Cascade of Improbability, or Why Snakes on a Plane is the most subversive movie this year

Snakes on a Plane is a masterful creation. Forget the snakes, as a function of tension the macguffins are thrown at you snake bite after snake bite. It is almost like a Scary Movie scenario of too many plotlines in a cinematic mash-up. The brushstrokes aren’t subtle, entire genres are invoked to capture singularities. For example, of kickboxing and martial arts flicks (ala Van Damme) to justify a character having quicker then normal reflexes. There is a superfluous sex scene that heralds the classic Hollywood morality play in teen horror movies. What is key, is not the seemingly random plot twists (air conditioning? what?), but the justifications given for the plot twists. All such lines are delivered with a tone of exasperation, such an exasperation can not be acted. Everything that happens outside of the plane (ie on the ground) is irrelevant to the resolution of the plot.

Seriously though, the phenomenon of SOAP is probably well known to most people who read this blog, so I won’t bother detailing it again. However, I will point out that the hype exceeded opening weekend ticket sales, not for a sinister reason, but to ask, why was there so much hype about this film? And clearly it was a ground swell of hype, not some genius advertising campaign. The production and distribution people sleep-walked through this one. My response, which I have already expressed on LP (here) is that SOAP is more of an expression of post-9/11 media in the wake of the 9/11 event, than those ‘tribute’ films purporting to actually be about the event.

I was particularly critical of the Salon article which included a quote from Adorno Gramsci in some sort of consumerist resistance argument about why there had been so much interest in the film leading up to its release. What utter nonsense! Ok so a threatening situation about something going bad on a plane is trivialised? And it gets hyped? And you go back to Adorno? Right… So the phenomenon of the film’s pre-release popularity is about what? Consumerist resistance? Or the ability to make a joke about the most traumatic global event in recent memory? Sure more horrendous things have happened since (such as the tsunami), but nothing else has precipitated such effects and tranformations to the political composition of the globe.

This far right conservative blogger gets the superficial cultural connection. As I pointed out on the LP thread the equivalent relationship to the snakes is to terrorists as the invading aliens in the 1950s were to the communists. But if you stop there such a brief analysis doesn’t grasp the complexities of popular culture and what actually occurred with Snakes on a Plane. There is a difference between the movie and the media event of the movie. The movie itself has a release date and is advertised, spruiked, talked about and discussed potentially anywhere. All of this tertiary communication around the cultural commodity produces another, very real entity — a media event. Now the media event in this circumstance was organised around making funny, if not lame spoof trailers and spoilers. The concept of snakes on a plane is not scary as such, rather it triggers a distributive ontogenesis of the individual along a line that bifurcates from the governmental use of fear. What does this mean?

Let’s take Massumi’s argument regarding the affective modulation of a population.

In the aftermath of 9-11, the public’s fearfulness had tended to swing out of control in response to dramatic, but maddeningly vague, government warnings of an impending follow-up attack. The alert system was designed to modulate that fear. […]
The alerts presented no form, ideological or ideational and, remaining vague as to the source, nature, and location of the threat, bore precious little content. They were signals without signification. All they distinctly offered was an “activation contour” : a variation in intensity of feeling over time. […]
The reality of the situation is its affective quality – its being an unfolding of fear, as opposed to of anger, boredom, or love. To say that at this level the experience is in the fear, rather than the fear being the content of an experience, is to say that its momentum-gathering, action-driving, reality-registering operation is not phenomenal. It is the in-which of experience ; in other words, experience’s immanence. […]
George Bush’s color alert system is designed to exploit and foster the varieties of fear while expanding upon their ontogenetic powers. It assumes the full spectrum of fear, up to and including its becoming-autonomous as a regenerative ground of existence, in action and in-action, in feeling and without it in thought. This refocusing of government sign-action on complex affective modulation is a tactic of incalculable power. It allies the politics of communication with powers capable of “possessing” the individual at the level at which its experience reemerges (dispossessing it of its own genesis). […]
The alert system is a tool for modulating collective individuation. Through the mass-media, it addresses itself to the population from the angle of its potential to reindividuate differentially.

Ok, so what do you do to combat this form of control? Ramp up your own mode of affective modulation, and demonstrate how you can bang tables louder about even more stupid shit? Yes the bang-the-table-louder approach. Time To Get Tough. The classic response by all centre-right and right-wing conservative governments, and all those overtaken by their ‘microfascisms’. Or do you depotentialise the event, try to make a joke of it, laugh in its face. Not in the face of the traumatic event, the shock (and spectacle) of which needs to be worked through, but the residual of its utter and complete horror as it is repeated all the time in fucking tribute films, prime time documentaries and political speeches justifying even more horrendous acts.

When you share in the laughter and make your own dumb arse trailer, you not only refuse to let politicians exploit the human response of fear, but you also refuse to let the terrorist act succeed by making you afraid.

Laugh. Make others laugh.

Terror Alert Snakes

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