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Amivalences of the Mass Ornament in King Vidor's The Crowd

Amivalences of the Mass Ornament in King Vidor's The Crowd

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essay on King Vidor's 1928 film The Crowd
essay on King Vidor's 1928 film The Crowd

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Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament": King Vidor's The Crowd Author(s): Miriam Hansen Reviewed work(s): Source: Qui

Parle, Vol. 5, No. 2, Distractions (Spring/Summer 1992), pp. 102-119 Published by: University of Nebraska Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20685952 . Accessed: 16/11/2012 14:42
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but is nonetheless in tended as a happy one. raphy.' In one version. MGM finally released The Crowd in February of 1928. now familiar ending. the hero's journey of downward mobility is reversed by an overnight success in advertising which restores the family to harmony and respectability in a sentimen tal Christmas tableau. seven different endings had been scripted. the final shots of The Crowd give the lie to any simple closure. the group is split up by a two-shot to the right. in theirparticular cinematic choreog space of the vaudeville theater. after much delay.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament": KingVidor's The Crowd Miriam Hansen When. slightly closer shot of them in the public Qui Parle Vol. 2.203 on Fri. two were actually shot and distributed in separate reels. 5. Spring/Summer 1992 This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. The second ending clearly dampens the bland optimism of the first. showing John help an unknown man seated next to him recover from a coughing fit. In the other. for a last time together.82. Returning to the previous set-up. reeling with laughter.168. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . John Sims (James Murray) makes a more modest return from unemployment by finding a job as a sandwich man dressed up as a juggling clown: he dis suades his wife (Eleanor Boardman) from leaving him and takes her and their son to a vaudeville show where the family is reconstituted as part of the great community of popular entertainment. The reverse shot shows a burlesque scene on stage inwhich a clown and another man are beating each other up. This last sequence begins with a dissolve from the nuclear family reunited on the domestic sofa-little boy on the left. the next shot frames the three family members. thewife. When Mary. subse quen'tly. and a two-shot of mother and child on the left. ending the film on a note of ambivalence ifnot unwitting cynicism. No. mother and father on the right-to a matching. exhibitors had the choice between two different end ings. However.

Vidor and Capra and usually linked to an ideologi cal stance of socially conscious individual humanism and moral opti mism. the Magic Cleaner. the film unfolds a love storywith a realistic set ban-industrial society or. blame the hero's naive faith in his superiority.4 (Thus. bragging to Mary in an intertitle:"The poor bet his father thoughthe would be President. open-plan office to pick from the geometrical pattern of hundreds of employees no. alternately. he wins a contest for an advertising slogan (the "Sleight-of-Hand" slogan that reappears in the final sequence) which results in a binge of consumption that gets the baby girl killed.203 on Fri. can't find another. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .82." readings of the film have pivoted around the basic plot issue of who is responsible for John's failure: critics either see him as a victim of ur but also foreshadows John's subproletarian come-back as a clown at the film's end. associated with direc tors such as Griffith. his inability to recognize how little he differs from the crowd he despises. the closing scene of the film is read as resolving themismatch between individual and society in the glow of This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. and is saved from suicide only by his cowardice and his little son's declaration of faith in him.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 103 unheard laughter. the camera begins to pull back and upward to reveal an increasingly abstract pattern of bodies swaying with discovers one of John's slogans. the film's protagonist. As "a melodrama that resists being one" (Robert Lang). the famous travelling shot up along the fagade of a Manhattan highrise which tilts and.2 Between these two travelling shots. After a last two shot showing the couple kissing.168. he loses his job. This closing camera movement rhymes with an earlier one in re verse direction." which not only sap-I'll echoes his own father's predictions for his son's great future at birth.) Accordingly. the camera moves to the right to grant John a point-of-view shot of the ad (which also features a jug ting: Johnmeets Mary. such a story fits squarely into a tradition of American films dramatizing the plight of the "common man" ("populist" films). John Sims." used in an ad in the program notes. until the shot dissolves into a Busby-Berkeleyian bird's eye perspective and fades out. early on in the film John jeers at a sandwich man dressed up as a clown. can't make ends meet. theymarry. "Sleight-of-Hand. sweeps into an gling clown) and then further to the right to have John show the ad to his neighbor who congratulates him with a handshake. have two children.3 Reproducing the terms of this tradition of "social realism. with a dissolve. unable to come to terms with her death. 137.

