Robocop, Robocop & the Politics of Emancipation

The 2014 Robocop remake has arrived! Revamping, updating and down-camping the 1987 original for the viewing pleasure of the global mass market! Boo corporations, post-90s technology, human emotion and/or error… Yay Robocop!

While the new story has been adapted accordingly for our newer, shinier and digital-er time, the influence of the original Verhoeven film is evident throughout, with direct references to OCP (now “the parent company of Omnicorp”) and lines such as “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar…” Eyyy! See what they did?! They WOULDN’T buy it for a dollar, AND there were zero gratuitous boobs. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Robocop 2.0 (Robocop 2 already happened) marks the point at which Hollywood has officially surpassed adolescence. Robocop 2.0 is subverting 1987’s surprisingly Reaganite narrative, which, according to Steven Best “neatly coalesces with rightwing fantasies of social subversion” and becomes “a front for increased surveillance and the rollback of constitutional rights”. Ha! Reagan.

I can accept that Paul Verhoeven was an unwitting accomplice to the cultural landscape that produced an acceptance of Ronald Reagan, and later Arnold Schwartzenegger, as the actual political leaders of genuine geographical places, but it is slightly harder to accept of director José Padilha. It interests me to understand the dynamics and effects of, and between, these two films that both appear to satirize and criticize corporate corruption, right-wing media bias and the military industrial complex. Robocop 2.0 certainly tries to break with the pantomimic sci-fi camp of the original, to situate itself within a contemporary political landscape where melding man with machine is not only possible, but something you can pay to have done for a laugh. So what are the issues and limits remaining in 2.0?

Robo2.0 is destined to be filed, as with the majority of films I see at multiplexes, under ‘Films I Sort of Enjoyed at a Surface Level and Made Me Well Up at Times, Containing the Obvious, Ubiquitous Tropes I’m Tired Of’, cross referenced with ‘Completely Lacking Subtlety and Self-Awareness’. The problem with Robocop 2.0 is painfully obvious. It’s a film produced by MGM & Columbia, distributed by Columbia, Sony, Universal, Disney and 20th Century Fox, that attempts to critique corporate culture. What more can it do than have a slapdash chew on the hand that feeds it? The original touched on Evil Corporatism only to the extent that it needed to to drive the plot (it is unable “to locate the real sources of alienation and reification. At no moment does Robocop suggest that the numerous serious social issues it raises — from nuclear disaster to monopoly control — are inherent in or fundamentally related to the corporate system it critiques.” – Best)

2.0 critiques the use of unmanned drone warfare and the corporate media industry, while avoiding any critique of the nature of human-perpetrated, emotionally-assessed violence i.e. ‘normal’ warfare, or its own lacking of diverse female characters or people of colour who weren’t always in possession of a gun, for example.

José Padilha is a filmmaker who genuinely wants to discuss the ethical issues raised in 2.0. Also a documentary filmmaker, he made the fantastic Bus 174, a documentary about Sandro do Nascimento, a young homeless man who took a bus full of commuters hostage in Rio. Bus 174 has genuine layers of complexity and consideration, examining not only the incompetence of the police officers who caused far more harm than Sandro, but also the conditions of poverty which led Sandro to crime, the media’s involvement, and the context behind the police’s inability to function optimally. While Padilha clearly, far too clearly, wants to discuss the sensationalism and breakdown of journalistic practices, the disingenuousness of the PR and marketing industries, and the ethical questions and contemporary dynamics of nature and technology in a runaway corporate environment, all of these are necessarily packaged and glossed to inhabit the well-worn structure designed to shut down the need for any questioning and action above that which RoBroCop can give us with his slick, gunny badassery and unavoidable murder of All The Bad People.

I still appreciated 2.0 for its employment and update of the original premise. I enjoyed Gary Oldman’s Dr. Dennet Norton, the film’s protagonist, who contains the ethical storyline within the film. I have my suspicions that the part of Norton was actually written not so well, but that Gary Oldman Gary Oldman’d it to the extent where it’s impossible to focus on anything except his pure, sweet unraveling of Gary Oldmanity. The Omnicorp team were very well played, but undeveloped past the point of multi-antagonist, evil-Richard-Bransons. The tension between humanity, emotion and the industrial rejection of them was the theme most successfully communicated, and was given at least thirty seconds of subtlety (before the guitar player informs us “…without emotion, I can’t play”, after being unable to play because of his emotions.)

