A visit by three Marleys: some thoughts on dream states in tellings of A Christmas Carol.

Rev. December 20, 2015.

This essay details aspects of A Christmas Carol (1971, animated; The Stingiest Man in Town (1978); and A Christmas Carol (1954, TV, Basil Rathbone/Frederic March)).

Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, I am certain, lodged itself in the modern-culture secular way of keeping Christmas, in his lifetime, then its telling spread, or he took it to America, and then on stage, and then on film, by repetition, thus becoming part of the routine mechanisms of the holiday. This is likely due to the fact that as a whole the story is a redemption story, but a figurative or even allegorical one, in which Scrooge is not actually an old man, but the oldness in all observers and motion-goers of daily life, in a civilization, who let civilization and its affordances and limitations to sour them and turn them into reactionaries, and the ghosts are sent to knock him out that state and back into a free and easy state of relational acceptance of others based on their humanity. Because modern man has been being worn down by civilization for at least 150 years, this allegory of “getting into the Christmas spirit” is a key event in the telling.

But, for me, the Carol, many versions of which I have reviewed as ghost stories, also lends itself to analysis of how animators and movie maker choose to render the various ghosts, vis a vis Scrooge, and in terms of the state of dream or not that he is in. By studying what various directors did with a single ghost, for example, one can not only gain a sense of the instrumentalization of the ghost, but also the target state of mind. For example, the visitation of Marley. In this sequence, Scrooge appears to be awake, and yet he is visited by a ghost. As such, this could be construed as the only viable ghost sighting in the story, because he was awake when it happened. The three ghosts can all be alibi’d as figures of figmentation in a dream. But not Marley. Scrooge is settling in for the night, and he appears. So, the renderers of his appearance have a few special challenges.

In the Oscar winning 1971 animated version of the story, the appearance of Marley is one of the highlights of the whole film. This suggests that the telling is tilted in a bias in favor of Marley, that is, the sighting of real ghosts, and the belief that real ghosts can appear to waking humans. But, this version plays with the possibility that the whole sequence is already thrown in to an alternative state of consciousness, simply by taking place in the past, and in mythical London. As the movie opens, we do a vertical ferris wheel spin of the “camera” over the animation, which extracts physiognomies of haunting presences from the facades seen this way or that

marl-1In this climate, there is a heightened sense of being able to pick physiognomies out of things, there is, then, a kind of figural fog placed over all, representing….what? A physiognomy is a face seen in a pattern or a facture due to a heightened activity of the apophenic capacity, charged to action by fear. That is, in a state of alert, the arousal creates a state where agency is activated, and in that aroused state a person is more likely than not to see a face in the pattern of a building. What this means is that even in his waking life, or, it is even possible, in our romantic-mythic retrospect on essentialist old London, the ground of the contemporary, 100 years ago, we are in a fearful, turned on to fear state, and aroused. For that, the space is magic, and activated by the appearance of temporary gods (as Cassirer called them). Thus, while Scrooge imagines he is fully awake, and in charge of his senses, in fact he is in a heightened state of fear, and therefore more susceptible to being haunted. He is, in short, in a hypnagogic state, but waking, a vigilogogic state (as I am calling them), in which the lattice of his life is weighed down by a persistent haunting thought: Marley. For that, it is no surprise that at his door knocker, he sees the lion wrongly as Marley

marl-2The lion preexisting provides the physiognomy of the face an alibi to call it a mere ‘seeing things’ but in this version the closeness of the sighting, and the fact that they appear to look each other in the eye, means that he is aware of it, and in the same space as it. This version, then, unique in my viewings of many versions, then reverses the seeing of the face, by seeing Scrooge’s face as a phantom in the darkness in his own home. They are both placed, then, in a waking altered state, and state of being spooked

marl-3What this means is that, though he protests later, his rational modern mind has been compromised, and he has been cast back, like a new pagan, into the state of man prior to the solidification of reason as a blockage to superstition. Like an ancient greek he stands in magic space, the world alive with animism. Every thing is also a spirit and a god. I have commented in another note on the fact that it strikes me that in A Christmas Carol Dickens was writing up a modern version of an ancient Roman rite of worship of the gods of Saturnalia. All of the functional gods of ancient Rome were simply the phases and steps of life’s processes, figured out, given figure, so in this case Scrooge is in a state of seeing everything as a figure. If seen waking, though in a spooked state, then Marley manifests as nothing more or less than the equivalent of the presence of a functional god in ancient Rome. And in this case he is the god of the doorway, Fornuculus, he has about him some of the tasks of Mercury too, offering warnings, and, then, too, somehow, Dickens knew that in ancient Greece some statues were thought to be invested with troubled spirits, and to prevent them from wandering far the Greeks would actually chain them down to the spot, and make them keep still.

But this Fornuculus is also the god of the whole room and every surface in the room. This version has what is by far the most imaginative rendering of Marley ever. Every shot is a byplay between the whatamIseeing transparency of the ghost and Itsjustyourimagination appraisal of the elements of the décor of this room. It is as if Scrooge, sitting spooked in his high chair, cannot look at any surface in his empty room, and not think he is seeing a ghost. Thus, this Marley opens his mouth wide, his head foreshortened to create the effect that he is imagined as from the grain and the wood of the ceiling and its timbers

marl-4That is, you can imagine Scrooge gazing in spooked state up at the grain of wood on his timbered ceiling, and think, what is that (this is not a novel effect, it shows up in Demon Seed, and in the 99 version of The Haunting, that is, ceiling bearing down on the spooked, as representing a figure pressing in. This Marley is also recursive. That is, after figuring him out of one position relative to the room and what he gives face and figure to, the scene shifts and he gives new figure and face to an apprehensive sense of that. Here, his mouth is now reimagined as emitted from the wainscot, and his eyes are reformatted as made of the wood grain knots on the ceiling, all of this disposition likely suggested by the similarity between the molding style and a row of teeth, around which a ghost is formed

marl-5More conventionally, that gaping mouth, caused by rigor mortis, and prevented by the tie under the chin, according to burial lore then, can be seen in the woodgrain of the walls too, routinely so

marl-6That is, having seen his knocker, but with Marley on his mind, he sees the ghost of Marley, and is spooked, the ( ) space between Marley and the knocker is activiated, he is officially spooked, and then in his spooked state, having seen Marley in the doorknocker, he cannot help by in fear cower and counter to also see Marley in the molding, in the wood grain on the wall, and in the ceiling timbers too, in all the space, all around him, on three sides

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I have said before that this haunting, using the door as the primary alibi for ‘its only imagination” rationalization, makes of Marley a Roman threshold god, a literal psychopomp, telling him what to expect, leading him into the world of spirits. It’s amazing, that it is here, lying deep in the subconscious of a British writer in the early 19th century, deep Roman haunting. But, then, two odd things happen, to make the haunting catch, or stick. Up to now, the haunting has been taking place in the middle ground of distance from him, in terms of proxemics, in the lattice, let’s say, of the space about him. But now, it comes in closer. The ghost out in the physical world, made real, extraverted, if you will, now introverts, it is sucked back inside Scrooge, as an externalization of his inner fears. This graph makes it known simply that he manifests a second time, swinging back over into the internal psychological space of Scrooge, inside that parentheses

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Than by that second scare, convincing him of his reality, he knocks Scrooge upside down, now entirely under his control, as such

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He is reduced by this complete frightening, into a deer in the headlights situation, that is, he is kind of paralyzed, and also, as is common in horror, rendered disemboweled, or scared shitless, unable to move, weak, depleted, emptied out. There is a name for that state, it is not effigy or mannequin, he is made into a target, for now I will just say that a deerintheheadlights target, a two dimensional being. But then, the big thing here that changes everything is that now the entire reality of the ghost can penetrate him, and in such a way that there develops a weird relation between two fixed states that I can only at the moment identify as a mirror relationship, in which the ghost takes the form of himself as seen in a mirror, his relationship with reality now also being a mirror relationship only. These are hag attacks very, very close to the body, here the pointing finger imagined up from the sight of own nose

marl-10Then the actual pointing finger being composed of seeing the shadow of one’s nose in front of your crossed eyes

marl-11then even seeing the ghost as a reflection of his chair, or a reflection of himself, in his nightshirt, in his pointed hat, in his pointed shoes, it is all just an externalization of his disemboweled, emptied out sense of self, reflecting itself on the world—I guess a kind of homunculus, but not quite, because of the mirror effect involve.

