Following the North Star: Kim Jong Un and modernist missile aesthetics

June 20, 2016

PolestarLaunch

North Korean “Pole Star” submarine-launched ballistic missile, April, 2016.

 

ROCKET DEJA VU

The latest missile launching from North Korea, which took place in April, was announced actually, belatedly, to distract from the flopped launch of another missile. The missile shown in the video provided by the North Korean government was fired from a submarine. The audience was small, comprised mainly of Kim Jong Un himself. The launch takes place in an oddly intimate cove, a site more suited for a beach barbecue.

I couldn’t help but be struck by the accompanying image, which showed a familiar black and white paint job on the missile, and the curious name of the missile, dubbed “Polar Star.”

We expect history to repeat itself. It doesn’t, really, but certain tropes, not to say memes, do reemerge. If they seem farcical, they’re no less dangerous for that.

As a child during the Cold War, with a parent involved in nuclear weapons development, I remember going to the award ceremony. Sitting on bleachers in the hot California sun, watching a group of Navy bigwigs sweating in their uniforms, looking tiny next to the mockup of the then new (I’m guessing 1962) Polaris medium-range ballistic missile. It stood, cool and abstract in a coat of flat white with linear black, in strict horizontals like a composition by Malevich or Mondrian. I was young enough and short enough to crawl under the missile’s rocket engine nozzles and look up at the snazzy black on white paint cylinder, topped by a nose cone that promised 600 kilotons of nuclear explosion. (“Fifty times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, in the parlance of the times.)

 

PolarisLaunchFromLeanSubmariner

Polaris nuclear missile launch, circa 1960. (Note black on white paint job).

 

At that time, America’s first submarine-launched missile was dubbed the Polaris. The ability to launch some dozens of these missiles from untraceable locations under the surface of the seas made this a key component of the ‘triad’ the three parts of America’s ability to offer “mutually assured destruction” (this missile was designed to hit the enemy after they had launched a strike at US targets.) The other two being ground-launched ICBMs, and long-range bombers. There were some 41 of these submarines, each armed with 16 missiles.

In terms of the name, it is important to remember that Polaris was a US Navy development. The naming convention for land-based missiles tend to draw heavily on ancient mythology, favoring Greek, e.g. Titan, Ajax, Atlas, Hercules, or the odd Norse god, e.g. Thor, the first ICBM. While the trope of naming missiles after Greek demi-gods is obvious, with the typical attribution of divine powers to atomic weapons, the use of a star’s name is less so. In fact, the word “Polaris” to indicate the North Star sounds classical, but was actually coined in the late 1700s. And Pole Star, the name used for the North Korean missile, is a variation of the name. Perhaps the name refers to the guidance system, a key feature when the weapon was new.

 

PolarisAdNewEra

 

And the Polaris, developed principally by Lockheed, represented something new. First off, it was a Navy operation built over objections from Army and Air Force. Creating a complex weapon system from scratch, one that could launch a small medium-range ballistic missile from any where a ship can go, and deliver an atomic warhead to a target some thousand miles away with with accuracy presented a challenging set of technological problems in propulsion, guidance, warhead miniaturization and overall size. With the impetus of the Soviet Sputnik the Navy approached the problem not just with new technology, but with a new design approach, PERT, or Program Evaluation Review Technique, which allowed for iterative interlocking design efforts and became a standard for certain types of large corporate design efforts.

But the Polaris, as innovative as it was, was first launched in 1960. Newly elected President John F. Kennedy, himself a Navy man, watched a launch. The new President, and the new trim and deadly missile were a timely match. Polaris-armed subs were in service during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The Polaris went out of use in the US Navy around 1980, replaced by the Trident.

