Random Theory

The unknowable potential for Hegelian becoming, on both a personal and social level, may well end up justifying what is quickly becoming a more and more likely human future of technologically-facilitated immortality.

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IKR?!

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Random Theory: The Socially-Defined Self

A statement is not ultimately identifiable by its anatomy.

Let’s unpack that.

Starting at the ends, by ‘anatomy’ we can give words as a potent example, especially if by ‘statement’ we mean something linguistically expressed. And it’s no great jump to presume applicability across communications forms: words in a sentence, visual components of an image, the delivery of a physical performance, etc.. In fact, such generalizing is justified by the point of the statement: whatever these constituent elements might be, they do not individually possesses the essence of the information being communicated.  One step further: they don’t even do so altogether, in this precise combination.  And this is for the fact that, in each utterance of a statement, the context is altered, even if only by the previous utterance of the statement.  Take ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’ as an example: even though there is strong resemblance between the verses—only a single difference separating any of them, really—it is that one, consistent  difference that provides the exact positioning of each verse in the entire song.  Take one down, move it around, and you don’t have ’99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.’  Likewise, any human expression is subject to several forces, including the perceptions and perspectives of everyone involved in the statement’s creation and reception.  In that process, discourse itself, the valuation, the social placement, of that statement, will be established via its relationship to other statements, such as criticisms, elaborations, refutations, rephrasings, reappropriations, and a bunch of other ‘re-‘s that, in the Hegelian sense, are too numerous in their possibilities to really even fathom.

And this is all just how language treats itself.  There is little if any meaningful difference in how it treats its subjects, linguistic or narrative.  The socially-defined self is the subject in the real situation of their absolute, greater-than-life-long immersion in the linguistic order, in a perpetual state of contextedness, of the impossibility of the absolute removal of the self from the environment of the symbolic order that, itself, has served to constitute that subject in ways that transcend and, really, obviate the limitations of physicality.  The socially-defined self is the discursive subject, and even our own perceptions of ourselves, being filtered through the language that has produced the very notion of identity, are the undeniable product of sociality, of the self’s social presence and constitution.

Random Theory: Words and [Not[-]]Things

“The word is not the thing.”

-Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity (1933)

Of course, Korzybski establishes a contradiction in that the word ‘thing’ that is being used to display what the word does not represent is, in being a word itself, also not the thing.  What then is it that that word, ‘thing’, is?  Since the context is hypothetical—there is no specific identification being ascribed to the term ‘thing’ other than, perhaps, some vague, highly arguable implication of physicality—the thing that ‘thing’ represents is purely conceptual, that concept being expressed within discourse.  But, then, what is the word itself besides a discursive concept?  At best, then, we might say that the word and the thing—or, rather, the word and ‘thing’—are separate concepts within the same realm of conceptualization; they are both conceptualizable, extant within a language system that can refer to each in kind, and, therefore, comparable, just as we are setting them in contrast to one another now. They are each nodes of some proximity to one another within the linguistic structure, a dynamic proximity that is subject to their respective and collective uses within discourse.  And since, for all the influence it might have over the realm of things, the linguistic structure only ever deals in representations and associations[1], that would seem to put our relationships with our own discursively-constructed identities in a similar position to that of the thing and the word.


[1] For everything that is represented within the linguistic order is made subject to and of it.

Random Theory: Bat-a-rant

 

Batman is a fetishist, and I don’t mean that in a kinky way (though I kinda do).  Specifically, he fetishizes his parents’ death (not ‘deaths’); it was a singular event that happened right in front of him, a heavily visual moment that he relives, both in his waking hours and in his dreams.  But, rather than being definitional through loss, rather than being the absence of the physical presence of his parents in his life, its most affecting manifestation is as the presence of the event of their murder, as that is the moment of the birth of the Bat in his psyche.  Before it had a totem animal, there was the intentionality of, at the least, eliminating the chance to ever again be hurt so badly.

And he is never, in any prominent telling, spared the sight of their deaths; that’s essential to the fetishization, because Batman’s schtick is itself so predominantly visual.  Superman can be The Blur, entirely unrecognizable, but Batman needs to be visible at least some of the time if only to make his disappearance/absence that much more ambiguous at any given moment.[1]  If he learned something practical from the event of his parents’ murder, it’s the ability to so effectively shift from seemingly-absent to present–it’s the best imitation of their transition he can manage.  He becomes the master of the Freudian Fort-Da game.

