Propaganda of individual success (was: Pecunia non olet?)

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at
Thu Jun 18 11:28:33 PDT 1998

At 09:15 AM 6/18/98 -0400, Dan Lazare wrote:
>What do vague generalizations like these mean? What do you mean by
>"Americans"? American workers? American capitalists? Actually, Americans
>have long romanticized failure as well as success. Westerns, to cite just
>example, have long celebrated the loser/drifter and denigrated the middle-
>class townie. Hard-boiled detective fiction, I understand, does the same.

I reply (WS): That is simply not true. The genre you are talking is a more subtle variant of the propganda of success, the "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" variety. It simply says that:

(a) being down and out is not as bad as it might seem - the protagonits might be out of luck and struggling, but they are still happy campers and free (that magic f-word of bourgeois ideology), and

(b) it is only temporary, for the opportunities are awaiting - all those shows have a happy ending, the protagonist getting the money and the girl, no?

Lest you argue that all popular shows have a happy ending, so all are propaganda of success by definition, let me point out to the counterfactual - that 'happy ending' does not have to mean 'individual success" i.e. getting the girl and the money. It may involve a subsumption of individual success into a larger collective effort, a narrative device sometimes used in Soviet cinematography with greater or lesser success.

A perfect example is the show "I am Cuba" - perhaps one of the most brilliant critiques of bourgeois cinematography. The film essentially shows a series of 'individual stories' in the standard bourgeois convention as individuals who were wronged by an evil force (the Batista regime). Yet, in a brilliant departure from the bourgeois story-telling, all those episodes do not have a closure - the closure comes only in the film's finale showing a battle with the Batista's forces. And that 'happy ending' shows the victory of a collective effort that subsumes, in a sense, individual sufferings and successes.

I think you can find a somewhat similar theme in Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" - where the protagonist is history itself, and individuals are simply carried or cast away by it - as symblized by the famous scene of a baby stroller rolling down the stairs.

The only US- film I can think of as showing failure without any redeeming qualities is Solondz's "Welcome to the Dollhouse" - a brilliant show, but recieved with considerable hostility by the public. Perhaps "Safe" - showing disintegration of an individual as a result of 'environmental disease" would fit into the same category - again the film was pretty much hated by the public on all sides of the political spectrum.

But other than that, perhaps 99.9% of all films made in the US can safely fit into the 'individual success" propaganda model. And I think the Americans are fed with that manure ad nausam - to the point that most of them do not know any better.



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