This version also then magic slates it all away too (this also happens in the Finney version), so that he can momentarily think it all a hallucination. But these long shots, what do they say?

marl-12For now, I will simply say that they seem to take the mirror effect relationship established in the intimate level of haunting, and then projects it out to all sense of all reality, so that the rest of the drama has dream room to move in, an extreme externalization. This movement ends with the vision of all the ghosts hidden behind the reality we live in, in this case it is a hecatonchir of a hundred hands, odd, since according to rhizome theory, our checkerboard rational perception of space in daily life, is, in fact, underlain with a hundred associations and linkages little appreciated by us, in fact, like this

marl-13From this, then, it is apparent that the vision in the doorknocker cast Scrooge into an agency-activated fear state, in this state all the surfaces of his life doubled, and were suspect as haunting by figures. When the intensity of that latticing of it all was not enough, the ghost enraged clanged his boxes, to get his full attention. This then broke into Scrooge’s soul, inside his mind, and emptied him out, resulting in him becoming a depleted “victim” being haunted, and so paralyzed as to now reimagine the ghost as even more intense, as consisting of reflections of his own image and accessories projected into the world.

The Stingiest Man in Town (1978), a later telling by Rankin and Bass of a 50s TV version, has a different take on the nature of the haunting of Scrooge by Marley. In this version, Scrooge is already in bed (!, unique in my screening of many versions), and he appears at the end of the bed, in blue, meaning that he is simply being imagined as a classic hag attack. A hag attack is a feeling of discomfort during sleep which then manifests as the feeling that one is suffocating, then figured out, in dream form, as a hag sitting on your chest.

marl-14It starts with a flickering of his lamp, in yellow tint, notice the wavering, and the pattern on the bedspread

marl-15Then a shadow takes form at the foot of the bed

marl-16His blueness, and his positioning vis a vis the bed, at the foot of it, at his feet, then too here the visual parallel between him and the pillow, it all reinforces the notion that this is a hag attack in male form by a body sleeping in bed.

marl-17I know this is odd, but in this simple conceptualization, this version is not much different than Fuseli’s (or tradition’s) conception of a Nightmare

marl-18by means, then, of a rather chanting, haunting song, or not exactly a song, it is as if Marley drives Scrooge down into a deep dream state, to envision through an iris, his greed and selfishness. Oddly enough, this is where we confront Scrooge’s past, as he envisions gold coins, playing the part here of the visual static of something on one’s mind, before one drops off to sleep

marl-19But then it montages to another scene, and here too, we are now in a reverie in dream of coins, as the whole iris vignette, starting with figures, ends up being walled over, by gold coins, again unique

marl-20this scenario even casts Scrooge in his restless hypnagogic static-state into the remembrance of the death of Marley, the death that is of the pointing blue finger imputing this iris whirlpool of musing into him, the very figuring out and making narrative of his pointing finger, with his tombstone on the end, the cemetery. But, then, in a scene of remarkable creativity as Scrooge walks away, the tombstones having apparently momentarily banished through of riches out of his mind

marl-21No, he as if a magic elf, comes upon, in a gully in the cemetery, a new finding of another pile of gold, and is entirely enchanted, here in a dream state

marl-22His eyes boggle, one imagines him glutting his imagination on it, and perhaps that signals that he wakes up, because the movie then makes another startlingly clever transition to envision his whole bed set up, its blanket, the light, the glow of the lamp, the ghost, all of it as all a great pile of heaping gold

marl-23With the blinding light of the static reverie in light sleep, induced by Marley’s haunting, now resolving back to being “awake” to the haunting, in his room (meaning that in this version they decided to simply format the Marley haunting according to that of all the others too).

marl-24At present, I can only graph out the dynamics this way. A, Scrooge settles into his array of agencies, his bed, its cover, the light, but then his body passes through it all, nervous, still spooked, and as he nods off this elicits the appearance of the hag attack ghost, that ghost then points his finger at Scrooge, this finer reaches all the way up around the array of his bedding to as it were dig a hole in his head, in the iris of which we get an xray of what is on his mind in the static stage, still thinking of Marley and gold and the past, and then as the iris weakens, and concludes, it fades back to an appreciation of the bedding, and he returns to being awake, a triple loop, as it were, of a hag attack (this is not entirely satisfactory)

marl-25This is very well done! Not only have I conjectured, in several versions I have reviewed, that the story in fact is paced and spaced out to the concern of three ghosts, because it is in fact Dickens’ very keen insight into the reality of the sleep of the elderly, repeatedly interrupted. The fact that this pile of gold envisioned in a static hypnagogic state fades back to the reality of his gold colored mound of bedspread, this too, is entirely interesting and realistic, as it is in the restless sleep of the elderly that the covers are repeatedly kicked off, the cold invades their sleeping body, they momentarily wake to pull it all back on, and on and on it goes, until things wake up all twisted all over the place (this motif played with a lot of the in the 1951 Sim version too). It could be said by this approach that Marley is a psychopomp in a more surgical way. That is, he comes in upon Scrooge, to core out an iris in his sleeping mind’s eye, down which now the further states of dream can rise up. That is, in his pointing finger, he cores out a spiraling down space in his head, a wormhole, if you will, and now Scrooge in other visits will spiral down in. Meaning that the further dreams are hypnagogic states-vis a vis-static state, that is sleep dysfunctionalisms, plummeting down. Then, once Marley leaves, we are left with the array of Scrooge in his bedding, as specified, light, goldbedspread, and bed, and then his “dreaming of” his exterior bodily self in different stages of sleep, prompted by having already been irised and bracketed, therefore, by a concern for gold, goes down the levels of sleep

marl-26Each ghost then takes him on a climbing or not journey in the complicated layerings of dreaming, all of it prompted by static obsession with gold, its inducing thematic element

marl-27This would explain then the fantastical depiction of the world of the ghost of the past as a musical interlude entirely embodying in a vision of gold Scrooge’s vision of his dreams, not the ghost’s showing him, astonishingly creative. The facets of the chandelier closeup, then the spiral of the dance, send him down in

marl-28and then at the bottom of that chamber of the brain, deep dream state dropped through the whoosh from the static, they live in a pure dream, all gold, living eidols of the portrait of the queen, wonderful

marl-29This is how I map out the particular journey that the Past takes him on, in this version, starts with gold static, stays with it, drops to his dream, prompted by added push downward by musical interelude fantasy allowance, then rises back up to them in that dream gold house, dancing in the lattice under the chandelier and the eidol of gold of their future royalness embodied in that mystic little portrait in the bottom of his static-dreaming dysfunctional plunge

marl-30the ghost of the present also takes us down through the golden door composed of the stuff of the static dream stage

marl-31but then that substance also whooshes and in fact tumbles him down, miniaturizing him, as, as you fall down the turned around telescope, you do quite literally undergo a reduction to accommodate the micropsia below, in an admittedly odd sequence of tiny Scrooge under the tree (imitated by the Carey version later)

marl-32this interior descent even allows the dreaming mind to touch down on rock bottom of under the tree essence of Christmas, and even bring in a religious element as a crèche is down there at the bottom of the whoosh

marl-33and this then swells back up like lava up out of a volcano to momentarily reimagine the whole golden static veneer of his dreaming as a religious awakening, odd, unique

marl-34And this is how this remarkably weird sequence goes, a different path, a static entry, a quick zap plunge down, deep inhabitatiotn of total deep dream surreal state, but then a psychopomp bug even there, to coopt it and hop it over to a religious moment, on that that then riding the lava back up the dream shaft through the stained glass, and the rose window, to the vision of the mandala, and back to consciousness. Weird.

This is all that I have at present for the manifestations and movements of the ghosts in psychopomp patterns in Scrooge’s arrayed dream states. But, then, there is one other depiction of Marley’s visit, in modernist outings, that is decidedly weird, in several ways. And this is in the 1954 version where Frederic March Plays Scrooge, and Basil Rathbone comes in as Marley. Here, too, as in other versions I have noted here, the Marley section gains the most attention, that is, the warning, and then it goes from there.

