Monoforms and Oedipus Sitting in a Tree

Films are getting old. In comparison to theater and literature, it remains a relatively young artform, however, film has reached a cataclysmic stage in its life cycle affected by an era of unprecedented diversification in media. Social platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitch and most notably TikTok have irreparably altered viewers habits leaving the filmmaking world scrambling to reorient itself as it’s challenged for viewer’s time by other mediums that are seldom delivered consciously by human hands and increasingly by an automatic program that filters and curates their content. Cinema’s greatest asset in this regard is the dialectic element of the “streaming wars” that persist in distracting and drawing attention away from social media but have destabilized the theater marketplace, only exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic and the hegemonic conglomerates that own and fund the large majority of mass-audio-visual-media (MAVM) simultaneously encouraging and rattling creators, consumers and producers alike.

Fortnite Battle Royale will have the “same gameplay” on mobile devices  [Updated] | Ars Technica
Fortnite gameplay

In spite of this, Netflix states that their biggest competitor for viewership is not other streaming sites like Amazon and Hulu but the ludicrously popular Fortnite9, a childish, cel-shaded “battle royale”. Video games and movies have established an odd binary with each other where they are often cribbing and ripping elements of the opposing mediums appeal for the respective benefit of each, in quite a similar manner to how film, upon its inception, was stealing much from theater and stageplays. The role reversal was inevitable once film became more popular, with theater trying to compete with movies both in content and form. Cinema continues to adapt video game movies (in spite of their poor quality Paul W.S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter is the most recent example but he cut his chops on the widely successful Resident Evil franchise until the films became unrecognizable from their source material), while licensed video games based on films have halted in a significant manner, with the stipulation that many of the most popular video game titles of the year, continue to emulate, and are praised for, being “cinematic”: from 2020, primarily Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was heralded for it’s lifelike character renderings and organic dialogue between them, Sucker Punch’s Ghosts of Thushima featured a “Kurosawa mode” where the player could experience the samurai gameplay and narrative with a grainy black and white filter indebted to the legendary filmmaker, while IO Interactive, known for the Hitman franchise is abandoning it’s beloved world the studio has spent twenty years developing to make a 007 game. The Last of Us being an example of the unshakeable hold cinema still has over video game narratives, Ghosts of Thushima acknowledges videogames’ aesthetic emulsion of movies and the IO interactive story exemplifying the reliance creative mediums have cultivated on pre-existing properties; Kevin Feige’s Disney and his Marvel empire is unavoidable in this conversation and comparison.

Monster Hunter, Nomadland, and 5 great movies you can now watch at home -  Polygon
Paul W.S. Anderson’s Monster Hunter

 Peter Watkins, director of films like Punishment Park, Edvard Munch, La Commune (1871) and the controversial The War Game developed a concept in his book Media Crisis called the monoform, which, in his own words: 

“gives no time for interaction, reflection or questioning. Its dense layering of sound, its lack of silence (except for manipulative processes)… The rapidly edited images are like small railway cars, and the rails they run on the monolinear narrative structure as originally developed by Hollywood and designed to move the story (the message) in a predetermined line (predetermined by the producers, not the public) rising and falling between impact points to a climax and termination.”3

He further states that these monoforms are designed to evoke programmed responses from audiences. The arrival of other mediums of audiovisual media have consistently decentralized and challenged the establishment MAVM, but, like Watkins alluded to, largely only for the purposes of industry in his allegorical and pointed references to railroads. The camera has occupied such a powerful and dominant position in this respect until the last ten years when video games have made the ascendancy to a similar, if not, more prominent position than films had previously occupied, perhaps not as a blatantly artistic, cultural force but certainly as an appendage of capital. This is at a reprehensible risk to videogames as artform  which much like cinema in the context of enterprise first and art second, have become largely monoformic. 

