We are kids amid this capitalism


Perhaps it is our non-dilemma that we are saturated with mostly feel-good images in today’s “infantile capitalism,” this term tenably employed by Jameson in his reversal of the usual tracing of the capitalist system into three stages (early, mature and late or advanced). Since most of us have “been born into it, takes it for granted and has never known anything else… the friction, the resistance effort of earlier moments having given way to the free play of automation and the malleable fungibility of multiple consumer publics and markets (Jameson 1991, 367),” Jameson’s term rightly corresponds to our generation’s lack of knowledge and awareness of the historical configurations that gave birth to our present.

On the one hand, this is a non-dilemma. That is ‘Ignorance is bliss’ operating on an unprecedentedly shameless and very public way that there is no longer a need to resort to overt slyness. On the other, we can always argue that our being engulfed in this ‘infantile capitalism’ punctures us more strikingly precisely because of this same ignorance, this same lack of awareness of the intricacies of our surroundings. We do not know the implications of buying the Nike logo more than the actual shoes; we do not know the subtleties of thievery in bank deposits and interest rates; we do now know who that guy named Che Guevara we often see in T-shirts and what are the things that he has done; we do not know why men in briefs in magazine covers are scarce compared to their ‘female’ versions.

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Aimless wandering, Hundred Islands, Pangasinan
Aimless wandering, Hundred Islands, Pangasinan

Our kind of play as ‘infants’ in this ironically advanced stage of capital is one that has been mostly prearranged and even reinforced by those who thrive in this makeup. The play we make in Farmville, in our monthly mall splurging, in our bar-hoppings and video-renting is a far-cry from the more essential childhood play of sheer preoccupation with fondling little toys or running in the streets. It was also Jameson who argued that this literal child’s play has by far been the most effective in bridging the gap between work and freedom; a gap that has become more and more agonizing in today’s world where seldom is the case when work is tantamount to offering as a sense of freedom, much more a sense of joy or fulfillment.

Is this fatalism once again and the preparation for the sudden eruption of the luminescent salvation that is called socialism? Somewhat yes but finally no. This is, as what all words are ideally to be taken as, an opening of a discourse, an effort to create a rupture in the current scheme of things. We are all infants and this system toys on us to protect the gluttony of a few. They seem to be feeding well on us; it is always opportune to spoil ourselves, to make ourselves spoiled. This gluttony needs to stop.

The tears are elsewhere in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men


Some time last week, just a few days after I had my copy of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, I came up with this list in Flavorwire. I just finished reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms — one novel I felt like ironically hating after it affected me so much, not only with the ending that surprisingly surprised me, but with the way Hemingway rendered this kind of ending and seemingly going away mindlessly with it, as if rid of the responsibility that he shall have with regards to his works, lest we adopt a misconception of the famous Barthesian death of the author, — and even before I totally recover from the sense of loss that is mysteriously not only vicarious, which I obtained after reading Mr. Henry’s tale in A Farewell to Arms, I read Steinbeck and thanked myself I am not suicidal.

This can make you cry. S do not read if you're severely depressed.
This can make you cry. So do not read if you’re severely depressed.

I do not want to rehash my retrospectively self-interpreted easy simplification of the Modernist temper and all its supposed intertwinement to the anomie-plagued, Darwin-shocked and war-torn period. Although these are very significant details that need to be put in clearer context, especially since I do not advocate the fainting view of the isolation of the artist and her works. What is notable in Of Mice and Men is its selection of the ‘working class’ as its main characters, even going further in making one of them a “huge man” with “shapeless face” and the mind of a child. This short novel is about the buddies George and Lennie and how they built their dreams in a ranch only to see their gut-wrenching collapse. George takes care of the ‘dumb but not crazy’ Lennie who despite being such, George cannot leave not so because of selfish reasons.  We see right at the onset that George is often piqued by Lennie’s child-likeness yet in a world with attenuating companionship; the bond shared by the two well offsets their glaring differences.  George said that unlike most ranch workers, the both of them “got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us.” Lennie, arguably delighted by this reassurance they appear to do regularly, stated the principle by himself: “because I got you to look after me and you got me to look after you.”

They transferred to a new ranch to work in after a hapless stint in Weed and George and Lennie made friends with their fellow workers. Here, George continually made guard of Lennie in order for him not to imperil their stay in the ranch and consequently, their fulfillment of their dream to have their own land which they will fill with animals and wherein they will plant vegetables. Lennie, above anything else, was most excited about feeding the rabbits. Underlining this dream is George’s growing rancor about their condition, a rightful sentiment of workers: “if I was even a little bit smart, I’d have my own little place, an’ I’d be bringin’ in my own crops, ‘stead of doin’ all the work and not getting what comes up outta the ground.” Steinbeck brings into this short novel, via the consciousness of George, the familiar, albeit haunting reminder of a bleak condition that for the most part has begotten a call for drastic change: the ‘alienation’ of the workers from the fruits of their labor, by virtue of their inability to possess them. This condition of course has its provenance in the dominant economic system that is attracted more to the excessive production for the sake of profit than one that is concerned with the sustenance of all.