In this version, Scrooge never goes to bed. He also lives in a very small little room, and its smallness bothers him as as soon as he gets home he wants the maid out, and complains of the noise of carols still coming in from the street . The maid is an apprehensive employed, backing out grovelingly cautious to his temper

marl-35He, therefore, is more in a waking annoyed state, a cat on a hot tin roof, trying to calm down, to get comfortable, to undo the haunting he has had out front. He cant do it, and so no sooner does she leave that then door is busy again and now Marley comes in as if a personification of the door, but the return in annoyance of the maid, but as a ghost

marl-36he then warns him as he will, and as he has in so many versions, in this one here a physiognomy of a picture on the wall, and there had been his portrait on the mantel in the office, and as a face seen in the patterns of his wallpaper, nothing more, it is OK, but not terrific

marl-37But, then, something very strange happens. When asked if he can sit down, he does, and at his table. Now it is as if he is back to as was ante status quo of seven years ago just sitting at the table with Scrooge, and this body language and proxemics would be entirely comfortable and taken for granted by Scrooge, but also spook him, for it to be back. And then, in the most thrillingly odd touch in this version, he touches, he takes hold of Scrooge

marl-38Scrooge recoils, with revulsion, to be touched by a ghost, full of miasmic bad air, and decay and corruption, notice that this scene takes place well within sight of a washing bowl and a towel. But then they have a full on engagement, a conversation

marl-39He brings out, from the floor below, a physical artifact, proving his reality, breaking through the barrier of dream, in the world of his life, the counting book

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It is just very odd. This version made no attempt to position Marley’s appearance inside the appearance of a dream, or inside Scrooge’s head, it is played as if a revisiting memory of an everyday engagement with his erstwhile partner. That touch, however, would represent it all as a common dream phenomenon, as people asleep do sometimes think they feel a touch, so perhaps this is a sleepwalking episode. I am not sure. But, then, the main point is that this haunting gets most interesting when Marley visually departs. Because as he does he goes on a chant and then that chant takes hold of Scrooge as if an earworm that whirls around in his brain. And it haunts the whole room, and makes him spin in it, it is as if is occupies all the night and all creation, it resounds, and Scrooge spins one way, a genre picture representing his whole reality permeated by it

marl-41and then another

marl-42and then he spins around again, now truly haunted, but by the noise, by the effect of the presence of Marley, spinning in, coring down in his ear, and head, and making of his head an echo chamber where the difference between material and ghostly reality disappears

marl-43this even, then, causes him to fall, it is, then, a dizzy spell too, a complete disorientation of an old body, and he falls in the corner by the furnace, and even cowers, he is entirely undone by it

marl-44at present, simply using the excavation of dream state model developed earlier in this outing, I am going to posit that while most of Marley’s visit happened in conscious space, when he took hold of Scrooge’s hand, he flinched, and then the figures on the pages of the counting book made real rooted the visit at the level of the glass onion, a world of figures where they lived, and then it is from this state, the whir of all those figures, all the time they wasted, all the bad business they did, but represented symbolically only by that book, as proof of the haunting, that that stirs up, also with the wake gust of his departure, and then unnerving Scrooge by touch, as a nervous reaction in him, to the static level from the GO level, the whirring haunting threnody, but then something weird happens. And I am not entirely sure how to chart out this fact. It is as if by switching from a visual clue, by the effort to imagine the impact of a nervous breakdown on his mind, to an aural one, the pulse of the dreaming umbrellas out across the property provided for it, to represents its whole encapsulation of his world, that genre painting that he backs himself up against

marl-45And by that device, fans out through the stages, to create a true ‘echo chamber’ below, something like this

marl-47And it is in this echo chamber, where all stages echo on all others, that SONG takes over, and SONG is the primary medium by which the dream states are conveyed. Now, on that point, most of the songs are terrible, but as it moves through, it is of some interest, in keeping with the descent of the dreams from the device portal of the genre painting, that the windows of his room

marl-48Simple opyn up to the ballroom, just adjacent to it, as if an echo of it, again a kind of mirror image (indicating to use the above model that he is fixated, an thus only seeing a world mirroring his projecting fears)

marl-49then too, as in the Edison version, his room is simply the vehicle by which other spaces are imagined, his bowl of porridge

marl-50Then dissolves into the Cratchits table, right there

marl-51But then, it is as if as the utterly ridiculous scene where Tiny Tim sings some anthem, his body begins his dreaming mind to wake up, and as he rises up, his body begins to worry about itself again, and we see in the worries of an old body, wondering as if by an overvoice of rationale, how would Tiny Tim get up to the top of that tree, and so as we climb back up and in we get what is by far this version’s strangest manifestation, the triple decker chair stack by which crippled Tiny Tim is allowed to climb up to put the star on the tree

marl-52But then to prove that in this version it was all about an old body worrying most of all about death, the disastrous intervening scenes retract back directly out the Cratchit window, to see a bird in a tree, on set, and that chanting death threnody begins again, eerily, as before, haunting

marl-53As if to pick up again on the fact that all of this is entirely but the echolations of the original death spiral chant that spun an earworm in Scrooge’s head, and then the camera swings round that bird, almost like a bird in Whitman’s poem on Lincoln’s passing, and we swing by it

marl-54into the foggy cemetery, step by step, dollying, really, quite done up, pulling apart, as it were, the whole piece

marl-55through the spooky sticks to the graveyard scene

marl-56meaning that this version was pretty much all about that all the time but then Scrooge is back in his bed, done

marl-57The whole thing suggests that the weird in between dream states were in fact attempts by his unconscious mind to block out what the implications of Marley’s touch and his nervous response to it meant to him, ie that it was the touch of death, and that it unnerved him, so in the echo chamber created by that unnverving, were musical orbitings of good cheer designed to relieve his mind of the weight of it, which existed in conscious life, that is, errant dream states blocking, obscuring, moving out laterally, away from the whoosh, lingering fuguelike in light sleep

marl-58and then at the end, after his mind again begins to surface, wondering on how Tiny Tim got that star up there, and seeing that awful makeshift ladder of unstable chairs, and thought of that, in the back of his mind, and the touch of that star, associated with the touch of death,and so his mind surged upward in a dream dysfunction almost akin to sleep paralysis, to rise up from deep dream to static state just shy of consciousness, and hear that awful lament again haunt him, to then wake him, to be relieved to be awake, redeemed, alive

marl-59By its emphasis on Scrooge’s disgust with the touch of death, the flight of dreams is less helpful than in other versions, in fact might be construed as blockages, but then the version pulls one out of the hat with that bizarre detail of Tiny Tim’s ladder, and the star, which makes an associative nightmare connection with that dreaded touch from the haunting, and he surfaces, terrified, only to then be relieved to be awake and alive, for that to redeem. All in all, then, all these three versions oddly seemed to emphasize Marley, and how as a psychopomp he not only announced the dreams to Scrooge, but laid out the landscape or map of how the dream states would be navigated for specific dream redeeming purpose in each version. Great variations, with my treatment attempting to figure out why each version had its strengths and weaknesses.

The complicated migration of the Ugly Sweater Christmas of the Gen Xers: Making some peace with Disaster Christmas traditions.

rev., December 23, 2015.

Once upon a time, there was Christmas, a cult event in faith, it had the full array of celebration, or cult activity, worked out, the story of it including a cult figure, the baby Jesus, the intercessionary, the angels and shepherds, the gifts of the magi, being the votive, and then the promise of redemption the apotropaic aspect of the event. In modern society, that array of cult behavior was extended outward away from religious form to a secular form, but in that once upon a time it still only extended cult, and did not in any way upend or transpose it, with the baby Jesus replaced by Santa, intercession by the spreading of good cheer, magic gifts by present giving, and then home sweet home rituals to safeguard the house.

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In the context of the pure modern form of secular Christmas, the balance between the two forms of the event were even, and so the secular array took the form of an outer foyer entering into the assumed religious event beyond. That is, like ancient Egyptians, modern Americans elaborated upon the horizons of agency in and around the cult, and created a secondary form of the holiday. It was fairly innocent, and benign. Some folks complained for the “commercialization” of Christmas, but all they really meant was that most folks felt more comfortable keeping the day in the expanded field of the secular tokens of the day, as opposed to the church-oriented aspects of the day. This, of course, happened in America, at least, by 1920, and by `1960, in my childhood, when I kept “first Christmas,” that is, real Christmas, enlivened by a belief in the whole mythology of Santa Claus, this is how things were.

But it would appear that between 1965 and 1980, the secular aspect of the day began to be fixated on and expanded exponentially so that what previously existed as a nice vestibule formation leading to the deeper, true cult aspects of the day, reverted into a blockage, from which the entrant never exited out the other side, to ever get to actual Christmas. In simple language, that is, new agents entered the picture, fixated the holiday on the commercial aspects of it, and exploited those aspects to create for themselves a seasonal pretext to make more money. This exploitation not only fixated on Commercial Christmas, or Xmas, by did so by multiplying the basic ritual or cult elements through themselves, many times, creating some weirdly secular versions and elaborations of the day

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This note will not detail the developments of elaboration of the holiday that were developed in the 1960s-1980s, the period of my ‘second Christmas,” when Christmas became an obligation, and since by that point I also only saw it as an exploitation of the original more balanced holiday I had enjoyed in innocence as a kid, I wanted out from. In a famous basement rant, in 1979, I think, I vented my frustrated that “it’s like they want to keep me ten years old forever,” as the rituals of the day were fixed, same everything, just as before, and it seemed to be the expectation that I fit myself back into the roles demanded of those rituals, and behave with acquiescence, as if I was ten again. In my lament, however, I turned away from Christmas, I wanted another Christmas, or no Christmas at all (indeed, as late as 1986, I cancelled Christmas, I think I made my mother cry). That’s me on the right, adopting a counter-agentic, turning away from the immediately present fixated upon Christmas (acknowledging that given the place I was at the time in terms of the passage of life through the keeping of the day I could not see the forest of the original Christmas still there, behind the trees of commercial Christmas blocking all that out

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The most immediate result of adopting a counterposition to commercial Christmas was that I countered it by seeking to devise a counterreality, but, only in response to the exploitation of the holiday, therefore, only in relation to the exploitation arching over of it, in a counter reality that floated over the commercial. I will not go into detail of the contents of the CAC counterChristmas that I developed in the 80s, for example, but let’s just say it is a familiar redoubt, taken up by academically educated folk, who, having no contact with original Christmas, ie no kids, recover some of the originality of the holiday, but in commercial form, by, I think I did, 1) fancy dates and dinners, 2) giving jewelry like gifts to girl friends, 2) going to the movies, 3) looking at the Christmas windows, going out for lunch as part of that, all the “Christmas in New York” rituals which are entirely secular, a high culture version of the lowly form of original Christmas, which necessitates contact with the lore of Santa Claus. That is the content (without detailing it with research), of my counter-commercial-benign (because I really did like) Christmas.

