Friday, June 23, 2017

The Gods Must Be Crazy

The Gods Must Be Crazy on the surface seems like a light hearted comedy where vastly different cultures come into contact with each other and struggle to find common ground and to communicate. There is another layer entirely to the film that is less obvious. With such different cultures and different understandings of what is socially acceptable and even what reality is, there comes a point where individuals from the different cultures need to find some sort of understanding of each other. Taking place in the continent of Africa, the film shows how even in a continent where most would assume that all cultures and types of living would be more or less on the same page there are clear and massive differences in the cultures of its peoples. These differences are so substantial that the cultures, while neighboring, live in almost different worlds entirely.
                A particularly interesting scene is when a pilot flying overhead drops an empty Coca-Cola bottle from the plane window which falls to the earth unbroken. The bottle is then found by a member of the Bushmen tribe. The Bushmen that finds it is perplexed by the bottle as it is unlike anything he had ever seen. The film describes it from the Bushmen perspective as looking like water yet being the hardest thing he had ever seen. The Bushmen then brings it back to his tribe and the tribe is equally confused by the strange object. They take turns trying to figure out what the object is and what it is used for. The unique properties of the object make it great for a variety of tasks, none of which were the intended purpose of the bottle. They find it is ideal for decorating clothing, skinning snakes, as an instrument, and ultimately as a weapon. With only one bottle and many tribal people they soon found that they were competing over the use of the new object. With such great scarcity and so many different uses the bottle became a prized possession that ultimately ended up being fought over. After two tribal people ended up in a physical altercation over the bottle sentiment regarding the bottle shifted from enthusiastic to almost fearful. They realized that the way the tribe had been acting since the arrival of that damn bottle made them worse off than before it was found. This led to the decision that the object needed to be returned to the gods in order to rid the tribe of the chaos and violence it had brought. The rest of the film follows the tribe member that goes on a journey to throw the object off the end of the earth.
                While this film had plenty of comedy, it also made me realize the stark contrast between different ways of living that exist at the same time. I found the bottle situation interesting because it was such a simple object but became such a luxury and yet such a bane at the same time. I also couldn’t help but feel bad for the other Africans in the film that lived in a semi-civilized condition because of the film’s reference to the infighting and civil war that still happens to this day in African nations. The use of children as human shields for the criminal leader of the guerilla fighter to escape from the country he was be pursued in made me think if the usage of children both as human shields and as child soldiers. The comedic aspects of the film start to seem to me like a necessity to balance out the ugliness of these other aspects of the film.

                The simple bottle and the myriad of events that it brings in The Gods Must Be Crazy is comical but also seems to make reference to societal realities and problems that exist in the world outside of the Bushmen tribe. The introduction of scarcity brought by the new object is representative of the problems that are brought about by materialism and more broadly capitalism. The Bushmen before lived in a society without any real scarcity where people freely shared with each other and there was no sense of possessiveness. In a way the introduction of the bottle had an effect on the Milieu of the tribe in that it began rapidly shifting social factors in the tribe and initiated a type of Rhythm Chaos (Deleuze, 1987). It created haves and have-nots, or in this case one have and many have-nots. It seems that the introduction of scarcity alone can completely change the structure of a society. Scarcity quickly degrades egalitarianism within a society and is so transformative that it can shift that society into a smooth space. Also important regarding the bottle is the Nomadism relating to its use in the Bushmen tribe. The bottle had a completely different intended use but the Bushmen repurpose the bottle for multiple other tasks. This is done unintentionally because when taken out of the context of the society in which the bottle was created, the same object can become a completely different type of tool. The bottle was intended to be used as a container for liquid but to the Bushmen who had no context with which to relate the bottle it became a musical instrument, a tool for decoration, or a hammer. In terms of nomadism, the Bushmen are clearly living outside the existence of a state and it is tempting to call them nomads but after further analysis they appear to be something else. Nomadism seems to imply that the nomads are knowingly and somewhat willingly living outside the scope of their society (Nomad-Wiki). That doesn’t seem to be the case with these Bushmen as they are unaware of any state existing around them. This idea of a state is probably so far out of their norm that they cannot conceptualize what it is. Therefore the Bushmen cannot be intentionally living outside the reach of the state and certainly do not mean to disrupt or challenge it. The direction of Nomadism of existing outside the state and a large scale status quo is something that the Bushmen seem to take so far as to be beyond Nomadism. It is important in affirmative nomadology to have somewhere to go to escape society after you refuse to be a part of it (Holland, 2011). The Bushmen have that small plot of land and that place to go but never needed a general strike against the state as they were never a part of it to begin with. Therefore it is actually easy to argue that the Bushmen are not nomads at all.

