Another one-off from Eerie (or Creepy?) that I scanned when I was younger.
I feel that there’s a dangerous and incessant tendency among just about everyone to view places (all places, really) as economic commodities. Both the Antihumanist and post-structuralist analyses of land use presume (as an element of their approach) that space has at least some kind of of value, which discuss them in terms of strictly Capitalist or Marxist camps.
The thing is, there’s only two real options with this line of thinking. As a form of property that can be owned by someone, either land (even the whole earth) 1) exists as a tradeable commodity, or 2) exists as non-tradable, so and so all land essentially has the same price (i.e. nothing).
To counterpoint “order and consumption” for the process of planning a city, most people talk about the idea of “terrain vague,” or amorphous, unused city spaces, from a Marxist point-of-view: That we even share equity in the value of public land, like parks or streets. Essentially, the idea that nothing costs nothing. Even though we’re still talking about physical areas of Earth.
On the other side, the act of breaking this mindset, that everything has a price, ignores the essential point: That physical space exists independently of economic structure. A place cannot be seen as post- nor anti-structural. It has nothing to do with humanism. It is very literally astructural. It will exist with or without humans.
So if land exists independently of 1) the human experience and independently of 2) structure, how should we see land? As all public? Or private? Even our own plots of land? It’s almost as if we have no choice except to relate to it wholly as individuals: However we determine its use to be at the very moment we’re using it. Land has no value itself, however one might determines value. All that is important is how land is used in the moment. It is a core component of our experiences in it.
Since the monetary cost of land is (currently) determined by the global marketplace, our viewpoints are almost trapped: When we see empty, desolate, scary lots of land, we were all raised to understand them—essentially—with a form of commodity fetishism.
Its ownership is something we crave and its finite quality is something we desperately long for because we’ve placed a value onto it. Interestingly though—and counter to how Marx approaches commodity fetishism—our society developed a strange belief: That the inherent value of this commodity, “land, actually increases with the infusion of labor. An empty lot is somehow worth less than when a house is built on it. A multi-housing development makes the land even more valuable than a lot with just one house.
Strange, then, to think that we almost need to recontextualize what we mean by “commodity fetishism,” maybe even spray the stink of disdain Marx placed on it. Philosophically, even Marx recognized greater value in social housing than empty public lots, after all. In real life, the field of urban planning’s obsession with the concept of “zoned use” exactly reflects this amoral kind of fetishism. Implementing and executing steadfast rules to categorize (and thereby limit) a space’s use doesn’t determine what a space actually is or how successfully a space will execute its role once it has one (as a house, or restaurant, or farm… whatever).
So all of these rules, at their core, aren’t meant to determine a plot of land’s future use; only adjust for past assumptions about how to best control the development of a space that is–pretty much–entirely out of our control. Even form-based codes, or zoning codes try to “go with the flow as the city grows” but only end up allowing developers to build without any foresight. It’s like there’s really no such thing as preventive measures, value or planning if you’re going to throw the rules so readily out the window anyway.
The very fact that people care so much about “terrain vague” suggests that something must be done with these space, or even that they have a potential, future, useful value.
On the other hand, the concept of reinventing land for spontaneity suffers from paradox of predicting or planning a space for spontaneity! Philosophical dilemmas abound.
As far as I can see, the only way to break free of this cycle of endlessly attributing value to land would, in fact, be to fetishize it as a commodity in a immensely personal way. In other words, only by determining how valuable a lot of land is for you, yourself, will you be able to determine its true value. Only by using a space, one can make it useful.
The future usefulness of land, then, can only be determined by how we use it in the present. Land that is currently used for public discourse will be considered highly valuable to those interested in public discourse. Some environmental characteristics that make spaces unsuitable for development–or turn them into desolate “terrains vague,”–probably won’t trigger or nourish increases in the space’s use either, simply because in its current form it holds no economic or functional value.