Activity - Peter Watkins | MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona
Peter Watkins on the set of La Commune (1871)

The most popular, played games of this current era are “battle royales”, tasking the player with having no weapons initially, either alone or in small squads and then surviving, outliving and often murdering other teammates to achieve victory. While there is some argument to be made in the history of this genre that this began more as a grassroots consumer movement than the ideological control of pre-and-post-war dramas and comedies as those often offer deliberate messages on politics, gender, race and class relations (which Watkins unapologetically blames on producers and not the worker-consumer of the last century of late-stage-capitalism) in addition to stemming out of a particular existential mentality gripping much of the major filmmaking world. The “battle royale” began as a mod for the incredibly niche Arma franchise, a series of games that allowed players to create their own missions and participate in highly realistic military simulations, in addition to the Minecraft mod that was based on the then popular franchise Hunger Games, which, I would be remiss in not pointing out at this point, both the Battle Royale series by Kinji Fukasaku and the Hunger Games movies are based on books, which then became film series, then adapted to the video game sphere.

A new 'Hunger Games' movie is coming
Francis Lawerence and Gary Ross’ Hunger Games

Monoforms are inherently translatable, their malleability is entirely necessary to durability, “mandatory in all but name”3. The “battle royale” phenomenon funneled a generation of players, viewers and readers familiar with the concept who were primed for the appeal of these games, milking out the mileage of the relatively thin idea for over two decades without challenging or expanding upon the idea in any discernible, meaningful manner. Multiplayer games represent a separate generic category, (much like in the realm of cinema with dramas, horrors and comedies), alongside single-player shooters, platformers and to extend the sharing and interchanging aspects from other mediums; the survival horror genre, which the aforementioned Paul W. Anderson’s Resident Evil movies have exchanged features with its videogame counterparts, as his series became more oriented around action, so too did the games until they needed to realign their identity in the franchises 7th entry, restoring it’s horror identity only after it had become inextricably linked to the films which it had preceded. 

Revisiting Battle Royale In The Age Of Fortnite, PUBG And All The Others
Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale

Watkins films to some degree, fall in a generic category, albeit in a singular fashion. His films technically align with “docu-fiction”, pioneered largely by him. Another British filmmaker Peter Greenaway engaged with this genre with his breakthrough feature length The Falls, a genre which later became a pillar of the Iranian film community with works like The Mirror (Jafar Panhi), Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami) and A Moment of Innocence (Moshen Mahkmalbaf), enlivened similarly by Gillo Pontecorvo in his seminal work The Battle of Algiers which brings me to a necessary and overdue distinction, there is a difference between genres and monoforms. 

The Function of Autonomy': Félix Guattari and New Revolutionary Prospects -  Salvage
Felix Guattari (right) and Gilles Deleuze (left)
Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (9780816612253): Gilles Deleuze  and Felix Guattari - BiblioVault

Gilles Deleuze defines genre films as works that “bring(s) out the thing in itself, literally, in its excess of horror or beauty”10, and to contrast this with Watkins theories on the monoform which is “designed to entrap- to catch and hold the attention of the public over long periods of time”3, for Deleuze genre is a platform for perpetually renewable and transferable difference, and for Watkins the latter is a stagnant, already inert dead object that restates and enforces bourgeois values. To borrow from a different Deleuze work, in Anti-Oedipus: Schizophrenia and Capitalism, the writer alongside his partner Felix Guattari articulate the manner in which the triangulation of the Oedipal complex between child-mother-father, work as a force of anti-production against the subjects’ desires. Similarly, the monoform integrates creatives and viewers alike into a preordained structure which they must adhere to if they wish to fund and view films. Now both are in reality a more complicated position than Watkins gives credit for, as it’s almost hypocritical and overtly-humble of a man who was almost single-handedly responsible for developing his singular brand of films to critique such a facet of the industry when he was able, in spite of pressures from the “monoformic” culture to carve a unique and original career for himself. Guattari and Deleuze were searching for a “cure for the cure”5 of the psychoanalytic Oedipal diagnosis and Watkins is a bit more nihilistic on this point as he doesn’t even see his own works as a startling, revelatory contradiction to MAVM but rather a participant in the process. Had his films reached a certain level of success and recognition (which is impossible given how provocative in content they were) it’s likely they would’ve been at risk of becoming monoformic themselves, through no fault of his intentions, but solely because no film is immune from the tendrils of capital influence and cultural repression established around suppressive forces like Christianity and consumerism. 

