Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Top It Off in 2010

Ten EPs

1. Balam Acab- See Birds EP

2. Blondes- Touched EP

3. Raime- Raime EP

4. LA Vampires and Zola Jesus-LA Vampires and Zola Jesus

5. James Blake- CMYK EP

6. James Blake- The Bells Sketch EP

7. Pariah- Safehouses EP

8. Various Artists- Let Me Shine For You

9. oOoOO- oOoOO EP

10. Milton Bradley- The Unheard Voice from Outer Space EP

Twenty Albums

1. Emeralds- Does it Look Like I'm Here?

2. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti- Before Today

3. Arp- The Soft Wave

4. El Guincho- Pop Negro

5. High Places- High Places Vs Mankind

6. Seven Fields of Aphelion- Periphery

7. Sun Araw- On Patrol

8. John Roberts- Glass Eights

9. Mark McGuire-Living With Yourself

10. Traversable Wormhole- Vol 1-5

11. Flying Lotus- Cosmogramma

12. Various Artists- Numbers 1

13. Four Tet- There is Love in You

14. Kanye West- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

15. Scuba- Triangulation

16. Oneohtrix Point Never- Returnal

17. Monolake- Silence

18. Stellar Om Source- Trilogy Select

19.Pantha Du Prince- Black Noise

20. Altered Natives- Tenement Yard Vol 1

Fifty Singles
1. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti- Round and Round
2. Jam City- Ecstasy Refix
3. Balam Acab- See Birds (Moon)
4. Starkey- Stars
5. Cut Copy- Where I'm Going
6. Darkstar- Gold
7. Girl Unit- Wut
8. Raffertie- 7th Dimension
9. Jamie XX- Far Nearer
10. Roska and Untold- Myth
11. Deadboy- If U Want Me /If U Want Me (Brackles and Shortstuff mix)
12. El Guincho-Bombay
13. Delorean- Stay Close
14. Kanye West feat Pusha T- Runaway
15. Azari & III- Indigo
16. Bob Holroyd- African Drug (T. Williams Keye Mix)
17. Hackman-More Than Ever
18. Wiley and Chew Fu- Take That
19. Cee-Lo- Fuck You
20. Forest Swords- Rattling Cage
21. Lando Kal- 3d Action Jackson
22. KOF- Fire It Up (Funkystepz mix)
23. Rihanna- Rude Boy
24. John Foxx- Flightpath Tegel
25. High Places- Can't Feel Nothing
26. Submerse- Stay
27. Deftones- Sextape
28. Drake- Fireworks
29. Cosmetics- Black Leather Gloves (20JFG mix)
30. Grouper- Hold
31. The Dream- Yamaha
32. Skream- Where You Should Be
33. Dennis Ferrer- Hey Hey
34. Neon Indian- Sleep Paralyst
35. Janelle Monae- Tightrope
36. Altered Natives- Rass Out
37. Factory Floor- A Wooden Box
38. Jamie Vex'd- Saturn's Reply
39. The End of All Existence- The End Of All Existence
40. Scuba- Before
41. LD- Shake It
42. Ok Go- This Too Shall pass
43. Active Child- Wilderness
44. Here We Go Magic- The Collector
45. Low Sea- Never Yours
46. Pearson Sound- Down With You
47. D-bridge- Love Hotel
48. Keepaway-Yellow Wings
49. Conforce- Intimidation
50. Ke$ha- Tik Tok

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"In They Live, everyday life is Moriarity"

I have a review up over here on Jonathan Lethem's book-length essay on John Carpenter's excellent film They Live

Here's Zizek's article that Lethem quotes liberally from in the book.

A few other notes:

1. With regard to the infamous fight sequence, Lethem goes to great lengths to try to unlock its power and justify its existence. I’m still not entirely convinced that the whole sordid ordeal wasn’t just a contractual obligation either by the studio or Roddy Piper’s agent that ensured he be given ample time to showcase his wrestling skills in the film. Perhaps, such a contract did exist and Carpenter decided to make it the most ridiculous thing in the world as payback, “wagering the film’s whole stakes decisively on a pop culture/’termite art’ bet”, as Lethem says.

In the end, the best justification for its existence though is Zizek’s; “Liberation hurts. You have to be forced to put on the glasses”. For Frank, being black in America is hard enough. He feels that he doesn’t need the extra struggle, the middle class malaise of living amongst superficial hideous monsters. Solidarity with white America undercuts minority struggle because it’s ultimately white values which are always given political urgency. It's thus best for black America to invent its own mythology about its detachment from power. All the conspiratorial hubbub (seen all over the place in hip-hop literature) about the illuminati and William Cooper (detailed excellently in Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop) contains a hint of truth, the conspiracy is there (see Julian Assange's essay linked to below), but it's nothing so obvious as a secret society or a specifically totalitarian ideology.

In order to be so hesitant, Nada has to at least expect that something awful lingered on the other side, enough to drive a man who just a day previously said he “believes in America” to go on a shooting spree.

