Thursday, January 30, 2020

digital glam #3 - "smooth and impervious"

Another interesting essay about beauty and the digital at Real Life - this time by Nikki Shaner-Bradford and concerning an aesthetic of smoothness. The essay is titled "Unfleshing" and the subtitle is "the desire to become as smooth and impervious as my phone". It is part of a column series dedicated to identifying "desires, moods, pathologies, and identifications that rarely had names before digital media."

Shaner-Bradford writes of her fantasy to create via skin-care regimens a perfect casing for her face and body: "the texture of silicon, or glass, or freshly poured resin. The kind of material you’re compelled to touch in a museum.... I use a chemical exfoliating product called Biologique Recherche P50 [that] contains phenol, a controversial ingredient that’s also found in paint remover. What I’ve come to understand about P50, through skincare forums that worship the toner as a miracle elixir, is that it’s for people who dream, like me, of exfoliating until they become something better than human..... I spend hours each day on a laptop that seems much smarter and more skilled than I am, and whose body is smoother and more symmetrical than mine..."

The fantasy / fetish is a post-biological beauty that could slip seamlessly into a realm of sleek sensuous-to-the-touch technology and then beyond into the immaterial realm of digitally-enhanced imagery.

"The purpose of such advertising is to show what a body could be if it didn’t have to be a body...."

"The K-beauty trend of “glass skin” rhetorically invokes a standard set by device aesthetics, and blinding highlights offer the illusion of plasticity..."

"I fall in love with the sound of a refreshing feed, admire the clean text of an aggregated news site, make faces into filters until I forget what I look like in the mirror. A popular Instagram filter named Kira-Kira adds glittering sparkles to selfie highlights, filling the timeline with faces that shine like chrome. Another called TURFU comes close to my ex machina aspirations; a grid overlay with a holographic sheen suggests something animatronic, a cyborg. The bounds of beauty no longer limited to genetics or flesh."

These issues and aesthetics are also discussed in this probing and ranging Dissensus thread on Dematerialisation launched by Luke Davis a while back.

Possibly relevant quote from Mark Fisher:

"What we have with digital culture now is a strange hyper-ordinariness. People done up to the nines but it isn't like Bowie where you're playing with abstract aestheticisation. It's a normative model: perfect teeth, skin tone. An utterly conservative artificiality... A normalisation of photoshopping & cosmetic surgery: a wash-back from digital, people's anxiety about their appearance is measured by the standards of a depressing normativity. Neuroses & dissatisfaction are highly productive & useful for capitalism: they can be sold to endlessly"

Possibly relevant gloss on the above from me:

what could be called "subglam" - the pixel-by-pixel polishing of the image in TV postproduction (a/k/a digital intermediate) - smoothing out blemishes and spots, evening out skin-tone, superglossing hair and teeth - that has fed back into everyday life... ordinary people look hyper-groomed.... all those intricate beards.... as if aspiring to digital sharpness and brightness

Sunday, January 26, 2020

five years, that's all we've got

eco-fear near-future dystopia / cataclysm movies I'd never heard of, via this fascinating post at We Are Mutants by Michael Grasso:

"At the beginning of the 1970s, a sense that techno-industrial man’s ongoing destruction of the environment would ultimately lead to global doom was widespread in the West....  For audiences in our own “far-future” year of 2020, these ’70s anxieties probably live on most memorably in pieces of pop culture and entertainment. Films such as Soylent Green (1973), based on the 1966 Harry Harrison novel Make Room! Make Room!, depicted a suffocating, overpopulated future where humans resort to a pair of extreme social taboos—mass euthanasia of the elderly and concomitant cannibalism—to simultaneously alleviate both the population and resource crises. Two lesser-known population crisis sci-fi films—No Blade of Grass from 1970 and Z.P.G. (Zero Population Growth) from 1972 (both available as part of the Criterion Channel’s “Seventies Sci-Fi” series during the month of January)—provide a fuller context for the countervailing hopes and fears of a Cold War-era society unsure of its formerly gleaming technological future: would we descend into brutality and barbarism as soon as the worldwide system collapsed? Or would our future require ever more intricate and intimate technocratic control over every aspect of our lives to ameliorate the very conditions that were created by technocratic control?"

"... Paul and Anne (not credited) Erlich’s The Population Bomb exploded onto the scene in 1968, but the book was preceded by dozens upon dozens of postwar science fiction stories and novels that predicted an overpopulated, underfed future. The film No Blade of Grass was itself based on one of these, John Christopher‘s 1956 “cosy catastrophe” novel The Death of Grass, which used elements of the nascent Green Revolution as inspiration for its tipping-point event: a disease that begins wiping out grain species in Asia before migrating to the West...

