CTT Slacker and Structure

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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.

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.