CTT Slacker and Structure

Capture the Tag Slacker:


In the blog post “Slacker and Violent Media”, Madison asserts: “while there may not be much happening in the film, there is a lot happening on the periphery of what is being shown”. This decentralizing of content in Slacker is but one way in which the structure of the film can be discussed in terms of Adornian fragmentation and queer passivity/nonproductivity.

Stephanie, in her post “Thoughts on Slacker” notes how Linklater’s pseudo-scientific “alternate realities” monologue at the beginning of the film might be read to echo Halberstam’s “detours”, i.e. alternative methods of solving theoretical problems within an “undisciplined zone of knowledge production” (Halberstam 15). To supplement Stephanie’s point, I would add Halberstam’s citation of Foucault, which highlights how hegemonic ways of knowing and relating are a constructed phenomenon: “The social worlds we inhabit…are not inevitable…in the process of producing this reality, many other realities, fields of knowledge and ways of being have been discarded and…”disqualified” [Foucault]’ (Halberstam, 9). In his rambling speech about reading in dreams and missed opportunities for bus station romance, Linklater also mentions how each choice a person makes theoretically denies countless other realities. We can stretch this a bit and consider Foucault’s concept of the construction of history in hegemonic discourse as a series of chances, either taken or ignored, that give way to one reality only in the suppression of others. In this context, the conspiracy theories that crop up repeatedly in Slacker can be understood as a paranoid response to literal or figurative violence inherent in the production of a single historical reality.

More generally, the anti-narrative structure and lack of character development can be usefully considered from the angle of Foucault and Halberstam. “We [don’t] get to see any of the characters develop” Stephanie states, “so, by society’s standards, they are all unproductive”. In allowing characters to disappear, the structure of the film also facilitates a characterization of them as failures. The characters are denied profit-based success not because they don’t have jobs (although it seems almost certain that most of them don’t) but because Linklater has manipulated what we see andas a result, how we interpret his characters’ (non)productivity. As Stephanie astutely notes, this fragmentation of form can be read against Adorno’s “false totality”. I want to elaborate on this idea, for it is this fragmentary formal constraint that offers us a disruption beyond that of mere characterization. If fragmentation betrays the truthful counterpart to a totality that, in its generalization, hides holes and disqualified realities, then, by denying the hierarchical structure of narrative, the fragmentary condition of Slacker reveals such realities by its commitment to pursuing the secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc. characters that standard narrative disqualifies in its orderly pursuit of central character(s), climactic event, resolution or other such formal mainstays. “Never looping back to main characters in the way other vignette movies do” Angelica states in her entry “Transaction and Meaning in Slacker”, “the film…[resists] traditional movie storytelling.” She goes on to say that this resistance mimics the resistance to capitalism many of the characters demonstrate, which I think is a fair assessment. For considerations of length, however, I will only say that the content of resistance is as complex as the form (free weapons giveaway, anyone?).

Formally, Angelica is concerned with a device that she has deemed the “switch off”—a kind of passing of the baton that the camera follows. This is precisely how the film gives us the ability to encounter so many characters in such a short time, while still maintaining a structural through-line and providing what Stephanie calls a “wandering or lingering” quality that cultivates the feeling of nonproductivity. Angelica sees this transference of attention as a “transaction” between individuals that, although it may involve goods, “isn’t mediated by goods at all”. I agree that the switch off is a human interaction, but I think it is most certainly mediated by goods. It is the qualities of these goods that make the switch off different. Firstly, they are often free (although sometimes they are not, ex. the latte, the soda, the diner coffee—mostly beverages, it seems) or stolen. Cigarettes, entry stamps, cameras and books are passed without charge from one person to another and incite the switch off. Secondly, the goods are arguably only valuable in the Slacker economy—the tape of the student hostage-taker, “oblique strategy” cards, the old man’s cassette—and sometimes not even in there (the Madonna pap smear). The transactions themselves often involve bartering, charity, or the aforementioned law-breaking:  when the old anarchist tells the would-be burglar to “look around, take anything [he] like[s]”, or the guys steal the car parts from the pick n’ pull. What makes the economy of Slacker go ’round may not be typical goods or exchange transactions, but both are still present.