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But I felt this benign feeling, trying to get back the magic of Christmas, because in my experience of Christmas, my parents did their job, and everything came out OK, I got what I wanted, and even got, one year, a Christmas present that changed my life, which is as it should be

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But I also acknowledge, according to the lore of popular movies, that there were others for whom secular Christmas did not work out. Their parents failed them, they failed to act as intercessionary voices to Santa Claus, failed to take on the mantel of SC, failed to listen to their kids and get them what they wanted, they failed at Christmas, and so the lore of the child who never got what he wanted for Christmas becoming bitter and angry and the like.

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It is out of this tradition, the negated counter-Christmas of the Christmas resentful, that a new form of Christmas emerged, Bad Christmas, or Nightmare Christmas, a place where going home for the holidays was not only a tense nightmare, but actually an arena in which to conduct the gladiator games of familial contretemps, a day for fighting, and feeling bad, and pressured, it was the Christmas where the fixation on the rituals, and outdoing last year, or others, turned it all negative, it was the Christmas where every ritual of the day, turned into something to wince at, corny, awful, outdated, ridiculous.

It is in this state that the negation of a counterChristmas is created. That counterChristmas would take two forms, psycho Christmas, or the Christmas entirely negated, on the logic of how weird it is to have a strange man come down your chimney in some perverse home invasion, and be able to possibly kill all your kids; or disaster Christmas, in which all one’s efforts to make Christmas work are for nought, everything goes bad, and the whole thing is just a disaster. Psycho Christmas is of course represented by Christmas horror movies, which is for another note; Disaster Christmas is epitomized by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), in which everything about the keeping of the holiday is an overpressured nightmarish disaster, except, that, Clarke Griswold is sentimental, sincerely, like me, trying to get back the old days, and, two, in his view, even with his overthetopness in terms of lights etc contributing to the disaster, he squeaks through at the end, and is able to declare, “I did it.” The working out of the details of Disaster Christmas will be done another time, but the whole catalog of disasters are right there in that movie. I now want to focus on one, to follow it out, to where Christmas is now: the ugly Christmas sweater.

In a note on the movie The Nest (1988) I noted that Robert Lansing wore a sweater that did not seem quite right. It was as if he has lost some of his personal agency, and someone else was dressing him up, not according to his style, but according to what works, and that was that. Then, when he turned into a zombie by the invading cockroaches, and walks in upon his daughter, defensive, she represents a young woman secretly hating taking care of her elder parent, and his sweater now has a life of its own as a symbol of the awful disconnect of him being dressed by others and having to live passively in the humiliation of being adorned by others’ ideas of what he wore in the past, in effect, turning him into a memorial effigy of whom he once was, a walking dead. And this anxiety was expressed by his chest bursting out of his sweater.

ugly-7The same effect occurred in terms of how men especially, especially of the golf set generation, with their Frank Sinatra sense of seasonal glamor, back from the war, dressed up for the holiday and ensured their buy in to it by a quick donning of a festive sweater. There was a time when ugly sweaters showed up and they were not considered ugly, they were beautiful, if jejune gestures, the man of the house deferring to the day, but doing so in a way with a whiff of insincerity, a bit much. You can see this unironic, but not quite entirely right sweaters in, for example, the Omen II

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Here’s another one (actually a “dickie” under a shirt, we thought our dad’s way of dressing up for leisure was so weird) (there are not yet christmasized, but they are at a country house, and the wardrobe item of the day was a “leisure looking” outfit, held down by a sweater).

ugly-9You can find theses sweaters all through the 60s and the 70s, they were sincere attempts to make for fun and festivity, by the man of the house giving in to the day in this quick easy allover way. A really good example of their appearance, rather late in the day, is in 1991’s Campfire Tales, where the sister in law of a killer wears a completey unironic and very ugly Christmas tree sweater

ugl-10And then, she even has her daughter wearing a pink Santa Claus sweater, both of them serving to increase the brother-killer’s sense that Christmas is crazy, and he is not in the spirit

ugly-11But this outing, in particular, suggests the first inkling of the turning of the ugly sweater from it’s happy innocent stage, to its horror stage, that is, a sign of Christmas curdling. Later on, when Krampus appears, his outfit is basically santa’s outfit, but it is rotten, and dirty, and green, an inversion of the normal covering of Santa in his good cheer red

ugly-12And, then, it is my conjecture, from later tellings, that as the ugly sweater became alienated from the person, and existed as an overlay over a person in a way that no longer represented him or her, but was draped over it to force compliance to some expectation of an ideal, it became as it were a trophy, an abstract depiction of the forced good cheer of the person. This, in fact, happens in this outing, with the wreathe on the door. When it is first seen, he hates it, it symbolizes the keeping of a holiday he does not care about, and wants over. And it represents the fact that the person who put it up there is still alive, and he wants her dead. It welcomes people in. But, later, an inversion, he gets the opposite, an attack at the door, the opposite of a wreathe, the mysterious four hard knocks on the door, and then on that welcoming votive, and inverted, ugly votive, a threat, a dirty green stocking filled with coal

ugly-13and then, when Krampus takes him all the way to the eye-for-an-eye equation of his act, he ends up as the very opposite of the wreathe, and the door, closing down, blocking out the holiday, a sacrificial trophy in revenge for bad deeds done. So, my thought is while ugly sweaters did not suffer this fate in this outing, they were on the verge of beginning to curdle in the same way

ugly-14It was only when that custom became tired and ersatz, and out of date, that fissures, according to my theory of migration of cultural forms across generations, began to open up and be wincable at to the younger generation. I do not recollect my dad ever donning an ugly sweater so it was not part of my complaint (but his Christmas music was, and then his Christmas tree habits). But, no doubt, others felt that way, as it was by the ugly sweater, which, as it began to grow more and more dated, began to makes the young kids wince. That is, it became part of the Disaster Christmas, and I am pretty sure there are a few of them in Christmas Vacation, and a few devices of horror, the uncle whose suit is on fire, the cat that spends its last ninth life, that vamp on the notion of wearing ugly furs for the holidays.

But, now, the Gen Xers toss a curveball. Rather than simply live in Disaster Christmas, they devised to Reverse Engineer a New Christmas using the currency of Disaster Christmas as the new square one, and start from there, thus, Reverse Engineered Disaster Christmas arrives, sometime in the early 21st century. The arrows multiply disaster Christmas through their memory of bad Christmas

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To create a Reverse Agency Christmas, making new positives out of the negatives before, but, not quite positive, because twice turned and therefore in a reverse counter agentic mindset that entails in its very nature of consciousness a turning away, a negation, a rejection, a sort of reconciliation, and then a putting on its side, or accommodating to the negative, to find the lemonade in the lemons, a sort of sarcastic, ironic, happy-sad, I’ll take what I can get Christmas, in other words, Ugly Sweater Christmas.

