Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kirk Boyle: Children of Men and I Am Legend: the disaster-capitalism complex hits Hollywood

Children of Men and I Am Legend: the disaster-capitalism complex hits Hollywood
by Kirk Boyle
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In addition to indulging the fantasies of late capitalist consumers, Legend targets its audience with “anamorphic advertising.” Lawrence replaces Cuarón’s background commentary on forced migrations and terrorism — newspaper clips that read, “Refugees Blamed for Increase in Terror Attacks” and “Immigrants Protest Against Government New Racist Policies” — with identifiable storefronts, billboards, and products. The “hyper-commercialization” of Hollywood is not a new phenomenon. Product placements, tie-ins, merchandising, and cross-promotions have proliferated in the age of media conglomeration to the point where younger generations no longer experience them as baleful, let alone disruptive. That the Shelby Mustang is clearly the choice of the post-apocalyptic sportsman — along with the Ford Explorer and Escape Hybrid — will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with this latest version of the culture industry.

Nonetheless, Children makes Legend’s participation in these dubious marketing trends look egregious. lists thirty-two corporate brands that appear in Legend (on average, a new one every three minutes) while Children features “almost zero brands” (Sauer 2007: unpaginated).[17] Beyond the quantity of ads lies an issue of quality. Where Children harnesses the political potentials of anamorphosis — especially in scenes where anamorphic advertisements of invented products ironize the consumerism of late capitalism — Legend exploits the same artful techniques to peddle products and promote corporate brand recognition.[18] Most disturbing of all, Lawrence uses anamorphosis to naturalize the corporate structure of neoliberal capitalism. Signs of multinational corporations litter the backgrounds of Legend. A mega-disaster has destroyed the signs’ referents within the film's diegesis, but their spectral presence sends the subliminal message to an early twenty-first century audience that corporate capitalism is all but indestructible. The first few minutes of Legend where Neville’s Shelby zips past strategically placed advertisements for XM Satellite Radio, Staples, and Hyatt, assure us that the world is more likely to end before capitalism does.

One final indication that Legend cuts ties with reality in order to enact a consumerist fantasy stems from what Popular Mechanics calls the “junk science” of the film. Popular Mechanics’ assistant editor Erin McCarthy consulted

“experts in the fields of structural engineering, virology, and wildlife to determine what could happen — and what certainly won’t happen” regarding Legend’s portrait of the future (McCarthy 2007: 1).

Pointing out the scientific inconsistencies of a film does not meet the criteria most moviegoers take to the theater, nor will it prove to be an ideological indicator in many cases. But as with Legend’s prevalent product placements, its “junk science” is symptomatic of a larger ideological problem. New York City would be in worse condition due to water and fire damage, and Neville would run into problems with powering his home that the film glosses over. Disbelief could be suspended if these vital infrastructural issues had not been ignored precisely because Neville exists in the fantasy space of a consumer and not a producer. In one representative scene, he harvests ears of corn in Central Park. That the corn is ripe is no accident. Legend cannot represent how the things Neville consumes were produced because labor does not exist in the consumerist fantasyland of the Last Men. Everything Neville needs or wants is simply there for the picking.

Legend creates a capitalist utopia by immersing its protagonist in a world that defies the laws of physics, a playground of consumer goods that hides the labor power of its construction and sustenance (and the problems that would inevitably plague its sole survivor). The film’s “anamorphic advertising” weaves its consuming public into this fantasy world to naturalize neoliberalism as if to say, “the world as we know it will never end, and we will always feel fine.”

Where Legend celebrates the Last Men and their late capitalist utopia, Children critiques their narcissism, cynicism, and classism (as soon will become apparent), by depicting their world — our world — as dystopian. With the dreamworld of wealth comes the catastrophe of crimes against humanity in the guise of free markets, illegal immigration, homeland security, and the War on Terror — all of the specious policies which Cuarón catalogues in his backdrops, the very same policies that Naomi Klein argues bankroll the well-orchestrated “disaster-capitalism complex.”

I Am Conservative-Corporatist

In The Shock Doctrine, Klein claims that the neoliberal era ushered in a “capitalist Reformation” that doubled as a counterrevolution to Keynesianism and Third World developmentalism (Klein 2007b: 53). Like Harvey, she views neoliberalism as a theory of political economic practices that seek to restore class power through deregulation, privatization, and cuts to social spending, a free-market trinity bent on redistributing wealth as much as generating it. Put into practice, neoliberalization morphs into corporatism, a vast collusion between Big Government and Big Business to transfer public wealth to private hands while an ever-widening chasm opens up between “the dazzling rich and the disposable poor” (Klein 2007b: 15). The recent $700 billion financial bailout of banks by the U.S. government provides a clear example of this collusion.

Klein charts how the rise of corporatism spawned a disaster-capitalism complex that at once extends and supersedes the military-industrial (and congressional) complex President Eisenhower diagnosed in his 1961 farewell address. With the emergence of the disaster-capitalism complex, the latent “creative destruction” that fueled the engines of capital since its inception surges to the surface to become the recognized modus operandi of the economy. Today, crisis opportunism entwines superprofits with megadisasters to the point where

“all conflict- and disaster-related functions (waging war, securing borders, spying on citizens, rebuilding cities, treating traumatized soldiers) can be performed by corporations at a profit” (Klein 2007c: 50).

Although “disaster capitalism” has been part of neoliberal policy for over three decades, it did not develop into a full-scale complex until after 9/11 with the War on Terror. As Klein writes,

“Although the state goal was fighting terrorism, the effect was the creation of the disaster capitalism complex — a full-fledged new economy in homeland security, privatized war and disaster reconstruction tasked with nothing less than building and running a privatized security state, both at home and abroad” (Klein 2007b: 299).

Under the auspice of fighting terrorism, the disaster-capitalism complex insidiously developed into a fully articulated state-within-a-state, a corporate shadow-state, that carries out the normal functions of a nation-state but at a heftier price.

To Read the Entire Essay

Naomi Klein: Shock Doctrine (Videos on YouTube)

1 comment:

Asaki Haraishi said...

Kirk Boyle, you see it as it is, and thank you for telling it so.