Trinketized Morality Fable

It is not a matter of essences or of reductions as such, but the pantomime and the morality tale, the melodrama and the anecdote, as ideological tricks and rhetoric, are condensations with a perverse intent. They reduce for sure, but it is their economy that makes all this worthwhile, on all sides. Codification saturates all areas, trinketization abounds – the message is telegraphed and as a cipher works all the more. I would like to think that the music promo is an ideal form of this, perhaps in an unguarded moment we could suggest this was a little like zen, or a haiku (Eisenstein glossed via Rancière 2001/2006:25), in that its illustrative material offers so much more than it has to explicitly portray. But there is also a critical component to assimilate. This is true of the scene of pantomime terror where Aki Nawaz is presented as the suicide rapper in The Guardian, just as much as it is the strategy of Aki’s own intervention in ‘Cookbook DIY’ in so many ways. There are criticalities and complicities in the format. Consider ‘Cookbook DIY’ again: of all the masquerade figures in that clip, we need only note that the figure painting the graffito quotation from John F Kennedy is wearing orange overalls, thus referencing Guantanamo, to launch an entire argument. It is of course heavy-handed and didactic, but this is why it works. Quoting a US president as critique of the US Presidency. For the record, the graffiti reads ‘If we make peaceful revolution impossible, we make violent revolution inevitable’. This slogan comes from an address by Kennedy at the White House on March 12 1962. Since a source for this quote must be offered, here is one that has a certain resonance, and perhaps also illustrates the point about condensation. Martin Luther King speaking at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 on the topic of the war in Vietnam, calls for an end to all bombing and recognition of the National Liberation Front and calling for acts of atonement ‘for our sins and errors in Vietnam':

“In 1957 a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution. During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which now has justified the presence of U.S. military ‘advisors’ in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counter-revolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Colombia and why American napalm and green beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru. It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, ‘Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable’. Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken – the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investment” (King 1967/2007 [my italics]).

As reported by the Information Clearing House, Time Magazine called King’s speech ‘demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi,’ and the Washington Post declared that King had ‘diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people’, but bringing this forward to contemporary times and the reference Aki makes by way of a simple orange jump suit is all we need for hypocrisy to be utterly skewered. There is no justification for the camps, the torture, the rendition and the interrogations. Condensation makes the ‘defenders of freedom’ [and profit] sweat.

And isn’t that why the clergyman King should be quoted, because the critical irony gets us hot under the collar here, in what Rancière identifies as problematic in Eisenstein’s pantomimes (2001/2006: 27) and also in Bertholt Brecht’s identification of the cynical observer with the engaged critic, where the ‘lessons of dialectical pedagogy’ oscillate with the ‘athleticism of the boxing ring or the mockery of the cabaret’ (Ranciere 2001/2006:30). This is a difficulty with the ‘political’ haiku that infects the knowing critic with an irony that remains toothless without mobilization or party organization, and even Rancière’s SOS call to the ‘Battleship Potemkin’ from the prow of ‘The Titanic’ does not save us. The contradiction pierces the heart of the founding fable of brave egalitarian and free America. Thus, the question:

“what century we live in [that we] derive so much pleasure – our Deleuzes in our pockets – from the love affair upon a sinking ship between a young woman in first class and a young man in third’ (Rancière 2001/2006: 31).

Rancière, Jacques 2001/2006 Film Fables, Oxford: Berg.

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Comments

  • Fowzia  On 14/03/2008 at 7:31 pm

    Is there a fine line between satirical mockery and blunt glorification of crime? In all fairness it depends on the individual perspective. However, in a post 9-11 atmosphere, provocative content can stir a hurricane of perspectives. When Fun.Da.Mental released their latest album “All is War” and perspective ranged from excitement that such an album be made to show the average citizen that the idea of terrorism is not only skyscrapers falling, to others calling out for the incarceration of the lead artist it becomes hard to deal with. I do find it troubling that because a group of artists decide to produce a message, people find the need to call for legal and political action without taking the time to reflect.What Fun.Da.Mental brings in their album is a satirical challenge for understanding the societal definitions of crime (specifically terrorism) and nothing more.

    It is about time people became less reactionary and more self reflective

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  • john hutnyk  On 15/03/2008 at 12:42 am

    Agreed. More self reflective… but that would also not be enough, just as I am sure Aki is fully aware making a video (and accompanying stir in the press) is also not enough given the constant murder-death-kill on our televisions and on the streets of too many places (Afghanistan and Iraq as well as suburban England and hometown USA). Satire makes the point, reflection realizes it, but the next step requires mobilization and transformation – and more than ‘yes we can’ type change…

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