace, most Filipino films in the early days are populated with images of Mestizas and Mestizos. Such practices persist up to this day.

What Althusser refers to as “real conditions of existence” is derived from the dialectics between the Economic Base (the dominating mode of production) and the superstructure (the set of culture and politics). The mode of production, in the dialectical materialist understanding, is a social relation. It determines the place of each individual in accordance with the way society organizes them within itself. In Althusser’s historical understanding, the mode of production in 20th century Europe is dominantly capitalist. We can, therefore, say that most of the films produced in Europe over the last century bear with it either practices or belief relevant to the maintenance of the dominating order, or expressions of resistance against it. 

To situate the Philippines’ economic base, it is important to look into its history to determine at what point has it developed in the present. Our developments from the Feudal mode of production from the Colonial Times to the Imperialist plunder during the 20th century to the present provides the Philippines with a very specific development in its conditions of existence. While we adopt the capitalist system in the city centers, the vast majority of the islands are still working under feudal ownership whose compradors are also complicit with imperialist interests. Amado Guerrero from the 1960s has rightfully identified the development in the mode of production in the middle of the 20th century as semifeudal and semicolonial. Since the country is running in the same objective condition economically, it has also affected the superstructure of our country greatly. 

As a direct correspondence with the semifeudal and semicolonial realities, Philippine Cinema has been founded also in the same vein of conditions. Early film studios are founded by Land-owning people, and as such, running like feudal lands. Issues of delayed and below living wages are of a great concern in the Film Industry in the 60s which led to a massive Filipino Film Workers’ Strike. The strike came alongside the Philippines’ development towards more radical movements such as the Diliman Commune and the First Quarter Storm. These developments in the history of the city center bookended what was considered as the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.

If we are to reconsider the films being made by those in the foundation of Philippine Cinema in the light of its ideological function, nothing can be clearer in its semifeudal and semicolonial character than LVN’s first film, Giliw Ko (1939), where we see an obvious preference of the then-new elite with the American way of life over the Spanish legacy, but are both depicted in a light and positive way as if the colonization did not take place. 

In a more recent example, we can see more imperialist pandering in films such as Heneral Luna (2015). If we are to see it in its entirety, the film was never about a nation but its doubt of it. Heneral Luna panders over its brand of humanism (which is just postmodern cynicism coated in words like “humans” and “nature”, hence, a directly ideological stance). But as if it’s not enough to transmit the film’s cynicism and defeatism by just depicting the humanistic errs of each character and pointing the fingers back to ourselves, the film sought validation of its views from Luna’s enemies: America. The merry drunk Caucasians on the pseudo-interview scenes, in the end, are depicted as though they are the only professionals of war between the Filipinos and Americans, thus, it was never complete without sharing five cents from them. After all, the Filipinos are depicted as traitors in this film, therefore, not one word is to be trusted.

In these kinds of dialogue between film and ideology that we try to make sense of a social ideological development we call nationalism. A nation is quite vague, but its existence is within establishing a community formed on a basis of a certain commonality (either a common language, history, ethnicity, etc).  At one point, establishing a nation helped emancipate the oppressed and the colonized towards their own liberation against their oppressors. The concept of a nation helped imagine a scope outside the bounds of one’s limited world. It is in such imagination that Benedict Anderson referred to this idea of a nation as an Imagined Community. 

In film, such imagination also takes place. Some of us call these stereotypes if the imaginations seem to us quite absurd or just hasty. Stereotypes in film help the narrative unfold easier by establishing lesser effort for characterization by not considering the supposed complexity of human identity. In the practice of cinema, stereotypes have been domains of symbolic domination of the powerful over a specific community’s discourse. In our case, as in Heneral Luna or Giliw Ko, it is their discourse, funded by landed millionaires, imagining us – all of us – in a frame which is still contended, but is claimed to be real. 

The dialogue between film and ideology brings us back to the generic function of Cinema’s social practice to produce illusions as a point of synthesis. While we aspire to access what is real, we also get to acknowledge that reality is more often than not, constructed by various agents, and thus, not a homologous space. Ideology is also contended: in the multitude of contradicting thoughts, which one should dominate? And it is within this field of contention that the acknowledgment of cinema as illusion is important: it isn’t a matter of recognizing whether what we see is real or not, but whether or not should we enjoy the illusions that are presented to us, or should we create our own. 

On Postmodernism

These are the lecture notes I prepared back when I handled a Reading Visual Arts class early last year. The actual lecture happened on March 29, 2019. Since this is a lecture note, I did not attempt to add any “new” insights on the subject matter. This is a plain general review of ideas on the subject of Postmodernism sourced from the literature of Jean Francois Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Hal Foster, and Mark Fisher.


“…in acquiring more and more life, machines demand in return more abstract human vitality … Computers, expert systems and artificial intelligence add as much to thought as they subtract from thinking.”

Felix Guattari, Chaosophy

 

There’s a paradox when one attempts to talk about Postmodernism.

But before we talk about that paradox, let’s talk first about the tendencies when one talks about Postmodernism. 