these group figurations vary inkind. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. is embedded in an elaborate sequence inwhich female office workers peel out of a revolving door one by one to be male dates waiting on the sidewalk-a routine wor picked up by their a Busby Berkeley musical. called the "mass ornament" ("das Ornament der Masse"). through long-shot compositions of se riality like the group of boys. another discourse unfolds on the level of cinematic style.104 Miriam Hansen popular entertainment: John finally accepts being part of the crowd psychoanalytically speaking. The film promotes this analogy not only on the diegetic level. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . to the unstructured crowd of pleasure seekers in Coney Island and on the beach. the group of fa thers-to-bewaiting in the hospital (one black man among them). the fragmentation and ra tionalization of the labor process. a mechanical gesture of social-sexual reproduction. for instance. forwhich I take the final shot to be em blematic. each man gets an identical low-angle point-of-view shot of his date's legs. early on in the film. or the even more anonymous lines in frontof the unemployment office. as a priv ileged moment of cinematic subjectivity. of mise tion: from the geometrically organized overhead shots of the office workers and vaudeville patrons.203 on Fri. But beyond the level of narrative closure and individual psychol ogy. sitting on a fence (one black kid among them) and theiradult counterpart. The patterns of seriality are not limited to spatial simultaneity but also take the form of temporal repetition: John's first encounter with Mary.82. but in its own articulation. When John and en-scene. the patterns of repetition seem to suggest an analogy with the assembly line and Taylorized methods of production. marks thismoment as a copy without an original. John appears in relation to group figurations that of which he is only a more or less identical element-figurations in the historical and ideological problematic of what participate Siegfried Kracauer. Again and again. in an essay contemporaneous with The Crowd. framing and editing. The formally identical repetition of an editing convention usually reserved for a unique discovery of desire or knowledge.168. camera range and degree of abstrac Bert and hisdateon top a double-decker of Mary followJohn'sfriend bus. thyof If the geometrical patterns of sameness evoke theFordist model of product standardization and the concomitant dequalification of workers. he accepts his castration5-the slogan no longer reminds him of thedaughter's death but is recuperated into a dis course of basic human solidarity (his interactionwith a stranger) which reconciles family romance with the norms of social competence. has In the film.

however. The juxtaposition of John's mindless prophecies of personal success (when his "ship is coming in") with images of mass-cultural multiplication. the hollow myths of theAmerican Dream.Kracauer sketches the profile of a new Their class pretensions are undermined not only by their actual eco nomic status. spaces. repetition and sameness creates an ironic effect throughout the film. between public and private realms which is thematic throughout the film. Kracauer observes. This irony.203 on Fri. especially with the full onslaught of rationalization and unem ployment since 1925. quoting the staff manager of a Berlin department store. It is in the discrepancy between the continued assertion of a bour geois concept of personality with social formations marked by an in creased tendency towards multiplication and sameness thatThe Crowd traverses similar territoryas Kracauer's writings from themid-1920s through 1933. remains a structural one. Here the juxtaposition of indi vidualist ideology and mass society also brings intoplay the blurring of ism spouted by John.More effectively than his personal misfortune and humiliation. The ideal personality is the person with a "pleasant appearance. which provides an illuminat ing intertext to Vidor's film. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . (Die Angestellten. 1929).168. the discourse of themass ornament undermines the clich6s of bourgeois individual onist. yet who deny any commonality with thework ing-class by flaunting a worn-out ideology of bourgeois individualism. rituals and subjects of an emerging mass culture. but also by the very form their striv ing for difference takes." and subsequent reverse shots reveal not only a man who complains but a whole crowd of people peacefully sharing the beach. singing "All alone / I'm so all alone.6 In a serialized study on white collar workers.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 105 Although this graphic discourse of sameness and repetition is part of the filmic narration." he reports. consciousness or self-recognition on the part of the protag boundaries class thatmushroomed inGermany after World War I: the urban em made themprole ployees whose working and living conditions in effect tarian. The symmetrical return of the clown costume forced upon John by sheer economic necessity is one instance of this structural irony. for it is independent of any insight. "a certain moral-pink color of the skin" ("die This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Another is the scene on the beach inwhich John is framed alone play ing his ukulele. in particular his work on themedia.82. it exceeds the narrative economy of the realist genre and offers an analysis of John's plight that goes beyond the hu manist argument of individual failure versus social responsibility.

8 While the thesis of disintegration is grounded in Kracauer's philosophy of history and indebted to secularized versions of themid-20s JewishMessianism and Gnosticism. generating false abstractions and new myths designed to preserve prop erty relations and thuspreventing the realization of a trulyhuman soci ety. however.203 on Fri. in its sovereign subject perpetuated by bourgeois This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. fragmentation and desubstantialization of theworld and. and the result of this process is precisely this pleasant appearance which can be reproduced extensively by means of photogra phy. if with a more optimistic slant. by a growing disintegration. themass ornament is as ambiguous as the historical moment: on theone hand. Speech. on the other. clothes.106 Miriam Hansen moralisch-rosa Hautfarbe.168.While capitalist rationalization..82. it is elaborated-by in terms of a Marxist-Weberian critique of capitalism and its impact on all spheres of social and cultural life. on the one hand. to some extent advances the historical process of rea son permeating nature. Thus a selection of a species takes place under the pressure of social relations which the economy inevitably enhances by fostering corresponding needs of consumption. Within this historical-philosophical framework (which anticipates. as "the aesthetic reflex of the rationality towhich the dominant economic system aspires."9 As a reflex. Kracauer analyzes the emergence of the "mass ornament. into new forms and configurations. by the reorganization of these fragments. Sie wissen doch.."Kracauer concludes. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . itoffers a practical critique of notions of the culture and. this detritus." epitomized by the products of theAmerican entertainment business such as theTiller Girls. its demythologizing impulse stops halfway. Kracauer argues. gestures and physiognomy in creasingly resemble each other. This process. key thoughts of Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment). inKracauer's phenomenology of modernity.7 Rather than attribute such social mimesis to subjective false conscious ness on the part of the employees. "It is not too daring to that in Berlin a type of employee has developed who model themselves according to this desired color of skin. state. Kracauer sees itas part of a compre hensive historical process-a process inwhich the photographic media are to play a decisive role."). ismarked.