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Thus, the Ugly Sweater, which again this year, as for the last decade, continues to become the new complex square one unit of sarcastic-ironic-happy-sad-takethegoodwiththebad gowiththeflow findthepositiveelement of Christmas out of Disaster Christmas. It is an artifact of disaster Christmas, deep down it remains a hoot, something that once caused disgust, but now, as time passes, one has softened on, now one has a touch of nostalgia for, and so in order to be the ultimate hip cool ironic having your cake and eating it too Christmas guy, it is now absolutely di rigeur to don an ugly Christmas sweater, and as we see in recent photos of them, there are guys who still get that this is a migratory form, the embodiment in its knitting and design of “mixed emotions,” and so make sure that it remains somewhat ugly, there are others who (this even happened in Disaster Christmas), have dialed back on the ugliness and parade stylish retro sweaters that though classified as Ugly Sweater, so exploiting the cred of the ironic posture, really are just nice looking holiday sweaters, and then of course there remain the pure Disaster Christmas revelers who have to make it as ugly as possible, to remind the new square oners, living in their magic slate present, where ugly sweaters came from, and what they really mean. But in reverse counter agentic Christmas, the Christmas premised on the conventions of Disaster Christmas (Netflix mailings this year even graphically displayed Christmasy devices lifted directly from Christmas Vacation, the slamming together of the two extension cord plugs, the burnt tree, etc. etc.). This Christmas, I really don’t celebrate (though I did have my odd outings in recent years (the Burning Man Santa Christmases of 2009-2012, later on that), Ugly Sweater Christmas, but that’s ok, I’m not “in” the “in crowd” of the silly 40 year olds, I don’t share their limited purview of seeing only Disaster Christmas in their rearview mirror, I actually am old enough to remember how much I made fun of the sentimentality of the gentle clashing of commercial and original Christmas in old movies like White Christmas, which we laughed at through much of my childhood, until in my 40s I began to like it again. That is how Christmas is. In this note I simply wanted to again point out that the Ugly Sweater has held tough this year (today, a posting on yahoo of stars in their ugly sweaters, ugly sweaters featured as a device in the Friday night NBC comedy bar show, Meredith Viera doing her Christmas show in an ugly sweater, that stupid cooking show on ABC at noon too, The Chew, they are all over the place still), and in the mainstream of the so-called commercialization of Christmas, or rather, the Exploitation of Christmas by Commerce, we are in a period where Disaster Christmas elements abound, so much so that those seeking original but impossible to get at lost Christmas can only get there by way of (again, if they are not experiencing First Christmas keeping the day on behalf of kids under ten) holding forth in glorious sarcastic LOL INSANE SRSLY EPIC AMAZING STUNNING DROP THE MIC L8R Ugly Sweater Christmas.

Opening up Don’t Open til Christmas (1984): instrumentalizing strands of tinsel.

Rev. December 19, 2015.

The Christmas decorations in Don’t Open til Christmas, the 1984 British slasher, have remained in my mind as some of the very best examples of what I call incidental Christmas decoration in modern horror films. The notion is that since the movie is about turning the Christmas spirit upside down, incidental Christmas decorations represent a decadent don’t-give-a-shit world full of nasty, mean, nonobservers of the holiday who deserve to die. As such, then, the mere presence of incidental Christmas decorations bespeaks their fallen state, and acts as a (literal, in the case of tinsel) foil to the bleakness of the murderous proceedings. In two places, DOC has two of the best examples of incidental Christmas decorations on film, first, in the daughter’s flat, her father having been recently murdered at a Christmas party, this strange little tree, in a weird, round tinsel base

xdont-1And then, in her, not his flat, her very incidental Christmas decorations, first, just in the door, one strand, in one case, vertically hung

xdont-2And then on her lamp, by the phone, a wonderfully incidental draping

xdont-3But, the thing is, when I watched this movie for the first time, my model of what constituted incidental as opposed to some more instrumentalized, was flat, and not fully developed, and my sense of how movie art directors make use of visual devices to underscore in three dimensions every nuance of the plot was not yet entirely keen, because now I see that, in fact, these bits of tinsel strand are NOT incidental at all, they are all but instrumental, or, if not entirely that, certainly play a supporting role in suggesting the instrumentation of the murders in the movie. What this means is that they have to be placed in the context of other elements in the movie, and go from there. Returning then to the strange tiny table tree by the grieving daughter, it is to be noticed, now, that it shares the frame not only with depleted, too depressed to move daughter, but also with a large houseplant, evidencing danger, and, even more incredible, making this a trifecta shot of secret alarm, a Roman bust, indicating that the boyfriend may in fact be suspect, even though he turns out to be the red herring

xdont-4what this complex means is that the Christmas decoration partakes of the meaning of the houseplant and the Roman bust, and represents both an element of danger and a sense of suspicion, in other words, both, dovetailed into a generic symbol of the investigation moving forward. That is, in this movie, the incidental strand of Christmas decoration in fact represents the chain of events and the trail of breadcrumbs eventually, in this Christmas-based drama, leading to the solving of the puzzle.

But, now, two broader aspects of the situation frame this use, and they appear to be cultural. For one thing, it would appear that, due its relentlessly Puritan tradition, iconography in British decorations is repressed, in favor of more abstract decorations. Most of the Christmas decorations in the movie consist merely of strands of lights or tinsel, as, for example, on Harrod’s

xdont-5in the malls

xdont-6and then this translates down, in trickle down form, to a lining or outlining in tinsel being all that is required or even desired of Christmas decoration, such as at this fancy restaurant,

the entryway reframed at a Christmas partyxdont-7the entryway reframed at a Christmas party

xdont-8Where santa appears

xdont-12-aaround a mirror in a dressing room

xdont-10and even just at the side of a backdrop for an erotic photo shoot

xdont-11what this means is that the Brits, at the time, only needed to reframe the everyday in a frisson of tinsel, and that was enough. The added outlining given things by its glitter, and its movement, was sufficient to alter the state of mind. As a device, such simple outlining of the existing infrastructure would be an example of static imagination, just slightly altering the visuality of the everyday, to incite a slightly higher level of interest. That means that we are in a state, here, in the middle of a crime wave , but only as a static adding electricity to the scene, and not as an alternative reality (and people involved are being constantly reminded that others are in the state). Therefore, it may be that the strand of tinsel was considered a bit more than usual, and a bit more importantly interpreted, in Britain, than in my first appraisal, because it is part of this general enlivening, this stained-glass windowing of time and space during the holiday.

But, if all that remains at an incidental level, the fact that the tinsel also seems to be related to the daughter, Briosky, instrumentalizes it in a a limited way. This goes back, again, to that original shot, the lesser form of going all for Christmas being the decorative equivalent to her depleted state, her father having been recently murdered. Then too, in collusion with the Roman bust, suspicion is transmitted through the strand of tinsel to her too, and she is rather dicey and unclear in her comings and goings in the movie

xdont-12This then is even more deeply connected with her in her confrontation, rather humorous, with a professional nude model, rebuffing a suggestion that she too get in the buff to shoot, and the bare boob of the model is compared, why otherwise would it be added to the scene, to the scarf tossed around her neck, and that scarf is then linked to the strands of tinself behind her. Meaning that in addition to what the strands meant up to this point, they also now represent her mental knots and her confused ins and outs trying to work it all out.

xdont-13When she is away from being related directly to the property of strands of tinsel decoration, that scarf is something of her calling card. In this shot, as she had another odd encounter with the inspector, with an implication that something inappropriate is developing between them, she is outside at a flea market, but, still, here too, the landscape in back of her spells trouble down the road for her, marks her (the strand of the tinsel then also anotyping rhyming with the strand of tinsels).

xdont-15We also first get a view of that amazing lamp display, with a blue strand of tinsel draped or rather looped a few times over it, when she is on another line, this time a telephone line, an obsolete property in film, but, in 1984, very much an indicator of a character finding wiggle room in the crawlspaces of telephone communication with others. Notice to how she holds her hand and her head, they visually rhyme with that blue sunshine tinsel strand

xdont-16As she seeks contact with one inspector, and then comes more and more in contact with the deputy inspector who is beginning to suspect the other, and as she accidentally finds out from a loose lipped maid of the other inspector’s visit to an insane asylum, and him being taken off the case, she becomes more and more entangled in the complications of the drama. For this reason, her apartment becomes, in fact, the main exchange place of the plot, the center of action, and of climax, so it is fitting that her threshold is festooned with strands, oddly placed (also loosely hung, as if indicating loose ends, and red herrings going nowhere)

xdont-17the inspector is signified as one involved in the suspicions and complications in this shot

xdont-18and then the nature of their complicated conversation, not really going anywhere, with all the loops (including a strand apparently draped over what looks like a purely industrial picture)

xdont-19When the deputy gets up to leave, and puts on his hat, none the wiser for their talk, his confusion is accented by the strands, and extras, in the chandelier

xdont-20A very weird bit of Christmas decoration that I just cannot make out

xdont-21that lamp ending their engagement, expressive of all the loose ends and loops and confusions left between them

xdont-22So, for all this, these are by no means, incidental decorations, they are properties with an almost instrumentalized purpose to signal silently on screen that what you seeing and hearing is complication, but, somehow, suspicions and confusion swirling in particularly around her. It is almost as if at times this decoration is her totemic leitmotiv which signals her presence. But then things get more involved. She is at home again, this time, apparently, just after a shower, only in her robe. In this shot, she must be waiting for a call, because the blue loop on the lamp over the phone is pronounced, and in a state of being all to pieces, as indicated by that particularly depleted draping of a single strand on the back wall

xdont-24but now the murderer breaks into her apartment, and confronts her, and he is holding….a strand of decoration, their exchange is framed by it too

xdont-25the loops of the strand on the wall now, on second thought, adding to the folds of her robe, indicating that she is naked under it, and therefore, vulnerable and exposed (no shower sequences in this one, this is as close as we get), they represent in their depletedness in this particular state and moment, her vulnerability

