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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Adorno, Slackers and Language Exchange

In both the excerpt from Adorno and the film Slackers, the idea of language as a commodity is explored and how valuable it actually is. Adorno writes “A word is seldom banal on it’s own…the most abominable cliches are combinations words…utterly and completely, for better or for worse, implemented and effected,” (85). If a word is never obvious by itself, then it holds a lot of value based on the many interpretations it could have as opposed to a word that is less valuable if it has only one interpretation. Additionally, words lose value when they’re commonly used with words they’re familiar with. Using multiple words to essential reach the same interpretation diminishes the product as a whole. This would make sense because Adorno reinforces the idea that the length of text doesn’t matter, specifically, “should the finish text, no matter of what length, arouse even the slightest misgivings, these should be taken inordinately seriously,” (86) Tying this back into the value of words, if you’re sentence is forcing an interpretation, that would be a “misgiving” and should be taken seriously because it’s hurting the value of your language.

In turn, this thinking would imply that speaking with fewer words is actually more valuable because the importance of finding the value in each word is even greater. A longer sentence with larger words doesn’t equate to knowledge even though we’re conditioned to believe that. If anything, repetitious words and phrases only attempt to qualify the interpretation one is trying to reach in their writing. Exchange of language (and any other sort of capital) is at it’s most effective when it’s efficient and dealing with the smallest representation of capital available.

So how does this apply to the language and conversation in Slackers? Well if we look at the film’s scenes collectively, a common plot device we see throughout would be the use of declarations through speech. For instance whether it’s the talkative taxi driver in the beginning who walks with the young man for several minutes sort of rambling or the waitress in the cafe who repeats the same general message, “you shouldn’t sexually traumatize women,” they’re both attempting to convince the individuals of some truth. Where we see the value of language is while the taxi driver talks for what seems like forever, you never really get substance in his message other than conspiracy theories and that somebody is always “watching” us. The young man appears very disinterested and doesn’t want to spend capital in the form of time listening to him. On the other side, we see the waitress utter one sentence composed of five words. The man reading the newspaper, becomes intrigued and only loses interest when the waitress becomes flustered. Two forms of exchange through language with the more successful one being the more efficient and concise.

However in that example we saw the variable of the man’s interest not only being effected by the content of the message but also how it was delivered. There’s something to be said of the value of language not only being placed in meaning but also delivery. Adorno writes, “The poor chew words to fill their bellies…they maim the body of language, and so repeat in the impotent strength the disfigurement inflicted upon them,” (102). If we look at the final scene of the movie we have a man with speakers attached to his car belting out what appears to be support for a purge. The first viewing his words sound like noise muffled in his make-shift microphone. The disfigurement inflicted upon this man stems from his being an outcast, driving aimlessly and never declaring a destination. However, even though we understand his message he has “maimed” language with talk of a “fucking mass gun give away.” The value in his language stems in his ability to have a mobile broadcast. I think this highlights the importance of not only the value of language, but how we assess that value when taking language in or receiving it.