…and the Urban Myths Begin

I have my little sister visiting from Perth. She was forwarded an email from a friend that sought to connect the James Bulger murder in the UK from the early 1990s to the recent murder of an Perth shopping centre.

Discounting the possibility that such a situation has actually occurred, this is a very good example of the way events are discoursed outside of the channels of the mass-media to create urban myths. I think this one is on par with the photo-shopped image of the death-skull in the smoke of the twin towers from 9/11.

You can see the key issues being raised in the below.

To begin with, ‘truth’ is in quotation marks. Such quotation marks are commonly called ‘scare quotes’ to signal a non-straightforward meaning. The truth has to be ascribed to an outside source, one that does not belong to the national community. Hence, the link to ‘illegal immigrants’ in the latter part of the email.

Related to this is the belief that the government does secret business. Of course such secret business could never be the actual collusion with business and other institutions, but the secret business of a lax social order. This attack of the ‘transparency’ of the government/state reinforces the positioning of ‘truth’ as actually being located in the common-sense popularist discourses espoused in the email against outsiders and of stronger law and order, rather than in the ‘truth’ of experts and governmental figures.

A particular discursive logic is being utilised to make sense of the situation. Part of this abstract logic has been cultivated by the current federal government and the other part is a favourite of the current state governments (5 states and 2 territories in Australian federation for international readers). The federal government controls the ‘border police’, ie customs and the military (navy). The state governments are in charge of the everyday police.

The first element in the discursive logic is the outsider/community binary that has been deployed in most of the refugee politics. It is not a question of social values of one’s own community, but of an outside force that is somehow soiling one’s own community. Such is the grief and public outrage felt because of the horrific nature of the crime that this discursive logic of the outsider is deployed. There is an attempt to locate the cause or source of the horror outside of one’s own community.

Similarly, the second key element in the discursive logic of the email is the desire of an allegedly stronger system of punishment and incarceration, ie the popularist ‘law and order’ refrain. Questioning the effectiveness of the police to control criminality, rather than the social structurations of the community that produces it. Here the role of police and government is to literally purify the social order (not unlike Bruno Latour‘s description of modernist institutions). Again, there is a reach for something outside of the social order — an anomolous ‘something’ that should be controlled by the police as purifiers, and the government as controllers of the police.

Lastly, the tone of the email is friendly (‘alerting friends’) and yet generic, alarming (‘alerting’) and yet casual. The deployment of these discursive logics adds to the inertia behind them; the currency of contemporary politics is in the affects of security that such logics are used to attenuate the affective dispositions of entire populations.

EDIT: Update, the WA police have put out a press release saying that it is not one of the two (now) men convicted of the Bulger murder.

Email follows (verbatim except for the [SOMETHING] inserted if it actually is the correct location):


Hello friends
I am just so angry, frustrated and really upset at what has happened at the Livingston Shopping Centre that I needed to let you all know the “truth” behind the mongrel murderer.

About 3 yrs ago when I was working at the prison we found out that one of the boys (at the time aged about 12) that abducted James Bulger from a shopping centre in the U.K., then brutally raped and murdered him, had reached the age of 18 and had been sent out to Australia with a new identity for his family, etc. Long story short is that he was given the name of Dante Arthurs, his grandfather’s name is Arthur Dante, and his family moved into a house in Canning Vale. When the prison staff got wind of this it was all supposed to be kept hushed up, it was some sort of prisoner exchange deal the Aust Govt set up. Soon after he got here he assaulted a 12 yrd old girl in a park in Canning Vale and consequently came to Hakea prison but for only about 6 weeks as they couldn’t get enough evidence on him and the incident was brushed under
the mat.

His parents used to visit him and their photos were on the computers at work and I clearly recall seeing his mum at the Livingston shops one day. I even had his address and because I’ve got friends and family in the area, I felt I had a right to tell them, stuff the prisons!! I had even driven past his house in [SOMETHING] !

Anyway when this happened yesterday I said to Ron, it’d be interesting to see if it’s that Dante Arthurs guy from the U.K. and sure enough today we find out that it is him. I am, along with a lot of others, absolutely furious that the mongrel arseho*le was allowed to come here via the Govt in the first place and that he was allowed to appear to live a normal life!! Why haven’t the police done something about this – he should not be allowed to breathe air, he is the scum of the earth.

And tonight he would be sitting back in a comfortable cell in prison, having just had a reasonable hot dinner and be watching TV!

That innocent little girl and her poor family will never ever be the same again – all because the piss weak Justice System and Govt allowed him to live in our country! There is a register for paedophiles so that the community are allowed to know where they’re living and yet this piece of shi*t can live on our back door step with a new identity.

