The Trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Adaptation of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Other Links

October 6, 2014

Life has been quite busy, so I don’t even have that big of a backlog of links, but there’s been some interesting things afoot and I’m way behind on some of this stuff. So, without further ado. . . .

The trailer to Paul Thomas Anderson’s forthcoming adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (2009) should be required viewing:

Logan Hill, “Pynchon’s Cameo, and Other Surrealities: Paul Thomas Anderson Films Inherent Vice.”

And a reflection on the trailer from some of the people at Grantland.

 

Environment and the Future

The sixth extinction event . . . Damian Carrington, “Earth Has Lost Half of Its Wildlife in the Past 40 Years, Says WWF.” !!!

Ian Bogost, “Future Ennui.”

 

International

Arif Dirlik, “Crisis and Criticism: The Predicament of Global Modernity.”

David Golumbia and David Simpson begin a conversation about drones.

Tom McKay, “Here’s the Ingenious Way Protesters in Hong Kong Are Organizing Themselves.”

Andrew Jacobs, “Chinese Web Censors Struggle with Hong Kong Protest.”

 

Science

“Rethinking the Origins of the Universe.”

 

Literature and Culture

Joyce Carol Oates, “The Death Factory: Martin Amis’s The Zone of Interest.”

Zachary Loeb, “All Hitherto Existing Media,” a review of Christian Fuchs, Social Media: A Critical Introduction.

Vauhini Vara, “Ello’s Anti-Facebook Movement.”

Jay Caspian King, “ISIS’s Call of Duty.”

Michael Agger, “The Minecraft Parent.”

“The White Women of Empire.”

Joe Fassler, “David Mitchell on How to Write: ‘Neglect Everything Else.'”

Jillian Steinhauer, “Why Artworks Are Like People.”

Sasha Simic, “A Critique of the Gotham Programme: Marxism and Superheroes.”

Peter Frase, “In Defense of Gamers.”

The Modernist Studies Association Conference is coming to Pittsburgh.

Steph Roman, “Final Fantasy XV’s All-Male Cast: Why This Is Problematic.”

And this is about the most adorable/punk rock thing ever: a fifth grader on The Dead Kennedys.

 

Humanities and Higher Education

Rebeccas Schuman generates some controversy with “Why Your Cousin with a PhD Is a Basket Case.” Because, as I posted a while ago, Amanda Ann Klein already basically wrote this (part 1 and part 2) at Judgmental Observer.

David Francis Mihalyfy, “Higher Education’s Aristocrats.”

Danny Dorling, “Tuition Fees: A Bonanza for the 1%.”

Jon Wu, “A Generic College Paper.”


The US Is Modernizing Its Nuclear Arsenal and Backsliding on Nuclear Promises

September 23, 2014

In the past two days it has been reported that the US is undertaking an “atomic revitalization,” and will spend a significant amount of money modernizing its nuclear arsenal. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger report on the new direction in US Nuclear policy for The New York Times in “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms.” They write that there is a “nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars. This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for ‘a nuclear-free world’ and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. The original idea was that modest rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal’s reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads. Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.”

And the editorial board of the Times, in “Backsliding on Nuclear Promises,” also weighs in : “the Congressional Budget Office now estimates that Mr. Obama’s plans will cost $355 billion over the next decade; other studies put the price at $1 trillion over three decades. The wish list includes 12 new missile submarines, up to 100 new bombers, 400 land-based missiles, plus upgrades to eight major plants and laboratories. . . . Not only is this spending unwise and beyond what the nation can afford, multiple studies by the Government Accountability Office have described the modernization push as badly managed. In a statement released on Monday, nuclear weapons experts from the Arms Control Association, the Federation of American Scientists and others called the modernization plan excessive and said the country can reduce the number of missiles and bombers it buys and still maintain a safe and reliable nuclear arsenal. . . . Investing in nuclear security protects Americans more than unwise investment in new nuclear weapons.”


A Couple More September Links (Spoiler, the US Still Has Nukes in Europe)

September 18, 2014

Leigh Phillips, “Four European States Host US Nuclear Bombs, WikiLeaks Reveals.”

Gregory Fried, “The King Is Dead: Heidegger’s ‘Black Notebooks.'”

