(Funko) Pop Modernism?

Another Mark Fisher meme, another reason to reaffirm his insistence that we “go overground”.

This was all discussed in the aftermath of the Met Gala, but this time there is an explicit focus on capitalist paradoxes — see original tweet replies — so let’s just hammer this point home.

Expanding on an earlier tweet, what is worth emphasising is that the copypasta Wiki critique (or at least how it is deployed) gets the whole thing backwards. If capitalism hijacks anti-capitalist sentiment for its own ends, it does this through the dilution of “revolutionary” sentiment. This is quite literal (and Mark talks about this explicitly in his Postcapitalist Desire lectures). The Wiki summary refers to a sentiment like, This new washing machine will “revolutionise” your kitchen. The UK even has a chain of vodka bars called Revolution. This ubiquity defangs revolutionary sentiment so that it isn’t a complete overturning of the status quo but just the light touch innovation of the latest mod con or alcohol delivery system.

Something like Squid Game — and, yes, slogan dresses — does the opposite. It is not capitalism advancing itself through the appropriation of anti-capitalist sentiment but anti-capitalist sentiment advancing itself through the appropriation of capitalism. And Mark was all about that.

Here’s what he said:

Paradox is also opportunity — someone, I don’t recall who, said that paradoxes are emissaries from another world where things work differently. If popular modernism’s attempts to resolve the paradox of political commitment and consumer pleasure now seem hopelessly naive, that’s more a testament to the disavowed depressive conditions of our current moment than a dispassionate assessment of the possibilities. In our world, so it would seem, popular culture’s embrace of consumerism leads ineluctably to the decomposition of class consciousness and the arrival of capitalist realism. In another world — the world that Stuart Hall tried to theorise, and to instigate — consumer desire and class consciousness could not only be reconciled, but would actually require one another.

Does a Squid Game Funko Pop change the polarity of the paradox once again? Arguably. But I think it is more significant that merchandise for a show cannot decontextualise the underlying message. Squid Game is not a promiscuous floating signifier like the word “revolution”. All this does is normalise the critique being made, and though it might lose its punch, that is surely what we want? That’s how Overton Windows move. The real danger here is that it is dismissed and stupid memes are used for nothing other than affirming our depressive fatalism.

All this is to say, yes, Squid Game Funko Pops are a weird — and Mark had plenty to say about “the weird”. But the fact the paradox is so obvious is more interesting than the mere fact the paradox exists. That it’s particularly egregious is telling. The combination does not compute, and we can expect to see more things that don’t compute as time goes on. We should try and increase our receptivity to them rather than denouncing them straight out the gate. Dismissing Squid Game as just another coopted piece of media is arguably what the system at large wants.

Because the mask is slipping.


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