To buy or not to buy

October 10, 2012

“You are what you buy” sounds like a grim yardstick, even for karma. But postmodernist theories of fandom seem to hinge on this concept of consumerism having spawned a rather unexpected but energetic cultural life form, the consumer cult.

Whether you cling to cult classics like the soundtrack to Magnolia and its isolation-friendly grasp of “the social rhythms of ambivalence,” or collect and exchange the tokens of anime fandom among friends, access to a market that knows your past is part of identity in a world that imposes choppy life transitions on relationships with family and those you meet at and between various work places and places you’ve lived.

Fan references evoke nostalgia and a retained currency of values from which your point of view could be triangulated. It could be, to remind those who were not always strangers of how they do know you. After however many transitions through roles in social circles and spatial dislocation have passed since your last meeting, “fandom could be the integrating factor for one’s multiple personal identities that change over time … to integrate an idealized past with the present, in a pleasurable way.”


What the audience knows to expect? What would you believe?

If you have confidence in your guides, at least. The artists sometimes startle the audience, whether gorging on honey and shattering goblets after they finish the wine, or teasing out cognitive dissonance, where they knew they would find it and embarrass you for not being surprised either.

There are formulae even for acts of the carnivalesque. And the tools of the trade are not lightly used.

The audience wants to believe it is transgressive for the performer to create a crisis of identity in the individual spectators, that this is an exception to the rules of consumer culture, that a fixed border is so violated between art and the reality of life, between aesthetics and ethics.

There is an illusion that such a border can be forced and the spectators dragged across it in a carnival without showing them a way out of the crisis, but that this is not the way most days.

That everyday life is untouched by the transformations and recursive reveals of what already was exactly so that ensue.

Mass market broadcast media challenge the audience to evade such things any day of the week. Can they tell the difference?


Intertextual, subliminal, and still positioned just there.

The intimate details that film “can convey of performance” need no knife fights to find their way under the skin. An embodied real is quick to invade the home theater and include the spectators in a scene, when their attention holds and self-consciousness fades into identification with the substance of the scene.

But we are most easily persuaded such intimacy with a stranger, an artist, is gained at a price. Perhaps at knife’s point.

Introducing a chapter of film criticism about David Cronenberg in The place of breath in cinema, Jean-Luc Nancy writes it is in experience of harm that the body

“reveals its interiority, its depth, the secret of its life. Unity is given only to be broken, releasing the infinitely fragile secret that the soul and the breath, the desire, the passion for the unique and the infinite are the same as the wrenching of the body from itself, .. disjection exposed in the raw.

In every sense, the soul blows through the body.”

The same illusion of dismemberment, as the impressions of bodies are decontextualized in close-up or audible small movements, a caress from which the object of touch withdraws as living forms would, can be produced with breath alone in many ways, when breath is even noticeable within cinema.

It may be noticeable in horror genre, and easily mapped out in its devices there, but it is pervasive in music, in theater, in film, and in every performance art – ascertainable even from the balcony in ballet. Genre is no safeguard against the effects of technique used to situate literature in performance art that spares no reader the understanding deemed fit for the audience by the players so prepared, and where they are subtle, effects may be deeper than the audience suspects.

The book explores several examples in ways that are easily grasped without reference to the films in question, such as L’Intrus, described by Beugnet:

“as the text unravels .. its rhythm also recalls that of irregular breathing or a heartbeat: hurried passages, where a series of short interrogative sentences collide, are followed by clauses using elaborate phrasing and long sentences between parentheses that create suspended moments of reprieve.”

According to Irigaray, the rhythm and shape of a breath in a series of breath can be specific enough in emotional or dramatic content that a breathing pattern can be interpreted as using or showing a syntax of psychological content that contributes directly to an artistic text apart from words spoken in the breath.


The cinematic gaze is elevated compared to the usual audience of a live stage, but to privilege dramatic elements over crude visual control of attention and framing, as film necessarily does to create drama in composition, is not naturally authoritarian, and does not spare the spectator’s gaze a risk of confrontation with the artists looking straight back.

“It was full of money – that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it .. high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl….”

Hesitation is not for the audience. It is an illusion in which they are trapped. The timing of confrontation is not then theirs to control, nor would it be if the actors had their way, for the secret to comedy is timing, and the secret to drama is comedy, and the secret to irony is to know your position within the scene and the movement on your part that, in time, completes it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: