My Endless Dystopian Summer Blockbuster
Theory Reference Statement
My Endless Dystopian Summer Blockbuster
2011, 2min 55sec, 1080P video, two channel projection
Permanent link: http://darkeuphoria.info/the-endless-dystopian-summer/
Vimeo link: https://vimeo.com/42345058
Featuring two projections which are designed to face each other at the ends of a gallery space the work is made up of samples from over 70 films which deal with notions of the apocalypse, large scale disaster and systematic failure of machines and network technology. The work is constructed in three parts beginning with 25 split screens and ending with a single full screen close-up of performers witnessing a catastrophic event – or the simulation of that event via computer graphics and data visualisation. The work is used to highlight the prevalence of simulated apocalyptic scenarios in recent Hollywood cinema and the emergence of the supercut as a media art form in contemporary networked culture. This argument is presented alongside an analysis of the works of Christian Marclay, Jeff Desom and Kevin Lee (see thesis, pages45 & 185-189).
One of the defining properties of network culture is the emergence of the remix. My Endless Dystopian Blockbuster is a video assemblage – or essay film – which remixes elements from two genres of feature film production: apocalyptic cinema (impending, post and ongoing) and the cinema of paranoia (in which fear and trepidation is built around the use of technology, primarily the computer and the internet). In both genres there exists the fear of the unknown or the unseen until it is invariably too late. Within apocalyptic cinema the predominate themes are familiar cataclysmic tropes – threats of nuclear annihilation, resource depletion, financial collapse, alien invasion (both species and inter-planetary object), disease (often of ancient and mysterious origin) and perhaps the two most predominate anxieties of the contemporary era – climate collapse and the walking dead. The technological paranoia of the computer (either as evil virtual entity, virus, proprietary malfunction, virtual A.I. or corrupt code) coupled with the abstract notion of what the internet represents in its most negative connotations (again, evil A.I., global nefarious organism, viral carrier, anti-western menace, the playground of hackers and terrorists) delivers another meta-narrative composition of the end times as orchestrated by the devices and the network technology that links them all together. It would seem appropriate then that an assemblage of these themes should occur on the screen as designed by Hollywood – who’s ideological links to government, conservative interest groups and moral crusaders often provide the corporate and political compass to such constructions – and linking them via the screen within a screen narrative methodology employed in such films.
The aim of this then is to intimate the importance of data visualization, high end digital animation and compositing, so called machine vision and use of the screen and all its variants as narrative device in the design and the delivery of the gothic high-tech apocalypse. While this may be a heightened experience of an already hyper-real construct the work seeks to reveal the endlessness of the contemporary Dystopian narrative and perhaps more pertinently the apparent desensitization that these hyper paranoid constructs create in the wider audience. For evidence of this would seem to be all around us, from debate (or lack of) over the very existence of climate change, the volatility of markets, the shortages of food and resources for ballooning populations, the endemic manipulation of native land owners to extract valuable minerals, the gap in western cultures between poverty and wealth, free access and controlled access to information and disinformation. It is appropriate then that in a similar manner as Vonnegut’s Firefight Fuzzbox delivers a mash-up critique of the war machine, mainstream TV image constructs and game design, that My Endless Dystopian Blockbuster seeks to build reflections of the darker anxieties – about ourselves and the world we live in – via a screen mediated fantasy. After all, the screen, as Paul Virilio has noted, has become the primary site for fantasy construction and political manipulation via the image loop while simultaneously – in more rarefied laboratories – becoming the link between truth and our interpretation of the truth via ever higher and higher grades of image acquisition. The screen has evolved to become the interface for the guidance missile, the machine gun pilot, the infrared telescope, the bar code reader, the 3D printer and the news camera. But it is also the author of darkness – the delivery device of diabolical statistics, the radar scope for plotting asteroids and earthly disasters, the graph of impending financial doom, the CCTV footage of rape, murder and every day life. Therefore in this construction, the screen delivers the tension between the impending apocalyptic moment (or technological suffrage) and the widescreen fantasy of its occurrence. Somewhere amidst all of this is the audience. The audience who exists in a similar space and time yet whose endless dystopic moment makes the fantasy of its ending a thing of mass appeal.