2. In the chapter Los Angeles Plays Itself, Lethem documents briefly the history of Hollywood’s resentment toward television as a systemic complex of cultural degradation, ignoring its own complicity in such affairs. Yet, in They Live, the inclusion of Hollywood in its invectives would not only ring hollow (being a stupid horror movie and all), but also carry with it the unwanted side effect of self-reflexivity, posing the cognitive arena as an ironical field, a lark almost. In order for They Live to be successful, it has to be played completely serious (all hammy one-liner puns aside). After all, They Live is not a farce, but a tragedy posing as a farce.

3. Lethem has good fun poking fun of the cheapness of the sunglasses (Hoffman Lenses), which is fine, but there does seem to be a pretty practical reason for them being so cheap (apart from prop department budget constraints)- they’re being made in private on the black market by what seems to be at best pretty blue collar revolutionaries. In all likeliness, the lack the financial capital (not to mention the aesthetic finesse) to fashion Ray-Bans at the drop of a hat.

4. Holly’s motivation does remain a mystery throughout, as Lethem briefly points out. Is she a spy the whole time? Has she been bribed with something that makes betrayal of the species that much easier a la Drifter? Or is genuinely loyal, being in a comfy middle/possibly upper middle class position for the local TV affiliate? One would think the ghouls would never allow anyone human too close to their precious signal unless they were certain they could be trusted not to blow up the satellite dish. Holly seems to “know” as much as Nada, but her allegiance remains with the ghouls. She’s quite believable when Nada first accompanies her to her apartment and she gets down on her knees stating “I’ll do anything you want.” Perhaps, she prefers subjugation, playing master and servant, if you will. If power is indeed sexy, as Hollywood continually tells us it is, does our compliance with it suggest that the obedient get a sadomasochistic thrill? Consider the following by Deleuze and Guattari, cited several times before by K-Punk: (quote)

"The English unemployed did not have to become workers to survive, they – hang on tight and spit on me – enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories, in hell, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body which was indeed imposed upon them, they enjoyed the decomposition of their personal identity, the identity that the peasant tradition had constructed for them, enjoyed the dissolutions of their families and villages, and enjoyed the new monstrous anonymity of the suburbs and the pubs in morning and evening."

5. Lethem tries to find a precedent in Drifter’s speech about how “there ain’t no countries any more” and how the ghouls already own everything, citing it as kind of a birth pang to the nascent globalization movement that surround the Berlin IMF conference in 1988, which was after production on the film ceased. But Lethem fails to recognize that this speech bares a slight resemblance to the one given by Ned Beatty to convert Peter Finch’s Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network. As owner of the conglomerate that operates Beale’s network, Beatty’s speech is the perfect enunciation of postmodern financial capital a good 4 or 5 years before at happen, back it was just a neoliberal fantasy. Beatty espouses that the real nations of the world are DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, IBM, ITT, AT&T, and Exxon; “ one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars.” The world is thereby subject to the “immutable bylaws of business” and hints, a la Fukuyama roughly 15 years later, that all of history has been pushing in this direction for a long time. “The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime.” And the world is now so close to achieving its end, to become an “ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.” Sound familiar?

During the film’s “perfect sequence”, Nada encounters a ghoul paying for a newspaper with money that declares “This is Your God”. It’s also notable that Finch’s Beale ends this exchange with Beatty by confirming his faith in the beautiful and perfect math of the markets: “I have seen the face of God”.

More Best Music Lists

PopMatters is still running their Best Of Music 2010 features, and I've got a couple of blurbs here and there

at the Best Albums list, a small piece on Emeralds

Really glad they expanded this to 70 entries this year. 70 is quite a lot, but the most interesting stuff seems to be in the last 20 entries or so.

Here's the original Emeralds review again
at the Best Reissues list, a bit on the Neu! Box Set

Friday, December 10, 2010

PopMatters Presents The Best of Electronic Music 2010

I edited this significantly cool feature, which you should read in its entirety and then listen to all of the music associated with it. Big up colleagues David Abravanel, Jason Cook, Mike Newmark, Alan Ranta, and Dominic Umile.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wicked Leaks

Any one with even a passing interest in the Julian Assange/WikiLeaks drama as it plays out should read Giovanni Tiso's take on it and, particularly, a brilliant article he links to which examines two essays written by Assange in 2006:

There's little to say about Julian Assange's arrest today sexual assault charges. It'd be naive to assume these are trumped charges, despite their convenience to the authoritarian regimes who'd like to eradicate WikiLeaks from the planet and resume business as usual with regards to state secrecy. Assange, like anyone, is fully capable of doing what he has been accused of and all one can really hope for in this instance is a fair and unbiased trial where justice is ultimately served, be he guilty or not.

The question then is not whether the UK is right in cooperating with extradition, but whether the UK would have extradited just anybody on rape allegations? What about Roman Polanski? Would they arrest and extradite others, such as Henry Kissinger, wanted for War Crimes in several countries?

One could never uneqivocally proclaim that the charges filed against Assange, the Manchurian Candidate, have political timing, but come on, could it be any more bleeding obvious? The U.S. and the other world powers being scrutinized by the leaks know the rape charges have exactly zero to do with WikiLeaks the organization. Furthermore, so does the media. But both institutions also know that the public's faith in ad hominem arguments guarantees that all it takes to discredit an ideology (here, Wikileaks) is to deface the public persona of said ideas.