 

KN-C30560 16NOV1963 President John F. Kennedy observes the firing of a Polaris missile by the Submarine Andrew Jackson aboard the U.S.S. Observation Island off the coast of Florida. Please credit "Robert Knudsen, White House/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston"

President John F. Kennedy watching launch of Polaris missile at Cape Canaveral, Nov, 1963.(JFK Presidential Library)

 

So why would North Korea develop a missile that is both named identically with an obsolete American one that went out of use thirty years ago, and uses elements from the same design palette? The choice of name seems like a clear reference to the US missile. Other North Korean missile names seem to be more geographical. For example, Taepodong, the name of the North Korean ICBM missile series, means “Large Watery Place” and seems to reference the North Korean launch site. (This is not to make fun. The Magna Carta was signed at Runnymeade, which could be interpreted similarly.i)The North Korean submarine launch platform itself is an old Soviet model. And Soviet missiles tended to be painted army green, and had names like R-11 and R-13. Maybe just not exciting enough for someone who obviously loves his weapons of mass destruction.

 

BALLISTIC STYLE TOUR

I want to take a style tour of submarine-launched missiles. But first, I have titled this essay “missile aesthetics.” Can one speak of the category of the aesthetic in relation to weapons systems? This essay begins by looking at design elements of the submarine-launched ballistic missile. And when I say design, I refer initially to what is often thought of as product design. Not all products are designed this way. The most familiar, at least for myself, is probably automobile design. This is a field where a design process starts with a sculptural model that more or less disregards engineering, and then the engineers attempts to fit the actual vehicle into that skin. “Automotive design is the profession involved in the development of the appearance, and to some extent the ergonomics, of motor vehicles or more specifically road vehicles.” as Wikipedia would have it. So initially I am looking at the exterior appearance, and the trim. But ultimately I want to use the category of the aesthetic to examine the submarine-launched ballistic missile as a “cultural object,” a set of technologies that are designed to relate to other aspects of culture.

 

India_K15_missile

Indian Sagarika missile launch, 2013.

 

While the US Press tends to focus on bad boy Kim, and his retro rockets, he is one of the small players in the “Nuclear Club.” Around the world there are moves to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. The meetings between President Obama and India’s Prime Minister Modi in early June, billed as cordial and resulting in an agreement for India to purchase half a dozen US nuclear power plants, not to mention a major defense agreement, suggest that there is at least tacit approval for the Indian development of a hugely extended nuclear weapon capability in the form of a nuclear armed submarine production program. (right now, their the only ones other than the security council five who have a ballistic missile sub.) 

It is worth noting that the Indian missile, the Sagarika, ( सागरिका,Sanskrit for “Oceanic”) launched for the first time from an India-built submarine in 2013, also seems to sport the classic black trim-on-white color scheme.

The Chinese have on offer the JL-2 (巨浪-2) or “Giant Wave” Their missile offers a different design profile. The photos suggest something more like a giant airborne grain silo with perky blue trim.

 

JL-2 r MIRV Giant Wave 2 Chinese IBtercontinental-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM)8,000 km multiple warheads Chinese Type 094 (Jin-class) submarine Type 092 (3)

Chinese JL-2 Giant Wave missile launch

And while the US is quietly applauding India, presumably as a potential deterrent to Chinese ambitions, the Chinese themselves have a recent deal with Pakistan to build eight subs. While these are not explicitly for nuclear weapons, the defense press has suggested that, given Pakistan’s agile missile-production industry, the purchase opens the possibility.

The French contender, the M51, looks frankly penile, if the penis was re-envisioned with turquoise and white stripes on a black background, perhaps by Nike.

 

FrenchM51missilelaunch

French Navy M51 missile on launch.

 

 

HOW TO TALK ABOUT DESIGN?

In his seminal essay on post-war Italian scooter design, Dick Hebidgeii notes the difficulty of locating any discussion of modern industrial design. These are processes that are extended through time and space, and situated in several sites of production and consumption, from design, and manufacture, through advertising, consumer judgement and varied consumer use, all changing (in relation to each other) over time. His answer, at least in that essay is to create what he calls a ‘dossier’ based on original documents. 

By their nature, nuclear weapons, which are designed for mass destruction, rather than mass consumption, would seem to fit a consumer design model poorly. But in a way we are all consumers, at least in those countries where our tax dollars pay, and pay very handsomely, for nuclear weapons. And, as secret weapons, the documentation of design and purchasing decisions is mediocre.