People winge about illegal immigrants, what about this?

It will be interesting to see what unfolds over the next few days, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s whisked out of the country in the same manner he was bought here, then again knowing our pathetic laws, we’ll probably keep him here in our justice system, costing tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed and entertain him PLUS the do-gooders will believe in their minds that they can rehabilitate him!

I was just going to type “sorry ” but I’m not at all sorry for alerting my friends to something that should be publicly known.

Stay safe, talk soon.


unsupervisable maybe

After just under three and a half years I have finally completed Chapter One of my dissertation. A minor victory.

I have finally reached a point with my argument that I will defend until I am blue in the face, yet I will change as soon as someone proves me wrong. That is my definition of a worthy piece of writing, and what I have been trying to write for three years.

It is a 23,000 word work of little sleep, constructed from 12,000 or so words of my 70,000 words worth of previous versions of Chapter One combined with 3,500 words of work already written from the latest current version I had started. When did I start? Tuesday evening after a supervisory meeting on Tuesday afternoon where I was told: ‘unsupervisable’. I had until Friday. (Ok, so technically it is Saturday morning, but I haven’t slept yet.)

When I worked on the mine site we would tell each other to ‘Kill the pig’. The context in which this merry slogan was used was like a heroic masculine, working class version of Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ (the machinic, neoliberal version). We would say it to workmates if they appeared to be lethargic or unmotivated. I am not sure if it was a reference to Lord of the Flies or not, I doubt it. Regardless, the last 84 hours have been one long glorious orgy of pig killing.

Do I need some sleep?

My favourite bit is where I combine Massumi’s political economy of belonging with Foucault’s ‘commentary’ via a ‘diagram’ of Levy and the ‘event’. I hope it makes the final edit. Along the way I get theory ‘assists’ from D&G, Adorno, D&G, more Massumi, Wolfe, Weber, Foucault, Levy, others…

The rest of my chapters are not so spectacularly theory headed. Magazines and fieldwork. Plus all the empirical work is done and by and large already written up.

Do I let up? How fast can I write this thing?

You’d better believe I like finding out how fast things go…

Foucault, the West Wing, Populations, Semiotics

A weird synchronicity of moments.

Like Craig, I am not a fan of the West Wing, however currently screening on Australian TV are the ‘kidnapping’ episodes and I have a score to settle with my busyness. I had seen the first episode in the two-parter some time ago and it has bugged the shit out of me that I had not got to see what happened. I am a bit like that, I will keep on reading a book to 4 or 5 in the morning, not because the prose is sweeter than chocolate or the subject matter allows me to ponder my very existence, but because I have a (possibly pathological) desire to find out what happens. This is not the same thing as desiring a resolution, which would be a projection onto the text of a certain kind of completedness or totality. No, it is the slightly more mundane desire to witness how the author unfolds events and at what point of the events does the ‘story’ end.

Craig also points to a column by Dana Polan in the online scholar-zine Flow about the appearance on the West Wing of a translated book version of one of Michel Foucault’s annual lecture series at the College de France in the 1970s titled Society Must Be Defended. Polan reads the West Wing off and through Foucault’s text.

On a related vibe, Joost van Loon over at Space and Culture posts an interesting essay-type text that looks at the shifts towards post-welfare states. Joost writes:

The problem with the disciplinary form of individualism is that it is entirely formed by social regimes of an institutional or collective nature. That is, the individual produced by discipline is far from sovereign and autonomous, incorporated into complex and expanding systems of communication and control, and as a result ‘moulded’ by the collective consciousness of such systems. Radical capitalism sought to develop a new type of individual, however: one that was not held back by dense and complex figurations and social bonds; one that did not care about collective consciousness. This careless, undisciplined individual became the heroic subject of a new market and enterprise culture (e.g. monetarism, neo-liberalism) that swept through most of the Anglo-Saxon dominated world.

So how to think populations not as collectivities as such but the sort of massification of the crowd, such as contemporary football fans or football audiences? What is the nature of the individuation in effect here?

I am using ‘populations’ here in the specific sense of biopolitics. In the first volume of the History of Sexuality, Foucault talks about ‘discipline’ as an anatomo-politics of the human body, and ‘regulatory controls’ as a biopolitics of the population. One way to read these non-collective, massified forms of population still as a collectively individuated population, is in terms of singularities, where the singularity of the event of individuation (or ‘stream of singularities’) has a primary role. This is different from collective individuation than that required in the ‘permanent suspension’ of becoming in structural group identities.