Deleuze, Gilles & Felix Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (trans. Brian Massumi). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion GeneralStrike, Eugene Holland, University of Minnesota Press. 2011

Nomad-Wiki (2017), Multiple Authors.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

V For Vendetta

Having seen this film numerous times since its release, V for Vendetta has been the basis of what I think of when I think of cinematic modern revolution. It is famous for its idea, although not unique, that ideas cannot be killed and are in fact “bulletproof”. Taking place in England during what appears to be somewhat modern times the depicted world is a rather frightening one where a Hitler like leader maintains oppressive control over the country using technology survey the population. This state of oppression was not implemented through violence or hostile takeover. Chancellor Sutler was voted into office by overwhelming margin during a time of panic. A pandemic was sweeping England and in that climate of chaos the public looked for a strong man figure to bring back the safety and stability that they craved. Again this story seems to be reflective of the conditions that resulted in Nazi Germany. A terrorist referred to as “V” wears a Guy Fawkes mask in reference to a man from the 1600s that tried to blow up the Parliament building. As the plot develops the viewer learns what motivates V. He covers himself completely not just to maintain anonymity due to his rogue status but also because he had been horribly burned. While held captive in a facility that was set up to work on finding a cure for the disease, V was burned in a fire that destroyed the facility and set him free of it. Over the course of the film V seeks revenge on the people responsible not just for what happened to him at that facility but for the others that died there. The end of the film is where everything comes together and one scene in particular proves that V is not motivated by his own interests and that revenge is maybe only a secondary motivation. He shows Evey the train that he has loaded with explosives with the express purpose of destroying the Parliament building. At this point V has killed most of those on his hit list and leaves Evey with the decision of whether or not to pull the lever to set the train in motion. V says that the old world, the world he belongs to, is over and a new world is beginning. As Evey belongs to this new world and V does not it should be her who makes the decision to destroy the Parliament building. V then goes on his way to finish off the two individuals remaining on his list and leaves Evey to it. Predictably Evey ends up pulling the lever but not after V returns to her dying upon completing his final two assassinations.
                V for Vendetta is a drama with a substantial amount of ideology and meaning behind it. One cannot help but hope for the “terrorist” to succeed and to destroy the oppressive government that is oppressing its people. This feeling is increased upon learning that the key government officials¸ the same officials who found themselves on V’s hit list, were involved in the release of the pathogens that resulted in the pandemic and created the demand for a strong man figure to save them and return their sense of security at any cost. One cannot help but draw parallels between the government in the movie and the one in real life. While obviously not nearly as oppressive and blatant as the government in the movie, our government also uses technology for intelligence gathering on its own citizens and particularly watches those with messages and activism that may threaten the status quo. Certainly with the election of Donald Trump and those who refer to him and his supporters as fascists this film seems even more relevant than at the time that it came out.
                This is probably my third or fourth time watching V for Vendetta but this time my perspective of the film was a little different. This time the film seemed to have more of a Marxist them. Suggesting rebellion against the oppressive elites by the common man seemed to be a primary theme. The political elite had ties to the pharmaceutical company that both created the pandemic and cured it. They then became political leaders in the government that followed the incident. It seems obvious that the government depicted in this film was supposed to be a fascistic one. Specific scenes in V for Vendetta toward the end of the film really seemed to show more Marxist themes. Scenes that showed citizens wearing Guy Fawkes masks and performing acts of civil disobedience such as spray painting graffiti on government signs seemed revolutionary in nature. There was also a scene where a massive number of people wearing those masks flooded the streets in opposition to what the government was doing and likely seizing control of the government. The masks made everyone from all different backgrounds unified and indistinguishable. Instead of individuals they were all equal faceless agents of the same cause. V himself is accused by the government of being a terrorist but you start to question early on if he really is or if he is justified in doing what he is doing (Clowry, 2012). Instead it is very possibly for one side’s terrorist to be the other side’s hero. It becomes clear that despite government’s best efforts to convince the public that V was an enemy of the people, V was actually dedicating his life to waking up and then freeing those people.
                As I stated earlier, the regime that is depicted in V for Vendetta is very reminiscent of the Third Reich. As was noted by Delueze and Guattari when mentioning the different types of War Machines, a state can sometimes become a War Machine formed from the social formations that go on to take over the state itself like in Nazi Germany (Deuchars, 2011). Indeed Nazi Germany became the very definition of a War Machine. The Government in V for Vendetta was not expansionist like Nazi Germany but had the same types of technology driven domestic surveillance and the same active suppression that was present in Germany but also in Soviet Russia and most other authoritarian states. However, on the other side of things characters like V and Evey were nomads in their world. By gaining the support of what was presumably a large part of the population of England, they were able to instigate their own War Machine through a sort of grassroots organizing in order to return to a state of freedom and get back to a smooth space.

