For example, a set of building blocks with pictures of Marx, Engels, Mao…?
Update: And Giles is first with a design, though I had to get him to swap M.N Roy for his inclusion of Gandhi
For example, a set of building blocks with pictures of Marx, Engels, Mao…?
Update: And Giles is first with a design, though I had to get him to swap M.N Roy for his inclusion of Gandhi
Still a lot to be worked out but OK, why not gamble on FB not even being here in 8 years (as reported in the SMH today) and join this other (maybe nicer) pyramid scheme social networking site. I’m happy enough to say my invite is from Stewart Home – so get in early enough and it might not fall over on you – link page here: http://www.zurker.co.uk/i-226925-yvgyvoykwn
Its a long way from the filthy undercover school cop he played in 21 Jump St.
Turning our lives into sausage factory grunt work and mere value extraction. This is all too common. Before electronic rights became a standard in publishing contracts I used to scratch out that part (eg for my Calcutta book, and for ‘Dis-Orienting Rhythms’ – only the latter is online for free – see sidebar to download – since scanning the typeset pages of ‘Rumour of Calcutta’ is so far beyond me. Later books other people have made available, and I point to them where I can – also sidebar). Increasingly the clumsy copyright assignment thing seems an issue to fight since there is something truly obscene about making people who work for free for large journals, where those journals are owned and run as sausage factory style conglomerates. Having to sign away ‘rights’ – as if that really was the key concern (not all journals are like this and open access is a real boon) is something tenured profs can take or leave, but anyone else in need of a publication for validation and employment prospects, ever diminishing, has to swallow it whole. Or do they? Sometimes I’ve just forgotten on purpose to send in the rights form – but then some poorly paid staffer, or even unpaid intern, has to chase it up. So I am watching this little episode, described by Steve Shaviro below, since it is a further fold on the sorry tale. Follow the post to the original at the Pinocchio Theory site and watch the comments to see if there is a resolution. Good luck Steve.
Here we go again. I was asked to sign a contract for an essay I have written, which is scheduled to appear in an edited collection. Let’s leave aside the fact that I wrote the essay — it was solicited for this collection — in summer 2010, and yet it will not appear in print until 2013. I think that the glacial pace of academic publishing is a real problem. But that is not what is bothering me at the moment. The contract that I was asked to sign, so that my essay could appear in an edited volume published by Oxford University Press, contained the following clause:
WORK-FOR-HIRE. The Contributor acknowledges that the Publisher has commissioned the Contribution as a work-for-hire, that the Publisher will be deemed the author of the Contributior as employer-for-hire, and that the copyright in the Contribution will belong to the Publisher during the initial and any renewal or extended period(s) of copyright. To the extent, for any reason, that the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, theContributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.I found this entirely unbelievable, and unacceptable. Since when has original academic writing been classified as “work-for-hire”? It is possible, I suppose, that things like writing encyclopedia essays might be so categorized; but I have never, in my 30 years in academa, encountered a case in which primary scholarship or criticism was so classified. Is this something widespread, but which I simply haven’t heard about? I’d welcome information on this score from people who know more about the academic publishing situation than I do. But it seems to me, at first glance, that the Press is upping the ante in terms of trying to monopolize “intellectual property,” by setting up an arrangement that both cuts off the public from access and denies any rights to the henceforth-proletarianized “knowledge worker” or producer. I am unwilling to countenance such an abridgement of my ability to make the words that I have written more freely available.In any case, I wrote back to the Press as follows:
I am unwilling to sign the Contributor’s Agreement for my submission to the Oxford Handbook of New Audiovisual Aesthetics as it is currently worded. In particular, I find section 2, defining my contribution as work-for-hire, completely objectionable. I entirely reject the notion that original academic work of this sort can be defined as work-for-hire. I think that this is demeaning to academic scholarship and disrespectful of intellectual labor.
Section 2 of the contract further stipulates that even if “the Contribution or any portion thereof does not qualify or otherwise fails to be a work-for-hire, the Contributor hereby assigns to the Publisher whatever right, title and interest the Contributor would otherwise have in the Contribution throughout the world.” I find this objectionable as well. Even if my contribution to the volume is exempted from being considered work-for-hire, I am unwilling to sign over my own rights to the publisher in this unlimited way. In particular, I insist upon retaining, among other rights, the right to make my contribution available for download on my own website and the right to include this contribution at some later date as part of a self-authored publication.I guess we will see what happens. I hope the Press backs down and offers more reasonable terms. If that doesn’t happen, I will simply have to withdraw my contribution from the edited volume. At some point, the essay will appear on my website for free download — whether because the publisher backs down and permits me to do this, or whether I give up on print publication.Not getting the essay into print will mean that I won’t get the credit (or a line in my Vita) for the publication of an article that I am, in fact, rather proud of. This kind of credit matters in academia — salaries, among other things, are based on it. But as a full Professor with tenure I am in a rather privileged position: I can afford to lose the credit. The same is not the case for academics in more precarious positions — who might well be forced to sign away their rights in cases like this, because their jobs heavily depend upon their publication record, and one additional line on their Vita might make a major difference.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 at 11:37 am and is filed underPersonal, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Trinketization is clearly escalating over the river in Dalston, and I can’t say I disapprove.
I have said before: Shopping is civil war. Here is evidence.
But then, its choice, so do head out to support this venture where you can (perhaps by shoplifiting?)
Point your browser here:
(thanks to Joel McKim for discovering this)
[Thesis five, six and seven (of eleven)]:
5. Trinketization would be a diagnosis of limited responses to global reconfigurations of commodity fetishism, where affect and shopping disguise an unbroken deal with hierarchical social relations locked in, unchallenged. Where class/race/gender politics was, we now have lip-service mockery of these same themes, articulated by the celebrity/televisual machine. The contradictions of news entertainment stand starkly exposed and still without purchase. Participation in conceptual politics is voluntary and belongs to an economy of contribution (Boutang 2009) or the ‘attention theory of value’ (Beller 2006). Here circulation, valourization and expression are governed as the activity of bees – who are dying out, but architectural reflection on this process is in even shorter supply.
The contribution economy is appropriate to a Google mode of production – algorithms are enhanced by voluntary activity of ‘political’ subjects – even ones professing artistic opposition to the system. Accumulated hits (like bees visiting plants for pollen) are aggregated in the hive mind of the virtual. My attention to images accrues value for some rather than other scenes. A calculus of image and attention operates to place some scenes before us and to erase others – the significance of Mao or of the collapse of the Berlin wall would be examples.
Surplus attention, surplus value and conceptual elaboration are the machineries of representation as productivity. It is no longer a case of ‘they cannot represent themselves’ but that they are represented by way of their own activity – the algorithm is Napoleon. In the 18th Brumaire Marx offered this formula as a critique of the little nephew, not an indictment of the lumpen and the peasantry who were unorganised, but a condemnation of the opportunist organiser – that Louis Bonaparte who stood above them as their advocate, while all the time advocating only himself as Queen Bee.