"No Blade of Grass is hands down the most unrelentingly grim film it has ever been my displeasure to view. It is a nasty little piece of exploitation cinema mixed with weak and muddled agitprop, and it offers the viewer zero opportunity for ironic detachment or campy enjoyment to distract from its gleeful depiction of human brutality and horror. No Blade of Grass takes the old saw of “any society is nine meals from anarchy” to its extreme conclusion: postwar Britain turns from a cozy land full of brave ex-military men, sober scientists, and doughty gentleman farmers into a wild landscape of opportunistic murder, brutal rape, and the abandonment of those perceived to be weak and useless, virtually overnight...."

after which
"the equally grim but essentially satirical far future of Z.P.G. practically felt like an amusement park ride. In Z.P.G.‘s future, the Earth is cloaked in “smog”: pollution has been left unchecked and has killed virtually all plant and animal life on Earth… aside from humans. Overpopulation is the clear culprit of these conditions, and in the opening moments of the film, the “President of the Society” (one of the only characters in the film who wears a 20th-century-style suit; his physical and vocal resemblance to a cross between Peter Sellers’s President Merkin Muffley and real-world Cold War eminence grise Henry Kissinger seems completely intentional) announces that the World Federation Council has decided that all human childbirth must be utterly eliminated for the next 30 years....

"Every home bathroom cubicle is equipped with an abortion device; informers who identify breeders are given additional ration cards; corporations market uncanny robot children to the baby-hungry populace...."

Sunday, January 12, 2020

digital glam #2 - glow up

from Glow Aesthetics, a piece at Real Life about how
"ubiquitous cameras are changing the meaning of makeup" by Dalia Barghouty

"In the cosmetics aisle in the drugstore, the influence of social media and the cameras we carry with us everywhere is evident. Wet-n-Wild’s display boasts a comparison of a woman’s face with and without their product, asserting that their highlighters are not only good, but specifically good for being captured by your phone....

"In sharing her images, Kardashian West claimed that highlighting gives “skin a natural, glowing look, especially on camera,” attributing naturalness to what is also at once a conspicuous enhancement of “glow.” Similarly, the name of Revlon’s PhotoReady Candid collection suggests a reversal of the common and tired presumption that makeup is a form of falsity or deception.....

"Our image on a screen is increasingly how we “really” look to other people, leading to new ways to augment our self-presentation. Social media feeds teem with neon, prismatic shimmers, chrome, filters, and glow. Snapchat and TikTok effects sparkle and glimmer. People share their “golden hour” looks — trendy selfies taken before sunset or after dawn, resulting in an elusive glow....

"some of these augmentative effects are created with algorithms, filters, and other forms of digital postproduction. But some have long been created on the surface of the skin rather than the image, with makeup highlighters to accentuate and brighten the face and body. Along with contouring, highlighting can create the perception of depth or angles on the face, leaving every area of the skin it touches luminous and glowing in a way that seems to pop in image feeds, capturing attention with an eye-catching gleam as users scroll through. Unlike strictly digital effects, these analog efforts to produce glow foreground the paradoxes inherent in being equally present in images, feeds, and physical spaces simultaneously. They evoke not an edit of reality but something that is at once a process of transformation and its realization."

"Where Kardashian West pursued a “natural” glowing highlight, glow aesthetics can also celebrate deliberately excessive highlighter use. There has been a vogue recently for ostentatious, almost unwearable displays of makeup glow across the range of social media users... As opposed to more additive forms of makeup meant to masquerade or completely transform, highlighter in its translucent sheen scintillates across the face and body, in and out of focus, allowing us to luxuriate in the sheer self for an instant. Glow can appear to happen to us spontaneously, even when we deliberately pursue it, allowing augmentation also to play out as a discovery. This light is captured via the flash of a phone camera and then shared on social media, resulting in a “more real” self-presentation. Makeup then works as not a tool of artifice but a way to manifest our being on and in relation to our camera lens, our screen, and ourselves.

."...Highlighters, in their excess, suggest a glimmer of an “embodied singularity” — the body’s implication in a single instant in space and time. But the highlighted face, an aesthetic representation of our very embodiedness, is not free from the tendrils of capitalist semiotics...."


  ... or at least, if not endorsing / encouraging, then at least accepting the existence and inevitability of theatricality as a social mech...