The relegation of this arguably more important matter to the background in favor of the eventually heartrending end of the relationship between George and Lennie is not at all deplorable. Steinbeck justified this tacit choice with a masterful rendition that can surely leave a mark on its readers, just like it did to me.

George had to kill Lennie after he unintentionally killed the wife of their son’s boss. This George did not without hesitations. Even a few moments before George shot Lennie, they reiterated their rather mushy “we-got-each-other” statement. But in the end, George killed Lennie, George killed Lennie and I want to believe he did it with a pang in his hands and a genuine twinge in his arms and a real blow in his conscience and a huge sense of regret and loss afterwards. Sometimes, I do not want to blame George with what he has done, thinking he was only impelled by his external conditions; but no, most of the time, I want to blame him and curse him for his cowardice, for his not standing with Lennie up to the end. This is what is bad, man. You read this piece of short novel and you want to be in there, in that world it creates, in a world you know is not entirely fictional, be there and change the flow of events and make them a bit more beautiful, a bit more bearable. In that case, Steinbeck mastered me, in that case, Of Mice and Men proved to be a noble piece of work. I try to say it does not swallow me after I finish reading it but it would be just false; it would be just blunt, self-denial. Flavorwire was incorrect though, Of Mice and Men did not make me cry. But Lennie and George is now holding hands with Holden and Gregor within me and my sympathy for the lost, modern individual.

Since now’s the time for summer outings


The camera thus makes a great deal in capturing us standing cheerily beside a tourist spot’s landmark. Encompassing De Certeau and Andre Bazin (“the charm of family albums… no longer traditional family portraits but rather the disturbing presence of the lives halted at a set moment in their duration, freed from their destiny….”) and feminists insisting on the politics of the body, the photograph, with its ironically frozen materiality, serves as a scintillating piece of object that designates our previous, but also in a way, eternalized situation. We ARE in, say, Camp John Hay, or the gondolas in Venice, or in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; we (care of our body) are in these tourist attractions (care of the markers of these attractions, following De Certeau). And this is a plus especially since we are a people who are proud of going to places, of making experiences.

Somewhere sa Burnham park, Baguio City
Somewhere sa Burnham park, Baguio City

Vital lapses of (magnificent) images in Samsara


It is tempting to adopt the view that what Samsara provides us a venue for the ‘oriental gaze’ (in a cute mishmash of Said and psychoanalytic approaches to cinema, especially Mulvey’s ‘feminist’ overtaking of the theoretical dishing in the said medium) to be launched against the supposedly ‘orientalizing’ viewers. Post-colonialists already said a great deal about this, from Orientalism where Said spoke of the West conjuring and valuing the East according to it images and against its own standards, and Homi Bhabha’s concepts of hybridity and mimicry that afford the Oriental the potential to unsettle the power relations established by the West.

Notwithstanding the pitfalls of the dominant voices in post-colonial theory, namely in Bhabha, its appropriation of abstracted psychoanalytical concepts and in general for everyone, the usually susceptible identification of a particular category (gender, class, race among others) as the root of inequality and oppression and hence must be the basis of any struggle, they cannot help but be mentally retrieved in thinking about the experimental film Samsara.

At first, and even though it does not overtly claim it, Samsara can remind us of “The Man with a Movie Camera,” another experimental film, albeit a very early one, that aims to construct a filmic language completely distinct from the language of theater of literature. I am yet to finish watching this latter, although what I infer from it, aside from the usual realist bent purported by most films, is its wish to exist without an overt narrative. There will be no dialogues and characters, as in novels or plays, only sounds and images (including people, which are different from ‘characters’). Samsara appears to be following this principle and it proved to be very clever and ingenuous both in selecting and capturing the images it showed in itself.

The first and last images speak of the communality that is certainly stronger in the East than in the West. The dancing rituals, among other special, if not charming (hopefully not to verge towards an exoticizing tone) manifestations of traditions and cultures of communities say something about the traits of the people in these communities.

Samsara Opening

Samsara Closing

Aside from the sense of communality and the synchronicity and interdependence it carries, there are also the intense concentration and assiduity manifested in the sand art the men were doing inside their temples shown in the early part of the film.

