AFTER THE FALL: FROM PUNK TO PORNETRATION TO ‘LET’S BE FACEBOOK FRENDZ!!
Dick Hebdige, November, 2010
The other foot came down of course the moment the sub-prime mortgage credit crunch went global.
In ‘Japan’ this mounting sense of closure and foreboding is concentrated in the recurring image of the monstrous infant. Mutilated, menacing or deformed, diabolically cute or unnaturally ‘advanced’: sexualized or old or dead before its time, the depthless eyes of the sick or ruined child gaze and glower back at us from the pages of Katsuhiro Otomo’s sci-fi saga Akira, from the paintings and sculptural installations of Izumi Kato, Chiho Aoshima, Yoshitomo Nara and the rest.
As metonym for the end not just of an irradiated postwar lineage but of the myth of new beginnings period, the inhuman gaze of the uncannily detached infant like a cold reprise of Johnny Rotten’s mad ‘No Future’ glare, only infinitely creepier, signals a deepening crisis in (social) reproduction in the West. It suggests not just the repeal of the parenting ‘instinct’ (some Japanese towns now offer cash incentives for couples willing to have children) or a reluctance on the part of generations X and Y to ‘grow up’ and follow their parents into rigidly gendered salariman-homemaker roles, insofar as those options still exist. It also suggests the lifting of the bar between fantasy and prohibition, the incursion into the Real of the eternally malleable, digitally generated model to such a degree that ‘the world of the living is no longer secure’ from the shadows of the monstrous, the unformed and the deformed, the dead and disavowed that silently surround it, stand over and sustain it.
“A father complained about his 29 year old hikikimori son, whose only communication over the past 5 years was through written notes left on the kitchen table with instructions such as ‘Get me a video game magazine’ or ‘Do something about the dog that keeps barking”… Attacking a parent has become the most common form of domestic violence in Japan”.
At a time when the return of the murdered child as angry or avenging ghost forms a persistent motif in contemporary Japanese horror films like Tomie: Rebirth (2001), Ju-On (2000) and Ju-Rei (2004), the parents of the reclusive hikikomori, the pathologically dysfunctional embodiment of otaku, subsist alongside their invisible offspring, haunted by the living ghosts, the poltergeists and demons they themselves have brought into the world. In November, 2004 a 28 year old man, who had been a hikikomori for 8 years, admitted killing his parents and older sister with a hammer and a kitchen knife. He had committed this crime after his father, a city worker, had demanded that he find a job: “My father and my sister robbed me of my space to live in”, Masaru Iijima told the police..”I thought I’d kill them before they killed me”..
As one would expect with work made in accordance with the protocols of Sado-Cute the monstrous aspects of Murakami’s ouvre are mitigated and held in abeyance by its sustained and calculated teasing, by the over the top motor-show style of presentation, the openly hilarious wit and by the luxuriously consummated surfaces: the visually stunning super clean finish of the work. Murakami’s monstrous conjunctions- the lactating babe, the Mickey Mouse sublime- arrive uncontaminated by smudgy fingerprints or human grease- the signature paw marks of authentic 70’ s punk ‘zines, immaculately transmitted via that other plastic mouse that digitally directs all on/in-screen procedures from the ‘other’ (cyborg-monster) side of the human-animal condition. In Murakami’s work the original Latin root of ‘monster’ , monstrum : something marvelous or prodigious” decisively predominates though the overall tone and the effects are the opposite of what Occidental critics call ‘Wagnerian’ (animism , after all, is at the ‘heart’ of the Shinto religion, hence might be said to function as the ‘essence’ of Japanese spirituality).
Murakami’s cartooning of the Valkarye in this piece with which I’ll end, Second Mission Project Ko2 – a super babe morphing into a fighter plane- is at once a respectfully tongue-in-cheek translation of the heavy duty Nordic prototype and the storming by litotes of Wagnerian sturm und drang: a bringing down to size and surface of Occidental ‘depth’ and soulful gravitas. Like the substitution of Adam’s demonic first wife, Lilith for Christ as the crucified savior at the end of the world in Neon Genesis Evangelion (another otaku sci fi cult anime), like the Siniticization- the Asiaticiation and the sin-ification of Mickey Mouse, patron saint of globalized, Californicated capitalism in Murakami’s Panda icon for Louis Vuitton the blown-up-beyond-life-size reduction of the Valkyrie is serious, almost reverential in its sacrilege.
