August 2014


>>RSA Animate: "First as Tragedy, Then as Farce"

UK, 2010 | Slavoj Žižek

In this eleven minute talk, Philosopher Slavoj Žižek discusses how ethics and charity have been co-opted by capitalism, and why this is problematic. As with all RSA Animate videos, the audio is complemented by a visually stunning cartoon, which unfolds in front of the viewer’s eyes in time with the lecture.

Žižek is fun to listen to; he makes philosophical arguments palatable through a combination of pop-culture references and dirty jokes. But if his thoughts about the futility of charitable sentiment (the quoted portions of his brief talk below will give you an idea) are not your cup of tea, you can find on RSA’s website a range of talks more suited to your specific taste, be it education, economics, psychology, linguistics, etc. — all supplemented by cartoons which do more than just add context to the talks and, in fact, have a beautiful, ingenious aesthetic quality of their own.

In today’s capitalism, more and more the tendency is to bring the two dimensions together in one and the same gesture. So that when you buy something your anti-consumerist duty to do something for others — for environment and so on — is already included into it. If you think I’m exaggerating, you have them around the corner; walk into any Starbucks coffee, and you will see how they explicitly tell you, I quote their campaign, ‘It’s not just what you are buying; it’s what you are buying into.’ When you buy Starbucks, whether you realize it or not, you are buying into something bigger than a cup of coffee; you are buying into a coffee ethics. [The campaign continues] ‘Through our Starbucks Shared Planet Program we purchase more fair trade coffee than any company in the world, insuring that the farmers who grow the beans receive a fair price for their hard work, and we invest in an improved coffee growing practices and communities around the globe. It’s a good coffee karma.’ And a little bit of the price of a cup of Starbucks coffee helps furnish the place with comfortable chairs …. This is what I call cultural capitalism at its purest … in the very consumerist act, you buy your redemption from being only a consumerist. You do something for the environment, you do something to help starving children in Guatemala, you do something to restore the sense of community here and so on and so on.
People find themselves surrounded by hideous poverty, by hideous ugliness, by hideous starvation. It is inevitable that they should be strongly moved by all this. Accordingly, with admirable though misdirected intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease, they merely prolong it; indeed their remedies are part of their disease.
The proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible, and the altruistic virtues have really prevented the carrying out of this aim. The worst slave owners were those who were kind to their slaves, and so prevented the core of the system being realized by those who suffer from it .... Charity degrades and demoralizes. It is immoral to use private property in order to alleviate the horrible evils that result from the institution of private property.
© 2014   Robert Jay

© 2014 Robert Jay

>>This Is Not a Film

Iran, 2011 | Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb

This Is Not a Film is probably the only work ever shown at Cannes that had to be smuggled across a border on a flash drive hidden inside a cake. In 2010, Iranian director Jafar Panahi was arrested for shooting a film without a permit, which is necessary in the highly restrictive Iranian film industry, in which the government must approve every script before shooting begins. He was sentenced to six years in prison and a 20-year ban on making films, giving interviews, and leaving the country. While awaiting his appeal of this sentence, Panahi made This Is Not a Film.

Any classification or labelling of this work would not do it justice; it is wholly unique, a piece of art that is nothing other than itself. Panahi, on house arrest, films himself in his apartment in Tehran. Worried that what he has filmed will be “a lie,” he enlists friend and filmmaker Mojtaba Mirtahmasb to help him film. With Mirtahmasb behind the camera, Panahi reads and acts out a screenplay he wrote that failed to get approval from the government. Discouraged that this too is a lie, Panahi questions the value of this project. Interspersed are dealings with the neighbors, his pet lizard, news clips, the fireworks of the Persian New Year celebration outside, and the building’s garbage collector.

To understand the multiplicity of meanings offered by This Is Not a Film, consider the title. It is simultaneously a kind of legal disclaimer, a meditation on the nature of cinema, and a self-deprecating joke. The work slides in and out of different modes and ideas, shifting and squirming under the weight of Panahi’s forthcoming sentence. More than anything, it depicts a man in desperation — desperate to continue making the films that are so clearly his lifeblood, desperate to document his situation, desperate to take control of circumstances so clearly out of his control. This Is Not a Film is intense and immediate, creating and defining itself as it progresses.

Even the fiction/documentary binary fails to apply here — while the characters are all themselves, and Pahani is committed to depicting the truth, some elements, especially the effusive and charming trash collector who dominates the final section of the film, seem too cinematic to be real. But the brilliance of This is Not a Film is the way it engages with the confluence of these concepts.

Panahi is currently awaiting what’s called “Execution of Verdict,” meaning that he could be sent to prison at any time, according to the will of his government. Somehow, Panahi has just completed another film, Closed Curtain, which is now playing in select theaters in the US. Clearly, and thankfully, against all odds, Panahi will continue making films no matter the risk.

This Is Not a Film is available on Netflix.

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