- Clowry, A. (2012, July 06). The Cultural and Political Impact of V for Vendetta. Retrieved June 15, 2017, from

- Deuchars, Robert, “CreatingLines of Flight and Activating Resistance: Deleuze and Guattari’s War Machine”, in AntePodium, Victoria University Wellington, 2011

Thursday, June 1, 2017

War Dogs is a very entertaining film that provides a mostly glamorous perspective of the military industrial complex that has become a massive expenditure for the US government. While the film tells the story of two young men that start off fulfilling contracts for supplies for the military, it isn’t until later in the film that the structure and workings of the government’s privatized military supply sourcing becomes better explained. While War Dogs does offer the audience various action scenes and excitement about winning contract bids to make big profits, there is a more subtle explanation of how that system works. This is explained over the course of multiple scenes but mainly when Efraim asks David to work for him and explains what contracts to look for and why the government uses that particular system. Essentially the government has a website that it uses to solicit supplies for the military. The solicitations can range from requests for tanks, to small arms, to ammunition. With the solicitations posted on the website, various companies and corporations bid to fulfill the contract with the lowest cost. The entity with the lowest priced bid will generally win the contract and will enter into an agreement with the military to provide those supplies for the military within a certain time frame. Efraim points out that the large corporations generally stick to competing for the larger contracts and the smaller solicitations get ignored. Efraim aims to fulfill these smaller neglected solicitations because they tend to be much easier to win. He refers to them as crumbs and says he lives off of the crumbs. The massive final solicitation that brings Efraim and David down is one to supply the Afghani army with 7.62x39mm ammunition. The source they have exclusive access to is an Eastern European country with warehouses full of Soviet era weapons and ammunition left over from the Cold War. This seems to be the only source in the world for the amount of AK-47 ammunition needed for the contract. It turns out that the ammunition is manufactured in China rather than the former USSR and is subject to sanctions which prevent its purchase by the US government. Rather than lose the $300 million contract, Efraim and David decide to repackage the ammunition into plastic bags and cardboard boxes that do not have the ‘Made In China’ markings in order to circumvent the legal issues of its purchase. Many times it is mentioned that the government would rather look the other way on the legal issues of the origin of the ammunition, implying that the military would rather get a good price on the deal that abide by the restrictions of the sanction as long as they could have plausible deniability. This turns out not to be the case and the government launches an investigation after they are tipped off about the sanction violation. Efraim and David are then arrested and the contract is terminated.
                My reaction to this film was that it was an entertaining and indirect way of pointing out the way that the military operates in terms of how it acquires its supplies and the big business involved. War Dogs was done in a way similar to the directors other films with depicting action along with some “bro fantasy” (Bahr, 2016). It did have a similar feel to The Hangover with the same fun partying scenes. However I did feel that it used comedy to veil some exposure of the military industrial complex and how that whole system operates. I’ll admit that despite my political believes and opposition to how that system operates, War Dogs did have me wondering how I could start getting into some of the smaller contracts on that website. My father’s company has bid on and fulfilled contracts for the government using the same system; however it was not related to arms or ammunitions. The film did make me feel that it is probably an issue that war is such a big business and that individuals and corporations make so much money from wars that don’t end.
Looking at how the film exposes how military supply and the military industrial complex works, it seems obvious that there are both pros and cons to this system. At the very least it means that the government opens the bidding up publically so that people can see what it is purchasing and so that others besides massive corporations can compete. While there are positive effects of private supplying for the military such as lower cost and more innovation, it seems alarming that there is so much money in war. The film did a lot to point out how much money could be made by supplying militaries in the never ending conflicts. I suspect this may have much to do with why the conflicts are never ending. It also concerns me how these corporations supply other militaries that have been engaged in long lived conflicts, perpetuating the conflicts further. This film plays perfectly into the idea of the Death-State. While the military machine of fascism has passed the even more potent global system of a global economic war-machine has risen to power (Holland, 2011). This is essentially what War Dogs describes as the military industrial complex. The mega corporations that Efraim and David initially couldn’t compete with are that complex. They later became part of that complex. Additionally the film highlighted the importance of the global economy in that system. The United States wanted to purchase ammunition for the Afghani army from Eastern Europe that was instead manufactured in China. Globalization is a substantial difference in today’s government versus the nationalist focus of the fascists.

