Rip In Pieces America
Canada/USA 2009, 62 minutes.
Viewers who like to see American culture, society or politics as the epitome of Western folly, might be delighted to know that they have their peers posted in front of their web-cams in basement after basement over there.
There aren’t too many reasons to be cheerful, according to these short proclamations, directed at who knows out there. Here are a few excerpts: “You don’t get what’s going on, do you?” one of them scolds us: “You’re too wrapped up in your soap operas, and…” Disgruntled citizens having a go at mainstream entertainment are always welcome. And? There’s not too much analysis to follow alas, but a hint of looming disaster: “You have no idea of what’s coming.” Another man in despair: “Why is it that everybody’s so fucking ignorant? Looking at everybody else’s faults, as if they’re perfect, when they’re not?”
There’s a lesson here we could all take to heart. Plain and simple: this fellow spent a few minutes of his life posing the questions in his heart of hearts – to Web-world. Why, indeed? Another one: “I’m just saying it’s going to get very ugly very soon.” And another one: “the Illuminati runs the whole gang system in America.” And then the Disco King. This is getting interesting. This compilation may still turn out to be an illustration of the web’s potential as a forum for the much bemoaned voices that seldom gain admittance to the public domain.
The public public domain, that is, where the big boys of spin, analysis and comment play, and the talkshow hosts and editors reign. The unbridled exclamations of RIP in Pieces would be as welcome in the executive-conventionality of primetime television as a boatload of antibiotics on Germ Island, and that quality alone is rather endearing.
There’s an antidote theme trying to surface here, although one probably shouldn’t make too much out of it. After all, the web has had roughly a couple of decades to realize its potential as the channel for radical, subversive thinking or action, and it hasn’t quite materialized as such just yet, a few blogs and Indymedia notwithstanding.
Confession: this film coincided with the lamenting of Web 2.0 culture by one of the pioneers of Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier: “This widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned personal interaction.” What passes for creativity today is really just endlessly rehashed content, he says in an Economist interview, and as for Virtual Reality: “These days, it means just about anything”. Nevertheless, RIP in Pieces’ immediate appeal is in its depiction of the, well, real realities out there, and their inhabitants’ righteous claims for attention, no matter how whimsical or unelaborated. For good or bad, one might add. Enter a concerned looking guy in dark shirt, cap and a mustache: “I’m gonna tell you a little bit about what’s really going on.” Promises, promises…
«Does he have the slightest clue about what he is actually saying?»
Too many of these and you get the same exasperating feeling you get in a pub upon realizing the drunkard in need of an audience has set his sights on you, and you’d better brace yourself to absorb substantial pieces of advice. And predictions. And the occasional drop of saliva. It gets eerie at times. Some of them wear ski-masks, some are flaunting their guns, one of them fondling his, while entertaining us with specifics: “A 45-calibre handgun. This gun here has saved my life.” Some enthusiasm, at least, but still… These voices from the dungeon may not be the fellow sufferers that continental anti-Americans need, after all.
Some of them may have a point, and it’s a little too convenient to dismiss these outbursts with smug Jon Stewart-y jokes, but you can’t help wondering who among them may have gone postal with an AK 47 since registering their dismay on a website. After all, wasn’t it precisely these kinds of messages posted on the web that (in hindsight) indicated upcoming incidents like the one that took place at Columbine High School, for instance, or that place in Finland? What aspires (and here and there almost succeeds) to be an underground tour de force of subversive proclamation, of warning and political protest, all too often culminates in a parade of willing misfits lashing out at some arbitrarily chosen target like Washington, “this country” or “Wall Street and all those fuckers in New York”.
Irresistible, of course, but hearing a few of them talking, if not at the top of their voice, then at least at their wit’s end, a recurring question is relentlessly posed: does he have the slightest clue about what he is actually saying? There is good reason, rooted in press etiquette, to hesitate about directing further attention to this compilation as a few of the participants may quite possibly be delusional, and therefore should be protected against themselves. Then again: watching certain participants in the Alexandra Pelosi documentary about the Republicans’ rally1 leaves a similar impression.
There’s a fine line between madness and the commonest kind of sense. There are some words that simply long to be spoken, no matter how incoherent. Some of these people seem to be hiding in their basements in earnest, or at least preparing to do so, one of them with food reserves stacked up: macaroni aplenty, vast buckets of brownie fudge mix, big barrels of what-not – all set for the Final Fireworks. The end is nigh, it seems, and for some not quite nigh enough. These more gloomy aspects of the compilation tend towards a kind of “life in the last lane”report, a perspective somewhat reminiscent of that of Susan Faludi’s, of yesteryear men out of place, with pessimistic, downright dystopian visions of the future.
On the other hand, we get benevolent, off-the-wall pieces of information we never knew we might need: “Rice feeds billions of people. I, personally, have over 200 pounds of rice.” So there. Maybe the prime feat of RIP in Pieces is the compilation skills of the sampling artist, in this case Gaguou. It is undeniably a fascinating interplay between the different voices and appearances of a wide (or not) range of people, each humming his own tune, and still in a kind of harmony of fates with the common trait of somehow stepping aside. And of course there’s music! This potpourri is a treat for anyone with a taste for intensely unformatted sincerity. Save it for a very rainy day. It might cheer you up.
1 See Journeys with George (2003) and Right America: Feeling Wronged – Some Voices from the Campaign Trail (2009).