Edvard Munch (1974) directed by Peter Watkins • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd
Peter Wakins’ Edvard Munch

Watkins’ Edvard Munch is perhaps the most personal of his films in that it tracks the interior life of an artist, a film about the Norwegian painter most famous for “The Shriek” and his difficult relationship to substances, sickness, death, loneliness, family, societal discourse and most alike Watkins himself in terms of a direct parallel, the inescapable and imposing organization of artforms that loom over genuine invention. For Deleuze and Guatarri, language in the child is initially creative, however, once they enter into the familial structure they are inducted into a set of beliefs, reasoning, ways of being and psychology now oriented within the Oedipal triangle. They emphasize the amount of danger and vulnerability this order poses to itself, the “explosivity” of desire in relation to the triangle, that desire is inherently revolutionary because it sabotages the ambitions of Oedipus for psychic repression. Watkins depiction of Munch reiterates this point and others from Anti-Oedpius, especially in Edvard’s bravery towards madness. Deleuze and Guattari argue in order to liberate oneself from the positioning of Oedipus one must not fear going insane, and the rendering of Edvard’s romantic life, the tragedy of his familial existence, his personal diaries where he speaks of himself in the third person, the increasing variability and curiosity of his methods that Munch applies to his craft, form a direct extension of the thesis posed by the controversial philosopher and anti-psychologist. This, coupled with Watkins theories on the constricting squeeze of the monoform, identifies Munch as an artistic revolutionary because of his ability to unleash the flows of his desire and personal lunacy onto a canvas, shattering the preconceived and accepted forms in spite of establishment (in Munch’s day, the church and moral bourgeoisie, for Watkins conglomerates and it’s capital offspring) attempts at opposition and control. 

While Watkins is rather cynical about his own work, the Oedipal triangle and the monoform pose a dialectic element to creators. Though they seek to be catalysts of anti-production, artists and creatives (Munch, Watkins, Deleuze and Guattari) continuously alter, challenge, eradicate and destabilize their nature. The capital system as a body-without-organs, is one of the most fundamental aspects of Anti-Oedipus, casting capitalism as a schizophrenic system which is changeable and adaptable, seemingly able to be many things at once and always willing to become something new: a monk, a priest, a fisherman or a foxcatcher, a holy knight of the crusades or a visitor from an apocalyptic future, claiming each success and uniting every failure, but they note that capitalism is something that always seeks its limit, and alike the schizo, never seems to arrive at it. So the boundaries and the content therein remain open for contamination, expansion and integration of previously demonized factors into the regulation of the Oedipal triangle-monoform. The “cure for the cure” with which Deleuze and Guattari speak of becomes preposterously difficult when the repressive system is willing to territorialize and inscribe on the body of creativity, invention and innovation the self-crediting of profit and anti-production. The sovereign space with which mania inhabits becomes another ground on which capitalism can profess it’s productive nature when it in fact was only as a result of it’s restrictive, constricting forces by which, to borrow Aristotle’s dichotomy from Poetics, the genius and the madman, are forced to commit acts of artistic, terroristic violence on preordained structures and programmed responses. 

André Breton - Wikipedia
André Breton
8 Bizarre Facts About Salvador Dalí | Art & Object
Salvador Dalí
Luis Buñuel biography | birthday, trivia | Spanish Filmmaker | Who2
Luis Buñuel

Surrealism was one of the first artistic movements of the last hundred years to claim militancy, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Luis Buñuel, each in their respective mediums attacked preconceived notions of art, some of the most explicit assaults ever launched on monoforms, and though they were indebted to Freud in their obsession with the subconscious, they aligned with Deleuze and Guattari on the point of not asking “what does it mean?”5 but instead penetrating the “how does it work?”5 of the subconscious. Analyzing dream images is a futile enterprise so they launched a barrage on the senses, Breton in poetry, Dalí in painting and Buñuel in film that didn’t try to make sense of the inexplicable and bizarre, but only sought to replicate the strange, intangible nature of the subconscious so as to undermine and violate Christianity, capitalism, the foundations of hollow morality and fundamentalism of the bourgeoisie.