There are basically 2 tendencies:

First, one would believe that there’s such a thing as postmodernism.

Second, one would believe that there isn’t. 

The second would settle to believe that postmodernism isn’t true, and therefore, we must not talk about it. 

The first had the responsibility, and also the sin, of committing the paradox that we are talking about. For one to talk about postmodernism is to define its meaning: to answer the question “what is postmodernism?”

So let us start with looking for a definition.

Jean Francois Lyotard is one of the first to map out the very definition of postmodernity, in his book The Postmodern Condition (1979), as one which defies any sort of definition. For Lyotard, postmodernity, in simplest terms is an “incrudility to metanarratives.” Metanarratives are what he also calls as grand narratives, to which we base our life and the basis of our own meanings, like the Father in Lacanian psychonanalysis as the basis of all trauma, and therefore, the fate of one person. Metanarratives are our basis for truth. For Lyotard, computer technologies and the development of artificial intelligence and machine translation show a shift in linguistic and symbolic production which has resulted in the plurality of language games. At the same time, what happened in the hard or exact sciences in the postmodern turn, was a replacement of the goal of truth with “performativity”. Science now merely functions according to need, not to explore unknown things, or to “produce knowledge”, so to say. But this doing has also shifted our notion of knowledge: the postmodern turn also shifts our idea of knowledge into the performative aspect. 

This notion of performativity explains the shift in visual art by the postmodern turn. Most of the ideas in postmodern art came from a very diffused poststructuralism, which first and foremost, calls to attention to the form. Form, we can say, in the postmodern sense, is “what the piece performs.” Understanding a postmodern art demands this kind of shift in thought: that art no longer has meaning: that art now performs. And to define what it performs is the role of aesthetics in postmodernity. The question to answer is not “what is the work saying?” but “what is the work doing?”

See, for example, this work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L5gIMHZ7_8

The work is performed by Joseph Beuys, entitled “How To Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.”

We will not try to explain “what the work means” here, but to make sense of what is the artist is doing. I think Joseph Beuys also noted the same approach to his art, that it isn’t meant to be “understood” in a cerebral or intellectual way, but more in an affective sense. Which, of course, is another paradox.

As a historical period, the signifier “post-“ referring to something which “came after”, we are noting no actual historical time mark to when postmodernism started, which is to say, there’s no definite time mark when modernism has ended. Some theorists, as the younger ones such as Hal Foster and Mark Fisher, would note that it started in the 80s or the 90s. Lyotard noted that it has started in the 1950s when the projects of European restoration from the war was finished. 

This historical marker is very important politically. As it is when the majority of the world’s economic capital is beginning to acknowledge the necessity to abandon great modernist projects, such as nationalist dominations which have led to totalitarian tendencies back in the war, with Fascism and Nazism. To also prevent another imperialist war, the then-established World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund asked United Nations member-states to abide by a globalist opening of each members’ market for each of the other members, the later-signed General Agreement on Tariff and Trade. The Philippines, recognized as a sovereign state, finally, after 1946, also joined this project.

After restoring what each of the nation-states’ thinks to restore, is the seeming development of each of their own country’s economies. What is playing within the globalist trade agreements, is, of course, the unfair playing field of the liberal free market. The free market can only handle much, the Philippines, of course, can’t compete to the United States and all the other former colonial states’ (which is still under imperialist states’) trade without the help of international debt to support his own trade. And to support the payment of this growing debt, the then-president Ferdinand Marcos adapted the new economic policy of UK in the 70s which economists called neoliberalism

Neoliberalism works in three ways: through further liberalization of markets, privatization, and deregulation

When we say, “liberalization of markets” this is in its literal sense, an opening of the market, to what? To other foreign competitors. The justification for this is the classic supply-demand theory. Let’s see the recently approved law, the Rice Tariffication Law. This law gives more taxes to foreign rice which is going to be imported, at the expense of accepting more rice imports. The rationale of this comes in two: first, to make “rice prices competitive” (i.e., making local farmers sell their rice at a lower price), second, the taxes that will come from this will be used for the development of rice industry. The general tendency of protective tariffs is that, since most exporting countries export surplus, they can lower the cost of their own produce, pay the taxes, and still get the expected profit. They will sell low. While local farmers need to compete with these by selling lower than expected.

Next is privatization. It is the conversion of government-owned companies and industries into the hands of private companies. Late in his term, Ferdinand Marcos was supported by World Bank with a massive loan of $300 Million for privatization campaigns. These campaigns were later pursued and completed by the Corazon Aquino administration with the privatization of the following companies: 

GOCCs

The privatization projects were never completed until the mid-90s, under the Fidel Ramos administration, with the (re-)privatization of the most basic of our industries such as Oil (Petron), Water (MWSS/Manila Water/Maynilad) and Electricity (Napocor/Meralco).

Deregulation is letting go of government control over at the price of a certain controlled commodity. The rationale mostly on deregulations is, still, to make prices “competitive. 

