Incomplete, half-hearted theories on Nicolas Jaar Presents the Network Parts 1 & 2
A stunning, disorienting, bizarrely anti-perfect assemblage of experimental noise, synths, and beats that shake your hips for you. Laid out in conversation with classic tracks from the likes of Nina Simone and Biggie. The Simone and hip hop tracks that bookend the first part are intensely militant against State violence and oppression. Nina Simone’s Four Women plays around 15 minutes, and honestly, it’s hard to beat that. You need a break after that. Interspersed are monologues by youtube vloggers, newscasters, pornography scenes, day time AM radio DJs, car commercials, work out videos, postmodern music theorists, Marxist philosophers, and forest preservationists.
Jaar establishes a theme of racial oppression under State surveillance and State violence as a core component to this piece, rendering all the commercials, displays of consumerism, as inherently tied into white supremacy. He juxtaposes the violence faced by black bodies in conversation with his own background as being a part of the Palestinian diaspora. Several brief monologues discuss Palestine, Gaza, and a zoo where zebras have been killed, so the keepers have painted a heemar (donkey) to have stripes. Can he paint himself with stripes? Can people of color in the united states code switch enough to dodge a cop bullet?
The seeming innocuousness of daily pop media consumption and participation in social media is directly linked to capitalism. In part two the tracks become a lot more danceable. Especially at about 20 minutes in, when the precursor to a porn sequence drops into one of the most fun beats I’ve heard in a while. Everyone’s head bops to it. The porn performance picks back up again. The femme voice says, “You got it everywhere”, to which the masc voice responds, “It’s all over you… you look way more pretty with that on you.” And she agrees. Stripes on the donkey. Cum on the woman. False pretenses of whiteness, maleness, ninclusion through getting fucked.
After an incredible musical journey, a mockery of Drake and Future’s “Jumpman” (or perhaps a mockery of the appropriation black pop-artists endure), and the little speech on the potential of music, Jaar suffers us through a long interlude featuring a day time DJ and Pierce Brosnan doing a Kia car commercial. The commercial is reminiscent of the porn performance from earlier, as well as that workout mixtape. You need a better body. You need to pleasure a man to know your value. Your value is physical. That his cum would complete her aesthetic; that that car Pierce Brosnan is selling you would complete yours.
The commercial-porn abruptly ends with a Marxist philosopher discussing the how Margaret Thatcher incorporated her economic vision of neoliberalism not only in her policy and economics, but in global culture. Jaar eventually places a remixed Beyonce beat of Single Ladies over the lecture. Thatcher, the philosopher argues, sought to change the way people relate to one another and each other. She sought to change our souls. And she did. The philosopher says that she wanted to remove the possibility for our collective imagination. Jaar has the philosopher sound bite on sample, repeating, “We can’t imagine. We Can’t imagine.” Over and over again until you realize that yes, we cannot imagine outside of the cultural forms we have been provided with (read: interpellated identity formation | cultural hegemony), but also, we can, and do, and always have imagined outside of those State mandated cultural modes of production — the racist music industry, and the oppressive algorithms alike. The violent sex in porn and the superficiality of the car commercial. The creativity of the Gazan zookeepers to paint the donkey; was it to bring in customers, or to bring in the camera crews — Why was the donkey killed? Why was Israel bombing a zoo for children?
The philosopher moves to discuss how Pinochet did the same in Chile. Pinochet killed the Chilean imagination. And Jaar rages us into a dance. Immediately we hear what was one of the most well-curated, potent, and unfamiliar playlists I’ve heard. About an hour tracklist of what sounds like classical acoustic Chilean dance music, thus producing a decolonial challenge to this philosopher's arrogant boast that white capitalist colonizers could ever strip the imagination from indigenous people of color around the globe. That a white girl jogging for views on YouTube could somehow dampen the cultural force of blackness inherent in Drake and Future. That Israel could ever bomb the soul of Palestine. Resistance through art, through dance — resistance to the point where it is not even about resistance anymore, it is literally just a different way of living, dancing, creating, and being in community than what colonizers and capitalists want us to imagine. It is just being in difference as other.
These songs have such a depth and range of emotion, I noticed that almost all of them have several vocalists, which I found symbolic: we are not fully disconnected, we are intimately bound in art, expression, dance, love. Jaar slowly introduces his own remixed drums, choppy, distorted, and fading voice into these classic songs, as a challenge to the philosopher's assertion that we have lost our ability to imagine. It was never lost. Repressed, hidden, silenced. But never gone.
Jaar is living and continuing a long legacy of making art beautiful in resistance to oppression. This epic piece is making poetry out of protest chants, and these chants are how to love one another by defying the government. How to build communities that do not rely on each other’s suffering, or exploit an invisible lacking. From a white Marxist saying we have no imagination, no alternative, to a history of musicians and artists living and singing and playing out the alternative, not just for a redistributive economy, but also a polemic against the Thatcherite, YouTube-ite, Instagram-ite, isolationist and western demands for assimilation, its predatory and pornographic concentration on our body image (from video gamer gloves, to zebra stripes, to mass-produced cars and cum on our faces, to work out routines). As Thatcher did not just attempt to change politics and economics, but to alter our relationship to self, soul, and community, so too is Jaar offering a third world, decolonial, Marxist, immigrant, intergenerational, deeply artistic alternative imaginary for what we can build together. What we can learn from those who came before us, and those who strive to preserve their legacy.
The forest tapes from 1987 sound alive and in 2014 they sound dead. I almost broke down crying. To hear the death, the silence. Jaar fills the gap on the second example, showing that we live with our history, but can build, grow, and live through, with, and despite the death wrought by and on our ancestors. He ends part 2 the same way he began part 1, with a beautiful church-esque choral arrangement.
How will you reclaim your consciousness from the ploys of capitalism?
How will you build a community with imagination?
How will you live in beautiful contention with the racist police state?
How will you learn to love again without the compulsions of racialized and gendered body images interpellating your every longing gaze and hopeful brush with affection?
Additional notes: I realized that there is a sort of build up for the work out playlist section, the porn section, and the ad. The stage is set, longing is there, and seduction happens in conjunction with intoxication. a yearning to feel accepted? A desire to being wanted? All interpellâted by the police state. These systems are rather clear demonstrations of subjects becoming through their forms of accepted address.