But these weapons are commodities. Here is a description of the SPO, the Navy’s Polaris design group:

An alchemous combination of whirling computers, brightly colored charts, and fast-talking public relations officers gave the Special Projects Office a truly effective management system. It mattered not whether parts of the system functioned or even existed. It mattered only that certain people, for a certain period of time, believed that they did.”

Harvey Sapolsky “Polaris System Development, (quoted in Spinardi.)

In his book From Polaris to Trident: The Development of US Fleet ballistic missiles, Graham Spinardi notes that there are at least two major theories about how weapons development happens. One assumes a rational actor who assesses needs and develops weapons accordingly. The other assumes that in a democratic society at least, the choices are political, and fall into the same tactical areas of salesmanship that all politicking implies.

This brings us back to a place where a design-based discussion has relevance, because we are talking about the creation or manipulation of human desire. Not desire for goods in the normal sense, as it is the rare individual that gets their own missile, but the more amorphous desire to be part of the weapon-owning nation.

So what are we getting when “we” buy a nuclear weapons system? A sense of security?  Satisfaction that we are citizens of a great nation? In a post-Cold War world the classic notion of “deterrence,” AKA “mutually assured destruction,” seems weaker than it did in the Cold War era. (In fact, deterrence probably is a big factor for Kim, who can look at the fates of Saddam Hussain and Muamar Khaddafi as a good reason to have weapons that would preclude easy “regime change.”)

To get at the role of nuclear weapons in terms of nation building and its corollary, “citizen formation,” India is perhaps more instructive than North Korea. While the Indian nuclear program goes back to the founding of the Indian state in the late 1940s, the modern version is explicitly linked to right wing Hindu-based politics, in the form of the BJP which took office under the leadership of A.B. Vajpayee in 1998 and conducted nuclear tests a few months later. Recommended viewing is Anand Patwardan’s stunning epic doc “War and Peace” which offers a complex and unsettling depiction of the origins and development of the Indian nuclear program in a mix of mythology, Hindu nationalism, and macho weapon-love. I mention India and Patwardan’s film not to specifically indict India. What is important is to ask how nuclear weapons “work,” how they mean in the contemporary world, a world of globalization, neo-liberalism and a general global trend toward national chauvinism and strong-man governments.

The useful question is probably not why does Kim Jong Un’s Korea develop a weapon that looks to be an imitation of a Cold War stalwart, but in what ways are things different now? How has the meaning of these weapons changed? With the Cold War long over, and socialism discredited as an economic alternative, we are in a kind of late late capitalist period. I can’t hope to answer these questions here, but I would like to speculate on possibilities.

DESIGN POLITICS

Weapons systems are a commodity, and they are packaged to impress. Hebidge notes that the Vespa, ironically the work of a WW2 bomber manufacturer, was designed for a new type of consumer. Rather than a motor cycle, the very name of which emphasizes its mechanicality and power, the scooter hides its engine, sheathing its works under smooth curves. The scooter comes out of the early Post-War era, but defined itself in the 60s. The Polaris is from the Era of Cool, the late 50s and early 60s, a period of skinny ties, bebob jazz, and cigarettes that put death “a neat, clean quarter inch a way. What is different about this missile in 2016, as opposed to 1962? How does it mean? What is its “cultural significance” in a globalized world?

LambrettaAdtake2

LambrettaAdtake2

Lambretta ad, circa 1967

THE MISSILE-AS-PENIS THING

One of the standard tropes about missile-production is the missile-as-penis. The classic cartoon shows a lab with the caption “Scientists comparing missile size.” A missile is a projection of power. The gendering of weapons, and of anti-nuclear movements is subject for another day. But there is one aspect of the penis that might help us understand the role of the nuclear missile as culture actor.

