Friday, January 24, 2014

organic negativity is not false, it's just weaker than consumerism and dopamine hegemony


itself | In a wonderful if hilarious article for the 1989 December issue of Telos, Timothy Luke, one of the primary progenitors of the artificial negativity thesis, writes a delicious article ‘Xmas Ideology: Unwrapping the New Deal and the Cold War under the Christmas Tree’1, which is replied to directly afterwards by Paul Piccone2. In it Luke claims that Christmas films such as It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Holiday Inn and White Christmas are an almost perfect example of artificial negativity. Against the crass commercialisation of Christmas, they appear to offer an authentic core of love and human compassion that are unspoilt. In fact, Luke argues, they are merely a way of briefly compensating for the aggressive fragmentation of late capitalism, and actually perpetuating it. The films “generate ideologies of self-gratification and fulfilment as in the cult of Christmas, which rather than being cast as a Christian celebration of Christ’s birth, is instead turned into a fantasy of self-fulfilment and collective solidarity as part of a celebration of materialistic giving (and receiving)”.

Hence:
The Christian rituals of Christmas, then, have been remanufactured by capital and the state during WWII and the Cold War into “Xmas”. Without it, the rituals of life in consumer society might disintegrate even more than they have already, making Xmas an essential aspect of exchange. It mediates the forms of subjectivity in the intimate sphere of caring with corporate agendas of spending and having. Christmas as “Xmas” becomes in film the essential simulation of settled social traditions, family unity, and collective purpose for many modern American Pottersvilles that otherwise lack these qualities.

For Luke, as in It’s A Wonderful Life, such stories are a New Deal fantasy dealt out by corporations and one side, and the state seen as benevolent protector on the other through the medium of bureaucracy – Clarence the angel attempting to get his wing is after all part of a bureaucracy of angels much like the New Deal state.

Suffice to say, Piccone doesn’t like this much. He believes the films as quite capably critiquing the American they found. Indeed, rather than stressing the values of capitalism and welfarism, these classic Christmas films: “If anything, it is the concept of solidarity and, particularly in It’s A Wonderful Life, communitarian values which are idealized”. Indeed, one of the main enemies in It’s A Wonderful Life is the heartless landlord Mr Potter. The protagonist of It’s A Wonderful Life, George, is the son of the owner of a small bank Savings and Loan. When his father dies, the slum landlord Mr Potter wants to start denying loans to the working poor, because these loans are not profitable and to also take over the company. In an very famous scene in front of the board of directors, George argues that from an economic perspective the loans his father made may not have been good sense, but from a human perspective, in getting people out of the slums, they had been an obvious good “People were human beings to him, but to you, a warped, […] they’re cattle”. This convinces the board of directors to reject this, and to put him in charge of the company. Thus the older, benevolent capitalism of the small town with its concern for human values and the desire to enable people’s ambitions even if it was not profitable, the bank as service provider for people not profit, is contrasted to the centralised despotic and money orientated capitalism of Potter where profit is the only concern and people are pure objects from which to extract it. The film speaks to spiritual and moral values over money values. The same is true of Miracle on 34th Street, speculative capitalism is opposed to kindly capitalism of the small banker who knew your needs and ambitions. These films are not artificially negative, but authentically and organically negative. But this leads to a problem – they were still created by the Hollywood and, as Piccone claims, became more popular during the Reagan years because of the family values agenda he articulated. How can they be organically negative if they are put so easily to use by the Reaganite neo-conservative New Class? Piccone never accounts for this – but whatever we think of the films at hand, this small example of the major theorists of the concepts of Artificial Negativity and the New Class clashing over a particular object shows some important conceptual flaws – how do we point genuine versions of organic negativity out and be attentive to false artificial negativities? In this light, after a little anaylsis we can see that these terms have, first, no theoretical coherence and second, fulfil only one role, a purely polemic way of labelling and dismissing the distasteful.

2 comments:

BigDonOne said...

Fuzzlamic Negativity... http://cnsnews.com/cartoons/glenn-foden/gravity-0

CNu said...

^ ^

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