Nomad Citizenship by Eugene W. Holland (2011)


Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Trial

The most substantial scene of this film is the scene where the main character, Joseph K, goes to the Titorelli the Painter for help. Titorelli is the painter that the judges use to have their portraits done. Joseph goes to him in hopes that Titorelli can use his influence with the highly inaccessible judges to sway the decision in his favor. However, Joseph is saddened to learn from Titorelli that even if he can sway the judge's opinion there are additional courts that the case could go to. The high court is inaccessible even to Titorelli. It becomes apparent that even if Joseph is found innocent by one court he can still be immediately arrested again by the order of another court. This scene finally gives Joseph some of the clarity and understanding of his predicament that he has been after. This scene was also probably the first in the film that gives the viewer any understanding of what is happening.
As the film develops it seems to be more of a theoretical nightmare than a realistic depiction of the criminal justice system. With that said, it does give a feeling of a highly structured but still dysfunctional and nightmarish world. An extremely intrusive and overbearing police force violates his privacy in the first scene of the movie which invokes a sense of unacceptable oppression. From there the film seems to unveil a system whose dysfunction seems intentional. It becomes clear that the depicted justice system is designed to keep the accused in an oppressed and controlled position by creating requirements that cannot be adequately satisfied. A specific example is when the inspector gives Joseph notice to appear in court but does not specify the room number. This results in Joseph being over an hour late as he searched the large building for the correct room. As Joseph mentions several times during the film he feels guilty but does not know why he feels that way. It seems clear that the depicted system is designed to ensure that the accused will constantly feel that sense of confused guilt. This sense of confused guilt and hopelessness gives the film a feeling of anxiety as the guilt cannot be remedied. Toward the end of the film, however, Joseph adopts a careless and apathetic attitude toward his predicament as he realizes how ridiculous it is. Joseph’s shifted attitude does little to alleviate the sense of anxiety as it seems like a coping mechanism for the obvious hopelessness of his situation.
With Post-Structuralism having formed from criticisms of structuralism, The Trial seems to relate with its own critical perspective on the criminal justice system structure that is depicted in the film. While that justice system was intended to be used to interpret and carry out the law it is failing to do so as it was probably intended. This is likely the result of the misinterpretation of the legal structure that post-structuralists would focus on. While the courts, judges, and law enforcement exist they are being interpreted in a different way than many would expect and therefore the actual function of that system is very different from what would be expected. A specific example from the film of the justice system’s deviance from the law could be found in the scene where Joseph is in the courtroom while it is empty after his hearing. He finds some old books on a shelf that he is warned not to touch. These dusty neglected books are found to be containing The Law. The film makes it apparent that the books that one would assume would be deferred to very frequently in a court room are instead forgotten. Therefore the point is made that the structure of the justice system is being used in a way that deviates from what its architects probably intended and instead use that system to expand and protect the power and influence of the individuals operating the system.

Despite the sense of helplessness that the viewer may feel and that the characters must feel in The Law, they are not all that powerless. The characters are consensually making decisions and facing the outcomes as opposed to being enslaved by the system they find themselves in. They consent to various employment, commercial, and sexual transactions (Harvard Law Review). They are also maintaining the power of the criminal justice structure by recognizing that system as the authority and consenting to its authority. When Joseph stops fearing the system and no longer takes it seriously he undermines the power and legitimacy of that system. This can also tie into post-structuralism in that “Poststructuralism is consistent with activism, but not with utopian states” ( Joseph’s refusal to be suppressed and forced into submission is certainly a form of activism. That activism was along the lines of what someone would expect who is living in a different reality than the world depicted in The Trial but in the context of that world Joseph’s behavior was somewhat deviant. He did not surrender to that system and become a bootlicker to the officials in that system. Instead he was an outsider and provided an outsider’s perspective in a form of Schizoanalysis. Joseph saw things from a different perspective that led him in the end to react differently to his accusation that was probably the norm in his society. He saw that justice system as corrupt and disconnected so when that system forced him into a position of deviancy, instead of attempting to return to his previous position of good standing Joseph accepted that his deviancy could not be rectified.

West, R. (1985). Authority, Autonomy, and Choice: The Role of Consent in the Moral and Political Visions of Franz Kafka and Richard Posner. Harvard Law Review, 99(2), 384. doi:10.2307/1341128