Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Divergent (2014) Or Hunger Games: Impotence or Force?

In the wake of Hunger Games, it’s impossible to avoid the comparison between Hunger Games and Diverge. So, I'm gonna get my chainsaw primed and read for a double interrogation. Hunger Games and Divergent present two very different strains of how revolutionary leadership should organize and respond to violence. Hunger Games proposes a meek and neurotic take that draws on the tension of flip flopping between binary opportunities; to rebel or not to rebel, this boy or that boy. Divergent on the other hand presents the binary but waist little time with tension; this is the right revolution, this is the right boy. time to act! The difference here corresponds to two existential psychoanalysts: Dr. Viktor Frankl and Frantz Fanon’s. Each theorist proposed a mode of responding to violence. For Frankl, writing about his experience imprisoned in the concentration camp, the response to violence is about meaning. He argues we should we find meaning even in the deepest horror we experience, and that struggle for meaning is an important and courageous act. For Fanon, writing about apartheid in Africa, responding to violence with violence is a matter of dignity. One must toss of the chains of the oppression by any means. How could you life with yourself in slavery? Both Hunger Games and Divergent are about the meaning we seek in response to violence - are we courageous victims or violent revolutionaries?

As I argued in my post-Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the Reluctant/Hysterical/Oblivious Revolutionary, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) suffers from a political and psycho-sexual neurosis. She can’t quite make up her mind about what she wants to do or who she wants to make out with. Both of these binaries are rooted in a failure of personal clarity. Katniss does not know who she is, nor is she making a conscious effort to do so. When the state seeks to micro manage her celebrity status, she momentarily resists assuming her victim-hood and conforms to the rule of the governing authority. Now this might seem worthy of some merit, but Katniss ultimately fails to follow through on her rebellious inclinations. When Katniss is called under the sway of rebel minded peers and adults, she shifts her minds and follows their agenda, with out putting the decision to the minimal of critical thought. The situation par excellence, is Katniss’s psycho-sexual flip flop between Gale and Peeta. The situation is what moves Katniss rather then her own sense of identity. Katniss is a victim of circumstance.

The problem here is one of accepting ones victim-hood. Victimhood is a means in which one avoids existential responsibility for ones situation. In Katniss’s situation, she accepted and fully conformed to her role as a victim, even when the situation changes, finding her identity in the reality others dictate to her. She was the courageous poor surviving under the whips of the totalitarian relativity television. Katniss's lack of situational authenticity shows her Bad Faith. If she had the strength of her convictions she would be able to maintain her clarity on her political and romantic stances as the situation changes. Frankl argued
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you. (Frankl, 2006)
What are those forces beyond one’s control? The state? The situation? The politician? Power? The resignation in Frankl’s argument hovers over the notion of the fixed nature of the situation. In Frankl’s case he was confronted with the concentration camp. Herded by ethnicity/religion into muddy slow death, and guarded by Nazi’s seeking to maintain brutal autocratic order, the concentration camp appears like an immovable object for the malnourished prisoner. Hunger Games present a similar (not identical) situation that appeals to human hopelessness. District 12 is a near uninhabitable coal mining community guarded by militia controlled by the 1%. The guards have guns, and seemly endless capacity to suppress and humiliate the lower castes.

Is the situation as hopeless as it first appears? If you are Marxist, you’d probably scream, “Hells naw!, We have power! We have the numbers and conviction to ousts the capitalist oppressors!” Two key factors are intrinsic to the revolutionary perspective hope and desire. Hope is about vision. It is about seeking beyond the world as it is to the world as it should be. Desire is the imperative to fight close this gap. Frankl’s ideology here reduces existentialist psychotherapy to a conservative ethos foreclosing hope, and emptying the individual of the desire that hope inspires. Slavoj Zizek can help us out of this political deadlock.
rather than remain stuck in debilitating awe in front of radical evil, the awe which stops us from thinking about what is going on, we should remember that there are two fundamental ways of reacting to such traumatic events, which cause unbearable anxiety: the way of superego and the way of the act. The way of the superego is precisely that of the sacrifice to the obscure gods of which Lacan speaks; the reassertion of the barbaric violence of the savage obscene law in order to fill in the gap of the failing symbolic law. And the act? One of the heroes of the Shoah for me is a famous Jewish ballerina who, as a gesture of special humiliation , was asked by the camp officer to dance for them. Instead of refusing, she did it, and while she held their attention, she quickly grabbed the machine gun from one of the distracted guards and, before being shot down herself, succeeded in killing more then a dozen officers. (Zizek, 2002)

Divergent is film about Tris (Shailene Woodley), a young woman who has came of age to choice her faction. The faction system in divergent is divided by a set of five virtues: “Abnegation, for the selfless; Amity, for the peaceful; Candor, for the honest; Dauntless, for the brave; and Erudite, for the intelligent (Wikipedia, 2014).” The faction system is based on the notion that promoting more then one virtue for a group of people leads to civil disarray. Tris was born Abnegation, and has reached the age of maturity where she is chemically tested for the five virtues. Rather than, relegating the choice to the logic of biology, generations of teen are called upon one by one to make a free choice to join one of the five communities.

