Monday, December 15, 2014

Fight Club: can heterosexual homoeroticism be homophobic?

The more I think about the conclusion at the end of my last post, the more it seems to me that FC is homophobic, whereas I was initially just trying to say that it was homoerotic.  To reiterate, it is homoerotic because of the way in cherishes, even idealizes, male-male relationships, particularly in the experience of the physical struggles of fighting. Moreover, the visual presence of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) throughout the film is continually sexualized, zenithing (if this could be a verb) in his emergence from the bedroom, coitus interruptus, nude from his pubic hair up.  I might even say, although Tyler and the narrator are alter-egos, their relationship does seem to have some romantic suggestions (co-habitation, the jealousy produced by Angel Face …)

I would say that the film is heterosexually homoerotic because although it indulges formally and diegetically in homoeroticism (feeding same-sex desires), it can only admit heterosexuality (men can only touch others when fighting, whereas women can be engaged sexually).  The message is, a woman can be a sexual object, but a sexual object exclusively (not a sexual, beloved subject) and men cannot be sexual objects (except to the gaze …).

But this conflict means that the film is ultimately homophobic, although I would say that it is not through intention but strictly through interpretation.  That is, I think the intention is homoerotic in some sense and heterosexual in some sense, but when one instance of potential homosexuality appears (Angel Face), it is “destroyed”.  Thus, only in reflection does it become apparent that the homoeroticism that is acceptable, perhaps encouraged, in the audience’s perception, is in conflict with the tacit misogynistic heterosexuality of the narrative, and that the result of this is homophobic.

That is really interesting.

The more I think about how this film is idealized by young, seemingly heterosexual men, the more I think it is as hilarious as popularity of the Village People's "YMCA".

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Is Fight Club depressing?

FYI: this is not a polished or even especially organized piece of writing, but develops in response to a Facebook conversation.  Second, I'm talking about the movie, not the book (I don't have time for crap like the latter).   

As friends have pointed out, David Fincher’s dark aesthetic sensibility seems to encourage this conclusion, but I have to say I do not know why.  I mean, the landscape, the milieu, of the film is dark.  It is not a world most people would want to live in, what with continuous fluorescent, bluish illumination.  But depressing is not the affect I’ve ever gotten from the movie. 
As someone initiated in some of the mysteries of masculinity in our country and in our time, I think it is actually a fairly affirmative, encouraging narrative.  Unfortunately, I think one of the things that it encourages is misogyny—and this is not why I think it is not a depressing movie.  In terms of that subtext, yes, it is troubling.  But in terms of the affect that it is trying to produce, I do not think it strives to depress, but to excite and even inspire.
For example, one of those exciting moments appears in the montage of fighting scenes, after the fight club is underway, where the nameless narrator (Tyler’s alter-ego) says, “we were learning things about ourselves.” Given that fighting has a meaning of being a man in our culture, and that the fight club is very inclusive, leveling out class and race differences, such that some of the very men who may have hitherto been excluded from its category (the geek, the loser, etc.) are now included—in these respects the movie is inspiring.  If you do not want to be a part of it, at least a little, I guess I would be surprised. 
Moreover, it seems like the film is enacting some kind of social change, particularly towards financial institutions, which are like the movie industry’s go-to bad guy (and with good reason, to some degree) through this fight club.  That seems exciting, and no matter what your politics are (assuming they are pro-masculinity) I think people are affected by that.
Certainly, the film is told from the perspective of someone experiencing very, very serious psychological problems.  Yet, despite our intimacy with the narrator, I don’t think we feel pity (or maybe even sympathy, broadly put) for him.  Yes, he’s going through some dramatic changes, but they are exciting changes.  And even good for him!