6. Art engaged with politics must engage with institutions – galleries, art books, colleges, conferences – and commerce infiltrates and orchestrates every corner of this quadrant so as to show over and over again that the connection politics-to-market is reinforced with steel. Evaluations of art are then always invested, and self-awareness a false economy, still for sale, worked by the hive-mind. In London, even the most ‘political’ of (art) institutions – the Stephen Lawrence Gallery – which at present hosts a show called ‘Re-Framed’ contrasting and dialoguing between street artists and conceptual artists – stages its own branding niche marketing commercialization for attention’s sake on the basis of the old high and low art façade. Adorno had stressed that these two halves are neither halves of any particular whole, nor either immune to the saturation of industrial processes that diminish them and threaten that secret omnipresence.
7. But what is bad art? What judgement will be made of art when if fails in the service of politics because politics fails and falls short in terms of:
- aesthetic excellence, technical competence, significance, relevance, impact
The most political points made inside a certain frame – gallery, exhibition, border, cartoon – invalidates politics to the degree that it is art, even at its most critical. Billie Holiday only sings ‘Strange Fruit’. Bob Dylan’s times did not a change – and it is no real concern that this jingle now sells automobiles at a time when the automobile industry is in disarray.
Art as decoration is a demystifying containment. Desecration of art contains politics for the domestic. Wallpapers design is now as much a historical condemnation as was Duchamp’s urinal, as Jarry’s Pere Ubu. Merde. No-one even laughs uncomfortably anymore.
Art as insult. The occasions where inwardness or introspection makes for art that exceeds its own containment are the points at which we might be interested.
Back in Tokyo. This time staying in Kamata, which is a sort of central urban junction town, hence interesting. Rows and rows of those little bars, sushi and sashimi shops, yakitori, izakaya (居酒屋) and yakiniku (焼肉) places to eat. Most of them with about 12 seats, especially near the station and west (NishiKamata), but there are some much bigger ones. Its no Kabukicho, but the area exhibits a bit of a yakuza/hostess bar presence, porn shops and the like, but more interesting than the Ginza version of the same where westerners are expected to be looking for ‘special massage’ I guess. Here I’m ignored as the probably lost gaijin I am.
Learning a little more Japanese from a woman whose just flown in from Beijing with Japan Airlines on her fourth trip as cabin crew (not hostess, clearly that is another kind of work). She tells me of the Sakura trees by the Shinomi river (late April I guess) and tomorrow I am going to search out Yazawaya – since Tokyu Hands is clearly the popular more expensive version of trinket heaven, or so it seems.
In the meantime, I am happy to wander late at night in and out of little bars – jazz in one, arguing couple in another, drunken salary men who want to talk about football – Australia’s soccoroos were knocked out of the Asia Cup by Japan on penalties, but Japan ‘only’ coming fourth was a disappointment to these guys. Victory to Iraq and a political intervention by the captain… They agree its something.
The other streets in Kamata are gorged with cheap commodity stores, 100 yen shops, clothes, footwear, camera stores, obscure things where people sell things I probably shouldn’t want to buy. I had a dream that there was a river of fish flowing into Tokyo, given the massive consumption of maguro, hotate, amberjack, ika (shiso leaf), and tako (octopus).. yum yum, but sitting there eating and drinking as the road transforms from a street of wandering drunks to a busy thoroughfare for boxes and bundles – its obvious someone has to carry in all these products too, so the river of fish is awash with delivery vehicles and the narrow lanes with elegant lamps are also multifunction furrows of capital dredging for gold through the worn facades of the megacity (Hi Ryan and John).
From my hotel window in the morning I can see the city centre in the distance (I’m just guessing but I think its Rippongi and the television tower visible there) and directly outside my room a mysterious building with no windows at all (see pic 3). I find these aircon specials disturbing, even as the air outside is clearly particle-rich (notice the haze in pic 1).
I’m up early to seek out the movies of Kon Ichikawa. If you have never seen “Fires on the Plain” or “Harp of Burma” (Biruma no tategoto) you shoul, but for mine his great under-acknowledged masterpiece is “The Billionaire” (Okuman Choja 1954):
“Author: Robert Keser (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Chicago
This scathing satire plays like Ichikawa’s attempt to slap Japan out of its postwar malaise. A hopelessly naïve junior tax collector crosses paths with an assortment of quirky characters, including a young woman working on a home-made A-bomb, a spoon tycoon on his way to the U.S., a poor boy aspiring to become a movie star, and a fast-talking geisha scheming to extort corrupt politicians. A running joke throughout is the absurd overpopulation: everyone seems to have an absolute minimum of twelve children. This consistently original work remains fresh and funny, thanks to vigorous performances and Ichikawa’s precise framing.”
Just started reading Eric Cazdyn’s “The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan” – my copy is inscribed on the inside cover by Eric to Masao ‘without whom… nothing’ Feb 2003 (handwritten – pic 3). Masao Miyoshi is acknowledged first for his ‘critical infectiousness’ in a very generous opening paragraph of the text proper. But I bought the book second hand in Labyrinth New York. Anyway – go figure. Looks good so far – Jameson inspired, only a very brief reference to Kon Ichikawa, but an intriging mention on page 32 of the war films of Shibata Tsunekichi, who at the time of the Russo-Japanese conflict (1904-5)travelled to actual locations to film, and mention also of home made “‘docu-dramas’ (fake documentaries about the war)” (Cazdyn 2002:32) which deserve further investigation. But I’ll need to read more Kanji than I do to cope with that. So it goes. Back to Blighty in a week.
I went to hear a pretty interesting discussion from Irit Rogoff, Florian Schneider and Kodwo Eshun as part of the build up to their Berlin Education Summit. There’s been quite a bit of chatter about this on various lists, which is fine, but this was the first time in a while I’d really tuned in (battling a debilitating sense of we’ve been here before and before and before [for sanity's sake I've disabled the previous three links]). Irit kicked off with comments on two tendencies in thinking about education in Europe, the Bologna Process aiming at some sort of compatibility conversion coherence across degree offerings in the EU countries. The second tendency a proliferation of self-organising Arts School formations, or what Florian called ‘non-aligned initiatives converging around “education”‘. Education here is becoming a ‘model’ for various initiatives, where the key terms are, it seems to me, ‘new methods’, new initiatives, new models, ‘radical pedagogy’, ‘collaborative work’ and proposals ‘to change the terms of the debate away from a purely bureaucratic engagement with quantitative and administrative demands and from the ongoing tendency to privatize knowledge as so-called “intellectual property”‘. So far so good. I guess. The Summit is the coming weekend.
