Violent Media in Slacker

While the tone of slacker was pretty mild, there was a recurring theme of violence throughout the film, and this violence was almost always either experienced through the media, or some form of media was used to spread violent messages. And while there may not be much happening in the film, there is a lot happening in the peripheral of what is being shown, most of it is violent, and at least one person in each scene is fascinated by this violence, although there is also usually at least one person who is completely passive in the face of this violence, and it’s unclear which reaction should be most concerning, as there is danger in both.

For me, the scene where this dynamic is most prevalent is the one with the Madonna pap smear girl, who runs up to the two people who were talking to each other and starts telling this story that she heard on the news about a man shooting up a freeway. She intros the story by saying it’s “beautiful,” demonstrating a concerning amount of reverence for the event she proceeds to describe. The two people she’s talking to, however, have zero reaction, and no response once she’s done talking, they immediately move  on to the next subject. Going back to our discussion on Adorno and his take on language as commodity, this girl is offering this couple something beautiful, something she sees as having value, and they are not taking it. Of course this scene is immediately followed by an attempt at an actual exchange of commodity, which is also denied, thus completely barring the capitalist system from this scene.

Another scene of violence worth noting is the one with the tv backpack guy and his visitor. First off, it is worth noting that he says that we need to capitalize on the televised image and “make it work for us instead of us working for it” and feels that a video image is more powerful and more useful than an actual event. He then goes on to narrate a story about how he saw a guy with a knife in his back come out of a bar, and laments the fact that he can’t go back and explore every detail the way that he could with a video. He also notes that, despite the fact that he was seeing this event in real life something about the hue was “off” and that the blood he was seeing didn’t look real. This man clearly prefers the sensationalized violence that he surrounds himself with over the real life equivalent, and sees the spectacle as more real than the event. He has completely devoted himself to this system of dramatized reality in such a way that real reality is no longer real to him. Despite his assertions at the beginning of this scene, he is fully working for the televised image, rather than having it work for him.

The second to last scene in this film shows a man driving around in a truck blasting a message of purge-like violence to anyone who can hear him. He is using his own form of media to advertise violence, and encourage others to participate in it. What fascinates me most about this scene is the transition into the next one, as his message is suddenly being captured on a camera pointed at him like a gun by group of laughing teens. The film then switches to a greenish hue, and there’s very happy music in the background, and the movie suddenly turns into a happy go lucky summer film that ends with a camera being thrown off a cliff.  This has the effect of sensationalizing the previously violent message, and adding a sense of joy to it. For there to be such a quick turn around at the very end of the film demonstrates just how much the movie is interweaving violence and media, and exposing the strange and unnatural reactions the media has built into this community in the face of violence.

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CTT: Relations

In vanessatshionyi’s posts “Vincent’s Struggles” and “Beasts in the Jungle,” and pippyboy9’s post “May & Marcher: From Everyone to Weatherend” an interesting dialogue emerges that demonstrates just how much the idea of failure in the texts we have looked at is rooted in relations and relationships. Through these relationships it is clear that there is an anxiety about no just being a failure, but also of failing others. Not only that, but these posts also make it clear that the character’s failures are also defined through their relationships with others.

Both bloggers discussed Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle, and the relationship between Marcher and May in said novella. While pippyboy9 discusses the performative nature of their relationship, vanessatshionyi talks about Marcher’s failure to recognize the possibility for love in his life. In discussing the queerness of the relationship between Marcher and May, pippyboy9 also discusses their relationship with the outside world. Specifically, pippyboy9 analyzes the scene where Marcher and May discuss the idea of “saving” one another and May saying she’s had her man. In regards to this scene pippyboy9 says: “The almost backwards way in which she mentions the possible gossip about herself from the outside world… acknowledges an ‘other’-like presence that they both are aware of but not part of.” The argument about not just the personal relationship between Marcher and May, but their relationship to the “other” and their acknowledgment of that relationship demonstrates their knowledge that they exist in a queer relationship, and that they are defined not only through their relationship with each other, but also through their relationship with the normative “other.”

Vanessatshionyi’s post focused more on their personal relationship, but through the lens of the final scene in which “Marcher sees the grieving man at the grave and suddenly has an awakening.” By examining their relationship through this lens, she, like the novella, creates a distance between Marcher and his relationship to May. She also reads the “beast” as being Marcher’s sexuality, and argues that “James never fully allows Marcher to explore his beast, and this repression of Marcher’ sexuality makes Marcher go insane.” By referring to Marcher “exploring” his beast she expands on the relationship that Marcher has with his beast, and highlights the fact that, like his relationship with May, there is a lot of distance between the two. What sets her argument apart from others is her reading of Marcher’s suppressed sexuality not as a suppressed homosexuality, but as Marcher refusing to acknowledge his sexual attraction to May. However, what she seems to be arguing is that at the end of the novella, the thing that Marcher seems to have missed out on the most is not his sexuality, but his lack of romance, and the potential for a romantic relationship he could have had with May.

