In order to discover the modern human I’ve been introduced to a number of texts and works of art that appear to have shaped the modern man's conception of himself or our contemporary view of him. It is poignant and not accidental that this course ends with discussions of hopelessness, mass murder and exploitation. The hope that fueled Rousseau, Defoe, Smith and Marx was perverted and brought to its logical but tragic ends in fascism, colonialism, disillusionment and the failure of the Soviet Union. Answers to the question "What does it mean to be a modern human?" are necessarily convoluted and complex. Is there one definition that can satisfactorily answer the question? The modern human seems to be the synthesis of high culture, low culture, individualism and mass anonymity as well as a self-hatred and self-reflexive obsession. Following shifts in aesthetic tastes in parallel to political and social change has been a particularly rewarding exercise for me.
The video collage juxtaposes the isolated anonymous individual with the masses, mass production, mass entertainment and the mass murders of the Holocaust, the world wars and the Russian purges. Interspersed with documentary footage are high culture avant-garde cinema and modern internet porn fetishes that involve disguising traces of individuality.
Culture created during the modern period fluctuated between mass spectacle and introspective tendencies. Kracauer wrote that one could learn most about a culture from its “surface-level expressions. ” Many instructive examples of surface level expressions were viewed as “low” or mass culture. In my video collage, surface level expressions are represented through footage of Weimar cabarets dancers, military parades and the first commercial cinematic experiments . These samples of mass culture mirror the fascist or Nazi aesthetic that directly followed the Weimar era. Kracauer saw the popularity of mass entertainment in the Weimar era as reflecting a pervasive “spiritual homelessness ” and hunger for distraction among the masses. The collage demonstrates how fluid the boundaries between Weimar mass spectacle and Nazi military parade were. In both forms of spectacle: “The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things...” The beauty of the images of production, military feats and synchronized dancing have much in common. All these activities surrender the individual to the form of an anonymous mass controlled by a powerful force: capitalism, technology, or a totalitarian leader.
In the video, low or mass entertainment are juxtaposed with Meshes of the Afternoon , A Propos de Nice and Battleship Potemkin , avant-garde films produced around the period of the world wars, the Holocaust and the Soviet Revolution. These films were innovative in their breaking down of traditional representations of time. They address the subjective individualistic currents of avant-garde culture as well as the elite interest in totalitarian aesthetics. A Propos de Nice and Battleship Potemkin use dialectical montage to create new meanings in the combination of seemingly unrelated images. Meshes of the Afternoon is a surreal film that ignores logical chronological structures. I view this video collage as following in the tradition of dialectical montage. In addition to creating new meanings and rhythms through a traditional montage I utilized the digital medium to create a moving collage where two videos can be seen simultaneously. This technique allows the viewer to compare many seemingly disparate images at once and references the contemporary use of the internet as a means for total distraction through multi tasking.
The fascist and mass aesthetic has not disappeared from contemporary culture. In Weimar, “Salariat” culture, Kracauer found that, “people’s lives are bled far to dry to have the least idea what to do with themselves” . In contemporary culture we have created even more types of empty and isolating activities to distract us. Contemporary forms of mass distraction include video games, social media and anonymous, fetish focused internet porn. One particular contemporary fetish, which is primarily internet based is zentai. Zentai embodies a fascist aesthetic eroticized. In zentai, as seen in thevideo collage an anonymous person with all features and voice disguised by a monochrome latex body suit stands in front of a camera. Similar to the fascist aesthetic, the appeal of zentai “flow[s] from a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort and the endurance of pain; the endorse two seemingly opposite states egomania and servitude” .