That said, let me address the sexual subtext.  I suggested that the character is “deeply closeted” in one of my comments.  Since I’ve said that, I’ve been thinking that perhaps that was poorly phrased.  I mean, if pace a sophisticated view of sexuality, heterosexual men are simply men who have successfully suppressed same-sex desire, then deeply closeted would mean men that are successfully heterosexual.  But of course, usually when we say deeply closeted, we mean someone that has some genuine same-sex desires (so this is an essentialist view, I guess) that he expresses, although never consciously. 
I guess I think that is what Tyler is.  Tyler/the narrator develops a fight club with other men.  For as inclusive as it seems to be, it assiduously excludes women.  Tyler has a sexual relationship with Marla, but it is not a romantic relationship in fact, and it seems to view Marla as almost exclusively a sexual object.  Now just because Marla is a sexual object (although not for the audience), I do not think that means Tyler is wholly heterosexual.  The reason for that is that he doesn’t really treat Marla like a person, and there is little sense that he respects her in any meaningful way, or even likes to spend time with her.  Moreover, there is a scene in the house where Tyler is taking a bath and talking to the narrator, describing how he would consult his father perennially, after certain achievements, on what he should do next.  And at one point the father say, apathetically, get married.  To which Tyler replies, that he does not think that “another woman” is going to solve his problems.  And this seems to imply that women are part of the problem.  Moreover, lots of the problems with the narrator, from Tyler’s point of view, are that he has consumer desires that are womanly and not masculine.
So maybe I’m saying that homosexual desires, essentialist-ly conceived, are misogynist.  I’m not sure I would want to defend that. At the very least, that seems to be true of the film, namely that to the degree that it is homo-erotic it is also misgynistic.
But there are also parts of the film that express homosexual desires.  One of the subplots that I’ve always found quizzical, is the inclusion of Jared Leto’s character ( calls him “Angel Face”, which I’m guessing is drawn from the book), the closeness he develops with Tyler and the subsequent beatdown that he receives, because the narrator “wanted to destroy something beautiful.”  That destruction is necessary to avoid having to face same-sex desires, as well as to fend off the closeness that Tyler is developing with Angel Face (after the restaurant, scrotum-threatening scene), which is the cause of a certain tacit amount of jealousy (“Why does Tyler love Angel Face more than me?  Because he is prettier than I am.”  This is my imagined narration).
Lastly, what is more homoerotic than the loving gaze of the camera on Brad Pitt’s sweaty, sculpted body, particular when he emerges from the room where he is (violently) fucking Marla to confront the peeping narrator (at whom is he peeping?) and then offers him to tag in and fuck Marla himself. 

Fight Club is not homophobic to a great degree, except insofar as it is unwilling to admit same-sex desires (they need to be beat down).  In fact, as a film (and by this I mean its formal construction, more than its discursive content) it is deeply homoerotic.  It’s not gay porn like 300, but it does imagine a woman-less landscape. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

McCulloch has proven that Wilson must be indicted (among other things)

St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch appears to have gone out of his way to achieve justice, in his presentation of evidence to a grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson on the charge of the murder of Michael Brown.  But only the appearance of justice has been done, and a new grand jury must be convened immediately with a different prosecutor presenting evidence.

Unfortunately, the appearance of justice may confuse many people, even many people sympathetic to the injustice against Michael Brown and many unarmed black men killed by police officers.  For to any reasonable person, it would seem that there is a lack of evidence to convict Officer Darren Wilson of a crime.  There are witnesses that corroborate and that contradict his own testimony and unfortunately, but in some sense necessarily, the balance of credibility will tend towards him. 

But what McCulloch has done is to try Officer Wilson, by himself, presenting both evidences for and against the charge—and that is not what he was supposed to do.

In presentation to a grand jury, and not a trial jury, a prosecutor’s task is much more simple.  That is, all the prosecutor has to do is present whatever evidence indicates there is probable cause to indict Officer Wilson.  He not only is not required to present evidence that might prove the innocence of Officer Wilson, but in fact, given that his job is to prosecute the crime, it would be wholly prejudicial to do so.  In this function Prosecutor McCulloch is assuming the job of a defense attorney in the midst of a trial that would only be possible after a grand jury has returned an indictment.