Further, the space itself was not conceived with the goal of change in mind: it was developed to be industrial, or nothing at all, and will serve that purpose even while it’s not in use.
So here’s our real problem with redevelopment and revitalization of neighborhoods: Until the “terrain vague” spaces are fetishized and experienced by users in an immensely personal way, they will not increase in useful value. Until we are able to see, with our eyes and hearts, immense inherent value in land that would otherwise be desolate or dangerous, it will just stay that way forever.
You might not expect a wetland or swamp to change its usefulness to human society, and therefore its value to us will not change. Although this helps explain why manufactured public spaces can still be successful—of course, its has a lot of potential for re-industrialization and re-utilization to someone who cares immensely enough about it—this also means that it will be hard as heck to increase or reignite useful value for “terrain vague.”
It’s time to caustically deflate the kind of enthusiasms that swell from the projects of “artmakers” like Quentin Tarantino, Katheryn Bigelow (or anyone else who has strong technical ability and vision), that display a practically stupefying lack of racial empathy in films like Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty.
I’ll admit that I enjoyed watching bad dudes get whipped half to death or sniped from long distances in Django Unchained. Who wouldn’t? Baddie are fodder for a righteous, ultra-violent Django, a hero the likes of which we probably haven’t seen in this way since Rambo or that Arnold Schwartzenegger flick, Commando, where he storms the compound and pretty much lays waste to every color of the brown-person rainbow.
But let’s be serious and adults, for once, and admit that Django Unchained pretty much does nothing to really unsettle audiences the way Inglourious Basterds does. Django Unchained is essentially built on using a unilayered character to annihilate a slew of unrecognizably evil straw-men for our morbid, sadistic enjoyment. Yes, we the coastal liberals, recognize this group readily as the ashamed ancestors of those we’re still comfortable ridiculing as idiots for voting for Mitt Romney, painting Obama as the return of fascism and clinging to their assault rifles even after events like Newtown, CT. Tarantino gives Django a good enough reason to want to kill them, a story about how amazing he became as a gunfighter, and then let him lose.
And for all the white people in the audience with at least one black friend, it seems okay to laugh and root for the black guy. Our own, liberal, wishes to not be obstructed by bigots in our quest for racial harmony culminates (if only for a few hours) in a wish-fulfilling cinematic murderfest. Go us.
But let’s not act like this is about asking deeper questions about racial inequality in America. Tarantino went pretty far out of his way to give his white characters layered and contextual personalities, but left the black characters in the dust. Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio have to consistently justify and re-justify their moral positions throughout the story, almost to the point where you want to just tell the screen “Yes, okay, thank you… one of you’s the badass bleeding-heart and the other is the insecure overlord! You’re layered. I get it.”
But the black character, Django, was just a black guy seeking revenge.
What’s worse is that, in the context of actual history, small uprisings didn’t occur that often and slaves didn’t as often escape because these godforsaken plantations were communities filled with their extended families. As much as he’d want this to seem like uncomfortable “black on white” wish fulfillment to subvert America’s delicate, pasty white sensibilities, the flick ends up presenting Django as simply another entertainer, black familial community and culture be damned. The guy sweeps into town, blows everyone away à la the original spaghetti western, Django, and splits to let everyone else, the real people living there, to clean up the mess. If Django Unchained featured the day after all this happened, it would surely mean pain and torment for every member of the black community in and around Candyland because they couldn’t bear to leave their extended family behind to suffer alone. But this arthousey film was about violence, Quentin Tarantino and stuff white people like. Not reality, obviously.
Of course there’s no need for Tarantino to acknowledge, really, any side of black morality as it relates to slavery compared to the carnival of moral justifications and requirements imposed on the white characters by, mostly, themselves and preternatural “codes of ethics” that determine how much slavery/inhumanity they could withstand. And so, to full-blown subvert these justifications against or for white people’s still-apparent racism in the U.S.A., Tarantino tried to make Django Unchained “black wish fulfillment” and scare/stick it to those skittish white folk. You know, the same kind of stories white people always make up about black people as an excuse to preemptively hurt them and destroy their communities.