In her analysis of The Story of O, psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin notes the role of the penis of the sadist. It represents the sadist’s desire, but indirectly:

The penis represents their desire, and through this indirect representation they will maintain their sovereignty. By interposing it between her and them they establish a subjectivity that is distanced, independent of her recognition. Indeed, they claim that their abuse of her is more for her “enlightenment’ than their pleasure. … Their acts are carefully controlled: each act has a goal that expresses their rational intentions.”iii

Is this a useful way to understand a missile? Here, the severe black on white look, and the lack of aerodynamics can help serve create the veneer of rationality for nuclear weapons, particularly weapons whose sole purpose is to destroy entire cities. “This missile is a war-preventer.” says that sober exterior. The comparison may be farfetched, but a couple of things make me feel it is a useful one. I am not suggesting that the relationship of the citizen to the State is necessarily sado-masochistic. But the power equation with nuclear weapons is also skewed. I realized when I was twelve that the threat of a Soviet invasion was less frightening to me than the existence of weapons that can destroy life on Earth. So the element of fear, total fear, is brought into the Social Contract. The other thing is that nuclear weapons are the one kind of weapon designed not to be used. Their value is exactly in the fact that they are frightening, it is a power that works affectively and emotionally. Here again, the sober stylistics help emphasize the element of rational control. 

Nation states are imagined communities. The role of nuclear weapons in creating those imaginaries is something complex. We are asked in a certain way to identify with the power. This power is in one way the state’s monopoly on violence. Aside from the problem I mentioned before, that the potential violence that is supposed to make us feel secure under the aegis of the State tends to do the opposite, there is another problem. Weapons systems, the military units that deploy them and the industries that spawn them tend toward an unsettling autonomy.  The weapon-system gone rogue is a classic thriller plot. In this case, think Red October.  Suffice to say always something problematic about weapons from the point of view of the State. In 1000 Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari create the term “The Nomadic War Machine,” and note that it is “exterior to the State.” 

In North Korea, weapons development is part of a larger picture where one leader rules the State, and the Party, and heads the military as well, and leads all three, not to mention the People, in an ongoing struggle against the capitalist world. In this equation, citizens are invited to see the power of Kim and the power of North Korea’s nuclear weapons as co-extensive.

rodong-2016-02-08-1

The cover of a special “missile issue” of the North Korean paper, Rodong Sinmuniv

 

It is worth noting that even in a democratic society, where that identification is not explicit, its existence puts a very heavy burden on the social contract, perhaps even more so in a democracy, e.g. when it becomes personalized in the hands of the commander-in-chief with their finger on the button, as Elaine Scarry’s recent book, Thermonuclear Monarchy suggests.v

 

THE POLARIS AND ITS COUSINS

As I have suggested here, the Polaris and its related sub-launched family around the world are a type of weapons system envisioned at the height of the Cold War. The fact that similar systems are being developed in a new generation of nuclear-armed nations is depressing. But in fact, the mid-century vision of a large ballistic missile is being rethought. Several countries, including the US, Russia and China are developing nuclear-tipped cruise missiles designed to be launched by bomber aircraft. The US program calls for a thousand missiles under the label “Long Range Standoff Weapon” or LRSO. It is extremely difficult to shoot down an ICBM, which follows a mathematically predictable trajectory, although there are systems such as Iron Dome, Patriot that claim some success. Cruise missiles follow a guided path that is not trajectory-based, making them hard or even impossible to track. They can be highly accurate, and are armed with small nuclear warheads. This also means that these weapons can potentially be used “tactically” in pursuit of battlefield goals, bringing down the bar considerably for deployment. Their accuracy, by the way, does not equal reliability. Last year 4 out of 26 Russian cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea to hit targets in Syria some nine hundred miles away crashed in Iran. These were armed with “conventional warheads,” but they suggest why arming them with nuclear capability is alarming. Ironically, the LRSO is sold as a way to keep the US nuclear bomber fleet viable. Even former Secretary of Defense William Perry called them, “uniquely destabilizing.”vi

 

NIKE17Nike nuclear missile launch controls, AKA “The Button.”

