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Re: <nettime> So what does awakening mean to you?
Dan S. Wang on Mon, 8 Jan 2018 20:24:23 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> So what does awakening mean to you?




Hi Brian,

Thank you for an inspired meditation on the film Get Out. I watched it a few days ago. [spoilers to follow, sorry]

The film is totally about race, but so is America, or for that matter, Europe. No >one can miss the fact that the ghouls of the story are liberals. The film is >about societies whose highest enlightened ideals are the very essence of >domination. Although it allows you to make all kinds of valid statements about >how domination works in racial terms, still that misses the most troubling thing. >Domination in its contemporary form is seductive, even for its victims.

"Totally about race”--I agree, but what does that really mean? For me, "totally about race" means that far from isolating race as a frame of power and history, Get Out does the opposite. In other words, a complete inquiry into race sees everything else: gender politics, class anxiety, labor and capital. The liberal ghouls-in-chief are not merely, simply, and reductively white, but also as you've no doubt noted, high achieving professionals. Even the collusion and mutual recognition of the global elite is hinted at in the token Hiroki Tanaka character.

At this level of complexity race is always a matter of difference-within-difference. The interlocked elements are legible because the premises of such a horror are built on what we Americans inherited from the generations previous: a system of stolen labor shored up ideologically by a patriarchal racism, or, if you like, a racialized sexism, with biopolitical entanglements on all sides. The sinister aspects of the story vindicate Afro-Pessimist suspicion but the fundamentals of the white liberal suburban milieu speak more profoundly to what might be called an Afro-Realism. As in, this shit is pretty horrible even if things never turn weird.

Betrayal by the white woman is the most obvious moral theme to be attached to the succubus Rose, given the voting patterns that vaulted Trump to electoral college victory. But that was never the most important angle on the het white female/POCI male pairing. It is not about betrayals and the morals thereof. Instead, the issue is capital—capital that delivers to the male gaze a very particular kind of image, that of the young white woman. In the sexual education of men of color, particularly in the US context but extending to wherever media reaches, the white female is our first and by far most frequently seen object of desire. This is the a priori entrancement from which het POCI men must awaken. The critical question, then, is whether this libindinally-driven surrender to spectacularized capital on the part of POC males, can be resisted and what does that look like. The awakening must be more than simply a transference of desire to a different image. That would only be turning over in our sleep.

Chris's friend Rod escapes the trap because he resists falling victim to that learned craving. Speaking to our moment as much as any element in the story is the filmmaker's decision to make Rod a TSA line worker, an employee paid to act on his paranoia (but always professionally, no doubt). Rod does not fall for the fakery of the alluring white woman, but not necessarily because he is Black and therefore skeptical of white people in general, but equally because he has been trained to detect malevolence beneath the surface. In his job, everyone is a suspect. A TSA chump not as bomb-sniffer, terror-thwarter, or even butt-patter but as running interference on would-be abductors of Black folk? Brilliant, and one of many deft touches in this film saturated with double symbolism.

In Negroland, a memoir of being raised in the world of Chicago's mid-century Black elite, Margo Jefferson describes the rare occasion of visiting the homes of her white private school peers. She and her Black girl friends trade "me-and-the-maid" stories—those uncomfortable and thankfully fleeting moments in which 'MCN' (middle class Negro) girls admitted as social guests catch eye contact with the service worker who could have been their second cousin or neighbor from down the block. Both understand the undead nature of the white world they sample from opposite ends of the privilege spectrum, and Jefferson describes the non-verbal glances micro-coded with messages: I'm proud of you! or, Watch out! The twist Jordan Peele throws into the Black guest/Black servant dynamic--namely, that Chris's recognition is returned by neither Walter or Regina--provides Chris with the first inkling that something is really, really off.

Jefferson relates a quick vignette. In college she and a group of theater students were hosted in the home of one of them, Margo being the only Black girl. The group took over the parlor piano, singing show tunes together. When Jefferson takes a turn as accompanist, the dad spontaneously goes for the maid. Making up for his microaggressions with sheer enthusiasm, he excitedly calls on Jefferson to play Summertime. She plays. The maid sings. The white people watch. Jefferson doesn't recall whether the maid had an exceptional voice; the details were flooded over by the awkwardness of the moment. It is a memory of memory loss, a moment when performance takes over and the knowledge of who you were and what you are fades into a trace element, an almost-aware, because suddenly your whole being is but a consumable for white people. It is a real-life horror to match the zone induced by the fiendish hypnosis in Get Out. In both cases, resistance hinges on wresting consciousness back to where you want it to be--or better yet to some new wide-angled space.

"Get Out" - like all Afro-Pessimism - is about the impossibility of reforming the cultures of domination. And so awakening is no seduction, but it does mean embracing the fall of Empire. Or that's how my sliver-of-self sees it. Horror as a call to counter-culture.

As in many a great horror movie ending, Get Out leaves off with the dawning of the protagonist’s changed perceptions. The hardest work is about to begin--in this case not for a fictional character, but rather us, the viewers. It is a call to counter the culture, in deeds. Let's do that, shall we?

In cahoots,

Dan


  
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