Dumbest of all, there’s a meta-cherry hovering above this mountain of madness: Tarantino may have deliberately (or not) made a film about characters who are trying to save someone by pretending to peddle black fighters as entertainers. At the same time, you and I are actually watching a film ostensibly about something-or-other but REALLY about a black entertainer comfortably murdering a ton of evil white people for our entertainment. And what’s the result? White people eat that shit up, while black people feel like they’re being betrayed (which they are!). Even Louis Armstrong was called an “Uncle Tom” for mostly playing in white clubs and to white audiences. Most jazz musicians didn’t mingle there, and then later had to justify what they were doing when they’d split and head over to the black clubs for afterparties with just about everyone else (including occasionally-accepted white jazz musicians like Dave Brubeck). Jazz history, among others, is rife with examples of how comfortable white people are with black people entertaining them, alongside how uncomfortable they are with black people mingling with them as equals. I mean, black performers in whites-only clubs? Weapons-grade bullshit.
This film and, just-as-bad-if-not-worse, Zero Dark Thirty are full-frontal testaments to the leniency White Americans give themselves to portray non-whites any-way-they-feel-like-it as long as these portrayals are constituted an “artform.”
Funny, too, that as long as you’re seen as White and Liberal-ish, you have the power to give this kind of leniency away, isn’t it? If Spike Lee made Django Unchained for the exact same reason, you’d have a lot more actual racial tension and the film would just have more of a point. But, instead, a white guy artist did. If Asghar Farhadi directed Zero Dark Thirty, I’d call it high art because it would be. Why? Because it would do what art is supposed to do: blow the lid off our assumptions! Farhadi would likely hear lots of statements from White Americans like, “That wasn’t really torture!” or “That middle eastern director’s just trying to make Americans look like imperialists.”
At the very least, the film’s racial statements would be made louder and clearer because of the people putting the projects together and their actual intentions.
Instead, we get shit like this:
Reminds me of a quote by Edward Said: “History is made by men and women, just as it can also be unmade and rewritten, always with various silence and elisions, always with shapes imposed and disfigurements tolerated.”
There’s been enough written about Zero Dark Thirty, but the point here is that it’s a flick built around legitimately jettisoning middle easterners from any conversation having to do with the land they live on, and doing “whatever it takes” to place them in subordinate positions for the constant, undeniable supremacy of completely undisclosed, practically unimportant as a plot point, American values.
That’s right: undisclosed! Aside from the real sounds of emergency calls from the Twin Towers in September 11th in the beginning, there’s little to no justification for any of the characters to so-comfortably torture truckloads of the same kind of person: brown, Muslim, male, frustrated, possibly-a-terrorist-who-the-hell-knows-so-why-bother-giving-him-the-benefit-of-the-doubt. “Torture ’em all!” the story touts. “Almost a hundred,” the main American torturer guy says at some point. “Do what it takes.” “If they get too close, kill them.” “Have you considered the cost of not doing it?” It is always the brown people’s responsibility to steer clear of Americans and our infallible troops; never our responsibility to act on behalf of everyone’s interests or with any other cultural, social, religious or political considerations in mind. America is only made up of white people with one kind of morality. No. Others.
These brown people are fodder as well, à la Tarantino’s racist white guys. Except, at-least, the villains of Taratino’s story, evil white slaveowners guys, were the crazy minority from an somewhat bygone era. Zero Dark Thirty‘s “bad guys,” all shown as morally-ambiguous cultural subordinates in some audience-dismissed corner of the world the United States simply has to have a presence in in order to be a presupposed “beacon of morality,” exist right now, and surely there’re a shitload of them to gun down if America wants to stay on top.
Finally, in the last scene, the Zero Dark Thirty‘s heroine actually cries because it is over.
My brain spattered all the way to the back of the theater.