A while back I was talking about the art and theory connections in former Art & Language artist Kathryn Bigelow's "failed summer blockbuster" K-19: The Widowmaker. The heart of the film, which some '02 reviewers found "extremely claustrophobic and unpleasant," is a scene where Russian submariners wearing only chemical suits (because the military forgot to provide them radiation suits--"They might as well be wearing raincoats," says one character) enter the reactor room in 10 minute shifts to perform a complicated welding operation. Each set of crews emerges half-dead, vomiting, their skin looking like raw hamburger. Worse, the next set of crews sees them and knows that's what they're going to look like in ten minutes.

The style is as bleak as the industrial safety film genre, bleaker, because even those films have a kind of unintentional slapstick with limbs severed by forklifts, spurting blood a la Monty Python, etc. K-19's reactor scene is pure unrelieved horror. Hard not to think of the 9/11 rescue crews going into the cauldron of burning toxic materials to pull out fragments of bodies. And as with the K-19 crew, poorly supplied and poorly informed by an inept government, the 9/11 crews are now dying from those toxic hazards. When I saw K-19 in 2002 I couldn't believe how brutally honest Bigelow was being in a summer blockbuster. She was taking us all into the dirty secret world of modernity, the "down side" of technology that we live with every day and simply can't bear to think about. Here's a Wikipedia entry on Paul Virilio's theories of the "integral accident" (previously posted with a GIF of a mutated monster truck):
Technology cannot exist without the potential for accidents. For example, the invention of the locomotive also entailed the invention of the rail disaster. Virilio sees the Accident as a rather negative growth of social positivism and scientific progress. The growth of technology, namely television, separates us directly from the events of real space and real time. We lose wisdom, lose sight of our immediate horizon and resort to the indirect horizon of our dissimulated environment. From this angle, the Accident can be mentally pictured as a sort of "fractal meteorite" whose impact is prepared in the propitious darkness, a landscape of events concealing future collisions. Even Aristotle claimed that "there is no science of the accident," but Virilio disagrees, pointing to the growing credibility of simulators designed to escape the accident--an industry born from the unholy marriage of post-WW2 science and the military-industrial complex. A good example of Virilio's integral accident is Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous events that followed, which brought the eyes of the world upon a single nexus of time and place.
The bloody mess in Iraq is also a denied side of the West's modernity. The US caused it, the US pretends it isn't happening while continuing along the crazed path of ultimate consumption and non-stop electronic amusements. Not trying to be a Cassandra here, and I'm not opposed to electronic amusements, just wondering if it's possible to have them without living with endless untenable contradiction.

- tom moody 2-26-2006 9:06 pm

right on, Tom. great post.

I watched Silkwood again after I saw K-19. Similar dread and wool-off-from-over-the-eyes horror at radiation sickness. I was reminded of both when I recently read Kasuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go which might be the best near future technological (in this case biomedical) dystopia I've ever read. It's fiction but...

I'm intrigued by the idea that technology fractures reality thereby enhancing our abilities for denial. I also think that mass media allows for the delivery of a very straightforward message from the people in power, but receiving it on the broadcast news, in talk shows, etc. totally stumps us. That message being: "we kill and torture people if and when we please." It's not a confusing idea, really, but hearing it through infotaintment is stupfiying.

- sally mckay 2-27-2006 5:44 pm