Ecocinema: Notes on Chapter 3

This was not an easy read so thanks for sticking with it. As usual I am focusing on passages which most students asked about, have put your names by my comments, and am working through the chapter chronologically. As I read you posts it is fun to find the answers to some student’s questions in the blogs of others.

Avatar, form content – students including Zachary, Allison

“Working with [Avatar], I will, similarly to Max Cafard, shift the co-structural pair into the ecocinema context by pointing out that spectators get to cheer in solidarity when the exploited indigenous Na’vi rise up against the military-industrial corporate baddies in Avatar to protect themselves and the commons, but we only get to do so within the constitutive technological ideology embodied in the massive pre-release promotional efforts that emphasized the idea that the coolest there, Pandora, is only possible when there is no “there” there— when the material world is reducible to digital code, available for infinite manipulation.” p64

  • the co-structural pair are constituted and constitutive ideologies – which are roughly content and form.
  • so although the content of Avatar is rebellion against the military-industrial complex, the larger formal context is the technology of film-making and more particularly the computer graphics that make this movie spectacular.
  • the history of computer graphics is tangled with the military-industrial complex – for example the mathematics of trajectories in computer games was developed for the trajectory of weapons in war.
  • the coolest place is Pandora, which is only made possible by computer graphics. There are no awkward material things there it is just code – this brings to mind the fantasy of the post-humans.
  • no “there” there – is a reference to the poet Gertrude Stein.

Hageman on Ideology – students including Anthony, Randy, Ethan, Kayley

“There are three fundamental aspects to the concept of ideology at work in this approach to ecocritique. Although this tripartite concept of ideology follows in the particular theoretical footsteps of Louis Althusser and Slavoj Zizek, the purpose is to incorporate certain critical insights from them in the design of a dialectical critique specific to ecocinema studies” p 64

  • In this section, Hageman is explaining what he is going to do in this chapter, and whose ideas he is building on – i.e. Althusser and Zizek.
  • Hageman states his own purpose is to use their ideas to think specifically about ecocinema – enviromental cinema – I will talk about dialectic below.
  • In selecting her quote, Kayley nailed the three aspects of ideology that Hageman is referring to

The first aspect is that all films are bathed in ideology… Second, ideology works through multiple structural levels and layers in any given text…The third aspect of ideology concerns contradiction and consistency” p 64-65

  • bathed in ideology – all our moral, cultural, social, political norms and assumptions, visible and invisible to us.
  • multiple structural levels – the difference between content and form, the embedding of any particular piece of media in a larger cultural and technological context
  • contradiction and consistency – see below

Contradictions and consistency – students including Alex, Robert, Alexander H. and others.

“The third aspect of ideology concerns contradiction and consistency. Following Louis Althusser and Pierre Macherey, this chapter presumes that no ideology, eco-friendly or otherwise, is sufficiently consistent to withstand the pressures of figuration when inscribed in film.” p 65 “Within this ideological framework, every film contains contradictions-points at which their ecological representations and messages breakdown.” p 65

  • all ideology contains contradictions, but because so much of it is invisible to us, humans can quite easily hold contradictory ideas.
  • But, if those contradictions are made visible then we can see and may therefore question the underlying ideology, and then maybe act. For example in Tambien La Lluvia, these two commons assumptions are in contractions:
    • exploitation of indigenous populations is barbaric – this idea is confirmed and conveyed by the scenes that re-enact Columbus’s treatment of indigenous people.
    • but such exploitation is historical, it doesn’t happen now – this comforting idea is challenged in this movie. This reminds me of Haraway talking about thoughtlessness. We kind of know but don’t want to really think about or do something about people who are exploited by our way of life and comforts, for example the working conditions of:
  • Hageman argues that however politically correct a piece of media wants to be, the process of figuration – actually making it, will inevitably contain assumptions that uphold the status quo – see the example from Avatar above.
  • So the breakdown of consistency, the appearance of contradiction, in any media or ideological context has potential to both revolutionize thinking or constrain it.

Thus, the Corporation does fine work locating and articulating a crucial point of contradiction where the corporation as person is psychotic but the people who comprise the corporation may individually be sweet if bourgeois people.” p 68

  • A particular corporation can behave so badly and inhumanely that is appears psychotic – see the treatment of workers above.
  • Yet any individual working for that corporation does not seem culpable – the inhumanity is lost in all the layers of beaurocracy.
  • This is a major contemporary contradiction – many people in the west have shares in companies that may well be operating in ways that contradict their personal morality, but the complexity of society makes it hard to find out and easy to look away.

Ideological constraints – students including Dominic, Liam, Hongming, Jiajun

The terrifying news is that the current ideology of capital sets the limits of how we can think ecology, so we don’t know what being ecological might be in a non-capital world. As such, what may appear to be alternatives actually remain encoded in the ideological framework. If we ignore the enframing, we seal our doom when we imagine that we have already achieved ecological consciousness and can disseminate it through film for social programming.” p65

  • The question addressed here is how can we think new thoughts and act in new ways ecologically speaking, if we are constrained by mental frames and ideologies that uphold the current status quo i.e. capitalism.
  • Hageman is warning against believing too naively that any kind of film we make can escape the ideology of capitalism. We must always be alert to and critical of the form and context of making the film (the constitutive level) as well as the content of the film (the constituted level).

Dialectics – students including Eric and Lingjia

A dialectical approach addresses the complex structures and workings of ideology without leading to cynical complacency or to empty forms of resistance that replicate the ideology they are meant to oppose”. p 66

  • A dialectical approach – coming from Marx, a dialectic assumes that there is a relationship between the material (matter, nature, how you make a living) and the ideological (mind, culture, society) – each influences the other.
  • The sentence just above this one, helps us understand this one, Hageman writes, “…

By discerning and then working through the contradictions, we begin to shift gears from taking comfort in ideology returning just what we expect of it to the discomfort of noticing the real disorder in ecology, society, and ourselves that we had thought of as consistent.” p65-66

  • People often want comforting media, something that’s just meant to entertain, help us relax etc. etc. They are resistant to deeper analysis.
  • Hageman is hopeful that paying attention to contradictions and not ignoring them can be part of moving towards new forms or thinking and action.

David Harvey – here are two very interesting recent podcasts by Marxist theoretician, David Harvey, if you are interested in pursuing ideas about the connection between ideology, capitalism and environment. Click on the name and on the page you will find:

  • How Capitalism Works, Feb 14th 2020
  • Totality and Capitalism, Jan 30th 2020