a nightmare of subjectivity
Consider, I suppose, that the Pepsi ad is much like the Syrian attack which it so closely pairs with chronologically, a simile of bourgeois hors d’oeuvres and red wine, flesh and blood. Perhaps as Barthes would point out, red wine itself creates insatiable thirst at best, and at worst is a consequence of the social event (war). (Barthes’ Mythologies, “Wine and Milk.” To summarize here, I recall Barthes’ analysis of wine as being paradoxically dry but thirst quenching – in that in his own terms, “[…] at least thirst serves as an initial alibi for its consumption[…]” (Mythologies 79) To note briefly here of war, it is similarly a galvanizing act of quenching, its initial process claims to be a reagent in the reaction of peace, at least at the outset.)
No doubt in the mythology of the infamous Kendall Jenner advertisement, Pepsi itself is portrayed a nourishment of the body, that which quenches thirst. A better question to be asked of the commercial may be this: Why are they thirsty? The ideological supposition itself is immediately formed, “They are thirsty for justice!” but this is a lie.
I read it as that they thirst because they are attractive, creative, and have a surplus of sexuality – they are thirsty precisely because they are bodies in motion, but particular bodies: bodies of enjoyment. This thirst is not caused of a natural biological need, rather at the outset we can compare it with surplus value: it is the thirst of those who can afford to waste their biological energy in Spectacle. It is their raw hedonism of pleasure through protest, pleasure through art, pleasure through imagined narratives of “countercultural critique” which enables them to be thirsty. It is the perspiration of jouissance. They can only afford this thirst because of their status with regards to Capital. If they were truly proletarian, this Spectacle would be impossible, the thirst would become dangerous. It is not so disparate of course, worker’s hands have still manufactured this Pepsi, but it is precisely this which causes these young bourgeois to thirst. For the workers themselves are already thirsty, are already suffering – they could enjoy a nice cold Pepsi. The young bourgeoisie lacks this thirst; they do not have nearly such a miserable condition in life. They must become more symptomatic, more laborious. They must create thirst in order to enjoy this Pepsi. And what an enjoyable Pepsi it will be, once they have earned it.
To compare, here is Zizek on soft drinks:
A more pressing issue is at hand that regards the political in the commercial itself. I had recently watched Fritz Langs’ Metropolis, a great film of ambiguity regarding the bourgeois support of the worker as Spectacle. One of the things most mystifying about the film is that we do not know precisely what it is that the machines do. In the inadvertent gaze of Langs’ directorial sensibility and the overtones of the script, this renders the workers even more as an inanimate object unto themselves – even more as an undifferentiated whole only recognizable for labor value, removed and alienated of their subjectivity, brought through to the “self-consciousness” of their position in the master and slave dialectic. There is nothing more they are conscious of, and nothing more that we are conscious of, than that they are laborers. Their machines are nameless, their work is nameless, and they themselves (virtually) are nameless.
Contrast this, of course, with what we are offered here in the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad. Its most infamous initial image is simply of that of protest signs devoid of any coherent message. It is a revolution without organs. A woman in a hijab scribbles on photography. What is she photographing? Kendall Jenner poses in front of a mirror. What is she modeling for? A man plays a cello. We do not hear the music he plays.
It extends too to the actions: This man perspires over his cello, this supposedly Muslim woman throws these photographs aside, Kendall Jenner discards her wig and (miraculously) changes into a proletarian costume, revealing her “authenticity”.
Inevitably, there is no answer. For what is there to consider of it but Spectacle? What are they joining, of course, but Spectacle? The musicians in the street, the break dancers whispered of briefly in the montage are the most authentic consumers in the whole commercial: they are already aware that this is a celebration, a perverted Carnaval, a burlesque of revolution.
Do not focus on the moment which has now cemented itself in our cultural conscious of Kendall Jenner handing a Pepsi to a cop1. Focus on the sequence afterwards, in which the cop smiles and looks over at the other cop in a knowledge of agreement. An agreement to what? An agreement to enjoyment. This is precisely what is novel about this commercial, what is truly revolutionary. For there is no longer a moment of free love, the uninhibited flow of orgone, no longer mass revolt, no longer “hanging them by the last bit of rope which they will sell us” there is—enjoyment. The revolution here is that the entire world will become a Pepsi commercial. The gross surplus enjoyment, the raw and impossible jouissance of all existence is nothing but an orgiastic enjoyment of Pepsi unto infinity.
Consider then the impossible fantasy of a Pepsi commercial, so enjoyable that it never ends – it is a never-ending montage of fantastical commercial enjoyment, it is this revolution without organs which we have glimpsed carrying on ad infinitum, it continues until the entire world’s factories have stopped, that the world’s population is starving, the clouds have darkened with pestilence, our urine has turned black with blood from kidneys which have tasted naught but Pepsi for years, and finally into the absence of God’s position in the heavens a lone voice screams: “Pepsi!” This is the horrid jouissance of Pepsi. The impossible horror of a commercial reaching its liminal conclusion in death.
