Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Making the impossible possible

I went to hear the brilliant theorist Slavoj Zizek speak at Cooper Union last night. One part of his speech was especially interesting to me. Forgive me, Zizekians for paraphrasing his very smart argument, but the short version will have to suffice as it was a 2 hour speech. One of his main points was about how ingrained ideology is in our culture - we don’t think twice when people call certain things impossible and others possible. His critique was coming from the left (the still proudly Marxist left, in his case), but is pretty poignant nonetheless.

Why, he asked, is everything possible under capitalism and technology? We can go to the Moon, photograph a comet, build a social network that can connect the world, decode the genome, possibly upload our conscious someday to a machine, make space flight available to the rich, we can keep polluting the earth with no major changes because we’ll make up for this by paying for the carbon offset... etc etc, add your favorite new possibility here.  Yet, say we want to have health care for all....impossible. Say we want to build a more equitable distribution of wealth. Impossible - that would lead to totalitarianism.

Instead, he argued, we need to look at all these impossible scenarios and realize they are the only places available for real change. Most of what is “possible” is a false utopia. Most of what is “impossible” is very possible and we can find examples buried all around. What is utopian is not to believe that we can have a different society, but rather to believe that the current paradigm can continue.

Now, you don’t have to subscribe to his overall political agenda, but I think that last point is pretty interesting when thinking about film. I got out of the meeting, and found this post from Mynette Louie, who was on the same wavelength:

"Wish ppl would stop telling me what's impossible b4 even trying. Indie film is inherently impossible--we have to try to make it possible!"

She's correct. What’s needed now is a big dose of radicalism. We need to stop accepting the current stru(i)ctures around what it means to make and distribute a film and see them as false paradigms. We need to reject the false utopianisms and design something radically new. This means that not only does traditional distribution not work, but....wake up...neither does DIY distribution if at the end of the day you are working for free to get your film out. You might just be indentured to yourself, but that’s still no better than being sold to “the man.”

Nope, a radical change will mean something much more. I’m not going to prescribe that solution here - I may not be capable of that ever - but I would hazard a guess that the answer lies in imagining the impossible as possible.

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