Why have we never considered the possibility that Bruce and Batman may actually be entirely separate personalities within the singular presence of an enduringly-schizophrenic victim of childhood trauma?  The reason is that the narrative has never really given us reason to think such.  In fact, if anything, I’d previously believed that there was no real Bruce left–that the murder had killed that personality and his scrambled brain had effectively produced an entirely new OS, redesigned to deal with the cruelties of the world, but still with the memories of the dead kid and his parents.  Batman as a living (if you call it ‘living’), fighting testament to the Law of the Dead Father.  But now that seems needlessly reductive: is psychology, of real or imagined subjects, ever so neat?  Is it allowed to be, anymore?  The fact is that Bruce’s memories remain, and there are considerable arguments to be made that memories are a core constituent of identity.  Batman might be emergent, but he hasn’t subsumed Bruce entirely.  Nor should he want to.  Rubber batsuit notwithstanding, Batman’s actually a pretty practical guy.  Or, maybe ‘strategic’ is more apt.  He is also, by nature of his invention, the alpha male; the predominant wielder of phallic power in an entire city, close competitor with a god for command of a band of superhumans–though he, himself, is not superhuman.  It’s clear that such a personality, recognizing the traumatized heir whose id he’s just bubbled up from, would also recognize that boy’s vast inheritance and the continual benefits it would provide to his mission of personally enforcing ‘justice’ and ‘decency’; so, Bruce Wayne sticks around to some degree.

The split personality thing is still an option, though, and, given the emotional rape little Bruce is fated to receive endlessly, in retelling after retelling, why wouldn’t DC have retconned him into Sybil way back?

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NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA!  GID-GET!!!

I can’t answer for the DC staff, but, if we’re committed to considering Bruce/Bats as a legitimate, fully-realized psychoanalytical subject, capable of being so analyzed, the answer would bring us back to Batman’s innate skills as a strategist: for a personality in such possession of itself as Batman, it is clear that he is still the dominant in the psyche even if he’s not the only one present.  But, were he an entirely distinct construction from Bruce, who would Batman have to surveil first and foremost but this other identity?  And this would be a distraction from the core purpose of his invention, the upholding of the Law.  So, assuming that the Batman aspect is both so dominant and so self-possessed that he might have had the power to establish himself as entirely distinct if he’d chose to, wouldn’t it be still more logical to not?  To avoid having to watch from without when he could keep a tighter grip on Bruce from within?  Is there anywhere Bruce Wayne goes that Batman doesn’t?  Consider, too, the previous assertion, that the death of Bruce’s parents constitutes a presence more importantly than it initiates an absence.  If they’d not died in the first place, Bruce himself would not exist as anything but himself, bringing us back to a previous problem: could we believe that ‘The Adventures of Bruce Wayne, the Psychologically-Healthy Billionaire’ would ever have been so culturally successful or meaningful?  Was ‘Ritchie Rich’ ever so much of a thing?

So, Bruce is basically a priest, serving at the altar of his dead folks, living up to their absence, making it meaningful across a city and population he now also largely owns.[2]  This is probably why he doesn’t have a ‘Lois Lane’ or ‘Mary Jane Watson’[3]; he doesn’t need to worry so much about reproducing his own genes, as he’s been tasked with reproducing (his version of) his parents’ ethos more directly.

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And I’ll dress up as  a big ol’ bat, just to make it fun for the kids!

Sure, there’s Alfred; he acts as a father figure for Bruce, making sure that the boy ‘grows up right’.  But, the boy grew up to apply way too much eyeshadow, and without even the respectable pretense of going to a drag show, so it would seem that Alfred isn’t really empowered to do much more than serve in his capacity as caregiver and housekeeper.  Though Alfred might or might not have managed the business while Bruce was a kid[4], he’s not himself a Wayne, so any command he might have had over large-scale resources is limited in scope and expires entirely when Bruce takes over; meanwhile, the orphan can despondently stare out his window at the skyscrapers punctuating the Gotham skyline, but, somewhere, the bat knows that a good portion of those phallic symbols and all the infrastructure that supports them–literally, financially, and politically–only wait to serve as material in his mission.  It’s seen time and again that the Bat considers Wayne holdings in his plans largely for their strategic value, with very little regard for, for example, employees who might be put out of active work if a facility was felled as collateral damage in a fight.  Granted, Dawn of Justice’s trailer points up the plot angle that Batman wants to punch Superman because of the destruction wrought on his own friends[5] at a Wayne building during Man of Steel, but isn’t this really just the little bit of plot-fuel, the dash of logical premise we need to get us to that next, big, city-destroying battle this film has promised?  At that rate, how legitimate is that one display of human concern versus the uncountable times in the innumerable stories when Batman has been exactly as calculating and heartless as he’s so popular for being?  Consider JLA’s ‘Tower of Babel’ storyline (Waid, 2000), in which it’s revealed that Batman has drawn up detailed plans for how to defeat all of his comrades on the Justice League.  Not a stupid maneuver by any means, but that doesn’t lend any heart to the cold sentiment, the underlying fact that Batman treats his allies the same way he very probably treats everyone; as a potential enemy, as a target whose fulfilment, whose value for him, may ultimately only lie in its eventual elimination.

