Life is busy, I have a new job, etc. so I probably won’t be posting here for a while, until things settle down a bit. In the meanwhile, though, I’m still active on twitter (@danziger_ross) and I’ve started up a tumblr to document my adventures cooking my way through an entire lamb (lambalot.tumblr.com).
This video does pretty much what it says on the package, and I found it strange and unsettling in unexpected ways. My first reaction was, “ech, I don’t want to watch anyone eat a hamburger. That’s disgusting.”
I don’t know if that’s a normal response or not. I realize, I watch people eat hamburgers all the time — at lunch today, for example, but I was eating one too, and I wasn’t *watching*, exactly, so it didn’t feel weird. Also in advertisements for burger joints, but that’s really watching someone *acting* like they are eating a hamburger. Even if they really are eating it, there is so much of the performative involved that it hardly feels like you’re witnessing a bodily function. Sitting there, watching someone eat — especially eat with his hands — is actually not something most of us do regularly, and I’m probably not the only person who feels shy about it.
My next thought was, “well, that’s presumably the point of the video — to force the viewer to undergo this unpleasant experience, and maybe make him wonder why exactly it is so unpleasant.” So, since I’m a good consumer of conceptual art, that decided me: I’d watch the video.
But what surprised me was how not disgusting it was. Warhol does not chew with his mouth open, or talk while he eats, or make smacking noises, or get ketcup on his chin. He eats slowly, politely, looking a little bored throughout. It is — strange to say — a convincing performance. I can believe that this video pretty well approximates what was like to sit across from Andy Warhol while he ate lunch. His hand movements are a little delicate, but I’m also slightly surprised at how normal he seems, fright wig and all. He doesn’t come across as particularly dramatic or self-conscious or effete or provocative. Just a man with relatively good manners, eating a hamburger.
What is even weirder is that this, somehow, makes it even harder to watch. I couldn’t resist the compulsion to look away a couple of times, or focus on some other part of the screen than Warhol’s face. His very normality makes the performance all the more vulnerable, compared to if he were being either deliberately or thoughtlessly gross. There’s a slightly uncomfortable intimacy at play that is, in its own way, quite shocking.
This all without even getting into the tropes of celebrity, branding, and commodity that are obviously present here as well.
I’m kind of horrified at this article in the nytimes from the other day, How to Read a Racist Book to Your Kids.
Although some lip-service is paid to the idea of using these books as “teachable moments”, where parent and child can engage in serious conversations about the history of racism, for the most part the author seems to feel perfectly justified in “cleaning up” objectional texts so his children will never know they contain racist elements. And yes, this includes whitewashing the word “nigger” out of Huckleberry Finn.
The is the most insidious kind of revisionism, in my opinion. Shall we tell our children slavery never happened? Shall we protect them from the realities of segregation, colonialism, the abuses of the class structure? I can’t tell that this approach serves any purpose, except to pretend that dominant groups have never committed any crimes, and to reinforce the notion that power structures exist because they are natural and inevitable, and certainly not an artifact of historical acts of oppression.
It also helps build the lie that genius is immune to immorality, and that great evil is never done by people you admire. Which helps ensure that these children will never feel the need to interrogate their own motives because they’ve been taught that racism is something other, something Bad People do, if they’ve even heard of it at all.
[LMFAO] may as well have taken cues from Baudrillard when creating Party Rock: “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real…”
– Leah Caldwell in The New Inquiry
…the BwO is also full of gaiety, ecstasy, and dance.
– Deleuze and Guattari, How do you make yourself a body without organs?
Before Caldwell’s New Inquiry piece, I only had a vague sense of who LMFAO were — the “Sexy and I Know It” dudes, right? A pleasant enough rehash of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy,” the most overplayed song of my high school experience.
Then I checked out “Party Rock Anthem”.
An homage to zombie movies throughout the ages, the basic plot of the video here is that LMFAO have woken up in an empty hospital only to discover that the rest of the world has been zombiefied. Only instead of eating brains, the contagion here is spread via an insidiously catchy pop song that demands of its listeners mindless dancing, aka “shuffling”.
Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen pop music and zombies get into bed together. Indeed, Party Rock Anthem contains a visual quotation of the moment in Michael Jackson’s Thriller (itself a quotation from movies like Romero’s) when MJ is surrounded by a swarm of attacking zombies, who step aside at last to reveal that MJ has become one of them, and they begin their danse macabre.
(compare Thriller at 8:15 with Party Rock at 2:05)
In that case, it seems that zombies function mostly as inspiration for cool dance moves. Significantly, however, the “shuffle” in Party Rock Anthem has much less in common with the slow-moving lurch familiar in the zombie movies MJ is riffing off — it’s more like The Electric Slide, or the Macarena, or any number of silly, harmless line dances popular through the years. LMFAO themselves wonder aloud in the video if it might be the Watusi. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Dancers aren’t like zombies because they look or move like them. Dancers are like zombies because have given over their individuality to become part of the horde.
This gets at a key philosophical difference between the two. While the idea that music and dancing will suck away your identity isn’t exactly new, in Thriller, zombie-dancing is exciting (“thrilling”), but still terrifying. It’s a temptation, but it remains a clear threat, as we are reminded by Ola Ray’s screaming and running. This is simply a new version of Romero’s zombies-as-consumerist-critique.
In Party Rock Anthem, on the other hand, the idea of succumbing to the zombie horde quickly turns from threat to celebration — at the price of subjectivity, of personhood, there opens the possibility of ecstatic pleasure in the place where the party does not stop. As Deleuze and Guattari observe (PDF), “They swirl, go north, then suddenly east; none of the individuals in the crowd remains in the same place in relation to the others. So I too am in perpetual motion; all this demands a high level of tension, but it gives me a feeling of violent, almost vertiginous, happiness.”
Far from wanting to consume brains, LMFAO’s dancing zombie yearns only to be the perfect Body Without Organs. Pop music is the virus you can’t resist, but why would you want to?
“Fanfiction.net… has 87 examples of Tetris fan fiction, which are a showcase for the resourcefulness of writers spinning stories from the thinnest of threads: “L-block has just found out that his life partner, Square block, was cheating on him with his brother, Inverse L-block …”
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,2081784,00.html
This vaguely reminds me of my Battleship-inspired plan to make a blockbuster movie out of the game Connect Four.