With a phenomenological its simplistic analogy between cultural forms and Taylorized methods of production ("The legs of theTiller Girls correspond to the hands in the factory"). he writes: "the penchant for distraction demands and finds an answer in the display of pure externality.168.203 on Fri. bars. tourism and dance. Kracauer's concept of the "mass ornament" has been criticized for shift of emphasis from production to more advanced in theUnited States sumed in distraction (Zerstreuung) rather than concentration (Samm lung). In an earlier essay on Berlin's picture palaces.82. the "primacy of the optical.what lends thesewritings a historical gravity that reaches into our present.10 But this objection does not hold for the larger context of Kracauer's analysis of mass culture. is directed toward surface glamor rather than substance. "Cult of Distrac tion" (1926). the mass ornament persists in the false abstractness of capitalist ra ment parks. Die Angestell The culture of the employees. circus and variety shows. identification and fantasy-dimensions mobilized by thephantasmago ria of consumption rather thanmerely a reflex of rationalized modes or therewith thewhole issue of Ameri openness which included the experi ence of theobserving and writing subject. newsreels and photography. on the other hand. movie theaters." and the related assertion of what Adorno called. is thathe sensed early on the radi cal implications of the economic consumption." themovies and illustratedmagazines participate in a historical "turn to the surface." however. hotel lobbies. brings into view dimensions of pleasure."'2 Unlike the concept of the "mass ornament." as a category of reception. Kracauer was able to discern qualitatively new forms of subjectivity attendant upon consumerist modes of representation and relations of reception which complicate any reflectionistmodel of cultural analysis. streets. On the contrary.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 107 anonymity. in particular his essays on amuse tionality. it is con production."" Like the "mass orna ment. a process no doubt thanGermany (though associated canism). prefigures the possibility of human relations emancipated from the brute pressures of nature and social origin. Kracauer observes in ten. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . because it is not permeated by human needs and conscious ness but instead naturalizes its capitalist function as a mythical fact. with regard to Kracauer. the concept of "distraction. The withdrawal substance of from worldand theconcomitant the erosion of bourgeois individualism have left the subject in a state of fragmentation and emptiness inwhich Kracauer perceives theconditions This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. arcades and shop windows.

the vacuum is filled with written images: "Luminous words line the buildings and already one is banished from one's own emptiness into the foreign advertising."14 Kracauer's image of film spectatorship returns us to The Crowd.82. isolation and loss: "One forgets one self gazing.168. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . he tionsmark a thirddiscourse in the filmwhich mediates between the re alist narrative of individual characters and the graphic discourse of the mass ornament without necessarily reconciling the two. a setting-freeof experience." Mind you. Thus. In that sense. like screen-writing or the creation of stars." Kracauer knows all too well. Kracauer does not simply fall back on the cultural-conservative principle of the "pod" by which mass culture destroys the otherwise sovereign subject from within like an alien invasion (as in the polemic by Georges Duhamel quoted by Ben jamin). gathers himself into an alpine storm. pact of consumer economy by associating its protagonist with the business of advertising. These figura takes the subject of boredom into themovie theaterwhere he "lets him self be polymorphously projected": "As a fake Chinaman he sits in a fake opium den. that such imaginary metamorphoses of self cannot be had without a sense of de-realization. turns into a well-trained dog who performs ridiculously clever acts to please a female star." Yet before such autonomous abundance can even begin to de velop.13 Rather. John can be seen as a casualty of the updating of theAmerican Dream for an age of consumption.203 on Fri. more precisely. satiated with a feeling of unfulfiliment from which abundance might grow.108 Miriam Hansen for a productive receptivity. Kracauer is interested in thepeculiar form of percep tual identification in which between the boundaries self and heteronomous images are weakened or barely exist in the firstplace. (It is this third discourse which I think distinguishes Vidor's film from the stylistic or the tradition of Neue Sach ideological dualism of Metropolis lichkeit. in particular its figurations of a consumerist subjectivity. gets to be circus artist and lion at once.) On themost obvious level. with the fiction that advertis ing. al lowing for a narcissistic fusion with the stream of images. he describes the disposition of the modern flaneur: "In the evening one takes a stroll through the streets. is a popular art in which everyone can participate. in par ticular the contradiction between an individualism based on a Calvinist This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. whether a slogan is accepted or not is just a matter of luck. and the big dark hole is animated with the semblance of a life thatbelongs to no one and consumes everyone. In an essay en titled "Boredom" ofNovember 1924. The Crowd foregrounds the im however.