Is this not how the end of the world will look? Will it not look like this commercial?
Symbolically, the Pepsi may quench war (after all, the cop ceases, doesn’t he?) It brings an impotent dream of apocalyptic enjoyment; in contrast, the sixty hellfire missiles only create a symbolic prelude to the orgasm of nuclear judgment, an enjoyment far beyond the pleasure principle.
We should note, however, that in the Neoliberal discourse, an act against Syria is an act of peace, moreover, an act of mercy. It was advocated equally by Obama and Clinton as an act of judgment which spares the Syrian people and perpetuates an image of the United States not just as police force of the world, but as its primary ethicist. This sense of ethical duty is precisely what Trump’s diet nationalism has offered against, in that Trump refutes this a spectre of false altruism. Yet, since again, in its initial moment, the attack was “an act of mercy” insofar as a threat to the Other of Assad to stop attacking, I think it bears noting that while Trump’s intent is separate in its signification, it is not wholly unrelated to its prior processes.
Here we run into the new (old) nightmare of the Real, the material, that which is no longer Spectacle, no matter how much it devolves into media pageantry. Syria is everything which Pepsi cannot be, for it is no longer the eroticism of power in a commoditized fantasy, or a fantasy of commodity, but it is violence which rejects all signification. It is still as equally impotent as Pepsi, no doubt, but it is “the Real deal.”
Moreover, it is exactly what which eludes the dream of intersectionality, it is almost the complete and total Real of all political organization in the United States. It is the nightmare of a movement which exists in a plane which is totally foreign to ideological thinking, which cannot be prevented by any course of action regarding organization or ideological purity. It is the horrendous repressed truth which is impossible for the Neoliberal political subject to bear, of that which cannot be touched by anything. The decision has already been made, and it is ineffable. No action can be taken to prevent it. As surely as Vietnam is the primal scene of the 60s “damned Alinskyites!” , this no doubt occupies the same plane of exclusion. Symbolically, it is that which the American revolutionary can never sublate.
But I am, of course, a dirty leftist commentator, and will play fast and hard with the truth.
Of my favorite rumors regarding Syria, the most interesting one was that it occurred before Trump’s dinner with Deng Xiaoping at the Mar-a-Lago. Most overtly, it takes on a purely phallic tone here. Who is it intended for? Is it to Assad, or is it to China (China, which is even more vague than Xiaoping – a nation which holds what the Soviet Russia used to politically in terms of a vague netherscape of political fantasy)? We can read it obviously here as a masculine enjoyment. Speak softly and carry a big stick. Sixty hellfire missiles in a series of seconds. This is no longer one stick, this is a series of sticks being continually asserted against a strip of land, no less signified previously in history as “The Fertile Crescent.” And Trump, as is generally known, is not a figure who is known for a subtlety of a consistent need to assert his own machismo …
But I would ask more acutely, is not the nuke a commodity? And what truly is the content of this war – the content of this action? How is it any more discernible than the revolution without organs which constitutes that of the Kendall Jenner ad?
Its difference is solely in that it is in the plane of the Real as opposed to the plane of fantasy. It is no different however, in that it is a call to an other. For Pepsi, there is a call to the other of millenials to enjoy in their subjectivity. For Trump, it is a call to the other – one which we are no longer sure of, one which lacks even a subject – a call to let Trump have his enjoyment. His subjective enjoyment.
Trump is the supreme neoliberal subject not in that he is “a postmodern president” (as common critics have offered) by virtue of being a media star, no, it is precisely because he is that, a subject. In the past course of events, even of 20th century dictators, we still see them in the role of the symbolic other. They are blank men who offer fantasies of power which are more aesthetic than actualized. They allow for the symbolic other to appear, the figure of great and fantastical change, the figure which will truly dictate the way to glory and redemption against an era of degeneracy. For Trump we do not see this at all, rather we see the pinnacle of the Capitalist ethic, which is a strange contradiction: not a man who makes the ideology manifest, but a man who perversely enjoys the ideology precisely because of his position as a subject within it. This is what Trump steaks, Trump vodka, Trump hotels, Trump! The Game, The Apprentice, et al. are really about: a man who really, truly, and completely enjoys his subjectivity in capitalism. No other president has ever offered so fully an enjoyment of American culture, nay, American economic culture, as this. Trump’s appearance here, even in the act of Syrian war, is precisely a subjective reaction of enjoyment. Trump eats KFC on Air-Force one, Trump buys two prostitutes and pisses in a bed to assert his subjective dominance over Obama sleeping in it two years prior, Trump fires 60 hellfire missiles in a selfish act of masculine assertion – or, perhaps more precisely – Trumps enjoys an ice cold Pepsi, because he certainly has worked himself up into quite a geopolitical sweat. Where are we now, if not that the revolution has become the Pepsi commercial of revolution, a cynical simulacrum?
Consider more, however, that both events are recent examples of a tendency to form Gestalts of popular culture. Already, in an analytic discourse, I have disassembled the two events into a stereotype of commoditized subjectivity: that I am speaking from sort of structuralist tradition, that I am enunciating from this position which is ostensibly “critical” and favors either a certain underlying ideological conservatism or ideological radicalism, that I am attempting to subvert.
