Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 in Shit: Oblivion

Oblivion kind of completely overwhelmed me. I didn't particularly like it, but I can't imagine that matters all that much. The closest thing I could do to absorbing it was to immediately begin to catalog.

The most egregious reference in the film is to Star Wars; at one point there is literally a shot of two TI-Fighters chasing an X-Wing through a ravine. I mean they are automated security drones, and the X-Wing is Tom Cruise's ship, but that's bullshit. For a brief moment the idyllic postapocalyptic landscape is the ventilation shaft (or what the fuck ever) of the Death Star, and that's fucking weird.

Then there's how the Big Bad is basically Hal as metastasized through the obelisk, which makes Civilization's Last Great Hope Gone Horribly Wrong either a standing critique of SF Capital or the slick aesthetic of an impending already established corporate oligopoly.

Which definitely is in conversation with the Tusken raiders cum Rebel Scum (or wait, they might be the human resistance stationed on Zion? By way of a much sartorially toned down Mad Max?). Right? I feel like I'm missing something there, because the other obvious referent, in terms of structuring the story, is Moon, which bridges the faceless corporate enemy and the human posthuman resistance, the techno tekhne of nonhuman persons in empty landscapes as unwitting contractors to (malevolent) alien intelligences? There are only so many ways to cyberpunk without Harrison Ford in gothic Los Angeles, you know, which is probably a blessing.

But then too there's the lie of idleness, of idyllic reactionary stasis, of the drippy island abode uncomfortably close to Solaris except as a happy (as though the Moonly uncanny could possibly be lost) ending. No helicopter to yank the camera up and away through intermittent blasts of the fog machine this time around. Just a fucked up family.

Of course, the eternal recurrence of visual trauma is just a way of sneaking the Empire State Building into Twelve Monkeys, but you already knew that. Does that even resolve? Was that tourist viewfinder the same thing that was used in Vertigo? I really doubt it (it was probably the opening shot of The Birds, and almost definitely had nothing to do with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage; not that I'd bet on that though).

Don't say Minority Report, you're just being an asshole.

If I've left out the image of the destroyed moon, it's only for two very clear reasons. The first is that it's definitely not 1Q84. The second is that I have no fucking clue what it is. My limits are quickly reached.

Did you know that the whole movie is just propaganda for the Church of Scientology? Yep. Wow. Uh huh. You don't say. Really interesting stuff. Just remember to stay vigilant (just kidding; Alex Jones has given the go-ahead).

If I called it autophagic that's only because it is the SF megatext. You heard it here first. Was there sex in a pool at some point? Holy hell what is going on. I am not my text's keeper.

Alright, look. I didn't say it in my review of Westfahl's book, because it didn't have a place there, but I'm going to here, because this isn't a place for anything. You know why the cyberpunks won? It didn't have shit to do with their vision of futurity, much less their style or their capturing of the zeitgeist. It wasn't Gibson's unique ability to play a crowd, that's for fucking sure. It was their ability to persuasively argue for the sole existence of a canon that produced them as an inevitability. The kids were, more than anything else, brilliant genealogists. They're still winning, you know. Although their lead has been eroded very quickly over the last decade or so.

That's one reason why it matters how Gibson is canonized. Not that there aren't others, more broad and more specific, but that's big. Oblivion is the megatext, but Gibson and Sterling fucking owned that shit for thirty years. There's good and bad there for sure, but you'd be hard pressed to convince me that it wasn't a fact. Cataloging isn't a neutral act; these moments or structures of allusion don't end just because I can't or won't articulate them further. Geek humor persists in its same form, the reference, for a clear reason; referencing is an exertion of power. In particular, it is the exertion of the power to control the fundamental basis of cultural appreciation. There's good and bad there, for sure.

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