Cory Doctorow, “Stephen Harper Sells Canada: China Can Secretly Sue to Repeal Canadian Laws.”

boundary 2 has made available Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s “The Future of Reading? Memories and Thoughts toward a Genealogical Approach.”

Maya Rhodan, “Nearly 5 Million Google Passwords Leaked to Russian Site.”

Simon Parkin, “Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest.”

Podcast: Reading Marx’s Capital with David Harvey.

And Carolyn Kellogg on Alison Bechdel and Terrance Hayes receiving MacArthur Fellowships.


Many September Links

September 17, 2014

As predicted, I have been quite busy indeed and have not had a chance to post anything over the past couple of weeks. A bunch of fascinating stuff has been happening, a bunch of interesting books are coming out, etc., so I’m sad that I’ve been remiss in my duties. Hopefully this large batch of links will make up for that.

 

Apocalypse and After

George Dvorsky, “Have Humans Already Conquered the Threat of Extinction?”

Or not. Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander, “Limits to Growth Was Right: New Research Shows We’re Nearing Collapse.”

One of the first reviews of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

Jessica Corbett and Ethan Corey, “5 Crucial Lessons for the Left from Naomi Klein’s New Book.”

Eric Holthaus, “New Study Links Polar Vortex to Climate Change.”

Eugene Thacker on Radiolab.

And who knows where to put this one: Alison Flood, “Margaret Atwood’s New Work Will Remain Unseen for a Century.”

 

Hyperarchival

Matt Frassica, “The Revolution Has Been Digitized.” The digitization of the modernist “little magazine.”

Randy Kennedy, “Digitizing Warhol’s Film Trove to Save It.”

Glen Fleishman, “An Algorithm to Figure Out Your Gender.”

Patricia Hernandez, “Meet the Guy Who Spent Seven Months Killing Everyone in Fallout 3.”

Tatiana Danger, “Drone Discovers Abandoned Renaissance Faire Deep in Virginia Woods.” (I’d been wondering where I misplaced my Renaissance faire.)

Nicholas Carr, “The Manipulators: Facebook’s Social Engineering Project.”

History and Economics

Hector Tobar reviews The Half Has Never Been Told.

Tim Cassidey, “Historians Who Look Too Much.”

 

International

Masha Gessen, “The Dying Russians.”

Slavoj Žižek, “ISIS Is a Disgrace to True Fundamentalism.”

Michael Muhammad Knight, “I Understand Why Westerners Are Joining Jihadi Movements Like ISIS. I Was Almost One of Them.”

The Atlantic has a bunch of striking pictures in “Afghanistan: The Long Withdrawal.”

 

Literature and Culture

“Pittsburgh Poet Terrance Hayes Named MacArthur Fellow.”

Jonathan Arac, The American Jeremiad after Thirty-Five Years.”

And indeed, Common-Place 14, no. 4, has a whole roundtable on Sacvan Bercovitch‘s American Jeremiad.

Andrew Culp, “From the Decision to the Digital,” a review of Alexander R. Galloway’s new book, Laruelle: Against the Digital.

Alex Ross, “The Naysayers: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and the Critique of Pop Culture.”

James Wood, “Soul Cycle,” a review of David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks.

The Los Angeles Review of Books interviews William T. Vollmann.

An interview with Ben Lerner at The Believer.

Alexander Norcia reviews Ben Lerner’s 10:04.

Dwight Garner reviews 10:04 in “With Storms Outside, Inner Conflicts Swirl.”

Another 10:04 review: Christian Lornetzen, “Back to the Present.”

And another. Joe Fassler, “Envision the Novel Like a Museum.”

Tiffany Gibert reviews Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

On the scourge of “creativity”: Joshua Rothman, “Creativity Creep.”

Thomas Pynchon’s edits to his Simpsons script.

Chris Rodley, “Post-structuralism Explained with Hipster Beards.”

Matt Uford, “People vs. the NFL.”

Adam Atkinson and my colleague at Pitt, Dawn Lundy Martin, both have poems in issue 45 of Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics in its “NSFW” special issue, edited by the incomparable Lara Glenum.

My friend Rachel Nagelberg has work in issue 5 of Impossible Voice.

My friend David Letzler has a new essay in Hypermedia Joyce Studies: “Redundancy, Modernism, and Readers’ Expectations: An Experiment in Joyce Prediction.”