These highly corporate-leaning realities beg for further explanation of its effects which Jameson has provided in his now-classic book, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1989). In his critique of postmodernism, he cites the following symptoms:

    • Weakening of historicity – in the postmodern age, we follow history but not in the sense of a grand narrative but rather in further questioning of truth, or rather it is always posited in the way that truth is elusive. We can site how our pop history brought us to this direction. See how, for example, the fascination over people’s psychological states, or the menu at the dinner (in the case of Ambeth Ocampo), or whether one is involved with a certain person romantically or not is our notion of Historical truth. (Lourd de Veyra’s history chismis). We never really care about the development of society as a whole: on how each change on the way we do things affected our lives in the present. We’re more concerned whether or not the Marcoses had Ninoy killed than, say, the actual violence not just of Marcos’ martial rule, but of his political and economic policies. The breaking of semiotic chain.
    • The breakdown of high and low culture – as we see the breakdown of grand narratives, and so is the breakdown of the formerly bourgeois high culture, and be diffused to what we formerly referred to as the low culture. But not for the benefit of a certain flattening, not to the convergence of bourgeois and working-class cultures. See how dance clubs, for example, formerly of lowly culture, is now affiliated with the ruling class with exclusive clubs. 
    • A new depthlessness – Jameson refers to this in a literal sense. See how postmodern architecture emphasizes on cleaner lines. These are not manifests of minimalism: none of the skyscrapers are actually minimal or minimalist. Back in the day, we are led to believe that we can move beyond ideology at this phase, now that we do not care about grand narratives. That we can explore “deeper truths”. But as manifested in our visual culture, we are left instead with what Jameson refers to as “multiple surfaces.” Really, there’s no deeper meaning on this architecture. Much as there’s no deeper meaning, say, in this illustration: (image of cyberpunk, of “aesthetics”)
    • Waning of the affect – the image-led us to what Jameson refers to as the waning of the affect. “general depthlessness and affectlessness of postmodern culture is countered by outrageous claims for extreme moments of intense emotion”. Most of the time, I encounter this symptom of students whenever I ask them about a certain profound art. They are trying to explain the art in the most abstract sense, but never really reach any sort of understanding. They mostly say that this conveys some emotions, but an emotion they cannot say. As categorical imperatives go, nothing which isn’t intelligible—be it physical or psychological – can exist. These are what Jameson called “intensities”, these aren’t emotions, but merely intensified affects emitted by the visual, but in a sense that it is emitted through a certain lack of affect. Perhaps, the waning of the affect is an intensification of lack. Jameson refers to this lack of emotion in the same manner that a certain kind of emotion is communicated by a Rimbaud still-life. 
    • A general tendency of the postmodern in visual culture can be found in pastiches. For Jameson, these breaking of semiotic chain, of class identities in culture, its surfaces, the waning of the affect, contributed to the “increasing unavailability of personal style.” Since our sense of history, of temporality, has weakened, what now happens is a certain repetition of styles from the past, being revived like zombies. Pastiches are the undead of culture: they are cultural products with appropriated styles from the past without their specific cultural or historical context.

It is in this general idea of the pastiche in the Postmodern that Mark Fisher reflected on the words of Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, and the primary driver of neoliberalism back in the 1970s, when she said that “there’s no real alternative in capitalism.”

See how everything seems to be having a kind of revival. No one among the following artists is original, and they actually are pastiches of old styles: Bruno Mars, The 1975 (note the name), Amy Winehouse, Adele, and most pop artists you can think about who came from the west. Not to mention, the capture of the cinematic industrial complex of the “cinematic universes” which finds its history on whether it can capture a comic book accurately. We’ve become captured nostalgia audience without memories. Of course, I guess, we are excited to see the next season of Stranger Things

Along with Francis Fukuyama’s claim that history has ended at the fall of Berlin Wall, Fisher saw the time from the 80s and later as the time when the future is slowly being canceled. In this canceled future, Capitalist Realism becomes the prime ideology. It is loosely defined as “the dominant conception that capitalism is the only viable economic system, and thus, there can be no imaginable alternative.” It is a kind of ideology that fits into the postmodern mold: it is a project-less ideology that seeks to reinforce and reconstruct itself.

Fisher refers to this quotation, both attributed to Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, to further enlighten what capitalism is: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” Fisher, of course, refers to the dominance of dystopian tales post-911, from the revival of Zombie Apocalypse movies to I Am Legend, to Hunger Games. At times, promising rebellion, but never really to the full extent. 

It is not that postmodernism waived all our grand narratives, a lot are still intact, in fact. Like our conception of competition as “natural law” in the capitalist appropriation of Darwin’s natural selection. Hence, the further promotion of every state of neoliberalism and neoliberal policies despite it bringing us to different cycles of crises until we get a sense of normalized crises. Things can get worse, but at least we get by.

Art, of course, is in crisis. But it is still beautiful. Even if our sense of “aesthetics” has been reduced to one color palette set, we still do not panic. What the multinational and globalist market has given us is this desensitization to crises. Our emotions for panic also wane, as we are consistently in panic. This crisis affects our sense of time: see how fashion forecasts tell us that the next trend is going to be a comeback from the past. Why can’t we think of a future style? Why can’t we think of a future at all?

 

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.

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.