Re-post: The Young-Girl and The Selfie

July 2, 2013 · Print This Article

I came across Sarah Gram’s  article “The Young-Girl and the Selfie and thought I’d repost an excerpt here as something that ties in both with Juliana Driever’s interview with Andrea Washko, and, more generally, the way self-portraits function today. 

In reality, the Young-Girl is only the model citizen such as commodity society has defined it since WWI, as an explicit response to the revolutionary threats against it — Tiqqun,Preliminary Materials for a Theory of The Young-Girl

A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself — John Berger, Ways of Seeing

 …
When we talk about selfies, what we are really talking about is teenage girls. “Teenage girls” here is more of a concept than a biological necessity; the age is primarily arbitrary and the girl-ness is semiotic at best. But the disgust at the moral failures of kids today, with their iPhones and their Instagrams is a gendered disgust — it is disgust for bodies whose worth is determined not by those who inhabit them, but by those who look at them. It is disgust for bodies that run in emulation, whose primary labour is dedicated to looking a particular way rather than making a particular thing.
Tiqqun, in Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, takes the body of the Young-Girl (who, they make clear in the introduction, is not necessarily an actual young girl) as the central unit of late capitalism. As a caveat, many readers of Tiqqun put Theory of the Young-Girl down because it comes off as gross and sexist. If you read the new translation for Semiotext(e) by the excellent Ariana Reines, she says as much in her introduction (excerpts here at Triple Canopy). What Theory of the Young-Girlrequires, in order to be useful, is an understanding that the body or idea of the teenage girl is sometimes separate from the actuality of teenage girl-dom. This conceptual separation is not just tangential to the work — it is in fact what allows it to hold together at all.
The Young-Girl, according to Tiqqun, is “the model citizen of commodity society”, an identity colonized by capital. The Young-Girl is the citizen as consumer, not just of material products, but of ideology iteself. This identity is not ahistorical — not all young girls throughout time have been Young-Girls — nor is it a biological necessity. Rather, it is an historical invention, one that works to make the bodies of young girls useful to capital. If Young-Girlism is about capital’s attempt to colonize the sphere outside of industrial production, who has beem less outside that sphere than the teenage girl? The flapper, the flaneuse, the hysteric — prior to the advent of consumer capitalism, the bodies of young women can be read as the bodies most useless to capitalism.
The identity of the Young-Girl is about taking these previously useless bodies and making them useful. If they are not useful for making things, then they will be made useful for buying things, and this consumer identity is performed on and through her body. What characterizes the Young-Girl is that her body is a commodity, one which belongs to her and is her responsibility to maintain the value of. The concept of the teenage girl — a concept that actual teenage girls can inhabit more or less successfully — is a collaboration between industry and girls themselves. It exists in the liminal space where consumption and emancipation begin to overlap: if I represent my individuality through the consumption of particular items (lipstick, science-fiction novels, cupcakes, leather jackets with studs) is this emancipation because I made a choice? Capital says yes, that emancipation comes from participation in consumption, rather than it’s rejection. Tiqqun says no — that we must think not of liberating the Young-Girl, but liberation relative to the Young-Girl. I tend to fall in with the latter; that consumption is offered as an alternative to liberation, rather than its realization.



Spring Break Disneytime

March 29, 2013 · Print This Article

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Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers has been quite the buzz of late. To quote SF filmaker/friend/artist, T. Siddle:

Did a double feature of Stoker and Spring Breakers yesterday. Stoker is very very good, I’m not convinced by Spring Breakers (though I liked all the neon and the hideous beach font it used for titles). My experience of the latter was somewhat hampered by the elderly man sitting behind me who made pornographic grunts whenever a semi-naked woman was on screen.