 

The Gaming Controversy

TNI Syllabus: Gaming and Feminism.”

Ian Williams, “Death to the Gamer.”

David Auerbach, “Gaming Journalism Is Over.”

Patrick Miller, “Why I’m not a ‘Gamer.'”

Daniel Carlson, “The Insidious Rise of the Blockbuster Videogame.”

Peter Frase, “Gamer’s Revanche.”

And a roundup of the explosive month in videogames.

 

(Digital) Humanities and Higher Education

Brian Lennon, “The Eversion of the Digital Humanities.” A review of The Emergence of Digital Humanities by Steven E. Jones.

Lee Skallerup Bessette, “This Is Not an Essay.”

Malcolm Harris, “Not for Teacher,” a review of Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars.

Debra Leigh Scott, “How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in Five Basic Steps.”

Jeffrey L. Butler, “The Two Cultures of Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century and Their Impact on Academic Freedom.”

Former Pitt teacher Cathy Day, “The Magic Building Where English Majors Work: Making Sense of Creative Writing’s Job Problem.”

Christy Thornton, “Students at the Barricades.”

Amanda Ann Klein, “Understanding Your Academic Friend: Job Market Edition, Part II.”

Mark Follman, “Idaho Professor Accidentally Shoots Himself While Teaching Class.”

And Mallory Ortberg, “Every Type of Email College Students Send to Their Professors.”


Beginning of the Semester Links, Fall 2014

August 24, 2014

Tomorrow I return to the classroom at the University of Pittsburgh for another semester. As I imagine that this will also mean I’m about to be considerably busier, and that this will mean a bit less posting on the ole blog (links or otherwise), some links to mark the occasion.

 

Disaster and Environmental 

Daniel Politi, “Napa Valley Earthquake Is the Strongest to Hit the Bay Area Since 1989.”

 

Ferguson

Douglas Williams, “Love Me, Ferguson, I’m a Liberal.”

Alexandra Schwartz, “On Being Seen: An Interview with Claudia Rankine from Ferguson.”

Matt Apuzo and Michael S. Schmidt, “In Washington, Second Thoughts on Arming the Police.”

 

Politics

Cornel West on Barack Obama.

Erick Eckholm, “US Court to Hear Case on Voting Restrictions as Arizona Prepares for Polls.”

 

Science and Technology

Rose Eveleth, “So What Exactly Is a ‘Killer Robot’?”

 

Literature and Culture

A review of Ben Lerner‘s new book, 10:04: Parul Sehgal, “Drawing Words from the Well of Art: Ben Lerner Imagines ‘Different Futures’ in his Novel, 10:04.”

Anthony Grafton reviews William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep in “The Enclosure of the American Mind.”

A review of David Mitchell’s new novel, The Bone Clocks: Alexandra Alter, “A Master of Many Universes.”

And I was waiting for this story to break (and it took longer than I thought). One of my favorite bands, Isis, who has been around since 1997, is finally getting some flack about the coincidence of their name’s similarity to ISIS, the group controlling many portions of Iraq right now.

 

Humanities and Higher Education

And for all my students this semester majoring in the humanities, show your parents this.


Repackaging the Archive (Part XI): Decadence and Sincerity in the Risk Society: Partying Until the World Ends

August 22, 2014

I originally delivered the following remarks at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Popular and American Culture Association Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They seem oddly appropriate at the moment.

It is a familiar trope in the rhetoric of the American jeremiad to draw a comparison between the high decadence and subsequent fall of the Roman Empire and the similar decadence of the contemporary United States. So it is tempting to make such a comparison when considering a recent series of pop songs released in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis that celebrate “partying.” Since Lady Gaga’s first single, “Just Dance,” appeared,[1] a series of prominent female pop singers have released music videos that unambiguously celebrate decadence. Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” (2009), Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” (2011), and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends” (2011) all portray gyrating bodies having simply way more fun than anyone could possibly have, reveling in their own meta-celebration.[2] Such images easily invite a critique of these videos’ lack of self-awareness, their problematic support of binge drinking, and their apolitical celebration of decadence as a mode of being in a time of global financial crisis and austerity. Inarguably outgrowths of a specific brand of American exceptionalism and a youth culture in which hedonism has become an end-in-and-of-itself, what is perhaps most disturbing about this party program, however, is its relative sincerity.