The reflection on what creates extreme emotion in humans, and the subsequent effects of the refusal and suppression of those emotions by ourselves and numerous branches of society, was the only topic that wasn’t distractingly and messily spoon-fed. Murphy’s manipulation and co-option by corporations for profit, his alienation from his humanity, personality, purpose and family, and his seemingly doomed resistance to all these things can be read as a legitimate reflection of contemporary capitalist power dynamics at work, and certainly reminded me of the near-fatal series of events which led to my own transformation into a dead-eyed, soul-crushed automaton.

 

Ultimately, the film takes itself just a bit too seriously whilst treading just a bit too lightly to function as a decisive political comment. To go back to Best’s examination of Robocop 1.0: “While Robocop is an action spectacle, a romance, a comedy, and a revenge fantasy” and “a complex, subversive, and even utopian text which addresses the problem of human alienation within a techno-capitalist society […] it teaches the lesson that good always wins. It tells us that social order is possible only through the imposition and acceptance of external authority and that, most importantly, a moribund capitalism is more desirable than any alternative world which might emerge from its destruction.” He continues that some “will be mesmerized by the sheer spectacle of the film and come away only with a remembrance of its surface pleasures. For still others, the film will sharpen — or awaken — their skepticism toward media, capitalism, and technology.” But due to the industry-standard structure of narrative film (which works, and I have followed myself when writing), and the form(ula) by which films will be accepted into the mainstream market, “we see the usual contradiction between progressive textual encodings and traditional narrative form. […] It climactically completes the metaphysics of closure, resolution, and redemption that structures the film.” For all the improvements 2.0 makes on Verhoeven’s Robocop, it still fails in making the radical challenges it purports to be. The character of Murphy/Robocop himself is an ambiguous, and dangerous, figure of justice.

 

At radical or political film screenings, the question ‘so what next?’ is almost always raised, and a frequent criticism of political films is that they highlight problems but pose no solutions. This is the wrong approach to political films – films are a communication, a discussion. They are a point from which to discuss, act and reflect; a call to several different types of arms rather than a hermetically sealed doctrine. Films that tell you exactly what is, rather than helping us to understand processes, should be handled carefully and with even more discussion and reflection than those which leave the audience with questions and ambiguous endings. Films are very good at transmitting feelings and ideas. In that way, they function best as non-dogmatic, temporary guidebooks. Every film, and every type of cultural act, is a political one. Romantic comedies and animated children’s films are political films; they all tell us something about how to govern ourselves and our lives, and what they choose not to include are often the most politically charged areas. Best to consistently examine what you consume and how you consume it, because the corporate media industry, like any other, is pretty warped; full of contradictory information and power hungry assholes. Robocop told me so, twice. Seems legit.

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Beauty That’s ‘Real’

swimsuit ad“Love the skin you’re in!”

“Real women, real beauty.”

“Beauty at any size!”

You’ll likely recognise the above phrases, which, rather than necessitating quotation, were plucked from my arse. I mean mind. (Bum/mind/waist-to-hip ratio; telling the difference is as hard as it is futile.)

Such clichés are the mantras of the body-positive ‘movement’: a barrage of messages women have been receiving via advertising campaigns and glossy magazines in recent years; a compassionate and diligent deflection against beauty standards imposed by advertising campaigns and glossy magazines, in the preceding and, indeed, same years.

On the Huffington Post this week, ‘Health Coach and Emotional Eating expert’ Isabel Foxen Duke posted an astute article titled ‘Why ‘Love Your Body’ Campaigns Aren’t Working’. Highlighting the above paradox of the media and beauty industries, she notes that growing up:

“I would see images of “real women” and think to myself, I don’t want to be one. I wanted to get ahead, stand out, be special”.

I have previously written about the cause-and-effect of the wondrous ironies of body-positive rhetoric, but recently the debate around Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches campaign, and Duke’s article, have illustrated not only the need to pay close attention to the reinforcement of damaging standards and ideals in the very conversations that purport to combat them, but also the need to discuss this double-standard when you see it, continually, until it takes hold.