What a Young Husband Ought to Know-a comedy of awkwardness which the film stages in public. but Coney Island provides the setting for theirbrief courtship. billboards.16 In addition to the thematic role of advertising. a giant machine for couple formation. sand proliferate in the film's mise-en-scene-store wich boards. When we see the couple in frontof a picture-postcard set ting of Niagara Falls. For most of the film. "You We'll Furnish theHome" and proposes." become an object of spectacle for thepatrons waiting in frontof The most striking in a banner that says "Do They Neck? WATCH!" stance of the consumerist inscription of couple formation occurs on theirway home.203 on Fri. theirmarriage apparently not yet consummated.82. Consumerist iconography in The Crowd is not extraneous to ro mance but at the core of it. like dozens of other couples in the "Tunnel of the of ated through processof im images consumption-through very age-making. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . a consumer who buys into the system even as he sees through themechanisms of manipulation.15 John fails because he literalizes the ideals of a production-based myth of self-creation within the ideological framework of an aesthetics of consumption. the libidinal economy of individuals and the economy of advertising are inseparable. Significantly. like his friend Bert. thepoint-of Furnish theGirl / view shot indicating his awakening desire is devoted to the ad. ads in public places and magazines. sensuality and abundance. at the same time. commercial images signs. self-denial and frugality and notions of self-trans formation and personal success defined by the promises of pleasure. When John kisses Mary for the first time.g. a relationship of narcis whenhe takes photograph her his John Mary only recognizes desirefor This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 109 ethic of hard work. his love for Mary re mains largely in the register of the Imaginary. un der the gaze of other passengers and theblack porter. and she poses accordingly. In thatregard he indeed dif fers from the crowd because he is not. of a baby announcing it's "Time toRe-Tire") and John's carrying of a manual.'7 This motif continues into the sequence on the honeymoon train: the newlyweds' anxiety of intimacy is gently ridiculed by their reading of more ads (e.168. All erotic relations seem medi concentrated in the early sequences leading up to John and Mary's mar riage. when John sees a subway ad with the slogan. an "enlightened consumer" inHorkheimer and Adorno's sense. they themselves. Not nature. theyare Love. the locus classicus of the culture of distraction is represented as both a playground of self-abandonment and. not to Mary.

168. the filmmaintains a clear focus on the effects of this self-absorbed male identity on the lives of real women: even in the scene of family leisure on the beach.203 on Fri. the subject of themass ornament re life by repeating themother's words as his own wish. the son will later save his father's (1927). it throws into question the very assumption of a psychologically coherent charac ter as the subject of narrative motivation. of course-John renews his pledge mains basically genderless or stylized in the vein ofWeimar androgyny ("bodies in bathing trunkswithout sex"). Thus. and when the baby is born-it's a boy. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . themarriage is saved from the drudgery of everyday life. for instance. For Kracauer. of individual agency and re The discourse consumerist of in subjectivity The Crowd notonly This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. "I want to be just like you. poverty and John's ill temper only by the announcement ofMary's pregnancy. deflates John's rhetoric of personal uniqueness and destiny.110 Miriam Hansen sistic specularity rather than reciprocal recognition of the other. but also through the narcissistic. "he's just like you. alongside the suggestion of symbolic castration (most explicit in John's interactions with his macho brothers-in-law). In its articula tion of this linkage. his personal difficulties are related to a failing pa triarchal lineage. the son pro vides Johnwith a metaphoric equivalent of themany mirrors in frontof which we see him arrange his "moral-pink" appearance. perpetuated over generations through the ever more ab stractmirages of theAmerican Dream. held up to theworld by his father in frontof a mirror.8 In The Crowd. From the timewe see John as a newborn baby. However. usually associated with women and their role as primary consumers. he singles out women as most Shopgirls Go to theMovies" susceptible to the compensatory fantasies with which the culture indus try in turn covers up the experience of historical disintegration and fragmentation. the narcissistic disposition." In a symmetrical reprise. is clearly linked to the crisis of male identity and self-representation." A better likeness thanMary or the baby girl. John is feminized not only by the psycho-social effects of wage-labor and his furthereconomic degra dation.82. consumerist construction of his character. What ismore. The Crowd spells out questions of gender which Kracauer evades. Johnny. in "The Little the start-by the film's systematic linkage of individual narcissism with a consumerist economy of desire and identification. The restoration of John's identity is thusmarked as illusory from "to be somebody" underMary's knowing assurance. domestic work continues forMary while John basks in childish ebullience and intransigence.

