Archive for December, 2016

Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)

December 19, 2016

Louis Prima – Enjoy Yourself

Few things have depressed me more this semester than reading Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Once I understood what Weber was saying about the ‘Iron Cage’ and how people are forced into doing what they must do in order to survive, it became apparent to that there are many meaningless structures of power that control my life that have little to do with my actual likes, dislikes, preferences, dreams, and fantasies, etc. The main structure around which everything else revolves is that I must find some way to create capital so that I can be a productive member of society and contribute to the good of the whole while sustaining myself. It doesn’t really matter how or what I choose to do in order to do so, but I must do it. This means that I, like many others, will need to get a job. The system does not care whether or not I like it; if I want to survive and live comfortably, it is a necessity. I find myself privileged enough that I have been given the chance to go into music, but at the end of a lifetime, I will still have worked very hard against my will for most of my life in order to sustain a baseline level of living.

To support and supply this structure, other structures of power prop up this one. School, government, taxation, social media, consumerism, health care, organized religion, and many, many more aspects of daily life have evolved in order to ensure that I enter and maintain a state of productivity to benefit the good of the whole. Together, these structures, which for the most part are arbitrary and apathetic to my existence, form Weber’s ‘Iron Cage’ mentioned earlier. At the end of the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber leaves the critique for the reader to ponder – He offers no key we may use to escape the cage.

Upon reflection, it becomes clear to me that we have two choices. We can either do nothing, or actively resist. It does not matter whether or not you accept your fate; your fate has already been decided for you. That doesn’t mean you can’t resist in futility and create meaning in vain. To me, the best way to resist meaninglessness is to find meaning in pleasure and pain. The Protestant Ethic (if it were some sort of written code of conduct) would say that one should avoid earthly pleasures as to not use your time for anything other than productivity. Nay, I say! Equating your productivity with your worth is dehumanizing and objectifying, and ultimately morally degrading. Philosophical Hedonism, in which the goal is to maximize pleasure over pain, is the key. Maybe it doesn’t free us of the cage, as we all still have to work, but it makes life inside a lot more tolerable. I’m not just talking about sex and chocolate here; there are all kinds of pleasures – watching sunsets, going on hikes, smelling flowers, holding hands with someone. If people could stop feeling so guilty for enjoying the things in their lives that made them happy, the world could be a much better place. In the words of Keely Smith, “You only think of dollar bills tied neatly in a stack – But when you kiss a dollar bill it doesn’t kiss you back!”


Foucauldian Discussion of Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic’

December 12, 2016

Before reading, please watch the following clip and read the accompanying film review:

Nymphomaniac Vol. I & II Trailer

Lars Von Trier’s Joyless Sexual Tantrum

Nymphomaniac, stylized as NYMPH()MANIAC, is the third and final film of Lars Von Trier’s ‘Depression Trilogy,’ which also consists of art house gems Antichrist and Melancholia. These films were created during, and inspired by, a period of depression in the director’s life. Each film stars the bleak, understated acting of Charlotte Gainsbourg as an emotionally tormented upper-middle class woman. Although the attached trailer may make the movie seem like a whimsical and sexy adventure story with a dramatic flair, do not be fooled. Watching this five and a half hour long movie, which is presented in two volumes, is just about the least sexy thing that someone could do, aside from creating the film in the first place; it is grueling, shamelessly depraved, and devastating, and I believe that that is just the point.

If Michel Foucault were alive today, I wonder what he would say about this film. It is well known that Foucault was interested in BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism), and themes such as these play a pivotal role throughout. A vital question that needs to be answered when watching the film is “Who has the power?” My first impression is that Joe has the power because she takes control of her own sexuality and wields it, in an Arendtian sense, like a weapon which she uses to callously destroy the relationships of the strangers around her. Upon deeper contemplation however, it seems more to me like Joe’s insatiable need for sex stems not from an innate internal desire, but as result of exposure to sexualized hierarchical structures of power and her desire to be in control of her own life, sexual or otherwise. Sex in the film is never ‘special,’ the way that it is most often depicted in media, nor does it feel especially pornographic (although technically it is). Instead, it is intentionally violent, tedious, and apathetic. This is because to Joe, the thrill comes not from the act of having sex, but rather from the personal power she feels that she gains as a result of it. Consequently, sex became her vice on which she relied for stability and order in what she considered to be a chaotic and meaningless world.

Other instances of Foucauldian tropes playing out on screen include Joe’s confession of nymphomania at a group therapy meeting (the therapist’s response? “We saysex addict.”), her father being a doctor and subsequently gruesomely dying of disease, Joe’s confession to a naive, asexual intellectual and subsequent attempted rape, and perhaps strongest of all, the bondage scene in which Joe goes to a sadist in order to experience pleasure once normal sex could no longer satisfy her (spoiler alert: it works).

If anyone else has seen this movie, I’d be interested in learning your take on it. It’s a very slow paced and depressing movie at times, and certainly not for the faint of heart, but it’s an unquestionably intriguing exploration of the intersection between sex and power that is worth studying.



He sees when you are sleeping; he knows when you’re awake

December 5, 2016

Since it is the season, I’m re-posting a piece on the Elf on a Shelf:

I guess in retrospect, this almost seems too obvious of a connection. You should read the whole article (Elf on a Shelf as training children to live with panopticism), but here’s one excerpt:

Elf on the Shelf presents a unique (and prescriptive) form of play that blurs the distinction between play time and real life. Children who participate in play with The Elf on the Shelf doll have to contend with rules at all times during the day: they may not touch the doll, and they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus. This is different from more conventional play with dolls, where children create play-worlds born of their imagination, moving dolls and determining interactions with other people and other dolls. Rather, the hands-off “play” demanded by the elf is limited to finding (but not touching!) The Elf on the Shelf every morning, and acquiescing to surveillance during waking hours under the elf’s watchful eye. The Elf on the Shelf controls all parameters of play, who can do and touch what, and ultimately attempts to dictate the child’s behavior outside of time used for play.