I have some thoughts on Gremlins 2, demonology, Oedipal robots, the Chthulucene, Jay-Z’s wardrobe, Hobbes’ Leviathan, commodity fetishism, the Leather Daddy Gremlin, Key and Peele, feedback loops, John Carpenter, Toy Story, and Hyper-Gremlinization. (1/51)
Yes I am being 100% serious, as always. We will begin by examining the idea of the Gremlin, the foundation of all worthwhile Gremlins 2 Studies. (2/51)
In a recent post, I quoted Mark Fisher's analysis on the Gremlin (passages included here for convenience). To Fisher, the Gremlin is the result of a self-correcting circuit that appears to take on a mind of it's own. In the original popular myth, the gremlin controlled … (3/51)
… an advanced mechanical system like an airplane engine. But this same process can occur in any self-reflexive or self-correcting system, causing it to act as if it had a sort of intelligence or agency. In Fisher's essay "Gremlins in the Hyperreal"... (4/51)
(which is the essay’s actual name, I am not making this up), he compares this to the return of animism and demonology in cyberpunk and science fiction. The essay, published in the 90s, however did not prove to be entirely culturally prescient in that regard. (5/51)
But perhaps, that is our loss. In the past two decades, much science fiction has instead chosen to recast questions about AI as human drama, with the same oedipal overtones and questions of free will. These non-human intelligences are made to both look and act human. (6/51)
The version of I, Robot with Will Smith simply recasts robot rights as human rights. Even in films like Ex Machina just portray robotic intelligence as a more sociopathic human intelligence. None of this resembles Fisher’s sci-fi demonology. (7/51)
In recent years, however, there has been yet another cultural shift. This one is away from the robot-as-human drama, instead pivoting to the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft. As the world grows more complex, and climate catastrophe looms, people can relate to the… (8/51)
…horror of vast, cosmic forces that can hardly be grasped by an individual, let alone combatted or stopped. Donna Haraway even suggests that the "Anthropocene" should, more fittingly, be referred to as the "Chthulucene". This has slowly bled into popular culture... (9/51)
...be it in the "cosmic nihilism" of Matthew McConaughey's character in True Detective, or the fact that Jay-Z wore a jacket emblazened with the cover of "In The Dust of This Planet". (10/51)
The book on his jacket is an academic tome about a world "increasingly unthinkable, a world of planetary disasters, emerging pandemics, and the looming threat of extinction." (11/51)
On the more racist end of the cultural spectrum, Nick Land loves to post edgy Lovecraft creatures and make some incredibly belabored argument about how the monster is bitcoin or some dumb shit, I don't know, who cares the guy is old news (13/51)
Nick Land is just “Rick and Morty” for a group of even more spiteful edgelords (14/51)
I have a problem with this cultural pivot. Cosmic horror is paralyzing. It is also inaccurate, in my view - the threats we face are not looming gods possessing a singular intelligence, but rather a swarm of Gremlins. (15/51)
Recall, for a second, the famous cover of Hobbes' Leviathan. The image, of a large man made of a crowd of smaller people, is NOT what I am talking about. Contrast this to the Gremlins: dispersed, possessing only the loosest coordination between them. (16/51)
The Leviathan, like the Lovecraftian horror, implies a singular intelligence. Our current situation, however, is best viewed not as the threat of a single monstrous agency, but the sum total of many small, imbecilic ones. (17/51)
Let us switch topics. We must return to the original meaning of the Gremlin – as a kind of agency or intelligence that arises from certain technologies. But isn’t technological thinking everywhere? Doesn’t it extend far beyond literal machines? (18/)
Economic systems could also be analyzed the same way. In fact, if we return to Marx's description of the commodity, we get this eerie passage that seems to predict Gremlins 2 Studies. In it he compares commodity fetishism to a form of magic... (19/51)
…or perhaps, even, a form of animism. The commodity has this mythic quality attached to it, which appears to render it as an “independent being endowed with life”. The Gremlin is this fantastical quality made flesh. (20/51)
It is important to understand this specifically in the context of Gremlins 2. In the mediocre prequel, Gremlins, this quality is not as openly apparent. But the success of the film, especially the success of its merchandising, drove Joe Dante to reexamine the meaning... (21/51)
..of the franchise’s namesake monsters. As a result, Gremlins 2 is a biting satire of consumerism. Product placement is everywhere. The Gremlins are very overtly an analogue for the commodity-item, turned monstrous. They reproduce beyond control. (22/51)
This isn’t even subtext, its text. At one point the Leather Daddy Gremlin tattoos the Warner Brothers Logo on the chest of another Gremlin, an overt reference to the idea of intellectual property and commoditization. (23/51)
There's also stuff like this (24/51)
And yet the events depicted generally just rehash the plot of the first film. We are getting the same product. So how do we make the audience complacent? Through novelty. The Gremlins mutate into every more outlandish and ridiculous forms. (25/51)
This is just like consumerism – we are sold the same products over and over, often designed with built-in obsolescence. It is only through an ever-escalating process of novelty production that our memory on this issue is effectively disabled and placated. (26/51)
This process is picked up on and satirized by Key and Peele’s famous Gremlins 2 sketch. (27/51)
This dynamic – the pressures that are put on big Hollywood sequels – has expanded to overtake many other areas of our culture. Joe Dante picked up on this cultural current decades before it became the defining cultural mode. (28/51)
