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You (Plural): an experiment in cultural libertarianism

What impact have commercial pressures had on the way we understand and define our culture? David Vaipan’s new film project You (Plural) attempts to challenge the assumptions of commoditised culture by exploiting the potential of digital.

You (Plural) is a feature film adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Homer’s Odyssey &c. which also functions as an homage to the arts of the twentieth century (hence the &c.). However, promotion of the project’s Kickstarter is the uphill scramble of a culturally obese movie. In creating a work that aims to be all encompassing while exoteric enough for those unfamiliar with Ulysses [&c.], reaching a likeminded audience in the digital realm has remained challenging partly because of the new geography of the net, the autonomy it grants creators and consumers, and the resultant cultural libertarianism.

The digital realm grants creators and consumers an autonomy intrinsically independent of a commoditized market. Both the mainstream and specialized markets ultimately still require advertising and subscription revenue to subsist, but zines and blogs aren’t restricted by the cost of corporal production anymore, giving everyone a voice.  Yet, as the universe of the digital realm continues expanding, new hierarchies are established within niches, and cenacles within those niches establish additional hierarchies which, while giving voice to those once mute, through sheer volume stifles pluralism.

A film blog has an ancillary art house blog which has an ancillary video art blog, each with individual subscribers. A video artist is finally featured, but solely on the video art blog because the art house blog is already glutted with art house projects and the film blog, chief of its ancillaries, relegates all atypical subjects to its appendages or ignores them. Resultantly, the casual cinephile of a general film blog never learns about Maya Deren or Bill Viola because there’s already so much about Bigelow and Tarantino. More adversely, the casual cinephile is left unaware of the humanities outside of film. A film blog won’t discuss the music of Ligeti, Bartok, or Penderecki, despite how absolutely essential their compositions are in Kubrick’s The Shining, because the classical music blogs, and not general blogs but avant-garde twentieth century blogs, are dealing with it. Print media, once necessarily a source of many topics due to the diversity of its subscribers, cuts the ballet, fine arts, or theater staff, reducing potential neophytes’ exposure to it.

The first sound heard in You (Plural) is a fountainhead of twentieth century classical music: Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. As the film progresses, the character Will Burghardt alludes to and plays recordings of pivotal pieces by Stravinsky, Cage, Stockhausen, Glass, Golijov, &al. The “Hades” section charts the evolution of German Expressionism to Film Noir to Gangster cinema primarily by recreating shot-for-shot scenes from more than twenty movies. In the “Oxen” chapter, where Joyce mimics English prose styles from Aelfric (10 AD) to Dickens, You (Plural) sketches the entire history of dramatic cinema, beginning with a praxinoscopic scene, alluding to more than seventy auteurs or well over two hundred films. The “Stendhal Syndrome” chapter visualizes works by artists from the futurist, surrealist, pop art, abstract expressionist movements, &c. “Wandering Rocks: The Campus Novel,” includes scenes from works by Virginia Woolf, John Barth, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, &al. And besides quoting from ten other works by Shakespeare and every work by James Joyce, there are allusions and adaptations from works by Faulkner, Pynchon, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, &al. And there’s the rub.

The digital realm has so sequestered groups that all others seem to be living in the township of “The Motley Cow” while it collectively sits in lotus under the Bodhi tree waiting for the others to join in. The Shakespeareans disregard You (Plural) because it isn’t Shakespearean enough; the Joyceans because it isn’t pure Joyce; there simply isn’t enough sole focus on literature, or classical music, or the fine arts, to warrant acknowledgement. This is justified if, as Pierre Bourdieu writes in The Market of Symbolic Goods, “a writer, artist or scientist[‘s quality] exists only in, and through, the circular relations of reciprocal recognition among peers;” because reputations and subscribers are at stake, sects practice deliberate circumscription. These “tiny mutual admiration societies […] closed in upon their own esotericism” have simultaneously expanded in sheer number, but also contracted in cultural diversity.

In an attempt at an egalitarian movie, the new breed of online cultural libertarians, eschewing interests not immediately relevant to their own, a myopia metonymic of every interpersonal interaction, seeps into social and political life where to abjure empathy or interest of people from other social classes, ethnicities, or world views is warranted because I have liked enough Facebook pages, twitter feeds, or blog subscriptions to last four lifetimes and when even the egalitarians only digitally hang out with egalitarians, an egalitarian movie aiming to be all inclusive is at best a hanging chad of the constantly refreshing digital piece of paper I subscribe to. I know I should be watching Bergman, but I have eleven seasons of Cheers on Netflix. Now Netflix doesn’t even recommend Bergman anymore.

Fortunately, there are print and online publications, The Literary Platform is among them, that, while still distinctive, aim at edification beyond the simply satiating or comfortable. And the tectonic plates of the digital realm continue to shift.

You can donate to the project on the kickstarter page:

You (Plural) adapted from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” Homer’s “Odyssey” [&c.] from David Vaipan on Vimeo.

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