When I was asked to comment on the movie “Don’t Look Up” (Adam McKay, 2021), I imagined that in the little book titled “Psychopolitics” by the philosopher Byung-Chul Han he was going to find clues for his interpretation.
Before seeing it again, I read that text from 2014 and I was not wrong. The lines that follow are either proof that screenwriters Adam McKay and David Sirota read Byung-Chul Han, or an illustration of Byung-Chul Han’s ideas with scenes from the movie. What you prefer.
The economy, finance and the business world always look to the future. money today it’s not worth the same what tomorrow The risks, the possible disadvantageous events are prevented as far as possible and, the greater the uncertainty ahead, the higher the costs in the present. Byung-Chul Han, sharper, says “capitalism escapes into the future.” In the film, tech entrepreneur Isherwell (Mark Rylance) and President Orlean (Meryl Streep) literally escape on a ship. The comet will end all future on earth and, without a future, there is no business, no politics – which only looks towards the next elections. Power today “is about psychopolitical control of the future,” says Han.
Don’t look up: when reality is stranger than fiction
According to the essayist, politics has been emptied of its own and voters are considered consumers. This leads to trying to please them, to calm them down, to seduce them with a positive vision. The psyche is the productive force of current capitalism, therefore, it seeks to omit the negative, pain and frustration, although these are constitutive of the human being. The neoliberal psychopolitics, says Byung-Chul Han, “flatters the soul instead of shaking it and paralyzing it with shocks.” This thesis is clearly illustrated in the satire of McKay and Sirota. Not even a deadly comet should upset us. The data and technology business will be saved and it will save us.
The emptying of what is proper to politics It is evident, according to Han, that politicians are not measured by their decisions. In the void private questions or stagings are dumped. President Meryl “Orlean” Streep follows Byung-Chul Han to the letter: she leaks intimate photos, builds a hero and a story, stages the salvation of humanity with fireworks on a warship -like Noah’s Ark .
The power of digital psychopolitics
Another thesis of Byung-Chul Han is that, in neoliberal capitalism, truth has been replaced by transparency and scientific theories by data. In the film, the tech mega-entrepreneur and his innovative solutions are more convincing than any slow, rational, non-complacent scientific voice. Byung-Chul Han also describes what he calls “the capitalism of emotion.” Emotion is subjective and volatile, it is contagious and needs venting, but it is dictatorial. The famous fissure it exploits the discharge of said emotions as an object of consumption. In this context, rationality is an obstacle, it requires a certain development to reach understanding. In “Don’t look up”, it is science that puts obstacles to the capitalism of emotion. It is not suited to the fast and indifferent media times, in which a famous romance and the comet are placed on the same plane. TV presenter Evantee (Cate Blanchett) manages to stun scientist Mindy (Leonardo Di Caprio) and ally him with political and business power. The capitalism of emotion is also called by Han as the capitalism of “likes”. We believe, he says, that we can choose anything, including what reality we want to see. We can choose, look up or not. Byung-Chul Han wonders, who protects us from what we want?
At least, a positive leave us both the book and the movie. For Han, freedom is a relationship, it is mutual fulfillment; to be free is to be among friends. For McKay and Sirota, family, reconciliation, friends, and thanksgiving are present at the Last Supper, free from other interests facing certain death.
* Maria Marta Preziosa. Ph.D. in Philosophy. Researcher FCE, UCA.
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