the fall-out of miscognition. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. their competence is not necessarily tied to a mea sure of individual consciousness but rather to better skills of adaption. 1900 and mockingly compared toLincoln and Washington. with the dis course of the mass ornament. the last two shots "mute. The allegorical construction of themain character does not deprive him of a certain pathos-thanks primarily to the performance of James Murray.203 on Fri. their laughter responds to a scene-a clown is being beaten-which recalls Horkheimer and Adorno's analy sis of the "iron bath of fun" dispensed by the culture industry: the unre flectedmirror relation between the sadomasochistic rituals on stage and the social position of the audience which turns their collective laughter into a parody of solidarity and reconciliation (Dialectic. John's failure to recognize himself in the place of the formerlydespised clown represents the flip-side of his identification throughmirror images. this equation suggests that the collec tive ismade up of individuals whose psychic structures are not all that different from his own. If the narrative wants us to celebrate John's come-back as a step toward human solidarity. If they are more successfully socialized than John. just as John has finally accepted being part of the crowd. which is one of the cornerstones of classical cinema. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." unpermeated by human consciousness. Setting out to "be somebody. an "American Anyman" (A always happy because I eat at Schnieder's Grill"). in the closing sequence. recognition and self-awareness on the part of the character. in particular with Eleanor Boardman as Mary-but more often than not the viewer's attitude toward the character is suspended between satire and sentimentality.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 111 Tree is a Tree)." John actually succeeds by becoming a nobody.82. John Sims enters the film as an allegory. to theirhaving internalized the role of "enlightened consumers. As I said earlier. Nor does the film make him a foil against which the other characters would appear as models of psychological co herence and maturity. a malleable puppet.168. especially themen. The discourse of consumerist subjectivity ultimately pushes the film into an abyss of marks his integration into the collective as a travesty. The image of hundreds of human heads swaying with unheard laughter is a graphic il lustration of Kracauer's observation that themass ornament remains ambivalence when it converges." At least. this irony is structural. that is. a clown advertising some one else's travestyof individual choice (his sandwich board reads: "I am sponsibility. Born on July 4. It reveals itself only to the spectator: there is no indication of any understanding. 140). After all. ifwe read the film from its ending.

an audi ence that probably displayed a similar sociographic profile. apocalyptic framework of world disintegration. if not even bleaker than. Like many of themore ambitious Hollywood products (Sherlock Jr. A silent film released at the beginning of the sound era. In ei tion into critical ambivalence.Kracauer's. Either the viewer accepts the homage to theGreat American middle class and identifieswith his or hermirror image in il lusory plenitude and harmony. If the ambivalence of The Crowd could be seen as the revenge of textual complexity visited upon a basically optimistic message.168. The Wizard of Oz. loss of substance and transcendental homeless ness. or the viewer assumes a satirical superi ority vis-h-vis the shaking boobs and thus repeats the act of miscogni tion that defines the diegetic audience's relation to the scene on stage. the metaphor of the surface assumes a new significance inKracaucr's writ ther case. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . amusement park. the strategic self-reflexivity thatwould have us celebrate John's integration as the triumph of popular entertainment is under mass ornament." thatclass which Hollywood had been building up as its primary constituency since be fore World War towards its own medium and its clientele. mined by a textual self-reflexivity-the discourse of the turns ideological affirma the logic of consumerist subjectivity-which This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. Thus. as Inka Mailder-Bach has pointed out. which corresponds to John's relation to the figure of the clown. Kra cauer's ambivalence towardmass culture has a different foundation and critical attention to the surface phenomena of emphasis. the filmwas conceived and marketed as "an epic of America's Great Middle Class.82. tomention only a few). The Crowd offers a vision of mass culture just as ambivalent as. Kracauer's modernity developed fromwithin a theological.203 on Fri. however. the ambivalent depiction of the community of consumption in the final shot twists this analogy into a mise-en-abime. The Purple Rose of Cairo. Vidor's film includes a dimension of strategic self-reflexivity raphy and the victrola. Yet. the image of the audience in the film's last se quence inevitably held up a mirror to the audience of the film. The Crowd assembles a repertoire of popu larmedia that formed the context of the cinema's early history: photog I. It's A Wonderful Life. vaudeville and theburlesque-a spectrum of the culture of distraction and consumption to be epitomized and subsumed by themovies.19 Likewise. if John's catastrophic fall into unemployment foreshadowed the impact of theDepression upon millions of Americans.. By 1924/25.112 Miriam Hansen If one takes the implications of these figurations of spectatorship to their logical conclusion.

