6/21/2013

Heap of Faith

Today I went to see Zack Snyder's Superman reboot in Europe's biggest mall, the "Westfield London Shopping Centre" in Stratford. During the Olympic Games, I have been told, visitors were forced to make passage through the mall in order to get to the stadium complex. Now that the games are over, what remains is a passage for passing's sake; an artificial environment in which to immerse and loose oneself. Not the worst place for a cinema, I should say. But did they really have to switch on the lights as soon as the end credits started rolling, rendering the names of best boys, gaffers and key grips all but illegible?

Ever since the inception of the blockbuster principle, contestants for pole position at the box office have been striving to address an audience as large as possible, offering a characteristically ambiguous blend of mythemes and iconographies that readily lend themselves to varied, even conflicting, readings and appropriations. Zack Snyder, whatever we may think of his competence as a director, is a master of this discipline: While many (myself included) thought his 300 an exercise in proto-fascist aesthetics that would do Leni Riefenstahl proud, Slavoj Žižek mounted a passionate defense of what he considered an exemplar of The True Hollywood Left. Sure, there was an element of contrarian jouissance in Žižek's exuberant claims. But the exuberance isn't all his, it's the blockbuster's totalizing mode of address that invokes and demands it.

Offer something to everyone without privileging any one interpretation, that is what the all-new Superman does, too. This comes as no surprise. What is remarkable, though, is how among all the incompossible world views assimilated and amalgamated by Superman, we now also encounter scratchings of Christian fundamentalism. Here's how Snyder is hard selling it to the bible belt: Fallen angels doubling as evil scientists – they drop one-liners like "Evolution always wins" – are out to destroy the world, and only an immaculately conceived Midwesterner who grew up in a psalmodic Terrence Malick movie can save us. Are American blockbusters, facing dwindling profit rates, compelled to cater to the evangelical right now, too?

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