spacetime coordinate: somewhere in the near future Poland
Original title: Sala samobójców (Suicide Room). Hejter
The Hater is perhaps the first film to tap into what has been regarded as one of the ruling negative affects of the early 21st century, repeatedly denounced as the true viral scourge of our times (in a rare case of unanimity) as “haterizm”, “cultures of hate” or “digital hate culture” and try and individualize it as such.
By being as elusive as it seems pervasive, one gets the feeling that technologically mediated hate- related topics manage to stimulate overnight punditism – like with Corona, there’s no lack of experts giving advice on combating it, prepping in advance, with countermeasures 101s ready at hand from blogs, YT channels, TEDx lectures etc and more and more people not only theorizing about it, but actually being deeply scared and marked by the unwanted attention this has brought them. At the same time, we have still very crude ways of representing its mechanisms, its technological underpinnings and of assessing its convoluted dynamics, mapping both its automated nature as well the massive reversal of agency – enabling local, unknown, previously ridiculed (say the typical 4chan user) unimportant actors to play a larger role. Generally speaking there is sense that it’s still too hot a potato to be tackled on screen.
Hate has a rightfully terrible curriculum in both past and present. While it’s completely senseless nowadays and outright vicious to minimize the role of hate mongers and hate campaigns – it also becomes harder and harder to follow its calculus, it’s quantified thrust or what makes it far from a crude, ravaging passional flow – into a targeted way to sway opinion, isolate and demonize others, driving policy and even relating desire to politics in the most devious ways.
A sign we’ve reached peak Influencer is its mirror image, the anti- Influencer, or the Defluencer. This bad cop curator version was anticipated by many, including a proposal from some years ago by Sebastian Big for a fictive De Appel art curating program in a gesture that would have professionalized art haterizm (more of that below). Probably we will have to wait and witness the transformation of art purging into something more similar to the Korean Internet addiction camps where artists (think here also concept art, CGI, after FX artists etc) can get de-motivated & re-educated into non-productivity. It was certainly a way of reviving Gustav Metzger’s and Stewart Homes ideas of an ‘art strike’. In the meantime the actual the rise of a such a hate influencer class has still not been televised.
Hate is being fed, stocked up, tapped mainly using post-cinematic post-Internet memetic means of reproduction: smartphone apps, social platforms, meme warfare, BBS chats, and the unstoppable force of the commenatariat – making it nearly impossible to track visually as it jumps bodies, devices, platforms – extolling some of the peculiar signposts of the post-spectacular meltdown: mainly a pervasive footprint of online trolling. How to sample such toxicity still remains an open issue. Who gets prime time minutes, and who to depict cycles of victimhood and victimization? How to represent and repeat via millions of re-watchings – the invisible interior and very actual turmoil of trauma offline and online, the bleeding influences that work across the spectrum of conjoined cyber/meatspace, across inflamed material-immaterial boundaries and touchy-feely irritated membranes?
Allergenic affective flows seem to populate, foverflow and animate political campaign bubbles, inflame neural networks and depressed brains, cooking feedback loops of fake news, making radical-right extremism a migratory swarm target beyond the reach of both cinema and the best human analysts aided or not by AI machine-learning & its underbelly of underpayed- unwaged content curators.
I would compare or rather contrast Hejter/the Hater with another movie – Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, a dark and unique film on its own, in a sense of another age when Empires of Entertainment (Jennifer Holt 2011) grew up and came of age reaching new conspirative heights with 1970s The Network. This ontogenesis of global media conglomerates convergence culture started when the TV 24 h news cycle started spinning, cable networking expanding & interconnecting with movie franchises, clasping everybody in a relentless TV reality embrace with the advent of the hyperreal when the triumphant Fox News quickly became a yardstick, of videocratic instrumentalism that everyone on the left or on the right, alternative or mainstream, seems to bow take for granted. Nightcrawler depicts an insatiable trophic chain of sleep deprivation, of staged violence as antidote for attention deficit and multitasking, a stocked up hunger for sensationalism under a regime of sensorial deprivation. Playworker nerds human capital tuning & self-valorization into slasher media offers on demand. Nightcrawler is brim full with remorseless predatory instincts honed by joblessness and labour within a regime that Jonathan Beller aptly described as the Cinematic Mode of Production (and ruled by what he more recently calls computational capital).