I did not take accurate enough notes at the talks, but I was a little uneasy even where I welcome these ideas and where I have a lot of ground on which to agree. The problem is that when we think of Education as a model, I want to retch for my gum. What is it to promote education as a model in the new economy – creative economy, culture industry – context of the abstracted immaterial multitudinous spaces of net-activism et al? I am not convinced.
Here, for example, a key sentence I would like to discuss:
‘The model of education has become central to a range of creative artistic practices and to a renewed interest in radical pedagogy. As a mode of thinking an alternative to the immense dominance of art as commodity and display as spectacle, education as a creative practice that involves process, experimentation, fallibility and potentiality by definition, offers a non-conflictual model for a rethinking of the cultural field’
Seems to me there are several things going on here. Not all of them thought through as radically as might be. Forget the ‘non-conflictual model’ since this is relegated to the cultural field and we know that class conflicts are not operating there, correct? The ‘thinking as alternative’ to art really does grab me. An alternative to commodified art, though, would be what? Fabulous possibilities distract me – Popular votes on which pictures hang on the walls. The Tate Modern emptied out. No more National Gallery souvenir postcards. Free access, and free coffee, to all museums? No, that is not what is meant – what we have is a renewal of experimentation, creative practices, process and potential. Although interestingly the word ‘fallibility’ cuts diagonally across these invigorating, but you have to admit, fairly standard educationalist terms, I am not concerned too much with the threat this model will pose to commodification. Confined to the cultural field or not, this is, surely, just what the smartest employers want – new thinking, new opportunities.
Rather, it seems, the model of education needs to be rethought, since this kind of modelling is perhaps one of the main ways in which the promotion of education is a promotion of some pretty old modes of thinking. This thinking is smuggled in at the very moment that it claims to be new. A radical pedagogy in a context where education is seen as a good model, is still education that has not thought through the ways this very model operates to train operatives for hierarchy within the cultural economy and hierarchical society at large. Education as a model has not yet thought through the ways education is not simply or unproblematically a social good.
There is another view; someone might be forgiven for insisting that education is more often about affirmations and consolidation of eurocentric, patriarchal, hierarchical class-based, systems of Fortress exclusion. The playground as learning curve, leaning towards the tuck shop, the in-group, the out-group, the fashion parade, the Cinderella School for Creative Types, the finishing School for corporate dining, the Endomol drill surveillance routines, the preparatory sessions for international diplomacy, the wanker complex, the God complex, military formation, alpha drones, beta drones, innovation and incubation centres, career prospects CV padding, cultural studies clubs and Diners’ Club, life skills, open day – these and many more ‘lessons’.
I totally agree that the old collegiate model of Education should not be protected, worn and frayed as it is. But to renovate that model with a ‘radical pedagogy’ without questioning the projected model as model is also suspect. For conflict then. For delinking from Capital, since breaking the divisions between those inside and outside the old model can also prepare the ground for even greater commodification, commercialization. What if we saw education as a Trojan Horse for exactly that old enemy, and then looked for ways to tow the thing out to Margate and burn it down.
“They have something of which they are very proud. They call it education. It distinquishes them from the goatherds” – Nietzsche, I think from the fifth section of part one of Zarathustra.
Kodwo of course then started his talk with anecdotes and humour, and thereby twisted all this around in several other directions. I am not so sure his trip to Mumbai, testing (another great educational game) Mike Davis’s formulas about slums by making a film, will work to displace the deeply entrenched prejudices that slum-talk now carries in theory-circles (see here), but his notion of education as creative sabotage is as appealing as his insistence on talking about Scritti Politi and Luciana Parisi from CCS. Futurism, delinking from capital, creative sabotage, fallibility, the pre-emptive unalignement from models and – did I hear a feint echo – the ruthless criticism of everything that exists (Marx to Ruge) were bouncing around even as the model was reinforced. If this is the way the Summit goes, it will be an engaging weekend at school indeed. All summits need a good saboteur.
Very occasionally (why?) I feel the need to restate why it is that I use the word trinketization to refer both to the dessication of all life to mere commodities, and as a word for a critique of the poverty of theorizing that remains at the level of fascination with those commodities. Remembering that Marx in Capital only starts with commodities to tell us they are the fetished and occulted manifestation of social life – the ‘erscheinungsform’ in which wealth appears on the stage of the market etc… there is a need to contextualize and theorize beyond this mere appearance. Hence 3 volumes of Kapital, and a further 3 vols of Theories of Surplus Labour, and then a subsequent effort of theory via Lenin, Lukacs, Adorno, even Debord (thanks Jeff and Tom)….
So, this trinket thing has been my double refrain for a long time now – a critique of those who stop at commodity (who have only read the first chapter) and who eschew any attempt to comprehend, and change/destroy/kill, capitalism. Grinning at the shiny trinkets ain’t enough – even a theory of trinkets will not be enough, and certainly my collecting them for display is only a first step… So, maybe I should start to gather it all together a bit more. Some early formulations:
In the draft intro to a special section on music and politics in the journal Postcolonial Studies, summarizing a joint article written with Virinder Kalra, we described it as:
“Focusing on, Madonna, an overworked cultural icon, who’s recent Eastern turn has attracted wide attention, this chapter compares and contrasts her trinketization to the diasporic music offerings of a more local flavour. By highlighting the theoretical dead end that all identity posturing postulates, the paper argues for a critique based not on spurious ascribed/described/pronounced subjectivities but rather on a not so fashionable materialist analysis”
This was eventually relegated/rendered in print as:
“a discussion of musical appropriations of Asian culture as ‘vogue’, offering a critique of trinketizing exoticisms and questioning the politics of identity in the context of racial conflict and imperial power structures” (Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1 No 3, 1998:355)
And this sort of line was developed a little, in a critical assessment of dearest comrade Crispin Mills of Kula Shaker fame, in a piece in the book Travel Worlds:
“It should at least be clear that the concern with ‘authenticity’ that leads to a critique of (Kula Shaker style) trinketizing exotic versions of South Asian musics is not one which insists upon the purity of traditional forms or the relativistic egalitarianism of an anthropology blind to material inequality. The danger is always that the worries about appropriation and commercialization are contradictory insofar as authenticity critique may sometimes slide into less savoury valourizations of cultural boundedness, nationalisms and conservatism. Instead, the critique of inauthentic and aestheticized versions of South Asian cultural production should be geared towards clearing a space for hearing the ‘secret omnipresence’ of resistance to which Theodore Adorno refers”.
A still less generous use of the term crops up in an early draft of a piece that eventually made it into our book on Diaspora and Hybridity, but in this case reaching back to my long-term interest in a critique of budget travellers:
“‘Going native’ persists in taking the most mundane forms especially where otherwise intelligent gap-year university students return from their travels adorned with the flotsam and jetsam of the trinket markets of the world”.
