This is how we roll...
This is how we roll... Pacific Rim: Uprising

If recent world history is considered with the brightest conceptual light available, we will clearly see that there are three established moments of a mode of social organization and production and reproduction that is called capitalism. There is the Dutch moment, the British moment, and the US moment. The first began at the end of the 16th century and effectively ended with the birth (1694) of the Bank of England (which was based on Dutch-period innovations in finance). The second ended in 1914, with the beginning of WWI. The third began in 1947 and apparently ended in 2016. We are now in the dawn of a fourth capitalism. It's political capital is Beijing. The fact of this world-historical transition was made very clear this year in the movie Pacific Rim: Uprising.

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This film indeed represents in three characters three of the four stages of what we can call, with Hegel in mind, the spirit of capitalism. (As the late social theorist Moishe Postone argues, Hegel confused the history of humanity with the historically specific features—namely technological progress—of a very specific political economy that centered the market.) The British moment is in the character performed by John Boyega, the American moment in the character performed by the son of Clint Eastwood, Scott Eastwood (that apple did not fall from that tree), and the Chinese moment is in the character performed by Jing Tian.

The last is the CEO of a Chinese corporation, Shao Corporation (based in glittering Shanghai), that at first appears to be up to no good. [SPOILER ALERT] It wants to replace an elite force that fights these monsters that keep rising from the depths of the sea with automated drones. The giant robots that defend the human race, and require two humans to operate, will, with this new Chinese technology, become a thing of the past. The drones can do the job better with fewer humans.

Indeed, the Chinese drones and their displacement of human labor represents the kind of progress that many confuse with the history of human progress. But an examination of world-history up to the Dutch moment of capitalism reveals nothing like orderly stages of scientific and technological development but a mess of discoveries and losses in this and that part of the world. Nothing really stuck until very recently, and what made scientific and technological knowledge rapidly accumulate wasn't the noble spirit of "mankind" but a historically specific form of class struggle that had a very large property-less group that demanded more from a very small group that owned capital but could not survive without continually cutting costs. This is your motor of progress. It leads directly to the self-checkout machines in supermarkets, to Amazon's self-service stores, and the labor-saving Chinese drones in Pacific Rim: Uprising.

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(As regards the myth of progress, one must always keep in mind that until the 17th century, intellectual Europe almost exclusively saw the world through the ideas of a Greek philosopher who died over 2000 years ago. Another point, which I will examine more fully in another post, is that the emergence of enlightenment—or the scientific revolution—and capitalism cannot be separated in the manner theorized by the late Ellen Meiksins Wood. The former was accelerated by the profit-pressures of the latter.)

But here is the matter at hand. Look at Pacific Rim: Uprising's background (the most important part of any film), and you find on the walls behind characters signs not in English but in Chinese. The future world in this film is entirely made in China or corporations that are based there.

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Pacific Rim: Uprising

This background is no accident. The mostly English-language Hollywood film was financed with the idea that it would appeal to a Chinese audience (and it was also shot in China—and it is in this light that the blending of Shanghai with Los Angeles in Spike Jonze's Her needs more recognition). The US box office was considered a secondary market from the get-go, which is why the black British actor could speak English in the way he actually speaks it—with an English/London accent. There was no need for him to speak like a black American, as all black Brits have to do to survive in the Hollywood market. The thinking behind this? Apparently, the Chinese audience would not notice the difference between a black Brit and black American. What mattered was his Star Wars face.

As a consequence, John Boyega's character is at once that delinquent Stormtrooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and that council estate delinquent in Attack the Block. But I'm almost certain that the reason why Pacific Rim: Uprising was regularly panned in the US wasn't because it was bad or any way worse than, say, Infinity War; but because it doesn't address an American audience and reviewers. The subjects of an empire in decline failed to appreciate the full arrival of a film coded for the subjects of the empire of this century.