There are lots and lots and lots of half-naked women in this movie, so a grunt per visible breast would be distracting indeed. I also saw Spring Breakers recently, also during a double feature.  We went Spring Breakers first, then Olympus Has Fallen. Surprisingly, I liked the first. I thought I would hate it, because I tend to dislike excuses to show naked girls for the sake of showing naked girls. I read about how anti-feminist it was, how exploitative. How the female leads were shallow and hard to differentiate. And yet I was surprised. Korine’s movie is all of those things — however I would argue everyone in this movie is exploited and exploiting, everything is shallow and everything is a product of a corrupt, late capitalist culture. The leading ladies are not liberated in a positive way, necessarily, but they have learned to be so hard and material, so soulless in a way, that they fulfill the very requirements of their image and then go beyond that image to exploit and manipulate and murder. Korine uses so much nudity it becomes boring — yes! —  blending a vaccuous (and I’d say also American) desire to “find oneself” in pleasure and abundance, that offers this compelling, albeit gross, portrait of class (perhaps more than anything else) and gender.

It probably could have been shorter, and I think it’s a little too pretty for its own good — as a portrait of corruption, maybe there shouldn’t have been so many breathtaking moments (the Tiqqun-ish Young-Girls dancing in pink unicorn ski masks, pink bathings suits, dayglo sneakers and carrying artillery rifles as drug dealer James Franco plays a former-Mousekateer Brittany Spear’s song on a white piano) but. At least it exploits the rotten-ness of Vice Spring Break — drawing the narrative to an ethical nightmare that is almost lost in the mood of the moment. Blood is spilled in Tarantino proportions, feeling far more hopeless, more pathetic — if only because these main female protagonists (two of them as child stars, the third being Korine’s wife) seem to be on an unconcious gender-revenge mission: as though they are simply products (or surfaces) of a culture, not self-reflecting members. These girls have developed a steel-hearted strategy of care-less-ness. And maybe that’s a zeitgeist at the moment — consider Sofia Coppolo’s new movie about teenage girl robbers:

 


Spring Breakers felt like a kind of indictment against the American Dream that gave itself so that it’s youth could have any and all possibilities at its beer-guzzling feet, Olympus Has Fallen became such a freak show of propaganda (the White House is under siege and the President’s son is hiding in its halls as his father is held hostage by evil captors below ground). We walked out after 30 minutes of blood soaked not-ironic-enough patriotism. What I’d like to do is splice those two films together, to show the one myth on one side, (of priviledged youth in a commerically marketed Rumspringa excercising its American-ness), and on the other the myth of America’s need to defend itself from an evil Non-American.

Jeffrey Sconce wrote a great review about the film on his blog, Ludicdespair:

In a fair world, or at least one less crippled by stupidity and mediocrity, James Franco’s “Look at my shit” speech from Spring Breakers (2013) would be one of the scenes featured in the Academy’s “Best Picture” clip-reel at next year’s Oscars.  Just imagine how amazing it would be to see Ron Howard, Ryan Gosling, or some other safely bankable Hollywood functionary forced to take the stage and read an Academy staff writer’s impression of what Spring Breakers is about:

“In a chilling performance, James Franco captures the essence of evil as he seduces four young girls into a life of crime…”
“James Franco is terrifying as the local crime kingpin who turns an innocent rite of passage into a nightmarish ordeal.”

All of this would be bullshit, of course, but probably as close as Hollywood could come to getting a moralistic bead on this movie’s unapologetic nihilism.  But it would all be worth it to see the lights in the Kodak theater go dark so that TV America could witness the corn-rowed, grill-bedazzled “Alien” (James Franco) inventorying the contents of his sick St. Pete bedroom:

This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all!
All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit!
I got … I got SHORTS! Every fuckin’ color.
I got designer T-shirts!
I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin’ VAM-pires.
I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y’all! 
…This will never happen, of course, because Hollywood will be too busy auto-fellating itself with the historical import, social relevance, and quality competence of another Lincoln or Argo.  Meanwhile,  Harmony Korine’s sublimely ugly and mean-spirited takedown of American awesomeness will likely go unnoticed, a film that in its own way says, “yeah, Lincoln was a great guy for passing the 13th Amendment and Argo is the story of some very heroic patriots, but in the end, nothing could stop America’s manifestly obscene destiny to become a nightmare of beer funnels, breast implants, blow, and Skrillex. (read more)