That might be taking things a little far, but fetishizing is, itself, the act of taking things a little far, and we’ve already established that Bruce deifies his parents… like, a lot.[6]  Batman is, as a material manifestation, the enforcer that will always keep Bruce, the chief purveyor for the execution of the holy order, in check.  And, since we’ve already gone so far as to relate such a convoluted psychology to religious structures, what is religion but a type of governance?  And what type of governance–over a city, over a company, over one’s own personality–have we seen evidenced in Batman’s story so far other than facism?  It’s ironic that, in at least a few of the instances where conflict between Superman and Batman has been showcased, Superman has been the one more closely associated with oligarchy while Batmen across the multiverse are so consistently dedicated to personal liberty.  Miller (1986) painted Superman as a shill for the Reagan Administration.  Snyder’s trailers show armed stormtroopers sporting armbands with the ‘S’ shield.  Millar’s Red Son (2003) presents a Soviet Superman who struggles with a threat of communist totalitarianism he represents but does not embrace.  Injustice: Gods Among Us (2013) explores how dark our own Superman might turn if he lost someone sufficiently close to him.  In all of these, though, Batman is cast as a freedom fighter, quite contrary to the micromanagerial (read: megalomaniacal) style that’s served him so well as ‘The Detective’.

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NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA!  BATE-MAN!!!

If anything, in an ideological debate between Bats and Supes, Supes would be in the corner of personal liberty, if only because he can’t not be and still be able to relate to anyone.  While everyone may constitute some level of threat for Batman, Superman–being effectively indestructible and, thus, unable to relate to the normal human condition in a major, potentially-stifling way–is compelled, instead, to deal with people on interpersonal terms, to communicate under circumstances where his own physicality is so overwhelming as to be always insufficient.  And what does Superman have to gain by taking control of anything in a ‘world of cardboard’ that he doesn’t possess already?  He’s got the girl, after all.  Surely, if there were anything that were really more important to this mensch with a god’s body than his own ideals–as opposed to the interdicts that Batman both enforces and fears the judgement of–he’d have taken it by now since there’s no one to stop him.  But he hasn’t because he is exactly that: liberal, newsreporting Clark Kent, gifted with ever-expanding powers, but always retaining his own, Kansas-grown ethics.  It’s why, anymore, he’d be as much of an alien on Krypton as any other Earthling.  On the other hand, what would we fear from Batman if he were given one of the single most potentially destructive weapons in modern fiction: a Kryptonian body?  Do we really trust that, given such potential to reshape his own world, to eliminate so many threats, Batman would be able to stay Batman for long?  For, how could it ever end at simply stamping out crime when he would need to protect, perhaps even more fiercly, that world in which the change finally was effected–that ‘perfect’, ‘decent’ community.

So then: Is capitalism all that stands between Batman and The Full Castro?

                Find out in to our next episode!

                        Same Bat-time!

                                Same Bat-channel!

(Not really.  All done with this.)

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I’m rich, bitch!


[1] Which is more intimidating: a camera that you know is always on, or one that could be on or off at any given moment?

[2] I might be overstating in the absence of any canonical ‘facts’, but Wayne Industries is, if nothing else, a major owner of manufacturing and processing properties in the heavily-industrialized Gotham and so, by logical extension, a major employer in the city.

[3] Catwoman is a whooole ‘nother article.  On point!

[4] Usually, it’s not indicated that Alfred has anything to do with the affairs of either the company or the estate during this period, but we also don’t get any regular indication that anyone else is doing any of it, either.