The Tragedy and Mystery of the 'Best Game of the Decade' | WIRED
Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero

Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero is a recent work that is heavily referencing and drawing from existentialist literature and surrealist aesthetics, both the aforementioned European school (Breton is mentioned by name by several characters) and also that of more recent entries to the canon like David Lynch in his both whimsical and disturbing approach to small town Americana. The game interpolates these trodden elements from surrealism and weave them into the ambiguous and convoluted narrative. The story follows Conway, a reformed alcoholic delivery man who is tasked with completing the final job for Lysette’s antiques to the address of 5 Dogwood Drive. No one seems to be able to tell him exactly where it is, just that he needs to follow something called The Zero to get there. Along the way he encounters a group of people who all seem to need each other to traverse this winding, abstract road that changes and contorts before their eyes, a realm where geometry, logic, and function are distorted with increasing inexplicability. Though the game technically falls under the “point n’ click” genre of videogames where the player clicks through a series of environments and has various interactions with in-game characters, Kentucky Route Zero has an entirely singular approach to the genre, a deliberate playfulness within the generic space that is often as subversive as the content therein. The game often plays like a poetry generator, everyone in the world obsessed with the intersection between art, industry, and entertainment, making for a subtle display of how they are linked to one another (most notably by workers), and though you can choose what the multiple playable characters say and do, it’s less about defining their personalities than it is about the curvature of the narrative, like a stilted, strange choose-your-own-adventure where the themes and story will be revealed to you regardless of what you choose, just in a kaleidoscopic and omnubic fashion.

Kentucky Route Zero: PC Edition on Steam
Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero

At first the player only controls Conway but the perspective then begins to oscillate and shift between characters who you encounter on your journey. The most notable instance of this is when Conway and his crew are walking through a museum and their prowling is observed overhead by a group of security guards who talk about them and listen in on their conversations, instead of being Conway in this moment, the game tasks you with forming the narrative from the view of those watching your movements on the camera both for them and for your small group. The second interlude “The Entertainment” was designed for Virtual Reality headsets, though it can be experienced all the same through keyboard and mouse, as you inhabit the character of a “Barfly” in what may or may not be a stage production. The local news channel from the game: KEXP-TV, has a full-fledged website that you can visit in your web browser full of interviews, news stories and supplemental content. The fourth interlude features a telephone that you dial numbers into and receive responses from fans of the game who called in and developed lore about an area called the “Echo River”, providing the gamer with information about the mysteries, buildings and people who live along it. These brief examples are simply here to illustrate the methods by which Kentucky Route Zero expands and tugs at “traditional” gameplay (no combats, no puzzles, no boss fights, no skill-trees) by expanding the vernacular of the artform while displaying that what the game accomplishes only could’ve been done within that medium, including the meta-textual elements that exist outside of the game. While some films have done experiments similar to this, be it David Lynch handing out dictionaries for Dune on the way into the auditorium to explain terms from the film or William Castle’s audience participation experiments, the shared aspects between them is that, no matter their success or failure, they create ruptures and breaks within the monoformic, Oedipal schema of their respective artforms.