With Assange out of the picture, Visa and Mastercard acted quickly to cut off the site's source of revenue, online donations, establishing that the old order is still in charge. It may just be a matter of weeks before the site is cut off completely, having spent the last week or so swapping servers until being discovered. These governments are quite naive though if they think this is the end of information leaks. It's only a matter of time before something else replaces it. They've got a million different mirrors and a million different names for it. You can't shut up everyone.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

RIP Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson

Incredibly saddened to hear of Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson's passing. Coil music's had an incredible impact on me and did wonders to shape my musical palette, all for the better. I will deeply miss hearing new things from him in whatever incarnation he happened to be in. I hope to write more about Christopherson in the near future, but for now please enjoy some of the great tunes below, which show just a piece of his incredible breadth.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Strange Case of the Digital Larynx

David Bevan at Pitchfork has a really interesting column on the newer uses of voice manipulation. Seems interesting in relation to my Radiohead article. Bevan does trace a lineage, but does note exactly get at what makes these newer uses unique, the ways in which the whole concept of vocals in a song becomes wraith-like in and of itself. In these tunes, there's the distinct sense that the joy of Western song has already been depleted, that the desire to sing like that is itself an extinct precarity, that times have becomes so sad (Burial) or confusing (James Blake) that the voice can only be memorialized or sacralized (the gigantic church of sound that is Balam Acab's "See Birds").

Also, Simon R has tipped me off to this new project from K-Punk, which set sites at audio hallucinations and other perversions of the voice.

Obviously, there's tons of examples of this phenomenon, but here's a few more examples:


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Did it Get Cold in Here?

This has been posted a million places already and I'm a million days late, but it's bears repeating: Phil Sherburne on the dark gothic shades of modern music, particularly electronics

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Crisis of Capitalism

First, on the recent election, Lenin's tomb nails it by taking a looking at the truly silent majority, the vastly understudied nonvoter demographic:

"Class still profoundly determines voting behaviour, and it determines it all the more if you consider non-voting one form of that behaviour."

It's kind of amazing how the discontent of a slim minority of independents always seems to garner so much lip-time, while the vast number of people not voting in any given election is scarcely even mentioned, just assumed.


Elsewhere, I discovered this fantastic lecture by David Harvey that attacks the whole of the crisis and puts it in surprisingly lucid terms.

Choice cuts:

On how the crisis originated out of a need to resolve tensions leftover by the postmodern fictions created by neoliberal policy status post the 1970s recession:

"The current crisis originated in the steps taken to resolve the crisis of the 1970s. These steps included:

(a) the successful assault upon organized labor and its political institutions while mobilizing global labor surpluses, instituting labor-saving technological changes and heightening competition. The result has been global wage repressions (a declining share of wages in total GDP almost everywhere) and the creation of an even vaster disposable labor reserve living under marginal conditions.

(b) undermining previous structures of monopoly power and displacing the previous stage of (nation state) monopoly capitalism by opening up capitalism to far fiercer international competition. Intensifying global competition translated into lower non-financial corporate profits. Uneven geographical development and inter-territorial competition became key features in capitalist development, opening the way towards the beginnings of a hegemonic shift of power particularly but not exclusively towards East Asia.

(c) utilizing and empowering the most fluid and highly mobile form of capital – money capital – to reallocate capital resources globally (eventually through electronic markets) thus sparking deindustrialization in traditional core regions and new forms of (ultra-oppressive) industrialization and natural resource and agricultural raw material extractions in emergent markets. The corollary was to enhance the profitability of financial corporations and to find new ways to globalize and supposedly absorb risks through the creation of fictitious capital markets.

(d) At the other end of the social scale, this meant heightened reliance on “accumulation by dispossession” as a means to augment capitalist class power. The new rounds of primitive accumulation against indigenous and peasant populations were augmented by asset losses of the lower classes in the core economies (as witnessed by the sub-prime housing market in the US which foisted a huge asset loss particularly upon African American populations).

(e) The augmentation of otherwise sagging effective demand by pushing the debt economy (governmental, corporate and household) to its limits (particularly in the USA and the UK but also in many other countries from Latvia to Dubai).

(f) Compensating for anemic rates of return in production by the construction of whole series of asset market bubbles, all of which had a Ponzi character, culminating in the property bubble that burst in 2007-8. These asset bubbles drew upon finance capital and were facilitated by extensive financial innovations such as derivatives and collateralized debt obligations."

On (late) capitalism's long-term survival rate:

"Can capitalism survive the present trauma? Yes. But at what cost? This question masks another. Can the capitalist class reproduce its power in the face of the raft of economic, social, political and geopolitical and environmental difficulties? Again, the answer is a resounding 'yes.' But the mass of the people will have to surrender the fruits of their labour to those in power, to surrender many of their rights and their hard-won asset values (in everything from housing to pension rights), and to suffer environmental degradations galore to say nothing of serial reductions in their living standards which means starvation for many of those already struggling to survive at rock bottom. Class inequalities will increase (as we already see happening). All of that may require more than a little political repression, police violence and militarized state control to stifle unrest."