We are slowly and shockingly becoming aware that there are forces at work, not only in the restricted conspirative paranoid sense of high classes showing class solidarity (as per Mark Fisher in Vampire’s Castle), or of a pulp fictional-level Dan Brown style cabal of satanists or psychic vampires (as per QAnon), but of witnessing an almost magickal, immediate cascade of results via a simple click or tipping point hate upload. In a way it’s the reflective surface of the spherical monad, that enables mimicry, mirroring and amplifying what is already out there dispersed. In an unreasonable age of impossible risk management, save diesel, peak oil and open coal mines – fracking Hate is the only limitless resource – offering an almost Sith agency that is lacking in currently deflated philosophies and/or -religions, a method in times of disillusion, clicktivism and political apathy, as palpable as Jediism in a sense, only more so, even if not registered as religion in the national census.
In the sense it delivers what it promises, not only that, but it also seems to work on all sides, on all political levels, from attack to counter attack, from action to reaction, behind enemy lines and across the political spectrum. It also, perhaps, rides on the back of some of the mostly ignored, under-theorized darkside tendencies – the actual Schadenfreude fashion collection, secret delight, unrecognized enjoyment taken from sneakily humiliating, bashing, canceling and slamming of others.
Follow the trail of their dead – is nothing altogether new, just one more weapon in the vocabulary of bodycount cynicism (a long way from the Greek cynic’s self deprecating stance) and scapegoating (as per René Girard’s Violence and the Sacred), we know has been always around and been used by those in power to select easy targets and not own up their major predatory acts and fuckups. This being said it is infinitely more easier to modulate, feedback loop, automate, and mobilize hate than any other (meager, scarce) resource out there. As many have repeatdly pointed out – loneliness, abuse, Internet addiction are on the rise, there is no better terrain for it to seed & grow hate than in the TINA now. One can say it has become the most direct way to leave a decidedly dark imprint, but still an imprint on the drained space of lacking possibilities. At the same time this ‘personal level’ of what has became stock human capital should not blind us to the intimate processes of cybernetic feedback, negative or positive – already a big part of the speculative mode of production (as per Marina Vishmidt 2018) in the loopy 2010s, computationally leveraged and managed risk that financial capital overflows in ever greater flush of complexity and flash non- access for a much-too-human majority. That is where the affective becomes a marker to track impossible runaway effects and scars felt viscerally even if they have planetary seasoning on top and impersonal dimensions all around.
I am not saying the movie actually depicts or manages to convince or convey the multiple ducts and channels of haterizm that encompass many strata, drawing from unceasing economic inequality, coronavirus austerity economics coupled with individualist ‘survavalist’ panics, the various accumulated injustices, systemic racism – become a default blindspot that unite the para-statal cum infra- ultra- political. In fact I am highly skeptical of accepting one single face to match all this, and here the difficulty of actually choosing someone, a young “typical” white poor disenfranchised individual from Eastern Europe taking revenge on the ‘entire’ world around him, almost from hack to hack or exploit to exploit. Mind boggling no? How different a creature is this young Polish post-communist Tomasz Giemza Zoomer and law school plagiarist is from the young male hacker-cracker heroic prototype of the 90s movies or even the high schooler David Lightman playing Thermonuclear WarGames (1983) with Cold War AIs? He is almost a natural born spiteful troll for hire in the new economy, from his first scene when asking for an autograph from an esteemed teacher that just kicked him out of the system for not obeying the rules of law school – till his prying & listening into the closed doors nastiness of class privilege while entertaining a dream of upward mobility. Same time – post communist societies have a very particular class structure – with new oligarch sponsors of culture, new music festivals and art auction houses (in Romania for ex) and an underclass of scholarships, foundations and talent scouting and volunteer internships and charities for the looser of the market economy. But hell oligarchs are never alone! Robber barrons, J P Morgans and Thomas Alva Edisons have been around since the industrial revolution striking gold in the inventive-speculative economy whenever they recruited young Tesla’s. As Charles Mudede said recently in a talk about speculative fiction & speculative finance, we’re not surrounded just by our rich in those cities we live in, but by all the rich on the planet, no matter where they live, their origin or their fixed address is we still live next to their luxury bunkers.
