Academic journal article CineAction

Space Invaders: Speculations on the Politics of Post-Modern Space in Recent Science Fiction Films

Academic journal article CineAction

Space Invaders: Speculations on the Politics of Post-Modern Space in Recent Science Fiction Films

Article excerpt

The year is 2003, and what sociologists call the Americanisation of the globe has spread to the European telecommunications sector ... A relentless tide of US know-how and money has washed into a Europe still struggling to wake up to the opportunities of deregulation ... It is only a scenario but it is a likely one ... The US telecoms firms are over-financed and over here. (17/10/99)(1)

"What good is a phone call if you're unable to speak?" Agent Smith to Thomas Anderson in The Matrix (1999).

In a central scene of the recent science fiction film The Matrix (1999) Thomas Anderson/Keanu Reeves is immediately neutralised and apprehended when the ultimate yuppie nightmare occurs and he drops his mobile phone. As the phone leaves Anderson's hand it is photographed in slow motion and bathed in a light which accentuates its sleek surface and dark aesthetics. The phone is energised with motion as it flips and tumbles in keeping with Marx's analysis of the commodity form. The camera lingers on the brand name, "Nokia", which is emblazoned on the side of the hardware.(2) I contend that this moment exemplifies a dominant motif in millennial film whereby economic, technological and cultural levels are imbricated into a cohesive system. I will argue that this consolidation of the levels is effected at this precise millennial moment for determined historical reasons, most notably the corporate expansionism of the 1980s and 1990s, and that this synergy demands a re-evaluation of the relationship between the spectator and the "film industry".

In Postmodernism; or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Fredric Jameson determines that any periodisation, such as that undertaken by an analysis of millennial film, must necessarily traffic with precisely these various levels of semi-autonomous experience. The economic, the technological and the cultural levels intertwine and a historical moment is determined by the historical subject's mediation with, and between these levels. As Jameson writes, analysis of a period ought to reflect:

That Althusserian `structure in dominance' in which the various levels entertain a semi-autonomy over and against each other, run at different rates of speed, develop unevenly, and yet conspire to produce a totality.(3)

As an historical materialist Jameson affords determining primacy to the economic level. David Bordwell and Janet Staiger contradict this emphatically in their seminal but conservative The Classical Hollywood Cinema. They invert Jameson's grid by maintaining that "in the last analysis, stylistic factors can explain the most specific and interesting aspects of Hollywood filmmaking."(4) I side with Jameson on this score, maintaining that economic considerations determine style and that any alternative formulation severely risks excluding an historical framework. Yet in the era of multinational, late capitalism it is crucial to stress that this does not eliminate either the technological nor the cultural levels from consideration. As Jameson continues:

What we must now ask ourselves is whether it is not precisely this semi-autonomy of the cultural sphere which has been destroyed by the logic of late capitalism.... We must go on to affirm that the dissolution of an autonomous sphere of culture is rather to be imagined in terms of an explosion ... to the point at which everything in our social life -- from economic value and state power to practices and to the very structure of the psyche itself -- can be said to have become cultural.(5)

It is thus, increasingly difficult to separate the levels which in the millennial period of multinationalist, late capital have never before been so fully integrated. Determining primacy is allocated to the economic consideration but culture is the means by which the subject comes to an understanding of their own relation to the period. Yet the mediation between the levels and the consequent determination of the properly historical millennial subject is best facilitated by the media in all its forms, from television, newspapers, the internet, videogames, to what concerns us here primarily, film. …

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