Sand Art

A powerfully troubling transition occurs from the shot of a black woman with hair covered with some leaf (a cultural practice, my girlfriend and I agreed), silently but grimly looking at the camera, to the shot of an Asian superhighway, presumably in Tokyo. This I read as the transition from the more cherished traditional to the contradictory global and eclectic. A very admirable shot from the ‘traditional’ phase of the film is the one that captures, mostly in medium shots and in low-angles, the passing of day and night in a land with nothing or no one in it aside from sculptures of human faces. Many other passing-of-day shots can be located in the first part of the film, and they serve to show the less spoiled places of habitation and the surrounding environment of the earlier, more traditional people: the beautiful and intricate creations of nature, the various rock shapes, the waterfalls overlooking thick forests, the cave-like formation of soils. All these wonderful pieces of nature rightfully precede the ‘gaze’ of the traditional man with some white sort of painting over his dark brown face and a big accessory strapped on his head. He (or she?) is then shown with two others, all of them wearing beaded accessories, all of them gravely looking at the viewer, via the camera. After them are curly-haired, bare-breasted, black women, rich in necklaces, having their way to gaze too. A few shots before the shift to the city were allotted to survey the villages of these ‘traditional’ people, their domiciles and their tools inside them. Then we were transported, hopefully not with a shock after all the perhaps disconcerting images from a ‘distant’ space, if not time, to the more familiar images of the city: the rapid cars moving and making the city twinkle from afar, the ‘robotic’ 8-5 workers among others. An interesting scene here is Mr. Coat and Tie putting off his eyeglasses before disfiguring himself hysterically. These words hardly give justice to the blunt unfolding of the sequence. The madness in the office is made evident.

Mr Coat and Tie

Rapidity comes again in the superhighway and then in gymnasiums and in golf courses and in amusement parks and the same story about the contemporary urban is made crisper here. The yakuzas of Japan, the countercultural emos and punks, the mostly delectable potential of interracial relationships – all these are shown I think as if to add vitality to the multitudinous in the city.

And then we get to my favorite part: the assembly line production of the everyday goods we put in our mouth, we stuff our bodies with: the chickens and cows and the fattened pigs and the microchips that we will purchase in the supermarkets and fastfoods in the form of oily hamburgers or ostentatious gadgets. Here, Lukacs could be smiling wryly, if not dejectedly, with his interpretations getting to live in the flesh: reification triumphs when in the process of our consumption, we are completely oblivious, if not unaware of the process of production which our consumed products underwent. In this production process, there are no people. There are only a mass of bodies with efficient hands and eyes and ears dressed in the same clothes, waiting for the others as they finish their task so they can do theirs. The product is the focus: the color of its cover, the fit of the screws and wires, the smoothness of its grip or the greatness of its size and the people who contribute in furnishing these products to everyday consumers are erased in the process. The disorienting gaze continues, Samsara seems to vow to slap us in the face not only with the images they show but more so, with these gazes from the very people who are part of these images. The Japanese geisha sheds a tear after the barrage of sex toys and the ‘real’ sex toys flood the screen.

Geisha Cries

The men and women in prison from the Philippines wearing the classic orange clothes are also shown looking at the camera deadpan, perhaps taunting and contending with the viewer, largely succeeding in refusing any taming, any interpretation, any judgment. To me, this is where Samsara is strongest, when the people in it disrespect the camera, when they annihilate, and ironically in a very quiet and peaceful manner, the illusion of a separation between ‘looking subject’ and ‘object-looked-at’ made by the camera. When the people in the ‘scenes’ are suddenly elevated from the screen in order to look at the viewer, not only to accomplish a Brechtian alienation effect that should disturb the assumed, lulled audience, but more terribly, following Zizek, to imply that these images are not “just strips of film, hence, not real;” but exactly the opposite: these images are real, they are not just part of a film. These are not just a screen away from the audience; they are all living in the same place as the audience.

After all these haunting, Samsara returned to our view the female dancers wearing complexly ornate and I assume, delicately made clothes. They then did their dance, or ritual, again showing synchronicity and harmony without an apparent effort. This scene made me feel awfully shameful of myself and my culture and the dominant culture of most people. We always mourn the consumerist culture and all its individualist, alienating, profiteering adjuncts and when we see something like this dance, this magnanimous display of sheer collective harmony harnessed in a tradition protected and developed over generations, the sickening feeling of being mired in the present, dominant culture only gets more puncturing.

The film ended with a tracking shot of a desert which I assume to be somewhere in Asia too and I try to refrain myself from reading this as the filmmakers’ discreet call for a return to nature, a supposedly more pristine, less corrupted nature.

Finale

Aside from being a passé one, it misses the entire complexity of existing social and economic conditions that underline everything the film showed. Indeed, images can barely speak, they can barely ramble an exposition; they can only show themselves. This is what I see as one of the major backlogs of the kind of film envisioned and already actualized by The Man with a Movie Camera and Samsara. Images, after all human intervention in the process of selection, editing and all that, when they are flashed in the screen, must not signal the end of the enterprise. These images must speak more explicitly. This is where narrative obviously helps. This is where actual characters, with their implied active human consciousnesses can help a lot. It is through these characters that the audience can be illuminated more and the situations depicted in the film shown to be alterable. This is the biggest loss in Samsara, after all its magnificent, wide array of shots and their various, significant implications, a loss that concerns what I believe should be the primary aims of cinema: an exposition of relevant social truths and the human agency that must continually come before and after these truths.