A nine-minute ad? For a car, for shoes, for what? For both of them and more. No script, or at least, not a discernible one. It's an ad, a short film and a car/skateboard movie all rolled into one. Does it work? 3.9 million hits in four days.
James Victore's ongoing plate project--what began as a single thing has become an ongoing, lifelong project. there is something very primal about black on white. Might start something similar--need a distraction and some kind of artistic meditation.
I knew it wouldn't be long before Zizek waded in to the London riots with his take on the events. Sure enough, here is an essay published in the London Review of Books, Shoplifters of the World Unite (thank you Morrissey et al). He opens with this,
"Repetition, according to Hegel, plays a crucial role in history: when something happens just once, it may be dismissed as an accident, something that might have been avoided if the situation had been handled differently; but when the same event repeats itself, it is a sign that a deeper historical process is unfolding. When Napoleon lost at Leipzig in 1813, it looked like bad luck; when he lost again at Waterloo, it was clear that his time was over. The same holds for the continuing financial crisis. In September 2008, it was presented by some as an anomaly that could be corrected through better regulations etc; now that signs of a repeated financial meltdown are gathering it is clear that we are dealing with a structural phenomenon."
I have read quite a lot about the riots, and have had a surprising number of conversations about them with people here in LA--though sadly they mostly fell into the "do you think the Olympics will be safe?" category, but nonetheless, there is definite interest and concern and more than a little confusion. I must say that my own thoughts are mixed, but I didn't buy the governments--moral laxity/bad parenting mentality---as the defining issues, but nor did I buy the oppositional responses, which seemed equally as unsatisfying. I had seen comments by Zygmund Bauman earlier in the week which Zizek picks up here, that I thought had a more compelling take on the situation,
"Zygmunt Bauman characterised the riots as acts of ‘defective and disqualified consumers’: more than anything else, they were a manifestation of a consumerist desire violently enacted when unable to realise itself in the ‘proper’ way – by shopping. As such, they also contain a moment of genuine protest, in the form of an ironic response to consumerist ideology: ‘You call on us to consume while simultaneously depriving us of the means to do it properly – so here we are doing it the only way we can!’ The riots are a demonstration of the material force of ideology – so much, perhaps, for the ‘post-ideological society’. From a revolutionary point of view, the problem with the riots is not the violence as such, but the fact that the violence is not truly self-assertive. It is impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival."
It seems to me that while the mob mentality, blatant vandalism and looting catches the awareness of the public and the media reporting, and essentially hijacks any deeper reflection for most of us, is not exactly the whole story. It is difficult to connect the dots by analysing the events as stand alone occurrences, I think things are inter-related and interconnected, and that a spark, in this case perhaps, the protest over the shooting in London, becomes a signifier, a marker, or a catalyst for the more explosive and, thus far, restrained issues which lie dormant below the cultural surface. It seems to be that all public protest and demonstration is marked by layers of engagement and involvement, from the criminal to the ideological-it is to easy to adopt an ideological position that inadequately addresses what is really going on. Again, Zizek has this to say,
"The first conclusion to be drawn from the riots, therefore, is that both conservative and liberal reactions to the unrest are inadequate. The conservative reaction was predictable: there is no justification for such vandalism; one should use all necessary means to restore order; to prevent further explosions of this kind we need not more tolerance and social help but more discipline, hard work and a sense of responsibility. What’s wrong with this account is not only that it ignores the desperate social situation pushing young people towards violent outbursts but, perhaps more important, that it ignores the way these outbursts echo the hidden premises of conservative ideology itself. When, in the 1990s, the Conservatives launched their ‘back to basics’ campaign, its obscene complement was revealed by Norman Tebbitt: ‘Man is not just a social but also a territorial animal; it must be part of our agenda to satisfy those basic instincts of tribalism and territoriality.’ This is what ‘back to basics’ was really about: the unleashing of the barbarian who lurked beneath our apparently civilised, bourgeois society, through the satisfying of the barbarian’s ‘basic instincts’. In the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse introduced the concept of ‘repressive desublimation’ to explain the ‘sexual revolution’: human drives could be desublimated, allowed free rein, and still be subject to capitalist control – viz, the porn industry. On British streets during the unrest, what we saw was not men reduced to ‘beasts’, but the stripped-down form of the ‘beast’ produced by capitalist ideology.
Meanwhile leftist liberals, no less predictably, stuck to their mantra about social programmes and integration initiatives, the neglect of which has deprived second and third-generation immigrants of their economic and social prospects: violent outbursts are the only means they have to articulate their dissatisfaction. Instead of indulging ourselves in revenge fantasies, we should make the effort to understand the deeper causes of the outbursts. Can we even imagine what it means to be a young man in a poor, racially mixed area, a priori suspected and harassed by the police, not only unemployed but often unemployable, with no hope of a future? The implication is that the conditions these people find themselves in make it inevitable that they will take to the streets. The problem with this account, though, is that it lists only the objective conditions for the riots. To riot is to make a subjective statement, implicitly to declare how one relates to one’s objective conditions."
The entire essay is well worth the read. From a theological perspective the riots are both a reminder and an opportunity. They are a reminder that positional platitude is not enough in this day and age, that locating oneself on a binary continuum (conservative/liberal), and essentially spewing the party line for these kinds of social events, is not enough. It is an opportunity, and here I take a lead from Zizek. He argues, rightly I think, that the violence should be understood as an admission of impotence--an admission of disempowerment and marginalization if you will. Well if that is not a central theological theme to be addressed I don't know what is.
Theology for me today has to be framed in a some new definitions and its intentions understood within the new contexts of our world. Kathryn Tanner makes this claim,
"Theologians are now primarily called to provide not a theoretical argument for Christianity’s plausibility, but an account of how Christianity can be part of the solution—rather than part of the problem—on matters that make a life-and-death difference to people, especially the poor and the oppressed."
Part of the solution not part of the problem--wading in with moral arguments is not the answer here, and it should be avoided at all costs I feel. The opportunity presented by the riots, is an opportunity for self-reflection first--critiquing the systems that have brought us to this place is one thing--voicing an alternative way of life, and more importantly, living it, is of higher importance I think.
In this regard I think Kester has some ideas brewing that might prove helpful. His pirate-work has something for us all to learn from I think and I am contemplating it in the light of these events.
Cool sounds from Tuareg musicians Tinawiren, with a little help from the electric guitar-Wilco and TV on the Radio on their forthcoming album Tissili. I am hoping to make a pilgrimage to the deserts of Mali in the New Year and these guys might be on the bill--how cool would that be?! Below is a little 'making of' video that's also very cool.