Monday, October 24, 2011

Encountering the Blair Witch: The Effacement of Media (redeux)

I watched The Blair Witch Project with my friends this Saturday with our text, Remediation, fresh on my mind. To be perfectly honest, I was terrified: I've seen the film several times, and at least one other time within the past year, yet the specter of the unknown, unseen Blair Witch haunted my dreams and kept me curled up next to my girlfriend at night. What made this particular antagonist so terrifying - was it my imagination, filling in the empty signifier "witch" with the most horrible, gruesome monster that my mind could conjure up? No: upon interrogation, it was precisely the absence of the witch - what perhaps Bolter and Grusin would call the "self-effacement" of the experience of media offered by the film - that plagued my nighttime thoughts. Indeed, it was the very reality of the film that haunted me. The characters' experience, seemingly unfiltered by Hollywood, commanded the power of authenticity, yea, even the aura that Benjamin spoke of. As Ryan asked: What would Benjamin say - that the experience technology offers belies the absence of media, of mediation: it obscures the means of its own production. The Blair Witch's absence belies the absence of intention, of mediation - of capital. When the characters, lost in the woods, flee from their tent upon having their campsite disturbed by an unknown force, we flee with them; however, we aren't running away from the witch, we are chasing her, immersing ourselves even further in the Hyperreal, fully invigorated by our encounter with the horror of Reality.

What is interesting about the Blair Witch Project is that it actually requires no imagination, even though the film seems to demand it: never do we actually need to imagine the figure of the witch to be terrified. Rather, we need only dare let ourselves not imagine, let ourselves accept that the "unknown" is our relationship with this radical alterity (the Blair Witch, the Supernatural). Otherness is terrifying, but, an Other that we can never encounter: that is Hitchcockian, baby. The Witch is an Other so possessed of Otherness that we can never encounter her - she is forever off-screen, always in the periphery. We can never reconcile ourselves with her. From a Marxist perspective, what this amounts to is alienation - we long to encounter the witch, to have power over that which never manifests itself. Perhaps, as Foucault would say, we desire to subject her to a field of visibility so that we may subordinate her to particular strategy or a tactic, in a way, disciplining her and making her a better subject to power?

But I digress...

In reading Remediation, I couldn't help but recall several questions that came to mind during last Monday's class with Dr. Moberly: what is the point of critically interrogating media? Why did we spend time deconstructing James Cameron's Avatar only to come to understandings already evident with readings of Marx and Dyers-Witheford? Perhaps a better question would be: what's the point of understanding theory through film, or, for that matter, any other particular form of media? What's to be gained through interpreting Avatar via particular critical lenses: Dr. Moberly explains that there are two different iterations of capitalism battling themselves out in the film, simultaneously exposing but effacing themselves through their very articulation. But what the hell does this mean?

Actually, what does any of this MEAN: why do we bother interpreting film and other media through the critical lenses offered by Benjamin, Zizek and Bolter and Grusin? Why is coming to understand the nature of media's mediation-function important? What is the ideological function of media and how powerful is it? Does watching Avatar make us more susceptible to the ideology of capital? Do we gain something through the exegesis-izing that we wouldn't get through reading Marx proper? Are we merely being uncomtemplative in our understandings of our own socio-economic stations? Is the conclusion that we should just turn off our TVs and read instead of acquiring information via the immediacy of cable news and video? If so, then ok – sounds good to me.

I don't ask these questions superfluously; these are some very serious thoughts that come to mind - I have a basic understanding of Marx, but what does this application grant me? Why spend 2.5 hours learning about Marx via Avatar rather than discussing actual readings of Marx?

My own attempt at critically interpreting The Blair Witch project seems to me a genuflection to Hollywood, granting them even greater authority as the purveyors of truth. They are now even more genius and/or sinister than before: are they the evil agents of capitalism, inserting near-subliminal messages into media in order to dupe us further and anesthetize our revolutionary desire; or, are they simply reproducing the discourses that expose us to the processes of capital and labor-value that doom us all to certain extinction?

When we perform an exegesis of Avatar or The Blair Witch Project aren't we presupposing the existence of some central truth that only we, via our superior critical lenses, can uncover. And this is precisely the criticism D&G offer of Freud and why they titled their first book Anti-Oedipus – texts are machines of production, producing desire and do not have to be understood as static works that only yield their ghosts upon being properly psychoanalyzed. Why can't we just let media be desire-production machines? Why can't we continue to pursue the Blair Witch as a supernatural spell-caster then go demand better working conditions for workers and better pay and better environmental regulation and, x and y and z.

Is criticism all we need or do we need to make sure it penetrates every aspect of culture?

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