 

How does the missile occupy national space? We live in a world where promises of peace seem to be disappearing. We can as citizens, identify with the destructive power of a weapon, thought of as a deterrent. “My country is a powerful one. If my nation is threatened, we can obliterate the enemy.” This type of military capability is notable in that it doesn’t solve real problems we see in the world today, problems, such as terrorism, global warming and migration that may seem more pressing than the possibility of a nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons ask us to identify with power, power focused through very few hands, the ones on “The Button.” This focussing of power distorts democracy and creates an endless problem. That which is supposed to supply the security of the security state does the opposite. It’s real promise, and its appeal to desire, is that of a wiping out, of total obliteration, e.g. of “The Other.” It is notable that we are living at a time when people around the planet are rejecting being managed, whether with the Occupy movements or the Arab Spring, they are looking alternatives to representative systems of government that can only offer more or less mystified identifications with power, rather than real control over our lives. One can only hope that in the emergence of new forms of citizen power we will find both a more genuine democracy, and a final abandonment of nuclear arms.

 Martin Lucas

 

Footnotes:

iActually it isn’t. Runny is probably derived from an Old English word for “meeting”.

ii“Object as Image: The Italian Scooter Cycle” Hiding in the Light (London, Routledge, 1988.)

iiiBonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (New York, Pantheon, 1988.)

vThermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom (New York, Norton, 2014)

vihttps://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mr-president-kill-the-new-cruise-missile/2015/10/15/e3e2807c-6ecd-11e5-9bfe-e59f5e244f92_story.html

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War Means Not Having to Say You’re Sorry

May 26, 2016

 

PeteSouzaVietnam

Vietnamese crowds cheer Obama (May 24th, White House Photo, Pete Souza)

 

As President Obama tours the Far East, he is attempting to recast history in light of new geopolitical realities on a number of fronts. In Vietnam he announced that the US will end an arms embargo that is a vestige of the Vietnam War. Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor who has been the point man in developing the talking points around several recent Obama visits, including Cuba, was quoted in the NY Times:

It does show how history can work in unpredictable ways,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser who spent time over the past two years luring Myanmar out of its shell. “Even the worst conflicts can be relatively quickly left behind.”

As Obama Heads to Vietnam, Current Events Overshadow History” NYT May 21, 2016

Yet history doesn’t just disappear. For new generations, the relationship to past events is always tenuous and needs to be re-thought. One agenda developed in the Press around Obama’s Hiroshima trip has to do with the idea of an apology. Since 2008, every international trip made by Obama has been branded an “apology tour” by the right; he is sensitive on the issue. All of the White House pronouncements include the notion that there will be “no apology” for the atomic bombings.

Obama is certainly as sophisticated as any American President in his understanding of the role of historical memory in national and international affairs, and his interest in addressing global historical understanding. A recent Politico article asks “why this President sees himself as a force for confronting complicated truths about the past.” The answer, suggests author Dovere, is that he needs to force the world to deal with the past in order to deal with the future, suggesting that “…he’s going to Hiroshima to deal with North Korea.”

http://www.politico.com/story/2016/05/obama-asia-trip-hiroshima-apology-223446#ixzz49VNrY1iu

Obama certainly has a complex agenda in his trip. One goal, stated in 2009, is that of eliminating nuclear weapons globally. Another is that of addressing the new geopolitical realities of the region, which include a China that is more interested in pressing territorial claims, particularly in the South China Sea, and on the other, North Korea’s interest in developing its ability to deliver nuclear weapons.

So why go? The classic split for Americans of an older generation was the belief on the one hand that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to save American lives in the event of a land invasion. Opposed to that has been the understanding that the bombings were the obliteration of entire cities and their citizens using a terrible weapon, one that works in a way that has left a legacy of ruined lives in the seventy years since.

It is worth noting that we are at a moment, now 70 years after these events, when those who lived through World War 2, are fast disappearing. As many writers have noted, it is exactly veterans and survivors, those who understand the cost of war, who help keep nations out of new ones. In fact, one question about Obama’s trip is whether an meeting with survivors is on his agenda. Certainly, the timing for a visit seems appropriate.

