Daily Archives: October 26, 2014

Capitalist Cinema (HUM415)

We can think about capitalist cinema in at least two ways:

1) films that explicitly address the world of accumulation, speculation, production, or consumption– that is, films that take as major themes or leitmotifs the procedures and trappings of capitalist economy AND

2) films that simply by virtue of having been produced in a capitalist society OF NECESSITY function as symptoms of their socio-historical context.

Clearly the second category presupposes what is perhaps already blindingly obvious: that a text (any text: film, novel, song, fashion, etc.) cannot help but bear the marks of not only its maker but its maker’s moment.

(This will be the case, I want to argue, even in the event that the object produced is a replica of an artifact identified with a prior age. A reproduction of a fetish, carved carefully from bone in direct proportion to a model taken from an archeological exhibit is still contemporary art not simply because it was produced in the present but because its status as a copy deprives it of ritual significance.)

Margin Call (US 2011), The Jewel (Italy 2011), and Life Without Principle (China 2011) belong in the first category. All of them are entertaining and address corruption and financial speculation (the latter, a film by Johnnie To, juxtaposes corporate malfeasance with “blue-collar” crime). Yet notably, these films, far from indicting capitalism function as its co-conspirators. As Baudrillard argues in Simulacra and Simulations, scandal serves to conceal the fact that the system itself is scandalous. To focus on the appalling greed of financier-sociopaths is to simply reiterate the tired alibi that our problems are caused by “a few bad apples.” But it’s not the apples; it’s the barrel.