This troll army is being groomed & recruited out of this jobless majority, mostly provincial or small town regional centers where job opportunities are rare or close to none and involve mostly forms of brutal self exploitation. It’s either a quick mechanical turk buck or performing via video chat room channel, filtering anal into anal on Youporn, sweating the call center grape wine, moderating the online casino requests or a life of misery. Hejter is not blind to the inbuilt gender-insensitivity in such work environments, where most of the young female employees can and are being subjected to abuse, were abuse, bullying and unequal pay are rampant. This culture of bullying at play inside the gaming (IT) industry is a long way from being reckoned with, as abuse itself generates profist and even after #Gamergate and 4chan meltdown we have suddenly seen the rapid and important politicization of the fandom (even considering the unlikely case of K-pop Stans).
While this recent movie does not point any fingers – it manages in a remarkable way to show how such xenophobic hate lives in symbiosis with the neoliberal elites culture, how it grows at the margins of lavish VIP charities, whitewashing glam curator art events with symbolic works dedicated to refugee and LGBT+ causes. Same families supporting the liberal mayor candidate within the narrative (Rudnicki) – a streamlined and completely typical post-1989 political class defined mostly by tehnocratic solutions & populist agendas. Even again in the outing ‘smearing tactics’ scene of Rudnicki as the son of a former communist apparatchick rings a bell in an East still shaken and also sensible to such ‘reveals’ by the simple historical fact that the first free market entrepreneurs where all former high level members of the various oppressive security forces or children of the party high cadres schooled in the private schools of the West. There’s is also a strange feeling that the dark net is prolonging the black labour market the training ground of the first entrepreneur class, and a peculiar spot of human capital exploitation and paid bonuses in spite of fully automated bot weaponized haterizm.
In fact, as an insider friend mentioned recently, there is confirmation provided from studies done by liberal think tanks that pro- minorities NGOs in the East have sometimes managed to somehow stoke up hate and xenophobia in spite of their own best intentions. The point being that paradoxically (or maybe not so) – the so-called ‘obscurantist’ non-secular initiatives aka religious organizations orientated against discrimination, against racism, and for the alleviation of poverty have been scoring higher success rates under the same conditions. An aggressively militant atheism bound up with the ‘new optimist’ camp are also likely to be quite insensitive to the local concerns and affective or spiritual needs. There is also a feeling that even the most outrageous phenomena such as the QAnon type of ‘conspirituality’ no matter how aberrant or damaging are growing on the back of broken unlimited progress narratives, ineffective emancipatory projects, dysfunctional religiosity and total in-satisfaction with the current explanatory frames of realism capitalism. Probably NGOizm and paliative& pacifying initiatives will never abandoned even if they are mostly completly enimical both to working class as well as various educated dropouts with degrees and no jobs. The simple fact that results did not match expectations of years of investment and constant nurturing of democratic values should ring a giant bell.