xdont-26and then as she grabs for the cord of the phone, he USES A STRAND OF TINSEL as the murder weapon, to strangle her

xdont-27then, even more amazingly, clearly realizing that somehow her involvement in the case and her probing in to the connection between him and his brother, has lead to this moment, and that the blue strand on her lampshade is the totem and trophy of her her cognitions about the case, he removes that very blue strand, and tosses on her body, as a final insult of ‘this is where all your thinking on the case has gone”

xdont-28then the deputy comes by and finds her and now her body is as depleted as the silver strand, not seen before, on the table below, and the total abjection of the blue strand, and his phone cord, is made apparent in her dead body lay out

xdont-29and why would this connect to the killer, and the idea arise to make of that strand a murder weapon. There is a suggestion in this shot, as tinsel is linked to a pyramid device made of metal, a candle version of a Christmas pyramid where if you light a candle the heat will cause the wheels to spin

xdont-30this then links up to the burning Santa device at the beginning of the movie, a candle

xdont-31

to the fact that he does in fact, fixated Freudianlly on the trigger of santa claus outfits, murder in form to the tinsel framing, as here

xdont-32and even now by fire

xdont-33this then links up to the fact that as the movie progresses he has to break out of the purely symbolic freudian formula of razors used against santas, to actually do some killing of nonsantas, to protext his psychosis from being found out, and he starts with Briosky, then electrocutes the deputy, and then, after having entrapped the peep show girl, he takes a chain against her, and a chain of course is held pretty much in the same way as he held that tinself against Briosky

xdont-34indeed, the final sequence, in which he is vanquished by the pragmatism of the world, the girl who is practical, no problem if guys want to pay her five pounds for her to show them her tits, it is a veritable symphony of ominous, terrorizing chain play, and then in a classic psycho wormwhole formation of the spiral stair where here too all form is contracted into a run-on chain of railing, all of it indicating madness, and then when they have a battle up top it is by a yank on his chain that she sends up over, to fall to his death

xdont-35And then the punchlines, as we find out that he was out to kill santas because when he was a child at a Christmas party he caught his mother getting well and truly fucked by a guest dressed as santa, and the trim as it profiled her spread legs, and his not exactly knowing what was going on, then the santa lashing out, to knock his babysitter with her hairy armpts down the stairs, all of it stems then from the trim on santa’s outfit as it relates to visions of dicks menacing the trim of spread female legs, and goes from there

xdont-36This formation here, in close up, being the deep structure source of the triggering power of a loop or strand of tinsel to rile him up

xdont-37and that’s that. Though the movie has layered in over on top, on the explicit level of its doings, a whole series of vignettes with standalone, and apparently exploitatiional quality, and though it has pure exploitational vignette aspects that read on the surface as pure distraction from the plot and its doings, deep down in the structure of the flow of the movie, the tinsel strand, which at first looked purely incidental, not only comes to represent the suspicions and ins and outs of the investigation, the nature and part played by Briosky, symbolized by her apartment decorations, the complications of final complications she has with the deputy, and then with the murderer, and then even his murder weapon, and finally a signifier of his whole way of menacing, it’s quite surprising, the innocuous tinsel strand in Don’t Open til Christmas, the strands that keep the box closed, unravelling and being opened throughout the running of the movie, turn out to have been deeply instrumentalized as an important and consistent visual clue as to what was going on in the movie.

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World plays Trump’s (Her’s and Our) Worst Nightmare in Make America Great Again video.

Dec. 6, 2016.

Since I more or less consider the members of Pussy Riot artists, and not rock stars, and also have for mneumonic purposes nicknamed all the women artists coming out of Eastern Europe, and the Ukraine, the Pussy Riot artists, it is amusing to me that in the immediate wake of the HRC-Trump election outcome Nadya Tolokonnikova ends up as the primary advisor on what might happen down the road. Of course, NT has paid her dues, so she is not a rookie, or a dilettante, she spent two years in Russian jail for hooliganism, and when she was pregnant she did not stint from engaging in another protest by stripping naked and letting another protestor fuck her from behind on tape (a tape ridiculously online called a “sex tape’). In other words, she has the stuff. But these days she also has another problem, and that files in under the rubric I have given her in my mythology, I suppose to hold over her head the constant danger, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World (which, in my view, though, she is), the minute the Pussy Riot girls came West, they got the star treatment, there is a lot of money behind them, they give talks everywhere, get the rock star treatment on panels and at art openings, and, of course, Western media wants to glam them up and, in the case of NT, turn her into a sexy fashion icon. Sometimes NT, realizing that tempus fugit when it comes to her body and her image, accommodates (flaunt it while you got it), and gets sexy, but at other times she resists this “objectification.”

But on October 28, this past year, she put out a really good video. I more or less look at all Pussy Riot’s videos and in recent times they have not been so good. But Make America Great Again (2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-bKFo30o2o, is good for several reasons, not all of them entirely happy. For one thing, the video is premised on a view of Trump that is entirely a creation of the liberal opponents during the campaign, a bogeyman who WILL build the wall, who WILL deport all immigrants, who WILL create a Muslim registry, and all that. His words were taken as magical, said was done. Who knows, maybe he will. But the way in which the liberal media responded to the idiotic musings of your ridiculous uncle at the Thanksgiving table and made everything he said into a reality in my view was an act of cultural ostension whereby a legend or words is turned into a new reality by the participation of people in fear (it is for this reason, and measuring behavior both left and right, that I claim that the election of 2016 was, itself, a case of mass hysteria and mass delusion, which could easily be filed into Mackay’s history of such manias, and a clear example to me that the level of civilization in the US has dropped to near mob mentality again). The Trump of the election, then, consists of 1) stupid things he has said about women; 2) stupid things he has said about immigrants; 3) his Make America Great Again slogan, which was memed to death, and then undead idiocy; 4) jokes and lampoons on his hair, with wigs etc; and 5) the joke of him appearing as piñata in real life by Mexicans responding to his initial antiimmigrant statements way back in February, and then by the artist Rachel Harrison in June making use of pinatas in, I think, the very best work of contemporary art from the election period. All of these conventions of the campaign are played off of by NT. But, then, she swings around over that her own recurring issue of how much to self-objectify her body to claim a “my body, my choice” ethos and mesh it with DT objectification, and then swings around back of that a second time, going way back to her initial problems in Russia, she reimagines the new Trump presidency not as a presidency in the conventional sense, but as a new regime, but a new power boss, on the Russian model, likely based on her being appalled at the dance that Trump and Putin played during the election, which also fomented the urban legend that Russian hackers directed by Putin somehow lead to the undercounting of the vote, for which reason the recounts are being made right now (based on an urban legend). For all of this, the video is a remarkable instant time capsule, encapsulating in it not only all the general memes of the election, but NT’s closeness to a major issue in the campaign, and then all of that folded in the arms of her own personal body politics.

And I suppose I will start there. Trump was repeatedly criticized during the campaign for past expressions of anti-women remarks. Most of it was locker room talk (at first), and just real world how men of not great couth talk about women most of the time, but not in public or mixed company (though sometimes in that). Still, it all came up, to create a theme. I thought it was all entirely a red herring, as it seemed to play only to shore up HRC’s woman’s vote, which I thought was a lock (it turned out not to be so much),when in my view the emphasis should’ve been on grabbing some purple vote (white men tending toward Trump, pulling them back over to HRC). I also saw it all (and all ad hominem attacks) however as a distraction from the major issues, which were, to me, that he has no experience in government, lacking that he will rule by business custom, and this will lead to enormous conflict of interest and disqualification of his administration from governance, leading to impeachment, paralysis and Pence (all of which as an issue covered in the press only seemed to come to light with a wan oh, yeah, AFTER the election was over—well, you made your bed). But then in mid-October came the “grab ‘em by the pussy” bombshell, which went far beyond locker room talk, and seemed to concede that he was not just talk, but he actually engaged in sexual abuse, and I truly thought for about a 72 hour period the explosion of the word “pussy” into the mainstream media coverage was such a shocking event it might’ve brought the campaign down (the truest moment of the whole campaign was CNN reporter Brianna Keillor actually blushing on air to actually have to find a polite way to refer to private parts). And then came what I hoped would be a Bill Cosby level of revelations of other gropings, I was hopeful, I fully exploited the moment……and then it stopped, and it all went away. So, bringing this up on October 28 was a bit tin ear for NT but it works in the video because she materializes the words AS torture brands branded directly into the skin. She places herself and her body in the firing line, and it is the one that is stamped as OUTSIDER

nady-1she plays a reporter reporting on body protests

nady-2and then brings her stripped body into the picture as she imagines herself arrested at a protest, then hauled in by the cops, all in Trump wigs, and then strip searched, and maltreated in sexist abusive ways

nady-3then she is branded for her body image (though NT does not have that problem, to get trumpy about it)

