This is the title to a little blurb I read in an issue of Harper’s. It was cute. It was discussion about how you couldn’t be expected to form an anarchist revolution if you can’t even cross a street in disobediance to a traffic sign. This is especially true when after looking both directions it is easy to verify that no one is around. Yet the people in this country would all wait in pacient little groups for the sign to change so they could cross the street even though no cars were coming. The author proposed Anarchist Calisthenics. The idea is that you do something disobedient every so often so as to keep you in practice. It all sounds quaint, especially when you are talking about rebelling against traffic signs. However, after seeing the movie Complaince the idea takes on a whole different meaning.
Complaince is a hard movie to watch. Having trudged through A Serbian Film, Slaughtered Vomit Dolls, and The August Underground movies you’d think I’d be pretty unshockable wouldn’t you? Nope I found myself looking away from Compliance, unwilling to focus on the horrors that the movie spat out at me. For those of you who don’t know what the movie is about go to IMDB and look it up. There are other people who seem to enjoy typing summaries to things. I am not one of them. To be clear there is no blood, no one physically gets hurt, there is no physical violence. Instead what we have is a voice on the phone who adopts a position of authority and manages to get people to do unspeakable things all in the name of, well authority really.
Compliance is a brilliant movie. It is utterly brilliant. It is ugly and I never want to watch it again but that is part of what makes it brilliant. A voice over the phone claiming to be the police can get people do simply unspeakable things. Don’t believe me? Here’s a newspaper article. Not only did this really happen but it happened over 60 times. The idea of it is insane to me. It is insane to the crank caller too. More often than not in the resulting legal cases the managers were treated as victims themselves even though they were the ones perpetrating the crime at the voice’s behalf. Increadible and yet not.
I wish we took Marxism a little bit more seriously. Somewhere along the line Marxist theory didn’t pan out the way it should. If it did the whole movie would make perfect sense and anyone who knew the theory wouldn’t be surprised by it, and yet this hasn’t happened. Somewhere along the line Marxist theory stagnated, became technophobic and it found itself turned into a toy to amuse English professors and to enchant undergraduates and nothing more and that is god damned shame because it is deadly serious. That’s the thing though. The situation changes and the theory didn’t keep up.
So all of this needs some explanation. Marxism flash facts:
History of class struggle is history or all of history can be seen as the history of class struggle. Whichever you like.
The bourgeoisie posses an infinte array of tools to adapt the means of production to keep ahead of the laws or the literary departments.
Alienation it’s everywhere! EEEEK!
Okay then so we have some conversation points. Now we can talk a little bit about Compliance and how it works. Let’s talk about alienation first because that one is my favorite and it is the one that has changed the most. Before it simply meant you were alienated from your labors. So all you do all day is you work on an assembly line making the 5th gear of the 10 gear wanking machine. That is all you know and so you are alienated from your labors. Capitalism has an uncanny knack for ignoring the human factor which is something I’ve always found to be more than a little fascinating. However, we are in the modern day now. We no longer make 10 gear wanking matchines. Most of our jobs are in the service industry. The most common phrase spoken in across the US’s employees is probably “how can I help you?” or some variation of that. Service is our main export, we have service industries, and a service based economy and hey what is there to be alienated from right? I mean you help someone find the perfect shirt, or a watch, or you put in the order and a team makes a hamburger and everything happens right then and there. Peachy keen with a side of pleasant sauce right? Well not exactly. This is particularly true in corporate controlled places, employees are subject to a baffling array of rules and regulartions. Most of which are seemingly arbitrary, arbitrarily enforced, and handed down from the mysterious corporate office. We have managers that seem to be promoted based on their ability to jump very high when asked and who don’t ask questions. Not based off of the ability to think for themselves, to direct, or to you know be in command. Most managers are given a massive amount of shit for marginally more money and little to no real authority to deal with the problems that arise. The real wise man said that authority with no actual power corrupts far faster and more thoroughly than absolute authority. What we are seeing here is an alienation not from our labors but from ourselves. Every time we don’t put a rude customer in their place, do some mindless task to keep an inept overlord busy, every time we say sure when we mean “go fuck yourself” that is what alienation from the self means. It is a concept that isn’t new. Hell this has happened ever since we’ve had one person be stronger than another and they decide to take advantage of it. However, this sort of work place alienation is subtle, it is ill defined, we lack the vocabulary to really get our heads around it. Yet it is there. How else can you explain someone forcing a young naked girl to do jumping jacks so that money will fall out of her vagina because a voice over the phone told you to? This happened not just in the movie but also in life. When we force ourselves to put up with nonsensical crap every day what is a little bit more? Especially when you have someone threatening everyone you know. Alienation is a cruel thing.