I know the experience Duke describes to be that of many of the brilliant and big-hearted women who get behind the body-positive movement, and they do so with much strength and determination. It feels like a transformative shift in understanding for those of us who are highly body-critical, and is potentially the first step towards making one; logically, we ‘believe’ it, as a rule for ‘all women’, especially those we love around us; but most desperately we attempt to finally stamp ‘PWNED!’ on dusty, neglected certificates of self-worth.

Yet via these campaigns, fully grasping self-worth is essentially impossible. We still want to compete to get ahead, stand-out, be special; as though we have to fight each other for these scarce statuses. Our society’s structural misogyny is underpinned by the individualism promoted under capitalism, which works to prevent us from collectively understanding and willfully departing from forces which restrict us. True acceptance and transcendence from the pain and damage of the beauty myth is engulfed by a two-fold fallacy.

Firstly, the mainstream idea of body acceptance is borne at least in part from a market drive for it. Magazines and corporations that make money from selling you ‘beauty’ need you to continue wanting that in order to survive. Dove knows that there’s a huge demographic out here who are rejecting, in some form, the beauty standards that they have thus far peddled. They also know that this is a highly emotional and contentious issue that will get them a lot of attention if they appear to be on the ‘good’ side, and will earn your trust and appreciation; then they can sell you more products! Win/win! Unless we’ve all entirely missed their development team’s ironic sense of humour, Dove’s oxymoronic Pro-Age and anti-aging ranges of products highlights their rejection of the ‘acceptance’ they are selling.

Secondly, assuming (less cynically) that this is a step in the right direction, the ideas still play by the rules of the value structure it claims to reject. Every message that informs us not to worry, we are beautiful despite our size, despite our ‘flaws’, despite our inability to lose weight, continues to frame the conversation under the heading Beauty is Important, Necessary, Fulfilling, Enriching. It continues to promote its own importance, encouraging ignorance of self-improvement in any other way; of other people; of political dynamics; of spirituality; of critical thinking; of the inane, false standards these messages hold us to.

Duke stated that “women want to experience, they want to feel, they want to be… far more than they want to look. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that looking a certain way is a prerequisite for “achieving” throughout the rest of our lives.” Her article is commendable, in that it acknowledges that most women worry about body and beauty, and this is a real issue that creates pain (I would add: created for us, and by us, under patriarchy.)

“If we don’t actively dismantle the myths that have been embedded into women’s psyche around weight historically, those myths will linger, regardless of how many plus-sized models they see on billboards (again, important first step, but not necessarily the “answer” for women suffering from body hatred now).Indeed. The only way to find an answer to this falsehood is to reframe the questions; so that at some point, we instead ask others.

We all can, and have achieved many things. We can and will continue to. Physical appearance doesn’t truly factor into happiness or success: an employer may well hire you based on your appearance. Do you see yourself being happy working for that employer? And who says getting the job you wanted will make you happy or successful? Yet another accepted standard of happiness that you are allowed to redefine as you see fit.

Thankfully, you may also define beauty; personally I’ve found it in plenty of places. Not only are they not all visual, only a minority was attached to human flesh.

First World Christmas: Made in China

chinese christmas

I found this photo whilst Stumbling Upon, in a list of pictures that were described as ‘dark pieces of satire to make you stop and think’. That they were, and that they did.

This was the one that touched me most whilst leisurely browsing the internet on a day off, via my Orientally-manufactured Macbook.

Original post: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/7ZlJCx/:W$kpAv-J:DXSH_4sF/twentytwowords.com/2012/07/06/13-dark-pieces-of-satire-to-make-you-stop-and-think/

No Sweat campaign page on Apple: http://www.nosweat.org.uk/story/2007/04/02/un-pc-ipods-apple-macs-and-sweatshops

Diane Abbott’s Crisis of Masculinity

crisisDiane Abbott’s most recent concern, the UKs ‘crisis of masculinity’, has understandably touched quite a nerve. Making assertions on the identity of a group of people will inevitably rattle cages, since the egos in those cages (which we perceive to protect the sacred self) are challenged and scrutinised. (Uncomfortable self-reflection is not conducive to maintaining one’s sense of utter righteousness, and, it would seem, favoured by neither privilege nor lad culture.) The subject becomes touchier when the person opining does not ‘belong’ to the group; the offended often claim all criticism is misunderstanding of the ‘truth’ due to the offender’s lack of experience or difference. We can all agree that Abbott’s ‘got balls’, just not to the extent that she belongs.