Vanessatshionyi also wrote a post about “Time Out” where she discusses Vincent’s relationships with his various family members, and the ways in which they seem to fail. She starts off by discussing Vincent’s relationship with his children stating: “Vincent feels that in order to be a good father, he needs to provide financially to his children without being present.” She then argues that Vincent creates a relationship with his children purely through money, completely devoid of emotion. After talking about the scene towards the end of the film where Vincent’s children seem to fear him she says that “The children’s weariness towards their father shows how much his absence has created a strange place between himself and his family.” I find this description of there being a “place” between Vincent and his family a very accurate description of that scene as there was a sense of something almost physical separating Vincent from understanding his family in that moment. She then talks about how Vincent struggles to maintain a masculine image in front of his wife, and is afraid that if he admits to her that he lost his job, she won’t accept him. At the end of her post she discusses Vincent’s relationship with himself and how he is “not present in is own world,” using “world” to refer to all the relationships he has outside of himself. She talks about how throughout the movie we see Vincent choosing to spend most of his time alone, only occasionally checking in with his family, and this leads her to asking “how much does his family actually mean to him?” I think this brings an interesting aspect into the conversation, because it is clear throughout the film that his motivations are based around his not wanting to fail his family, or lose face in front of anyone, but if we really look at how much his family means to him then we must consider whether or not these motivations come from real love for the people around him, or from a simple sense of obligation.

What these different posts show is the variety of ways in which character’s failure are defined through their relationships with others, and how even the most impersonal relationships can hold a great weight. I think what we can learn from this, and from Murphy as well is that failure and relationships are often intertwined.

Helmers’s Take on Time

In his article “Possibly Queer Time: Paranoia, Subjectivity, and ‘The Beast in the Jungle'” Matthew Helmers discusses the manner in which May Bartram serves as an anchor for John Marcher in a linear, and “normal” sense of time, rather than the sense of time he had been living in before, which was more easygoing, as it seemed completely unaffected by an unremembered past. Helmers’s reading of Marcher’s time as being “queer” is evidenced in the story by Marcher’s assessment of his meeting with May in Weatherend as being “the sequel of something of which he had lost the beginning” (James 34). The beginning mentioned is lost not only to Marcher, but to the reader as well, making the reader just as reliant on May to fill in the gaps of the past as Marcher is. Helmers argues that by transferring Marcher into this linear sense of time, he and May then act as a heteronormative couple. He explains this by stating: “This unification happens not through the play-acting of heterosexuality but through the ascription of both characters to a specific model of time, a model that the story unites with courtship, history, knowledge, and intersubjectivity”  (107). Marcher and May are not performing heterosexuality, but rather the interpretation of the two of them as a heteronormative couple is based on a shared history and their subsequent relationship that mirrors traditional courtships (their frequent outings to museums and the opera), and the passage of time that develops a deeper knowledge and understanding between the two.

As Helmers points out, May is also the one that brings the concept of the beast back into Marcher’s life, thus providing him not only with a past, but also with a future that he had forgotten he was anticipating. Subsequently, Helmers says, Marcher “commits himself to her so that he can watch and wait for the future event” (107). When he is reintroduced to his desire for whatever the future may hold for him, Marcher seeks to hold on to that desire and anticipation by committing both himself and May into both a seemingly heteronormative coupling, and an endless waiting game that only gets interrupted by the deteriorating health and eventual death of May. Thus May serves as a link not only to Marcher’s past and future, but also as a link to his desire. If May’s motivation for committing herself to Marcher is read as her desire for him, then her control of his sense of time and desire is seen as largely in her favor. This, however, makes her unfulfilled desire so much sadder, because, despite the amount of power she has over Marcher’s life, she was unable to gain the one thing she needed from him. By remaining so focused on his anticipation of the beast, Marcher remains ignorant of any desire May might have for him, and in turn any desire he might have for her, or for anyone. However, this does not mean that Marcher’s life is lacking desire, as he spends the entire story desiring to know what the beast may bring for him. His desire is ultimately unfulfilled as he realizes that his lot in life was to actually have a completely uneventful life, but that does not mean that desire was completely absent from his life.

Marcher’s Failure

“That she, at all events might be recorded as having waited in vain- this affected him sharply, and all the more because of his at first having done little more than amuse himself with the idea. It grew more grave as the gravity of her condition grew, and the state of mind it produced in him, which he himself ended by watching as if it had been some definite disfigurement of his outer person, may pass for another of his surprises” (53).

