Sunday, September 28, 2008

Salò and the banality of evil

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." --Benito Mussolini

"Smedley Butler helped destroy a corporate Fascist Putsch in the mid-1930's, but how long did that last? In the 1960's, all four primary liberal leaders were assassinated. In the mid-'90s, a so called Democrat President turned back the Bill of Rights and Constitution with a multitude of crime bills. And in the year 2000, Jim Crow laws were revived, and a Presidential election was swayed by disallowing over 50,000 eligible African-Americans to vote in the state of Florida. Corporations will not be denied their sway and profit." --Adam Parfrey, introduction to Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler's WAR IS A RACKET

"...what we're seeing is a tidal pull exerted on the will of almost everyone in a country – or in this case, a chateau – to fulfill the wishes of a minor but powerful few." --Noel Vera on Salò

Politically, in terms of power and (non-sexual) exploitation, there are a few ways to look at Pasolini's Salò. Traditionally it is seen as a condemnation of Fascism; more specifically, the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler through which Pasolini lived. Personally I'm not sure this is even worth talking about since there is so little to learn from it: Fascism is bad, power corrupts. We don't need art to show us this so I find it disappointing that so many viewers boil the film down to this simple truth. Salò is much more interesting if we see it as a work of art that lifts the veil of our everyday reality so that we can more easily see the true nature of the exploitative systems in place.

According to Pasolini the coprophilia in the film is meant to represent the toxins we are force fed by corporations and manufacturers. This can refer to the processed foods, the high fructose corn syrup, the GMO tomatoes and the myriad other atrocities which Pasolini could not have predicted, but it is as easy to apply Salò more generally to all of modern civilization. Each day we are fed the idea that the road we are on is the one, true, God-given path, and toward that end we consume a lot of shit. The Libertines who feed it to us are the privileged few who run this world. We spend the best years of our lives running their businesses in exchange for a fraction of what they make off our labor, we consume their tasteless, poisonous food, we grease their wheels and fuel their fire - all so their "Chateau" is kept running in a way that pleases them. And we allow all of this to happen with complete passivity.

But the real horror of Pasolini's vision is that it may not be disturbed enough. We in the Western world are privileged beyond all measure of belief despite being buggered often by a copiously well-endowed system. The true horror is reserved for those a step below us, those who sew our cheap sweaters for almost no pay, those who are forced to live with agent orange and depleted uranium, those killed in Iraq who are called 'collateral damage', those in the Niger Delta whose water and land are being destroyed for oil, those in West Virginia who exchange cheap American energy for cancer and dirty water. The State does its best to make sure that all of these people remain hidden away so we don't have to see or think about this process of which we are all a part, but even in those rare glimpses when we do see it we are loathe to do anything about it. Having been fed shit for so long, we are anxious for a chance to feed shit to others, to bring us closer to the shining example of the Libertines we long to be. We are passive, and our passivity empowers them.

People who criticize Salò as being too simplistic miss the point that Fascism isn't always some obvious system that can be easily opposed or even recognized. It sometimes exists behind the curtain, and, with Salò, Pasolini gives us a glimpse of the gears at work there.

The sexual politics presented in Salò comprise what is probably the most interesting aspects of the film, but I ignored them altogether because of something I saw on the news recently that reminded me of the film:

ben bernanke bailout beard pasolini salo
christopher cox pasolini salo
treasury secretary henry paulson
salo pasolini sheila bair


Hectocotylus said...

It is important to note that when I say "Having been fed shit for so long, we are anxious for a chance to feed shit to others, to bring us closer to the shining example of the Libertines we long to be", I only mean "we" in the sense of what we have become under such circumstances (within a system that believes our "natural impulses" must be kept in check through power). I don't for a second believe that man in his natural state is a tyrant.

Hectocotylus said...

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in September they would comply with congressional demands for transparency in a $700 billion bailout of the banking system. Two months later, as the Fed lends far more than that in separate rescue programs that didn't require approval by Congress, Americans have no idea where their money is going or what securities the banks are pledging in return.

Tyler said...

"I consider consumerism to be a Fascism worse than the classical one, because clerical Fascism didn't really transform Italians, didn't enter into them. It was a totalitarian state but not a totalizing one." --Pasolini