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.

Thoughts on Slacker

I found the movie Slacker to be fascinating. I loved how the characters and the plot were constantly moving. When the movie began, the guy in the taxi was describing his dreams about the possibility of a multitude of alternate realities. The film’s focus on so many people’s different lives play into this idea of consciousness and how everyone lives in their own sort of separate reality. This was also explored through the suspicion of alternate histories, or conspiracies.

The way that time passed in the movie was also interesting. It was mostly linear, but I felt like it passed at a different pace for different people. For example, the initial scene where the man killed his mother felt like it dragged on forever. Part of this was probably because I was uncomfortable. I was reminded of the Helmer’s article on queer time, where this lingering or wandering would be considered unproductive.

I am thinking of writing my final paper on this question of how time and space function in the movie. The hint of alternative realities relates to Halberstam’s method of using “detours” or alternate modes of thinking to approach queer theory. The dreaming mentioned in the beginning of Slacker could represent a liminal space used to think about life and the choices we have to make in it. I also mentioned in one of my previous posts how Vincent’s car acts as this constantly moving, liminal space where he can solely think instead of act. I also suspect there is something to be said about lingering and time, but I’m not quite sure how to approach it.

Another interesting component of this movie that we touched on in our Thursday session is that all of these people are of the same class. This reminds me of the group’s discussion of the Adorno reading during Tuesday’s class. One of the conclusions we drew was that an equality without difference has no potential because of the lack of creativity, etc. I think this is ironic because all of these white students (who have the most potential based on their social position) are considered slackers, possibly because they have no one different to alter their perspective.

Pursuing Adorno’s argument that “totality is false” further, I think it’s important to note how the lives of all the characters were fragmented by the constant shifting of perspective. We didn’t get to see any of the characters develop, so by society’s standards, they are all unsuccessful. It seems that all of our characters who resist moving forward by participating in a form of work (Vincent… Murphy) are considered failures.

I also think it’s interesting that many of these so called “slackers” were college students. I wonder if Linklater was trying to make an underlying critique of capitalism for viewing labor as constructive, while knowledge unproductive. In other words, the exchange of theories or ideas as opposed to marketable assets is “valueless.” We can maybe talk later about how things such as knowledge are considered “priceless.”
Lastly, someone in class (I don’t remember who) mentioned how all of these college kids probably rely on their parents for money. I think the generational aspect of this deserves to be pursued further. I find it strange how the man killed his own mother, but also has had a type of shrine built in honor of her. During this scene, the camera also lingered on the video recording of his mother pushing him off on his bike with a kick. I think this symbolizes his frustration that despite her wanting him to launch, he is still living at home. That is however, if they were living together. (I feel like they were, but I also don’t know how his mom wouldn’t notice the shrine). Either way, I am interested in exploring these questions and contradictions further. Overall it was a really fun movie to watch.

Show Me.

Adorno’s marriage to the idea that whole series of closed systems are doomed to fail due to the inherent illusion that must take place in order for a closed system to exist is pounded out in a pointed and often contradictory fashion, if not convoluted. In this Adorn-ian way that he goes about making his point(s) the use of language is and can be at times unclear which in a way is “showing” us his point as much, maybe more, than actually “telling” his point. The idea that the more he explains a point the further he actually gets away from it, is a perfect example of the representation of language as a commodity, in that words no longer hold a valued meaning unless tied to the predominant enclosed system to which everyone is tied. In his words, “A writer will find that the more precisely, conscientiously, appropriately he expresses himself, the more obscure the literary result is though, whereas a loose and irresponsible formulation is at once rewarded with certain understanding,” (101).

Much like Adorno in the ways of attacking this issue, Linklater takes another, “outside” mode to the conventional way of making film to illustrate the issue of letting the points make themselves within the viewer and not making the point as writer/creator/artist. Not having a finely etched narrative to hang its coat on, so to speak, allows the film to follow the currents of discourse, that while having a very familiar casualness to them in tone or inception of how they come about, are nevertheless not conventional conversations to the majority in the predominant capitalist system in which we, in the U.S. are so prevalently tied to. The casualness that pervades throughout Slacker is an interesting device that allows the mostly unreferenced conversations or even monologues to have a thread running through them that keeps the narrative-starving audience at bay. Though not the conversations themselves, the “flow” of the film is similar to the Adorno notion of, “Shoddiness that drifts with the flow of familiar speech is taken as a sign of relevance and contact,” (101), replace “familiar speech” with just the word “familiarity” and you get my point hopefully.

Adorno goes on in the same passage under Morality and style, “anything specific, not taken from pre-existent patterns, appears inconsiderate, a symptom of eccentricity, almost of confusion” (101). The scene in the restaurant/café when the woman is directly addressing the coffee-drinker guy, there is no reference to what she is speaking about or to, although addressing him. There is no “pre-existent” pattern or reason for her speech and is therefore deemed or taken by the guy, if not the viewer/audience, as “inconsiderate” as he shuffles off in whatever form of irritation (buzz word) or confusion he feels. The same could be said of the “conspiracy” guy (Batman T-shirt guy) who follows, almost badgering, another guy who is listening but surely intent upon his destination to politely shake the guy. The conversation (or more accurately, monologue) is one of subversive content, seemingly, and is lost in the verboseness with which the “conspiracy” guy speaks. One can pick up on what he saying, but the friendly yet badgering manner “symptom of eccentricity” is more memorable than the specific, out of context speech he leaves behind. Once again asserting that, “Vague expression permits the hearer to imagine whatever suits him and what he already thinks in any case” (101).

The continuing point of the commodification, or the lack of value of words in a systemic context, is prevalent and poignant in the ritual scenes of Slacker. As an audience, we do not know the purpose of these rituals; is the son trying to have a remembrance of his mother by burning the pictures, or is he celebrating her departure/death. What do we make of the menstrual cycle demonstration? We never get to hear the point of such a ritualistic display. We as an audience, follow the more important and familiar path of the journey than the words or dialogue themselves. These rituals are deemed important in themselves and are a symbol of de-commodified language in that their mode is singular and unexplained.

In speaking of language, Adorno says, “It turns against the masters who misuse it to command, by seeking to command them, and refuses to serve their interests,” and Linklater’s Slacker is the manifestation of that refusal “to serve their [the masters] interests,” (102). It is filled with characters (if one can call them that) that are independently doing things outside of the commodified structure of their “masters” world. Whether by ritual (and why not keep the typewriter?) or the importance of the conventionally devoid of structure, non-narrative path, atmospheric river, or “bunny paths” over the words used to describe each individual path (Adorno is really getting to me now) the “how” is being shown to the audience, more than being told.