Work: The Seminar Strikes Back, or Mad Max’s Look of Love

Last night we watched Mad Max. According to IMDb Mad Max was (or is?) banned in Sweden, so maybe we had an illicit screening. How exciting… What was very annoying it that we had to fuck around with DVD players and computers to get the bloody thing to play. Wrong region encoding, you see. Perhaps DVD region encoding is one of the best examples of how the powers that be use encryption (coding) and then allow the coding to distribute the encrypted text in an organised network (overcoding) so as to stratify a particular flow of intensities (or the event-potential of the Mad Max media) and territorialise the milieu of media transmission and circulation to produce the molar aggregate of some fucking annoying multinational media company.

Below is an extract of my work-in-progress seminar presentation of my research I am to give on the 27th of October.

I use Mad Max in my thesis as it has two scenes that dipict a common practice of modified-car enthusiasts when socilising in carparks or other similar spaces. The scenes are recognisably similar in some respects but are also very different. The first scene is where Max and the audience are first introduced to the last of the V8 Interceptors. The second scene is where Max and family are ‘trucking around’ and stop at a wrecking yard work shop to get a flat tire fixed. Both scenes represent in slightly different ways a ritualised practice of display that is organised around the static car. It is one of the ‘carpark’ activities that I have documented in my fieldwork. It can be described as the ritual unsheathing of the ‘object’ of technophilic desire. Although we call the car an ‘object’ in the sense of a self contained knot of material time-space, but it is also a dynamic topology of intensities. Our eyes are drawn to particular attributes of the car, our ears listen for particular mechanical sounds, and our bodies feel the raucaus throb of a lumpy cam. These attributes combined can be called a constellation of intensities. (Or, what do you remember when you remember a particular car?)

The unfolding of the display event is normally complimented by a running narrative that discourses the given attributes and places them in a subcultural hierarchy of importance. In both the scenes in Mad Max it are the mechanics that offer the narrative. The path that the narrative takes is not produced by them, they only enunciate it. Again it are the intensities that belong to the car that guide or organise the discursive space into a narrative. Particular phrases and words are exchanged and punctuate the negotiated process of discovery.

Particular attributes are more important than others. This is not because they can be placed in a subcultural hierarchy, the subcultural hierarchy of importance is performed retroactively to capture some sense of the intensities that belong to the car’s attributes. The importance of any given attribute is determined by what that attribute does or what it can do. Modification is the process of instensifying a car’s given mass-manufactured attributes. It is a minor science. Follow the traits of a car, tease them out, experiment, play with them, etc. The salt lake racers offer the best example of this. They experiment with speed. It is a qualitatively different speed to the paranoid movements of a displaced capitalist body. This is my biggest problem with Sarah Thornton’s conception of subcultural capital. What Thornton describe’s as subcultural capital is the skill and ability to retroactively narrate or indicate the constellation of intensites that belong to a given event. The importance of the skill to narrate or indicate the intensities is secondary to the intensities themselves. The ‘delusion’ that some people have about the intensities of their own enunciations is normally called arrogance (self love); people fall in love, or enter into a becoming, with their own intensities, normally of their own voice. People are ‘full of themselves’.

One of the important roles of the media within the subculture is to highlight certain attributes of the car with regularity. Importantly, it is a regularity and not a regulation (See Massumi’s Parables of the Virtual, 82). The precise attributes of that generate an interest are not known before hand; they have to be investigated and uncovered during the display event. Human actors of the event investigate the car following the gradients in its topology of intensities. The media of modified-car culture has a number of set positionings that place the car and the human actors in a relative space. The distribution of actors in space, including the car and the enthusiasts, is not determined by the media. The media, like the actors, organises its representations around the intensities that belong to the car.

The media of modified-car culture is a form of pornography. In pornography, as Gilles Deleuze explains, “everything is reduced to a few imperatives (do this, do that) followed by obscene descriptions” (1989: 17). Deleuze contrasts pornography with what he calls pornology, which is “aimed above all at confronting language with its own limits, with what is in a sense a ‘non-language’ (violence that does not speak, eroticism that remains unspoken)” (Deleuze 1989: 22). Of course Deleuze was talking about written texts. Car movies do not belong to a pornology, they are a genre of technophilic pornography. This is not because of the object of representation. My use of the term ‘pornography’ is determined more by the inductive mode of representation than what is actually represented. Subcultural media does not instruct on how to look at or engage with a car, it induces a flow (attention) on a number of levels. It is a way of training attention. In other words, before asking what does something mean, I am asking what and how is the something worthy of meaning?

The cross over from ‘normative’ human-centric porn and car enthusiast porn finds its purest expression in classic magazines like Street & Strip, where half naked women are sprawled across drag cars and heavily modified street cars. In this magazine and other texts like it, for example the legendary Pirelli Calendar, some questions that may be asked are: What exactly is being objectified? Is someone meant to be sexually stimulated? And, asking on of the traditional media and film studies questions, where are you meant to look? At the women organized into classic ‘welcoming’ pornographic stances (bent over, spread eagled, etc)? Or the cars with eruptions of shimmering chrome, brightly coloured paint work, and racing seats that ‘hug’ you?

Daniel Miller has talked about the need to address the ‘humanity of the car’ (Miller, Car Cultures, 2001), and most researchers have approached various aspects of modified-car culture looking for the humanity of the culture in various ways, at least implicitly. One of the problems I have with the current literature is exactly this approach. By looking for the humanity in a culture that has nonhuman actors, which, in some circumstances, dominate the culture is to be overly reductive. One of the serious problem is with regards to the one-sided humanist notions of gender. I certainly do not disagree with the work of, for example, Linley Walker, who examined the masculinity of what she called working class car culture in western Sydney. My problem is the reduction of the engagement between the human and the nonhuman to always rely on humanist terms and human frames of reference is highly problematic. I think it is an impossible situation to seriously begin with the assumption that because of the obvious homosocial groupings and overtly masculine cultural formations of modified-car culture that the engagement between the car and the enthusiast can be reduced to frame of reference that relies only on human genderings. There is a desperate need to address the nonhuman aspects of the culture.

One of the reasons for showing the scene from Mad Max where max firsts meets the Interceptor is that it resonates with Burt Bacharach’s lyrics about the breathtaking experience (or event) of the look of love.

The look of love
Is in your eyes
A look your smile can’t disguise
The look of love
It’s saying so much more
Than words could every say
And what my heart has heard,
Well, it takes my breath away.

Although Mel Gibson is acting, it is possible to get a grasp of the way his heart ‘hears’ something that takes his breath away. Well what does his heart ‘hear’? I shall quote from another song:

When I get high,
I get high on speed,
A top fuel funny car,
Is a drug for me,
My heart, my heart,
Kickstart my heart.

As well as great home videos, the cock-rock band Motley Crue manages to capture the drug like effect and sometimes violent excitement of the rhythmic mechanical agitation of the human body in their 1989 song “Kickstart my Heart”. The last of the V8 interceptors kickstarts Mad Max’s masculine heart. The engagement between the masculine body of Max and the nonhuman intensities of the Interceptor should not be reduced to simplistic humanist accounts of gender, for the technoeroticism implied in this scene is something else, something that is between the human body and the multiplicity of the nonhuman. So… what is a nonhuman pornography?