By focusing on Ke$ha’s invitation to an eternal party, Perry’s strangely sincere meta-filmic nod to the 1980s, and Spears’s dance club at the end of the world, I will argue that these videos should be read not as jubilant affirmations of existence and individuality, but as particularly cynical expressions of life in what Ulrich Beck calls the “risk society.”[3] These singers signal a cultural inability to imagine a coherent future in the face of the present multiplying networks of global risk, and exemplify a need to perpetuate and maintain a decadent cultural fantasy by erasing the disasters and crises that define the present through the spectacle of nostalgically reappropriating the past or fervently anticipating the end.

Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance,” released in April 2008 roughly six months before the full impact of the financial crisis became apparent, functions as a kind of template for the decadent party anthems that would follow:

[4]

Notice here that Lady Gaga is already presenting a number of features that will get repeated by both Ke$ha and Perry. The house Gaga enters at the beginning of the video has clearly already been a site of revelry and substance abuse, as the previous night’s passed-out party goers have merely to await Gaga’s arrival before reawakening and resuming the party. Gaga is not separate or detached from the hedonism, but rather a full participant in both the revelry and the blacked-out aftermath of binging. She has perhaps had more to drink than “a little bit too much,” as she asks, “Where are my keys? I’ve lost my phone,” but the deleterious effects of alcohol—e.g. not remembering the name of the club one is in—are “alright, alright” because the solution to whatever problem the world of this song presents is simple: “just dance”; everything is “gonna be okay” if one simply dances.

The logic of this song is repeated almost verbatim to the point of plagiarism in Ke$ha’s own debut, “Tik Tok.” Unlike Gaga’s video, however, when Ke$ha sings, “Wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy; / Grab my glasses, I’m out the door, I’m gonna hit this city. / Before I leave, brush my teeth with a bottle of Jack, / ‘Cause when I leave for the night, I ain’t coming back,”[5] it is difficult to perceive any irony in her voice. For whether considered by itself or with the considerable retrospect provided by Lady Gaga’s subsequent career, “Just Dance” at least holds out the possibility of critical self-awareness toward the hedonism the song appears to be advocating. For not only does “Just Dance” acknowledge that something may actually not be all right with the world—that things need to be made okay, somehow—but that perhaps “just dancing” is not an adequate or acceptable solution to the problems being presented. In other words, an ironic reading of the video is not foreclosed, and the call to “just dance” might very well mean something else.

The partying Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” advocates, on the other hand, appears to foreclose any reading other than full-blown support for the decadence of the video, as it is difficult to argue that its hyperbole is in any way tempered by self-awareness. The partying Ke$ha portrays is not in reaction to anything or offered as the solution to any problem, but rather is something that she says, quite clearly, never stops. Partying, even if it doesn’t start until Ke$ha walks in, is a state of being in “Tik Tok.” (If the party starts when she walks in, then it is going on around her all time time.) Decadence becomes a kind of perpetual present, a nightmare eternal return of partying and drunkenness, resulting in hangovers that, one might imagine, also never end. Ke$ha cannot stop partying, whether she’s doing something as banal as brushing her teeth or whether she’s being groped (“boys tryin’ to touch my junk”) “the party don’t stop, no.”

