BURNING CARS and EVIL TWINS: WHO WAS THAT DOPPELGANGER I SAW YOU WITH LAST NIGHT
This piece previously appeared in the now defunct magazine, "The Aesthete." (Every other article I post will be something I've written in the past that is virtually impossible to find now. )
“The beast in me is caged by fragile bars” – Johnny Cash
It is probably not news to anyone that they are psychologically manipulated by advertising. To capture real attention in this ADD-afflicted, info-drowning society is so difficult, that when some image in the worlds of fashion and/or pop culture actually gets and keeps my attention -- I find it deeply unsettling, because I know that I am being manipulated successfully.
Not that advertising is necessarily evil -- it's just that we've gotten way too good at it. Ad imagery seems opaque, abstract and meaningless, but that is precisely what makes it dangerous: it is actually ram-packed with sophisticated psychological nuances that swan right past your conscious mind and into the control room of your psyche, where it manipulates arcane levers that send robot claws into your wallet. If pop culture infects your life to the point of unconsciously regulating the way you experience your own desires -- the corporate mechanisms which control pop culture virtually own you.
A particular print-ad trend for luxury fashion brands has really been getting under my scalp the past few years. The trope, with minor variations: an ad featuring two basically identical, glazy-eyed girls - zombie twins with tortured hair and massive handbags, staring. They look like they have just had brutal lesbian sex while fully-dressed in 6-inch alligator pumps and identical blouses, and this transgressive bliss was so narcissistically fulfilling they both died instantaneously, and are now flash-frozen for eternity on a dark velvet couch or a white staircase, or perhaps laying like fresh corpses in grass.
I wanted to understand how this zombie-twin imagery was supposed to make me want to buy handbags.
The doppelganger, the phenomenon of seeing your own double -- is an archetype that has been around since the dawn of time. It can be medical; the result of brain lesions or cerebral thrombosis – but in most cultures, it is regarded as a paranormal harbinger of doom, evoking the kind of shock and fascination that Freud referred to as the uncanny.
In a vast number of cultural manifestations, the doppelganger involves a schism – a division of the self into a good twin and an evil twin, e.g. Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.
For Freud, the doppelganger was symbolic of compulsive repetition – the self, repeating the bad pattern of itself. It’s the opposite of the pleasure principle, or Eros: the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Repetition is representative of the the “death-drive,” or Thanatos: the daemon personification of death. The will to self-destructive repetition that is the domain of drug addicts, masochists and adrenalin junkies. Life-drive in reverse. Eros in retrograde.
The doppelganger represents not just a mirror of the self, but self-transformation: liberation from the repressive restrictions of your reasonable, Eros-guided conscious mind, which isn’t aggressive or psychotic enough to pursue twisted kicks by any means necessary. There is always a pain of unfulfillment in life – an inability to realize oneself entirely – a gap between the opposing drives of Eros and Thanatos - but somewhere in-between, in theory, is destiny, or at least the molten core of total human satisfaction, if you’re self-destructive enough to get it.
Which leads me to Fast Five - the fifth and latest installation of Vin Diesel’s “Fast and the Furious" franchise - which has to be the greatest movie of all time, or at least the best brain lesion on the video market. It’s way better than Tokyo Drift, anyway.
Fast Five is pure ubermensch libido, cranked out of its skull on N02, Brazilian asses and the Joy of Crime. It is suns devouring other suns unto the post-moral paradise of Total Authoritarian Control. And it achieves this unreasonable wish-fulfillment through a covert use of doppelgangers.
The plot kicks off with Vin (whose character’s name is DOM, short for Dominic and/or the opposite of SUB) breaking out of prison and going to Brazil to rejoin his sexy mafia family of a car-stealing syndicate, and his sister, Jordana Brewster (over whose life Vin/Dom has a strangely incestuous control.)
In lawless Brazil, the reigning authority figure is a bespoke-suited druglord (the evil doppelganger of a ‘legitimate’ imperial power –replete with a Napoleon-era “Rape of the Sabine Women” painting in his office). The cops are the doppelgangers of the criminals – everyone is wearing post-Matrix, Hollywood Soldier of Fortune-drag. (When it's really necessary to clarify who’s who -- like when both teams are shooting at each other with identical submachine guns -- the robbers wear Subcommandante Marcos-style knit ski masks, just to keep the blurred moral lines between corrupt cops and drug thugs from evaporating altogether.)
There are no less than two Vin Diesels: Vin/Dom, and the anti-Vin/Dom -- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the super-cop-doppelganger assigned to bring Vin down -- a role signified by a badge on a chain banging between his oily brown pneumatic pecs – an adornment mirrored by the gigantic silver crucifix worn by Vin.
The Brazilian lady cop who becomes Vin’s love interest doesn't just bear an uncanny resemblance to Jordana Brewster, she is virtually indistinguishable from Jordana Brewster. Then, as if that wasn’t gratifying enough, midway through the film, a third, even hotter Jordana Brewster pulls up on a motorcycle and joins Vin’s flirty little mob.
Every scene surfs the gap between Thanatos and Eros -- a total destruction of all infrastructures and taboos that seek to limit VinDom's will to power, unto the fuck-you paradise of total wish-fulfillment. He sets fire to whole Costco carts of paper money. He jumps a 1972 Pantera DeTomaso out of a moving train. He seduces his hot sister's evil cop-twin; his big guido crucifix bashes between her breasts. Vin and the Rock grapple like gladiators in grunting slo-mo like something from under Tom of Finland's mattress; Vin triumphs and extends his meaty hand to the Rock and lifts him off the gravel in a sublime homoerotic climax of pure victory-porn. All authority hurls itself under the squealing tires and blown 528-cubic-inch Hemi V8 of Vin’s 1970 Dodge Charger. Trucks fuck trucks and cars fuck trains and Vin fucks his sister, himself, all earthly authority, basic principles of physics and finally, God. Fast Five is dangerously gratifying unto mental ejaculation with projectile nosebleeding.
So: take the morphine, buy the handbag – because you will never, ever have a complete, intact self to call your own. The opposing drives of Thanatos and Eros insure that your wish for an ontological self is an unresolvable frustration.
So take two selves instead. They're small. Love thy doppelganger.
Brand loyalty is franchise loyalty is repetition-compulsion is Death Itself. It's fucking your own evil twin in a heaven that smells like a new Hermes saddle and looks like a Koenigsegg CCX. You love it, even if you don’t know you do.