From Disciplinary Society to More Disciplinary Society: Snowpiercer

There is a never-ending discussion between Foucaldians and Deleuzians on the character of society where we live in. While Foucaldians claim that disciplinary mechanisms are still at work and efficient, Deleuzians think that Western societies had a deep transformation toward control societies with the emergence of various socio-technical features. Maybe today we witness both forms of governance at the same time. On one hand most of traditional institutions of modernity more or less still stand in their places or slightly shift themselves regarding the necessities of capitalist economy and of contemporary society. But on the other hand techniques such as electronic bracelet, permanent education or concepts such as new medicine without doctors and patients, corporation system etc. bring more flexible, but not less controlling mechanisms. It is difficult to say there is one dominant current in contemporary societies. But then, as far as I can see, the states are getting less and less tolerant to protests almost all over the world. We basically saw this with the Occupy Movements, but not limited only with that. Recently in Hamburg, police attacked Rote Flora (a social, political center); further to fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, police forces applied several times brute force in Ferguson; and maybe even at that moment in Hong Kong and Turkey[1], police interventions are going on at the expense of people’s health, even of their lives. I think there is a clear trend in the direction of repressing alternative ideas and different voices.

I don’t know if it is a coincidence, probably not, but in recent years there is an apparent increase in the number of dystopian science fiction genre movies, or at least they are more visible compared to the past. They generally take place in a distant, mostly post-apocalyptic future and they are endowed with scientifically and technologically advanced civilizations. Science and technology mostly serve to totalitarian purposes of governments, and to keep classes exactly in their places. Indeed, in general, there are only two classes as rulers and subordinates; they are posited almost as casts, which means that there is no transivity between classes. One of the most popular examples of this genre is Hunger Games, a box-office hit, lead to follow-ups with byplays. Recent movies such as Divergent, Equilibrium, The Maze Runner more or less share the same features with their dystopian atmosphere.

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[unfortunately I couldn’t avoid spoilers]

The Snowpiercer can be seen in the same category. Because of failure of a climate change experience, vast majority of humanity lost their lives as a result of sudden glaciation, and only small group of people manage to survive thanks to a technologically enhanced train, aka Snowpiercer. But people living at the back part of the train are in such miserable conditions that they hover between life and death at any moment. Rulers apply strict rules that ‘tail-sectioners’ have to obey, such as not crossing the area separated for them, giving roll-call everyday, delivering their children when it is demanded, etc. Tail-sectioners have no idea what’s happening at the front of the train, or what is awaiting them; they spend their days just like everyday, if not get worsen. Story arc flows towards revolt of tail-sectioners, their discovery of other parts of the train, and finally of functioning of whole system.

In this picture, two points seemed significant to me. First one is the distribution of roles, the relationship between rulers and others, in other words the model of ‘governance’ in the train. Secondly, it is the class aspect of the movie and its imagination of revolution, presuming a catastrophic end.

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Actually discourse of necessities, which is basically an economical one, is quite recognizable from the political scene. We have to shut down factory, we have to fire workers, we have to cut social aids, so and so forth. Core principle of liberalism based on the idea that sources are scarce coupled with individual responsibility, sustainable development, and long-term balance in neoliberal version. But in both regimes of administration, principles work such a way that they do not dictate truth, but produce norms in which subjects become subjects by appropriating their ‘own’ perspectives alongside the process[2]. In other words, it is a regime of normality; which the demarcating line between inside and outside is ambiguous, even removed.

In Snowpiercer, it is not that there isn’t any norm, there is; but it is obvious and absolute one: Obey or die. In this sense, it makes us think classical type of governance in monarchic regimes rather than the modern times. You know, regimes that even a raised eyebrow means a threat against king. Here too, a shoe thrown on one of the ruler’s head becomes a symbol shaking whole legitimacy of the system. Rulers’ demand for full obedience is legitimized through the necessity of security, balance, and order. They don’t have to convince subordinates for this, subordinates already don’t have any other option. So, we are far away from a system based on consent and will, satisfaction and willing, complaint and change. There is only a way to bring the curtain down: revolt. But for sure, it is a bloody one, which will necessarily be a matter of life and death.

