Posts Tagged ‘Marvel’
Historicizing the concept of the inevitable in literature presents many challenges. For inevitability is itself a theory of historical agency, and an adequate critical account must confront inevitability’s claims without simply falling back on conventional notions of freedom, originality, or creative expression. Indeed, the inevitable is not merely a discourse to be cataloged by positivist historiography; it names a threat to any attempt at making humanity the author of its own experience. In its antique versions, women and men chalked their situation up to fate and diagnosed their historical condition through prophecy. In the late medieval era, more sophisticated but equally deterministic accounts of humanity’s relationship to historical change came into circulation, such as Calvinist predestination, fatalism, modern compatibilism, probabilism, and the acceptance of political economy as a science. Eventually, Charles Darwin’s natural history posited the inevitability of extinction in conditions of scarcity. The politicization of inevitability and conflicting visions of civilizational collapse followed, with communism and capitalism each decrying the other as a doomed system to be overcome. Friedrich Nietzsche’s eternal return recast inevitability as the nonlinear recurrence of intensifying crises. Walter Benjamin wrote of an angel of history who is condemned to look back on the wreckage of civilization. Today, in the wake of both historicopolitical optimism and existential pessimism, notions of the Anthropocene present a fatal paradox: the effects of human industry have set in motion a geological transformation that modern civilization might well not survive. The concept of the inevitable spins these discourses into a common thread, as so many attempts to diagnose the fundamental problem of human agency’s internal limits as expressed in time, along with whatever consolatory freedoms we might draw from our constraints.
* It is easy for left academics to be seduced by a rhetoric of public consumption for our work, since most of us see theory and practice as intermingled. But the American case should stand as warning for British academics. For many years, Usonian scholars chased the mirage of being “public intellectuals”. Few realized, however, that this means depending on their institution to protect them from the onslaught of a rabid conservative media machine. When the dogs of reaction barked in the culture wars, though, American deans slunk away, fearing damage to their own managerial careers. Progressive scholars without the protective benefit of a strong Left were abandoned to fend for themselves against unfair odds, since the spectacular “public sphere” is never a level playing ground in the age of Fox News.
* A Medievalist on Savage Love. Hi, Matt!
* “2015 is my 25th year of adjunct teaching.” Oh, oh no.
* Complaint Claims University Where Student Was Killed Failed To Act On Relentless Yik Yak Threats. Horrifying story on every level.
* Another moral panic against a left-wing academic. Six more weeks of winter.
* The University of California, Santa Cruz, was established in 1965 and has long been known for its radicalism. But officials’ reaction to a recent protest against tuition hikes suggests that times have changed.
* The rise of “mama.” Interesting to see something we didn’t even know we were doing laid out like this.
* Report: Defense Dept. paid NFL millions of taxpayer dollars to salute troops. Would you like to know more?
* The University of Nevada, Reno, a land grant research university, is recruiting for a Coordinator, Innovation and Transformation. This could be the most buzzwordy, administrative-bloaty job ad of all time. It gets better/worse.
* The most senior Baltimore police officer charged over the death of Freddie Gray used his position to order the arrest of a man as part of a personal dispute just two weeks before the fatal incident, prompting an internal inquiry by Baltimore police department.
* The ghetto was a deliberate policy invention, and investing in a path out of it would have been completely contrary to the point of creating it.
* “I think we’re ready for capitalism, which made this country so great,” he said. “Public radio is ready for capitalism.”
* Why cloth diapers might not be the greener choice, after all. I’ll believe anything on this subject to be honest.
* “She’s likely to be in her twenties or thirties, middle-class, probably married, probably Christian, probably average intelligence,” Harrison said. “I just described, you know, your next-door neighbor.”
* The arc of history is long, but.
* Kim Stanley Robinson explains his great new novel, Aurora.
* Don’t miss my flash review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron! As I say in the update, thanks to my friend Ryan Vu for priming the pump (and look for his brilliant review of Captain America 2 in a few months in SFFTV).
* 2030 is set largely in the titular year, 100 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City. The initial title card establishes that 80% of the population has been evacuated due to the rising sea level as an effect of global warming.
* Late last week, using the hashtag #talkpay, people began tweeting about how much money they make—a radical thing to do in a culture that treats disclosing your salary as the ultimate taboo.
* I’ve been buried in final book manuscript revisions, and have been noticing that I’m increasingly using the term “management” rather than “administration” in my analyses of university governance. Part of the reason is that my employer, the University of California, uses Senior Management Group as a formal employment classification. But it’s also because the friendlier aspects of the term “administration” seem decreasingly part of everyday academic life. Friendliness was administration as support structure, as collaborator, as partner, as the entity that did not take orders from obnoxious egocentric faculty prima donnas the way that frontline staff often had to do, but that accepted balanced power relations and a certain mutual respect that could make decisions move relatively quickly and equitably. It would avoid command and control of the kind that prevailed in the army and in most corporations, where executive authority consisted of direct rule over subordinates.
* Well, I guess that settles it: In 50-49 vote, US Senate says climate change not caused by humans.