[5] Death surely isn’t the only misfortune an employee can suffer on the job–or from an employer–but Batman’s concerns for Wayne staff aren’t often articulated in any finer strokes.

[6] He practically lives in a cathedral.  Or, rather, in the Batcave, which is a cathedral under Wayne Manor, another cathedral.  Or maybe the Manor is a tomb (for the womb) and the Cave is a grave.  But such interpretive options only make the core association with religiosity that much more evident.

The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Mockingbird (2014) – Part 6 of 6

FILM AS FANTASY (FULFILLMENT)

So, if Mockingbird is somehow an empowerment fantasy, what are we supposed to do with it?  Assuming that filmmakers Bertino and Esmail have presented us with a pure fantasy, worked out in detail, in what narrative context does the fantasy itself exist?  For while what we’re given is rather blunt, the continued untenability of the plan indicates that the fantasy world might ever be the only way for these feelings of resentment of authority to be fully expressed–implying that the ‘imaginer’ exists in a world unseen within the frame, but whose limitations and social sensibilities might stand closer to our own.  Nor do the children really even do much with the considerable power they claim for themselves; despite their superior skills at communications manipulation, their ambitions are rather small-scale, with no significant indicators that The Family, The Woman, or The Clown are part of any still-grander plot.  The film sets the endeavor as, essentially, a cheap thrill killing, so how much more diminished does it become in its increasing removal from material efficacy?  For, the workability of the plan means that it is far more successful and satisfying the deeper it is set within fantasy.  The antagonist–or, rather, the protagonist of an elaborate train of thought–is, in the setting of his own mind, always already omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent with respect to the plot he is inventing.

The Clown could prove problematic to the idea of the film as an actual fantasy, though.  The Family and The Woman are, themselves, not identified as particularly important, but might still be taken as symbolically essential.  Depending on the reality of the imaginer’s situation, Tom and Emmy might represent his own parents to whatever degree, while Beth, a young woman with yet-unrealized potential for motherhood, could stand as a teacher or caretaker.  But what would an adolescent empowerment fantasy need with such a guileless man-child as Leonard?  He doesn’t even cross paths with the others except to meet his own end–he presents in himself no real or symbolic challenge to be overcome, except, perhaps, the threat of wasted potential.

Any scant power Leonard wields stems not at all from himself, but from the situation of the game; rather than terrorizing this victim with death threats in an enclosed space, the children assign him to run around town, performing stunts in public not as a means to survive, but to win the game’s mythical prize.  At one point, he is told to sing a song in a crowded women’s’ room in order to retrieve the next clue; later he is told to do jumping jacks in the rain, all while still being filmed by the provided, live-feed camera[1].  These are demeaning tasks, but more on par with a reality television show than a well-organized multiple-murder plot.  While he is, perhaps, necessary in executing key steps in the game, he is otherwise treated largely as a joke–the manifestation of a victim that the antagonist is empowered not just to kill, but to bully.  In a Hegelian sense, Leonard serves as a far more willing and malleable slave to the antagonist’s master than The Family and The Woman do, even though all are disposed of in like fashion.  Ironic, then, that the force which ultimately kills Leonard is the same one that stirs him to uncharacteristically meaningful action.  The rest of the clown iconography, of negligible intimidative power to begin with, is invoked by and kept under the strict control of the villains to the end.  The fullest expression of Leonard’s incompetence, in fact, comes in the final scene, when he quite literally brings a cake to a gunfight and is by no means spared in the expected carnage.

BEFORE THE BEGINNING

As The Family’s story opens, we’re given an ambiguous shot.  As with Beth and Leonard, the camera is delivered while it is already filming–but, here, we’re given an extra few seconds before the delivery, as the unseen antagonist starts the recording[2], closes the box, walks up to the front porch, and rings the bell.  We don’t get this extra piece with the beginning of either Alexandra’s or Leonard’s stories, but we can deduce that, since those cameras are likewise running as they’re discovered, comparable footage must exist in that narrative world somewhere.  An identifiable piece of the footage for both of those subplots is thus rendered contextually extant but materially inaccessible.  Certainly, there is a lot that a single camera–or even a group of cameras–would not capture during any occasion of filming, but what is missing here is meaningfully distinct from other common cuts.

