The Hobbit: The Failure of Smaug and The Desolation of Commercial Entertainment

Perhaps art would add something to the experience. And in the addition, which itself might be obscure, there would be a clear if indistinct feeling of relief – a purely human quality consequent on the addition of a wholly inhuman quantity. The experience itself in turn might be neutral or it might be intensely stimulating and would not want for the addition – that is, it would be neutral in view of the addition, or at least could be. Which is only to say that the experience might not even appear lacking but what it lacked might only appear or occur later, on reflection. Reflection could reveal a capacity or a potentiality – purely human – that experience had not reached because it could not without involving another intensive quantity – wholly inhuman. And if the system were by design dissipative, there to provide an experience of social, political, erotic or artistic satisfaction, by relieving a purely human quality, the failure would be one of art, taking into account that this supplementary schema of dissipating what is human need not be, and perhaps were better from the start called, inhuman.

I am thinking of the thermodynamics of art and the energetics of commercial entertainment. Which trades in distraction and – for what reason? – seems to want to avoid adding anything to the closed system of its experience, however stimulating. So that the stimulation is the point? But doesn’t this make it worse? by raising a false expectation that it is this very human capacity that will be invoked, relieved, opened on to?

It is as if the closed energetic system of commercial entertainment excludes from the outset any prospect of relief, that its determined materialism is foreclosed from giving satisfaction. Marx was of course here before. He was right on the problem that capitalism ratchets up desire through the illusion of increasing production – which is resource exhaustion – through a continuous addition of factored-in cost, resulting in a boom-bust cycle, the constant in which is that the producer cannot afford what is produced. What the producer can afford is expectation and disappointment: the call to put more and more energy into a system which offers monstrously disproportionate reward. And little relief. The solution of at least one Marxism is the producer’s ownership and it is assumed control of the means of production. How to re-own ownership of what is given? and of what is the given of capitalism? i.e., the gift.

That something essential is missing occurred to me after seeing the second installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. Not that I am missing or I am being missed – as in I am not the target. Market. Not that I am missing for being excluded from the means of production. And not that I am missing it, or, the point. I was highly productive of laughter, fear and trembling, awe, and kinetic exhaustion, throughout the hyperkinetic HFR 3D experience. It was exhausting. But it left me with regret rather than grateful for having seen it. Not grateful to the massive corporation that made it, delivered it to me, and to the machine of the industry – for which the NZ government in the name of the people is bending over so low to accommodate. Regretful that some supplementary dimension is missing – by design. As if all this artistry were in vain, the artistry of hundreds of artists, from texture artists to actors. Albeit that Peter Jackson has not learnt to direct actors. All those resources and all I had to show for it was an experience from which something was missing. And really it’s not a question of the resources. I saw Frances Ha, a little movie, a character actress vehicle, and it unequally – because it was not so physically involving – failed, failed to acknowledge that anything was missing from it. ‘Relief’ therefore is not the right word. Because the addition is all about acknowledging the problem of art, perhaps, as a barely human defeat in the face of the wholly inhuman.