 

Abbott has a point or several, but she’s just missed the mark. Her misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) here is not down to her sex, as many have claimed. I think it’s comes from the mainstream understanding of gender as binary, following the ‘us and them’ dichotomy that pervades so many attitudes. She and I have identity traits in common: we both identify as female, and it would seem we are both moved by gender and how it is married to wider societal issues. So, I hereby cast my mere opinion into the ether for all including Abbott to consider, or at least react to with repulsion.

 

In ascribing this crisis to ‘masculinity’, Abbott has (probably inadvertently) blamed the kind of behaviour she criticizes on all who identify as masculine. To clarify: intellectually and spiritually, I don’t believe in dualised gender. (Emotionally, I still work against negative limitations I have internalized throughout development. [Sniff. Tiny violin.]) Since gender isn’t tangible it isn’t essentially definable, and thus the traditional definitions of gender are, for me, lost in the nature vs nurture argument, and in a recognition that all traits are human traits. The majority of us will still identify with ‘traditional’ gender roles as they have been defined, since our lives are initially made easier (remember school?) when we do; most people will let you know somehow which traits are ‘natural’ (despite this often occurring when we ‘naturally’ exhibit the wrong ones.) The absence of gender becomes apparent each day when women display human traits which are ‘masculine’, men display human traits which are ‘feminine’, and lesbian, gay and transgender people display human traits which are, yep, human.

 

Abbott has not only promoted the false idea that masculinity exists as a unified ‘thing’ for all who identify as masculine, and Is Bad, but has also made all those who identify as masculine feel attacked. Those who do display whiskey-drinking, porn-loving, viagra-popping, woman-hating behaviour are on the defensive of such behaviour, and those who identify as masculine but don’t display these behaviours are on the defensive from being misrepresented. Attributing a crisis to masculinity is reductive; it’s almost equivalent to attributing the miscommunication of social crises entirely to Diane Abbott.

 

Of course, there are chronic crises of sex inequality that we require men to prioritize in a way that our culture and society discourages. Regarding systemic, ongoing, daily oppression as a worldwide, urgent problem ought to be of utmost importance to everyone. Confronting a man’s blasé attitude towards the exploitation of sex workers, for example, is often met with ridicule, then defensive anger. But this is a society-wide problem also; there are plenty of women who knowingly and naively support existing patriarchal structures, and plenty of men who don’t. I don’t regard binge drinking, degrading or violent pornography, unnecessary pharmaceutical intervention, and misogyny as tenets of ‘masculinity’; I regard them as a result of long-standing complex processes within (patriarchal) society that stratify and bind people on the basis of their class, race and gender. What Abbott describes is a crisis of identity for numerous British people, largely influenced by a western capitalist society that cultivates entitled, violent, sexist, belligerent, materialistic and nihilistic values in its citizens. The inclusion of consumerist and individualistic culture in her discussion began to touch on this, and the crises of unemployment, depression and suicide trends naturally follow from what capitalism peddles; but what underpins the behaviours and beliefs associated with identity was not unraveled further than “masculinity is broken”. I applaud much of what she did say; I only wish she had addressed it to all citizens, and especially the MPs with whom she works.

 

There are several crises facing us, globally rather than nationally. Abbott describes issues of identity politics, which take dictation in part from the crisis of capitalism (but are not its most brutally damaged victim.) Individuals reject and accept these dictations all the time, and we must understand the abjection that often follows from rejection of these values in order to develop the strength to reject them. In the face of the glorified social and financial capital of commodified masculinity and femininity, deviating can be frightening and isolating. The initial confusion that arises from rejecting gendered identities can be matched by the freedom found expressing a more whole, diverse and fluid identity.

 

There are questionable stories about society, human nature, and nature under which we develop. They can be difficult to fight within ones own psyche, let alone in discussion with others. I have learned everything I am writing now, from my situated perspective. I encourage change of my own perspective regarding new information, and I hope for continued enlightenment. It requires work, and a denial of fixed knowledge and self while allowing expression of what you feel is right and just.

 

We have a cultural crisis of self, rather than a crisis of men or women or immigrants or Britons. We currently face crises of humanity on many fronts: culturally, financially, environmentally, etc. All of these present us with constant opportunities for monumental change. Will we take them, and quickly enough?