There is no counter-culture.
I see what I want to see, or more precisely I—enjoy what I want to see. I look at the articles which provide me pleasure in according my own truths, I read the books which accord to my own critical disdain of a neoliberal society; the scopophilia of enjoyment.
The impossibility of millennial revolution solely lies in the diaspora of the Capitalist other, removed through subjectivity. It is most easy for me to offer this in some sense of a critique of a strawman of “intersectionality.” Already I am inclined to apologize for it, for everything good that it has done, and this itself is the symptom of late capitalist subjectivity already infecting my prose as we speak. It is making itself clear that I can only enunciate myself as a reactionary, as a commenter against the stronghold of subjectivity which holds ourselves hostage at every moment.
What intersectionality offers is the idea of axes of oppression, that each group, contingent to their identity, encounters oppression differently. This is a novel idea of course, insofar as it is meant to knock out the (now, I have been informed, outdated) concept of the Kyriarchy: the axis of evil, the convalescence of all orders of *archy which consist of oppression throughout the world. Its critique is against the underlying assumptions of power which regarded anti-capitalist or anti-racist, sexist, etc. discourse before intersectionality arrived in the late 20th century. Here we see Marx’ negligence of the position of the religiously oppressed, or the racially exclusive white roots of 2nd and 3rd wave Feminism, or the essentially libertarian white fantasy of Free Love in the 60s.
However, like all revolutionary ideologies, capital thinks much faster. What this granted was, as I had mentioned, the diaspora of the capitalist antagonist. Now the question becomes much vaguer: who oppresses me? I will not illustrate here, though I do elsewhere, that this is an epistemologically unstable question. Knowledge of oppression is material insofar as it follows empiricism, but there exists the gap for oppression which is empirically unknowable. Here, Marx’ entire effort to render an infamous material (or should I say, solid?) critique of history vanishes into thin air: whither dominance?
In the new disposition of the neoliberal subject, we are granted an endless plethora of options which are threatening to tear us apart at every instance. For the knowledge of the oppressor, as unstable as it is, has now become an easily commoditized knowledge insofar as the market has become deregulated. Consider that Marx’ historicism itself is a socialist account of history: it offers one answer, Capital, and knowledge of Capital is produced by the oppressed. Here, anyone’s critique is valid insofar as it is subjective – knowledge of their oppression belongs exclusively to themselves as a subject, and disagreement is no longer with the Hegelian sphere of truth in the “Absolute” now rendered in Marx as “the material” – it is disagreement with other subjects. Not only can competition provide, but one would wonder if an invisible hand just as easily can now manipulate discourse.
This is what is so amazing, to return to the inverse here in the Pepsi commercial: It is such an articulately tense mess of a commercial, which provides no information about its actions, about its purpose, about its politics, but goes to an infinite distance to prove that it has “characters” and that beyond being diverse, they are “subjective” – they are not the postures of previous commercials, they are not bodies rendered as objects for the purpose of the commercial. (Here is a nice postmodern diet Situationist montage of Pepsi commercials set to Sister Sledge ran at about 140 BPM with EDM beats. I think you will find it suitable to elucidate this point regarding the non-subjectivity of bodies in prior commercial modes.
Contrast now, the inverse of the Pepsi commercial: its critics. It is no doubt no known as an infamous commercial failure, because ideologically, it failed to prove its point. This is a false supposition. Even now, as I encounter it in my own writing, we see a new enjoyment forming. This is the enjoyment of critique. For, surely, as much as it has been ripped apart, this is as much a development of the neoliberal addiction to subjectivity as the commercial itself is a symptom of the addiction to subjectivity. It is Escher’s hand drawing itself, subjectivity creating controversy over subjectivity, rendering again the subjectivity. You will find that those who have most made the memes, those who have most made the critique, and those who have most skewered have skewered it not from an old Marxist dichotomy of proletariat and capitalist: they have rendered it as a critique of the way that capital exploits the multiplicity of subjects by attempting to appeal to them. We have accepted them on their own terms, and they have welcomed us. No publicity is bad publicity. But beyond that, we are playing their own game, we are furthering the deterritorialization. By advancing the intersectional ideological critique of the Pepsi commercial from our own position of subjective oppression, we perpetuate the very same system which allows for the conditions of possibility that allow this Pepsi commercial to exist.
Perhaps, though we are not drinking Pepsi in our revolt in the street, we nonetheless are in the exact same circumstances of the commercial – but our Pepsi is not cannned, rather, we are drinking the ideology of the critique of the commercial itself – and in the effort which got Pepsi to remove it, are we not ourselves handing the can back to the police officer?
I cannot say I offer a model past this, to claim that we can return ideologically to the pursuit of the truth through a return to classical historicism, or to any system. I can only elucidate what is going on outside of the train window. The train is going exceptionally fast, and it is a hot day.
An ice cold Pepsi sounds nice.
a nightmare of subjectivity