" "The more [the contemporary films]mis bourgeois culture by no means preempts a critical perspective. to the reign of simulation.168. Kracauer's observations could be linked to the post modern topos of the implosion of reality into images. depthlessness and pastiche.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 113 ings: against ideological attempts to restore a false unity and hierarchy drawing on the dregs of bourgeois culture and disregarding socio-eco nomic realities. from about 1926 on. for covering up the cracks with thewarmed-over menu of bourgeois aesthetics. because the typists [Tippmamsells] fashion them selves after the models on screen. meaning or sub the habitual order of things fromwhich "fragments of a different life" might be improvised. From Cali Hitler). he now perceives in the negativity of the historical pro cess a utopian chance.82. the surface becomes a site inwhich contemporary realitymani fests itself in an iridescent multiplicity of phenomena. themedium inwhich "its otherwise repressed wishes take shape. because represent the surface. yet. prefig uring the direction of an entire society."21 At the same time.Kracauer knows that these images. "Film drama and life usually corre spond to each other. but perhaps themost spurious models are stolen from life. it signals a break-up of for betraying its affinitywith the sundered life. "In reality itmay not happen easily that a scrubgirlmarries the owner of a Rolls Royce. is itnot to their level?"22 more correctly they represent society. the "idiotic and unreal film fantasies [which] are the day dreams of society" are them selves part of contemporary reality. "Precisely thatwhich should be projected onto the screen is wiped away and im ages that cheat us out of the image of existence fill up the surface.203 on Fri. the reflect its secret mechanisms. No longer a locus of lost depth. he increasingly castigates contemporary film production specular form of identification in one individual's quest for upward mo bility. this radical potential becomes the standard by which. rather than dis playing an atomized world of mere appearances. Kracauer is less concerned with decoding the content of gari to these repressed wishes than with elucidating the cinema's role in the production of a social imaginary. Kracauer sees this disposition at work across class lines. But he can no more be reduced This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192." In his early writings (as opposed to they his "psychological history of German filmwritten in exile.20 Kracauer's avant-garde valorization of the new media's attack on stance. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . On the contrary." If The Crowd demonstrates theworkings of such the dream the of RollsRoyce ownersthat scrubgirls the dream rising of Undoubtedly.

Kracauer delineates the contours of a utopian public sphere: "Where theYiddish organs resting on Arab anything about themselves. Elaborating on the image of different national newspapers ornament. in the relations between the culture of the existence in its impercepti simulacrum and what it excludes-"normal the glamorous picture palaces and the unemploy ble horror"-between to a Baudrillardian hyperrealist than he can be dismissed as a naive real ist. But we must take the streets to the center be cause today its emptiness is real. fascination with the cinema's surface effects and its ideological function are inseparably related. In the interstices.168. images. lights and publicity of theBoulevards: "Broad streets run from theFaubourgs ("enemies in real life") lying side by side in the temples of the news vendors yet unable to read each other."" Unlike Adorno forwhom a utopian dimension resided at best in the negativity of high modernist art. Kracauer insisted that even a "de-realized reality" had to be con fronted rather than rejected in thename of cultural conservatism or mod ernist refusal: "the process leads right through themiddle of themass grasped in its contradictions. signs. contrasting the Faubourgs as the scene of use value and poverty with the abundance of commodities. a violently contested public sphere at a cru cial historical juncture. he analyzes the spell of consumerism in terms of the constellation of periphery and center on themap of Paris. theirnews lack any This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. posthistorical stance is thathe situates his observations in a spe cific horizon of experience.114 Miriam Hansen ment agencies. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . not away from it.23 Reality can only be into the glamorous center. social change leads through this emptiness because only themost advanced form of public life harbors the potential of breaking up the hierarchy of center and pe riphery."24 In a similar vein.What should furthercaution us against simply assimilating Kracauer's phenomenology of the surface to a postmod ernist." But their current self-absorption prevents such harmony: "Notwithstanding the close physical relations cultivated by thepapers. between the banter of the society films and the growing violence in the streets. For Kracauer. the demon of absent mindedness [Geistesabwesenheit] reigns absolute. This center is not the one intended.203 on Fri. Kracauer sought the "fragments of a different life" in the thickening configurations of themasscultural sur relation eachother which likewise them from among precludes knowing texts come into contact with fatPolish headlines peace is secured." For Kracauer. The hap piness envisioned for the shabby periphery is subject to a different ra dius than the present one.82.