nady-4then after court, she is taken back to jail, presumably convicted, and branded again for being a PERVERT, which I assume means lesbianism, though I this sort of rhetoric was not part of the US campaign though likely derives from Russian origins in trying to police sexuality

nady-5later in jail, the camera gives her body a full on top to bottom body lick, and NT gives us a bit of purposeful nipple slip wardrobe malfunction

nady-6then behind jail bars, and, in this, here again the outside-looking-in view of the foreign perspective equates America with the America projected in Old South speedtrap exploitation movies where girls are indeed brought into jails and raped, she is stripped, and presumably raped by the cop, only showing here, but it is enough, and, alas, very sexy, her underpants being pulled down, and down…very far before breaking away

nady-7and then we see her in the suffering saint deposition pose in jail, with a toilet behind, reminding us that this very sexy body is in for some very opposite-of-sexy body maintenance issues inside (this clinical ew! corresponding to generational rupophobia regarding bodies superceding prior erotophobia, sex now seeming to many no biggee)

nady-8this body theme doubles down again at the end when she is in another impersonation as a woman who needs an abortion, and she is carried in in a highly sexualized way (with a crotch shot here)

nady-9and then put up in the stirrups, but, then, rather than get her abortion, the doctor politicizes the event by branding her in her lower stomach area NO ABORTION, and then something happens by which she is beaten and killed, ending up laid out on the floor

nady-10and then zipped up into a body bag

nady-11

there are, then, a few things that are conflicted here, projecting onto the American scene the much more polarized views of Russian politics. One, her use of her own body, and in other roles too, creates of the whole proceeding what might be called a narcissistic mirroring experience (the classic example of the dreamer being audience and performance is in Oscar Levant’s fantasy in American in Paris), and for that could be called self involved, but it is also possible that she got this idea from Bakhtin, whom she mentioned she is reading, as this sort of masquerade may well be an element of the kind of carnivalesque-pantomime way of communicating that he writes about (I don’t want to get into now). I, however, did not pick up any egotistic cult vibes here, as one might in a Beyonce video, where adoration of Beyonce kind of sucks the air out of any issue she is trying to address, no, rather, NT offers herself up as the sacrificial lamb, for her to symbolically enact her sacrifice, imagining her horrors at what might happen to her, a young woman with a strong ”my body, my choice” ethos, which, while pre-1990 might have been sex-negative, but post-2000 is highly sex-positive (this might be changing again in the context of neo-rape culture analysis), in which the use of sexuality and one’s body to get one’s way in the male world is by a counterargument against original sex-negative feminism used as tool of control over men, allowing then women to bring the sex to the very edge of self-exploitation, but still insist (and at the edge it all does get a bit have your cake and eat it to) that men not respond to their self-objectification in an objectifying way. It may make response to the video conflicted, as, again, she is offering herself up as sacrifice, to walk a mile in others shoes, to imagine what might happen to her, or any of her friends, but she remains NT, the Most Beautiful Women in the World, so she remains enticing, and how this plays out, it is unclear. The other thing is that her vision is quite bleak, and pessimistic. At the end, it is the end

nady-12and this pessimism, while for me, imaginging oneself in a body bag, talk to me Nadya

nady-13but this might turn off some more idealistic liberal voices in America, especially now in the ideal-reactionary period of let’s overturn the decision. At present, I am going to argue that though she toys with her own cult, she by and large gets free of it in a well-shot and worked out horror story scenario in which she plays the representative sacrificial victim, she taking on the pain, so that other women can vent, and perhaps feel, for the moment, safe.

But, then, just as there is a strip down in the video, there is also a dress up. This is a quite interesting in-between space. Notice that her underpants (not panties) are stamped on the crotch, Make America Great Again (also whispering funny subtexts, ie that was great, again, please)

nady-14and then on the back of her underpants is the familiar and rather famous pile of stinking shit meme of Trump that began to circulate amongst those believed Trump could be lampooned to defeat in May or June (I always thought this jocular approach was seriously flawed, grounded as it was in pre-March disbelief in his campaign as a big joke, whereas after he became the front runner in March, it was time to TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY, and yet the jocular approach staggered on into the Fall, even NOW!, helplessly)

nady-15This suggests a strange transvestism. She is adorning herself with protest underpants. I suppose in the raw physical dynamics of this, she clothes herself in the enemy’s contentions in order to hold them close, to remind her of the danger, but then to turn them away, then also to make of her everyday actions in matter of body and sex a walking protest (the comparable device, though not comparable event, are people injured politically, who bear their mark forever after as a reminder, and the showing of concentration camp brand numbers on survivors arms is I guess the clearest example of a brand turned into a kind of forlorn badge of honor). This, however, is verbal-sartorial armor, and not a terrible idea (at present, though, I can’t think of that many examples of sartorial armoring in this way in real life: I mean, when people protest they say protest things in signage, but then on their bodies wear pro-their-position words, to wrap themselves up in their issue, and protect their body out that way. Rarely, my impression is at the moment, do you see a person adorn oneself in the armor of the others’ taunts).

Then this “clothes play” corresponds to, and flips us over to, the verso side of the video, which is interspersed throughout the arrest scenario, of NT playing the part of the very people who are arresting her, and then, at the top of the chain, DT himself. In her mummery along these lines, she makes use of a Trump wig, which she wears rather fetchingly, and then clothing, in the mode of the superfan over the top about Trump to such an extent that they would wear theme-support clothing, which is a cult act; and the DT himself wrapping himself up in the American flag, so he has patriotic clothing too. She has a thing for socks, really, quite remarkable. The woman getting the abortion, played by her, was wearing Trump socks when she died

nady-16then the head cop is proudly brandishing her Trump socks

nady-17later a judge, again played by NT, is showing off her long leather boots, identifying her as a sadist

nady-18and then NT as Trump also wears an American flag tie (they could’ve done better with this)

nady-19and also has quite create Trump red and blue make up, love the blue lips, and then NT’s Trump also wears Trump socks (here reversing the stirrup position to play the man with the all-encompassing manspread crotch who will grab all pussies into him

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(an interesting sidenote is that while ‘grab ’em by the pussy” was an election meme, NT is the only person I am aware of who linked it up to the “crotchgrabbing” meme of popular culture going back to Michael Jackson, here she is, ah, grabbing her pussy

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I have to concede, the “sock thing,” as it might be called, is a bit odd. I am not entirely sure where it might come from. Possibly a cheerleader motif, possibly related to the proliferation of holiday socks for those folks who like to unwind on carpeted floors in a festive way, a symbol of ultimate cult worship, it is unclear. At present since in most cases the socks are shown in moments of power or death, on bodies either soliciting sex in illegal ways or dead, I will relate at present all the sock play in NT’s video to the original all American image of the wicked witch of the East, identified by only her socks, as a sign of death, fear of walking through all the shit, possibly a foot fetish, possibly an insult to DT’s sexual proclivities in a lick my boot or kick my feet thing, it is unclear, but I interpret it here as an insult. In the Wizard of Oz, too, the witch is dead, but the Ruby slippers are there

nady-21But then the magic is done, and they are gone, and when gone, the feet, only in socks, curl up and wither in under the house, in this context then socks represented unshod of shoe and of the power emitted by shoes, a trope of helplessness

nady-22

but then in addition to masquerading as her self-torturers in the garb of the other, NT (and the art directors or video directors to whom she said, sure, ok) decides to overlay on her sartorial critique of overly intense personality cult paternalistic-patriotism verging on fascist hero worship (which is a pretty accurate way to describe Trump support during the campaign), the Russian idea that this is not just a change of administration but a change of regime, the police have red armbands

nady-23In the courts, there is a new seal, the Trump seal, and new flags, red, the Trump flag

nady-24Trump seal and Trump flag usurps the stars and stripes in the Oval too

nady-25what I especially like about the Oval set up is that there is no attempt to set up the actual Oval the way the Oval looks, but the new Oval of the Trump regime is represented as this hole in the wall in a rented out office in some dingy office building, it exudes a sense of lack of legitimacy, and falseness, I love the bad paneling, the institutional drab-green wallpaper, the “we got to put something up” improv nature of the wall hangings, and then the black couches, which makes it all seem like a waiting area for a line of people coming for handouts, even the phony globe is funny, it is nicely cast (houseplant alert to in the corner, warning, trouble to come). This is a Russian idea, and it adds a strong zest to the video. At the same time, it is common movie trope, as ever since Hitler movies have been devising various regime signage systems, of flags and symbols, to convey the totalitarian nature of the new regime. And, in thinking of ways in which president NT-as-DT will rule, NT and director plumb the depths of this critique by going all the way back to Charlie Chaplin playing with a world beachball in The Dictator (strangely enough this week the world is shocked that DT called Taiwan, breaking diplomatic protocol going back to 1979, which means, yes, the world is just his playground, based on his understanding of it by way of his business dealings)

nady-26there is hardly even need to quote this source, but it is interesting that while Chaplin has a sort of comic ballet with the world ball, NT is playing with it more as a beachcomber looking out for sunning possibilities, slight change of tone

nady-27And Chaplin also had a host of regime change signs (though the extent to which this is an effective critique, given what was actually happening in Europe, and what it took to get Hitler out, is another whole question, it is art, not politics)

nady-28

So, the whole regime change thing works nicely here, it is an effective device. I, of course, always interesting in the extra hints being dropped by the art on the wall, wonder what is on the wall, and what IS in that picture on the right?