Ideally though, there will be better formulations than these. Here from a draft of my chapter in the book Celebrating Transgression:
“The trouble with fieldwork as taught in the credentializing system of the new teaching factory is that it relies primarily upon the assemblage of anecdote-trinkets. Theoretical gestation and contemplation – slow moving – is not well suited to the imperatives of pass rates and research assessment calculation. Trinketization of culture here assigns the politics of interpretation to a place of fast and loose generalities – ritualized reflexive moves that surprise no one”.
The main working out of trinketization as double play was done however in what became the book Bad Marxism. The first version of this published in the journal Critique of Anthropology, in an article called ‘Clifford’s Ethnographica’. Catty it was. Ah well. Still, the phenomenal success of Clifford’s book ‘Routes‘ meant that I figured lucky Jim could handle a few snipes when, as I showed, he got Marx wrong (exchange does not determine production, production determines exchange) and went on about that ‘mind-boggling’ bird of paradise headdress and office tie ensemble worn by James Bosu, as seen on the cover (and cropped, the larger version inside showing James with a stubbie of beer too. If Clifford had gone to visit PNG, instead of a quick sprint through a museum in London – the Museum of Man- his ‘boggle’ might have been less offensive). Anyway:
“The problem is that even if Clifford was not limited to descriptive trinketization in his collecting practice, it is very difficult to imagine how he might want to respond to the complexity of the world. Reading his varied statements on culture, trade, power and so on it becomes possible to wonder what would be needed to provoke an attempt to intervene? What set of circumstances would be necessary to provoke even a preliminary essay on what is to be done? Meekly anguished fascination at the phantasmagoric vista before him seems all we will ever be offered” (Critique of Anthropology Vol 18, No 4, 1988:364 – also appeared in Bad Marxism 2004).
There is more of this to come. To be filed under terminological morass.
Several arguments I’ve had lately have stalled in what I am tempted to call a kind of ‘ontological disarray’. That is, the people I start these conversations with, in affable conviviality (ie in the pub) seem to give up too quick and angry. We each know these are necessarily first moves, so why concede/defer? Is it because I am slurring my words horribly, and threatening to punch people? But I am pretty sure that is not what is going on, at least not every time. Here for the record are the themes:
1. Contemporary art is not revolutionary and smells bad
Artists and critics have merged in a discursive boosterism that promotes ‘contemporary art practice’ as the be all and end all of socio-cultural or intellectual worth. This is at its worst when the boosterism is mitigated by an enthusiastic embrace of, at least a rhetoric of, challenge, critique, interdisciplinarity or conceptual experimentation (these are not ‘the same’). Sometimes the prime pumped place of the artist-critic-practitioner is glorified as disruption, provocation, and even chaos. It seems as if the dilemmas and complicities that stalled Dada and mainstreamed Surrealism vis-a-vis politics (no less than three major exhibitions planned) plots the tempo of the treadmill upon which we are condemned to run forever.
Pirates have been in fashion for quite a while, despite the efforts of Disney and Johnny Depp. Is it just a shallow question then to ask if they are still worthy of our attention? – either as the forgotten first wave of neoliberal capitalism, or as cool multiculturalist anti-slavery activists with boats. This theme at least has a Deptford connection, and appropriately the argument was on the steps of the Town Hall - and was over the work of another of those celebrants of pirate-chic whom I quote here:
“The decade between 1716 and 1726 was the golden age of piracy, Marcus Rediker informs us. The significance of piracy during these years was twofold – it was multiracial and it was against the slave trade. They blockaded ports, disrupted the sea lanes. The pirate ship ‘might be considered a multiracial maroon community.’ Hundreds were African. Sixty of Blackbeard’s crew of a hundred were black. Rediker quotes the Negro of Deptford who in 1721 led ‘a Mutiny that we had too many Officers, and that work was too hard, and what not.’ They also prevented the slave trade from growing. This was the complaint of Humphrey Morice, MP, Governor of the Bank of England, owner of a small fleet of slavers, who led the petitioning to Parliament and who suffered severe losses in 1719, the year that serious blacking commenced. A naval squadron was sent to west Africa. Four hundred and eighteen pirates were hanged. The conjuncture of apparently very distant forces, struggle for common rights and the Atlantic slave trade, in fact met in intimate proximity” Peter Linebaugh in Mute
Linebaugh has a good line on Daniel Defoe though – and we can hear the echo of Marx’s comments on Crusoe from part one of Capital, which is always fun. Here is Linebaugh again:
“Robinson Crusoe, Mariner was published in 1719. The book dramatises the labour theory of value, glories in the intricacies of the division of labour, and puts the European foot (Crusoe) on the African neck (Friday). Alexander Selkirk, the actual person who was the prototype of Robinson Crusoe, died in February 1721 as a sailor in a naval squadron that was sent to west Africa to extirpate the piracy interrupting the slave trade” Peter Linebaugh in Mute
OK, Let’s discuss.
3. Consmopolitanism yak yak
The debate in Manchester called ‘the conversation‘, where I was lucky enough to share the stage with Mary Louise Pratt, descended into something not quite farce. Is the discursive effort deployed to elaborate an equitable global cosmopolitanism worth the effort? I mean, compared to other efforts to organise and institute an alternative to Capitalism? THe conceptual arabesques around cosmo seem very often to rehearse Eurocentric imaginings (Hedwig was right to say: ‘You, Kant, always get what You want’).Is this Kantianism from outside not quite close to a plan that contains cross-border disruptions in a cultural resource marketing regime? I have yet to consume all though, having just bargain bonus snapped up Kwame Anthony Appiah’s book Cosmopolitanism ‘because’ it has a special extra half-size promo wrap with picture and quote from none other than Kofi Annan. Whoa, bestseller! [Thus, more on this is to come - a longer post on the conversation with M-L-P that I have been saving... too lazy ... to write up soon... promise...]
4. “Maoist” Philosophers are hot stuff, shaboody
Alain Badiou as the latest theorist refashioned from obscure secret to the next theoretico-personality cult idol of the chattering teacher-class, as reviewed by Peter Osbourne in Radical Philosophy. I was intemperate enough in my criticisms of this to suggest what those theorists who become publishing fashion (as it has to be said is the fate of AB, no matter how excellent are the efforts of Alberto Toscano et al) are rarely elevated on the basis of their personalities. Rather, the personality cult here is that of the veritable hordes parading amongst the campus seminar cliques carrying aforesaid idols’ books and quoting key concepts like badges. Of course I am not against sloganeering – heaven forbid – but a slower reading and a resistance to the way display table choices shape debates might be welcome. That conversations about Mao, or politics, or borders, or democracy are shaped by a confluence of The Today Show (radio current affairs) and the display of shiny books shelved by author name (in places like the LRB or Tate Bookshops) seems just another sad consequence of the same idolatry because the discussion never gets beyond personal presentation. The latest theorists now, the next ones quick. Shop shop shop. But I am among the worst in many ways – buying books on impulse because of the quality of the binding, because of an innovation in format (Iconoplush!) and other foibles that deserve attention. This is very far from Mao. As is Badiou. Try this instead: Comrade Gaurav at Goldies.