Evan Calder Williams observes that this trend speaks to a deeper question of not only our relationship with each other and the planet but to political systems and economic structures. Often these films pick up with the central protagonists adrift amidst the post-apocalyptic moment and end as they dehumanize via seemingly irrational moments of savagery and anarchy in order to survive or ultimately perish. As if the very act of societal collapse demands that we return to a more unstructured, immoral and anarchic age that is closer to our beastly ancestry negating our (perhaps) recent technological and philosophical high ground which facilitated the collapse in the first place.
“We face a globe in which whole portions are designated obsolete, forcibly shuffled off the world historical stage. A world in which sections are designated not of this world. None of this is accidental, and we can’t afford to buy that. We’re out of time, running up against infinite limits of resource and profit, while we are equally stuck in histories that don’t belong. The point is never to apologise or accept, neither to reconcile nor to compromise, only to take up whatever obstacles we can find and sharpen their edges. For the world isn’t flat, despite what capitalism and its apologists like to themselves and us. It never has been. It never worked that way, always depended on the casting to the deep whole populations and spaces of life. We inheret and occupy the material sites of this casting off: it cannot be otherwise. The first step towards our launching differently, both from this point in history and in casting off the weight of a monstrous world order, is to take fully on the burden of an apocalyptic world and structure of history.” (Evan Calder Williams, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, 2011)
In a similar vein to Slavov Zezik’s Desert of the Real essay written in the aftermath of 9/11 these types of films articulate a simulation of the real apocalypse which is happening all around us – nuclear weapons are real, climate change is real, avian flu is real, corrupt political systems are real, the war machine is real, the reorganisation of global financial markets (aka the end of growth) is real, but as Zizek and Wikileaks attest, taht which we are told is not. What this vein of cinema and television articulate is a hyper-real-visualisation of reality as not only mass entertainment but also as a reality without substance – a virtual reality, a simulacra.
“Virtual Reality simply generalizes this procedure of offering a product deprived of its substance: it provides reality itself deprived of its substance, of the hard resistant kernel of the Real – just as decaffeinated coffee smells and tastes like real coffee without being real coffee, Virtual Reality is experienced as reality without being so. What happens at the end of this process of visualization, however, is that we begin to experience ‘real reality’ itself as a virtual entity. For the great majority of the public, the WTC explosions were events on the TV screen, and when we watched the the oft-repeated shot of the frightened people running towards the camera ahead of the giant cloud of dust from the collapsing tower, was not the framing of the shot itself reminiscent of spectacular shots in catastrophe movies, a special effect which outdid all others, since – as Jeremy Bentham knew – reality is the best appearance of itself?” (Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real, 2002. Original essay from 15th September 2001)
The key reference for this genre of remix is Craig Baldwin’s 2003 assemblage, Spectres of the Spectrum. Baldwin’s creation is an ironic skewering of familiar 20th Century American tropes, at once taking aim at the Industrial War Machine he simultaneously subverts the innovations and achievements of the likes of Nikolas Tesla and Thomas Edison by dovetailing representations of their technological icons into the meta-narrative of paranoia and propaganda. His assemblage borrows from B-movies, kitsch science biopics, pop graphics, charts and educational diagrams, instructional videos and other rare and obscure parcels of found footage (for a fuller description of Baldwin’s piece see Gary Morris’ review at Blinding Lights).
This is Part 01 of an ongoing project by Kirby Ferguson. Visit the Everything Is a Remix site for Parts II through IV. Also of interest is the work of video editor Rob G. Wilson who compiled a piece examining the origins of The Matrix. It was written by Cynthia Closkey and most of the comparisons were crowdsourced by Everything is a Remix fans.
For the source of the original quotation by Jarmusch see the Movie Maker interview from January 2004. For the original design of this often posted and remixed design visit Malazarte’s site dedicated to the design meme.