Kentucky Route Zero: PC Edition on Steam
Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero

Much like Edvard Munch, which is a simultaneous disruption of the monoform in style and self-referentially about a man who broke from his era’s attempts at inducing his technique into established principles, Kentucky Route Zero challenges bourgeoise notions thematically, stylistically, narratively and also from it’s unprecedented experimentation in gameplay. On the first front the game is about debt, regret and a certain part of American Appalachia that has been left behind by capitalism, used, then tossed aside like a dirty rag. Everyone in the game is in transit, either because their jobs have been taken from them and ceased to be relevant in an era of cityscapes and modernity or because they are listless, aimless, existentially unfulfilled by a world that seemingly no longer cares for them. The visuals are muted, no characters have faces and all the colors are reduced to their most subtle, diminutive shades, the profound melancholy of the proletariat in place of the righteous anger that Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao once elucidated. The story tracks Conway as he gets increasingly distracted by the ailments, problems and lives of his cohorts all the while suffering a relapse in alcoholism, then undergoing a literal loss of a limb after signing a binding contract with a local liquor company run by ambivalent, vague, luminous beings who spark and hum like electricity and speak in fragmented, disjointed business-speak, returning the body part until his whole body slowly begins to resemble their own. As his makeshift posse meets more of the Zero’s resident’s it becomes clear that everyone is lonely, disillusioned and unsure of what the future holds, knowing only that they owe their money, time and livelihoods to entities who no longer deem them essential. There was a mining tragedy that haunts everyone and then it seems that a storm came and ravaged their homes and businesses, a flood of great devastation. The final Act is largely about holding a funeral for two horses who died in that event, only to reach 5 Dogwood Drive without Conway, his friends and compatriots completing the journey for him. A sad feeling of home settles in as if the game softly whispers that “this is all we have, this is all we’ve got… each other”. 

Guide for Kentucky Route Zero: TV Edition - ACT V + Death of the Hired Man
Cardboard Games’ Kentucky Route Zero

In the introduction of Anti-Oedipus Michel Foucault describes the radicalism of the text being that Deleuze and Guattari believe in fighting the fascistic tendencies in human nature and capitalism’s horrific encouragement of the individual over the community with mutual care5. While not explicitly stating a Marxist tenant that no property belongs to a single person and doesn’t state that the politics of ownership are invalid both seem implied and it’s clear that he means to say companionship, community, love, care supersede and overcome the human thirst for territorialization developed by late-stage-capitalism which threatens dignity and freedom. The ending of Kentucky Route Zero doesn’t forgive the bourgeoisie capitalists for their vicious lack of concern for this dilapidated town, but rather suggests that a way forward is without the utility of this system rather than existential and financial dependence on it, all the while reclaiming the excess, surplus and refuges of the structure as belonging to the working class all along, their labour transmitted into togetherness instead of material, an innate possession rather than an inherent one.

The perversions of M. Foucault | The New Criterion
Michel Foucault

Watkins does something a bit more didactic and less interpretive than Kentucky Route Zero in his films Punishment Park and La Commune (1871). The former follows a group of student protesters and intellectuals during the early 1970’s as they are whisked away by police and taken to the titular Punishment Park, a place where prisoners are offered a chance at freedom should they be able to survive five days in the middle of the desert and reach the American flag in the center of a massive, barren facility all the while being hunted by sadistic, malicious cops. The latter is a recreation of the short-lived Paris Commune of 1871 in which a group of communists took over a district of France only to be massacred by the establishment government of the day. Where Punishment Park presents a fictional scenario to exacerbate elements of the injustices of the American criminal justice system and their intolerance towards free speech, revolutionary rhetoric and proletarian autonomy, La Commune (1871) is a bit more akin to Edvard Munch in that it simulates the experience of the event, restaging direct testimony and people from the era in front of the camera as if there was adequate camera technology to document such a record. Of all Watkins works these are the most directly confrontational of the capitalist system, though Edvard Munch certainly highlights the intelligentsia of Norway’s interest in communism, the film remains more about Watkins relationship to the titular Munch and his ideological and artistic isolation therein, whereas La Commune (1871) and Punishment Park directly interact with the Marxist rhetoric that was so integral to Watkins’ persona which has diminished his hold within the cinematic canon.