The research on Kracauer was made possible by thegenerous support of theAlexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. In an article from theFrankfurter Zeitung published. but they see through the illusion. once the car has reached the summit. in January 1990. on July 14. They linger at the place where things show theirdouble face. 1928. they have been liberated from a world whose splendor theynonetheless know. they hold the shrunken skyscrapers in their open hands. to be sure. The facade of the roller coaster shows a painted skyline of New York: "The workers. and could easily be read as an instance of "enlightened consumerism. now triumph by air over a super-Berlinian New York. Not that theywould dismiss the grandiose city painting as simply hum bug. a point of departure." Kracauer describes a roller coaster at theBerlin Lunapark. the counterpart of Vidor's Coney Island. And unlike Adorno. and the tri much to umph over the fagades no longermeans that them. is incomplete. itgives way to a bare skeleton: So this isNew York-a painted surface and behind it The small couples are enchanted and Nothingness? disenchanted at the same time. This essay is a slightly revised version of a lecture delivered at a confer ence on American/German "Mass Culture between the Wars. at least for a moment. however. Unless otherwise noted." held at theHumboldt University. the experience of the critical intellectual was available to those who were the subject of capitalist manipula others as well-even tion. significantly. translations are mine.82." But the double con sciousness Kracauer sketches as a possibility.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 115 face. I wish to conclude with a Denkbild inwhich Kracauer evokes the possibility.und Talbahn.168." This fagade. in principle. dif fers strikingly from the lack of consciousness which. East Berlin.203 on Fri.2 This vision belongs to themoment. Kracauer proceeded on the assumption that. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . that the consumer could relate to the glamor of the surface in a simultaneously receptive and reflectiveman ner. the employees who spend theweek be ing oppressed by the city. the small people. contrary to the film's programmatic optimism. makes the ending of The Crowd as bleak an allegory of American mass culture as Horkheimer and Adorno's vision of theCulture Industry. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. "Berg.

The Apartment (United Artists. King Vidor. American Film Melodrama: Griffith." see Lewis Jacobs. Minnelli (Princeton NJ: Princeton UP.4 (July August 1973). Levin.116 Miriam Hansen 1 King Vidor. The Rise of theAmer ican Film (1939. See Thomas Y.: Eine Bibliographie Kracauer: Deutsche Schillergesellschaft. "King Vidor's The Crowd. are Orna ment der Masse (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp. The majority of Kracauer's articles in theFrankfurter Zeitung. 1967) 456 457 et passim. 1989). in "Image" on theArt and Evolution of the Film. Spring This shot. 1979) 166-168. 1988) 77 87 et passim. Rutgers 1989. Durgnat. "The Crowd" Film Comment 9. On The Crowd in the tra dition of "social realism. Marbach a. is invoked inBilly Wilder's film. Mass Culture.N. 1990). forthcoming in translation fromHarvard UP. 1987). Four of thepieces are printed in this volume beginning on page 51. (Frankfurt a. "Reading Herd: Hollywood. Marshall Deutelbaum. I. 1971). American (Berkeley. like the entire city-symphony-style sequence bridging John Sims' arrival inNew York. 1989) 113. 1963).: Schriften Suhrkamp. University. 87. Deutelbaum (New York: Dover. and Strassen inBerlin und anderswo (1964. see Lang 114-132. NJ: Scarecrow. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 (interview^) (Metuchen.. M.Vidor. King Vidor This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192. 223-224.168. Kracauer Papers. can be found in his own scrapbooks. and The Crowd" unpublished seminar paper.N. ed. reprints a large selection of these ar ticles. compiled by Kracauer himself. earlier collections. on the context of "populist films. Siegfried Kracauer?Grenzg?nger 1953) 152-153. Brace & Co.203 on Fri. Volume 5.3 (September 1974). Randy Stearns. Los Angeles: University of California Press. The most extensive critical commentary on Kracauer's early work zwischen Theorie is InkaM?lder. For a psychoanalytic reading of the film. 1960).82. 1988). Berlin: Arsenal." see Durgnat & Simmons 78. ed. New York: Teachers College Press. rpt. Also see Ray mond Durgnat and Scott Simmon." Image 17. many of which were published under pseudonyms or even anonymously. Kracauer wrote close to two thousand articles before his exile in 1933. ed. a daily newspaper of which he became editor in 1921. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Karsten Witte Kracauer. Siegfried seiner Schriften (Marbach a.Nancy Dowd and David Shepard. mostly for the Frankfurter Zeitung.M. Robert Lang.1-3 of Kracauer's Schriften. A Tree is a Tree (New York: Harcourt. Deutsches Literaturarchiv. InkaM?lder-Bach (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.

