Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

All of the work that I am currently doing as a graduate student is informed by two interrelated assumptions: 1) that at some point being queer (a term that admittedly needs some unpacking) offered up the promise of genuine cultural resistance; and that 2) the LGBTQA (the A does not stand for Ally) community is abandoning that promise just as fast as they (we?) can get hold of marriage rights.

I believe that examining the film Dallas Buyers Club through the perspective of “The Culture Industry” illustrates how queer (yep, whatever that means) is becoming appropriated into culture. At one point, these themes were removed or hidden in American cinema. According to Horkheimer and Adorno, “The familiar experience of the moviegoer, who perceives the street outside as a continuation of the film he has just left, because the film seeks strictly to reproduce the world of everyday perception, has become the guideline of production” (99). Though I think a lot can be said and critiqued about this statement in regard to the universal tone of the claim, I do recognize that some films certainly work in this tradition. DBC contains elements that make it appear, if not authentic, then certainly credible: the film looks cheap—certainly cheaper than it probably cost to make; it involves the physical transformation of a popular actor, a known “commodity” (Holy shit, he lost a lot of weight; give that man an Academy Award!); there is a transvestite (or possibly transgender person) that must not at any point be allowed entrance into an actual house, suffers from the moral failings associated with drug addiction, is redeemed by the heterosexual male, and who must—absolutely must—die a terrified death; the evil anti-capital regulatory regime (depicted in the form of the FDA) brutalizes the entrepreneur hero; but only the white heterosexual gets to be the entrepreneur hero as the not helpful AZT medication is acquired through a series of nefarious transactions involving a racially coded drug dealer listed as only the “Hispanic Orderly.” H&A argue that such films “are so constructed that their adequate comprehension requires a quick, observant, knowledgeable cast of mind but positively debar the spectator from thinking, if he is not to miss the fleeting facts” (100). It is as though this complex and recent corner of history cannot be told without the inclusion of culture types to explain and contextualize the circumstance. In fact, I wasn’t aware until I started thinking about this post just how pro-capitalism DBG really is—right down to the name of movie.

The film deploys these common cultural tropes to supposedly relay a series of facts to the audience. The film even ends with the familiar fact statements—printed and unspoken—that explain what happened to the real people after the events of the film conclude. H&N address this situation by arguing that “through its inherent tendency to adopt the tone of the factual report, the culture industry makes itself the irrefutable prophet of the existing order” (118). While I know that Benjamin also addresses the role of technology and its complications, I keep thinking about Baudrillard and the role of the sumilacrum as distraction—specifically, the example of Watergate being a distraction from the corruption that permeates all political life. Similarly, DBC tracks away from the real issue: why do these cultural types continue to be so taken for granted?

On a similar note, I saw the preview for Devil’s Knot this week. I am utterly annoyed at the prospect of what Hollywood might do to the narrative of the West Memphis Three, which I think is the most important series of events to have taken place in this country in the last 20 years (and, yes, I am including 9/11 in that statement). I did gain some hope when I saw that Atom Egoyan is the director. Someone like Spielberg would have made a movie about a cruel injustice, when the actual events prove that justice itself is nothing but an abstraction.

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