Agony, Antagonism, or why we need Anti-Culture

Prequel: Devil’s Advocate

During the canonization process employed by the Roman Catholic Church, the Promoter of the Faith (Latin: promotor fidei), popularly known as the Devil’s advocate (Latin: advocatus diaboli), was a canon lawyer appointed by Church authorities to argue against the canonization of a candidate.[3] It was this person’s job to take a sceptical view of the candidate’s character, to look for holes in the evidence, to argue that any miracles attributed to the candidate were fraudulent, and so on. The Devil’s advocate opposed God’s advocate (Latin: advocatus Dei; also known as the Promoter of the Cause), whose task was to make the argument in favor of canonization.

Agonism

Today, despite the globalisation, our society is facing an agonistic crisis. Or to be more precise, a lack of an agonistic crisis. Agonism is a political theory that emphasizes the potentially positive aspects of certain (but not all) forms of political conflict. It accepts a permanent place for such conflict, but seeks to show how people might accept and channel this positively. For this reason, agonists are especially concerned with debates about democracy. The tradition is also referred to as agonistic pluralism.

Chantal Mouffe, a political theorist from the University of Westminster and an advocate of the agonistic pluralism, argues that our society has lost a sense of resistance to the status quo. She explains and disagrees with the contemporary form of democracy, specifically with the disappearance of the adversarial mode of politics. Dominance of western neoliberal democracy has eradicated agonistic culture and cemented itself as the post-political status quo- a middle ground between the left and the right wing politics, whilst recognising only singular global consensus, where as Tony Blaire put it “everyone should be middle class”. So what does this mean? Is there no alternative to the post-political? Is the current hegemonic form of neoliberal globalisation our only horizon? As it turns out, agonistic debate has the potential to exist, and the political example is an emergence of the right-wing populism. Trump in USA. Le Pen in France. Theresa May in Great Britain and the recent separatist movements in Catalonia.

Chantal Mouffe proposes to create agonistic public spaces that would enable an adversarial dialogue to occur. Her thinking lies in the discourse of art and culture, that would enable counter-cultures to occur and oppose the current hegemonic consensus.

However, similarly to a political spectrum, In recent years we’ve faced an acceleration of the commodification of culture, slowly transforming it into an entertainment corporation that asserts a global consensus. I share that opinion. We got subjugated to control of capital and we cannot imagine the mode of resistance.

Within the cultural discourse I would like to bring up an example of Disney. It is currently the 7th most valuable brand in the world, at $170 bln. Within a span of 10 years, Disney acquired expansive and expensive cinematic, literary and comic book universes of Marvel and Star Wars. Their recent acquisition was a $50 bln purchase of Fox’s television and cable department, which means that after 29 seasons, the Simpsons will now be a property of Mickey Mouse. But what’s the problem with this cultural enterprise?

From the point of view of film structure, Marvel studios is an equivalent of a current hegemonic form of neoliberal globalisation. All 17 marvel films, are structured identically, with the sole purpose of establishing a consistent group of fans and general movie goers, a consistent release schedule and a consistent revenue stream. Each film follows a standard 3 act structure. It is standard and simple but it causes two problems. First is that Disney conditioned its viewers to a very basic and boring structure. The problem with a three act structure is that the first and the last portions of the film are clear- set-up and resolution. The middle portion, also being the longest bit of the film, simply doesn’t have the potential for a rich and complex development of the story. Second, is that consequently film viewers will be discomforted when facing a complex five act structure (utilised by William Shakespeare). To compare Avengers with Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, one grossed $1.5 bln whereas the complex thriller from David Finch collected only $150 mln at the box office. Not only does Marvel dim our sensitivity towards complex and diverse cinematic experiences, it also causes problems for the fellow film-makers. Guy Ritchie has expressed his concerns about the inability to compete in the cinema market. If Marvel or WB are releasing blockbusters every month, smaller films simply do not have the space to be released. And if they are, then it’s probably not in the most favourable time of the year. Another iconic film maker Quentin Tarantino has faced issues when trying to release his film The H8ful Eight. He could not premiere the film at the Chinese theatre on christmas, because Disney threatened the cinema with a ban on their newest Star Wars episode, if they were to give a spot to Quentin Tarantino. In the end, the cinema ran only Star Wars the Force Awakens.

There is a dire necessity for resistance of the status quo. There is a dire necessity for counter culture and artistic critique in all areas of society.

Every order is predicated on the exclusion of other possibilities. Hegemonic practices lead people to forget why they originally appeared. But we musn’t forget that things can be otherwise.

Anti-culture.

Throughout history we’ve witnessed several examples of anti-cultures that act as antagonists to the hegemonic structure. Some are physical. Some are virtual. Some were successful and some weren’t, thus supporting the multitude which is the backbone of agonistic culture. These places are extraterritorialities, anarchist societies, enclaves or temporary/permanent autonomous zones. Essentially they are zones that exist within a broader system of power but resist it through an alternative mode of operation.

Freetown Christiania

Kowloon Walled City

Lack of freedom (stats) and the UDHR

Towards Post Fordism

Youtube, Copyleft

Antagonistic machine

In a culture that is narrowing our options, we have to keep in mind that we are not our Chullachaquis.

UDHL

Right to be forgotten + Left to be remembered

Right to live + Right to die

Right to freedom + Left to freedom to live and engage with poetic questioning whether Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

What then? Then – futurism, Bifo Berardi.

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