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Late Capitalism

Excel centre

Channel4 News’s estimable Jon Snow on the psychogeographic-significance of the G20 summit being held in the Excel centre in London’s Docklands.

“Even in the best of times, this is a dump, a warehouse in which absurdly large events are staged. Devoid of character, nestling the City airport, it is stuck in the middle of a place that appears never to have seen a shop, never to have seen a pint pulled, never to have seen a baby born, let alone a body buried.

It is the waste tip of east London. And presumably now that the Olympic site has been cleared, basks alone as a gateway to nowhere.

Travelling in here on the security-strewn media buses, I wondered how a Mexican or a Brazilian, or indeed a German or a Frenchman would view this taste of England. Imagine if your only glimpse of Europe was this ghastly pile of metal and concrete. You would think that development meant some voyage into outer Hades.”

The choice of the Excel is strangely emblematic of the current condition, isn’t it. A megashed, in an artificially-regenerated remote, unconnected area of a world capital of Capital, surrounded by a moat of effluvia from Canary Wharf… Jon Snow should get Iain Sinclair on the show tonight…



What Anarchists Drive, originally uploaded by Ben Terrett.

“The sequence of events in the successfully waking world was generally more or less as follows. The starting point, it will be remembered, was a plight like that in which our own Earth now stands. The dialectic of the world’s history had confronted the race with a problem with which the traditional mentality could never cope.

The world-situation had grown too complex for lowly intelligences, and it demanded a degree of individual integrity in leaders and in led, such as was as yet possible only to a few minds. Consciousness had already been violently awakened out of the primitive trance into a state of excruciating individualism, of poignant but pitifully restricted self-awareness. And individualism, together with the traditional tribal spirit, now threatened to wreck the world.

Only after a long-drawn agony of economic distress and maniac warfare, haunted by an increasingly clear vision of a happier world, could the second stage of waking be achieved. In most cases it was not achieved. “Human nature,” or its equivalent in the many worlds, could not change itself; and the environment could not remake it.

But in a few worlds the spirit reacted to its desperate plight with a miracle. Or, if the reader prefers, the environment miraculously refashioned the spirit. There occurred a widespread and almost sudden waking into a new lucidity of consciousness and a new integrity of will.

To call this change miraculous is only to recognize that it could not have been scientifically predicted even from the fullest possible knowledge of “human nature” as manifested in the earlier age. To later generations, however, it appeared as no miracle but as a belated wakening from an almost miraculous stupor into plain sanity.”

– Olaf Stapledon, Starmaker, Chapter Nine.

I thought that delivering my webstock talk, and finishing reading Welcome To Mars, Cold War Modern and The Bomb while on holiday would let me escape my obsession with the post-war and the high-modern. I had reckoned without James Coburn.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Tom Armitage picked up on my love of the Derek Flint movies, and suggested that I had not really experienced Coburn at the height of his powers until I had experienced him in “The President’s Analyst“. The plot is a thing of gossamer, and the dialogue is probably best described as “very much of it’s time”, but the production designs and way that product and environment is photographed is wonderful.

I watched it on my flight to Etech, and went a little crazy taking screengrabs of every beautiful detail I saw…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst" - a set on Flickr

The complete set is here, but I want to just point out a couple of wonderful moments.

The Archigram-esque travelling gate-lounges of Dulles, shot to echo the infrastructure of Apollo, and foreshadowing somehow the decaying post-future of Lebbeus Woods. Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

The classic Cold-War combo of the long fluoro-lit corridor with tiny psuedo golf-cart.

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Amphibious vehicles and long-zooms…

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Headquarters of Corporate Evil, designed by Bruce Goff?

Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

With corporate communications by DePatie-Freleng. (What was the first in this line of ‘hi-modern corporate communications animation vernacular’ as parodied eventually in Jurrasic Park amongst others?) Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

My absolute favourite detail however, has to be – The Networked Shoe: Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

That controls the corporate automatons Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

Look at this… the way they are curled, and nested, and converging to a central control point… This might just be the ne-plus-ultra of command-and-control cybernetics of the cold war meets the high-modern consumer culture! Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

As Coburn himself might say “Beautiful… BEAUTIFUL!Obsessed with the production design of "The President's Analyst"

"The end of all things is near."

On the (27 hour) plane ride back from New Zealand, I watched a lot of movies, some unremarkable – some wonderful. Watching Happy-Go-Lucky was painful for some reasons, and beautiful for others – but it definately hit me with the pink laserbeam between the eyes.

Watching classics like The Apartment and Manhattan made me wonder at the romances we’d write about some cities, and Slumdog Millionaire bizarrely seemed like a continuation of that: a romance of the maximum-city.

But, beside that – everytime a movie finished, the entertainment system reset to it’s main menu, with one of those airline entertainment system pseudo-radio stations playing on a loop.

And I hit the same point in the loop everytime.

And at that point in the loop played the same song everytime.

The song was a romance of the city.

A romance of electricity and colour and life and density of opportunity.

Electricity so fine
Look and dry your eyes

The song was “Stepping Out” by Joe Jackson.

Go and listen.

Watch.

I’ll stay put.

In recent months I’ve definitely fallen into a Collapsitarian rut of sorts.

A comprehensive map of all possible human futures

We -
Are young but getting old before our time

This won’t do.

As Jamais Cascio says, quoting Evelin Lindner:

“Pessimism is a luxury of good times. In difficult times, pessimism is a
self-fulfilling, self-inflicted death sentence.”

The wave of stuff coming down the lightcone is for sure a Danmaku-like bullet-curtain of environmental, societal and technical challenges, but I like Danmaku!

That’s where the action is, where the flow is felt, and where design wrangling of the sweetest kind can be done.

So, more wrangling, less hand-wringing.

Big bets should be made.

Happy-gets-lucky!

It took at 27 hour flight to realise that 27 years ago in 1982, Joe Jackson knew this and planted a time capsule into culture to help me with 2009.

It’s The Anti-Collapsitarian Anthem.

We -
So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side

That’s some foresight, right there. So if you are feeling a little collapsitarian, try stepping out.

You -
Can dress in pink and blue just like a child
And in a yellow taxi turn to me and smile
We’ll be there in just a while
If you follow me

Thanks Joe.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being shown on TV this weekend. I happened across it accidently, and sat glued to it for a couple of hours, realising perhaps how burnt into my subconcious some of the images in it are for me.

I started watching it not for the story (of which there is not much, admittedly) but trying to watch the imagery, the iconography.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

So many of my hot buttons pressed! One of the first issues of Starlog I ever bought, about 1978/79 / a classic 2000ad cover by Brian Bolland / The Goodies / Syd-Mead-esque prefabricated pods and silky tracksuits / 1975 NASA Ames /Stanford Torus research illustrations / the italian-supermodern furniture aesthetic of Space 1999 /

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

I’m currently reading Ken Holling’s excellent “Welcome To Mars”, in which the golden age of flying saucer culture is juxtaposed with the rise of suburbia and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

One could conside Close Encounters as the end of that trajectory – and the end of other trajectories: the last freak-out LSD scifi, the last ‘serious’ 70’s scifi before/during the starwarsification of the scifi movie.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

And the beginning of trajectories: the scifi conspiracy movie, the beginning of the industrial light-and-magic revolution, and an in-joke that would play out more than 25 years later in Alias.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Aside from being lost in the imagery, one piece of dialog I had never heard before floated through as soon as I’d switched on. It’s the scene  where a young boy, Barry is about to be abducted.

His mother tries to block all the doors, windows and ducts but cannot stop screws being unscrewed and their hiding place being unwrapped by light, noise and apparent unseen malevolence.

Obsessing over the production design in the last 20min of Close Encounters

Barry stands smiling, points at the UFOs and cries with joy: “TOYS!!”

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