Miss Ko2, bodacious secret-agent girl turning inter-aero-planar on her elevated plinth is monstrous in the dictionary sense i.e. “a huge object”, huge one might add, though hardly grandiose: ‘divine’ as in “absolutely fabulous”, a ‘portent’ of pure emptiness. Conceived originally in micro-scale through digital manipulation, subsequently rendered as a mass-produced miniature, then blown up to epic proportions (and in her glorious apotheosis given wings) Second Mission Project Ko2 is a literal taking off of Leda and the Swan. Beautiful but also ‘pretty’ in the sense of ‘crafty, wily, clever, ingenious’; occupying space but also ‘vacant’ in the sense of ‘devoid of contents, free from occupation” Second Mission Ko2 is the stop frame anime embodiment of pretty va-cunt . In this monumental take off of a post-human merger of robotics, surgical enhancement and military killing power we come face to face with nothing less than what Roland Barthes called “the history of our own obscurity” inscribed in three dimensions, “the destiny of our narcissism made manifest”.
POSTSCRIPT (SKIPPED AT THE BROAD BECAUSE I RAN OUT OF TIME)
I’d like to end by shifting the focus to the place where I live a lot of the time now in the States –with some remarks on the subcultures I’ve become affiliated with or have been living alongside for the past 10 years or so in the Mojave desert east of LA and north of Palm Springs in the south eastern corner of California because I believe continuities and discontinuities with 70’s punk are discernible there, too, though they tend to be quite different ones from the ones I’ve just traced out in relation to ‘japan’. This is where I live in Joshua Tree – if I face north in the direction of the mountains fringing the back of my house this is what I see- Joshua Tree national park 800000 acres of protected wilderness- some of it sacred territory to the nomadic bands of Cahuilla Indians who’ve inhabited the region for hundreds of years. A pristine New World paradise. And if I turn round 180 degrees this is what I see- From the middle distance to the horizon what you’re looking at is part of the 29 Palms Marine Base – 960 square miles of military owned desert- an area larger than the state of Rhode Island on which the military test weaponry and rehearse for engagements with the enemy in other deserts on other continents. So I’m situated geographically, ideologically, spiritually in a sense in a place that’s somewhere near the current epicenter of what I like to call the apocalyptic drama of American becoming. I always say if the wind is in the right direction I can stand on the edge of my property and lean out into Armageddon.
Beyond servicing the military there is very little real economy this far out in the upper desert. There are a lot of artists and musicians drawn like me to the scenery and low property prices, including folk artists like the late Noah Purifroy in Joshua Tree and Leonard Knight who’s building Salvation Mountain down in the Sonoran desert near the Salton Sea in Slab City. There are bikers, recreational vehicle enthusiasts, Vietnam vets, Native Tribes people, tweakers, second home owners, retired military personnel and a lot of people who washed up here simply because they had no place else to go. There’s a growing nucleus of neo-homesteaders- eco-pagans, secessionists, home schoolers and burners as in Burning Man desert counter-cultural survivalists that congregate round a thriving local music scene at places like Pappy & Harriets in Pioneertown and the Palms way out east in Wonder Valley on the Amboy road. In some ways I’ve come full circle- this is a 21st century US desert version of the post industrial British rust belt wasteland where we used to run the Shoop.
The desert is where both the buck and the bucks stop in terms of consumption and consumerism. It’s where people with few resources make do and mend, get by and entertain themselves. It’s where you can see laid out as in a diagram the unsustainable consequences of spend-and-burn consumerism. For instance there’s a mountain of garbage growing visibly higher week by week out at the municipal dump on the Joshua Tree Mesa . You haul your garbage up there and they just rake it in, cover it with dirt and add another layer the next day. It’s in your face not out of sight and out of mind. The deserts of the American southwest are on the front line of suburban sprawl and it’s here that the sub-prime mortgage crisis has hit deepest and hardest. In places like Las Vegas and Phoenix and Riverside 60 some miles west of where I live foreclosure rates are running at more than 30%. People don’t tend to have a lot of stuff in the upper desert and what they do have they tend to recycle and repurpose Mad Max style. The survivalist owner of the Palms Bar and Restaurant, hub of the dirt poor socialist republic of Wonder Valley way out there on the Amboy Road told me that she’s never had health insurance, can’t afford it and when she or the kids get sick she goes down to the feed store in 29 Palms and they give her goat anti-biotics. A goat is about the same weight as me she says, then quickly adds a word of warning- “Don’t try taking horse meds –those animals are way too big”..
1970’s punk was never just about appropriating commodities to construct new social identities- repurposing utilitarian designs, for instance, as some kind of purely decorative arts project –making safety pins and bin liners into fashion statements. It was also always about the politics of consumption and consumerism not just the politics of identity or to put it more precisely punks were always positioning themselves at the awkward point of intersection between the politics of identity and the politics of consumption and consumerism. 70’s punk as a prophetic End Time discourse always involved an ethically based critique of and resistance to late capitalist spend-and-burn disposability and waste. It staked its claim in the dirty unwanted and unwashed remainder of hippy Utopianism- in everything the organic movement defined itself against- in plastic and industrial detritus. They stuck their face in the mess we’ve made of things then stuck their face in your face.
I’ll end back where I started simultaneously in 1970 and now with a short piece called Short Sale.
explosion scene from ZABRISKIE POINT (1970).