* “No one has walked on the moon in my lifetime,” I told them. “Yet you try to tell me that it’s my generation who has lost their wonder? That it’s the young people of today who have let everything slip and fall into ruin? You don’t understand. You had the dream and the potential and the opportunities, and you messed it all up. You got hope and moon landings and that bright, glorious future. I got only the disasters.”
* In some ways Ex Machina may be considered a feminist film by sheer dint of our low standards, the scarcity of stories that explore female desire beyond the realm of sex and romance.
* This 5-year-old girl knows a lot more about presidents than you do. At this point I say put her in charge.
* If you’re 33 or older, you will never listen to new music again—at least, that’s more or less what a new online study says. The study, which is based mainly on data from U.S. Spotify users, concludes that age 33 is when, on average, people stop discovering new music and begin the official march to the grave.
* The arc of history is long, but Cheez-Its is finally going to sell a box of just the burned ones.
* The same joke but with this Iceland law allowing anyone to murder any Basque on sight.
* If you want a vision of the future, imagine James Cameron directing Avatar sequels, forever.
LATER-THAT-NIGHT UPDATE: I hadn’t realized when I wrote this how strongly it was influenced by the great review of Captain America 2 that Ryan Vu wrote for us for Science Fiction Film and Television, but reflecting on it a few hours later I really see Ryan’s review as the clear precursor to this. Look for his review in a few months! It’s really smart.
In my five-sentence Avengers review from a few years ago I wrote:
Of course I deeply enjoyed The Avengers, but my sense is it’ll be up to The Avengers 2: Avengers Reveng’d! to salvage the series from the scrapheap of Lesser Whedona. … Though certainly funny and engaging, and on occasion very clever, The Avengers is more or less superheroes completely by-the-numbers, almost entirely lacking in the deconstructive self-awareness that characterizes more artistically ambitious Whedon creations like Buffy, Firefly, and especially Cabin in the Woods and the too-neglected Dollhouse. The film has zero critical purchase on its genre, and precious little Whedonesque irony about itself.
In short, The Avengers is what Buffy would have been, if it were only fight scenes and quips.
Age of Ultron, like The Avengers before it, is fine, though if anything the film actually doubles down on the hollowed-out anti-cinema of the first film: it’s even fightier and much, much quippier, with very little heart (the paltry attempts at character development are exhaustively cloying) and excruciatingly little self-awareness about the genre it is participating in (it really pales in comparison to Captain America 2 on that front, as you knew it would).
A film like this seems to me to defy either aesthetic or political response. What is there to say about it that it isn’t already screaming at maximum volume? Even the film itself can barely muster the energy to care about its own setup or execution, breezing over the only character choice that has any genuine stakes (the initial creation of Ultron) in the span of five or so minutes (and then assiduously refusing to return to it under any circumstances).
The only really interesting thing about the film, to me, is its metatextual participation involving the endless shifting around of pieces in the MCU for a climax that will never arrive. When I watch Age of Ultron my major critical response is in trying to reverse engineer the corporate directives that Whedon was handed when he started to break out this story, and then trying to imagine other ways he might have tried to move the pieces into the proper places instead. What else could he have gotten away with? What did they make him rewrite or reshoot? What was allowed, and what was forbidden?
Of course this is always fantasy franchise-running, but we can be certain that the #1 directive here was “clear the decks.” The primary point of this film is to get rid of characters who won’t appear in the franchise until the next Avengers film at the end of “Phase 3.” In this sense Age of Ultron culminates “Phase 2,” like The Avengers culminates “Phase 1,” but here the climax is more like a toilet flushing than a fireworks spectacular. The central narrative concern here is to remove the blockage of investment in characters played by too-expensive actors so a new crop of rather less famous stars can run through their own four- or five-picture contracts in due course.
What else, besides that? I’d wager Whedon was given orders to soften the surface anti-Americanism of Winter Soldier, perhaps combined with a stick-a-thumb-in-DC’s-eye directive to “do something that will force reviewers compare this movie favorably to the ending of Man of Steel whether they want to or not.” Other than that: Give us some action figures? Make sure you leave some narrative gaps for the video games and the tie-in comics and Agents of SHIELD to play with later? Make sure that you complete the narrative return-to-origin so utterly that, even within the terms of your own diegetic universe, it’s as if the film never happened at all? There’s really hardly anything here, as (again!) perfectly enjoyable it is for the two hours it is on the screen.
It seems to me that Age of Ultron exemplifies a new type of narrative in this kind of media. First we had the franchise film; then we had the prequel trilogy; now every film is a prequel to a film that hasn’t been written yet, a film that will itself merely set the table for the fantasy of still another sequel or series or reboot or tie-in down the line. The real climax, the real pleasure, is permanently deferred, always another greenlight away.
To me a film like Age of Ultron invites speculation about Marvel/Disney’s thirty-year-plan to the exclusion of all other criticism or critique. We need a new theory of artistic creation to explain how films get made in this mode. It isn’t auteurism, it isn’t even really in the hands of individuals at all: it’s a kind of automatic, autonomous process using the combination and recombination of preexisting building blocks, almost on the order of an algorithm, or an artificial intelligence. We have this intellectual property that we think we can monetize more aggressively than we’re monetizing it currently; we have these and those prior narrative elements; now, JARVIS, build me a story.