Madisonduarte’s observation that there is much happening on the periphery of the film is important, I think, because in a standard narrative we wouldn’t be asked to concern ourselves with it. Slacker draws out peripheries from peripheries from peripheries, and, as a result, is peripheral itself in both in its non-normative form, subversive content and cast of ephemeral “ultimate losers”. As such, the film lends itself to a queer reading that encounters these decentralizing, disruptive elements as a rejection of standardization, normative historical methods and adherence with the global exchange economy.


Masochistic Passivity

Halberstam endorses what they call the radical form of masochistic passivity. To break down the term, masochistic or masochism, as Bersani puts it is “the counter narrative of sexuality that undergirds the propulsive, maturational, and linear story installed by psychoanalysis”(130-131) and passivity can be equated to accepting way things are without resistance.

The radical form of masochistic passivity “not only offers up a critique of the organizing logic of agency and subjectivity itself, but also opts out of certain systems built around a dialectic between colonizer and colonized”(131). Halberstam claims that radical masochistic passivity breaks itself away from the norm of the transfer of femininity from mother to daughter(131). By breaking itself away, masochistic passivity “seeks to destroy the mother-daughter bond altogether” (131), criticizing the role that passivity entrenches itself into femininity. Halberstam is examining the way masochistic passivity criticizes the role patriarchy puts on the feminine expression. Identity plays a big role in the way Halberstam endorses masochistic passivity. The reading as a whole covers the way identity is shaped, through the views of society. Masochistic passivity rejects the normative roles that patriarchal society places upon its members.

As the reading previously talks about the false sense of happiness, masochistic passivity can be found in the way that many of these feminist writers, especially Kincaid, refuse to write stories that follow the “happy” and the pursuit of happiness. Halberstam quotes Kincaid saying “Americans find difficulty very hard to take. They are inevitably looking for a happy ending”(132) echoing Barbara Ehrenreich’s quote from Bright-Sided. Ehrenreich questions the status quo saying “How can we be so surpassingly ‘positive’ in self-image and stereotype without being the world’s happiest and best-off people?”. Kincaid continues to say I am not interested in the pursuit of positivity. I am interested in pursuing the truth and the truth often seems to be not happiness but its opposite”(132) explaining her role in perpetuating this idea of masochistic passivity. Kincaid feels that her rejection of the notion that all stories, as perceived by Americans, need to seek out happiness enacts masochistic passivity, in way that Halberstam would classify as radical. Kincaid and Ehrenreich question whether putting on the facade of happiness allows us to actually ask critical questions of our society. Kincaid and Ehrenreich use masochistic passivity to ask those critical questions of their society.

While Halberstam focuses on masochistic passivity in terms of feminism, they also refer to masochistic passivity in terms of race. In Jamaica Kincaid’s novel, “the colonized subject refuses her role as colonized by refusing to be anything at all” (131) rejecting all normative roles that the colonizer usually takes. Kincaid, according to Halberstam, uses masochistic passivity to feed her whole story. The character Xuela rejects every form of her former self. She rejects her mother, her culture and her womanhood. Xuela is a woman who “cannot be anything but the antithesis of the self that is demanded by colonialism”(131). Not being as familiar with Kincaid’s novel Autobiography of My Mother, the existence of the masochistic passivity allows me to relate it to other texts that I have read. Nella Larsen’s Passing, strikes up images for myself of enacting masochistic passivity. Both the main characters, Clare and Irene, reject their African American roots, creating a new identity for themselves. Masochistic passivity is all about making the decision to refuse the factors of ones life that was forced upon them by society. By refusing to identity as African American, or simply passing as a white women, Clare and Irene are refusing to participate in the identities placed upon them by the colonizer society.

Masochistic passivity shows the way refusing to participate in the standards that patriarchy or the colonizer put upon different groups of people. Jamaica Kincaid uses her novel, Autobiography of My Mother to exemplify what exactly masochistic passivity does. The word passive invokes the idea of remaining silent while letting things happen, but masochistic passivity turns this idea on its head. Masochistic passivity takes the notion that being passive does not necessarily mean one has to loose all sense of resistance and ground. Masochistic passivity challenges the norms placed upon groups of people, such as the identity as being the ancestor of the colonized people, and allows those participating create their own storyline.