Friday, July 29, 2011

The Century of Self

Adam Curtis in his extraordinary documentary "The Century of Self," follows the Freud family and the rise of advanced capitalism. Divided into four parts the film series is a geneology of the Self in the western world.The Freudian view of human beings maintained that humans are irrational beings driven by unconscious libidinous desires. Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew and creator of public relations, believed that because humans had dangerous uncontrollable desires they must be controlled and managed from above.

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind." Bernays Propaganda 1928

During the radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s this view of the person whose consumption habits were to be controlled came into question. The left did capitalism a favor by opening its doors to the importance of individual choice as a means of self expression. According to Wilhelm Reich, a liberatory Freudian pyschoanalyst, the self's desires should not be suppressed but rather should continually be let loose. The inner unconscious desires and motives should be expressed. Capitalism adapted to this new view and began to market products as expressions of individual taste and desires. No longer was a commodity just a fulfillment of a desire but it was also a way to express desire.

I feel like the strength of this documentary series is in two things. First in showing the adaptability of modern capitalism to incorporate changing views of the self. Ostensibly the documentary is a depiction of the rise of Spectacular capitalism. The second strength is in showing how the self has changed with time. This change implies that our senses of self are not static, essential things but rather adapt with changes in social structure and events in our own personal lives.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Metamorphsis on Stage

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature. He was laying on his hard, as it were armor-plated, back and when he lifted his head a little he could see his domelike brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes." The Metamorphis by Franz Kafka

Aurora Theatre, the location for Metamorphis by Franz Kafka and adapted by David Farr and Gisli Orn Gardarsson, was small and intimate. The theatre fit a hundred filled seats. The set was simple; a living room with two chairs and a television, a kitchen with a table, a set of stairs with a framed door and the protagonist, Gregor Samsa's bedroom. His bedroom was a simple affair with a bed and a framed window however the room was slanted downward toward the living room. The angle of the room forced Samsa in his motions through the room to crawl, beast like through the area.

Alexander Crowther, who played Gregor, was made not into a insect which is implied by many translators of the novella, but is rather given a general unwholesome and despicable character. This characterization is closer to the German Ungeziefer which literally means "unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice" and is sometimes used colloquially to mean "bug." Kafka in the novella defines Samsa as an Ungeziefer. Crowther does a splendid job as a green lit beast crawling about the set with darkened eyes. With little costuming he conveys bodily the disgust that Kafka intended.

The play is set in America during the 1950s, an era of witch hunts, paranoia, and sci-fi flicks such as Them! The Samsa family is given a heavy schelack of "normality" which is shattered when their chief breadwinner, Gregor, is unable to work, he is a disgusting beast instead of a good worker. The family is forced to take on a renter, and the father employment. While the economics of the ordeal with Gregor is brings the plot along the interpersonal relationships within the family is where the core of action resides. The cast shows their acting chops with attempts to continue on as normal whilst having a blemish in their lives. Particularly riveting is Madeline H.D. Brown's skill in portraying Gregor's mother. Brown face shows the strain of smiling under duress. Her features portray the tender line between facing things with a smile and cracking under the pressure.

What was particularly interesting about this adaptation was its humor. The novella is an absurd story and this existential absurdity is translated on stage as comedy. There was something poignantly funny when the Samsa family dealt with their new found filth. I'm not sure that it was Kafka's intention for his story to be one of humour and laughter but there is something absurdly comical about a man who wakes one day to find himself a Ungeziefer.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The harder they fall

He washed his glass and wiped it clean, to destroy the evidence, and looked at me steadily. "Mr. Lewis, what is it that turned a fine sport into a dirty business?"
"Money," I said.
"It's money," he went on, as if he hadn't heard me. "Money. Too much money for the promoters, too much money for the managers, too much money for the fighters."
"Too much money for everybody except the press agents," I said. I was feeling sorrier for myself at the moment than I was for the game. That's what the battle always did to me.
"I tell you, Mr. Lewis, it's money," Charles was saying.
"An athletic sport in an atmosphere of money is like a girl from a good family in a house of ill fame." p.7 The Harder They Fall

Budd Schulberg was not only a novelist but a screenplay writer who in his most famous title depicts the scandal and corruption of the boxing world. The story follows Eddie Willis a writer and press agent whose moral compass goes askew when he begins to work for Nick Belinzo, a boxing promoter. Belinzo contracts the behemoth peasant Toro Molina to become a fighter and spectacle for him. Toro is unaware of the complexities and business of boxing. Trusting his newfound friends Toro is led along on a string through a series of created victories. Each fight is made more spectacular and Toro is promised more money and all that he desires. In time with the spectacle is the diminishing of Toro's control over his life. Toro is eventually given a pittance of a payment for his work while the others, the promoters and fat cats get rich. Having no other line of recourse Toro is damned to continue to sell himself to fight.

While the action centers on Toro the realization of the grasp of capital depresses Eddie and makes him feel like a beaten fighter. In this way the novel is a classic noir. The main character is aware of fate and the social structures that create his fate but is totally unable to do anything about it no matter his valiant efforts.