Review: La Commune (Paris, 1871) - Slant Magazine
Watkins’ La Commune (1871)

So the monoform is essential to canon-building, that which is subtracted, severed or disavowed from being a canonical work is typically because of it’s contrast and aesthetic, ideological disagreement with establishment entertainment or popular because of those very reasons, introducing a previously uncanny technique, be it technological, performance or otherwise. Watkins insistence on films as not just solely political documents but also vocally aesthetic ones, leaves him in a category many would denote as “Marxist” “anti-colonial” or “revolutionary”, and while his films are undoubtedly all of these things, these are limiting terms and simply diagnose them as outside of the framework and composition of MAVM, identifying his films as enemies of an entrepreneurial and commodity system, basically, they are difficult to sell. Which is what Watkins was explicating when he critiqued the film industry as only capable of financing, funding and producing certain vehicles, he knows firsthand the difficulty of breaking into and altering the marketplace, if anything because of his volume, the pitch of his films anger and vitriol, he has been relegated to a minor position in filmic history. 

Punishment Park (1971) | MUBI
Watkins’ Punishment Park

On the note of sales, Kentucky Route Zero, while successful on it’s own terms as an independent game initially began as a kickstarter-funded project launched in the late 2000’s, an Act would release every two to three years with an Interlude in between adding additional character and insight into events that have preceded them and those that will happen after, however, the project took a decade to complete, the first Act releasing in 2013 and then the final and fifth Act reaching players in January 2020. While it has been sufficiently appreciated by a number of gaming publications and critical outlets, it failed to resonate in a crowded field of multiplayer shooters and violent, commercial projects. Call of Duty, which at this point in it’s life (serving mostly as cheap military propaganda in the narratives the most recent entry Cold War depicts Ronald Reagan as a good guy, if that’s any indication of where they stand politically), moves millions of copies every year, while Kentucky Route Zero would be lucky to sell upwards of a hundred-thousand copies. Call of Duty has been iterative for the duration of its lifetime, creating a lumpy monoform of its own, while a trio of developers switch off year after year to create the next Call of Duty, they more or less feel the same, passing the latest graphics engine technology from one to the next so they all have a cohesive look while retaining a twitchy sense of combat in it’s singleplayer and multiplayer, taking risks solely based on the market rather than for the sake of innovation within their own identity, going so far as to reboot their Modern Warfare division of the franchise when there was fear over its relevance in the newly overpopulated “battle royale” field, which alongside the reboot, there was Warzone, a spinoff of the game that engaged in this genre. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare: Warzone Battle Royale Gameplay (No Commentary)  - YouTube
Call of Duty: Warzone

The original Call of Duty did not begin as an original game, ripping from the then popular Half Life and Halo series by taking their massive, setpiece moments, and open battlefields, simplifying them to corridor shooting and a clear path forward while attempting to compete with the then ubiquitous Medal of Honor games which also began their identity centralized around WWII narratives. While generic development is a natural facet of every artform there is something particularly commodified about the first-person-shooter, often refusing innovation unless it’s an assured investment, as in the case with the addition of the “battle royale” mode to the Call of Duty formula. By comparison when La Commune released in 2000, the block-busters from that year (the Call of Duty’s of cinema so-to-speak) included X-Men and Mission Impossible 2, series that have continued to garner mass appeal and extreme revenue. All this to say that the most popular media is often that of the most monoformic, and as Watkins stated, in spite of the bourgeoisie impulse to deny political affiliation or alignment, they are undoubtedly products of the ruling class for the working class, the ridiculous ascribed valor and militarized propaganda of the Avengers franchise is not unlike that of the Call of Duty franchise, often pitting the “heroes” against enemies that are caricatures of whatever nation the American government and its peoples are prejudiced against. The original Iron Man was released a year after the original Modern Warfare and both target Middle Eastern terrorists as their villains playing into stereotypes (Modern Warfare indicating that the Russian government is funding terrorist groups, as if the United States was not doing the same thing themselves. The series would go on to feature Russians as villains for the next three entries, which at the time was America’s most visible geopolitical conflict) and collective angst of American citizens. While their appeal and fame hardly invalidates their quality in either direction, their towering position is ultimately due to their alignment with monoformic and Oedipal principles, reinforcing predetermined responses from audiences and embellishing societal norms in gender, class and race which is all protected and established by the power of secrecy, the covenant of creators in dichotomy with consumers.

