One of the most disturbing elements of what some call late capitalism or the neoliberal era is the seemingly insurmountable hubris that blinds the ruling elite to the reality of everyday life. We are routinely subjected to displays of just how out of touch major politicians and elites are with everyday life, from their inability to understand the difficulty of living on a minimum wage to their bizarre discussions of how people on welfare are living like royalty. One cannot help but feel that the elite of our own world are not far removed from those of The Hunger Games—indeed they seem to be in competition for a race to the top of absurdity.
This tendency towards blindness is on full display with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s bizarre plan to open a Blade Runner-themed food market in New York City. According to Bourdain’s partner Stephen Wether, the project will open in 2017—just two years out from the fictional events in the film—and will “be crowded and chaotic” because “that’s how hawker centres should be.” The aim is to create what is effectively a futuristic Potemkin village of sorts, one that recreates the “mash-up of foods, styles, tastes, and visuals” common to the open-air food markets called hawkers commonly found in places like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Bourdain and Wether’s decision to model their 100,000 square foot food market on the Blade Runner locale is, needless to say, utterly incredible. The film depicts a dystopian future in which Earth has been utterly devastated by the rapacious development of capitalist industrialization. The heavily overcrowded Los Angeles of 2019 is not a desirable place to live, and large blimp-like objects roam the skies broadcasting advertisements to emigrate to the out world colonies, not unlike the propaganda once used to lure the downtrodden of England to the Americas.
The Chinatown food market in the film compacts an enormous amount of imagery that crystallizes a myriad of elements from the real world of capitalist globalization into a very compact space. The eclecticism of design and culture, the mash up of futuristic technology and ostensibly ancient ways of producing food and shelter all calls forth the image of late capitalism as a postmodern pastiche, representing the destruction of collective memory and context. For Bourdain and Wether to employ this aesthetic in our contemporary world, beset as it is by a global slump, massive austerity, the devastation of global warming, and the massive migration of peoples who are treated as less than fully human, indicates just how far figures like this are divorced from reality.
To make matters worse, the market is set to open at the newly renovated SuperPier on Pier 57 alongside 250,000 square feet of office space that has been purchased by Google. Though a far cry from the Tyrell Corporation’s replicants, Google’s recent $400 million dollar purchase of DeepMind’s advanced artificial intelligence research further drives home the bizarre nature of this undertaking. With no sense of irony these figures flout the obvious meanings behind aesthetic productions, utterly clueless as to how to begin unpacking the symbols presented to them in art. This is not unlike the manner in which high end art purchases are made, not because the purchasers really understand how to appreciate art, but because it is a good way to develop prestige among the 1% (and I rarely employ the 99%/1% language, but in this case it is actually useful).
This is one instance in which the thought of Gyorgy Lukacs has some real merit. In many ways, the ruling class and its satellite members (such as celebrity chefs) are structurally incapable of developing a truthful picture of reality. Their social position is predicated upon a certain blindness, or better yet a certain lens through which to view reality that skews objects in their interests. Thus you have phenomena such as CEOs ranting about the poor as urinating, rowdy hyenas, or comparing their “suffering” at the hands of Occupy Wall Street protesters to lynchings in the Jim Crow era. Or, as a family member of mine said recently, “You think your life is tough? Imagine being a major shareholder of a Fortune 500 company. That’s having a tough life.”
Neither these statements nor Bourdain’s plans are meant to be ironic, they are the honest perspective of people whose sense of reality is so warped by their power that they cannot think outside of themselves. This is why the imagery of American Psycho was so powerful, it captured the myopic sadism of this sensibility—albeit in a character who employed more self-awareness than most of his real life counterparts seem capable of.
Jase Short is a writer and activist living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He write the blog "The Ansible," focusing on speculative fiction and fantasy, for Red Wedge.