Monday, September 28, 2009

Old Boy- producing or demanding reading?

I was surprised this week to see Old Boy attached to such readings as Lee and LiPuma's Cultures of Circulation: The Imaginations of Modernity and Arjun Appadurai's Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. It was only after the screening that a narrative, which I could only remember as a brutal revenge story, transformed into an amazing work that reflects the problems of conceptualizing post-modern culture. For Lee and LiPuma, these problems find their source in the "speed, intensity, and extent of contemporary global transformations" which efface early conceptualizations and theory for which they posit a project of viewing the "social imaginaries" under the light of "circulation" (191,193). Their point to eliminate the binary between culture and economics, bears light to their analysis that these structures are inherently linked if not acting under one and the same system.
Appadurai's text is one that I believe more directly applicable to Old Boy in that the production of its main character, Oh Dae-Su, is formed in part by one of Apparudai's proposed "dimensions of global cultural flow[:]" "the mediascape" (6). This is a part of "an elemetary framework for exploring [cultural/global] disjunctures," which consists of the flows of "(a) ethnoscapes; (b) mediascapes; (c) thechnoscapes; (d) finanscapes; and (e) ideoscapes" (6-7). He later posits that these are "building blocks of...imagined worlds" (7). The mediascape is identified as structured by images, and the networks that "[distribute]...produce and disseminate information..and to the images of the world created by these media" (9). Apparudai identifies that,
What is most important about these mediascapes is that they provide (especially in their television, film and cassette forms) large and complex repertoires of images, narratives and ethnoscapes to viewers throughout the world, in which the world of commodities and the world of news and politics are profoundly mixed.

The force of such a landscape on subjects that live and participate in an imagined world(s) is explosive, if not partially productive of the subjects themselves. For Oh Dae-Su, who is completely removed from the social and imprisoned for 15 years, the world is nothing beyond a repertoire of images and associated sounds. Left with only a television, this device that seems to merely be an agent of disseminating information becomes the entirety of his existence and conception of the world. The television acts as his "clock and calender," but beyond that it can even serve as his "lover." The performativity which Lee and LiPuma identify as inherrent to media forms is taken to the extreme here as the television can act as an agent in the exchange of sexual passion.
The importance of television as structuring for Oh Dae-Su is forgrounded towards the end of the narrative flashback which culminates a dual montage/collage of his development over fifteen years versus cultural and political events of both Korea and globe. Oh Dae-Su can be seen as a figure who under the force of the mediascape is submitted to a process of media-fication, like the laborer experiences commodification in the capitalist system. His identity is from this point inseparable from the media which structured it, which structures even his ability to speak. Oh Dae-Su studies or receives this disseminated information, while his antagonist Lee Woo-Jin, studies him creating a metamediated mess that I do not think I could hash out here.
One important aspect of the film is that is structured around one man's revenge. Revenge in many ways is a violent form of equivalence, if not exchange. The infamous "teeth-torture" shows the process in which 15 years of imprisonment are abstracted to a value of 15 teeth. Whereas, Oh Dae-Su's removal of his tongue is abstracted to a value of his crime of slander. These violent motifs of equivalence and exchange show in many ways how violent exchange is, especially in an era where violence as identified by Lee and LiPuma can be committed on currencies themselves.

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