Individuation is an event in itself (becoming), however instead of existing in a serial form codetermined with social structures, where such structures form a problematic part of the identity of each cybernetic subject (the union, the nation, the family, the team, etc), the event-based individuation relies on an enabling infrastructure within which an individuation can be posited (a team, a nation, etc). The first implies a belonging and exclusion to the social structures while the second implies an ownership of resource. What is owned (or rented [television pay-per-view], purchased [overseas sporting sojourns], etc) is not an identity, but the capacity to trigger a particular event whereby such an identity, or one very similar, or at least one referenced in terms of the first, catalyses. What about the fan in a football stadium? Sometimes a collective individuation is demanded for the individual’s experience, what Adorno talked about in terms of being in the company of and witnessing the pleasure of others, which in turn implies the command and responsibility, “Enjoy yourself!” This is different to Massumi’s discussion of becoming-together, which is of a football team, not the crowd.

Consumers are therefore aficionados of individuation and singularities. What food does this restaurant do? How does this band sound? How fast does this car go? What sort of humour is on what blog? Adorno was wrong for collapsing the recognition of commodities into that of a mere semiotic game, and cultural studies researchers were doubley wrong for extending this into the realm of identity politics. I was asked recently why I did not seem to support ‘identity politics’, well it is because I approach such ‘recognition’ in terms of being a game of competence of the appreciation of a commodity’s or a person’s capacity for individuation, not a cybernetic component to their identity. Adorno’s ‘What is it?’ is short hand for Deleuze’s ‘What does it do?’

Is this the ‘real’ consumer choice for the elite? Not between identities reflected by commodities or commodified objects or spaces, but through the resource or capacity to individuate or not, and on one’s own terms? This is captured perfectly in the difference between iPod vs radio and internet (or tivo) vs television… But also individual mobility of the car vs the collective mobility of public transport, which leads me to my last point. On a massified ‘population’ scale (of certain privileged populations) there is a much longer history to such forms of identity production and infrastructures of individuation resource, than the era of where it became the most visible, i.e. back to at least 1920s rather than contemporary era of post-welfare state capitalism.

Actually this is summed up very well in a well known quote from Ashliegh Brilliant’s book The Great Car Craze: How Southern California Collided with the Automobile in the 1920’s of a woman who says something like, “You can’t drive to town in a bathtub.” Brilliant reads that in terms of the compulsion to social respectability symbolically represented by automobile ownership; specifically that it is better to be seen in a car than it is to be clean from a bathtub. Why? Why not read it literally in terms of someone who lives in a semi-rural setting telling you that their car allows them to drive into town, while a bathtub does not allow you to do this? That it is, in fact, a choice between two technologies with particular capacities and where it has nothing to do with ‘symbols’.

Tokyo Drift

“You’ve seen it all before, except that you haven’t, not quite this way.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

“Remember when Lost in Translation got all that critical acclaim, but there were still a few naysayers who pointed out that nothing much actually happens in it? If it had had more fast cars and no capable acting whatsoever, it would be this movie; it’s like Sofia Coppola went through Pimp My Ride film school.” — Luke Y. Thompson, East Bay Express

So I saw the film the afternoon of the day it opened. I couldn’t convince a certain someone to see it with me, even after offering to pay.

Anyway, the best thing about the film is the soundtrack. Damn, a bit of a mixed bag, but still not bad. If only they had the same level of writing talent. The mix of East and West sounds is pretty awesome (like that one scene in Blade with “Japanese school girl rap”). The bells in the title track — “Tokyo Drift” by the Teriyaki Boys — are pretty full on.

(Fuck knows what this Bape [Bathing Ape]/Teriyaki Boys thing is about!!! [See this video of their song “Heartbreaker” which I believe was produced by Daft Punk] Sure they do a cool retro rap thing. A bit like the Beastie Boys-ish, but pop. And in Japanese. J-rap. But I think Bape is some cool British ‘Soho‘ thing. Now in the music of an American film. About a Japanese subculture. Crazy. I think it must be too cool for me.)

The redeeming quality of the film is that it attempts to stake out some sort of transformation, one that ultimately never actually takes place. Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) goes from being a surburb-destroying drag racing trailer-trash teen in the US to a nephew-of-the-Yakuza fighting J-spec drifter in Japan. Along the way he hooks up with the only charismatic character/actor in the entire film, Han (Sung Kang), who attempts to teach him about the art of drift (see my article here) and the art of war (but in motorsport form). Really…

The director Justin Lin, says something interesting in this interview (from here) about drifters and surfers:

A lot of times when you look at magazines and websites there is a bit of front, like people are posing, you know or whatever. And I didn’t want that, you know. I just wanted to hang out. And the cool thing was, for me it’s about the subtlety. […] I remembered when I was a kid […] and you know we’d go surfing and stuff, and I got the feeling that people that drift are like surfers. They’re not all testosterone, like ‘I’m gonna kick your ass.’ and stuff like that. It was just kind of like, ‘Man, who just burned a set of wheels, let’s put another one on. That was the things that were important to me.

