Feb. 18, 2017: Parasites and -biosis
I thought to write the following as an article, but I don't really have the time or the patience to complete it with the necessary care; the idea might be too hollow, too. In any case, it's an interesting idea maybe—a connection between David Cronenberg, specifically Shivers, and Peter Thiel's bourgeois young blood fantasies. Basically:
Shivers, Cronenberg's 1975 first commercial feature, documents the spread of a lab-born parasite through a bourgeois community in a high-rise outside Montreal. The parasite, created by a certain Dr. Emil Hobbes (his name a not-so-subtle allusion to Rousseau and... Hobbes), is meant to increase people's libidos, because, in Hobbes's view, contemporary society had lost its carnal desires. Soon enough, in the movie, the apartment complex's residents are all sex-crazed zombies, making love indiscriminately and leaving trails of blood all over the place. The only person left in the movie's final minutes is the handsome Dr. St. Luc, who, in the orgiastic last scene, gets infected too.
The blood, coupled with the source of the parasite being a doctor seeking to meddle in the bodies and minds of those around him (specifically the young, given that Patient Zero is a teenage girl), made me think about Thiel and his desire to prolong his life through transfusions of young people's blood (parabiosis). In August 2016, reports about these desires—and the Thiel-supported company selling transfusions for $8,000 a pop—surfaced, as did resultant questions both practical and ethical, i.e., does this really work, and is this just a way for the rich to literally take the blood of the poor? By November, studies showed that such transfusions likely wouldn't even work; still, Thiel's desires, and the money he's putting into fulfilling them, aren't wavering.
The movie and the popular outrage at Thiel's experiment sort of debunks the intellectual lineage that continues to drive men in power in America. In Shivers, its intentions create a bloody mess; for Thiel, its intentions do, well, the same—but also things like Gawker, Trump, et al. In both cases, amplified bourgeois desires triumph and the little guy (the poor, women, foreigners, the young) is left depleted. Maybe Shivers sets up a way to view Thiel's libertarianism and age-resisting as both libidinal and as the regressive and urgent gender and class issue that they are.
Some more thoughts on that end: Dr. Hobbes, summoning his namesake, wants to shatter the complacency and boredom of '70s yuppie life, but in doing so takes advantage of his status as a powerful, wealthy man to impose his will on younger people (mostly, it turns out, women). The failure—or, you could call it success—of his experiment reflects the ease with which men like him can manipulate large swaths of society, controlling people's minds and bodies. It's an attitude that has driven western politicians (and many scientists) for a few hundred years, and its one embodied in both Peter Thiel and his philosophical inspiration Rene Girard (who was greatly influenced by Hobbes), known for his ideas on the "desire of the Other" and scapegoating. The nostalgia for this kind of thinking often frames itself as ethical, even progressive, when it's in most cases the opposite. (Worth noting: a late-November New Inquiry article by Geoff Shullenberger does much of the requisite work on Thiel and Girard.)
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