In this way “Tik Tok” is emblematic of life under late capitalism. The logic of Ke$ha’s nonstop party wagon depends, like current theories of the free market, on the exploitation of illimitable resources so that it can grow without end toward no goal other than its own disastrous perpetuation. Further, as someone once pointed out about the cultural logic of late capitalism,[6] the song has no sense of history (other than an incoherent reference to Mick Jagger), and it is incapable of acknowledging the history of its own form (i.e., its blatant indebtedness to Lady Gaga). Simultaneously, the video is unable to posit any coherent sense of the future (let alone imagine some kind of utopian project). The song and its title, “Tik Tok,” while acknowledging that time exists, subsumes the human experience of temporality within the regime of its party-ontology, foreclosing any past or future. If Frank Kermode were once able to famously read the poetic expression “tick-tock” as “a model of what we call plot, an organization that humanizes time by giving it form,” then Ke$ha’s song remains only “the interval between tock and tick [a] purely successive, disorganized time of the sort that we need to humanize.”[7] In other words, the experience of the perpetual present of Ke$ha’s decadence eschews any narrative structure, any sense of a beginning or end that would make sense of the actions of the party’s participants. Consequently, there is something deeply inhuman about Ke$ha’s call for constant partying, and I do not think it too much of a stretch to equate the inhumanity of Ke$ha’s pursuit of unending decadent pleasure that has no other aim than the production of more pleasure with the inhumanity of being implored to constantly enjoy that is so much a feature of the contemporary experience of late capitalism. “Tik Tok” thus evinces a profound despair about the state of the world, one in which the fleeting present of youth, with its all-too-brief but ultimately damaging and disastrous holiday from history, is the only option left in the wake of the global financial crisis. Both the past and the future have been foreclosed, and Ke$ha’s song only holds out one incredibly cynical alternative: forget about the world and turn toward a solipsistic and uncritical pursuit of pleasure at the expense of everything else. And the most disturbing part of this injunction-to-enjoy is how sincerely this message is delivered, with no alternative imagined or even hinted at.

Something similar occurs in Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”[8] and Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends.” If “Tik Tok” is a nightmare glimpse of an eternal present with no sense of a past or future, Perry and Spears are emblematic of further failures to engage with history or imagine a future from within the regime of contemporary decadence. To turn first toward “Friday Night,” consider the following moment from the video, right when Perry receives the classic 1980s filmic makeover that turns a nerdy girl into a (more-or-less) conventionally attractive one:

[9]

The logic of this video is persistent. The alcohol-fueled regime of (poorly remembered) contemporary decadence is framed by the nostalgic (and anachronistic) reappropriation of the 1980s. Perry’s nod toward this period, however, glosses over the deep and abiding irony of 1980s popular film that she draws upon so heavily, an omission perhaps best evidenced in the video’s use of saxophonist Kenny G. Not even the sax player on the original track, Kenny G’s “lip-synched” sax playing functions strangely. Rather than being used ironically—i.e., everyone knowing that Kenny G is thoroughly uncool, but pretending to like him in an ironic, hipper-than-thou manner anyway, as would have been historically appropriate—Kenny G is presented as the apotheosis, both musically and visually, of the video’s nostalgia. In Perry’s historical vision, it is Kenny G that fully represents the past, even though anyone who could actually remember him would have thoroughly reviled him and his music. Juxtaposed against party-goers playing Just Dance 2 (2010) and the presence of the house band, the pretty much always reprehensible late-1990s boy-pop group Hanson, history from within the logic of Perry’s decadence becomes merely a playground of now empty cultural signifiers that can be strung together in whatever loose fashion serves the video’s own fairly obscure ends. This is only exacerbated by the appearance of Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson as Perry’s parents near the end of the video, serving to reinforce how incoherently popular culture from the relatively recent past is perceived from the decadent alcohol-haze of contemporaneity.

Though he was describing a possible future for American fiction rather than what I am calling “Lady Pop in the Age of the Networked Star,” David Foster Wallace’s comments on sincerity that conclude his 1996 essay, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” on the relationship between irony and postmodern cultural production, might equally apply to the strange sort of sincerity I would like to suggest that “Friday Night” displays:

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-conscious and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backwards, quaint, naïve, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “Oh how banal.” To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness.[10]

Though clearly Perry is neither “literary” nor much of a “rebel”—even in the sense Wallace gives the word—she most assuredly appears “willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs,” for she does not appear to be desiring any other reaction to this video. Rather than be impressed by her hyper-self-aware postmodern recursive reflexivity, her anachronistic, Pynchonian use of reference used in the necessary service of debunking and exposing the illusions of postmodernity, her audience is merely encouraged to affect a cool smile of knowing (but not really knowing) that Kenny G’s presence in the video is slightly off, a bit too sincere even as it attempts to produce the kind of ironic stance that once was not a staple of popular culture, but a violent critique of its implicit and uncritical assumptions. In other words, in the same fashion that Wallace once relentlessly critiqued postmodern televisual production for cashing in on the literary irony of Thomas Pynchon et al, Perry is cashing in on the naïve sincerity of the present, a sincerity perhaps best captured in the phrase, “just express yourself.” Even in something that on its surface first appears to be hyper-referential and recursively ironic becomes, in Perry’s vision, yet another articulation of the overwhelming call of contemporary mass media to: just be yourself, express yourself, be true to yourself, in other words, to be sincere. What the self is that is being expressed, however, is anyone’s guess.