In a recent online post, Rhodes both pays tribute to Americans who fought in WW2, and underlines Obama’s anti-nuclear agenda:

“The President’s time in Hiroshima also will reaffirm America’s longstanding commitment — and the President’s personal commitment — to pursue the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

Https://medium.com/@rhodes44/the-first-sitting-u-s-president-to-visit-hiroshima-1992461baf4c#.8znhvh5tb

Rhodes goes on to note that the visit will also underline the strength of the US relationship with Japan. It is worth remember that, on this journey, Obama will not go alone, but will be accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe as a politician is well to the right of Obama. He has tried hard to undo the pacifist legacy that is written into Japan’s constitution. As Global Voices blogger Nevin Thompson put it recently:

After spending most of the past 20 years living in Japan, to me 2015 seemed like a turning point for the country. 70 years after the end of World War II, and despite massive demonstrations all over the country, in September 2015, Japan’s ruling coalition, led by Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), used cloture to force the implementation of new security laws that will allow Japan to engage in military action outside of the country. Thanks to this new legislation, Japan effectively renounced 70 years of pacifism and can now go to war again.

Https://globalvoices.org/2016/05/15/taking-back-japan-one-history-textbook-at-a-time/

One scenario suggests that Abe, who is looking at elections for the Upper House in July that are critical to being able to push through some of the changes he needs, sees the Hiroshima visit as a way to polish his credentials as a “peace candidate,” while at the same time reinforcing some of the more muscular aspects of the historical relationship between the US and Japan and creating more space to move Japan away from its pacifist legacy.

These goals on the part of Abe are not in conflict with either the goal of highlighting a move toward getting rid of nuclear weapons, nor the one of getting more participation from East Asian nations in balancing out rising Chinese power.

Hence for both leaders, the irony is that the classic branding of Hiroshima as symbolizing peace is something that they will use, wrapping themselves in the paper crane, as it were, while at the same time trying to renegotiate what the “Peace” that the symbol signifies will mean for a new generation.

While the President’s goals of focusing on the future, especially a nuclear-free one, are admirable, there are risks to this recasting the meaning of historical events. For Americans it is clear that we still need to “see” Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While nuclear weapons are viewed with appropriate dread, it is impossible to understand our ability to use, and promote the use of, aerial bombardment as a means of war, whether declared or undeclared, without contemplating Hiroshima and the post-War development of US military power. For the last seventy years, the trauma surrounding the role of the bombings in “ending the war and saving lives” has meant discussions of aerial warfare tend to be morally opaque. Even during Obama’s current Asia trip, the President took time out to announce the killing of a Taliban leader (and the people with him in his car) in Pakistan by a US drone. This was billed as a message to Pakistan, a country we are not at war with. It isn’t that the killing is not justifiable as an act of war against a leader of the Taliban. But, to have killing take place remotely from the air simply doesn’t seem as consequential as other forms of killing that involve actually putting troops in another country, for instance. But it means war is both potentially everywhere, and also, since it is undeclared, endless. Bombing of targets where civilians die is regrettable, but not necessarily space for serious national reflection on the wars we are in, and the cost we and more particularly others, pay. It should rate a serious re-examination of the meaning of war in the contemporary world.

 

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Hiroshima Bound Screens at UnionDocs

March 12, 2016

HiroBoundLucasGrab-1

I am happy to announce that Hiroshima Bound will have its first screening in the New York area at Union Docs in Williamsburg. The date is March 24th. The time is 7:30PM. The screening will be followed by a discussion with Reiko Tahara and Jason Fox.

For more, see: http://www.uniondocs.org/hiroshima-bound/

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HIROSHIMA TRAILER UP

March 08, 2016

LucasHiro030116C_trailer

 

 

I am happy to announce that the trailer for Hiroshima Bound is now online.  Editing by the admirable Steve MacFarlane.

 

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The Definitive Doc Textbook!

October 28, 2015

Doc V&V008

I am happy to announce that Documentary Voice & Vision, a new documentary text book by Kelly Anderson and myself, with Mick Hurbis-Cherrier, is due out Spring 2016, all 25 chapters!  If you are interested in getting a review copy, Focal has it up on their website.  Despite the header, there is no such thing as a definitive text, as documentary is a quickly moving target these days, but we certainly put a lot into it, and consulted with a lot of great people.