[Pics are Michael Leunig cartoons - from my Saturday paper every week in Melbourne through the 80s and 90s].
I am sort of stuck in my room. Somewhat foolishly perhaps, I agreed to write an entry on Exotica and Tourism for Jonathan Gray’s encyclopedia (getting so there are too many such things about) and I agreed to a deadline of Jan 1st, possibly forgetting that I should be indulging in some tourism myself at that very time. So, while I might otherwise be buying my ticket on this damn cold London day (is that 2 degrees as top temp? Yikes – and yes, I know that its colder in New York…)… I do have to get this done before I get anywhere warmer… so…Help! This is an unfinished draft and it can’t be any longer… all comments welcome, email me or post here. Hopefully most readers are reading from their deckchairs someplace…
Tourism has several modes in which, more often than not, its cultural charge is impoverished. As a huge global industry it spans the world, and makes objects of people, places, meanings and experience. As pleasure- and treasure-hunt, tourism commodifies in several ways; it can be presented as educational horizon – since we have to take seriously the ideology that travel broadens the mind – and this has its privileges; as market for the strange, the curio, the souvenir and the remote, tourism brings all “Chinese Walls” battered and bruised into the guidebooks and snapshot albums of the bargain-hunting hordes. The reduction and destruction that tourism visits on the peoples and places of the ‘under-developed’ world are not the only ills of globalization for sure, and some may make the case for tourism as a force for cultural preservation, as opportunity for exchange, tourism as solidarity and as a kind of charitable aid, but on the whole tourism suffers from a bad press on this what, we sometimes call, our lonely Planet.
Tourist sites and experiences are glossed in promotional literatures with a well known and now instantly recognizable code: sunsets over palm fringed beaches; temples and monuments in jungles or deserts; curious modes of transport – the camel, the elephant, the ‘took took’ or tempo; smiling cherubic youth; feathered warriors or remote Masai women in costumed dance. The adventure of tourism in the so-called ‘third world’ mixes these exotics with pleasure getaways, luxury resorts (swimming pools just meters away from pristine beaches seems clearly excessive); home comforts and promises of safety, running water or fully-catered treks (with Nepalese Sherpers perhaps to carry any real weight; with political concerns safely tucked away in the non-tourist peripheries – alarmingly increasing, as the ‘axis of evil’ expands).
The trouble with much tourism literature has been that it must ignore politics, commodification, inequality and exploitation at the very moment that these matters are the very basis of the possibility of ‘third-world’ tourism in the first place. If there was not a wealthy tourist elite (or relative elite, national or foreign, gap year or package tour) looking for leisured rest and/or exotic experience outside of their everyday world, there would be no tourist economy. In a competitive market the travel brochure version of the world of tourism must present the beach, the pina colada, the ‘interesting’ cultural life of others as a package for ready sale. The educational dimension of culture then becomes benign but empty. Inequality is reduced to cultural difference, and may sometimes be presented as something the tourist economy can even alleviate. In Denis O’Rourke’s film “The Good Woman of Bangkok” you can hear sex tourists brag that their custom keeps Thai women from a life of poverty. In Indonesian hotels the artist of Wayang Kulit and Gamelan, not to mention less salubrious traditions, are maintained through nightly performances for businessmen that pay top dollar for entertainments they need not (want to) fully understand. Or rather, they pay for the experience of difference, of not understanding otherness. The exotic is its own reward – does it matter that these traditions are reduced in cultural importance by the way? Some would argue against such traditionalism, against touching nostalgia for a past that was never so neat.
The benevolence of tourism and charity work
A guilty secret resides at the heart of third world tourism. Holidays in other people’s misery seem inappropriate and yet – the beaches are beautiful; the tsunami a tragedy. This equation can be resolved by charitable donation or by the presence of the tourist themselves. After the Asian tsunami of 2004, rebuilding of destroyed tourist resorts in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia were soon followed by calls for the tourists to return, as part of the reconstruction. Even though many of the needed tourist dollars are not spent in the effected countries when one takes into account the destinations of profits from tourism after airline ticketing, charter and package tour bookings, hotel and food chains (MacDonalds and Coca-Cola all over Thailand for example) and even sale of travel guides, there is a very small percentage of economic return left for local entrepreneurs in any case.
In recognition of this, some travelers (a sub-category of tourist, also known as backpackers) seek out charitable works as panacea; a few days at a Mother Theresa clinic or volunteer washing of elephants at a nature reserve or similar. This kind of benevolence is authorized and approved in many travel guides, and in newspapers advertisements, through the mechanism of a heart-tugging photograph of an (always smiling) child that would be the necessary motivator for even a gesture (‘send just a few coins’) of care or concern for dispossessed human beings. Clearly charitable activities, even where they ‘help’ a bit, are also part of the benevolent self deception of the tourist gaze; serving to deflect meaningful recognition of gross economic privilege and, along the way, turning guilt itself into a commodity form. One does a few days voluntary work in Calcutta (see Hutnyk 1996) to excuse a month of hedonism on the beach in Goa. Similar logics justify the carbon footprint calculations of even the most well-meaning environmental traveler – to walk in the pristine rain forest and leave a ‘soft-footprint’ is still to treat the planet as object for rapacious use. Locals be damned.
Tourists collect experience but we have to have mementos to remind ourselves that the fantasy was real. The same photographs of the smiling kids; various nick-nacks and trash purchased from the local flea market, from the beach trader, from the state emporium or from the airport departure lounge. This trinkets are then displayed on shelves at home, gathering dust, or gifted to relatives and friends not lucky enough to have been there. Postcards similarly gloat and preen. The overarching theme here is that world experienced is reduced to tat. The complex global forces of capital, of work and leisure, of the division of labour and the vast networks of information and infrastructure – planes, hotels, servants, right through to Kodak processing labs and internet travel blogging – is miniaturized in handy squares or convenient packets that can fit neatly into the luggage rack. The idea of the souvenir is reduction itself – the veneer of the trinket, the face, ironically, of exploitation write large. That we have learnt not to read these signs in any wider register is also part of the sanctioned ignorance that tourism authenticates.
