The slaughter of excess paragraphs and cul de sac ideas continues to leave this residue here in case I need to return…
There are several admirable reasons for leaving aside the conventions of contemporary film scholarship in favour of any development looking askance at the established discourse. Much of recent Euro-American film writing seems moribund, a routine formulaic of not exactly creative ambition. What escapes the old routines and presents itself as new – affective film, ubiquitous media, confessional personal contradictorily shallow self-exposure – seems to sidestep both traditions of scholarship and engaged politics. This leaves film studies at a point where any moves contemplated by a genuinely mobilised leftist population will too easily be recuperated and assimilated while effete intellectual posturing flounces about in pompous self-regard. Unless the adoption of robust work can break the circuit of self-referentiality and the same old authors citing the same old tomes, the result will mean only waiting, watching, and wasting away.
Courting foreign markets, scenes from abroad and increasingly co-production deals, although buttressed by a strong spectator-citizen base in the subcontinent, increasingly valuing the ticketing and advertising dividend of international viewers, the travels of cinema offer yet an untapped conscious political infiltration of unprecedented promise.
A furtive, underground, unconscious and melodramatic possibility is waiting, ready to crack its shell and burst integumentally from the storytelling machine, a moral machine, governed by Scheherazade from the start (Thomas 2014). It is no accident, though surely not intended, that we can discern a progression from an open and multi-directional marketplace to the walled-in privatised fortress compound of commercial, colonial, control. After so long under the corral of media enclosure, it now seems possible to reach forward from the neutral distraction machine and backwards to an older market-festival arrangement, and make a break with the containment…
[ha – guess which film I am no longer going to say this about:]
While this was not a hugely successful film, perhaps this is because the problem and its scenarios were handled in a somewhat timid and tepid way…
…and indeed the resolution tenuously turned back to the origins which had promised so much.
In terms of the technological, it is recognised, including in funded programmes perhaps too readily, but without doubt with great anticipation, that behind commentators’ statistical recitation of how many South Asian youth under 30 years old speaking English have mobile phones, the reach of digital capital into culture is unprecedented.
Taking a cue from debates in South Asian film and television studies, we can see that the technological register of commercial cultural industry activities of British youth show a quaint early adoption and quick adaptation to technologies that arrive as if from nowhere. They never come from nowhere of course, but they do seem to reach everywhere. The flexibility of youth and their ability to code-switch their attentive registers in rapid time is surely remarkable – but perhaps only to old codger analysts who are not quite as adept at setting up the VCR timer as they thought they were. But relate this to Siegfried Kracauer’s study of the Ziegfeld follies, and the film-going activities of ‘little shop girls’ who go to the movies after office work, and it suggests the beginnings of a perspective that sees the allegorical as material for a diagnosis of cultural fissures and where there are cultural fissures you then see transformation and change. The dynamics here, of course, are also in sway to advertisers and entrepreneurs who love to pounce on a next big thing, and the saturation of the new that enters daily life pushing aside traditions handed down from parents, which are sometimes quite sound if populist variants of socialism and practical working out of equalities, and indeed opposed to seeing the cultural coherence of whole communities turned toward brand identification and new shopping malls etc., – all this leaves one wondering at psychological pressures and the expression, and indeed manipulation, of desire is an incurable affliction of the system…
It is my conceit that the demagogues of diminished intellect can only ever talk of a few films, and in this chapter really there were just three, but this was a forced and fake necessity, and should we never admit our choices simply cannot stand in for them all – even if every sociology, like every allegory, and all words, lusting after anecdotes, is partial to gossip and has serious limits of philosophical, representational, constraints – rarely acknowledged. In the films under discussion in this chapter, there is blood, for example. On screen, in the remakes of these films, blood is red; it explodes and spreads like a stain. In real life, blood is never so red, and never so blue, as in the movie world. The reality of violence, whether racist attacks in London suburbs, or death squad beheadings in Libya, Syria, Yemen etc., is mediated in full colour, with the work of the secret services exposed, it is a gaudy shade of crime. This requires consideration as to the degree a staged violence, even when real, is translated in coded terms for culture industry consumption and what this consumer marketing does to affective and political sensibilities? Here, technology, audiences, ideology, psychology, affect and care converge in the chance to bring a creative, grinning, pleasure that takes hours out of the reproductive process as merely a way to repair the family, repair the self, or reconcile the self to the further engorging of surplus production, or its calculated transmutation into further opportunities to enjoy being together.
It is to easy to turn this experiment into a mockery of the extravagant claims of any film and television studies that examines a tiny proportion of the production of ‘a culture’ – as if there was a containment ring bounded around cultural forms in any way that makes sense. A thousand films per year you say, let alone considering the ethnographic reportage that links up and connects with the convoluted apparatus of the industry, the songs, magazines, popcorn sellers and distribution, production, agents, dreams. To get a handle on any cultural formation seems absurd at scale. Which leaves the allegorical designation wanting unless it is recognised as a strategically deployed interpretative intervention. Itself often the worst kind of scholarship is to ‘intervene’ in a debate, to make an interjection with the assumption that others will stop what they’re doing, listen, and change according to your wise points. Happy is the scholar who succeeds there without an inevitable ego overcooked meltdown immediately afterwards.
The perverse fortunes of Kureishi’s Omar on arrival in the House of Lords.
Palin plays comic in the sky, the Maoists have wider aspirations on the ground.
we can see the depth and stakes of the struggle. If some of the old elites had provided a buffer from an even more recalcitrant neo-fascist imperialism, that condition is now a leadership question with which there must be a reckoning. NATO and the US/UK military alliance playing political ‘great games’ with Asia as a target requires a political program that would certainly endorse Prashad’s principles for a new Southern Commission, but the organisation of such gains requires more than meetings in the central square and a few celebrity television endorsements. Using watchwords like social justice and imagination, Prashad declares in favour of ‘the principle of universal access by every person to certain basic needs – food, healthcare, employment, social security and so on’. He articulates a path towards this through ‘Land reform’ and ‘control over industrial processes’ (Prashad 2012: 290) so as to be able to introduce a universal ‘social wage’ and engage with the ‘creation of public goods’ without which ‘it is doubtful if any solution to the climate catastrophe can be envisaged’ (Prashad 2012: 291).
[Yup, but cut]
The book was written and written over, with conjectural concerns and shifting uncertitude. This can only be a record of trying to make sense for myself to myself of the workings of this exotica-terror goose-step – if others look over the shoulder, welcome, I hope sharing questions and readings can be useful. Is there a media studies for every decade, for every regime, epoch? Does the televisual deserve attention beyond screen disciplinarianism? Can inversions provoke renewal, instead of reverence for the silver screen, contempt for the small; instead of Eurocentrism, decenterism? Does diaspora count as a region, or a feedback loop? Is nostalgia always colonising?