Iron Man (2008) – Fire Breathing Dimetrodon Time

To return to La Commune on this front, Watkins attempts to reestablish an open dialogue with the viewer, allowing them to peer behind the obfuscating veil of the methods of creation. The film opens with the actors talking directly to the camera about which characters they will play and the set that Watkins created of the 11th district of Paris all spent and used up, ragged and dirty, the simulated events of a restaged revolution having taken place there. A title card lists the camera specifications and microphones that were used in the making of the film, each seemingly irrelevant technical detail that you’d have to find hyper-specific interviews on outside of the film in order to learn about what was used, information that many would consider pertinent only to other creators. In this way Watkins derails the cult of filmmaking creation, which though films like Day for Night, 8 ½, The Player, A Moment of Innocence have attempted to illuminate aspects of the entertainment industry and the process of filmmaking, these films largely romanticize the operation as a divine act, whereas La Commune restores filmmaking as work, which the clear parallel there pertains to the proletarian revolution on screen where peasants of the 11th district in France demand respectability, equality, fair pay and solidarity. In contrast to those films, Watkins resents filmmaking for being mediamaking which though he deconstructs in the opening scene by nature of it being a filmic work, as a viewer, there are moments where you forget wholly that there weren’t cameras and televisions in this age. In the act of reproducing Watkins acknowledges his inability to establish fiction, media is reality, this is what terrifies Watkins in Media Crisis, that there no longer exists a world to return to that is not monoformic in the same manner that the psychological subject for Deleuze and Guattari have no path to find their way back from Oedpius. 

Oedipus Rex | BFI Southbank | BFI | British Film Institute
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex

Though Modern Warfare and Iron Man are obviously fictitious, the impossibility of disentangling them from their politics and philosophical inclinations is quite undeniable, those works are not any less political than La Commune, though they don’t feature a group of Parisian proletariat’s discussing feminism, communism, morality and worker’s rights frankly, they regardless articulate ideology. For audiences war profiteers become Tony Stark, millionaire playboy’s who live lavish lives, their only reckoning is not with the fact they create militaristic weapons and profit off of them but only that they reprimand themselves for not doing it themselves and refusing to get their hands dirty, Modern Warfare poses something perhaps more insidious, that the collaboration of US and British forces against Middle Eastern insurgents is ultimately to stop the geopolitical threat of the Russian presence in the area, which subconsciously justifies to the player, the Big-oil-crisis and the petroleum industry destroying the planet. The “heroes” protect the economy of the rich and powerful, the“property” they deem their belongings, La Commune directly rails against this in multiple passages, calling for an abolition of police forces because they only defend the interests of the bourgeoisie. 

La Commune" by Hamish Ford, p. 1
Peter Wakins’ La Commune (1871)

The democratization of filmic and gaming construction has reached an unprecedented level of ease in our era, it has never been more accessible to learn game design or make a quality film, not to mention the internet age provides a reduction of distance between viewer and creator via social media. In spite of this the media that is commonly circulated and created by the working class is often relegated to minor excursions like Instagram videos and TikTok’s in the case of visual media and independent games for playable art are allowed brief flirtations with popularity on online marketplaces like Steam or Epic Games, worse yet relegated to free downloads on Microsoft or Sony’s subscription game services once they’ve made back their money because their ambitions are perhaps more modest than those of huge publisher/developers, hardly able achieve the coherent cultural force presented by conglomerates like Disney and A24 which have branded themselves as production studios with a very distinct appeal and fanbase, or the powerhouse distribution models of companies like Ubisoft or Activision which release massive games whose resources could pay the salaries of thousands of small developers like Kentucky Route Zero’s Cardboard Games.  

