I had been meaning to read an article by Jonathan Beller that Chabert linked to a while back on the “Cinematic mode of production,” but other things got in the way, as they often do. Now though I have gotten around to it, and while the essay does have moments of nearly unreadable (and perhaps obscurantist) theoretical abstraction, it also puts forth some rather striking theses, including one which caused some thoughts I’ve had about individuals acting out certain societal roles to congeal into a cohesive theoretical clarity.
Beller’s major thesis is that “cinema and cinematic technologies — television, telecommunications, computing, automation — provide some of the discipline and control once imposed by earlier forms of imperialism”:
“With the globalization of capital it may turn out that economic expansion is presently less a geographical project and more a matter of *capturing* the interstitial activities and times between the already commodified endeavors of bodies. *Every movement and every gesture is potentially productive of value*. I am speaking here of media as cybernetics, of capital expansion positing the body as the new frontier.”“When a visual medium operates under the strictures of private property, the work done by its consumer can, like ground rent, be capitalized and made to accrue to the proprietor of the medium. In other words, some people make a profit from other people’s looking. The ways in which this profit is produced and channeled fundamentally defines the politics of cultural production and the state.”
“One might begin to think, for a moment, of cinema not only as an aesthetic or philosophical occasion, but as a variation of other media like the road or the railroad track or money: a mental pavement for creating new pathways of commodity flow. Marx never resolved the question of the productive value of the road. Cinema presents an occasion where the question of the productivity of the road and the question of mediation in general take on new forms. As an instrument capable of burrowing into the body and connecting it to new circuits, cinema and mass media in general are deeply imbricated in economic production and circulation in the world system.”
“It should come as no surprise that the labor necessary to produce the manifold forms of our systemic compatibility is our own. On an immediate level this claim implies that we work for big corporations when we watch their advertising, but more generally, our myriad participations in the omnipresent technology fest are, in addition to whatever else they’re doing, engaged in insuring the compatibility of our sensoriums with prevailing methods of interpellation.”
“[T]elevision viewers work in a sort of cottage industry performing daily upkeep on their sensoriums as they help to open their bodies to the flow of new commodities. When we come home from work and flip on the tube, our “leisure time” is spent paving new roads. The value produced (yesterday and elsewhere by labor time, but in advanced societies by human attention) accrues to the shareholders of the various media. It is tabulated statistically in what is called ratings and sold to other employers (advertisers) at a market value.”
“Vision becomes a form of work. Bodies become deterritorialized, becoming literally machinic assemblages, cyborgs. The extension of the body through the media, which is to say the extension of the media into the body, raises myriad questions about agency, identity, subjectivity, and labor. Question for the next century: Who (what) will control the pathways in which our attention circulates? Technologies such as cinema and television are machines which take the assembly line out of the space of the factory and put it into the home and the theater and the brain itself, mining the body of the productive value of its time, occupying it on location. The cinema as deterritorialized factory, human attention as deterritorialized labor. Global organization as cinema — the potential cutting and splicing of all aspects of the world to meet the exigencies of flexible accumulation and to develop new affects.”
New pathways for capital. So, perhaps an extension of the limits to growth: but then, even the quantity of human attention is a limited resource. So more and more paths must be cut into the jungles of our perception, must civilize it for the polite exchange of other people’s property.
This I think partially explains my resistance to the noise of our society — but not wholly. More than the fact that our minds (‘sensoriums’) are being conditioned to a specific mode of attention, a specific method of focus which is condusive to profit (we feel compelled to watch this week’s Project Runway, go to the movies to see Sofia Coppola’s latest flick, buy the most recest novel by Zadie Smith), I am repulsed by the idea that my scant time will be spent: the thirty, fifty, or seventy years that I get to perceive (hopefully) ought not be impinged upon by a force that treats my perceiving consciousness as a commodity; I demand quiet, existential considering which accrues profit to no entity that encroaches on the existence of others. An analysis of the logistics of this cinema is in order, grounded in data drawn from the profiting companies and agencies themselves.
But the idea of cinema as a pathway of capital, as another road via which reified ‘objects’ might be exchanged struck me even more strongly, because it lead me to a conclusion regarding hate-radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. At first I marvelled at the fact that these people could spew such a consistent stream of filth; the only explanation I could come up with was that they were functioning as they had been conditioned. The radioshow, its constituting listeners who give it the human attention that advertisers seek, provides the hatemongers with — necessitates that the hatemongers perform upon — a platform from which to act. If they do not fulfill their function, they will be replaced by another social actor who will. The resulting system or process becomes a cultural “package” whereby capital is gained by the broadcasting and consumption of hatred (that this money is garnered via hatred must have some greater implications). Reconsidering this system in terms of a pathway enriches it slightly: the minds of the radio-listeners have become accostumed to a certain brand of raucous, acrid commentary, becoming the byways for capital to operate: like a beaten path through a meadow, human habit takes a great deal of time to fade. If suddenly Savage and Limbaugh were to cease broadcasts, the void would be filled by another actor who would walk on the same route they did right to their listeners attentions, and the attendant advertising revenues. This is obviously a simplification; but it is meant to be instructive.
And so it is with most the noise that clots existence. More than ugly, it is viral. It seeks to capture out attention and shape our perception into tools that work for others’ ends, many of which are abominable. Silence or the refusal of attending to these toolings is not enough, of course. One must fashion byways, systems, that work to dismantle the great hiways upon which drone the engines of destruction.