Britney Spears takes this sincerity, as she puts it, “to the next level”[11] in a video that unintentionally contemplates the eschatological horizon of the solipsistic, yet empty sincerity of contemporary decadence. Her video for 2011’s “Till the World Ends” is set on 21 December 2012—the purported date of the Mayan Apocalypse—as what appears to be a meteor approaches the Earth. In the video Spears and a gang of rejects from the Mad Max films, in light of this dire situation, have decided to stage a dance party at the end of the world:

[12]

There are a number of striking things about this video and, to my mind it is a fairly incredible allegory for certain contemporary approaches to global risk. First, the disaster Spears and her cadre of orgiastic pre-post-apocalyptic dancers anticipate is thoroughly fantasmatic. We are not within the realm of the (still realistic) cultural fantasy of Mutual Assured Destruction that Donald E. Pease and others have located as the dominant US national fantasy of the Cold War,[13] nor are we within a postmodern simulation in which the disaster explodes into reality that Slavoj Žižek finds when he analyzes the attacks of 11 September 2001.[14] Rather, the disaster fantasy here is a loosely fabricated fringe-eschatology thrown together by people trying to sell books by exploiting the historical deferment of the millennium, something that Norman Cohn pointed out long ago has been going on since at least the Middle Ages.[15] For Spears, in other words, the Mayan Apocalypse is just the most convenient and visible contemporary sense of an ending, and its lack of any correspondence to the very real, very persistent contemporary sense of disaster, whether it be ecological, economic, or political, matters not in the least. What matters is merely the fantasy of apocalypse. We are living in what Ulrich Beck calls an era of “global risk,” so the pervasive and ubiquitous sense of disaster that characterizes the world risk society gets transformed in Spears’s eschatological vision into whatever old disaster she wants. Divorced from the realities of the last decade, the natural disasters, the various wars being fought by the US, and a time characterized by what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism,”[16] Spears is able to sublimate the anxieties and fears of contemporaneity and turn them into a dance party that, even with disaster looming literally right outside of its door, cannot seem to concern itself with the impending doom nor step away from the decadent enjoyment of the club long enough to attempt to avert.

So second, it is further striking that in “Till the World Ends” the disaster appears to have actually been averted. One is encouraged, I believe, to imagine that the dancing was so good, that Spears and her pals got “on the floor” so well, that the meteor was diverted, and though there is little-to-no diegetic evidence to support such a reading, this redemption-through-dancing speaks to the pervasiveness of the fantasy on display so blatantly in Spears’s video and the depths of its cynical despair. Not only does the video exemplify a cultural inability to imagine other modes of being or a coherent sense of the future that is not eschatologically foreclosed by the conditions of contemporaneity, and its redemption-through-partying validates solipsistic decadence as a proper mode of reacting to disaster in an age of global risk—i.e. ignoring it—but “Till the World Ends” suggests that this decadence actually might save us from disaster—i.e. that if we all just partied enough, kept dancing hard enough, the world might not end.[17] The horizon of this stance, if we recall Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”—and it should be mentioned that Ke$ha also co-wrote “Till the World Ends”—is that if we just let capitalism run its course far enough, that if we all just ignore the increasingly dire ecological realities, economic catastrophes, global violence, and just keep enjoying ourselves, everything will be “okay.” This is in no way to suggest that we should be looking to these female pop stars to articulate a coherent politics, that if pop music was less decadently fantasmatic it might solve problems, et cetera. But it is to suggest that these videos brilliantly capture contemporary modes of decadence and put on display, with very little window dressing whatsoever, the solipsistic sincerity that ideologically props up this decadence. And of course it is fitting that I am delivering this paper mere days after Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast of the US and only a week before an election in which climate change and the environment have been discussed precisely zero times by the candidates. In other words, the world is ending and we need to stop dancing.