The familial structure described by Deleuze and Guattari has been undermined by social movements that have, for better or worse, been subsumed by the monoform and Oedpial orientation, gone are the days when we only see minority representation on screen with nothing but white bodies and bourgeois relationships, however, they still reflect the moral dilemmas of the ruling class rather than the interests of the people or worse yet, how the ruling class digests our lives, regurgitated back to us at a price. For instance Black Panther is essentially a film about a nation of plenty that questions whether or not it should remain isolationist or play world-police, the ultimate conclusion being, yes, it is in fact a good thing when you have that much power to infiltrate into the affairs of the globe. Or more recently, Judas and the Black Messiah which takes what should have been a revolutionary biopic and reduces the life of the Marxist-Leninist Fred Hampton, former chairman of the Black Panther Party, to a needless, entirely useless crime-epic that discourages a conversation about radical politics but rather opens up a dialogue about something the establishment is quite comfortable with: it’s own racism and methods of control. The FBI and CIA have no issue with filmmakers touting knowledge about their misdeeds in the same way Amazon has no quarrels about selling copies of Mao’s Little Red Book and Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto, because they find that the information is not worth preventing from reaching the hands of the working class, not dangerous in the hands of the proletariat because they understand the dependence that we have on their infrastructure, assured we are more concerned with consuming than we are with creation though the most significant change in our relationship with the ruling class is that they’ve permitted us to be both, which should give us just as much pause as it should confidence in our newly acquired skills.

So the railroad tracks that Watkins once described have not disappeared or been diluted, rather, we now play a role in them that is not relegated to our laying them out but also taking the train with the illusion that we get to conduct the thing every now and again. One of the most efficient forms for garnering capital that the bourgeoisie remains so intent on (and the one we find the most consistently enjoyable) is that we remain consumers, transforming every aspect of our lives into a moment of consumption, they are less concerned with a specific ideology or political affiliation than they are consumption in general, it’s why Che Guevera gets printed onto shirts and The Clash have merchandise you can buy at Target. Even opposing the nuclear-family-Oedipal- triangle critiqued by Deleuze and Guattari is an opportunity for profit, advertising to anti-heternormative peoples just as much as they do to straight folks, because it’s just another avenue for generating revenue after all, so why should they discriminate so long as we remain producer-consumers when they can exploit our labor and the minimum money we receive for it? Monoforms, Oedipus are just efficient ways to streamline labels and brands into recognizable, digestible formats, the threat is no longer just their imposition but our active participation in the role and reestablishment of their configuration within our lives, in addition to the decreasing terrain which we have to call our own in relation to their grasp.

Bibliography

  1. Gomez, Joseph. Peter Watkins. Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1979.
  2. Watkins, Peter. Felletin, France, March 2010. Edited by Vida Urbonavicius. http://www.ocec.eu/cinemacomparativecinema/index.php/en/11-materiales-web/387-notes-on-the-media-crisis
  3. Watkins, Peter. Media Crisis. France, ECHAPPEE; 1st Edition, April 22nd 2015.
  4. Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula, Peter Greenway’s Postmodern/Poststructuralist Cinema, Lanaham, Scarecrow Press, 2008.
  5. Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London, Penguin Books, 2009 originally published 1972.
  6. The Falls. Directed by Peter Greenaway, performances by Peter Westley and Add Wirtz, 1980.
  7. Punishment Park. Directed by Peter Watkins, performances by Carmen Argenziano and Harold Beaulieu, Chartwell Francoise, 1971.
  8. Cardboard Computer, Kentucky Route Zero, Acts I-V, Cardboard Computer Games and Annapurna Interactive, 2013-2020.
  9. Patches, Matt. January 17th, 2019. https://www.polygon.com/2019/1/17/18187400/netflix-vs-fortnite-hbo-hulu-competition

10. Gilles Deleuze. (1986) Cinema II: The Time-Image trans. By Hugh Tomlinson & Robert Galeta. University of Minnesota Press.