Compared to surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman in Copolla’s path breaking The Conversation 1974 movie) Tomasz does not seem to have any technical background and is just using the tools provided by company (Big Tech?) others that just chance upon his innate ability to cyber bully given targets. What is missing in the movie is also the fact that most of these clients and data analytics for hire companies (akin to the notorious Cambridge Analytica) work across national or territorial borders, be either for UN or NATO mission or whoever pays most. Here humanitarian reasons somehow easily blur into military & counterinsurgency, easily bypassing European legislation, acting transnationally in deed if not in name (=global-local clients indistinguishable) with impunity across all supposed statal, strict identity or private business lines. New entrepreneurial and business models are born from the ugly fact that a shifty (bedroom and cubicle) working class has become the playwork of capitalist outsourcing networks best nested in Eastern European IT heavens. Also staunchly identitarian claims and hate campaigns go very well hand in hand with the overall branding campaigns, country branding or otherwise. The troll farms manage to make a living out of these hate campaigns – using studios in say Romania to work for AFD campains or Macendonian Veles crews for Trump elections because they ethnostated politics at the beat of clickbait coaches able to dodge FB checkups and incentivize their dark net recruits, mostly in places that do not even exist for the majority of Europeans.
In this post-cinematic attempt at making sense of chitter – chatting apps, chatrooms, story integration is always a problem, only visual effects via effective live texting and screen capture can give a feem without wokeness or reveal – of what is going on. Only 3D gaming comes to rescue – the real terrain of both other worlds mapped into ours as well as of political recruitment and affective possibilities morphing into serious play mobilisation. This risks again blaming the gaming industry as such – its dark den of the geek and opaqueness as breeding ground for all social ills, alienation, terrorism and mass shootings. This being said – it is important to introduce this double consciousness (powerful avatar online/powerless nerd offline) coupled with an abundance of parasitic, invited, multiple sandwiched identities (being a game character, an online gold farmer, nationalistic Cosplayer, member of the precariat and truth seeker & purveyor of conspirative theories) that seem to allow for movements and allegiances that are unthinkable, bridging gaps and encompassing apparently unsolvable contradictions. The whole gameplay 3D adventure needs to be unpacked. Monsters inside this fantasy game seem to be placeholders for invaders/foreigners, and even a mountainous face with gigantic rock sculpted bearded patriarchs (founders of the nation?) seem to point into this direction. With increased commodification of the self, of gold farming and plenty of crypto-coin exchanges – players commune in a cyberspace where cultural values and ideas have been “hardwired” into its very geography and landscape.
I am somewhat puzzled at same time even slightly annoyed-amused at the last metamorphosis of the young reptilian hater at the end of the movie. A romantic figure that could come from a Caspar David Friedrich painting, or a Russian nihilist manifesto such as Sergey Nechayev Catechism of a Revolutionary. Marching on top of cadavers, trough political campaings, or as astro turfing commander-in-chief blackmailing his female boss, Tomasz strikes one as a long shot from the Zoomer/Unabomber Kaczyski look he at some point adopts to steal ammunition and a Kalashnikov and murder a local hapless guard (his first true Karamazovian crime). Even at the big rom Silicon Valley, the various co-working, maker space movement and innovation “incubators” have also been very good at reproducing and normalising racism, sexism, colonialism and labor exploitation.
This Polish movie almost transforms him into strange & dark NKVD avant-garde theatre director, with an ability to surf on the whims of silent disko eroticism, queerness, arrogant high class privilege, a better apparatchick than all ex undercover agents, Cold War spies or secret service recruits Hollywood has produced. Here the Soviet US cold war binome or even the liberal democratic obsessive #RussiaGate (or for that manner eastern European) fixation doesn’t lead us anywhere. There’s a lot of fear surrounding this new entrepreneur of hate. I mean maybe this is the new face of fear – maybe this is what democracy ‘ok boomer’ is faced with at the end of Empire or when they speak about Civilisation crumbling behind closed doors in salons. Hajter is hateful because he can be easily be pilloried as ‘Gang of Four’, but maybe not so easy sent to the provinces or the back country after he played his role – as in Chinese 20th c history – he’s free to exercise his guerilla marketing like a trendsetter of 21st c Maoism. Tomasz is almost, if not the embodiment of Kang Sheng (Mao’s pistol), then a cultural lower class young mercenary of current cultural wars – able to do political LARP, mobilize, harass and vectorialize Red Guardist terror at will against the managers, former teachers and most significantly against his patrons who are his intelectual and economic superiors.
