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Friday, August 8, 2008

A View From A Plate: The Great Grace Jones

posted by on August 8 at 15:11 PM

What’s most impressive about Grace Jones’ new video is it offers the viewer no access to enjoyment or thrills. The whole work is unpleasant to watch and hear—a grinding beat, a morphing monster. This is not a spectacle of corporate capital, corporate greed, corporate hunger. A spectacle seduces the thing it exploits and annihilates. With Jones as the corporate beast, there is no seduction, no sugar, no soft suffocation. Grace Jones makes every effort to fully represent the terrifying force of today’s global rich.

Go back to 1985 and listen to “Slave to the Rhythm,” which with good reason is referenced in “Corporate Cannibal” (“Lost in this cell, in this hell/Slave to the rhythm of the corporate prison”). Produced by Trevor Horn, the older tune has several seductions: the then-new seduction of the go-go beat; the seduction of Grace’s appearance (at once elemental and futuristic), and the seduction of her lyrics, which expressed the sublime of world-historical labor.

Axe to wood in ancient times. Man machine
power line.
Fires burn
hearts beat strong.
Sing out loud the chain gang song.
Never stop the action - keep it up
keep it up.

We have in these words the same sublime that gave much of the Communist Manifesto its beauty and poetry.

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?

We are amazed and seduced by the spectacle of production itself, the awesome power of social labor.

With “Corporate Cannibal,” the moment of Debord is over. We no longer look at capital (or the history of productive forces) from a safe distance (“don’t cry, it’s only the rhythm”) but directly at its dark mouth, as if we were on a white plate, soon to be devoured. Nothing about this situation is pleasing or thrilling. All we want to do is find a way out of this place/plate; but the image of corporate hunger is fluid: it shifts its shape like some sort of digital snake (“…Digital criminal/Corporate cannibal/Eat you like an animal”). Writes Steven Shaviro:

The modulations of “Corporate Cannibal” don’t give us the sense that anything can happen, but rather one that no matter what happens, it will be drawn into the same fatality, the same narrowing funnel, the same black hole

And you can not shake the hand of this snake. You can’t even mistrust it, bribe it, distract it with talk about the importance of civility (verses barbarism), of re-investment of the surplus value, or saving for a rainy day. All of those possibilities are long gone. With this form of capital, neoliberal capital, every barrier to its desire, the negation/consumption of all value, has been removed. What’s left is for you to await the inevitable on a plate.

Pleased to meet you/Pleased to have you on my plate”
The decency is a cruel joke; it’s not needed.
You won’t hear me laughing/As I terminate your day/You can’t trace my footsteps as I walk the other way.
That’s Grace Jone’s stark conclusion of capital at this point, after 30 years of neoliberalism. The rich eat the poor with no compunction or preparation. The video is raw.

For those who think we are living in the fairest of times, please read this article (sent to me by Comrade Erica C. Barnett).

A taste:

How much, we asked our group, would it take to put someone in the top 10% of earners? They put the figure at £162,000. In fact, in 2007 it was around £39,825, the point at which the top tax band began. Our group found it hard to believe that nine-tenths of the UK’s 32m taxpayers earned less than that. As for the poverty threshold, our lawyers and bankers fixed it at £22,000. But that sum was just under median earnings, which meant they regarded ordinary wages as poverty pay.

“We work harder and aspire the most,” one said. The longer we talked, the more they turned to moral reasons for success and failure, moving away from the structural globalisation reasons given above. One banker said: “It’s a fact of modern life that there is disparity and ‘Is it fair or unfair?’ is not a valid question. It’s just the way it is, and you have to get on with it. People say it’s unfair when they don’t do anything to change their circumstances.” In other words, they see themselves as makers of their own fortune. Or, as another banker said, “Quite a lot of people have done well who want to achieve, and quite a lot of people haven’t done well because they don’t want to achieve.”

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I love it when people equate achievement with money.

Posted by A | August 8, 2008 3:23 PM

Looking on the bright side, it looks like you can conclude that you don't have to be particularly smart to be a successful banker in the U.K., just self-serving. And who can't manage that?

Posted by MvB | August 8, 2008 3:43 PM

Perhaps those at the top of the corporate power structure would find this beautiful.

Posted by boxofbirds | August 8, 2008 3:48 PM

Grace Jones has scared the crap out of me since I was a child. I'm pretty sure Conan the Destroyer had a lot to do with it. Oh, and "Demolition Man."

Posted by shub-negrorath | August 8, 2008 3:49 PM

Charles, you've completely lost me. But I still adore you almost as much as I love Grace Jones.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | August 8, 2008 4:28 PM

Wow... When did Grace Jones start producing self indulgent bullshit?... Totally didn't see that coming.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | August 8, 2008 4:40 PM

Grace Jones is brilliant. She's always been two steps ahead. Go back and view her old videos, she had everybody in them. She only scared me when she appeared to be too drunk to function and I thought she'd embarrass her bad self. Now when she was "on" she was truly impressive.

Posted by Jersey | August 8, 2008 7:03 PM

Charles, thanks for the brilliant Grace Jones piece. I appreciate an artist who stays relevant.

If you ever read anything post-'68, do let us know.

Posted by today | August 9, 2008 12:56 AM

oh, 1968.

sorry if that wasn't clear.

Marxists can be such pedantics.

Posted by today and ticking... | August 9, 2008 3:47 AM

@9 "Pedants"? I thought it was 'peasants'... (oh wait- that's 'Commies'! forgive me...)
For some reason this inspired a remembrance of Aristide's slogan in the Haitian presidential bid (that he won): Poverty with Dignity. Of course, his blatantly obvious push to inspire the poor got him kidnapped & 'evicted'- to Africa- to enable a more corporate- friendly regime an opportunity there. (I remember Baby Doc Duvalier, upon his overthrow, being whisked away to Paris on a USAF jet...) Thanks, Charles... ^..^

Posted by herbert browne | August 9, 2008 9:48 PM

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