Which is pretty cool. The problem is that I don’t think he translated this kind of ethnological insight of the affective dispositions of drifters into the actual film. I guess one has to respect the fact he knows that he was making popcorn movies, so this insight could not be fully realised. In terms of the film it means that nothing changes for Sean in the film, his problems are resolved through racing, and he is still racing like an adolescent at the end (against Mr Muscles from the first FatF!!!!). Or, in the director’s words, the film remains part of a franchise that is all about ‘front’. Would it destroy the Fast and the Furious series if a character actually ‘grew up’ during the duration of a film?

The interesting element of the film for me is the way it did the formulaic ‘training scenes’ montage. In the previous films the ‘racing’ was just some generic bullshit, with the ‘training’ more about vehicle modification, but here ‘drifting’ has a particular aesthetic. Sean is taken to the ‘mountains’ and the light industrial/port areas to learn how to drift. Indeed, the moutain roads ‘teach’ Sean how to drift. There is a very famous face in this scene amongst the film’s unknown actors. One of the fishermen in the port/drifting scene is actually a(n) (in)famous street racer/drifter: Keiichi Tsuchiya. He is the real Drift King, and is largely known outside of Japan through the Option series of videos, in particular the Drift Bible DVD. In Japan he is a famous motorposrt personality and race car driver. However, his infamy largely derives from his involvement in the semi-biographical Shuto Kousoku Trial films. You see, Tsuchiya became a professional race car driver after being a legendary street racer. If you watch the film, then knowing this adds another level of intertextual reference. (Why don’t they make a film of this guy’s life? Infinitely more interesting than the fantasy of the Fast and the Furious.)

If they are going to make a fourth film, then they have to go to Europe (after ‘Asia’ and ‘North America’ it is the only place left) and the only place in Europe to do this film is Sweden. The Germans are not anywhere near as insane as the Swedes I met. Birka Cup anyone? Even the title is cool. Read more about some of it here. They race exotica against hi-tech Japanese against US muscle cars.

Lastly, it is funny in the way the current Labor MP of Bathurst goes on the offensive against the film to differentiate his electorate from such bad influences when the annual Bathurst motor race is an Australian cultural icon. (The West Wing has tought me so much about politics. lol!) There is no way this politician would ever actually denounce motorsport because the town of Bathurst would lose its only attraction, so he welcomes this Hollywood version of enthusiast culture so he can come out political guns blazing.

Commentary, Foucault

I think it is not without some irony that I can find very little of the huge amount of commentary work that even mentions Foucault’s conception of ‘commentary’ briefly outlined in his inaugural lecture delivered to the College de France. I have a copy of The Archaeology of Knowledge published by Routledge that doesn’t include the lecture as an appendix, which is how it is published in the other earlier version by Pantheon. I have been reading it on Amazon.com ‘search inside’, but I am going to have to buy a copy. So a note for googlers of the text: DO NOT BUY THE ROUTLEDGE VERSION!!! BUY THE PANTHEON VERSION!!!

Is this — Foucault’s brief comments on ‘commentary’ — my mythical dissertation ‘key-stone’, that one piece of information that seems to make everything else fit? It is very close, at least on a methodological level. The primary task of enthusiast magazines is ‘commentary’. Of course it is necessary to do some slight modification to Foucault’s concept, which is not a problem, because it means reading him as a philsoopher of the event and that is precisely what I have been doing. For example, commentary is an extension of the event of which the ‘primary’ text was a first example, like another wound in a war. (Hmm, I am sure there is something weird going on here involving a possible engagement with Derrida’s thought… ) Foucault puts it this way:

The infinite rippling of commentary is agitated from within by the dream of masked repetition: in the distance there is, perhaps, nothing other than what was there at the point of departure: simple recitation.

I wonder what would happen if it were even possible to write my entire dissertation with such prose?

Anyway, I have used the term ‘commentary’ before to think about the ‘real-time’ commentary of blogs in my blogging paper, and on magazines elsewhere on my blog, in the same way that Foucault is talking about it. Was I simply regurgitating what I had read of Foucault years ago and which was hiding in the back of my mind? Unlikely, I don’t think I had read this essay/lecture from Foucault before. Anyway, it fits, and it allows other elements to fit around it.