Probably this final roleplay would be the most horrific dream of almost all of the centrist or right-winger neo-liberal tek savvy #rezist (in Romania for example) groups mushrooming after 1989, who base their whole attack motive on a constant red scare (“ciuma rosie” literally red plague) virulently anti-communist and anti-corruption slogans. A very strange neo-Stalinist aesthetic indeed, also considering that most of the money for these campaigns and recruitment and models come from the doomsday-religious-right-US continuum maybe here getting closer to the Politigram_postLeft wave dynamics implodes the identitarian and political phase-space into impossible political hybrids and temporary identity formations: ex-neo-Maoist-Stahanovist-Amazon-delivery-synarchy, ex-neo-Dacian-quantum-LARPing-monarchist, ex-Marxist- now Max Stirnerian-bedroom-food-delivery guerrilla and such…
This also raises the question of how Franchise nations from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 cyberpunk Snow Crash span across nationalistic attachments, with gated communities and identities congealing in cyberspace around consumption patterns, common passions or interests, rather than around geographical continuity, thus requiring new strategies of resistance in a transnational age (as Sheryyl Vint put it in Funk Not Punk review of The Souls of Cyberfolk) is far from what ideological Cold War disputes were about. As a 21th c chameleonic netizen, with no particularties (not even attachments of his own) he appeares as a tired eyes passive bystander that burns with unseen passion – Tomasz is the next smooth operator that manages to thwart his own recruited terrorist right wing-extremist accomplice, get himself stabbed and thus self-victimizable, able to save the day and heroically pose for the next Selfie. He is a much too profligate adept of Sun Tzi Art of War, itself a favorite tome of Wall Street Gordon Geckos and guerrilla marketing campaigners. On the defeatist side, involuntarily maybe, the Hejter movie also hints at the sort of impossible translation of rage into hate or hate into rage, or how feelings of dis-empowerment, growing debt, turbo consumerism and precarity don’t automatically allow for a greater solidarity (say with such causes as #BLM), making ex-communist Eastern Europe a hotbed for EUrabian racist propaganda and pretty much deaf to decolonial thinking or intersectional politics. We have to still see how this plays out.
I understand the choice of the director for this creature of new malefic maleness as much as I appreciate the incredible effort and talent of his main actor, although I am still wondering about the designed law school inevitability of this first person-Shooter Zoomer. Youth – as Sam Kriss wrote in his in his magnificent Teenage bloodbath text- is a phantom, one mostly conjured up by old people, those who have no fucking idea where the youth gets its skillz honed or dreams broken. Hejter could well be recycling the same weaknesses plaguing cyberpunk imagery in general – the reinforcement of stereotypes and the recentering of the young male, white subject as the new “abject”.
Talking about the artistic side of hate production is also important – the film seems to also be an in- joke on the Polish art scene that started experimenting with social engineering and spectacular social-Darwinist identity politics early on – such is the case of Artur Zmijewski and his 2007 work study/documentation Them at Documenta 12. The difference btw prankster, hate influencer, bad curator and social engineer get blurred in Artur Zmijewski work, invited to curate the Berlin Biennale of protest groups – ‘curating protest’ – staging and creating political extremist clashes at big art events was already on big spectacle. It is important to recognize that this has become a job already for some, before such topics even reached the mainstream cinema. The jump from neo-Avant Garde experimental theatre or even speculative fiction to non linear politics has been also documented by Adam Curtis especially in regard to Russia some years ago. For a more recent post – read cockydoody Repeating PodThoughts with a series of odd but sobering quotes by Dugin (!), Wyndham Lewis, Groys and more to the point – Vladislav Surkov.