These two missing lengths of film each possess a dual existence, a reality within the realm of the story and within our own world–or, more accurately, they have analogous complexions that point up how the situations of the narrative and the material production are likewise constructed.  If we could wind Tom and Emmy’s recording back further than what we’re given, so that we could see, perhaps, everything from the moment the camera is actually turned on, what we’d be shown would depend on whether we were considering that camera as a tool in the real world or a device of the narrative.  What could be represented diverges as we move into the past, even as it unifies in the present; what we eventually come to is what we actually see–in that first storyline, it’s the trees, the camera being covered, blackness, then the box being opened and the plot progressing.  But if the footage were to be wound back within the narrative, we might see the culprits, caught unaware, as they begin to enact their grand plan.  On the other hand, were we to wind the footage back within the reality of the production, we would instead see film crew and actors readying their equipment and themselves.  We can see neither, though, and that situation would match well with the idea that the plot is entirely imagined, intangible in any realm–thereby obviating the question of footage that is just as thoroughly immaterial.

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DAMNIT, HEGEL! I KNEW IT!!!


[1] Leonard might know that the camera has a transmitter–he might even care–but it doesn’t matter because he is independently ineffectual.  His behavior shows that, in order to do anything of note, Leonard must be led to it.

[2] Strictly speaking, we don’t get the visuals from the absolute beginning of the recording.  Instead, the audio fades up behind the main title card, which then cuts to an unfocused shot of trees just before the camera is sealed up.

The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Atrocious (2014) – Part 5 of 6

THE VIEWER

But this is a found footage film, so what do we mean by there’s “no plainly identified viewer of the film itself”?  We don’t know who the intended viewer is, but there must be one, right?

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You tell me.  Okay, I will.

Mockingbird opens with a prominent violation of a big cultural taboo; a child is shot, point blank, squarely framed.  Fiction or not, the sensibilities of some viewers would compel them to turn the film off right there.  If that view could be examined dispassionately, though, would we be able to identify a modern fear of violence against children that has, itself, become culturally pervasive?[1]  Would we be surprised if, in their objections to the scene, those viewers claimed it was too ‘realistic’?  We won’t go into modern crime statistics here, but, by and large, violence in the United States has been on the decline for the last several decades; thus, the shock of Mockingbird’s opening, as well as its ultimate twist, hinges not so much on the actual, material threats of violence we face day-to-day–or not–so much as on the cultivation and manipulability of fear[2].   The rest of the film, in fact–being framed by the opening ‘execution’–is largely an exercise in how perceptual manipulation can put a victim at a disadvantage that is, at once, phantasmagoric and yet as effective as any material bonds.  More pointedly, Mockingbird plays with the ways that access to information can make available or foreclose against various outcomes.  For the viewer who cannot stomach the opening, this experimenting is affected right off, as they stop watching the film.  

For the viewer who keeps watching, though, certain outcomes phase in and out of possibility with the progression of the plot, which, in turn, brings further challenges to the maintenance of the suspension of disbelief.  Recognizability–an issue for found footage narratives in general–is made all the more prominent here through the arrangement of character introductions.  The Family is portrayed by actors Audrey Marie Anderson and Todd Stashwick– between them, they have appeared in such popular titles as Castle, The Walking Dead, Grey’s Anatomy, and Heroes, and both are now featured in live-action DC Universe television shows.  While not necessarily recognizable by name, we are familiar with these faces–they have crossed our vision at points prior to our assuming the disbelief requested by this film–and even scant familiarity can then demand further adjustment of suspension of disbelief as we begin watching them here.

But these two are introduced less than five minutes into the run-time, so it’s no big deal.  It is though, perhaps, indicative of a need for films of the genre to introduce recognizable actors early on, for Anderson’s and Stashwick’s aren’t the only familiar faces we come to see.  Leonard, ‘The Clown’, lives with his mother, played by Lee Garlington: Garlington has been acting since the early 1980’s, and has appeared in such cultural touchstones as Hill Street Blues, Family Ties, Murphy Brown, Field of Dreams, Roseanne, Home Improvement, Friends, Touched by an Angel, and Desperate Housewives.  Such recognizability is not, in itself, a problem for the narrative; rather, it is the fact that Garlington doesn’t actually appear until almost 18 minutes into the runtime and her introduction is an overly-dramatized face-revealing turn which, by itself, makes the moment into something overtly theatrical[3].

