Skyline and Adorno

(Note: The following may sound hyperbolic.  It isn’t.)

I had the great misfortune to go see Skyline (The Brother’s Strause, 2010) last night, or perhaps I made the great blunder, for I went voluntarily (to the death of Western culture as we know it).  I’d love to detail in every single way that it was bad—for basically, it has achieved that near-impossible feat of being an aesthetic product with absolutely no critical response possible to it—but to do so would require a dissertation in-and-of-itself.   But b/c it was bad in so many, many ways, a few examples are perhaps necessary.  Like, for instance, it was a disaster movie that was basically set in an apartment.  So we had to care about how the characters interacted and stuff.  And I didn’t.  At all.  In no way were sympathy, empathy, or detached irony evoked in me.  It was like watching a happy meal get older (i.e. nothing happens) in terms of temporal-narrative arc.  Skyline makes 2012 look like an absolute masterpiece—which maybe now to think of it, it is (see, this is the kind thinking this movie causes; see me on 2012 here and here).  It was so bad I had to apologize to myself that I saw it, and indeed anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in the theater w/ me.[1] It made me wonder why I thought Spiderman 2, 3, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico were all so bad that I had to get up and walk out of the theater during them b/c Skyline was so bad I didn’t leave, it was like watching a train wreck in hyper-slo-mo.[2] So anyway, definitely the worst SF/disaster/alien/apocalypse/brain eating/brain replacing/apartment melodrama of the 2010s so far.

But this is the kicker, Skyline functions in such a way that we are invited to read the following in a different fashion:

Only by subordinating all branches of intellectual production equally to the single purpose of imposing on the senses of human beings, from the time they leave the factory in the evening to the time they clock on in the morning, the imprint of the work routine which they must sustain throughout the day, does this culture mockingly fulfill the notion of a unified culture which the philosophers of the individual personality held out against mass culture.[3]

Alright, yes, Skyline as an aesthetic product treats itself as nothing more than a vehicle for $, and the experience of watching it feels like being at a particularly nasty low-level type job (say dishwashing or sewage maintenance), where you don’t have any choice but to barrel on through, but, and this is the kicker: Skyline achieves the impossible dream of making any critique of this type of intellectual/aesthetic labor impossible within its space, b/c it has made the film so impossibly unreadable, so critically unavailable to any detached engagement, as to turn the notion of art=labor into formal/aesthetic principle.  There is nothing, quite literally nothing in the film around which a coherent critical reading could grasp at something to talk about, let alone something interesting to talk about.  There aren’t even that many cool explosions or special effects, which is why you go see such a film in the first place! It is like pure labor in that it doesn’t muck up the well w/ all that sublimity or beauty, a perfect moment of clarity at our total reification and the completeness w/ which the culture industry has absorbed everything.  Perfect panoptic control.  Here is an empty object, something we can’t even fill up w/ our own anxieties or sublimated affect, b/c its like a sucking black hole of thought and imagination, a kind of reverse-emergence (maybe it shows “demergent” properties?  anyone?); it is the goddamn void at the center of being.

And this is all to say that I was writing something else and I came across this quote from Adorno, and wasn’t sure whether to use it in there or not, but surely it was an excuse to put it on here.  Sklyine is some kinda hyper-Adornoian nightmare.  The kind that shivers under the blankets of the actors in Endgame, the ash falling outside their windows.  The kind that makes me scared that I just go see films like this so I have an excuse to write about them, and then realize, why yes I do, but I don’t even have anything to say about this other than it confounds any attempt to say anything about it w/ its profound horribleness.  Well.  We’ve perhaps reached the end of something.

I mean, can we ever even take aliens seriously again after this?  Or eating brains for that matter?  These have been two beloved b-movie tropes for decades now, and Skyline might have single-handedly sounded their death-knell.  Are we only to have werewolves and vampires to look forward to?  No alien destruction from the sky?  No zombies slurring out a barely audible, “braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnssssssssssssss!”  Hell, we can’t even take Donald Faison of Scrubs fame seriously anymore, b/c his acting on that show, in comparison, is like Lifetime Emmy Achievement Award-caliber.

And the worst part?  It’s not even good as pure labor.  B/c no work is done.  It doesn’t make us want to buy anything.  It doesn’t make us want to work more.  Nor abuse substances.  Nor even watch more movies and television.  It doesn’t make me feel like an individual w/ hopes, dreams, aspersions, commitments, responsibilities, etc.  It makes me want to sleep (perhaps).  But even then.  It enacts a kind of zen nothingness at the heart of capitalist entertainment, an urge to simply sit and stare endlessly.  (Weird, this has been a recent theme for me, I wonder why?)  Sklyine is a kind of utopian non-space outside of the dominating logic of labor.  And yet it is no less controlling b/c of that.

It achieves perfect aesthetic banality.  And it is freaking evil.  No one should have ever been permitted to make this film, let alone show it to anybody.  If art can be dangerous, deadly even, Skyline is.  In short, if an “Anti-Entertainment” perhaps exists in the pages of Infinite Jest, a virus to infect the effects of “The Entertainment,” nullifying our enjoyment of anything whatsoever, it is Skyline.

[1] More entertaining than Skyline?:  The throngs of teenaged girls and boys lined up to be the first in line to see Harry Potter nearly 10 hours before it premiered.  They at least, like, had capes and shit.

[2] Oh yeah, and of course there was this particularly zany shot of the character’ running in slow motion, before a weird tentacle thing came and snatched the woman into a sort of womb-stomach-like thing, and then extracted its brain, and replaced its own w/ the new brain—i.e. brains are, like, batteries.  (Yes, you heard right: the aliens in this movie are motivated by eating brains, a kind of über-zombie-apocalypse.  Oh wait, oops, I just made this movie sound more interesting simply by using the English language in a coherent fashion—i.e. none of the character’s knew how to enunciate their dialogue—for that I apologize, for even the brain eating was stupid.)

[3] Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. Gunzelin Schmid NOerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 104.

One thought on “Skyline and Adorno

  1. ouch! see i know it wasn’t your intention, but a review this brutal make me want to see the movie immediately. i pulled up the trailer and there’s this shot of a ton of people being vacuumed up. and a lot of pretty blue. but there doesn’t seem to be any actual story or narrative to speak of, even with all the glimpses i’ve seen. it’s telling that i can’t remember a single line of dialogue spoken in any promo. but i’ll have to rent it just because i’m a sucker for blue filters ever since The Abyss. AND i’m gonna have to read Infinite Jest now if it’s got this anti-entertainment in it you speak of. okay, i promise to finish reading my copy as soon as i track down the author to sign it.

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