But let’s look closer, and return to the beginning of this thread, and analyze this from the perspective of Fisher’s demonology. There is a circuit going on here, between the demands of the audience, the studio, and the filmmaker. (29/51)
Movies can shape audience expectations, but audience expectations in turn shape the films that are created. This is a feedback loop, one that is self-reflexive, like the airplane engine. It is also the basic dynamic at play in most markets, not just film. (30/51)
These are the dynamics that shape the expectations for Gremlins 2. So what does Joe Dante do? He lets the Gremlins channel these forces. The agency that can emerge from these feedback loops is given form. (30/51)
Watch the film again: the Gremlins are not only the subject of the film, they actively shape it, remake it in their image. The medium is not only the message, but the monster. The film revels in the same mutation, vulgarity, and hostility as its namesake (31/51)
The Gremlins do to their own film what the forces that shape sequels do to others. They even, at one point, appear to take control of the projection booth. Especially as we careen madly towards the end of the film, the Gremlins increasingly look straight at the audience. (32/51)
In the mediocre prequel Gremlins, it is the monsters themselves who inhabit a theater, and sing along to a musical number from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But in Gremlins 2, we the audience take their place, and they perform a musical number for us. (33/51)
The Gremlins, and the film itself, appears to take on its own sort of agency – it is, in a sense, possessed by the very monsters it depicts. (34/51)
It is now necessary to return back to our discussion on Lovecraft. Perhaps the best “cosmic horror” film is from the 90s – John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness. Like Gremlins 2, it is a film that is self-referential, encompassing many shifting layers of reality. (35/51)
The first Gremlins film exists in the Gremlins 2 universe – this is clearly demonstrated when the Gremlins attack film critic Leonard Maltin as he pans the first film. In The Mouth of Madness is implied to exist as a film within its own universe as well. (36/51)
Fisher describes In The Mouth of Madness as “a film which is about fiction as contagion, fiction as an artificial intelligence, fiction which makes itself real.” He dubs it a work of hyper-Horror. Here, “hyper” is a reference to the term hyperstition. (37/51)
A hyperstition is a fiction that makes itself real, an idea that “once introduced into a culture, begin apocalyptic positive feedback cycles”. In The Mouth of Madness features the works of horror writer Sutter Cane invading and replacing reality. (38/51)
Weird events can destabilize our reality – "The weird thing is not wrong, after all: it is our conceptions that must be inadequate." But In The Mouth Of Madness takes it a step further, points out how media, such as the horror genre itself, is complicit in this process. (39/51)
Sutter Cane explains to the protagonist that his work has softened the boundary between fiction and reality, and in doing so this allows the “Old Ones to return”. (40/51)
Sound familiar? In recent years this has been the prevailing mood in the zeitgeist. People constantly say that “The Simulation is broken” or “Reality is broken”. We live in weird times. The boundary between truth and fiction is certainly eroded. (41/51)
But does that mean “the Old Ones” will return, as shown In The Mouth of Madness? No. Carpenter’s film is ultimately self-contained, a closed loop. It remains only a parable. But this is where things get interesting – is there some film where the loop is not closed? (42/51)
According to Fisher, yes, there is. That film is Toy Story. You cannot walk out of a theater and buy a Sutter Cane novel, but you can buy the Toy Story characters: “a fact which, when we reflect upon it, might make the Disney film the more terrifying of the two movies” (43/51)
Gremlins 2, while released earlier than both of these films, works as a synthesis of the two. And when we talk about hyperstitions, fictions making themselves real, is there no more obvious hyperstition than the process of Hyper-Gremlinization? (44/51)
For those who don’t know this term, the definition is here. (45/51) https://twitter.com/G2Institute/status/939176052454289408
But why Gremlins 2? Why is our universe looking more and more like the Gremlins 2 universe? The reason for this is because Gremlins 2 rejects the notion of “the old ones”, rejects the notion of some looming singular intelligence, and in their place finds many small ones. (46/51)
G2 also succeeds bc Joe Dante is not waiting for us in a spooky New England town, planning to reveal that we’re all characters in Gremlins 3. There's no great unifying intelligence. It's not self-contained, it is unstable, blurring the lines between film & audience. (47/51)
But perhaps there is a simpler explanation: Clamp Tower is the physical embodiment of neoliberal capitalism. Such a system closes the horizon of possible futures – “there is no alternative”. The absurdities of Gremlins 2 are the only future we are allowed to move towards. (48/51)
If we cannot imagine an alternative, then we are doomed to eternal Sequelization. The Gremlins are possessed by the very forces that cause sequelization, a monstrous agency that emerges from the ever-escalating demand for novelty that consumerism requires to function. (49/51)
This brings me to my conclusion – what is the meaning of “Gremlins 2”, what is the meaning of “Gremlins 2 Studes”? (50/51)
As mentioned, the gremlin is a sort of intelligence or agency that arises from self-reflexive systems. And “2” refers to the forces of sequelization. So “Gremlins 2 Studies” analyzes the place where these two forces meet, as demonstrated by the movie itself. (51/51)
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