You're obviously seeing this in Greece and France and American conservatives seem intent on ridding the earth of "unsustainable" pensions over here, particularly the defined benefit plans which rely on set formulas to determine payouts. It's unlikely pensions will be disintegrated by sweeping federal legislation though. More than likely, it'll be a confederated platform of gradualized slash and burn, state by state business by business. One of the great strength of American capitalists is their ability to make the deferral of earned and hard-fought rights so subtle that the larger populace forgets that they even had these rights to begin with, and thus avoiding the need to resort to statist repression, which almost inevitably carries with it a democratic backlash. Best to avoid the backlash (and the democracy) altogether by assigning middle management the task of de-libertizing the general population.

On the narrow sight of diagnosticians of the crisis and its defeat:

"We urgently need an explicit revolutionary theory suited to our times. I propose a “co-revolutionary theory” derived from an understanding of Marx’s account of how capitalism arose out of feudalism. Social change arises through the dialectical unfolding of relations between seven moments within the body politic of capitalism viewed as an ensemble or assemblage of activities and practices:

a) technological and organizational forms of production, exchange and consumption

b) relations to nature

c) social relations between people

d) mental conceptions of the world, embracing knowledges and cultural understandings and beliefs

e) labor processes and production of specific goods, geographies, services or affects

f ) institutional, legal and governmental arrangements

g) the conduct of daily life that underpins social reproduction.

Each one of these moments is internally dynamic and internally marked by tensions and contradictions (just think of mental conceptions of the world) but all of them are co-dependent and co-evolve in relation to each other. The transition to capitalism entailed a mutually supporting movement across all seven moments. New technologies could not be identified and practices without new mental conceptions of the world (including that of the relation to nature and social relations). Social theorists have the habit of taking just one of the these moments and viewing it as the “silver bullet” that causes all change. We have technological determinists (Tom Friedman), environmental determinists (Jarad Diamond), daily life determinists (Paul Hawkin), labor process determinists (the autonomistas), institutionalists, and so on and so forth. They are all wrong. It is the dialectical motion across all of these moments that really counts even as there is uneven development in that motion

On the futility of decentralized leftist efforts:

"Broad adhesion to post-modern and post-structuralist ideas which celebrate the particular at the expense of big-picture thinking does not help. To be sure, the local and the particular are vitally important and theories that cannot embrace, for example, geographical difference, are worse than useless. But when that fact is used to exclude anything larger than parish politics then the betrayal of the intellectuals and abrogation of their traditional role become complete."

Electronic Music Needs a Few Solar Panels

Fascinating new article at mnml ssgs on the state of electronic music, comparing it kindly to the insurmountable disaster of climate change

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Signal and the Violence of American Identity Politics (Director's Cut)

first published at PopMatters, here's the director's cut version of my essay on the underrated, underseen film The Signal, a film I (believe it or not) saw by accident when trying to attend a screener of Be Kind Rewind.

"America is not so much a nightmare as a non-dream. The American non-dream is precisely a move to wipe the dream out of existence. The dream is a spontaneous happening and therefore dangerous to a control system, set up by the non-dreamers"- William S. Burroughs

" Do you hear that? It's past the noise in your head. That is the natural world. That was here a long time before us. It's going to be here a long time after we're gone."- Ben, The Signal

Upon the theatrical release of The Signal in early 2008, the movie was received timidly by audiences and critics alike. The cumulative totals on Rotten Tomatoes (55) and Metacritic (63) betray a disparity amongst filmgoers, who mostly found the film's three acts jarring and disjointed, but an enjoyable break from convention. Viewers disagreed about where the film's narrative heart lied and to what exactly it spoke. Most felt cheated either by the inconsistencies in tone or the broadness of its perceived thematic cathexis, both of which they felt spoilt an otherwise rewarding thriller. Whether they saw Transmission II as the film's point of rupture or its saving grace, or whether they envisioned the film as a wry commentary on consumerism or just a vapid genre exercise, no singular conclusion about The Signal could be reached.

Ironically, the fracture of these parallax views is correlative to The Signal's themes of identity and perspective, and how each are vulnerable to interrogative manipulation by mass media. The creation of these divisions in the film threatens to completely alienate each individual from his or her community and thereby strengthen the stranglehold of the transmission and reinforce its ideology of violence as communication.

[What I hope to offer by this essay is not a finite exegesis of The Signal's interpretive subject matter nor an attempt at a universally applicable tautology for future readings of what the film might tender to 21st century audiences, but rather the first in what I hope is a series of critical analyses of a film that seems to carry the torch from cerebral horror classic like David Cronenberg's Videodrome and George A. Romero's work, which are directly referenced in The Signal. As a product of more modern era, The Signal approaches the problems of media and cultural violence through a fresh lens, but it shares with the texts of Cronenberg and Romero the transgressive thesis of Western society as pathology, viral and dehumanizing. Unlike many of its critics, I find the film and its wandering gaze to function well as a complete project with each of its many elements imperative to the themes at play. I hope to keep The Signal's already expansive dialogue open.