Thus, McCulloch has actually already done two things: first, he has proven that Officer Wilson must be indicted on the charge of murder of Michael Brown, because were Wilson not to be indicted there would be no reason to defend him before the fact; second, he has shown that despite the evident grounds to indict Officer Wilson, it is likely that, if the case went to trial (and nothing changed with all of the evidence that would be presented there), Wilson would be acquitted.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 5

Fifth, memory is forgetting.  We must do justice to the past, to the horror of the catastrophe of Hiroshima, through remembering it.  We cannot forget Hiroshima.  But the horrible yet beautiful thing about Hiroshima, she remarks, is that Hiroshima will happen again.  Life returns to Hiroshima, reconstruction must take place.  The love lost in Hiroshima, for the sake of love, which must be remembered, must be forgotten.  Love requires both memory and forgetting.  It requires forgetting in its future and remembering in its past.  Love is only memory so long as life is eternal and the objects of love are infinite.  But outside this orbit, love cannot last, because it must end, and because it must be forgotten, so that memory again can occur.  We must forget in order that we are able to remember.  

Apart from the requirements of love, memory is forgetting insofar as it is a representation separated from the truth.  Memory is finite, limited, it is this memory or that memory.  Even the memories of films and language are not eternal and are not all-enveloping.  All of the technical means we have towards memory lose some part of experience and in this loss and substitution with the memory, we have forgotten part of the original experience. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 4

Fourth, “Hiroshima, mon amour” concerns the problem of anonymous memories.  Because memories are the remainders of our experience, the idea of an anonymous memory is counterintuitive.  How can what I experienced become anything other than mine?  Images are representations separated from the truth and from life.  Does not this separation imply an impersonality, if I am my experience, how can I be this memory which interrupts the continuity of experience?  What is more, if memories are bodies and she identifies with the bodies of these survivors of Hiroshima, these memories have a core, it is implied, which anyone can possess.  The image, the memory par excellence, calls anyone to possess this memory.  This memory belongs to no one.

The images she calls her own, of Hiroshima, negate the effect of the images of Nevers.  If Hiroshima is hers, then Nevers is also hers, as it is that of every survivor of Hiroshima—for example, him.  With such justification he assumes the role of her lost German lover, when she shares these memories with him.  But if Hiroshima is not hers, because it is merely images, reconstructed, than Nevers is not hers.  And we must becomes skeptical about the truthfulness of her memories.  She says, I lie and I tell the truth.  What reason would I have to lie to you?  She does not say, I am not lying to you.  We naively assumed, approaching the film that the title “Hiroshima, mon amour” refers to what she says to him.  But “Hiroshima, mon amour” means, my love, that is you, the viewer.   She is one women in 1000 women for him.  She is 1000 women in one for him.  He is both her present and her past and her future.  He is her Japanese lover and her dead German love.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 3

By now, the third problem of “Hiroshima, mon amour” should be obvious, namely, the timelessness of these memories.  Nevers and Hiroshima are memories which are invoked, we might presume, in the present narrative of two lovers about to be separated.  Nevers and Hiroshima are the past and the film unfolds in the present—the future foretells their separation.  But this film disrupts the order which time brings.  Typically, time is the condition of experience, what gives it the semblance of sense and reason.  But we see the future impinges upon the present,
as their separation makes their love tragic; the future makes the present an illusion.  Also, we see, when he becomes the lost German lover, that this loss leads to the possibility that he, in Hiroshima, can be her lover.  The present returns to the past and witnesses how the present nearly never was.  But only this future, this impossibility, allows him to return to her past with her, in the present.