` At some point I was segueing nicely into class but that didn’t work out so well so crappy transition for the win! WE IS TALKING ABOUT CLASS NOWS. I am the best of all the writers. Class has become a thing with me recently and I don’t know why. It never was before. Anyway a lot of Marxist theory seems to fall apart when the middle classes get introduced. When reading the communist manifesto it is easy to forget how long ago it is written. It is only when you start working with it fairly often do you start finding the little dated parts hiding here and there in all the cracks. The thing is that when the manifesto was written there was no middle class, well not really. There was the very rich and the very poor. Dichotomies! They are easy ways to divy up the world so that everyone understands what’s going on and hey for awhile it worked! Then things went more than a little pear shaped which is a shame and the middle classes arrived and things got all muddled. Not really though. Think of class less in terms of money but more in terms of securiry and the gradiants between the classes becomes clearer. The super rich up at the top? They don’t have a whole lot to worry about in terms of things going wrong. This goes from the mundane things like cars breaking down to the collapse of the global financial system and massive food shortages. These people believe that the rich will eat first and everything will be fine. To a degree they are correct. They are also irrelevant to this conversation. Bye now. Back at the lower middle class where things are a little bit tighter that is where we get the fear. Here you just have less securiry. Take the manager in Complaince for example, freezer door got left open and $1500 worth of product spoiled overnight. This is the first thing that happens in the movie. We then see the store manager get berated by the truck driver who brings her competency into question. The second thing we learn is that the store manager has yet to report this to the regional manager because she is afraid. She might loose her job, she might get a writeup which is a direct threat of job loss, she might just get yelled at. The point is that this represents a disruption to the status quo. That can be scary when your status quo is already fragile and sure it isn’t very good but it can so easily get worse, so you do what you can to keep things normal and good. For example, you don’t tell your manager when you let 1500 worth of product go bad. That would suck. To be clear her normal day sucks. I mean she works in fast food, granted she is a store manager but it isn’t like she doesn’t have a shit job too. Ego when something bad happens she tries to deal with it as quickly and cleanly as possible because seriously who wants even more troubles?
So you get the voice on the phone claiming to be the police telling you to do these things. Police can mean jail time, physical confrontation, fines, a whole system the average person knows nothing about and has little positive experience with. As anyone who gets pulled over knows dealing with the police is statistically unpleasant. So you do what they say to whomever they tell you to do it to because no one wants that wrath turned upon them. Yet this seems to be a friendly police man. He has that calm steady voice of authority. He also is quick to compliment the store manager, he brings her inside, makes her feel important, compimtent, and basically everything she isn’t. He also claims to have the regional manger on the phone he uses the manager’s name. If the regional manger says its okay then it is. Or rather once our little intrepid store manager feels that the buck has been passed up the chain and is given a few compliments then why not. Desptite the fact that she may think its wrong or baffling there are people telling her that she is good and that they approve of her actions so why not? It seems strange still doesn’t it. Remember though is that it all goes back to security. This manager is already on the hot seat because of the 1500 of meat going bad now this? If she pisses off the wrong person here she could loose her job. She did anyway but seriously what a catch 22. In real life McDonalds which is one of the franchises that got hit most often by the real life perpetrator claimed it did pleanty to inform it’s managers. MacDonald’s defense was that handling all these situations are in the manager’s guidebook which she clearly hasn’t read. That’s cute. But here is the thing. The voice on the phone already said he had the regional manager on the phone and that it was okay. This right here throws the guidebook out the window as well as common sense for most people because not everyone feels secure enough to tell the cops, and their manager to go fuck themselves.
As for that manager’s fiance? I have no idea what the fuck that guy’s problem was he has no excuse.
Anyway Imma gonna stop this here. I feel a little better and this is starting to get pretty long. As someone who recreationally engages in over sexualized exchanges of power I feel overly bothered when I see them forced upon unwilling subjects. There are plenty of people out there who would of gladly of done everything he asked without anyone getting hurt. He’d still be in control he’d still be on the phone and this would all be happening except that in this case everyone would be having a good time. There was no need to go and trick people who were already downtrodden and unhappy into doing amazingly horrible things to people who were little more than children. It just played on people’s desperate need for securety and his need for power. But he could of gotten that from his willing participants I’m sure of it. While I agree that this is a radically inappropriate thought this is one of those times where I am forced to wonder, “Why can’t people just be nice.” It is hard enough already out there. Why make it worse? Oh well.