Many of those initial reviews tended to focus more on form and process rather than product. The Signal has a central gimmick in that it was divided between its three creators (David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry, and Dan Bush), who worked exquisite corpse style on the script and took turns in the director's chair for each of the film's three "Transmissions" ("Crazy in Love," "Jealousy Monster," and "Escape from Terminus"). Knowing that each "Transmission" is attributable to a separate directorial personality makes it easy to dismiss the film's tonal temperaments as dilettante experimentalism for experimentalism's sake, especially as it relates to a crew of cinematic virgins with no longform films on their resumes to buttress the depth of their form experiments.

Yet, The Signal is supposed to be a film infected with its own crazy. It is mercurial precisely because its characters are and driven to abandon reason in favor of emotion and to abandon emotion in favor of rationalization of their outrageous behavior. The presupposition of reality is questioned at every turn in the film. In fact, the script's most dramatic mood shift, which occurs between the gripping psychodrama of Bruckner's "Crazy in Love" and Bush's sardonically funny "Jealousy Monster", is absolutely integral to understanding both the ideology of and the sheer brutality behind the wave of violence sweeping over the film's fictional town of Terminus (an aptly appropriated 19th century pseudonym for the Directors' hometown of Atlanta).

In fact, in many ways, the plot is perfectly in keeping with many of the conventions of Aristotelian drama (a three act piece taking place within a 24 hour period). Yet, the ways in which the directors toy with these conventions is perhaps their true masterstroke. With each curtain of the film's three acts comes a shift not only in filmmaking perspective, but narrative perspective as well. Transmission I or "Crazy in Love" follows Mya, visibly careworn even before the outbreak, as she discovers and subsequently tries to evade the infected. Transmission II or "Jealousy Monster" follows a paranoid trio of partygoers, dividing the film's triptych further, though mostly focusing on Mya's husband Lewis as he struggles to understand his newfound illness. Transmission III or "Escape From Terminus" mostly adopts the vantage of Mya's extramarital fling Ben, who is infected, but has taught himself how to control it, or at least he thinks so. His confusion makes the narrative increasingly unreliable and deteriorative. Transmission I is mostly realist, its indeterminacy of causality shared by Mya and the viewer. Transmission II is a farce. With intentions of the signal revealed to the viewer, the film shows us a slice of how everyday life has adapted to its influence in a fiercely satirical cracked-mirror view of our own world. Transmission III is completely hyperrealistic, wherein the viewer completely loses his or her connection to any singular cinematic reality.

The plot of The Signal centers around Mya (Anessa Ramsey), a twenty-something trapped in a not-entirely-loveless, but not-entirely-fulfilling marriage with an exterminator named Lewis (A.J. Lewis). Mya becomes entangled in a tryst with a photographer named Ben (Justin Welborn), who, after a night of bliss, begs her to run off with him

Anything is possible, Ben informs her, eager to dissuade her hesitancy. "We could go up to the rooftop and build and exotic flower garden. Or take one of my cameras and dress up like homeless people and infiltrate their society. Or we could throw my TV out the window and replace it with coloring books. Or we could leave Terminus tomorrow", Ben rattles off, somewhat presciently. Though she secretly wants to submit to his promise of absolute freedom, Mya doesn't feel she can abandon her obligations to her husband so hastily. Concurrently, a transmission is sent out from an unknown source through all electronic media that begets a massacre at the hands of everyday citizens turning against their loved-ones, co-workers, and the random passerby.

Mya's refusal to act becomes, in turn, as much the catalyst for the events that transpire as the signal's simultaneously-occurring mass brainwash across the minds of its recipients, at least from her perspective, a perspective which guides the start of the film and thus becomes the center of our engagement with the alternate realities that arise from the infected plotline. To Mya, it is only within the moment that she surrenders her independent will, the minute she appeases the hegemony of tradition (her failed marriage, her life in Terminus), that her options become a clear path to death, manifested by the nightmares that await her at the moment she reaches the parking lot of Ben's high-rise. To escape her restraints, she must leave Terminus, with Ben, and, as he suggests "fuck our way to freedom".

Mya's mistake was in thinking that her identity was fixed, which is a premise the signal reinforces, strengthens, and regulates using innate violence within its frustrated working class hosts as a kind of self-defense mechanism for cultural conformity. It is bred familiarly, tribally almost, particularly within Mya's husband Lewis, who sees family as the only unit worth saving. All impediments to his (and to a lesser extent Mya's) happiness become perceived threats. Lewis's perception of Mya and what she represents becomes an abstraction, a kind of nationalism and absolutism of identity. This is not his own conclusion, the film suggests, but one reached through contact with the signal and its rendering of fear and desire.

"It's telling me what I should do and what I should want", Lewis says at one point. "I want my wife and I want my home and I want all of you people to stop bothering us".

The signal, like Max Renn's producer Masha says of Videodrome in the film of the same title, has "a philosophy. And that is what makes it dangerous".

It's no secret that the signal itself functions as a critique of mass media. At a pre-screening of the film in Philadelphia, Bruckner made the unexpected revelation that much of the script had come about in the wake of overdosing on 2004 election coverage. He recounted a crippling depression over the media's role in such a dire debate, how it transformed rhetoric into reality and created a shallow framework for understanding. Indeed, while the results would by no means inspire men and women to go out gratuitously murdering one another, these were matters of life and death. People's lives for the next four years were literally on the line; in Iraq and Afghanistan, in American hospitals, in hurricane-torn regions, etc. The public, given such critical circumstances, was not given a sufficient enough platform on which to make a decision, regardless of what their options were. It was driven by fear and the media's determinism of American identity.