She recalls the moment where she discovered the German lover’s body.  She laid on top of him until he died, until the difference between hers and his bodies disappeared.  She follows him into death, but her death is the death of the mind, madness which is consuming, she recalls, to the point where one understands.  Her madness is an eternity, she says.  She has fallen out of the flow of linear time, discarded in the cellar for the shame she caused.  As well, the time in which the film occurs, this 24 hours of filmic time (90 minutes of our own), is an interruption in the flow of both of their lives (as well as ours), it is a break in the continuity of experience.  It is an opportunity for them to transcend the conditions of their lives: their jobs, their separate marriages.  This is a memory which will have to be forgotten.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 2

The second half of the film relieves us of these troubling reflections and engorges our ludic desires for a narrative in which we can forget ourselves (but now we have simply become the body which is the film).  In the second part of the film we see her recall her “own” memories, memories of love and madness and as such invokes the second of the five problems which “Hiroshima, mon amour” suffers: namely, that all images or bodies or memories are accompanied by emotions, by feelings, and by desire.  

Her memories of Nevers, the other site of “Hiroshima, mon amour”, are troubled memories of youth.  She fell in love, a young French girl, during the war, with a German soldier.  This is an impossible love.  These images return to her and bring anger and frustration, bitter sadness.  She cannot recall these images without emotion.  The image itself is her desire for a past which is lost.  The image, by its very nature, invokes desire, because it is loss itself.  The illusion feigning the real.  But these desires and these emotions are real because they hurt.  He becomes her lost lover and accompanies her through these memories; he shares her pain in this loss, just as he lost her when he died, just like he will lose her when she leaves.

But if the image,  the memory, is loss or lack and is then desire, this puts the images from the beginning of the film in a different light.  How do we experience horror?  Do we recoil from horror or does horror reveal a yearning in us?  She must sate the necessity of remembering Hiroshima, but is this necessity an ethical obligation—what we might presume—or is it because her love demands it of her?  He is her Hiroshima. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hiroshima Mon Amour, Part 1

“Hiroshima, mon amour” begins with images of bodies and this visual metaphor will serve as an anchoring theme throughout.  These embracing bodies are slowly being covered with ash. They grow less and less discrete, almost indistinguishable as bodies.  The skin does not melt or burn with the accumulation of ashes; rather, ironically, it begins to sparkle, almost becoming beautiful.  These are the consequences of an atomic bomb, we must conclude; the return of radioactive embers to the earth.  Just as this image begins to sicken us, these bodies disappear and new, healthy bodies, presumably belonging to our nameless narrators, appear.   How burnt, scorched, scarred bodies can return to such health remains a mystery.  All we see is the movement from one image to the next.  

This visual metaphor envelopes the principal problems of “Hiroshima, mon amour”.  First and foremost, memory appears and returns through the body.  Second, all memories are affective; they are imbued with emotions or feelings and desire.  Third, memory has the peculiar quality of timelessness.  Memory is future and past and present and not in any particular order.  Fourth, memory is anonymous.  It belongs to no one, to 1000 women and to 1 woman.  Fifth, memory is forgetting.  

The first problem in “Hiroshima, mon amour”, that of the memory’s appearance or return through the body, we see in numerous dimensions.  The pain implied in the ash covered skin invokes the oldest form of memory, what Nietzsche says is how remembering was created in humans.  Humans remember what causes them pain, like all animals.  If that is so, there is much remembering in this film, as we are repeatedly treated to images of bodies deformed in numerous fashions.

Our female narrator—whom I will henceforth call “her” or “she”—claims these memories as her own.  She says that she saw them and that they are hers.  She claims these memories for herself.  They become her body—their affective dimensions—the pain they experience, is something she identifies with.  I say this emphasizing that bodies are not things but sites of affection and action, of emotion and feeling and desire.  Nothing says this more than the pain we see in these tortured bodies.  
But if affection and action are the signs of bodies, then our experience viewing the film is the production of a memory and a body.  We are implicated in her lie, her claim to have seen these events.  She had not lived them and so her lover says no.  This is not yours.  But she insists, acknowledging that this experience is derived from the museum in Hiroshima.  The audience is implicated in her lie: viewing these bodies is experiencing that torture, assuming those bodies, bearing that memory.  This artifice is uncovered when we see her on the scene of the shooting of a film.  This illusion is so perfect, she will say, because the memories are the event.  And those bodies are our bodies.  