[1] Lady Gaga, “Just Dance” (Santa Monica, CA: Interscope Records, 2008), 12” single. The single was released on 8 April 2008, and her full-length debut album, The Fame, was released 19 August 2008 (Santa Monica, CA: Interscope Records), mere weeks before the full impact of the financial meltdown became apparent. Like so much else in her career, Lady Gaga was ahead of her time with regard to post-crisis decadence.

[2] For these videos see http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[3] See Ulrich Beck, World at Risk, trans. Ciaran Cronin (New York: Polity Press, 2009).

[4] http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[5] Ke$ha, “Tik Tok” (New York: RCA, 2009), CD single. The single was released 7 August 2009, and Ke$ha’s full-length debut, Animal, was released 1 January 2010.

[6] See Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991).

[7] Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction with a New Epilogue, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 45, emphasis mine. I would also mention that Robert Lowell’s “Fall 1961,” in which “Back and forth, Back and forth / goes the tock, tock, tock,” is really about “All autumn, the chafe and jar / of nuclear war; / we have talked our extinction to death” (Collected Poems, ed. Frank Bidart and David Gewanter [New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003], 329).

[8] Hereafter “Friday Night.”

[9] http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[10] David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction,” in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997), 81.

[11] Britney Spears, “Till the World Ends” (New York: Jive Records, 2011), CD single.

[12] http://bradfest.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/abstract-decadence-and-sincerity-in-the-risk-society-katy-perry-and-britney-spears-partying-at-the-end-of-the-world/.

[13] See Donald E. Pease, The New American Exceptionalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

[14] See Slavoj Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real!: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates (New York: Verso, 2002).

[15] See Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, rev. and ex. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).

[16] See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007).

[17] As David Foster Wallace once said of something else, this is so stupid it practically drools.


More from Ferguson, the Earth Is Doomed in 2880, and Other Links

August 21, 2014

Nuclear and Environmental

Nick Blackborn, “How to Hide a Nuclear Missile.”

Paul Rogers, “California Drought: 17 Communities Could Run Out of Water in 60 to 120 Days, State Says.”

Seth Borenstein, “Recent Glacial Melt Mostly Caused By Man-Made Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Finds.”

Jeff Spross, “Meet the First Pacific Island Town to Relocate Thanks to Climate Change.”

Katie Valentine, “The Longest River in the US Is Being Altered by Climate Change.”

Isobel Markham, “Huge Asteroid Set to Wipe Out Life on Earth — in 2880.”

 

Ferguson

Bob Herbert, “The Fire This Time.”

Gail Sullivan, “How Facebook and Twitter Control What You See about Ferguson.”

“Ferguson Unrest: Egypt Urges US to Show Restraint.”

Nathaniel Downes, “Ferguson Police Busted: Attempt to Defame Shooting Victim Blows Up in Their Face.”

Jamelle Bouie, “Why the Fires in Ferguson Won’t End Soon.”

Jelani Cobb, “A Movement Grows in Ferguson.”

Lanre Akinsiku, “The Price of Blackness.”

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “The Summer of 2014 and the Return of the Politics of Racism.”

Matthew Yglesias, “Police Are Operating with Total Impunity in Ferguson.”

“Mapping the Spread of the US Military’s Surplus Gear.”

Ashley Yates, “#Ferguson.”

 

International

Annysa Johnson and Nina Barton, “Islamic Militants Execute Journalist, MU Grad James Foley.”

 

Politics and Economics

Bonnie Honig’s “Three Models of Emergency Politics” has been made available by boundary 2.

Rob Horning, “Liquid Authenticity.”

 

Hyperarchival

Manuel Abreu, “Incalculable Loss.” “The algorithms that make up Big Data distribute complicity for death across the populations they surveil.”

 

Science

An interview with Nick Bostrom.

 

Literature and Culture

Noah Berlasky, “Building a Better Panopticon,” a review of Linda Williams’s book on The Wire (2002-2008).

Some interesting things going on at the University of Arizona, my alma mater: “Transgender Studies Today: An Interview with Susan Stryker.”

Nate Lavey and Jay Kang, “Object of Interest: The Vocoder.”

And an interview with my friend Dave Keaton: “Hey, Why’d You Do That David James Keaton?”

 

Humanities and Higher Education

America’s coming student loan apocalypse. (I guess anything can be an apocalypse these days.)

Graeme Wood, “The Future of College?” (Ugh.)

“The Adjunct Crisis: A Reading List.”


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