I can’t help thinking that there’s a real sense of transition in our current moment of history. But haven’t we been here before?
Add up the worldwide protests around the role of the state in education (1), the paradigm shifting power relations emerging through projects such as Wikileaks (2), the reaction to the excess of the worlds elite at a time of economic crisis (3), the continuing threat of our impact on the planet (4), the growing division between the worlds poorest and richest (5) etc etc and it might appear that we are perhaps going through a potential cultural mindshift, a crisis of neoliberalism perhaps. A reality check. There is no doubt that our global interconnectedness and mediated transparency has made us see many of the ironies that we were once pre-disposed to ignore.
On the surface, however, it seems that it is business as usual. The remnants of our industrial-military-technical-consumption complex remain strong and impenetrable. We happily rebuilt the banks, the protests are being fizzled out and dispanded, the information war will probably ensure the tightening of controls over the web and we are still convinced that ever more consumption (of more efficient cars etc) will somehow change our path towards the destruction of the planet. We still spend ten times more per year on war than it would cost to eliminate the entire world of hunger and malnutrition, provide clean drinking water, ensure reproductive healthcare and immunize every child on the planet against major diseases (6). Sometimes I wonder whether we can even call ourselves human, nevermind modern (or post-post modern for that matter!). Surely many of us have severe discontents with the forces, narratives and spectacles of capitalism right now, so is our passivity a kind of disavow (see Lacan/Zizek) on a phenomenal cultural scale.
But people know this. They know this more than ever. The dramatic rise in our (semi-)transparent global communication channels have brought about the ability for us to think, and act, as global citizens. The multitude as it were. We live in rather cynical times, so surely this should be acted out in our ethics. Do we see the world differently now? and how has this changed the way we see ourselves and our performances in the world? Are these major glitches in the scientific project of the enlightenment to result in a world in which sustained acts of rebellion in our mental and physical environments are part of our daily embodiment as contemporary citizens. Are we living through a global mindshift where we are asking fundamental questions about our ethics, their intentions and their effects? And, more importantly, are we living out the embodiment of our cynicism? Or, as is often the case with the lived and performed dimensions of ethics, have our thoughts and actions become so alienated from each other that they are often not part of the same problem for us. They are depoliticised. What we say and what we do are two different things. Do we really live our lives passively and consensually, divorced in another reality perhaps, one where we are the victims of struggle rather than the perpetrators of global power relations?Where we are not to blame. Or do we see ourselves as actors in the grand play of modernity.
Anyway, back to the point.
In April, I am going to New York City to make a documentary. I want to address some of these issues. So here’s the, rather vague, idea:
Sounds of the Subway: Underneath the Machine
The plan is to produce a short documentary piece set in the subways of New York speaking to ordinary people about the world above. As we travel under some of the most iconic imagery of our contemporary culture (World Trade Centre, Wall St…) we will speak to people about their thoughts and feelings on the various crisis effecting neoliberalism and how they have changed as a result of it. We aim to be inclusive here; asking questions of the weird and the wonderful, the mad and the sane. Set to the sounds, pulses and imagery of one of the most complex subway systems in the world, this documentary will be an attempt to get inside the contemporary psyche of contemporary culture. Exploring a range of diverse, and quite existential, questions of equality, the crisis, happiness, empire, global insecurity and consumption it will try to observe the contemporary predicament facing our planet through the characters who travel underneath the belly of the machine. It is, as you will have no doubt gathered, quite a big ask at this stage! It will narrow down as the idea develops, maybe. The primary aim is to ask whether the current crisis of neoliberalism has caused a mindshift in people’s attitudes toward contemporary culture and whether we can, and will, go back to business as usual.
This project is partly inspired by ethnographer Marc Auge’s analysis of the Paris Metro as well as a number of everyday life theorists.
Please let me know your thoughts and if you have any ideas, or would like to participate please contact me
(2) Watch this feature documentary ‘Wikirebels’ by Sweden’s Public Service Channel SVT for a detailed account of the Wikileaks Phenomena
(4) Geologists have even gone so far as to rename our epoch the Anthropocene illustrating the extent to which we are changing the planet more than any other natural phenomena
(5) World Inequality Continues to grow well in to the 21st Century
(6) See Wesch, M (2008) Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance for more statistics. I also recommend watching John Pilger’s (2010) documantary ‘The War You Dont See’ to understand the issue of the industrial military complex.