Wednesday, August 03, 2016

On Capitalischm...and Race

I recently watched the Dardenne brothers' Two Days, One Night, which is as straight-up a critique of capitalism as I've ever seen in a film (note: I haven't seen that many films in my life, so maybe that's not saying all that much?).  It was the first film I've ever seen by those two and if it is any indication of their work as a whole, I'm hungry for more.  There are few things that get to me more than old French Marxists, with their shocks of white hair and their solid, insouciant belief in the primacy of class.

The movie is about a woman, Sandra, played by Marion Cotillard, who is on leave from her factory job (I know, I I said to my friend, "What kind of factory is this? A babe factory?!") (it turns out to be a factory making solar panels), because of her depression.  In her absence, the company finds that they can get the work done with one less body, as business is decreasing due to cheaper solar panels from...wait for guessed it...China.  They take a vote, and her colleagues choose to eliminate her position so that they can split her wage in the form of a bonus instead.  Discovering this information on Friday, Sandra scrambles and the foreman agrees to re-take the vote on Monday.  The malaise of her depression threatens to make Sandra submit to her proscribed fate, but at her husband's urging, she spends the weekend methodically contacting each of her colleagues to convince them to change their vote.

This kind of story, where, as Junot Diaz says the "meta" or the "machinery" is hidden, is totally up my alley.  Sandra's depression standing in for the malaise of the prototypical factory worker under capitalism is an incredibly apt device. The "choice" her fellow workers are given, to prioritize their own material circumstances over hers, is one that capitalism asks of us, on a near-constant basis.  In fact, that choice might be intrinsic to the very construction of right-leaning capitalism.  The conflation of capitalism with democracy (the individual "vote" as the foundation for our subjectivity) is also bang-on.  As the film progresses, we meet her colleagues and understand why some of them made the choice that they did.  Some succumbed to group-think; some are seemingly amoral; some were able to make the choice in her absence, when she was an abstract construct versus when she stands before them in her subjectivity; many are in dire financial straits and the bonus is necessary - they too face difficult day-to-day choices - the Dardenne brothers understand and deftly illustrate the difficult decisions we face under this system.

Many agree to change their votes and when the final vote comes, we see Sandra emerge from her depression, smiling, proud of the "good work" she put in with her husband.  I'm not going to spoil the outcome of the vote, but the film is so smart - by actively taking a hand in her direct material reality, by taking up her agency, she is emboldened and alive.  In those two days and one night, her labour was her own.

Guys, I'm getting goosebumps just  thinking about that.  I love the power and clarity of that metaphor.  I like how tight the story is.  I love how effective the film is.

Shortly after that, the Dotytron and I went to see Zizek speak at the TIFF theatre, as part of this conference that York U (of course!) put on, called Coming to Terms With Film-Philosophy.  Not for nothing guys, but York U conferences are THE S**T.  This is who I've seen courtesy of York University: Jean Baudrillard, Gayatri Spivak, Susan Sontag, and now Zizek.  U of T has given me Bruno Latour, which was cool...but C'MON.  Zizek is a Lacanian Marxist...and well, you know how I am about such things.  I AM HERE FOR IT.  He gave this long, rambling, stream-of-consciousness, very Zizek-ian talk on film that talked about "capitalischm" (as he pronounces it) directly and indirectly.  He talked about Children of Men, a favorite of his and mine, and how he loves it because it is not about sexual productivity, there is no romance, and he lampooned the Michael Caine character for being the ideal of an aging, bourgeois, white, hippie liberal...and well, you should ALSO know how I save my most special disdain for white bourgeois liberals.  He talked about how his nightmare would be a world in which freedom is found through collectivist, democratic action.  How he would hate nothing more than to be forced to vote on everything all the time, like in a co-op, and how his dream scenario would be a world in which an invisible state apparatus took care of those mundane decisions and allowed him the time to do what he does best: write, talk, think, explore things at his leisure.

It was as you would expect a Zizek talk to be.  A little difficult to find the thread, but full of bon mots that speak to me and my praxis.

Finally, you might have noticed that I've been sour on white people lately.  I mean, I've been sour on white people (not individual white people, but white people, The Franchise...does that even have to be said?  If it does...I mean, I probably can't help you and you should likely be reading something else?) probably my whole life, but I've become more vocal about it of late.  It feels good.  There is nothing I love more than the groundswell that is destabilizing and decentering white, heteronormative hegemony.  It feels GOOD.  Let me tell you why it feels good.

Because, now, yt pipo are finally getting a taste of what it feels like to be EVERYONE ELSE, for a hot minute.  To know, however fleetingly, what it feels like to grow up as the child of immigrants, to have people stumble over your "weird" name, to feel a little uncertain that everyone doesn't celebrate Christmas, or camp, or get birthday parties, or know how to skate, or give a flying F**K about the Tragically Hip or whatever.  To know what it feels like to have your existence questioned.  Back to Junot Diaz (and have you listened to that talk yet?  If not, you should!  You really, really should), I'm glad that white people are getting a taste of their own medicine.  "I am white and therefore I am human.  You are not white and therefore I'm not sure that you are human."  To have your existence questioned.  To know the burden of POC who have to know about stupid Franchise s**t AND their own cultural idiosyncrasies at the same time.  

I spent the bulk of my life feeling like not the norm.  In retrospect, that was a gift and has made me who I am, but when I didn't think I could be attractive, when I didn't think I was was hard, man.  Ultimately, those experiences allowed me to cultivate the perspicacity that allows me to revel in the weird and the stuff that's a little outside the norm.  That makes my friends the very best people in the world.  That allows me to find my kindred spirits and love them for their ability to know what it's like to not be that.  

It's just good for the Franchise to get a taste of its own medicine, ya know?  

Basically what I'm saying is: I never need to see a white kid dabbing.  It's gross.  Please stop.

P.S. Lots of catch-up writing happening this week at the cottage!  Keep scrolling because I'm hoping to have a lot of new content up.



Jeff the Chef said...

I just stumbled upon this after searching for ""chinotto" information. (Had it for the first time earlier this week.) Wow! I love your writing - both content and style.

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