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Norway: Like-mindedness or realisation of dystopia?

16th June 2016

In case that you may think the dismal reality in The Bothersome Man is just an accomplished cinematic warning of where developed societies may end up being (following, of course, the admonitory theories of the likes of Foucault or Deleuze), it may, in a sense, be useful to read the excerpt below from an anthropological analysis of an actual place – Orange County, California, US.
Perhaps it is interesting to note that our Norwegian film ‘Den brysomme mannen’, is dated 2006 whereas this ethnological-anthropological essay was published in 2004:

Within the south of Los Angeles there is a place called Orange County which doesn’t exist. An anatomical metaphor would suggest that Orange County is an arterial system with no organism around it, or, in other words, a headless body which ‘functions’ perfectly or whose sole purpose is to ‘function’, to support free movement of goods, of information, of population.
This movement is self-reflected, with no other goal apart from the reproduction and maintenance of a certain status-quo, of a certain imaginary type of balance which negates the phenomenality, the entropy and, ultimately, the death.

The space is organised on a military model based on a vision of ‘total ownership’ [..] and on the non-contact principles as well as those of a perfect compartmentalisation. Under the mask of the respect for property hides a totalitarian form of ‘ghettofication’/’ghettoization’ which distributes appropriate spaces to appropriate identities. This place is furnished with an assemblage of discrete objects which don’t interact with each other, which do not convey any significations outside of their own borders, about which is to be assumed that they don’t influence each other and, ideally, don’t touch each other … likewise, making up an administrative paradise.

The underground, the unseen is usually the repository of the past, the place where the witness-objects of history are all squished in, the hideout of ghosts and spirits. Like in a cartesian dream of reason (dubito ergo cogito/cogito ergo sum), the past has no place in a space of consumption and of continual updating. Descartes needed doubt to ensure the existence of self, and the aptitude for doubting is timeless/atemporal, a permanent update/actualisation of a state of mind. It is just that any doubt is removed when it comes to the materialisation of the property, and Descartes’ reasoning finds itself amended to “Do I own anything? I own, therefore I am”. The property is the measure of the existence.

[..] The road network connects homes to four other spaces of sociality: work place, the market (shopping centres/malls, high streets etc), spaces of recreation (organised in the same logic as markets), and the churches which can be mistaken to any office building.
[..] Any building is endlessly reproduced and any attempt to leave this space is futile: after 19 miles of driving we arrive in the same place we set off from.
The infinite repetition of exterior forms, doubled by the similarity of decorations and interior designs – in commercial spaces, offices or homes – pushes us into a catatonic zone, in a binary mode of thinking in terms of presence and absence (this binarism also manifests in the realm of emotions: from the constitutional perspective, anyone is obliged to be happy. The absence of happiness doesn’t indicate a variety of emotions but the void of happiness, instantly equated to depression and therefore medicalised).
It is a space of nonconsumable but ultraconsumering familiarity, of non alteration: if something exists, it is similar with any other entity which bears the same label, and the obsession of both, the identity and the identical is visible in every detail. Any car park is identical with the one you just left 15 minutes/miles ago, any house is the repetition of the one next to it.
If it doesn’t exist it means that it cannot exist; ie. the only alternative solution is the absence, and more than that, the alternative is simply unthinkable: What else can it be?
The similarity of the architecture gives the paradoxical impression of being lost at any time, as you can never tell whether or not you are in the right place and, in the same time, any place is the right place.
[..] The built space spreads seamlessly on the surface with no interstices. One can think that surface is something in plain sight, and, therefore, easy to label, to categorise, to manage: presence or nothing. The absence would actually be nonexistence to be replaced by (mental) void … it is unthinkable or, at best, assimilated to wilderness. Everything which is on the surface in Orange County has been built, including the landscape. Using billions of imported litres of water the native desert is being transformed into a green space where the lawn, the trees and the vegetation grow abundantly. In fact, they don’t grow: the landscapers keep every plant in a standardised status. The dream of eternity is displayed in unchangeable forms of vegetation, in lifeless trees that do not grow.

I am sure that, once read, the text will make you wonder whether this is all about some sort of coincidence having the same dystopian narrative sublimated in two different cultural forms (film and its ethnographic-anthropological counterpart) produced by two like-minded people … or whether it is about something potentially more troubling if we accept that the anthropologist is indeed the ‘bothersome man’ of an already existing/deployed/implemented and perhaps less noticeable reality.


Source: Alexandru Balasescu – Orange County: Spontaneous Ethnography (2004)

The Journey So Far...


A man arrives in a strange world with no memory of how he got there – he is presented with a job, an apartment, a girlfriend… the perfect life. But something’s not right – the food is tasteless, the alcohol has no effect, there…

15th June 2016