The absolutism of Lewis's ideals becomes a stopgap for analysis. For him, problems can no longer be solved by any means other than pure visceral, primal response. Yet, Lewis's aggressive impulses are never engendered from any kind of Darwinian bestiality (like, say, a movie werewolf) or a hopeless automatonism (like, say, Romero's zombies), but from constant fear of losing control over his life. Lewis fears not only physical threats on his person and his wife, but also attacks upon his value system. To the infected Lewis, these two are proportionately identical threats and require appropriately proportionate reactions.

Thus, Lewis represents the psychosis of the modern American dream, which is cold, individualistic, self-aggrandizing, and contingent upon the destruction or marginalization of other viewpoints. He is the red-blooded red state alpha male who feels tragically powerless in the face of change. Which is a fear that is not entirely baseless, though his scapegoats are falsely targeted. At this juncture in the American saga, it has become widely accepted that the price of happiness is paid for in blood (be it through the blood of soldiers, the blood of victims of foreign wars, or the blood of those who perform functions that we consider to be beneath us). When conflicts are settled using only violence, it reduces language to no more than a perfunctory byproduct of the violent action itself. The signal, while seemingly avoiding rationalism in favor of survivalism, becomes its own rationale. Every killing has its justification ("He had it coming. Probably." Clark, one of the partygoers from Transmission II says), but the violence itself is the end communication. And like Burroughs’ language bug, the message is viral, a meme that spreads rapidly throughout Terminus, escalating the tension with every fresh corpse. Killing begets killing. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

This leads to mass uncertainty about each other's motivation. This uncertainty is voiced by Rod, Lewis's friend who at one point tries to stop Lewis from bludgeoning a third friend with a baseball bat. Rod eventually becomes Mya's guide out of her apartment complex, where the film's bloodshed begins. He recounts his encounter with a man on the rooftop whom he slayed in self-defense while trying to escape. Rod realizes that the man did not necessarily mean him any harm, but had instead only perceived Rod's defensive weapon as a threat. "He's not crazy. He thinks I'm crazy", Rod says. Even those who have not been switched on by the signal catch the bug via close proximity to, and hence the socialization of, the utter madness of life in Terminus.

This sense of alarmism and bewilderment comes from a concept the filmmakers seem to have borrowed from George A. Romero's The Crazies, a movie about a military occupation trying to contain an outbreak of a rage-like virus (a thinly veiled metaphor for Vietnam and the attempt to halt the spread of communism). The Crazies, like The Signal, poses the ethical quandary; how can you tell whether someone is being defensive or offensive when they feel that their homeland and/or their person is threatened? The citizens of Terminus face no looming authoritarian symbol of oppression like the omnipresent military in The Crazies. What the infected of The Signal can't seem to fathom is that their disease constitutes a form of mental colonialism. It is accepted as a substitute reality due to the pandemonium that surrounds them. Instead of lashing out at their TVs, the perceived threats from their friends and neighbors become a manufactured source of oppression. The oppressor in The Signal is an underlying, parental figure in absentia. It is culture itself, madness personified in its elusion of guilt. Western culture as pathology.

Similar to the way in which counterterrorism as a methodology strives to exploit divisions within its enemies, be it between rival Islamist factions or Soviet and Chinese communists, the signal, fulfilling its function as a part of mass media, seeks to create these divisions between every single person on the green earth. Each household unit becomes a tribe, each consumer preference a character trait, each opinion a valid one, each decision the correct one. This leads to a society of individuals, holistically alienated from one another, intimately oppressed within the panopticon and hence unable to huddle as masses to overthrow their jailers.

Mya seemingly avoids infection by plugging herself in to a closed-circuit system in the form of her portable Discman. As she walks around listening to Ola Podrida's cover of Joy Division's "Atmosphere" ad nauseum through headphones on the mix CD Ben made for her, her headphones make her able to shut out the signal's technological domination over other media. The discman and headphones may be an allusion to Lynne Ramsey's cinematic adaptation of Alan Warner's novel Morvern Callar, another film about a young woman who uses music as a means of escaping an unbearable reality. For Morvern, her mix tape allows her a way to simultaneously detach herself from and reconnect with her dead husband, still rotting in her bathtub. Mya's disconnection appears to be strategic, yet she also maintains a, perhaps unrealistic, fantasy of reengaging with Ben by meeting him at the train station and righting her erroneous decision to leave his side.

Television is the major method of infection in Terminus. Television, unlike Mya's headphones, is connected to a network of satellites and fiberoptic cables broadcasting the same signal out over the airwaves. Television, perhaps moreso than any media, is ingrained with a kind of functional and structural hypnosis in its DNA. Whereas film is a projection, the reflection of light onto a surface, television is a light source, projecting itself onto your eyes, making the objective act of TV watching more similar to staring at the sun than watching a film.

