Saturday, monochrom and Telekommunisten are hosting DISMALWARE2 at Supermarkt Berlin, we will be screeing the movie DIE GSTETTENSAGA: THE RISE OF ECHSENFRIEDL, here is a guest post from Bonni Rambatan about the movie
DIE GSTETTENSAGA: THE RISE OF ECHSENFRIEDL
(Contains movie spoilers.)
If the film is the defining medium of the 20th century, the social media is what defines the 21st century. That much is clear to anyone who pays attention to the way media constructs the lives and desires of contemporary society. If the film, as Slavoj Žižek remarks, teaches us how to desire, the social media, as it were, sets those ways of desiring into stone by determining how we like, how we share, to whom, to which things we are exposed, and so on. All is codified within the realm of technology, that—at least to non-hackers—remain opaque, even invisible. And all, of course, are presented as comfort—a perfect illustration to the Foucauldian “society of control”,
This is where the contemporary romaticism of nerds as agents of change often falls short—and precisely the target of Johannes Grenzfurthner’s latest film, Die Gstettensaga: The Rise of Echsenfriedl. In the film, we follow the adventures of two young nerd protagonists who are hired by the old media mogul, Thurner von Pjölk, to find and interview via live broadcast the reclusive new media mogul, Echsenfriedl—only to find that all is von Pjölk’s scheme of banning television and other forms of new media, because the live interview would turn all viewers into stone (because Echsenfriedl is a basilisk), hence creating mass hysteria of the dangers of new media.
It’s easy to see the Edison-vs-Tesla mythology at play in the von Pjölk-Echsenfriedl relationship constructed throughout the film. Much to the delight of the nerds, Echsenfriedl (obviously the more Tesla of the two) eventually won—but this twist brings a problematic ending. Echsenfriedl becomes the new media mogul, and the nerds overtly rejoice, even starts burning books and other forms of old media. In the narrator’s own words, “today … creative technophilia is not expressed in underground makerspaces, but out on the open streets!” and Echsenfriedl says “I like it when young people do something” and that he trusts “the wisdom of the crowd.”
It brings into question, then: are movements like Occupy Wall Street really “movements” in the traditional revolutionary sense? Is it not, rather, more of an expression of “creative technophilia”? There is nothing wrong with that, of course—as I have said in many of my other writings, hacking and play are the roots of revolution, since they shed light on new possibilities. However, what we should be careful of—and about which the film warns us so cleverly, if tongue-in-cheek—is this all-too-readiness in today’s otherwise potentially revolutionary petit-bourgeoisie to embrace technology and crowd wisdom as a sort of romantic proto-revolution for a more equal future, while it in fact remains firmly planted in the capitalist universe. In the end, it is Echsenfriedl who has the last laugh, while the nerds, as one can easily deduce, are “doing things” and producing “crowd wisdom” which produces yet more data and more market for the new media business.
The film doesn’t beat around the bush and pretend to give us a solution to this conondrum, but nor does it have to. What it does is that it forces us to think deeper about this conondrum, and the fact that much of today’s romanticized revolutions often go eerily hand in hand with the development of digital capitalism. Few films today, if any, manage to do such a feat.
Baudrillard mentioned, regarding to pornography, that what is being offered is a seduction of not sex but scientism, of objective close-ups, subsuming the real into the hyperreal. Might not the same be said today of prevailing discourses of digital revolution? What is being offered is a seduction not of true change, but of digitalism, of making the real world work more like the computerized world—a subsumation of the real into the computerized. And while on the one hand this may bring about new possibilities of equality, let us not forget that the decentralization of power it offers is a thin veil of power’s evolution as distributed biopolitical control.
(„Die Gstettensaga“ can be seen at various film festivals, hacker cons and on Pirate Bay.)
Bonni Rambatan is an independent critical theorist and cultural researcher with a main focus in digital culture, psychoanalysis, and Left-wing political theory. He has given talks and published writings in various seminars and anthologies in Europe and Asia. A graduate of English Literature, he now studies Management in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Bandung Institute of Technology, Indonesia. He also actively writes novels and makes films.