But of course we are, many of us, fully aware of this hypocrisy. So much so that the inauthentic has become a part of the quest. Searching out the most gaudy plastic outrageous object proves one has not been duped by the exotica-merchants. To be in pursuit of the authentic is an essentialist trap, but to have continued past this to accept inauthenticity as part and parcel of the world leaves commodification intact. What kind of self-deception is this that extends tourist purchase to the most esoteric of objects at eh same time as it can buy up the mundane? I have seen tourists purchase plastic tap handles for their metropolitan bathroom fittings, or plastic models of the Taj Mahal, with flashing lights, as an ironic, high kitsch, souvenir. The post-tourist irony here (Urry 1990) does not break with trinketization at all, but rather confirms the process, and extends it exponentially.
Trinketization will stand for the process of reifying the world downwards into tat. What the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss lamented when he saw the filth of the West thrown back into the face of humanity has now become the detritus of all our lives, and we can even revel in it. Does this suggest a political diagnostic? The argument here is not for an end to tourism, thoroughly unlikely that could even be considered, but might we look towards the remote possibility of a better tourism, a revolutionary tourism. What of those travelers who expressly seek out meetings with the Maoists in Nepal, who march in hope of a meeting with the reds of the Himalaya; or those who travel to learn from the Ogoni in Nigeria of their struggle against the multinationals? More touching faith in the reed real here…
Trinketization is…more needed here…
… looking for a theorist to say the sort of things I wanted to say: that charity is a way of assuaging guilt; that it would never do for redistributive justice; that issues of representation still matter – but matter more than the those who wrote of the crisis of representation in anthropology could see; indeed, that the crisis – at least in anthropology – led us to a politics without radicalism; that the constant talk of crisis is a substitute for a sustained politics of change; and from there that the anthropology curriculum needs substantial reform; that universities have lost their capacity for critical appraisal of their role; that the current vogue for difference is misplaced and under theorized; that anti-racist work in the university and metropolis is more about avoiding guilt that acting against really existing racism… and all this is also about as “trinketization” – how our discrete studies became fascinated with discrete items, unable to theorize how it all fits together as neo-cultural imperialism. Of course Marx was the theorist that mattered, but who uses him in a way that addresses these specificities? Well, only Gayatri Spivak. Who is the one person I will always read first… [revise or exclude this]
What then of Tourism Concern etc.
Isn’t the solution to relax, stop moralizing against tourism and against those who claim tourism could be better (soft-footprinters). For tourist resorts and pleasure peripheries…
Decaying Resorts and the war of terror
Something on the fascination with the empty resorts should be included here. This writer traveled through Malaysia in 2002 and it was impossible not to notice the absence of North American tourists in that country at the peak season time. Visiting five-star hotels became a kind of entertaining post-ironic tourist exercise, meeting workers barely employed, desultorily pushing a mop across the patio, with the colonial style furniture piled up at the corner of the wide veranda of the resort, only a lizard and a palm frond in the empty swimming pools, and the jungle reclaiming the golfing greens and fairways with more than six foot grasses. Waiting on teh return of the dollar (the yen and wan filling a few gaps now…). Fear of the ‘terrorist threat’ decimated more than Afghanistan and Iraq …
The trouble with making the case that tourism turns everything into trinkets is that a theoretical approach that pursues this line is in danger of becoming a part of the problem as well. The world becomes a kaleidoscope of fascinating sites in the same way that theoretical analysis can latch onto any example and use it for its argument. What would not be subject to post-ironic touristic exoticization. The Guardian newspaper today, as I write (December 20, 2006) reports the Mayor of war torn Grozny planning tourist visits and mocks the idea with the question ‘but will bullet proof vests be supplied?’. Yes, we can imagine how the war-devastated landscape of the Chechnyan city might become a stop on some adventure tour, which might also then take in other ‘dark tourism’ sites, not all of them inappropriate as places to visit – holocaust memorials, Iwo-Jima, former prisons and locations of famous battles (Gallipoli) might also be on the itinerary. To call this trinketization would miss the emotional purchase of such investments, despite the raw fact that investment is also behind the touristification of war. The problem with trinketization here is that analytical purchase is also often reduced to a façade in much of what passes for the study of tourism, as if replicating the gloss of the brochures also amounts to a diagnostic of the global predicament (see Clifford 1997 for several examples of this). What chance is there that travel really broadens the mind of the analyst also?
Alneng, Victor ‘“What the Fuck is a Vietnam?”: Touristic Phantasms and the Popcolonization of (the) Vietnam (War)’ Critique of Anthropology, Vol. 22, No. 4, 461-489 (2002)
Clifford, James Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century Harvard University Press, 1997
Crick, Malcolm, Resplendent Sites, Discordant Voices: Sri Lankans in International Tourism, Harwood Academic, Chur, 1994
Frommers, Guide To India, Frommers Guides, London, 1984.
Hitchcock, Michael and Teague, Ken (eds) Souvenirs: the Material Culture of Tourism, Aldershot: Ashgate
Hutnyk John The Rumour of Calcutta: Tourism, Charity and the Poverty of Representation, London: Zed books, 1996
Jules-Rosette, Benetta The Message of Tourist Art: An African Semiotic System in Comparative Perspective New York: Plenum Press 1984.
Lennon, J. John, and Malcolm Foley, Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster, London, Cassell, 1999
MacCannell, Dean, The Tourist, reprint of 1976 version with a new introduction, Random House, New York 1989.
MacCannell, Dean, Empty meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, Routledge, London, 1992.
Olalquiaga, Celeste, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience, London: Bloomsbury 1999.
Phipps, Peter ‘Tourists, Terrorists, Death and Value’ in Kaur, Raminder and John Hutnyk Travel Worlds: Journeys in Contemporary Cultural Politics London: Zed books, pp 74-93
Urry, John, The Tourist Gaze: Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies, Sage, London 1990.
The Banana Pancake trail. From Cape Tribulation in Australia to Marrakech in Morocco there is the budget traveler phenomenon of the cosy guest house or traveler hostel in which trusted comforts from home are served up to weary travelers. This can be glossed as the ‘banana-pancake trail’ which serves as a shorthand – an obviously gratuitous reference to the ubiquitous back-packer snack – for the contradictory ‘adventure of experience of ‘otherness’ that third world travel can be. In search of otherness but in need of the comfortable trappings of home, backpacker discussion in the guest houses and lodges is so often about where one is from, what you would like to eat when you get back, how the food gives you ‘Delhi-belly’ or similar, the mosquitoes, the toilets, the rip-off taxis. Quite often such discussions go on while the traveller is serves cola or chai or French fries or so by a 12 year old who has worked from dawn, seven days a week, sending money home to the rural periphery that the traveler will rarely see.
