Golden Smog

In the commotion of late-capitalism and the dissonance of mounting muffler shop surrealism, the polarity of the tale of the last Phrygian king’s chrysopoeia reversed. As spun by Aristotle, the archetypal ironist, the internal logic of Midas’ narrative curved the monarch toward inevitable starvation. Literally, his lust for wealth and material gain figured in opposition to the most basic human need; allegorically, hunger begat hunger, his consumption ate away at his soul, leading to a death from lack of consumption. There’s also Aesop’s infertile goose that birthed sterile flaxen ova—she was flayed for her trouble—or, if you prefer plucked swans and strangled wild birds, those analog stories exist in the fool’s gold canon as well. Add to the mix: Apuleius’ picaresque Ass and its gold-strewn in-set tales, every sorry sod across time and space who picked up Lubdan’s loose change, Goldfinger and variants, and, now, Brownsnout @NeillBlomkamp circa anno Domini November 910, aught-16.

The two posts are fleeting, nightmarish visions of immeasurable concrete and bluster: In the first, the imagined presidential motorcade comes around the bend on a three-lane highway with a flagship that would stir the loins of Lawrence Tureaud in his era of peak regalia; in the second, Air Force One of the near-future is taxied on a tarmac. Blomkamp’s films and theoretical projects are ambitious, grimy, uneven hypothetical worlds filled with byzantine bureaucracy, rigid hierarchical social strata, and rich, physically imposing aesthetic spectrums. In each, he explores the visual taxonomy of division, magnifying and amplifying the divides and the details that produce incompossible cohabiting hermetic societies. The perspectives of these miniaturist epics condense this hybridity. It’s calibrated for awe; these imposing, monstrosities are ushered into the frame, their farcical existence somehow grounded in a recognizable context and reality. They fuse the mundane and the absurd, dispassion and fury, spectatorship and complicity, feasibility and impossibility, paranoia and acceptance, grit and gild. It smelts voyeuristic distance and queasy immediacy—the hyperbolic uncontrollable historicity presented without warning and devoid of commentary. It’s at once grounded and fearful, sobering and anxiety-inducing, momentary and inescapable.

It’s an attitude given physical form—an expressionist take on hubris. It’s a uniquely contemporary combination of leering (Lear-ing?), ostentatious, and nauseating at once. The grain of the filter gives this future dystopia some tactility and murk, contrasting the opulence with some vérité pixilation. This minimalism makes the whole feel more maximal, more trenchant; the impact is to-the-bone but ludicrous. The mind fills in the larger picture, the world-building that would otherwise be unwieldy in any attempt to make it literal is more expansive and alarming because of the brevity and narrow scope. The inert otherness of these conveyances is palpable, made all the more alien by the fact that their hyper-inorganic contexts—interstate traffic and a blacktop airstrip that stretches to the horizon—are negative space safe havens for the eye. They’re potent symbols of rampant narcissism and overcompensation but they’re also just fucking rock and metal and fuel. A profound tarnish evokes the passage of time, the impermanence of physical objects, and the incongruity of these phallocentric, auto-erotic, Oedipal fever-dream fetish symbols.

The attention to detail cuts across-the-grain of tossed-off opinions and crude, hastily cobbled memes gone supernova. Together, the Nero-esque limousine and the flightless, tropical, turreted aerobus act as a sort of seconds-long distillations of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, undercutting monolithic indulgence through the elliptical form and platform, and condensing the “meta-tropic elaborations of the Lacanian Real” and mythopoeic sociology. Blomkamp’s too is a biotechnological pluriverse of sorts, envisaging “utopian compensation” in the form of the “libidinal transformation,” to paraphrase Frederic Jameson’s Political Unconscious. Blomkamp’s ouvre conscripts a corresponding radical/parodic. The Instagram posts extract this “‘gooey’ concreteness” and “multimedia complexity” and Adbusters-esque culture-mashing—evoked in Cremaster through a taxonomy of “Vaseline and self-lubricating plastic to tapioca pudding, precious metals, sculpture, drawing, and film, and its cross-cultural references to Masonry, Irish nationalism, pop culture, and high art”—and refines it down to an irreducible, foul, unstoppable essence, interrogating materiality and agency and the ravenous loop.

Except, Blomkamp’s exaggerated testicular mapping is relatively restrained compared to the real world narcissism correlative. Miniaturism constitutes a rebellious take when confronted with such ugly, lavish power exhibitions. When faced with the nadir of Anthropocene burlesque symbology, it’s heartening to remember that the Colossus of Rhodes only stood for fifty-four years before a quake hit and it just fucking fell over.

This article was written by Oliver O’Sullivan, a writer for dusk magazine.

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