Good Day Today

Dec 13th, 2012 | By | Category: Book News

A few years ago I was working on a short film which one of my friends was directing. During shooting, a lot of the cast and crew were staying at his house, and one night a few of us decided to watch David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). By the time the lady in the radiator with lumpy hamster-pouch cheeks performed her foetus-stomping routine, one actor became incredibly frustrated and protested that the film didn’t make any sense. I replied with something like ‘It doesn’t need to make sense. Just watch it’, and a few scenes later, he said ‘It makes a lot more sense now that I know it doesn’t need to make sense.’

This anecdote serves as an example – however minimal – of the way in which Lynch’s films might change the way a spectator thinks about cultural norms. In this case, Eraserhead engendered the realisation that films don’t need to make sense. However, due to its mimetic nature, film is a medium which often works to support cultural norms beyond its concerns as an art-form more so than any other. A pop song might instantiate verse-chorus form or the chromatic scale as somehow natural, yet a film might not only reinforce the rules of continuity editing as natural, but also the ‘rules’ of current society. It is therefore conceivable that, in terms of films which destabilise their spectator and all but demand a new mode of reception, the inverse is also possible, and the spectator who realises that films don’t need to make sense, might realise that many other aspects of life which he/she takes as given do not need to be so.

The notion that film might serve this revolutionarily emancipator purpose through spectatorial destabilisation is especially crucial now, when the unashamed imposition of ideology by those in power is particularly vigorous. Beyond mass market advertising, whose aggressive promotion of normativity is of course a constant under late capitalism, this is evident in two speeches made by David Cameron, one at a Witney youth centre in the aftermath of the 2011 summer riots across the UK, and another made in December of the same year to the Church of England clergy in Oxford. In the latter, he referred to a (biblical) ‘set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today’ and blamed virtually every element of social unrest and corruption in banking and politics (all of which, according to Cameron, was obviously the work of errant agents rather than product of the systems themselves) on the dissolution of said set of values and morals. This point of view is one which he espoused to greater – and more insidious – length in the former speech, in which he proclaimed that ‘we have been unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong’, as if the world – or the  nation, even – had come to some sort of consensus in these matters.

This appeal to a notional essentialist moral code was not uncommon during the 2011 summer riots, and one of the most obscene examples was provided by Edwina Currie on Newsnight, when she conflated the values of market capitalism with such a supposed code in a clunky rhetorical manoeuvre.

‘This is not the behaviour of a group of people who have any kind of morality’, she harped, arguing that the reasons for the disorder did not lie with disenfranchised youth being ‘disconnected from jobs or whatever’, but instead asserting that the riots were product of these people’s disconnection ‘from any real sense of right and wrong: any real sense that says what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, and I don’t touch it’, as if the concept of private property isn’t simply a contingency of capitalism, and has anything to do with ‘a real sense of right and wrong.’

In both the speech to the youth centre and the speech to the Church of England clergy, with almost precisely the same wording, Cameron made the grand concluding statement that ‘this moral neutrality, this relativism [is] not going to cut it anymore.’ But if relativism has proved itself insufficient for Cameron, is the implication that moral absolutism is the answer?

It is not as if the representations serving the interests of certain of society’s strata are not already hypostasized and the oppressed obfuscated by the dominant discourse in its presentation of ‘the way things are’; it is not as if it is not already the case that our ‘supposedly universal international law…cannot be dissociated from certain European philosophical concepts’ (Derrida, 83). However, the fact that, at the time of writing this introduction, the prime minister of Britain seems to be – quite unambiguously – laying the foundation for one-size-fits-all authoritarian lifestyle guidelines means that now is a moment when the cultivation of a mindset which refuses to accept norms as pre-given is more crucial than ever, and throughout this book, I argue that the films of David Lynch are well suited to cultivate such a mindset.

Extract from Good Day TodayDaniel Neofetou, publishing December 2012

ISBN: 978-1-78099-767-4, $14.95 / £9.99, paperback, 102pp

EISBN: 978-1-78099-766-7, $9.99 / £6.99, eBook

In his speech following the 2011nationwide riots in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke out against people “being too unwilling for too long to talk about what is right and what is wrong” and proclaimed “this relativism – it’s not going to cut it anymore”. He was, then, presumably laying the foundation for one-size-fits-all absolutist authoritarianism and, worryingly, the moral outrage induced by the riots means a large proportion of the British public might not oppose such measures.

When such a mindset is on the verge of becoming pandemic, where do we turn? This book suggests that the work of another David, born 20 years before and 3,000 miles away from Cameron, might engender a mode of thinking which does not apprehend the world in terms of such easy distinctions. In David Lynch, we find a director whose films  – by utilising the tropes of the Hollywood movie, but subverting their accepted meanings - profoundly destablise spectators, and lead them to consider things not in terms of prescribed binaries, but as complex and multi-faceted.

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