What then could life be in the thicket of lenses launched by state and capital—especially for those caught up in the meshes of power, which is increasingly bent on disciplining people toward compliance, once the direct purchase of social peace becomes too expensive for staggering economies? Surely this must explain the extraordinary delight so many people took in Pussy Riot’s pop art balaclavas brightening the soleas of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was thrilling even for those of us with little understanding of the political significance of the Russian Orthodox Church, and its partnership with Putin’s corporate security state.
It was scarcely a bid for invisibility, however. “Punk Prayer” was entirely invested in appearance, albeit of a different kind. The iconic masks reappear all too swiftly, now with unicorn appliqués, in Spring Breakers. The film’s young miscreants match them with “DTF” sweatpants borrowed from MTV’s Jersey Shore, a different story of ubiquitous cameras, pure image and celebrity. That this pairing makes sense is a verdict. It reserves some skepticism for Pussy Riot, for the global fame of attractive, camera-ready rebels, and how appearance was on their side in a way that it will not be for the subjects of your average stop-and-frisk.
The common understandings of pop culture pit it against daily life, against concrete political struggles that exist beyond the play of images. It is escape, relief, opiate, at best a test where the contradictions of reality seem briefly to admit of resolution while cash changes hands offscreen.
And yet: we are all famous now. The technologies of total celebrity, as well as the social forces that have made them profitable and desirable, unfold into habits and expectations of how to be. Pop as worldview, as the baseline experience of expecting always to appear, provides an opening for the remaking of public space, private space, political space.