nady-29I guess I am going to say it is a black and white picture of an early atomic bomb test, bringing up the whole finger on the button critique of Trump (which never scored many points with the public, all that threat is too remote in time for most people), but as a picture on a wall of a man proud of his meetings with dignitaries and deeds it signifies that the new regime is proud of its bomb, and might just use it. As a picture, it speaks to older movies like Seven Days in May (1964)

nady-30as would the golf club, when it really did seem as if the presidency was the only thing between the world and atomic bomb destruction (the fact that DT has now appeared to nominate for the cabinet several actual military personnel suggests that once upon a time he watched this movie and maybe cheered for the other side

An interesting tangent on the notion that she or her director thought about, if only a bit, what might hang on the wall of an even a hole in the wall impromptu Oval echoes on a micro-outrage or tweetstorm teapot tempest when Norman Rockwell’s granddaughter wondered if Obama had not moved Rockwell’s Liberty to troll (but I think the correct term is photobomb) Trump during the first awful postelection meeting

nady-31

I took about five minutes on google for me to figure out that, no, the picture had been in the Oval since 2011, and it had hung over by the desk, and exploited for lots of corny president is thinking photos

nady-33and then was recently moved to the other side of the room, where it hosted other figures, before Trump

nady-34so, no, it was not purposely, for that visit, moved to troll Trump (my joke though was that the mic boom gave voice directly to Washington in his portrait, so he says something, then falls off the wall, a terrible omen). But, it does indicate, and this is an area of some interest, the art that hangs in the Oval is often deemed to be political in nature: and NT decided that in the Trump regime, it will be proud pictures of atomic bomb blasts. But, then, getting back to Seven Days in May, DT’s rhetoric does at times sound a lot like that of Burt Lancaster as the treasonous general attempting a military coup (I saw the movie again in late September and it gave me chills, as I do, but not in a military way, think of this election as a coup of sorts, the fact that it has now gone military is more worrisome still), and since election he has appointed military personnel to key cabinet posts.

Anyways, but now NT comes round the desk, as the power man will, usually to “speak frankly” and get down to some dirty business, and she struts her own power

nady-19and then she begins act two of her exercise of power, she whacks a piñata, it is an actual Trump piñata, a relic from the actual campaign

nady-36it is interesting that when this effigy of DT is brought out, she, in this cut shot, from another sequence of shooting, adorns a glitter version of her own effigy persona, as a masked memory of Pussy Riot (and the use of their masks were so novel when they first emerged, it became their trademark, odd). Now, this relates directly to my coverage of the campaign by way of FB by my favoring of Rachel Harrison’s “situation” at Naftali Greene Gallery in June

nady-37

I thought this was a terrific installation, then, the odd thing is, the pictures seemed to tell a story that echoed, for me, on Citizen Kane trashing Susan’s room after she leaves him (in which he really does tear the place up, I guess I was projecting what I would do, but also aware of the warningfilled subtext that this is exactly what Trump will do with the world vis a vis the Oval, tear it up)

nady-38Here is the link to the related piece, this relation, in fact, prompted this note

https://rjamahoney.wordpress.com/2016/08/01/rachel-harrisons-more-news-at-greene-naftali-art-as-roadkill-in-a-chaotic-america-june-18-2016/

But while Harrison is compelled by the decorum of conceptual installations in the art world to leave the destruction of the pinatas to your imagination, or, as I put it in my review-musing, to imagine that bat beating fibred into your very gaze, NT can go at it with the golf club, and knock the shit out of it, head to head this feels awfully good, I am sure it made NT feel really good

nady-39the whacking of the piñata also resulted in the whacking over of the two lamps the new prez had ersatzly plunked down on his temporary don’t-get-used-to-it desk and in movies as I have documented time and again a knocked over lamp means, time for chaos

nady-40even better, but not exactly a new idea, is that the piñata turns out to be filled with money. Alas, they missed a money shot here, ala the Sopranos Andrew Jackson bullseye on Christopher’s mother’s frig (episode, For All Debts Public and Private)

nady-41of the bill coming Jackson first, contrasted to the destroyed Trump, and the Pussy Rioter rioting against men

nady-42but now the best part, the carpet of the Oval comes into play, after whacking the piñata, she gets down and wrestles with it

nady-49And then at least picking up on a warning I was trying to get ppl to pay attention to, he is a businessman, all he knows how to do is cut deals, in business, it is about money, but in a government context, not knowing procedure, so end-arounding with a business strategy, also mentioning money, the whole thing is going to turn into a corrupt mess, a patron passing out thanksgiving turkeys (or pinatas filled with money to his subservient voters). The money dance is an old movie device too, though no scene at the moment comes to mind (usually a mobster tossing stolen money all over his woman sprawled out on a motel bed)

nady-44and then, act three, it being a bit confusing in these cutaway mixing ins of different takes, she is dressed as DT, but wears the Pussy Riot mask (your own worst nightmare), but then in this sequence on the Oval carpet she strikes the sexy beast pose, imitating polar bear rugs on floors, but sexily crawling toward you

nady-45just like her many predecessors, like Bridget Bardot (in Contempt)

nady-46Women in the modern period (pre 1980) were often associated with bear rugs in movies, here is an example from Valerie’s Week of Wonders (1968)

nady-47it equates them to natural creatures, irrational, etc etc., and the rug to a trophy too (possible trope going back to lore of Cleopatra’s delivery to Caesar) so this pose is doubly amusing for animalizing the seal eagle of the sacred Oval rug as just another bear rug to some folks and the weird thing is this too is another sly warning and critique of the star system and cult worship that has crept into our treatment of the presidency. At one point just after the election Aaron Sorkin the creator of West Wing, which began the tv fetishizing and cultification of the Oval, wrote a letter to his son trying to explain why the cultural dimension and trend that he touched off has lead to us electing a reality star (no, really, he wrote the letter in shock, but…he’s the man who started all this!). Now we have Scandal, Madam Secretary, VEEP, House of Cards, it’s like the Oval is the ultimate star place, and here is NT having her turn as sexy prez to wow us all, it is funny and, as everything in this video, smart. And it seems, from this, that Nadya too gazes confusedly on Americanisher TV and wonders, as I do, every Thursday night when Scandal is on, “what the FA-UCK is the matter with people who need to see the Prez getting it on in the Oval? I mean what KIND of person gets turned on by a White House humping?” Maybe we are buying all this “loneliest job in the world” crap, and sighing, aw, let’s get him some Oval booty (one dreads even suggesting that “the oval” and the other V word of this era, vagina, have strangely fused in the darkest corners of the tabloid imagination, forcing us to unconsciously elect Symbolic Alpha Males to “fuck that shit” every four years—I know the rationalists like to call it “sexism” but it goes deep); maybe, the President has in the 21st century become our tacit king (or, in Obama’s case, Saint), and we need some romance in the royal family story. It is a mystery, and possibly rooted in the Clinton scandal of “not have sex with that woman” that happened in the Oval a long time ago (news culture of course pathologically denies the influence of entertainment culture on politics today, but, hello, fellow Shondalanders, country just elected a reality star as president, paying attention please). Anyway, NT in one crawl slyly parodying all this is fun too

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Thus, the Oval dance part of this video, with three acts, posturing power at the desk, the attack of the Pinata filled with money, and the sexy beast crawl, is a quite well-done ballet of critique of Trump from all sides of the issue, it is fun. I am not 100% certain that the accentless voice throughout the video is NT’s, she sings it ok, the song is ok, but as a political pantomime video there is little question that in this effort the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, Nadya Tolokonnikova, representing Pussy Riot, acted out a terrific  warning war dance of the troubles to come, and maybe even a whole pantomime that is so manysided and twisted it could be described as a “pussy riot” (discuss, what would that be?). This is a woman who was jailed for hooliganism (i.e. protest), she is no mere mercedes-benz radical, she is the real thing, maybe we should listen. Since almost no notice was taken of this video in the public arena during the final days of the campaign (the video apparently was only exposed to the art world at Basel Miami, reports of which is where I first saw it), I have to say it did not make its mark in the immediate record of the campaign, but it remains nonetheless a terrific retrospective record of all the tropes of the Trump election and for that an emblematic document of the time as well as a very solid and artful video.