The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'cynicism'
After it emerged that Thamsanqa Jantjie, the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial ceremony, had actually been making it up and just moving his arms about meaninglessly, Slavoj Žižek (no fan of well-meaning liberalism, to say the least) argues, with supreme cynicism, that his doing so was not so much a fraud as a deeper form of honesty, laying bare the hypocrisy of liberalism:
Now we can see why Jantjie's gesticulations generated such an uncanny effect once it became clear that they were meaningless: what he confronted us with was the truth about sign language translations for the deaf – it doesn't really matter if there are any deaf people among the public who need the translation; the translator is there to make us, who do not understand sign language, feel good.
And was this also not the truth about the whole of the Mandela memorial ceremony? All the crocodile tears of the dignitaries were a self-congratulatory exercise, and Jangtjie translated them into what they effectively were: nonsense. What the world leaders were celebrating was the successful postponement of the true crisis which will explode when poor, black South Africans effectively become a collective political agent. They were the Absent One to whom Jantjie was signalling, and his message was: the dignitaries really don't care about you. Through his fake translation, Jantjie rendered palpable the fake of the entire ceremonyOf course, actual deaf people might not agree with this assessment.
Something which amuses me is the ads on Facebook, and the juxtapositions of irrelevant images (typically of attractive-looking young women, at times in provocative poses) next to pitches for products of various dubiosity, ranging from fairly well-known credit-rating agencies to get-rich-quick schemes and online gambling sites, but having as a common feature an inherent lack of sex appeal. The rationale, I'm guessing, is pure postmodern cynicism: somewhere, some executive decided that the model consumer they're pitching at is like one of the slack-jawed halfwits from Idiocracy ("Gee, I don't know the first thing about work-from-home schemes and stuff... but I sure like hot chicks!"), and decided to market at this notional demographic. Not aiming merely for the dullards, but also for those consumers, brought up on trashy television and celebrity gossip, who are well versed in the practice of simulating being simpletons in order to be entertained, as the Judd Apatows and Seann William Scotts of this world (and their bank managers) know. Call it cognitive slumming, if you will.
Sometimes, though, the juxtaposition between the content (or, rather, its tone) and the Irrelevant Hot Chick Picture becomes quite jarring. Case in point:
Could this be a new record for concentrated stupidity on an advertising poster?
- Hollywood is staffed by people who don't know what a cow actually is, or
- they're assuming that most of the kids whom they market this steaming pile of mass entertainment at are clueless about where their hamburgers come from and those who aren't are sufficiently conditioned by condescendingly stupid television and movies to switch off the parts of their brains that notice that there's something wrong and just go with the flow, or perhaps
- in this post-industrial, post-post-agricultural society, the concept of barnyard animals has receded from plausible reality into the realm of mythology, where taking liberties (such as anthropomorphising cows as male) is acceptable.
According to Conrad Heiney, one of the worst things you can call someone these days is "well-meaning":
A well-meaning person is always doing the wrong thing. The phrase encompasses many sins. The well-meaning person is presumed to be ignorant of the world's harsh ways, naive, gullible, and full of an unwarranted optimism especially about human nature. Arrogance or at least hubris is implied too, in that well-meaning people have an exaggerated view of their own ability to improve things.
One thing is certain: well-meaning people always make things worse. They're always trying to feed babies when the real problem is that parents won't work. Or getting in the way of a war because of the horrors thereof when the real problem can only be solved by winning the war. Or providing shelter for the poor when the real problem is the oppressive system that keeps them poor. Well-meaning people always seem to have band-aid solutions and don't see the picture. Their attempts to make things better always result in disaster because of something called the Law of Unintended Consequences which says that every time you do something that seems to mean well it will mean more trouble later on, in the larger scheme of things.
This is a place where Social Darwinism, Marxism, and Malthusian pessimism meet after having been thoroughly dumbed down into one idea: don't try to be good. The task is impossible and will make you into a victim yourself. Worse still, it will obstruct the natural way of things which eventually resolves conflicts. The Tao of this worldview is cruelty, and you must flow with it.
The word "aggressive" is entirely positive in all contexts. It has come to mean "effective," and anything labeled "passive" is by definition a failure. One roots out crime aggressively, and also treats disease aggressively, and even an aggressive prose style is given the seal of approval.
I urge you to resist this. Mean well.
The Demos thinktank in the UK claims that democracy is facing a crisis of legitimacy, with the public losing faith in the trustworthiness of leaders and the integrity of the political process. This appears to be result of the Blair Doctrine, which holds that in the short term, honesty is a liability and a mastery of weasel words and spin, a good relationship with the press and a faith in the public's short attention span are what counts.
It probably also has to do with the disconnexion between the polite fiction of democratic accountability and the reality of where the power really rests. For example, it's likely that Blair had no choice but to do whatever Washington ordered as far as Iraq went (as Britain has surrendered most foreign-policy sovereignty to the US since World War 2, though maintains the illusion of being an autonomous world power, even having a nuclear arsenal of its own (operated by US technicians)), and to spin it increasingly tortuously into the context of an independent decision, with increasingly bizarre results.
Anyway, the article claims that the main parties have become obsessed with a "strong leader myth", and that the solution is to recast democracy to the neighbourhood level. It is reported that Downing Street has been listening, and is "experimenting with new more direct forms of consultation with the electorate", "experimenting with" presumably translating as "looking at ways to rig".
Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have their own crisis with claims that Charles Kennedy has adopted his own version of the Blair Doctrine and put the party too much under the influence of campaign strategists.
Age journalist Warwick McFadyen has written a glossary of Australian culture:
BILL OF RIGHTS: unnecessary for the citizenry who, because they enjoy unrivalled sunshine, surf and sport, are deemed already to have the good life.
LEFT-WING: that side of the playing field on which the bones of utopians lie scattered. Rapidly becoming archaic in meaning, although it is still used as a term of disgust in certain quarters, without having to be qualified.
PROMISE: once a measure of integrity, a promise is now divided politically into core and non-core, presumably to mask the contempt for the people expressed in bare-faced lies.
RECONCILIATION: the shining star in the night sky that everyone can see but few realise has already died, even though its light still travels to us.
WORLD STAGE: the podium on which we might perform one day, when we're a little bigger.
The convergence of politics and entertainment continues apace; not long after a celebrity with no political experience became governor of California, a British TV production company is planning a reality-TV show to create an "independent" political candidate:
'Government by focus group is something we all disdain as short-sighted and superficial - but what if the focus group were millions of people, actively deliberating together as we exercise our power?' he says.
'We know that the public loves the idea of voting for "independents", but the system makes it hard for independents to get themselves noticed. So it is almost a public duty for someone to create a platform to help independents get an equal chance.'
"Independents" chosen for their looks and/or style, with superficially agreeable or fashionably "right-on" opinions; if this takes off, conventional politicians could find it hard to compete, and parliaments may end up full of ultra-appealing Natasha Stott-Despojas, manufactured by televisual focus-group. Multiple terms will be a rarity, as yesterday's political idols will, by their very nature, become unfashionable and be displaced by a new crop, distinguishable mostly by how their hairdos are spiked up. But that'll be OK, as parliaments by then will have signed over most of their sovereignty to international free-trade treaties and will be reduced to an advisory body of select "beautiful people" and/or another entertainment option.
A Guardian piece about irony: what the word has meant at various times, whether it did die after 9/11, and whether Germans and/or Americans are capable of it:
Phase four Our age has not so much redefined irony, as focused on just one of its aspects. Irony has been manipulated to echo postmodernism. The postmodern, in art, architecture, literature, film, all that, is exclusively self-referential - its core implication is that art is used up, so it constantly recycles and quotes itself. Its entirely self-conscious stance precludes sincerity, sentiment, emoting of any kind, and thus has to rule out the existence of ultimate truth or moral certainty. Irony, in this context, is not there to lance a boil of duplicity, but rather to undermine sincerity altogether, to beggar the mere possibility of a meaningful moral position. In this sense it is, indeed, indivisible from cynicism.
The end of irony would be a disaster for the world - bad things will always occur, and those at fault will always attempt to cover them up with emotional and overblown language. If their opponents have to emote back at them, you're basically looking at a battle of wills, and the winner will be the person who can beat their breast the hardest without getting embarrassed. Irony allows you to launch a challenge without being dragged into this orbit of self-regarding sentiment that you get from Tony Blair, say, when he talks about "fighting for what's right". Irony can deflate a windbag in the way that very little else can.
As Interflora/Hallmark Relationship Tax Payment Day approaches, an interesting article about how good sex is neurochemically indistinguishable from being in love. The thing that does the magic is a neurochemical called oxytocin, which is released during orgasm and triggers the bonding behaviours in the human brain. So the more sex you have, the more oxytocin you have in your brain, and the more "in-love" you feel. Which can be somewhat problematic if you're not suited to each other outside of the bedroom.
(Yes, it's that time of year. Remind me to keep up the tradition and post some links about how (1) being "in love" is biologically indistinguishable from (a) shooting up heroin, or (b) obsessive-compulsive disorder, (2) the sexual marketplace is not the positive, life-affirming thing it's represented as but rather a brutal, atavistic and ugly form of capitalism-red-in-tooth-and-claw, and (3) it's all a con to take your money and prop up florists, trinket-manufacturing sweatshops and the DeBeers diamond monopoly, and so on.)
Looks like there are plans for a Lemony Snicket movie. Paramount's kids' unit Nickelodeon are planning to make one, with Daniel "Lemony Snicket" Handler writing the script. Though the article suggests that the studio suits may force a happy ending onto it (you know, the standard Hollywood character development arc: characters are plunged into dire peril, find inner strength, and ultimately overcome); meanwhile, Handler is already planning merchandising tie-ins like unwinnable board games.
I hope they get Stephin Merritt to do the soundtrack, given how good a job he did with the book-on-tape version. Though they may just do the obvious thing and get Danny Elfman to do one of his spooky-fairytale scores. (via bOING bOING)
Valentine's Day is nigh upon us; the Hallmark event when florists mark up their prices steeply and rake in the cash, those who are in sexual relationships are obliged to give money to multinational corporations to prove their love for their partner, and those not in relationships are considered less than complete members of human society. Mind you, if you're a cynic, there are still cards made for you, courtesy of Meg. And if you actually want to send a card, rather than look at pictures, here are some more.
How will I be celebrating this hallowed day? In the traditional manner: by listening to all my Smiths records. I might throw in some Leonard Cohen as well, just for fun.