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Football, the NCAA and the NFL be damned!

No, it’s not good news.

This was the response I wanted to give to the woman at the counter who commented, upon seeing the Penn State mug that I was carrying (my wife’s in fact, because mine was in the dishwasher at home), “good news about Penn State, eh?”

She was referring to the early end of the suspension of the Penn State football program from participating in the post-season. This was one of the punishments imposed in 2012 on the program after discovery of the conspiracy to protect the serial rapist in their midst. And to be proper in speech, that is what this was: a conspiracy. Several men, including Joe Paterno and then University president Graham Spanier, had learned the former defensive coordinate Jerry Sandusky was very likely sexually abusing young boys and had done nothing about it, including remaining silent for 14 years. 

That is a conspiracy.

And their punishment: 4 year suspension of the football program from the post-season and a series of fairly hefty fines and the voiding of all wins during the period of the conspiracy.

But Ms. Coffee-Counter wanted to share the “good news” about the early suspension of the post-season exclusion.

No, it’s not fucking good news.

Joe Paterno took the easy way out and died, while remaining unconscious of his responsibility, as is evidenced by his gall to ask for the suspension of Penn State’s football program not to take place until the end of that football season.  

Now I can easily imagine the justifications these men afforded themselves, about how this was an individual who had been their friend for years and who they well hoped after their admonition (that is, they had confronted him about one incident) would end these activities, make penance, etc.  Perhaps they even imagined Sandusky’s charity did just that.  And to be fair, there is no more hated group of criminal in the US than pedophiles. A group who regardless of the degree of their individual crimes are forever damned and excluded by their society (on this I strongly recommend the film “The Huntsman” starring Kevin Bacon). 

But in fact, they had turned a blind eye to an unrepentant serial rapist, who was a predator in almost the worst sense—that he had no sense of culpability, such that he continually proclaimed his innocence, and that had used his position and his supposed charity to take advantage of the young boys entrusted to his care.  This man was a complete predator and is the person who is imagined whenever the word pedophile is used.

And these men, Paterno, Spanier et al., were worse. They protected the predator, while the latter destroyed the lives of a countless number (because we do not and cannot know how many) of boys.

And for what, for a fucking game in which men launch themselves at each other, beginning a career that will gift them irreversible brain damage and an empty sense of importance and a disdain for more important, more culturally meaningful talents.

And in conclusion, let me just say this: Ray Rice. It's not a few individuals, it's a culture. We need to examine this culture.

And a brief postscript: I am not a perennial hater of football, although I am an egghead and do not follow football.  My wife is a Penn State alumni, as are some of my closest friends.  And I grew up watching Joe Paterno and being impressed, even through the deepest anger of my teenage years, by this terribly myopic man and his skills. He was one of the few reasons I might have had to be proud to be from Pennsylvania.  

Friday, March 21, 2014

Humans out of nature?

Quick answers to the question, how does human being emerge from the state of nature for Rousseau.

1. Society, language and reason are concomitant activities/states, mutually conditioning and enabling.  This means that in society (by which I mean simply human cohabitation) humans have need of language, and without this need they would not develop it. Without language humans could not develop reason, which itself represents a late moment in the development of language, from its initially simply nominal function to a later metaphorical/abstract capacity. Lastly, without reason they would not have the foresight necessary to establish different occupations and the division of labor that makes cooperation desirable (beyond the occasional intersection of interests nullified when those interests are satisfied).

2. Therefore, neither society, nor language, nor reason could be the cause for the exit from the state of nature, because they are as equally products as is the civilized man.

3. If it were the case that humans emerged from nature because of their capacity for thought, then this would negate one of ways that Rousseau wants to distinguish himself from the Western philosophical tradition in his claim that anthropological difference is the result of freedom and perfectibility, not ratio.

4. I surmise that Rousseau thinks that it is truly a piece of historical contingency that caused humans to enter the cohabitation that makes society, language and reason possible. Some kind of environmental event along the lines of a volcano or earthquake.