Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Invisible Hand of the Market Continues to Dominate You

In previous entries I have suggested that if we do not determine aesthetic standards and apply them to art works diligently, if we do not assert values the market will do it for us, or rather, to us and our culture. I said this in relation to watching and reading Žižek , because I think his aesthetics lack evaluative terminology, or rather, since the whole of his thought is aesthetical, as one of my philosophy professors once told me speaking of Nietzsche, he does not develop specific terms of aesthetic judgment. I argue with friends and colleagues about Žižek's writing on film, and they continue to remind me that he does not do film criticism; he uses popular film to illustrate Lacanian ideas. I continue to assert that this does not excuse him. Žižek is one of the most prominent intellectuals alive who writes about film. He has a lot of influence in other words. I am certain that he could put together a course in Lacan that would elucidate some of the most sophisticated aspects of his theory entirely through a study of Hitchcock. This is well and good, but I still wonder at what point does it become yet another class devoted to the single most studied and most overrated filmmaker in the history of the medium at the expense of a chance for students to see Ozu, Akerman, Dreyer or Bresson?

Last night I was talking to a colleague about his summer course on the Vampire Film. He tells me its a theory course. He tells me that vampires are the hottest thing going these days, and it is a good way to introduce students to various ideas. Again, it is well and good to introduce students to “important” ideas, by which I'm sure he means the ideologies popular throughout academia – feminism, Marxism, identity politics etc. At some point, however, film departments teach nothing but these courses. The ideas of individuals such as the filmmakers listed above no longer matter. More importantly, we no longer teach how to relate to art properly. And if you don't think this is a case of the market determining cultural values, consider that my colleague told me, “Look, I don't want to teach Vampire Film, but I have to offer something that will put butts in seats. The difference between six and twelve students taking my class is two thousand dollars in my pocket.” Yes, the university pays its instructors per student. Do I have to explain why that is fucking obscene?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ode to a Great Contrarian

People often ask me why I don’t like anything – music, movies and the like. As I have said before, this question usually means “Why don’t you like the same things that I like?” The chances are good that I have addressed that problem on this very blog. It is called The Contrarian after all. Today I don’t want to be contrary, though. I want to give you one good reason to read everything you can get your hands on by Lester Bangs: he takes no shit. Reading his interviews with Lou Reed in Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung is a deep cleansing breath fresh air. Given the current state of discourse in our culture, Lester Bangs seems like a revelation. Because we are living in a time in which criticism (as the word is used in common parlance) is immediately taken as disrespect, the fact that Bangs would try to start an argument with someone he clearly admires, that he would take to task a hero, is stunning. Imagine being face to face with an artist and telling him which of his works are mediocre and why. Of course Lou Reed doesn’t just accept this criticism dumbly; he dishes it right back to Bangs, explaining that he is not as good as he used to be either. Granted each and every scenario is embellished if not made up entirely, but the point is that Bangs envisions a world in which honesty is a possibility. Standards don’t come into it any more than decency. The important thing is to call it like you see it. Or rather that’s the first thing. It is an important consideration in this age when everyone who knocks out any old piece of “creative work” is entitled to praise and thanks as Jamie Kennedy and many of the artists he interviews suggest in Heckler. That is the zeitgeist isn’t it? Everyone should be creative and their creativity should be praised? I don’t like it. I mean our Lester Bangs is Chuck Klosterman, and he goes out of his way to resist judgment at every turn. Klosterman wants to “observe and report,” because who is he to judge? So goes the sentiment. I think if you asked Lester Bangs that question he would say: “I’m Lester Fucking Bangs and I’m smarter, sharper, quicker and more perceptive than you; that’s why I get to judge.” I know it gets sticky once you claim to have a right to judge, but that’s life. It gets messy. Is it particularly interesting to sit back and let everyone have his own opinion? Is it good for culture? As Zizek says, “I’m entitled to my opinion” really just means “leave me the fuck alone.” We have to have dialog, and there is no such thing as dialog without disagreement.