Beyond its mesmerizing power as a substitute for fire and warmth, television belongs to the stratum of what Marshall McLuhan refers to as "Cool Media", or a media that requires high levels of user participation to properly engage with it. Much has been made about television's power to shape its viewership into passive receptors of synthesized truths. Romero's zombies, for example, while not the dupes of television specifically, are an outgrowth of cultural hegemonic enslavement, opiatized masses driven to mindless consumption (Dawn of The Dead) or forced to accept their role as underclass via distractions of spectacle (the fireworks in Land of the Dead). In these films, the victims of culture's stranglehold (the zombies) act en masse to convert and destroy everything that does not conform to their ethos. The "crazy" (as Rod dubs them) in The Signal are not out to transmogrify the masses into a facsimile of themselves. Instead, they remain delusionally convinced that they are the only sane remnants of a fractured society. 'My actions are justified, because every one else is crazy'.

Videodrome is a similar treatise in that it presents its afflicted as the victims of a predatory (and corporate/fascist) power that punishes its audiences for the depraved morals and transgressive desires that the videodrome itself has instilled in them. The signal, on the other hand, ossifies the notion that the choices made under television's influence are empowering, the unspoken backdrop being that much of the rest of life under the American system does not grant us the control available through violent recourse. Any kid who shoots up his school or any downsized worker who runs into his office or the nearest McDonalds or Unitarian church with an automatic weapon can attest to such.

Television allows its viewer to be wired into an exclusive community, a community constituted of the very culture industry its pervasive influence has created through the fetishization and demonization of various images and ideologies. We feel like we are part of that community, but unless we are part of the privileged elite, we remain unable to democratically alter its trajectory in any meaningful way except in those that mass media allows (mainly consumption and social rendering).

At the Philadelphia pre-screening, the filmmakers revealed that the signal itself, as it is portrayed on screen, was composed of famous disturbing images from television and popular culture that were manipulated and scrambled until they were unrecognizable. Though they're not visible in film, one could imagine any number that might fit perfectly (Budd Dwyer's televised suicide, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan's execution of a Vietnamese prisoner, the aftermath of suicide bombers in the Middle East, Nazi atrocities, 9/11).

The use of this footage may seem arbitrary since the end product is so obfuscated, but there's a sense in this editorial choice that the violence to which the film speaks is already embedded in the collective unconscious (the first few scenes of Transmission I also suggest that many of Terminus's would-be killers were already a little crazy before the signal tipped them over the edge). The 20th century was by far the bloodiest in history, even when adjusted for population density. And the 21st is shaping up to be no better, with a handful of conflicts raging at any given moment (Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Georgia, etc.) and the rapid growth of sectarianism not only globally but within microcommunities throughout the U.S. Indeed, watching the film from my hometown of Philadelphia just months after our murder rate had risen to the largest per capita of any major American city made the film's thesis of viral violence feel particularly pointed. Not long after, it seemed as if the simulacrum were escaping; two men at a Fullerton, CA showing of The Signal stabbed each other in the movie theater while the film played as background (both survived and the incident was unrelated to the film).

Upon first being exposed to the natal culture of violence that begins to rage throughout the apartment complex in Transmission I, the viewer can safely assume that what is happening on screen is actually happening within the film. The violence is stark, brutal, and random, and thereby familiar within the horror and thriller genres. By Transmission II, we're encountering characters who are already, only hours later, desensitized to this culture and facing the prospects of living within in it. The film's second act then becomes a kind of Brechtian farce (complete with the deus ex machina ending of Ben slamming a pesticide tank into Lewis's face) wherein violence becomes, as much for the viewers as the characters, normative.

The casualization of violence is an important factor for the horror genre. The everyday event, such as showering, swimming, talking on your cell phone, breaking up with a girlfriend, or camping, is exploited for its vulnerabilities in the horror film. The fear of death and the trivialization of its finality is part of what makes a horror film thrilling, rather than hopelessly sad. As viewers, we invite this danger into our lives (and our nightmares) in a sense because there's part of us that empathizes with this bloodlust. We want to see the dumb teens succumb to the serial killer's machete blade. Videodrome's Max Renn and his response to each video nasty is a perfect example of this stimulation. He is not only allured by the rush of the torture films, but also eroticized by the power of the imagery, the camera's ability to render heaven as hell and vice versa.

Max Renn, however, seeks out his transgressions. The Signal subverts its viewers while they think that the cable's gone out. I'd posit that the reason most viewers found the transition to Transmission II jarring is because it invites them to participate in the absurdist perspective of its mass murderers and then punishes them emotionally for this complicity.

In Transmission II, housewife Anna prepares for a New Year's Eve party as the signal overtakes her husband Ken. In self-defense, she kills him with a balloon pump. Soon after, Clark the landlord comes over asking if he can reclaim his hatchet and garbage bags that Ken borrowed. Unbeknownst to Anna, he needs them so he can chop up Rod, whose car crashed in the front of the housing complex. Soon after, Lewis arrives looking for Mya, who appears to him via hallucination in the form of Anna, who, for her part, simply thinks Lewis has arrived for the party. Thing get even more convoluted as an oblivious guest actually shows up for the party, eager to scout out loose women and do terrible, degrading things to them.