Meanwhile, once we’re introduced to both The Family and The Woman, the narrative intercuts between them for no apparent reason other than the customs of conventional storytelling–customs we can reasonably assume a group of adolescent, sociopathic, amateur filmmakers with no definitive audience wouldn’t be too terribly concerned with.  Though clear communication of the plot is essential to any narrative’s effectiveness, of course, the attention paid to Mockingbird’s artistic delivery again only serves to remind us of those questions of purpose and viewership.

But, if there is no intended audience, no one meant to discover the footage, no one for it to be specifically delivered to, no indicator that it has even been seen by anyone outside who stands inside the world of the story but outside the events directly, should Mockingbird be considered found footage to begin with?  Once Leonard has shaved his beard off, we cut to a title card in red; “Let’s Play a Game”.  If there is no version of the film itself, complete as we see it, that materially exists anywhere in the narrative realm, who could this imperative be aimed at besides us, the material viewers?  Yet, if perhaps if the story’s progression is not so constricted by the narrative demands of found footage as we’d initially assume, there are likewise more options for reckoning the dynamics of the presentation.  A mid-narrative shot even validates this possibility somewhat, as we’re given a rather dramatic angle of Beth lying on the floor, looking at the camera, up-close, with some mixture of heartbreak and other sad emotions; a melodramatic moment of self-reflection over her recently-ended relationship.  This and other scenes are sufficiently dramaticized[4] that we can question whether the arrangement might be a call-out to the real difference between our own, mundane world and a narrative realm that is only ever fantastical anyway.  This scrutiny of verisimilitude is not to criticize, but rather to attempt to feel out the dynamics of the narrative realm as it stands; if the narrative is overtly valuing a certain type of drama, an understanding of that priority could then help us make sense of other creative decisions and what those choices might indicate for the nature of the overall presentation.  The film is rendered no more or less a narrative fiction despite the initial verisimilitude created through scene-setting; as we saw in earlier complications over the suspension of disbelief, the reality of narrative found footage is never substantial enough to definitively render it as anything but the fiction it is.  While, for some, the preternatural ingenuity of the perpetrators plagues the suspension of disbelief,  none of those achievements, none of the steps in the grand plan, are particularly difficult to imagine.  And imagining oneself doing all these things, especially with the help of similarly-empowered friends, could be just the sort of ego-massage we would expect an adolescent to provide himself.

Francisdolarhydemanhunter

‘If one does as God does enough times, one becomes as God is.’  With some fun tattoos and a liberal attitude toward pantyhose, you can become kinky, too.


[1] Great time for a polite note, then: A handful of the films I have or will review here concern violence against children.  Aside from Megan is Missing (reviewed previously), potential examples include Exhibit A (2007), Amber Alert (2012), and Unfriended (2014).  Although the ‘kids’ in Unfriended are actually a bunch of obnoxious teenagers.  It gets gory, so you might want to stop back for that entry! }:)

[2] This could mean the refinement of one of our earlier distinctions of the found footage genre: Verisimilitude is defined not by the relationship of the film to material reality, but by how well the film approximates popular concepts of reality, so often determined through discourse and media.

[3] See: Face-Revealing Turn at TvTropes.com

[4] Not ‘dramatized’; there’s an important difference.

The Dispatches Review – Found Footage Series – Mockingbird (2014) – Part 4 of 6

THE ANTAGONIST

In reality, a film like Mockingbird takes a lot of people to make; in the suspension of our disbelief, though, we could readily accept it as the work of a single, knowledgeable, well-equipped creator.  If we can swallow psychopathic Mary Sues in The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007), The Last Horror Movie (2003), and the Head Case series (2007-13), an industrious villain is not, in itself, enough to break believability[1].  Viewers could become uncomfortable, though, with the idea that these adolescents hold a mastery of seemingly every skill required of the plan, from environmental manipulation to video editing.   For Beth and the couple, the viewing of the tape is followed immediately by the seizing of the house electricity and phones, incessant ringing of doorbells and knocking on the doors and windows, and cackling from without[2].  As Tom and Emmy make a panicked run through their home, the camera is shaken around so much as to be disorienting–so much so that, when the shaking stops, we find that a cut has occurred and we are now following Beth.  This is a high-quality transition that is smooth enough to actually be conspicuous for its skill; with the same stroke in which the viewer is made to admire the editing of the ‘found footage’, so its status as such–as the product of, ostensibly, an immature amateur–is disrupted by an overly-sophisticated editing maneuver.

