Archive for February 2010
Spending my Saturday rushing a bit to write… a paper that in a sense will encapsulate quite a bit of the argument of this blog over the years. (I mean especially when I was writing posts about things rather than simply being moody and attitudinal…) Luckily, looking back through my posts on the topic, I’m finding quite a lot of the paper pre-written. Perhaps I’ll post some bits of it up here, new stuff, as I go along and you can reassemble my talk at home…
But for now, let me repost one of the greatest ads ever made, something I know I’ve posted about four times already:
As I’ve said before, the ad
crosses a nascent geopolitical conflict with an aesthetic tension – a tension, actually, between two unreconcilable aesthetics: the collectivized bodies-as-machines of the Chinese against the pouty individualized hotness of the Americans. (Isn’t this, in a sense, the work that international athletics almost inevitably performs? Jesse Owens’s sole black body against the Riefenstahl logic of Hitler’s review platform etc… War by other means – by means that come closer to the aesthetic register than any other…)
Until today, I hadn’t considered the very opening shot – where she is woken up by the shaking glass of water – is playing on a disaster / crisis trope that’s very 2003. Something’s happened out there… And indeed it has – but not the thing that most media were trying to get us to worry about circa 2003. And it further occurs to me today that there’s something more to it than I wrote in the earlier post that brings into the picture something quite uncanny. The conflict, yes. And while the ad is focalized through the Americans’ experience of the confrontation, at the same time it’s utterly clear that the ad isn’t taking sides, isn’t picking a winner… Or, really, if there is a prediction in play, it has to go with the Chinese, who can do all that while the Americans have nothing to counter it with but attitude and haircuts. All this mirrors the fact that the corporation that produced it is hedging its bets between its old marketing base and the booming new markets of Asia, their burgeoning new urban middle classes. The ad was in fact shown both in the USA and China in the run-up to the 2003 Women’s World Cup, thus the dual language titles at the end…. The very fact that Adidas could and would make an ad for both markets is significant subtext of the ad itself, and informs the unsettling strangeness of its content. We still see the world through your eyes, America, but the fact of the matter is that this might be about to change.
Anyway, exciting stuff. Perhaps I ought to write the hard stuff now about Marcuse and Marxism and Bernays and the rest. Tempting to fill up the entire thing with unmediated ad clips that simply tell the whole story I’m trying to tell… Hmmm… Not avanty enough for that, I don’t think. And my wife’s going to come to the paper, at least if the babysitter accomodates, so I’d like to make it, you know, good.
He is walking somewhere, in the dream: it has come to walking. He has to jump a low fence, at one point, to get back to the sidewalk. A man is tottering randomly down the street, alternately trying to cross it and not. His legs seem to be crippled, and the jeans that he wears are slightly baggy, too large in both the waist and the inseam.
He tries not to recognize the man, walks past him, then stops to look back. It is his father, or at least someone who looks like his father, who approaches and says simply “You are dying.”
Every once in a while, a work-permit American gets the sense that things are slightly, well, retrograde when it comes to good old political correctness, academically speaking, in the UK. But then the American reads an essay by an American visiting student, and remembers how uselessly sanctimonious everything is back home. Jesus! And how politically and personally confusing! The student will think from my comments that I’m some sort of weirdly rightist lecturer in English, when all I’m trying to do is to get her to make things slightly more difficult for herself…
Teaching is somewhat difficult, at times…
I rather like the video attached to this BBC piece about the general strike against austerity measures currently going on in Greece. Just a string of things not happening, and it’s even as if the reporter is speechless in solidarity. But the ambient musak in the airport continues to play…
The English guy doing hockey for the BBC coverage of the Olympics can’t stop himself from commenting on every dropped stick or abandoned glove. He’s absolutely spellbound by equipment loosed from its owner. This fascinated me too… when I was six years old and my father would take me regularly to New Jersey Devils games. My father refused to respond and so I quickly learned, rightly, to stop talking about it. It’s not important.
I should have called the BBC last week and offered my services. I’ve been told I have a lovely radio voice, and I suppose the loveliness would hold for television. I promise, unlike the guys they have doing it, I’d even learn the names of the players for both teams. Some German skates over, tries to take the puck from Crosby, oooo look there! Someone’s dropped their stick! That’s going to interfere with play! Someone’s going to trip if they’re not careful! And there’s another German, skating around with the puck and trying to shoot it into the net….
But I’ll admit that I’m happy to be watching it at all, and on my computer no less, when in an unreceptive country. But some of my earliest memories involve trying to get to sleep at night with the calm cadences of the hockey broadcasts my father was watching in the living room dully droning through my bedroom door… And so I’m sensitive to wrongness on this front.
… and it looks like the Canadians will be playing Russia tomorrow, which purists know is more important and more interesting than when they play the USA.
From Anne Applebaum’s review of Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell in the NYRB. In this passage, she’s coming to the end of a redescription of a rather riotous evening that Koestler, his girlfriend, Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus, and Camus’ wife spent together in Paris:
Scammell, whose fine-tuned sense of irony serves him well here, describes that evening’s conclusion:
“They broke up at dawn. Alone with Sartre, Beauvoir sobbed “over the tragedy of the human condition,” then leaned on the parapet of a bridge over the Seine and said: “I don’t see why we don’t throw ourselves in the river.” “All right,” agreed Sartre, “let’s throw ourselves in,” and began to cry himself. In another part of the city, Koestler too burst into tears as he stared into the Seine. Then he disappeared into a pissoir and shouted to Mamaine, “Don’t leave me, I love you, I’ll always love you.” They got home at about eight o’clock and slept all day, except for Sartre, who stuffed himself with pep pills and dragged himself off to the Sorbonne to give his lecture. It wasn’t possible even for an existentialist to address the students “sans moi.””
Leaving aside its entertainment value, that particular passage raises some interesting questions. We are not so many years removed from 1946, in the grand scheme of things. Yet much has changed since then, starting with the rules of acceptable public behavior. It is simply not possible to imagine any three prominent contemporary American public intellectuals—say, Malcolm Gladwell, Niall Ferguson, and David Brooks—indulging in a night on the town such as that one, let alone weeping over the human condition and threatening to throw themselves into the Seine at the end of it. Hollywood starlets and pseudo-celebrities behave that way in our culture, not serious people.
Oooof. Now I’m weeping and thinking about throwing myself into the East River, next time I’m there. If that’s a representative roster of NYC intellectuals aujourd’hui, and christ maybe it is, then yes, the human condition is truly fucking not well.
There’s something else that’s funny to say about this, but I’m not going to say it. Perhaps I just came to the party late. Right! Back to work then!