Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Buddhist Commodities Through French New Wave Cinema

I've been watching a lot of foreign films lately. One particular period I have been hanging out in is the French New Wave. Given the current upheavals in France over pensions, retirement, immigration, and a whole host of other things, it's fascinating to watch these films from half a century ago that ruminate on many of these issues' beginnings. A pair of Jean-Luc Godard films, Made in the USA and Masculin,Feminin, I have found particularly interesting for their blunt exposure of crash consumerism, and the vapid selfishness that seems to come with those who embrace it.

I stumbled upon the t-shirt above on a recent ID Project post. It almost could have come straight from a Godard scene, framed by some character reading from a Buddhist sutra (Godard often has characters reading from some grand work of fiction or non-fiction.) Part of me loves the boldness of the shirt, it's offering to us a reminder that this isn't going to last. Another part of me sees this thing consumerism does - turning every last word, object, and experience into a product for purchase.

If you filled a city full of people wearing such t-shirts, the radical jolt would disappear almost completely. It would become mostly, just another hip shirt. And eventually, not a "hip" one, but just another shirt. And eventually, no one would produce them anymore, and those wearing them would wear them all out.

What I find so interesting about the 60's Godard films is that the characters are soaked in pop culture, often saying wise things, but you never truly believe that any of them have actually learned to be wise themselves. They are kind of like sprinkler systems, putting out the fires of emptiness and stupidity by dispensing some smart language. But it only lasts a little while, and before long, they need to do it again, because anyone watching has grown bored of them as people, and they are also bored of themselves.

I suppose t-shirts with Buddhisty sayings are helpful at some level. Anything can be a dharma gate. And yet, how easy is it to think that such props are great tools - that certain fancy experiences are required to awaken - that we are each the stars of some movie that will someday be loved by millions.

Whose dreams are you living out anyway? Do you know? It's very true that "this body will be a corpse." Now what? See, already I'm looking for another cookie to eat.


Jennifer Campaniolo said...

Hi Nathan,

It's sad really, but the first thing I thought when I saw this photo was a reaction/warning about violence against women. Once I understood what it meant, I have to admit I thought it was kind of dumb. But then again, I've never liked t-shirts with sayings on them. If a person feels that way about life, than they should actually say it rather than buying something to say it for them.

Bruce Behnke said...

The questions you pose in your last paragraph are enough for several years of contemplation.

Brilliant, Nathan.

Algernon said...

Seung Sahn used to talk about live words and dead words. Your questions get at a similar point. Live words prick the skin, get our attention, penetrate our sleep. Dead words hit us like a piece of paper, and we may barely register hearing them.

As a teacher, he was known for repeating a few memorable sayings over and over again. Yet he cautioned against sloganeering, too, because teaching words can easily become dead words depending on how (and why) they are presented.

Like, for instance, when they are printed on to a t-shirt that is then sold as a fashion item.