Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas. Two all-too-familiar examples of systemic police racism and one the tragic-but-not unexpected response. It was Malcom X who described the violence sweeping across the American continent as “chickens coming home to roost”. America is not only a society built on systemic inequalities and violence, but is wholly incapable or unwilling of conversing about these complexities. The visual evidence of these murders circulated the viral culture, picking up interpretations along the way: concrete visual evidence of the systemic racism inherent in the police, a dark legacy carried through from histories of militant slave patrols and KKK lynch mobs. For the angry white nationalist only Dallas mattered: a scene ripped from a Christopher Nolan Batman film of chaos and murder gussied up as protest. The calls for “law and order” threaten to overpower the demand for dialogue by Black Lives Matter mobilization.
Aping Richard Nixon, Donald Trump dons the sash of the “Law and Order Candidate” and for the first time in over a decade I opted out of watching either party's national convention. I cherry picked speeches on YouTube and gleaned bits of information from the streams of networked social life and algorithmic newsreels. Of all the images and all the stories and all the speakers what remains most striking is the image of Trump standing before a rectangular jumbotron projecting his giant face. But it’s not the aesthetic lineage of dystopian cinema that made the image utterly fascistic, but the throbbing cock terror dreams of his nightmare speech. Vivid images of brown bodies “pouring” over borders and “roaming” suburban white communities. His theme music: Neil Young’s Mideast Vacation.
Was it Max Weber who said that communism tries to politicize art, but fascism aestheticizes politics?
A curio from my research on internet pornography that has stuck in my mind like a brainworm. This Webm, which I ripped from 4chan, has popped up repeatedly across various forum sites in threads dedicated to fap culture and sharing the things that "get you hard as diamonds". The video is sourced from a 2011 YouTube upload titled "Hot Girl doing Matrix on mechanical bull 8-|". The music is "Bitch" by Allie X from 2014, a romantic synth drip with echoes of Grimes' "Oblivion". The lyrics of "Bitch" present a romanticized nostalgia for traditional gender roles, albiet without reference to anatomical sex: "Gonna bake and make your dinner / I'll be your cook / You can bring me home the bacon / And chop the wood" and "Make the bed and do your laundry / Tuck the corners in / Read the news, the business section / Tell me how it's been." And while the chorus sings "Whatever it takes to get you off" the song repeats: "We do things a different way / It's up to you and it's up to me / I'm you bitch, you're my bitch", lyrics that suggest a consensual partnership or a restructuring of traditional roles without the inequalities that provoked revolt against them. Yet in the context of this video's remix, the nostalgia for an atomic family partnership is re-inscribed into a heterosexual matrix: the bull rider's dance of seduction doing "whatever it takes to get" the presumed male viewers off.
Circumstances had me seeing Star Trek Beyond twice in one week, something I wouldn't normally have done but am glad that I did. It's a strange and beautiful film, but first viewings always highlight the problems. While many decry Abrams' abandoning the vision of Roddenberry, it is quickly forgotten that his utopian future Earth is not without its serious problems; problems that can be seen circulating the discourses on Hilary Clinton (is the vision of a multicultural liberal utopia, or a nascent imperalist that has rooms for gays and blacks and women?). Beyond signals a return to the Roddenberry vision of a multicultural liberal utopia, one that jumps over difficult questions of class and race and capitalism in favor of a united body politic. There is a strange nationalism in Star Trek, not unlike Verhoeven's vision of a future fascist utopia in Starship Troopers. Verhoeven gets what so many filmmakers forget: that fascism is beautiful for those who benefit from its structures. For a fleeting second the film seems to tackle this very subject. It's arch villain (another mindless rubber goblin bent on vague revenge) is a product of the frontier, the border pushed by the Federation. Echoes of the Hollywood Western and dispatches from Occupied Palestine ring forth. The great function of Hollywood (if there can be a single coherent function) is often to transform critiques of the nation into existential threats to its very existence. But we soon learn that these rubber goblin are actually specters of the nations' violent militaristic history, mutated through the centuries and back with a vengeance to unravel peace. Justin Lin's Star Trek is more Byron Haskin than Abrams.
Star Trek Beyond is a gorgeous meditation on finding one's footing in a polysemous universe. The set pieces of the York Town space station, with multiple centers of gravity, the camerawork from the opening shot that uses tilts to displace the center and orientation of the objects and characters, the frequent use of mirror images, the physical mutation of bodies. The only constant is transformation itself. Lin's figures, here a dynamic family unit akin to his Fast & Furious work, must navigate these changes; must find their footing. These figures are searching for a tenable ideology in a universe that enables nihilism to take hold. Lin's sense of movement and space create a visual universe of transformation and of shift where bodies, images, and ideas coalesce into a single kaleidoscopic vision.