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“Once upon a time revolution was a possibility and it was so beautiful”[3]. But why is it not a possibility now? Because for it have kept going being a possibility, it would had to maintain its unexpectedness, its suddenness, its exteriority to the system. Yet it seems that it is already internalized, incorporated into ‘check and balance’ calculations by the system, at least according to the framework of the movie. The history of the train has already witnessed some attempts of revolution (in a time before that of the movie), but either they are severely repressed or they are consumed away before began. Nonetheless they didn’t just simply go down the chute, but served to arrange populational balance, to carry fresh water to history narrative of Snowpiercer or to add another brick to revolution prevention repertory. Revolution is not a possibility, but a necessity for maintaining order and balance. We are trapped in a determinist realm here. But again, only possibility of destroying this equation comes from the ‘oppressed’.

One of the salient features of Snowpiercer is that it radicalizes the division of classes and reduces it into two classes just like in Marxian scheme. What is different from Marxian proletariat-bourgeoisie distinction is that it replaces it with a kind of ‘remnants (lumpen proletariat maybe?) – super-designer binary. Remnants’ existence doesn’t depend upon their labor in classical sense, but the system needs them only for their children, living labor in its fullest sense. While we pass the whole train with remnants along the movie, we discover that there are other people in the train, having different jobs and status, but that they are always docile and in passive roles regarding the management of the train. So, the contradiction between super-designer as one supreme power (elite rulers are totally dependent on him) and remnants as absolute subordinates is extreme and irreparable. Super-designer is in fact only actor, only subject of the train, which designs, shapes, and sustains things from beginning to end. But then super-designer/one-man identification dissolves as well with our discovery[4] of organismic characteristics of the train that could sometimes behave with its conscious. So, the train as an independent entity is the assurance of ongoing functioning of the system. But this deterministic loop[5] has its own variables even though external effects are minimized. Slight changes on climate conditions affect the train; gear wheels of the train relatively corrode; human power is always limited, and it is the variable the most probably to function improperly. A possibility of revolution, even though it is already embedded into the system, makes these elements visible. Maybe all these reasons prepare the ground for the end of the train with implosion of the revolution. So, revolution: a skein of contingencies. Geography, climate conditions, physical factors, unscheduled encounters, instantaneous attitudes and postures… Accumulation, destruction, scintillation, dissipation, evanescence, disorganization, emergence, emanation…

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In the narrative of Snowpiercer, the revolution is not simply taking over the government, but it is the possibility to pass over exterior of exterior: There is another life beyond the train. Only an Asian drug addict adolescent girl and a black child worker could succeed that. So, in this picture remnants and the ‘train’ lost the game altogether, and the middle classes couldn’t go beyond being caricatured, automated creatures.

So, in my eyes, two things came into prominence in the movie. The first one is way of management in the train that I talk about as governance. Second one is its representation of classes and its conceptualization of revolution. There must surely be some external links between film’s narrative and goings-on in the world, which I didn’t try to relate. But I think that it would be interesting to compare recent developments in political scene and rise of dystopian genre movies, and put them into context with respect to each one’s narrative.

The revolution will not be televised, but maybe will be watched in a movie theater.

[1] Turkey’s register on that matter was never clean. But we can argue that police brutality became more visible and ferocious with Gezi Park events. Several people lost their lives and tens of protesters their eyes because of plastic bullets. And today, even at that moment police interventions violently goes on against Kobane protests.

[2] See Foucault, Discpline and Punish, but also Security, Territory, Population; for a relatively recent study on neoliberalism through reception of Foucault’s approaches on liberalism see Pierre Dardot, Christian Laval, The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society

[3] It is introduction sentence of Murat Uyurkulak’n novel, Tol. Unfortunately there isn’t English translation yet, only French translation Tol and German translation Glut exist.

[4] We discover it with the revolutionary protagonist of the movie. It is interesting that spectators are posited from beginning to end such a way that narrative of the movie demands identification with the oppressed side.

[5] Actually the movie could be interpreted easily through a Hegelian-Marxian scheme as the necessary rolling-out of history with clash of classes. But when we look at the circularity of the train’s path, it is possible to see some affinities with the Nietzschean concept of eternal return. The train repeats itself in each course, but each time it returns as the repetition of difference as Deleuze would put it.


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