As the title of the film indicates, Tris is a Divergent, an individual who cannot be controlled by virtue. Divergence and the Factionless are is two classless castes outside of the the five faction system. The Factionless who are essentially lumpen proletariats and treated like untouchables. The capacity to be factionless highlights false choice in a seemly free choice. The faction system is one of is a socio-political reality that fits Frankl’s description of a “force beyond one’s control.” But unlike Hunger Games the protagonist has a level of clarity about her destiny that brings societal contractions into light.

Bleeding into the Dauntless bowl, Tris embraces the ethos and lifestyle of the warrior. A majority of the film is used to show Tris’s development and commitment to Dauntless in the face of discouragement of her peers. Tris’s struggle demonstrates a level of brute clarity about Tris’s vision for her self that is absent from Hunger Games. Even her choice in romantic partner is not dictated by the whimsy of circumstance.

When the true nature of the faction system and its bureaucratic-totalitarian nature are made clear to Tris, she acts, rather then get lost in what Zizek called “debilitating awe.” Taking up her gun, she uses violence to protect her lover and kinship. The declarative moment that keys the viewer into the fact that we are watching a film with a very different ethos than Hunger Games is when the bad guy points his gun at her lover’s head and she snaps out of here status as an automaton and draws her weapon.
Peter: You wouldn't shoot me.
Beatrice 'Tris' Prior: Why do people keep saying that?
[shoots Peter in the arm]

Tris does not get lost in neurosis as her sister from another mother. She acts. The act rather them the Frankl-ian submission is an action which forces a radical and fundamental change in the situation and the individual. The scene reenacts Fanon’s argument for the use of violence in the natives fight for freedom.
Once their rage explodes, they recover their lost coherence, they experience self-knowledge through reconstruction of themselves; from afar we see their war as the triumph of barbarity; but it proceeds on its own to gradually emancipate the fighter and progressively eliminates the colonial darkness inside and out. As soon as it begins it is merciless. Either one must remain terrified or become terrifying—which means surrendering to the dissociation of a fabricated life or conquering the unity of one’s native soil. When the peasants lay hands on a gun, the old myths fade, and one by one the taboos are overturned: a fighter’s weapon is his humanity. For in the first phase of the revolt killing is a necessity: killing a European is killing two birds with one stone, eliminating in one go oppressor and oppressed: leaving one man dead and the other man free. (Fanon, 2014)
An early scene in the film, shows us Tris’s ability to act while others are caught in deliberative percolation. The first test the new Dauntless recruits are confronted with is to jump from the roof of a building and plummet several stories through a hole in the roof of an adjacent building. Before the instructor compels the group for a volunteer for a second time, Tris acts. Declaring her desire to jump first. Where the rest of the recruits hesitated, Tris became, and fortified her capacity to reveal this becoming to herself. At the same, this changed the nature of the herd, by eliminating the vague mass, and highlight a decision makers from the decision percolators.

Fanon’s response to violence, unlike Frankl’s, does not seek to leave systems of power or personal subjectivities intact. The act of jumping moved Tris from her from selflessness to pride. The transformation here is beyond just moving between factional distinctions but structures of personal and symbolic meaning. The scene that highlights the pathetic selflessness of the Abnegation faction is when Tris's mother is finished combing her hair, quickly opens and shuts a panel covering a mirror so Tris can view the new hairdo. The Abnegation-ites are under a moral imperative to avoid looking at themselves too long in the mirror. The fear being that looking at one's reflection for  too long breeds a sense of ego that would undermine their altruism. Acculturated into a culture of self-abjection the Abnegation-ites vilify their own presence.

The irony here is that, Katniss’s journey is laid on the rails of celebrity status and self-obsession. But, rather than the limelight opening Katniss’s sense of self, it fragments her. One could call attention to the disgusting celebrity stories of fallen pop idols and similar degenerate kindred. Thrust into the spotlight by adults, and digested by consumers via reporters, celebrities are foreclosed the possibility of relating to the world outside their stage persona. Stuck in a role on display for others, the celebrity fortifies her persona, giving life and emotion to the face in front of the camera while carving out a black abscess of abjection in their soul. Where is the path out Hunger Game’s celebrity neurosis?

Where Divergent succeeds and Hunger games fails is in their portrayal of an authentic revolutionary. Divergent echoes the ruthless force of character and of political action that Fanon called to our attention. I would like to note that this analysis is only based on the films that have been released as of Hunger Games Two and the Divergent. I expect that Katniss is going to have some interesting character developments in the 3rd act. I hope she can learn from Tris how to finally use her bow to help someone other than herself.
When the native hears a speech about Western culture he pulls out his knife—or at least he makes sure it is within reach. The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him (Fanon, 2014).
References

The Wretched of the Earth Quotes by Frantz Fanon Goodreads.com,. (2014). The Wretched of the Earth Quotes by Frantz Fanon. Retrieved 29 July 2014, from https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/865773-les-damn-s-de-la-terre Frankl, Viktor E. (2006-06-01). Man's Search for Meaning. Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Wikipedia,. (2014). Divergent (novel). Retrieved 29 July 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divergent_(novel)
Zizek, Slavoj (2002). Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five essays on September 11 and Related Dates. Verso


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