On Post-War Tourism: I am assured by the Swedish anthropologist Victor Alneng, who knows these things, that Lonely Planet impresario Tony Wheeler had his eyes set on Afghanistan for some time. As evidence Victor translated from a Swedish newspaper interview in September 2002 the following insights into the wheeler-dealer’s thinking: Wheeler: ‘When a place has been closed there is always a group of people that want to come there first. After them come the large hordes of travellers’. Reporter: ‘So what destinations will be the next big thing, after East Timor?’ Wheeler: ‘Angola and Afghanistan will come eventually. Maybe also Iraq. We were on the verge of sending one of our writers to Afghanistan as early as last summer, but it proved to still be very difficult to travel outside Kabul. Information ages quickly, so we chose to wait a little’. (Translation by Victor Alneng, Swedish text available at http://www.dn.se/DNet/road/Classic/article/0/jsp/print.jsp?&a=56544).
This old graffito favourite (I will post pics sometime) returned to mind this morning when I was rudely awakened by some god-bothering Bishop (Nazir Ali) on Radio Four’s Today Programme complaining in ever so slow plummy tones that something about diversity legislation – vaguely referenced as ‘political correctness’ – meant that some employers were stopping employees from putting up tinsel at work or employees were reluctant to put up workplace xmas trees for fear of offending co-workers of other faiths. This being an issue in the workplace strikes me as ironic and beside the point – as in missing the point by a whisker, but certainly missing. The trouble is – as the BBC went on to explain – they could find no employers who had actually ‘banned’ christmas; that there was no expectation that the churches would not be well attended come the day; and that calls for a return to celebration of the ‘summer festival’ that was colonised by Christianity were not really likely and frankly seem a bit, um, medieval.
Now it might surprise some that I am a fan of old Charlie Dickens, but maybe he did not make the connection between work, money and christmas clear enough when he got the ghosts to work their sentimental magic on old Ebeneezer. At least he made the connection, unlike the radio this morning. Maybe the BBC team were just filling the Today programme stocking with a seasonal puff piece, and I shouldn’t be bothered, but I do get misty eyed when I think of all the misery – work work work till you die, ho ho ho – that is inaugurated with the early years’ induction to capitalism that 25/12 and the fondly remembered fat fool (‘money bags’) entails.
Redistribute wealth in commemoration of the day after – 26 December is Mao’s birthday – instead of this conjunction of church and capital that jingles your bells in mockery of your creative labour – only a few coins left rattling in your pocket, creativity appropriated by the bosses, entombed in a data entry capsule, force fed on stale fruit cake to fatten you up for a slaughter that takes about 50 of your very best years…
Off to the beach then – bah humbug. ha ha ha. (the pic is from Xmas 1962)
Couldn’t resist a nod to the sly humour of these German researchers who somehow managed to get this research project up in Molochville. It has both a very serious mission in the medical field, and a subtly unremarked critical commentary at the level of the symbolic. Of course money travels like a virus. Uncle Bill was way ahead of the game yet again..Ha ha ha.
A bright new moment to soak up your time in the bar. Significations are ablaze, globalisation appears at its micro-moment, culture in a mass-reproduced, absorbent, four inch square: there is no other way to adequately describe advertising other than the ubiquity of abundance – we got it all here, ready to buy.
It would be bad humour to complain of the new gimmicks dreamed up by the marketeers of Cobra and Kingfisher beers, but there are reasons to wonder if the sales pitch of these Indian refreshments isn’t self-defeating. How many beers can a lager lout down before closing time [as it then was] and still have room for a couple more alongside the post 11pm balti. The popularity of a ‘late night Indian’ has been attested to in all manner of cultural style-watch forums – from the literary world of Jeff Noon (Nymphomation) to the Eastern Eye curry awards through to the British Prime Minister’s recognition of the Asian community’s ‘contribution’ to catering. But isn’t this all a bit of a mythology? Doesn’t the equation of Asian culture with brightly garnished and turmeric coloured post booze-up stomach filler mitigate against any recognition of Asian culture as more than a flavoursome trinketizing accompaniment to business-as-usual service economy. ‘Good news for Curryholics’ the Cobra placemat add proclaims. Yet, with humour Cobra beer offers to ‘ventilate your vindaloo’ and with less gas than ‘fizzy Euro brews’ you can also avoid any ‘internal argy-bhaji’. The Kingfisher approach avoids the cheap word puns (formed no doubt through the malicious influence of waking up in time for one or two lectures in postmodern design during third year of ad-school) to tell us that Tikka or Balti is not compete without a lager. Why am I concerned? What can you expect from beer sales publicity? Its just a beer-mat John. I wonder if I am getting too grouchy. No surprise that it reinforces all the stereotypes and clichés, but at least its not a nodding-head Peter Sellers style melodrama… Well, I get all grumpy at the way Australia is advertised too, even at the very same time that I laugh out loud at that Fosters’ commercial with the Kangaroo on skis taking the piss out of pretentious Europeans. The point is not that I’m left unamused, but that the side-effect of these cheap jokes is that everything else about the country is occluded, thus reinforcing all too easy drunken assumptions. And anyway, Australia has a great many better beers than Fosters (a beer company owned by the right wing conservative politician John Elliot). But only to keep to the association of Australia with that symbolic kangaroo (or a koala, or the Sydney Opera House and so on) is to occlude the less savoury realities of that society – its racism, the continued expropriation of Aboriginal people’s land, the profiteering of the mining industry, the war on Bougainville, its growing class privilege and wealth for some, poverty for more, and so on. The kangaroo image is also a way of faking and forgetting the egalitarian element in Australian popular culture, the refusal of conscription, the ‘fair-go’ ethos, and other aspects now lost to commercialisation and cheap sentimentality. India too, is much more than a curry and most people know this most of the time (but not always after downing six pints in the last half hour before the bell). So, if our mass media were no more than just a string of crap ads this wouldn’t worry at all, but these days everything else is sequestered to a few obscure journals, and Sky Sports, The Daily Mirror and lousy billboards call the tune. There is a whole world of politics sitting there underneath your pint, soaking up the spillage.
ps. (‘D’ya fancy and Indian tonight?’ was a slogan used by Outcaste records club night in London 1997)
(from Crash Media 1998)
[the pic is to remind us that none less than V.I.Lenin used to collect German beer mats]
But the real thing is coke. Aren’t you glad that ain’t true. I like those Cola slogans from the past: In 1896 the company’s slogan was ‘Coca-Cola: a brain tonic for women and children’. In 1944 as GIs were marching up the road to Rome, killing fascists and handing out nylons, the slogan was ‘Coke: Universal Symbol of the American way of Life’. In the 1960s: ‘Coke is it’ – wow man. And in an apocryphal story (I guess – its also sometimes said of Pepsi in China) there was a northern Thai dialect that did not have abstract nouns and so everything had to be contextualised – someone’s hope, Miller time etc – and so the literal translation for the slogan ‘Coke Adds Life’ came out brilliantly as ‘Coke brings your ancestors back from the dead’.
