Dystopia Now

Dystopia Now

March 12, 2013 4:40 pm 1 comment

Mark Fisher on the dystopian cinema of 2012:

Ultimately, the Capitol’s domination of the Districts is perhaps most obviously read in terms of colonial domination. In the hunger games, the colonised are forced to celebrate their own defeat and to acknowledge the unassailability of their colonisers’ power. But whether we read the film in generational, colonial, geographical, historical, or class terms – or, as seems best, as a combination or condensation of all these modes – it is clear that Panem is world in which there is Empire but no Multitude – or, rather, we see the Multitude flicker into existence only fitfully, in the uprisings which play only a small part in The Hunger Games but which take on a greater significance as Collins’ trilogy develops.

“Suicide is the decisive political act of our times”, claimed Franco Berardi in Precarious Rhapsody: Semiocapitalism and the Pathologies of the Post-alpha Generation. (London: Minor Compositions, 2009, p55). In a world where domination is total, where power has unquestioned dominion over life and death, then the only recourse for the oppressed is to die on their own terms, to use their deaths as – symbolic as well as literal – weapons. Thus, in The Hunger Games, it is Katniss and Peta’s threat of suicide which checkmates the Capitol. In choosing to die, they not only deny the Capitol the captured life of a victor, they also deny it their deaths. Death in the arena ceases to be a reconfirmation of the Capitol’s power, and becomes instead an act of refusal. Up until this climactic moment, The Hunger Games is striking for the fatalism of its lead characters, something that is all the more remarkable given the personal courage and self-sacrifice that they show. They think like slaves, taking it for granted that the Capitol’s power cannot be broken. Katniss and Peeta have at this stage no ambitions to head a revolution against the Capitol (although this becomes their fate in the later novels). Katniss acquiesces because she believes that confronting the Capitol is hopeless; any challenge to the Capitol’s power could only result in her family being tortured and killed. Poignantly, the only alternative to servitude she can imagine at the start of the film is escape into the woods. (It could be argued that the fantasy of escape into the woods is by no means confined to Katniss Everdeen; so much contemporary anti-capitalism, with its vision of a return to the organic and the local, to a space beyond outside the purview of Empire, amounts to little more than a version of this same hope.)

Full Story: Mark Fisher: Dystopia Now

Also, from his re-appraisal of Cronenberg’s eXistenZ:

To appreciate eXistenZ’s contemporary resonance it is necessary to connect the manifest theme of artificial and controlled consciousness connects with the latent theme of work. For what do the scenes in which characters are locked in fugues or involuntary behaviour loops resemble if not the call-center world of twenty-first century labour in which quasi-automatism is required of workers, as if the undeclared requirement for employment were to surrender subjectivity and become nothing more than a bio-linguistic appendage tasked with repeating set phrases that make a mockery of anything resembling conversation? The difference between “interacting” with a ROM-construct and being a ROM-construct neatly maps onto the difference between telephoning a call center and working in one. [...]

Autonomist theorists have referred to a turn away from factory work towards what they call “cognitive labour”. Yet work can be affective and linguistic without being cognitive – like a waiter, the call center worker can perform attentiveness without having to think. For this noncognitive worker, indeed, thought is a privilege to which they are not entitled. Writing in The Guardian recently, Aditya Chakrabortty (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/31/why-our-jobs-getting-worse) referred to a study of two of Britain’s biggest supermarkets by the sociologist Irena Grugulis. “A trained butcher revealed that most meats were now sliced and packaged before they arrived in store; bakers in smaller shops now just reheated frozen loaves. In their paper, published this summer, Grugulis and her colleagues note that ‘almost every aspect of work for every kind of employee, from shopfloor worker … to the general store manager, was set out, standardised and occasionally scripted by the experts at head office’. Or, as one senior manager put it: ‘Every little thing is monitored so there is no place to hide.’” According to the labour theorist Phil Brown “permission to think” will be “restricted to a relatively small group of knowledge workers” in countries such as the UK and US. Most work will be routinised and outsourced to places where labour is cheap. Brown calls this “digital Taylorism” – suggesting that, far from being engaged in cognitive work, digital workers will increasingly find their labour as crushingly repetitive as factory workers on a production line. eXistenZ’s muted tones anticipates this digital banality, and it is the banal quality of life in an digitally automated environment – human-sounding voices that announce arrivals and departures at a railway station, voice-recognition software which fails to recognise our voices, call center employees drilled into mechanically repeating a set script – that eXistenZ captures so well.

Previously: The Quantified Man and The Rise Of Workplace Surveillance

1 Comment

  • Thanks so much for Fisher’s eXistenZ essay, Klint. I rushed to the theatre when it came out, but was somewhat bemused that this ambitious, forward-thinking artist appeared to have turned back to make a more picayune version of the sort of mindbending masterpieces that had always been his specialty. Fisher suggests to me that the seeming smallness of this story in fact dramatizes the “enlittlement” of 21st Century denizens as tellingly as Videodrome dramatized our current regime of mediacentric uncanniness. Where I had feared Cronenberg was skirting self-parody, Fisher describes how he was being subtly sharper and more surgically incisive than ever. For which, mucho appreciatio.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.