Throughout the sequence, there is a nervous tension that inspires a kind of slapstick violence, mostly perpetrated by Lewis who is eager to "exterminate with extreme prejudice". In the course of events, Lewis figures out that Anna is not Mya and flips out, convinced that Anna and Clark have done something to his wife. Just as the expectations of comedy become ripe, the film takes a decidedly grim turn. Lewis's on-screen execution of Anna is horrific, disfiguring her face by spraying pesticides in her eyes and mouth. Yet, for Lewis, the slapstick continues as she stumbles around, crashing into a wall in her blindness, nearly tripping over the couch full of corpses in party hats that Lewis has modelled. Now that such carnage is being perpetrated against characters we've has come to care about, the viewer immediately becomes culpable in the atrocities, having laughed over similar crimes just moments before.

Rather than wagging a finger at its audience like Michael Haneke's Funny Games, The Signal understands its own complicity in the reproduction, exploitation, and manufacture of tragedy. Its penitence is to expose its violence as bitter and denigrating. Gory and thrilling to be sure, but never something to be relished. At best, even violence in self-defense (and the film is especially deliberate to single out acts of preemptive violence, likely in defiance of the Bush doctrine) is a gray matter. After titillating us in the beginning of the second act with the prospect of normative superficial aggression, it pleads with us by the end of Transmission II to never adopt this perspective outside the realm of fantasy, to never become Lewis.

Transmission III jumps-off with Ben rescuing Clark by cracking Lewis's skull open with a pesticide tank, setting the stage for a finale wherein Ben can reunite with Mya and ride off into the sunset at train terminal 13. However, true to form, the film affords its characters no such simple resolutions. The pesticide tank assault, it seems, never really happened, or, at best, it was an exaggeration of Ben's psychotic mindset. This leads us to question what in the film, from the opening reel to the closing credits, is mere representation and what is true. Is any of the violence real? Or is all of the violence real, including the pesticide tank incident, depending on how you look at it? Or is the film's only reality that which we choose to believe, making us as delusioned by media as those infected by the signal?

Ben seems to believe that there is a natural world breathing and billowing beyond the societal static, the albatross of mental interference that constitutes the signal's presence, and thereby culture at large. "Do you hear that? It's past the noise in your head. That is the natural world. That was here a long time before us. It's going to be here a long time after we're gone." Anything beyond that is merely perspective. "It's a trick", he says. "If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at will change".

It follows then that the world of Terminus has become indistinguishable from its representation. The characters' hallucinations are far removed from their experiences in the natural world, which has become old reality. The television set has supplanted reality and supplied them with a new version of reality. In a culture so obsessed with believing its own fantasies, where every aspect of tis delusions is validated by a system eager to sell you your next one, each representation can only be replaced by a different representation. Hence, erasure of the new reality can only be temporary. As Videodrome's McLuhan-esque figure Brian Oblivion puts it, "Life on TV is more real than life in the flesh…and reality is less than television".

Ben discovers, through observing the signal via terminal 13's departure screen while Mya sits catatonic nearby staring into the void, that the only way to defeat Lewis is to strip him of his identity. Left without the one thing that defines him, Lewis is pure conditioning, without the will to self-actualize. He is only the sum of his aggression and the consequence of his actions.

Yet it is the film's final vision that prompt perhaps the most disturbing variation on these themes. Mya, after being forced by Lewis to stare directly into the signal, is rendered catatonic (not unlike Barbara in Night of the Living Dead, though it is mass media not the shock of change that renders her mute). Lewis, the tragic figure of the film, finds himself without a purpose and commits suicide, but not before strangling Clark as Ben daydreams that he is some kind of psychosomatic hero. Ben snaps Mya out of her trance, they hug, and a wordless montage appears on the screen that features Ben, Mya, and Clark rebuilding their lives and hopping that train out of town. All seems well, until the façade of their grand finale dissipates and Ben is still trying to reawaken Mya. He finally puts Mya's headphones back on her head. As Ola Podrida's version of "Atmosphere" is heard one final time, she closes her eyes and a single tear runs down her face.

There are plenty of ways to interpret this coda. Throughout the film, Ben seems to survive his struggles by returning to a flashing image of Mya staring at him on a train. Many see the montage as a flash forward, the anticipation of Ben's heroic fantasy completed. Yet, the themes discussed above would suggest a different interpretation. This is not Ben's reality, but Mya's dream, fantasized from within her signal-trance. After all, it's a vision that ends when Ben puts on her headphones. Ultimately, Mya's delusion, her vision to join Ben and "fuck our way to freedom" is just as abstract and untenable as Lewis's concept of the perfect family unit. It's that which puts her in the chair at the terminal and nearly kills her. This kind of simulated reality, albeit an idealistic one, is equally capable of replacing the actual, laying down our defenses, and making us vulnerable and unprepared for the harsh truths of the world around us. Mya, sleeping around, marrying a husband she doesn't love, placing her faith in a plan for an uncommitted train ride as her lasting salvation, is unprepared to meet the consequences of her actions.

Hence, the signal ends on by inferring that the ideal will always be more attractive than the actual. But there are no fantasy endings, no short ways out, no romance that can defeat modern horrors in and of itself. Beyond the noise, beyond the construct of identity, there's only the natural world. Only that has been here before we started ascribing our mythologies to it. Only that will be here after those mythologies destroy us.