Now Humphrey McQueen has a fine book on Coca Cola called The Essence of Capitalism which I’d happily recomend, but I got the slogans from a helpful little text in German that goes on about nefarious links between Santa and the corporation (see the story about the Sundblom ad of 1931; but also see Snopes for a technical critique of the suggestion that Coke invented the jolly red giant who – as I think we could gloss it – teaches kids to love capitalism).
I remember visiting a temple in Northern Thailand once and at a stall inside the temple grounds, selling coke from specially ‘donated’ coke frigidaires, I spoke to a Coke executive who was on holiday and he related the then company ambition to get Chinese Cola consumption levels up to the level of Australian consumption of a litre per person a year. This would then yield more profit than American consumption, which was an 8 Oz bottle per person per day (late 1980s) . I am not sure what is the scarier statistic, the one about American consumption, or that the exec said that Coke’s only competition in China was water.
But most recently the campaign against Coca Cola and its corporate crimes has taken off in India, and elsewhere. And with good reason… As the cat Felix Guattari said it: “it is clear that the third world does not really ‘exchange’ its labour and its riches for crates of Coca-Cola… It is aggressed and bled to death by the intrusion of dominant economies.” (Guattari 1996:238). cited in Souvenirs.
The film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, (dir. Howard Hawks – came out in the US the same year as the Kinsey Report – 1953. First Playboy out then too). It is famous for many reasons, but for me most importantly because it made movie stars into export commodities. This kind of export – crucially, like the arms trade, one of the few with a US surplus relative to imports – refers not just to the face of Garbo as make-up vehicle, as discussed in the now equally commodified Roland Barthes essay; but rather, with this film, the image of Marilyn also commodifies all women (see the Marilyn Reader, and Luara Mulvey’s essays). It makes a cosmetic America the standard model for women in Europe, bereft of menfolk, seduced by G.Is with nylons and looking for alternatives to war.
Cinematic commodification of woman has a long history. The possibly apocryphal story that Griffith invented the close up, of an anonymous leading lady. All the way to: Your Look Hits My Face – Barbara Kruger’s street billboards and The Face, the airbrushed, streamlined mass commodity, glamour puss into todays rent a face model scene (and leave Kate Moss alone, arrest Robbie instead).
So Jane Mansfield and Marylin Monroe belong to those who brought glamour and relief to post war Europe, and did so in the interests of retail. The Monroe thing is not sex, its commerce. Dancing for the Marshall Plan. As Lily Marlene did ideological work for NSAP Germany, Garbo was sold back to them by Hollywood, so now, Monroe becomes the white supremacist’s dream date – but the dumb blonde swaps sex/Love for money/diamonds routine is stale, and it didn’t take Madonna’s tribute to Marylin to let us know she was the Materialist Girl or to emphasize the economic investment of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War.
In the last interview she did for ‘Life’ magazine, Monroe said: ‘That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing and I just hate to be a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something, I would rather have it sex’. But it wasn’t to be – Sex transubstitutes for dollars.
Monroe starred in the Seven Year Itch (dir. Billy Wilder, 1955). The movie starts with a mock documentary voice over explaining that 500 years earlier in Manhattan Indian males packed their squaws off to the hills for the hot summer months.
I am not trying to be funny here, but the obvious sexual readings apply where Marilyn stands above the grate over the subway enjoying the rush of air as the train passes underneath. Curiously though, in this scene she does not look at her co-star Tom Ewell at all, but is rather absorbed in her own pleasure. Tom, publisher of 25c paperbacks, is the hapless male onlooker immediately after they come out of a screening – the film hoarding lit up behind them informs us – of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Poor dim Tom. Laura Mulvey draws attention to women’s pleasure in her essay … here its possible to discern that pleasure again in the somewhat unusual pacing of the subsequent sequence. Marilyn seems to be waiting for more, but not from her leading man. She is looking slightly off camera, as if at an audience, and though on the pavement outside a screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, there should be no audience, there clearly is (in the film documentary Norma Jean and Marilyn such an audience cheers as if at a football game).
Marilyn has explained to Ewell that she will be on television and after a discussion about the chances the ‘Creature’ has for being loved and wanted – a close-up of Marylin then Ewell is seen fixated on her ankles. She looks away.
He says – and I think this is crucial – ‘you sound like a commercial’. There is a kiss, in fact doubled, then a cut to Marilyn walking through the door to her apartment block waving Ewell’s hat as if that previous scene was way too steamy. The apartment upstairs, which we have already learnt is filled with African sculpture, is also hot like a ‘Turkish bath’. Ewell manages to get Marilyn into his apartment with the promise of air-conditioning in every room – heavy innuendo.
He is about to become a duck, a Freudian, an orator and a prude, trying to justify his seduction with psychoanalysis. After all the savagery in the film starting with Manhattan Indians, Turkish Baths, African statuary, he then wonders what he will talk about with Marilyn and speculates aloud about Freud and the human predicament: ‘what shall we talk about … psychoanalysis’ which leads him to speculate that ‘under this veneer of civilization we are all savages’. Marilyn meanwhile, in a syncopated monologue, is thinking of shopping, sleep, being cool, sleeping downstairs… Ewell responds to her not so innocent suggestion with ‘there are savages and savages, but that could be too savage’.
They are interrupted, of course, by the representative of working class uncouth lust, not far removed from the routines of Ewell, who, just as he dithers over the impending sex act ‘there’s such a thing as society you know’ [improbably anticipating Margaret Thatcher’s famous line in reverse]. He answers the door to the janitor – there is a scene in which Marilyn’s legs are iconically registered, and she is described, by the janitor, as a ‘living doll’. Of course the resolution involves Ewell’s return to his wife, after denying the ludicrous idea that he might have Marilyn Monroe in his kitchen. She’s there.
An aside for the publisher. The Ewell character is considering bringing out a book on psychoanalysis by a typically stereotyped German professor. Similarly, in The Big Sleep (dir. Howard Hawks) Humphrey Bogart investigates the death of Geiger, an antique books proprietor, or an underworld figure. In neither case is the book trade interesting enough to carry the plot. Though there is an incomparably great literary exchange with Lauren Bacall:
Bacall: ‘I thought you worked in bed like Marcel Proust’
Bogart: ‘Who’s he?
Bacall: ‘French writer, you wouldn’t know him’
Bogart: ‘Well, come into my boudoir’.
Of course the best scene between Bacall and Bogart has Bacall explaining to Bogart how to reach her: ‘you remember how to whistle Steve, don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow’. No-one can condemn Bogart for having no possible comeback to that line.
Some Like it Hot – another great film, this time with amazing scenes of the gaze, but cross dressing galore, and an ending that even today most film production houses cannot come close to.