 

 

 

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Regional Discontent at the Ft Hamilton Parkway Stop

May 20, 2015

Regionalism at certain points in history has seemed like a liberatory notion. For Ken Frampton, author of Modern Architecture: A Critical History, for instance, a “critical regionalism” offered a way of resisting the international style and (boring) corporate culture it represented. But based on my most recent trip to the Ft. Hamilton Parkway stop on the F line in Brooklyn, I couldn’t help but feel that the notion of the regional is under threat. A series of posters all seem to both invoke local identity and suggest the ways that it destabilized. As far as I can tell the dis-ease has dual aspects. On the one hand, local legend of disaster can re-emerge or be re-evoked for the thrill. On the other hand, current conditions of globalization offer a kind of nostalgia for the regional that is something that can be exploited. The sad part is that the local ends up getting exploited coming and going, while real localities find themselves under a double threat, one from the global capital which mines profit, and the other from the media which play a game of exploiting the name recognition of the local as a place under threat, but stay well away from making links to the perpetrators of the crime.

Lets start on the West Coast…

SanAndreas

This film is billed as an “action-adventure disaster” pic.  It offers a modern riff on the 1906 earthquake disaster.  The plot features a couple going to a quake-destroyed SF to rescue their daughter.  Naturally, most of it is shot in Brisbane, the one in Australia.

Next we move slightly south…  Here the comedy plays out:  Four white guys and one south asian get rich by playing it stupid.  Their job is reassuring us that the glaring inequalities (the lack of women, blacks, latinos and everyone else in the picture is not an accident) that come along with the new technologies coming out of Cupertino are just a joke.

SiliconValley

The third poster on the wall I came across was from the East Coast.  The Whitney is moving.  These days the neurotic angst of midcentury alienation can be revisited as something cute.  For us, we wish we had problems so small, and an art so resistant to the savage destruction of human compassion. Instead we get a museum that can turn its collection into pastiche in the interests of boosting land values along the High Line.

tooker

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Where are the Masses When we need them?

May 05, 2015

I am pleased to note that Interference Archive has put up a piece I wrote about the Film and Photo League documentary collective from the 1930s.  The piece emerged from a presentation of the FPL at the Archive (with live music!) in 2013 that was part of the “Strike Anywhere” Exhibition.

wfpllogo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check it out at: http://interferencearchive.org/the-film-and-photo-league-by-martin-lucas/

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Tighten Your Belts Comes Back to Billyburg

January 15, 2015

 

TYBBTB@Sunview

I am happy to say that the Sunview Luncheonette is hosting a screening of Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet.

This was my first documentary, and the title comes from a line in the film spoken by Adam Veneski, the founder of the People’s Firehouse, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, not far from where the film will be shown.

For more, see http://thesunview.org/tighten-belts-bite-bullet-screening/

PLACE: Sunview Luncheonette

221 Nassau Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11222

TIME: Saturday, January 17th at 7PM

The screening is co-presented by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAG), Interference Archive, and the Sunview.

http://nag-brooklyn.org/

http://interferencearchive.org/

 

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CODES & MODES PIX

November 16, 2014

Brian@C&Msml  Brian Winston opens Codes and Modes with a veritable tsunami of a keynote.

The Codes and Modes Conference held at Hunter College last weekend ended up being a great event. Natalie Conn‘s elegant photos are now up on the C&M site. See: http://ima-mfa.hunter.cuny.edu/codesandmodes/photo-gallery/

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CODES & MODES Documentary Conference

October 25, 2014

I am happy to announce that I am organizing a conference with Jason Fox on the meta-culture of documentary that is happening in early November. A lot of great people will be presenting, so please check it out:

cropped-banner-codes-and-modes

CODES and MODES:  The Character of Documentary Culture
A Conference at Hunter College

Dates: November 7, 8 and 9, 2014

For more please go to the website: http://ima-mfa.hunter.cuny.edu/codesandmodes/

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