But the camera, as an instrument, is only the most prevalent manifestation of the fuller power the antagonist possesses, which extends far past the physical.  None of the children is seen to take up a weapon, but they masterfully manipulate the perceptions of their victims through attention to effective, cohesive messaging.  It still takes a few of them to pull it off, though, and filmmaking has a long history of personality conflicts sinking collaborations.  The situation of the found footage horror film–of, really, almost any found ‘footage’ fiction of any medium–occasions its own unique twist, though; in almost no case are the intentions of the contextual editor and the real-world producers of the film-as-fiction identical.  Nor should they be expected to be, as the material situation for one is, for the other, a fiction the final shape of which–the ‘truth’ of which–is not set until the work of editing is itself complete[3].   The real-world content creators (often including a studio presence) retain power over the shape of the narrative; yet, even a seemingly reasonable assumption of material authority–the authority of materiality over narrative–is problematized by contextual adversaries who conceal and otherwise manage their own appearances and representations ever from within the action.  In Mockingbird, there is no plainly-identifiable intended viewer, so we are left to wonder if the in-world editor is even bothering to take the job so far as the real-world filmmakers who have, indeed, delivered a completed product to their intended audience.  Regardless of who is victimizing the victims, though, or their intentions with the footage, what sense would it make for anyone intelligent enough to arrange all the elements so perfectly to compromise their achievement by revealing their identity to the camera at the last moment?  Boastful, no matter what, but also a major strategic error unless, perhaps, there is no actual possibility of the footage ever being contextually viewed by anyone other than its creator.

On its face, being in front of a camera often constitutes an instance of Hegelian recognition–ironically, the occasion of others recognizing the self as an individual possessing sovereignty over himself–and the nature of motion picture filming means that interpersonal relationships–Hegelian negotiations of power and position between various subjects–can be identified and explored right within the frame; cinematic narrative is, among other things, largely a chronicle of how Hegelian dynamics play out, how fulfillment of Hegelian recognition is determined through conflict.  Mockingbird reaches its climax, the victims are disposed of, and the perspective itself shifts as one of the children, still unseen, unknown to us for what he is, takes up the camera.  The presentation is now fully Killer’s Camera, but it’s not a complete shift, considering how the same hand that now holds the camera has already wielded it  so effectively from afar.  The physical retrieving of the camera is but the completion, the material validation, of a grand power inversion–an up-ending of who recognizes whom as being in control.

The children might be said to reveal themselves, then, for the same reason they rely on classical music in their repertoire of terror: both inclusions represent and reinforce the victory of a superior intellect.  The Killer’s Camera conceit is manifested differently in Mockingbird than, for instance, in The Poughkeepsie Tapes according to this reason.  Given the evident, consistent control the antagonist of that film maintains over his own presence and influence, there is no need for him to  reveal himself to the frame; he might especially not need to if he, himself, is the only intended viewer[4].  In Mockingbird, by contrast, the absence of the reveal would be a denial of the ownership of the event, the forcible assumption of authority that motivates the ‘game’ in the first place; in so visually, bluntly, and rather unexpectedly subverting expectations, these children not only assert their intellectual superiority over their contextual victims, but over we, the viewers, who would have expected–and, more importantly, accepted–almost anyone else as the culprit.

the children are the future

The children are our future.  Teach them well.  Let them lead the way.

TOMORROW:  The Dispatches Review continues with the next part of our Mockingbird analysis!


[1] Even in our descriptions here, we have referred to the antagonist according to an assumed singularity of character (and, by linguistic necessity, a gender).  Yet, having elsewhere also acknowledged the juvenile group of psychopaths for who they are, it feels, still, somehow disingenuous to refer to them in the plural.  So, for sake of consistency within this analysis–and for other reasons yet to be explored–we will continue to refer to the antagonist in the (masculine) singular at various points.

[2] The viewer might be clued into the villains’ multiplicity here.  Since both terrorization scenes are delivered at once, intercut with one another, the viewer would have to decide whether the attacks were happening at different times or perpetrated by different people.  The second option becomes the better choice once we notice that the laughing adolescent voices at the two sites are of different genders.

[3] And, of course, once the project of making the film is complete, it is conveyed to the viewer, who determines their own sense of its truth.

[4] He isn’t, but we’ll save the importance of that distinction for a direct examination of that film.