1-38." See also in the same work. "I can no longer thinkwhat I want to think." in The Culture of Consumption." Georges Duhamel. NGC 54: 159-177. "Decentric Perspectives: Kracauer's Early Writings on Film and Mass Culture. rpt. 1931. Reinhard Klooss & Thomas Reuter. 1933. 1930). 9 (Fall 1991):47-76. tr. 4 March 1926. 122-131. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 1969) 238. Illuminations. "Girls und FZ 17 27 May. Jackson Lears." tr." New German Critique 40 (Winter 1987): 97-114." Text + Kritik 68 (on Kra cauer) (Munich: Beck." Krise.My thoughts have been replaced by moving images." FZ. Adorno. "Langeweile. Richard Wightman Fox & T. "From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertis ing and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture. originally." NGC 54 (special issue on Kracauer) "Das Ornament derMasse. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.NGC 5 (Spring1975). 1880 1930. Dialectic of Enlighten ment (1944). See also Warren Sussman.." FZ 16November 1924.70. Levin. 147-164."FZ. 1980): 18-40. Jackson Lears (New York: Pantheon." this volume. Theodor W. seeMichael Schr?ter. BarbaraCorell& Jack Zipes." ix-xvii. NGC 40: 94. cited in second version Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. by Thomas Y.82. tr. February. "The Work of vie future (Paris. Also see FZ 9 June 1927. 51-52." NGC 40 (Winter 1987). K?rperbilder: Menschenorna mente in Reveuetheater und Revuefilm. 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 "Girls and Crisis. Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century (New York: Pan theon. "Introduction. Ornament 314. "Weltzerfall und Rekonstruktion: Zur Physiognomik Siegfried Kracauers.ShierryWeber Nicholson." und Literatur: Seine fr?hen Schriften 1913-1933 (Stuttgart: J. Books. Ornament 322. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken (1936). J. "Kult der Zerstreuung: ?ber die Berliner Lichtspielh?user. T. trJohnCumming (New York: Seabury.168.203 on Fri. B.Ambivalences of the "Mass Ornament" 117 of on of notion Weltzerfall Metzler. Max Horkheimer & Theodor W. "Phenomenology of Film: On Siegfried Kracauer's Writings of the 1920s. tr. 1980). Adorno. J. also see Sabine Hake. "Berliner Nebeneinander. 1983). 1984). Sc?nes de la Walter Benjamin. also see Heide Schl?pmann. the (disintegration theworld). 1969) 167 et passim. "Introduction.Ornament 54. "Girls and Crisis: The Other Side of theDiversion. "The Curious Realist: On Siegfried Kracauer" (1964). eds. 1985) 19ff. (Frankfurt: Syndikat. and Miriam Hansen. 71-72. 163.

" Ornament." FZ. gender politics of Film.2 (Spring-Summer 1991)." Dis course." (New York: Signet. 26 "Berg. Ornament see: Schl?pman. Sam Taylor. Patrice Petro." NGC 40 (Winter 1987). which appears in this issue of Qui Parle. 25 "Analyse eines Stadtplans. See also M?dler. 33 (October 1982). Kracauer. 61." 63-65. 359-373." 158-160. in Strassen. 1927) where itprompts Buddy Rogers to propose the female lead. 1928). 22 "Ladenm?dchen. For a more skeptical This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192." FZ 30.und Talbahn" FZ. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 18 "Mass Ornament" 66 (translation modified). 14-17. and her essay "Kinosucht.203 on Fri. 138-140. Nov." 99-100." in Ornament. "Girls and Crisis. 115-146. 11-19 March anonymously under the title "Film und Gesellschaft"). 280. 1928. In his review of that film.'" in Deutsche Viertrlejahresschrift. 14 July 1928. 23 I differ formThomas Elsaesser who charges that Kracauer's critique of Ideology obscures and thereby "falsifies" his proto-postmodern "concern with the cinema as a marginal sphere of life and its fasci nation as an experience of surface effects.168.118 Miriam Hansen 17 The slogan echoes an ad satirized in Sinclair Lewis' 1922 novel " 'Mid pleasures and places / Wherever you may roam / Babbit: You just provide a littlebride /And we'll provide a home. "Die kleinen Laden 1927 (published m?dchen gehen ins Kino. 26 January 1928. See also: Hake. 58. Frauen "Perceptions of Difference: Contours of a Discourse on Sexuality in Early German Film Theory. "Der Umschlag der Negativit?t: Zur Ver von Ph?enomenologie." "Phenomenology und Film. 42-52.2 (1987)." 76 (translationmodified). "Decentric Perspectives. Kracauer singles out the slogan and its mise-en sc?ne as an innovative effect. On Kracauer's 279-294. rpt. "Ladenm?dchen spielen Kino" FZ. 19 This context is elaborated inLynn Kirby. Ornament. "Gender and Advertising inAmerican Silent Film: From Early Cinema to theCrowd. 1980). 82. 296-310. 21 "Der heutige Film und sein Publikum. 3-20. & Dec. under the title "Film 1928. 20 Inka M?lder-Bach. The slogan used in The Crowd already appears in the Pickford vehicle My Best Girl (dir. 35-36. 86-95." FZ (c." "Cinema?The Irrespon sible Signifier or 'The Gamble with History': Film Theory or Cin ema Theory?" NGC 40 (Winter 1987). 24 "Mass Ornament.82. For a more detailed elaboration of thisargument see: Hansen. 296. 13. rpt. 34. und schr?nkung Geschichtsphilosophie Film?sthetik in Siegfried Kracauers Metaphorik derOberfl?che.

see des Kracauer's "Organisiertes Gl?ck: Zur Wiederer?ffnung Lunaparks. 8May 1930.168. 16 Nov 2012 14:42:40 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." FZ.203 on Fri.82. contrasting the organized pleasures of the sequel to this Berlin Lunapark with the unruly adventures of theParis Foires.Ambivalences of the "Mass Omament" 119 Denkbild. This content downloaded by the authorized user from 192.

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