In this passage Henry James demonstrates both Marcher’s narcissism, and his extreme detachment from human emotion. After learning about his friends deteriorating health, Marcher begins to agonize that she will miss out on witnessing “the beast in the jungle,” a goal he presumes has been at the forefront of both of their minds for the entire time they have known each other. Whatever event will take place, Marcher believes it will be of such importance that his friend will be “recorded as having waited in vain” for the rest of history. His further reflection that he had “done little more than amuse himself with the idea” shows that he feels he has failed his friend by not working harder to work out what this event might be. He sees her purely as a spectator to his life, and as a companion in his anticipation for the great event. What’s presented in the story is a friendship based purely around this confidence Marcher bestowed upon May all those years ago in Italy, and the subsequent wait. The consequence of that is a friendship where the two spend lots of time together, but there seems to be no real intimacy, hindered mostly by the fact that Marcher seems to separate himself as much as possible from any sort of vulnerability or emotion, which is also demonstrated in this passage with Marcher imagining his troubled state of mind as an outward disfigurement on his body, something attached to himself, but at the same time, somewhat alien to himself.

What this story and this passage present to us is Marcher’s failure to participate in the human experience by failing to open himself up to real intimacy. As noted in earlier in the novel, “His conviction, his apprehension, is obsession, in short, wasn’t a privilege he could invite a woman to share” (43), or, in other words, his obsession with his own possible fate prevents him from devoting himself to anything else. What Marcher missed when he missed the beast leaping was his last chance at love and intimacy with the woman who had stood by his side for years. As she presents herself to him as the person who has been his life companion, he is too focused on figuring out what she knows about his fate to realize what is being offered to him. The further detachment he seems to feel from her and the rest o the world after this instance only goes to prove that he has lost his chance to really experience what it is to live.

Masochism and Feminism

Through his discussion of the breakdown of “traditional” mother-daughter relationships Halberstam explores the shadow feminism of female masochism, and the resulting struggle of defining the female identity. Drawing from Virginia Woolf, Halberstam states that “if we do not think back through our mothers, then we are not women, and this broken line of thinking and unbeing of the woman unexpectedly offers a way out of the reproduction of woman as the other to a man from one generation to the next” (125). Following this line of thought Halberstam discusses the protagonist of Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiography of My Mother, Xula and her lack of mother- daughter relationship and the subsequent rejection she has of traditional feminine and racial roles. Indeed this rejection could be seen as a failure to be a proper woman, as Halberstam mentions that at one point in the novel she aborts a baby. The idea of femininity and what it means to successfully complete your duties as a woman are often tied into one’s ability and willingness to reproduce. Within this failure Xula embodies a different idea of femininity and feminism.

Moving from a colonized point of view to a more privileged point of view Halberstam then discusses Elfride Jelinek’s novel The Piano Teacher and the claustrophobic and slightly incestuous relationship between Erika and her mother, and the violent outcomes of the breakdown of their relationship. Through this novel Halberstam also begins to really explore the idea of female masochism. Erika, like Xula, rejects the race and class- based norms imposed by her on her mother, but unlike Xula, who is able to reject these norms because her mother is no longer with her, Erika is faced with them every second of her life as she lives within inescapable proximity to her mother. Erika then expresses her anger through self harm and a request to be completely abused by her young paramour. Further expanding on the use of self harm Halberstam states that “cutting is a feminist aesthetic proper to the project of female unbecoming” (135) and that “masochism is an underused way of considering the relationship between self and other, self and technology, self and power in queer feminism” (135). As the embodiment of creation, a woman’s violation of her own body is, as Halberstam puts it “complex and [a] critique of the very ground of the human” (139). Additionally, the invitation that Erika delivers to her lover asking him to inflict violence upon her own person shows us her failure in being able to fulfill her own masochistic needs. This idea would also go against all traditional forms of feminism, and therefore fail as being a feminist work.

Halberstam’s further commentary on art pieces such as Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” and Nao Bustamante’s “America the Beautiful” help to establish a view of masochism as a way of relating the self to the rest of the world. Halberstam’s analysis of Ono’s performance is deep and very relevant to his earlier points, but in a book about failure I find it interesting that he didn’t bring up the fact that Yoko Ono’s name is directly symbolic with the failure and break up of one of the most successful bands of all time. While it may not quite be directly relevant to the topic of the chapter it is still interesting to note that her position as the female who broke up the band has led to a legacy of people being wary of female partners of band members. While this idea was clearly created by people looking for a scapegoat for their devastation, the negative image that this brought to the female gender, and to Ono herself has never quite been forgotten.

Going back to the term “shadow feminism” that Halberstam sprinkles throughout the reading, this seems like a particularly good example of a kind of feminism that lives in the shadows. The idea of feministic masochism, where women are in control of their own pain, is certainly one that would not be highly talked about, although with the recent popularity of 50 Shades of Grey it might find a wider audience now, despite the fact that that book would probably be considered by most to fail as any sort of feminist work.